The Blue Ford Expedition.
I always had trouble falling asleep in the back seat of the truck. As I laid back in my seat, I would try to put my pillow up against the window but it usually slid down. Wearing a seatbelt as I moved around to find a comfortable position never helped either. My brother somehow fell asleep every time. Maybe the yellow life jacket he’d like to wear in the truck all day helped.
Our 2001 Ford Expedition fit all of us every year: Mom and Dad in the front seats and my brother, our panting black lab, and me in the back. Once we pulled out of the driveway in Canmore, that blue truck became our home. Although she was tough to sleep in and her air conditioning was broken, the Expedition kept us safe and together on every trip.
When I couldn’t sleep, I’d usually gaze at the passing lights from the transport trucks on the highway. Apart from them, the roads were always empty. Dad would stay up and turn on the radio quiet enough not to wake anyone up as he sipped his second cup of Tim Horton’s coffee. Dad would drive through the night; he said it saved time on the trip but I think he also enjoyed the open road.
Dad had to sleep eventually though. His snoring served as the alarm clock for the Expedition around dawn and he’d reach REM when the rest of us came out of it. Mom, my brother and I would wake up and find ourselves parked on a dirt road just off the highway. This was the prime time to go to the washroom in a nearby ditch and also notice the sun climbing up the horizon. I never knew where we were or what time it was and the only form of civilization in sight would be a couple of abandoned farmhouses. I would know that we’d been in Alberta the night before, but wouldn’t remember if we’d gotten through Saskatchewan and made it to Manitoba.
As we drove through the Prairies, there didn’t seem to be much between the cities and towns — just lots of flat golden grass dotted with clusters of brown hay bails and the occasional green tractor. Except for the giant moose in Moose Jaw, I remember being bored by the Prairies at first. But after a while, the quietness of the fields and the long blue sky grew on me. There was nothing like waking up on a dirt road and seeing the sun rising in the Prairie sky, lighting up the great sea of gold with streaks of red and pink and orange.
Mom’s favourite parts of the trip were always stopping in the towns, visiting little antique shops, and talking to locals. There was one antique shop in Saskatchewan that sold old farming equipment, horse saddles, and vintage car parts. We became regulars to the kind elderly couple who owned it. Uninterested by antiques, my brother and I would scavenge the fields outside the shop for grasshoppers. As we romped through the grass, they would fly up by the dozens making a strange flapping noise. While they’d make me nervous, my brother would try and catch as many as he could with his little butterfly net.
The most exciting part of the trip was approaching the road sign that said we were in Ontario. Littered with countless lakes, Canadian Shield rock, and forests as far as the eye could see, Ontario was a wonderful change of scenery. The Expedition would have to take us up and down great hills, wind around huge cliffs, and narrow through two-lane highways, only getting breaks when we stopped at landmarks in the province. Wawa had a giant goose that looked out over a cliff. White River had a massive Winnie the Pooh statue. Apparently the bear that inspired the stories was found near there. Thunder Bay had the Terry Fox monument. His Marathon of Hope ended outside the city.
We couldn’t really afford to stay in hotels so we spent many nights sleeping in the Expedition with our seats leaned back. But when we got past Thunder Bay, we’d camp on the shores of Lake Superior. Lake Superior was a mysterious yet inviting place. The dark blue water was never still and the big waves would crash upon the granite pebble beaches. The water was cold but we would swim in it anyways. My brother would dive right in with his yellow life jacket on, while I would shoot granite pebbles back into the churning waters with a little slingshot I used to have. At night, we’d fall asleep to the sound of waves crashing upon granite.
Each trip would end with us pulling off on a side road just north of Parry Sound and driving into a marina. We’d usually arrive late at night. It’d be quiet and still, except for the tiny thump of boats bumping against the docks, the faint buzzing of mayflies in the summer air, and the chiming masts of the sailboats. We’d unload the contents of the old truck into an older boat. It would take my dad a few minutes to get the boat running. After some attention, it would cough to life with a burst of smoke and the ripe smell of gasoline. He’d turn the boat lights on, bathing us in dim shades of green and red.
As we drove away from the marina dock towards the cottage, I’d always look back at our truck getting a well-deserved rest in the gravel parking lot. Every summer, she’d wait for my family there for two weeks until we were ready to go home. We put over 526,000 kilometres on her and she never let us down. That blue Ford Expedition was family to us and trips to the cottage haven’t been the same without her.