I headed out yesterday morning to travel home to my mom’s house for the weekend. It’s my Grandma’s 83rd birthday and we have a family party every year around her birthday to celebrate.

With gas around the dollar a litre mark, and knowing that traffic is heavy on Friday’s in August, I had to evaluate three possible routes of travel.

Last year I took the American route and cut through the Michigan down to Sarnia. I was stuck in traffic for hours at the Port Huron bridge crossing due to labour slow ups and heavy traffic. It took me 13 hours to get home (a trip that should only take 8.5-9.5 hours, even in winter).

This year, I couldn’t drive through the states because the vet who gave Winger and Surf their rabies shots last year only dated the certificate for a year. In Ontario, rabies shots are valid for 3 years, and with Winger fighting cancer, I’m just not giving them another shot to travel through Michigan (the border guards sometimes ask for proof of shots).

The other two ways were drive through Ontario, or take the ferry (ChiCheeMaun). I decided to take the ferry, and to make sure I didn’t have to wait forever to be sure to get on the ferry, I booked a Priority Passage ticket. It is only $20 (non-refundable), but it guarantees your spot, providing you are there at least 30 minutes in advance.

Herc* and I decided I need to leave about 4.5 hours before I had to be at the ferry to get there in lots of time. That meant an 8:30am departure.

So the truck was loaded, the dogs got into their crates in the back of the truck. I have a cap on the back so they aren’t in the elements. It was raining lightly. By the time I crossed town, I realized I just lost 20 minutes of my travel time because I live in the far west side of Sault Ste. Marie. I still figured I was okay for time, so I travelled on in the rain and mist.

I usually stop to pee by Blind River, but knowing I was short on time, I held it and kept going. Then the construction started. I went through a series of stops while the flag man or lady held the traffic back. I was starting to get a little anxious. But soon enough I was just 10 minutes from the Espanola cut off to drive down to South Bay Mouth to catch the ferry. But then as I went up a hill, I saw brakes lights… a really really long line of brake lights. The construction had backed us up for kilometres! AHHHHH. I started to panic a little more. I screamed a couple times. I think it held me up there for at least 20 minutes, maybe more. Nothing worse that the exhilaration of seeing the line shorten, only for the flag lady to turn her sign to stop again just 3 vehicles ahead of you.

When I finally got through that, I gunned it to the Espanola cut off. I had one hour, 10 minutes to get to the ferry. I turned off to Espanola and looked for a distance sign. 114km to South Baymouth. AHH, now that requires some speeding. Maybe the 30 minute before the ferry cut off is just so we are there and not holding them up. I thought chances were good I could just zip on the ferry in time.

The rain and mist made the fog roll in. I knew I had to not hit Little Current at the top of the hour because the swing bridge opens for 15 minutes cutting off traffic. Luckily I missed it and yelled some profanities at all the extremely slow drivers. I passed a couple, but the roads in the rain and fog on Manitoulin Island are really not made for speeding or passing.

By the time I was 10 kilometres from the ferry, and stuck behind to insanely slow drivers, I had a raging headache and was completely tense and stressed out. Then I met a long line of opposing traffic so I knew the ferry had docked and was already unloaded! It wasn’t looking good for me!

At the ferry dock, there were cars EVERYWHERE. I drove up around the line to the traffic guard guy. It was 1:20. I told him I had Priority Passage for the 1:30 trip and that I knew I was late because of all the traffic. He said I missed my cut off, and that he had heard about the construction from other people, and that I would have to wait until the 5:50 crossing. He told me to drive back up the highway and get in line. He gave me a Priority Passage slip to give to the ticket agent.

So I went back up and highway and got in the line. I shut off the truck and sat and listened to the radio. It was still raining and was really dark. I sat there for 20 minutes, trying to calm down, to forget about the pain in my bladder from not peeing for 5 hours. I couldn’t imagine sitting there in my truck from 1:30 until 5:50. It was raining so I couldn’t walk the dogs much. They’d be miserable in their crates while we sat still I was sure. I knew I had a book and I brought my portable wind up radio, and I knew I could probably kill an hour shopping in the touristy stores and eating in the restaurant, but what about the rest of the hours. I did some calculations. I figured if I waited and took the ferry, I could probably get home by 11pm. If I drove around, chances were I could get there by 9, but I’d have to drive all the way back up to Espanola. I was supposed to stop in to visit my mom’s cousin Kathy on the way down after I got off the ferry. Of course this was the first summer I’m driving without a cell phone anymore. I figured I never used it.

So after those 20 minutes, I turned the truck back on and ripped a u-ey in the middle of the street and headed back up to Espanola – backtracking 120 kilometers north. I stopped in Little Current for gas, as I was getting really low. I put $58.00 in the tank – it was $1.05/litre. When I got back up to McKerrow – to the Wendy’s/Tim Horton’s stop, I finally got to go pee. It was now 3pm, I was starving, had a headache, and was soooo close to just going back to my home. I called my sister Julie as she was waiting for me to get there. We had plans to go out for dinner. I stood at the pay phone in the rain with my two dogs and explained to her the situation and asked her to call Kathy for me to explain why I couldn’t get there. Julie begged me to come home and not to go back to my house. So I loaded the dogs back up and grabbed a Wendy’s Spicy Chicken combo from the drive-thru and headed towards Sudbury.

It was still raining by the time I got on to Highway 69. I don’t like driving on Highway 69 much. There is so much push to made it a double laned separated highway because of all the collisions and death in the last few years. But I maintain that the road is not to blame, it’s the jackass drivers. Twice I was shoved off the end of the passing lane when it ended. Once I was so pissed off I actually gave the big pickup truck driver the finger as he was beside me pushing me off the road. 10% of the cars didn’t have any lights on, and it was dark and raining. Morons.

I usually stop at the Nobel Wendy’s and give the dogs a stretch, and I pee. But the traffic was heavy and I always have to wait in line there to pee, so I thought I’d just keep going and hit the McDonalds service station south of Barrie when I get off at the Cookstown exit.

The traffic in Barrie was fairly heavy, especially in the north bound lanes. I listened to the traffic guy on the radio and he said the north bound Park Place exit was under police control because of the heavy traffic for the Green Day concert – Oh yeah! Brian and Leanne were heading there for the concert! I hoped they weren’t stuck in the traffic jam getting off the road. I heard about an accident south of the Highway 89 exit. I was pretty sure that was my exit, but figured if it was south, I could still get off the exit.

Then ahead, I saw the all too familiar sight of brake lights and cars lining up. I quickly switched to the right hand lane so I could get off at the exit. It was about 5:45. And traffic came to a halt. I figured I was about 5-7 kilometres still from my exit.

For the next FIVE hours I was stopped there, slowly moving ahead a foot at a time every minute. Sometimes we’d crawl ahead 10 or 20 feet! The humidex was 35. I shut off the air conditioning and turned on the vent so the truck wouldn’t overheat. I knew I didn’t have much gas.

Cars were pulling off the highway. Sometimes people would get antsy and turn onto the shoulder and try to race it up the shoulder, but the transport that was a few vehicles in front of me kept blocking off the shoulder when he saw someone coming. Soon cars took over for him and blocked the shoulder lane, only letting through the police car, ambulance, and tow truck that went by in the first hour.

I didn’t want to drink, because I had to pee so bad. I knew my exit was close. I was so excited when we crept to the 4 kilometres away to the exit sign. Of course it took about an hour for me to get past the sign. People were walking up the shoulder faster than we were moving. Some were walking back with gas cans. Some families just parked on the grass and sat up in the trees. Men were peeing all over the place (damn they are lucky). One guy walked by with a 6 pack and the old ladies in a vehicle beside me were hooting and hollering for him. My lane was definitely moving the slowest, but I knew I had to get off towards the right, and if my lane was moving the slowest, then everyone else is probably merging in to my lane at some point. It got dark and I hadn’t seen the dogs move in the back for a couple hours. I was convinced they were dead. It was 35 humidex, all that exhaust from the cars, they were surely dead. How was I going to explain that to people? What would do with them? I was going absolutely crazy. I cried a few times. I thought of parking, but just wanted to get off the highway. I could SEE the exit!! For awhile there was a cattle truck of screaming pigs beside me. I swear those pigs were screaming English words. And I swear they were yelling “Save me, I’m burning!”. I watched the Incredibles a couple times on the portable dvd player in the mini van in front of me. Not the same without sound I figure. I wished I had a cellphone, I imagined Julie was already wondering why I wasn’t there.

At 10:40, I finally got off the highway into the McDonalds. They were diverting all 3 lanes of traffic off that exit, and sending them where? I don’t know, because the accident was at the off ramp just south of the McDonalds.

I got in the gas line, because I was on fumes. I jumped out to check on the dogs. They were ALIVE! YES! Gas was 99.5 and the line was only 4 cars long in my lane. Not bad. I then let the dogs out for a walk and a pee and a long drink of water before I went inside to pee and call Julie. Julie was worried sick. She had even called Dad to figure out where I could be. I quickly debated if I was going to continue on the 400 to the 401 (they reopened the road as I was walking my dogs) or if I’d take my normal back roads route. I was worried about driving in the dark, but figured I’d like to get away from all the traffic. I said good-bye to Julie, told her my planned route, and tried to get a drink. The line at McDonalds was about 150 long, so I grabbed a PowerAid from the vending machine for $2 and got back in the truck.

The drive was going fairly well, except for all the bright headlines. I rarely drive in the dark in the country anymore, so I’m just not used to it. I had some dude with super bright lights behind me, so I was relived to see my Grand Valley turn off. Whew.. It was a straight dark highway, with no traffic. I was set. I cranked up the Q107 classic rock and headed on. A few minutes up the road and I caught the familiar glare of headlights on an orange construction sign. Right, construction way back here. Wait a second, it didn’t say construction, it said DETOUR. Right, I’m sure, it’s probably just a go to the other side of the road kind of thing. Wait, what is that up the road? Right in the middle of the road?? ROAD CLOSED. AHH! It really was a detour. I was sent back into the depths of rural southern Ontario on a very wash-boardy gravel road in the dark. Fantastic. I just hoped the detour setter-outter was on the ball and set up these detour signs right back to this road on the other side of the construction! And they did!

So I was back on my way. Trying to keep my eyes open. Rolling into my mom’s driveway at 12:40am. 16 hours, 15 minutes after my departure.

Lesson’s learned?
1. Never drive home. It’s too far. Wait for family to come and visit you.
2. Wait for the ferry, it beats seeing brake lights for hours
3. The sleep after such a drive will cause brake light nightmares.
4. Get a cell phone.
5. Install a pee pot in the truck.
6. Find someone to fix my truck seat which has been stuck in the farthest back position for a year now – it is okay for short trips, but is murder on the legs stretching for the pedal after several hours.

Turns out a lady died in the accident. The road was closed for 6 hours. No one was wearing seat belts.
Accident coverage: http://www.thebarrieexaminer.com/webapp/sitepages/content.asp?contentid=121595&catname=Local+News&classif=News+%2D+Local

I think I need a nap.

* name changed to protect those who wish to remain anonymous