When ‘leaving early’ isn’t enough - The Orca
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When ‘leaving early’ isn’t enough

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Jody Vance: 90 minutes was the difference between a harrowing journey from Kamloops to Vancouver…and getting stranded. If 2021 has taught us anything, it’s to be prepared for anything.

We left early. We had snow tires. We had a full tank of gas.

Driving back to Vancouver from Kamloops this weekend, our plan was to get over the Coquihalla summit around midday – what experts say is the safest travel window after fall kicks in.

Did I mention that we left early? That fact would later play a massive role in where we slept that night.

We were quite pleased, almost smug, after exactly one hour of driving, as we hit Merritt at noon. Lunch at the drive-through. Perfect.

Thrilled with our progress, and our master plan unfolding with zero glitches, we were chewing and driving south.

Then, as we neared the fork in the road where you go left for Kelowna or right toward the Coquihalla and the coast, we saw the truck.

Still eating perfect fries, we were being directed into a single lane by a reversing black pick-up truck with flashing lights on the roof.

Construction? Stall or accident? None of the above. Things were about to get real.

As we were directed onto the 97C toward Kelowna, my rearview mirror saw the road crew hastily propping up the “Hwy 5 Closed” sign.

While our plan was all about going right, we were very much headed left.

Checking the DriveBC Twitter feed (bookmark that) we quickly discovered there had been a mudslide on Highway 5 and the road was closed.

The attitude of gratitude kicked in: “at least we weren’t caught IN the mudslide!”

Off to Princeton we went. It wasn’t even raining…yet. But boy-oh-boy, did it start to feel dangerous quickly.

Snaking through the single lane highway, we got to know the vehicles in front and behind us. No one was in that rush to pass, mostly due to the amount of debris already coming off cliff and roadside hills.

Right around Taylor Lake, we started to get the gravity of the situation. The “relentless rain” everyone had been texting us about from Vancouver had reached the Interior. It felt like all of the “watch for falling rocks” signs were screaming at us. Waterfalls gushed over almost every cliff.

Every turn of the one-lane-each-way highway had some sort of debris. I’m not talking twigs here, I’m talking rocks, big rocks, BOULDERS. Not just one here and there, but lots.

Our convoy continued cautiously, navigating around the obstacles. For my part, I  watched with major stress as semis came in the other direction. There were no signs of warning for them; no crew of cars to keep things slow. Would they hit those boulders? Might that cause a big accident?

We thought we should report the fallen rocks – when we realized we were without any cell service.

GULP.

Forward. We had to keep going.

With hours to go through downpours that even this born and raised Vancouverite had never seen before, trying to remain easy breezy and calm, we pondered the “what ifs” of getting stuck. My Brian (he’s a chef) pointed to our stocked coolers, clothes and blankets — “we’re fine.” He was right.

We figured how IF we got stuck, we’d be able to open a pop-up restaurant and bar for our four-wheeled new friends – the very motorists we had expected to jockey with for position in the Fraser Valley.

We were making it through, just barely.

The irony of not being able to SEE the Welcome to Sunshine Valley sign due to the sheets of driving rain — this is where my knuckles turned white. Sh*t got real.

The next four hours, trying to navigate the atmospheric river, was something no driver should experience. It was a disaster zone.

Windshield wipers could not beat fast enough, potholes big enough to blow tires everywhere, and pooling water sent like a surfer’s dream wave across your path.

All of it was awful. And we weren’t even really in it. WE LEFT EARLY.

As I type this, 28 hours after arriving home, our friends who left 90 minutes after us are still stuck. Still. Stuck.

Today’s Middle is about preparedness. Even leaving early doesn’t make you prepared. The speed limit is made for ideal conditions.

Whether an unprecedented storm, pandemic, heat dome or whatever 2021 throws at us, we need to stay safe. That means stocking up what you need for 72 hours, from now on.

That, and leaving early.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.

SWIM ON