Readers can enjoy the wry humour of this Valley story, with a twist in the tail.
The wind had been howling for hours, the sun peeking out from thick white clouds every now and then. If it weren’t for the wind, it would have been a perfect spring day – warm enough to get by with just a sweater.
I remember grabbing a light hoody before I went out the door that afternoon. My editor at the time had sent me a message about a big fire on some quiet little road. I gathered my camera, checked my notebook to make sure I had a few pages to spare and grabbed an extra pen or two. I tossed them in my bag, throwing it over my shoulder as I slipped into my shoes and rushed out the door.
Maybe eight months earlier, I’d bought a truck – brand new – with my own money. It was still my pride and joy, a small piece of freedom I clung to desperately. Living in Barry’s Bay hadn’t been my first option, but I was making it work and, at 24, I was just thankful that someone was willing to employ a smart-ass English and History major with no real employable skills.
I’d stumbled backwards into reporting for the local paper, then stumbled (with much thanks and gratitude) into working for the other local paper not long after. And after months of work and saving, I was able to get my own set of wheels.
The truck made it easier to get around for work and life in the Ottawa Valley. Publicly, it was a tool, something to get the job done that a tall guy like myself would fit in comfortably.
Privately – or perhaps not so privately – it was my own little escape from small town life.
In hindsight, it’s hilarious to me that the tables have turned. Much as I love my life in Ottawa, getting away to the valley for a weekend (especially in the summer) has become a way to relax, unwind and find myself again. Of course, I’m four years older now; 28 is much more mature and wise than 24, after all.
The truck had one minor flaw, though: it was only two-wheel drive. Speak to anyone in Ottawa, they won’t bat an eye at you. In fact, I’d doubt that anyone would be too bothered or worried by that, no matter their location. But there was a part of me convinced that I was a total impostor, driving around the Valley without all-terrain four-wheel drive.
I dreaded it coming up in conversation.
Folks would comment on how new it looked, and some inevitably asked if I got the four-wheel drive. I sheepishly would tell them no and would laugh awkwardly at my own city-boy foolishness.
“I’ll probably need that in winter!”
Still, I didn’t mind – it was my own little piece of freedom.
Some background: in 2013, I’d moved into my parents’ place after finishing university in northern BC, thinking that living two hours from Ottawa would give me a better chance at finding work. That was the extent of my job-hunting “plan” and I quickly fell into a funk as I put in half-hearted efforts to move to the city.
But through the help and connections of some very kind friends, I managed to make a good enough impression as a writer that I was able to find work as a staff reporter for both local papers – one after the other, of course.
So I had a job that had me driving throughout the township and beyond. Before long I got frustrated with the old family van I was relying on. I saved my money and got the truck.
It was a dream come true. It made the job easier. It made my life easier. It was a little bit of freedom and it was all mine. It helped that it went fast and that it had a great stereo.
But I digress – back to the windy day.
I hopped in my truck and drove off to get a few photos of the fire and find out what happened. Most of the snow was gone and the roads were quiet. The roadsides looked damp and muddy from the big melt, but otherwise, it was a great day – well, except for the wind, of course.
By the time I found the place, the fire trucks were already there. Smoke was trailing over a charred field and the firefighters on site were already cleaning things up.
The road was dirt but looked dry, if narrow. No trouble for a two-wheel drive truck! I pulled to one side and hopped out for a few photos. I introduced myself to the owner of the farm – a wonderful guy – and asked him what happened. He sheepishly shook my hand, looking back out over the field.
“I dunno,” he said, “I feel like an idiot. I just wanted to have a bottle of wine by the fire with my wife, it was so nice out.”
I nodded as I squinted in the wind, using one hand to keep my notebook from flipping closed. “Sure,” I said.
The unspoken “Please don’t print my name” hung in the air as the wind whipped around us. I started thinking about how I could report what had happened while sparing the details that someone had lit the fire pit in winds that would give ardent storm chasers pause.
I thanked the farmer and asked if he knew who was to speak to with the fire department. He pointed out a man in a torn windbreaker walking between the trucks pulled over on the side of the dirt road. He looked busy, so I figured I’d wait a bit.
I went back over to my truck and got in. Thinking I would save myself time and stay out of the way if I turned around now, I started the engine and then pulled across the road and onto the shoulder so I could do a flawless three-point turn.
The truck responded perfectly and I braked expertly and put it in reverse, easing off the brake. The wheels rolled back for all of a second… and stopped. No trouble, though – this was a truck! – so I put my foot down on the gas, giving it just enough push to get myself out.
The engine revved, the tires moved and I heard the unmistakable sound of spinning wheels coupled with mud splattering the wheel wells.
I was stuck.
The ground looked dry as could be, at least on the surface and I immediately realized that all that meltwater from the winter had gotten in the ground. The minute that top layer of dry was disturbed, it was thick, firm mud beneath.
Panic started to creep in. How would I get out? Would I need a tow? Who would I call? Who’d make it out to this location?
Worst of all, how much crap would I have to deal with from the fire fighters, the farmer, and the tow truck driver for getting my huge, brand-new, two-wheel drive kid’s truck stuck in the mud?
“I don’t need four-wheel drive,” I’d told myself when I was shopping around. “I don’t go off the beaten path. I’m going to be sticking to roads!”
As I sat stuck in the mud, I shared a few choice words with myself for how shortsighted I had been.
I pulled out my phone. I at least had cell service. I could figure this out, I could get unstuck, and I could get my freedom back.
So of course the first thing I did was phone my mom.
“What do you want me to do about it?” she said, laughing, as I explained myself. “Can someone there pull you out?”
I explained that there was no way I could ask anyone here for help because then I’d never hear the end of it and that was simply unacceptable because I got the truck to stay mobile, not to go mudding. I didn’t go for a rip, I didn’t haul my sled out anywhere and I didn’t go cruising through the brand-new Timmy’s parking lot with the boys. How the hell was I supposed to look people in the eye with my city boy cred?
My mom laughed. “Honey, just call a tow truck.”
When I hung up, I messaged my editor asking for a tow truck recommendation. “Don’t ask,” I added. “Got stuck. I hate mud.” In seconds I had the number of a tow truck and I called them, trying to explain my situation. They were polite, understanding even – they didn’t even ask about four- or two-wheel drive.
The tow truck mere minutes away, I hopped out of my now-obviously stuck truck and wandered over to the farmer chatting with the fire chief.
“You stuck?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I answered, “didn’t really think it through.”
The farmer laughed, waving a hand towards his singed field. “Think about how I feel!”
“You from the paper?” asked the fire chief.
“Yeah,” I said. “Any comments you can share on the record?”
He recited what was clearly something he’d had to say about a hundred times before about outdoor fire safety and the dangers of high winds. The farmer pointedly stared at his feet while the chief’s eyes stayed straight ahead.
I thanked the chief for his time, and turned to head back to my city-boy vehicle just as the tow truck showed up. Before long, he’d gotten to work and pulled me out of the mud. I carefully parked myself and hopped out to thank the driver and pay him.
The fire chief stepped up as I shook the driver’s hand and asked, “Did you call the tow truck just now? I didn’t realize you were stuck.”
I nodded, feeling my face flush, ready for the ridicule. “Oh, yeah. It’s… yeah, it’s embarrassing, it’s only a two-wheel drive-“
The fire chief didn’t even flinch, cutting me off with an audible sigh of relief. “Thank God, both our trucks are stuck too.”
Needless to say, none of this made it into the paper.