It all started when Lynn Marchessault, her 13-year-old son Payton, 10-year-old daughter Rebecca, and the family’s pets moved from Georgia to Alaska. Marchessault’s husband, a US Army sergeant major, is stationed at Fort Wainwright, Fairbanks.
So Marchessault packed up all of her belongings, bought a 4×4 truck that could handle the Alaskan winters, rented a U-Haul, and planned a family country adventure in the mild days of early fall.
But 2020 happened.
Marchessault waited months for the travel documents with which she could travel from Georgia to Canada to Alaska. Due to the coronavirus, Canada had strict guidelines for Americans traveling through the country on their way to Alaska.
When she got everything right, her September road trip was postponed to November. Aside from the restrictions the Canadian government placed on her, she knew she had to keep a good pace to avoid the worst winter weather.
We go across the streets
The first 3,000 miles of the trip went well. The weather was fine, the kids were taped to electronic devices, the dogs behaved, and the cat slept.
They came to Canada through Saskatchewan Province. Border authorities checked Marchessault’s records and warned them to stay on main roads and only stop if necessary for food or gasoline.
The family had to order takeaway food, even at motels they stayed at along the way. She had five days to drive through Canada and reach the US border in Alaska.
White-knuckling it all the way
The further north they traveled, the worse the weather got. Marchessault, who grew up in the south, had her first winter white-out conditions. Then she ran out of windshield wiper fluid. Mud covered her windows and she couldn’t see to drive. Even more frightening – their tires seemed to be losing traction.
“So I’m going to the gas station,” she said. “My kids had to go to the bathroom, they put their masks on, so I was outside by the vehicle … I’m a complete wreck – I was crying at that point – and a woman came out of the gas station. She says, ‘Are you okay?’ ”
“At that point, I just had to go to someone and it was all just starting to come out. I explained that I was having trouble getting up the road and I was getting no traction and she said, ‘Let’s check your tires.’ felt like I had all-weather tires, the dealer told me, but she checked and said, “Honey, these are summer tires.”
Frozen windshields and a torn tire
This good Samaritan drove Marchessault to a tire store where they could change them immediately.
But Marchessault had finished driving.
“I’m not usually the one to throw in the towel, but I threw in the towel,” she said.
“I told my husband: Border guards can just come and take us where we are. This is the only way we can leave Canada at this point.”
Friendly Canadians put you in a good mood
The Marchessaults found a motel and went to bed. At this point, the friendly folks in and around Wonowon, British Columbia, got to work, advocating on Facebook that someone should drive the Marchessaults, their trucks, and their U-Haul the last 1,056 miles to the border. The trip takes about two days until a good driver is familiar with the dangerous Alaska Highway.
Marchessault’s husband wasn’t keen on the idea that a stranger could drive his family this far, but he was legally unable to enter Canada to get them himself during the pandemic.
And if the Marchessault family didn’t get to the border soon, they would exceed the maximum of five days given to them to get to Alaska.
What fun it is to meet a ranger (when things are at their worst)
Gary Bath, a ranger whose job includes training members of the Canadian military to survive the Arctic, was home when he saw his friend’s post on the stranded American family.
“After looking at the post office a little, I saw that no one could help (so) so I spoke to my wife and we decided to drive her all the way to the border,” said Bath.
Both families met over the internet and when they decided they were all happy with the plan, Bath and his wife drove to meet the family at the motel.
While Marchessault admits making the trip this late in the year, it turned out that allowing Bath to drive it was a mistake in judgment, it wasn’t.
“I’m a very good judge of character, I knew I made the right choice and they were good people,” said Marchessault.
With Bath behind the wheel, Marchessault could relax and think about what she’d been through trying to drive in the same conditions.
“I’m sure my son was glad he didn’t have to comfort me anymore when I cried … it was more of a ‘dry’ scream,” she explained with a laugh.
“You can’t cry with tears because then you can’t see the road – and I just grabbed the steering wheel with white knuckles.”
And tonight to Alaska!
Bath found the long drive uneventful (with the exception of a blown tire, which was quickly fixed) and the company enjoyable.
“We both have military experience, so we talked about military life, told stories about the family, the kids played games, and Lynn and I found out that we are both weird and like the MREs – the military food,” said Bath.
He drove her to a Canadian border checkpoint, where the Marchessaults dropped their papers and the new friends broke up.
“We just clicked from the start,” said Marchessaults of Bath. “Just like old friends. It was a really nice ride. He deserves all credit. He’s a good guy.”