What happens when eight old fogies decide to take off in two cars and drive 11,000 kilometres in three weeks? A lot of fun, that's what.
Some thought we were imprudent even to think about such a journey. Ranging in age from our late 60s to almost 80, we're living with everything from cancer to heart disease to so many other delights of the "golden years." We contemplated a trailer to carry all our meds.
Nevertheless, on June 28, we set off, four in each car - two Saturn Vues, the first one black and the second one bright blue - and our trusty communicators at hand. We'd done this before, you see. In 2007, we travelled from Ontario to the East Coast, in tandem. The walkie-talkies had worked, but the GPS had died just outside Quebec, and our resident techie navigator had long since forgotten the ancient art of map-reading. After that, we had so much fun getting lost, we thought how much better we could get lost if we headed west.
So we were finally on our way to "mile zero" in Victoria, then south and back home through the United States. This time, we had no problem with the GPS, except that the sun's reflection off the shiny screen meant that our techie enjoyed part of the journey with a coat over the screen and his head.
What didn't work were the walkie-talkies. Cellphones do have their uses, at times. Mind you, in the mountains, nothing worked, so a code of hand signals came into play, especially before each of our frequent pit stops - and yes, in high-pressure situations men are worse than women at this age.
A Canadian flag on the lead car helped to make us visible to our followers. We tried to add a U.S. flag south of the border, but they don't seem to grow them with car window attachments. After a few flips of the bird from people in passing cars, we removed our Canadian flag and good international relations were restored.
Every day brought new wonders: the beauty of Northern Ontario, the endless acres of farmland through the Prairies, the Badlands of Alberta with their strange hoodoos, the incredible West Edmonton Mall and the glorious majesty of the Rockies. Canada is something to see.
On a sweltering day in July, we threw snowballs at the top of Whistler Mountain. We walked on glaciers and rode on cable cars, ferries and open-air buses. We travelled through the American Badlands (ours are better), watched Old Faithful do its hourly thing (how does it tell time?) and "oohed" and "aahed" at so much magnificent scenery, especially in the cattle country of Wyoming, where the rugged, well-muscled cowboys are at least six and a half feet tall. Hey, you're never too old to look.
Travelling together, they say, is the ultimate test of friendship. But ours is a 20-year friendship, founded and fostered within the Christian church. No matter. We still flunked the test with flying colours, more than once.
Never mind. We got over it and arrived home safely on July 18, exactly as planned, still the best of friends, thankful for no major health problems and boasting that even in desperate situations, our underwear remained (almost) dry - or at least no one's admitting otherwise.
We're so very fortunate to have, still, the partners to whom we have been married forever, loving, supportive families, good friends and ways in which we can still be useful to others. But let's face it: Much of our time is taken up visiting doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and funeral parlours. We write endless sympathy cards, remembering the times we have received them and dreading the next time. We joke about our aches and pains, our worn-out hips and knees and degenerating spines, but sometimes it's no joke.
We live in a world that is so changed from the one into which we were born, often it feels as though we've been transported to a different planet.
We watch as the old values, simple courtesy and plain common sense seem to be disappearing from society. We struggle, in vain, to keep up with this technological age that is racing out of control. Well, out of our control, anyway.
But we're not dead yet. Maybe we don't tweet or carry a phone that does everything but the laundry, but we have a lifetime of experience behind us, and in spite of all our past sorrows and present frailties, we still know how to laugh, learn, love and embrace adventure. After 20 years of adventure, we consider ourselves pros, so why not climb into two cars and set out on the best vacation ever? Maybe some day soon, we'll do it again. Anybody been to Inuvik?
Mary Fraser lives north of Bowmanville, Ont.