I t was past midnight, the sky black and the road obscured by heavy white snowflakes that seemed to come not only from above but from the left, from the right and from below.
The dim headlights of my 1988 Dodge Grand Caravan barely cut through the blizzard, lighting tire tracks from a truck whose taillights we could barely make out ahead. The rest of the road, and the barren ground around us, was indistinguishable between one and the other, and I hunched over the steering wheel with knuckles whiter than the un-driven snow outside of the window.
In the backseat, my friend and drummer in the band, Jon slept beneath a pile of blankets, comatose from an allergic reaction to a sour-cream donut and a generous helping of weed.
Riding shotgun was Jim, front-man of the group, nervously watching our “progress” through the alien landscape of northern Ontario. This was in November 2003, and we were a punk band bent on conquering the great white north, headed from Winnipeg to Toronto on our second attempt at touring — our first and final attempt in the winter.
When we set off from Winnipeg, sometime around 9 p.m., the sky was clear, the moon and stars providing plenty of light along the Trans-Canada until just before the Ontario border. The snow, from that point on, did not let up until Thunder Bay, where we enjoyed — despite the -20 C temperature and the strong north wind — a brief stop over at the Terry Fox monument.
Before we hit Nipigon the snow was coming down again; it didn’t stop until we hit Toronto.
We’d decided upon the much longer — and clearly more death-defying — route through northern Ontario rather than risk crossing the U.S. border carrying our amps, drums and guitars without a work visa — not to mention the ounces of weed we had stashed throughout the van. As we cruised along the shores of Lake Superior, Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” ran on repeat through my head. The waves crashing into the bedrock shores were terrifying. More than once, I was sure we’d meet a similar fate to those doomed sailors, as the icy road passed so close to the waves at some points that spray mixed with snow to form an icy slush on the windshield.
After harrowing curves around Sault Ste. Marie, the nearly blind driving for an hour after passing through the Sault and narrowly avoiding a wrong turn that would have put us in an American customs line with enough dope to land us in jail for quite some time, the snow lightened slightly. By this point, Jim had assumed driving duties and we packed a bong-load each to celebrate our survival, against all odds.
Immediately following our session, seconds after stashing the bong in a Sorel snow boot behind the driver’s seat, we turned a corner to see the flashing blue and red of an OPP cruiser.
“Shit,” Jim and I said at the same time. Jon was still sleeping. We slowed to stop and rolled down the driver’s side window.
“Good afternoon, officer,” Jim said. The blood drained from my face. It was almost three in the morning. The policeman lady gave Jim a strange look then proceeded to explain the situation to us. A semi carrying dangerous goods had flipped across the highway and a detour was being set up. She waved us over to the shoulder up ahead. Once in place, we killed the engine and waited.
Not five minutes later, we found ourselves in the middle of a military convoy, surrounded, on all sides, by green vehicles carrying troops, vehicles, and massive weaponry, snaking our way for kilometres along the back roads detour.
“What the fuck is going on?” asked Jon, waking at some point during this bizarre scene.
“I don’t know,” I said. Jim stared straight ahead, following a truck, open at the back to the bitter cold outside, carrying what appeared to be a platoon of Canadian Forces infantry.
Eventually, we made it back to the highway and the convoy left us behind. Hours later we rolled into Toronto, where we witnessed a dude giving another dude a blow job while we waited for our friend to wake up and let us into her apartment.
We played our show and then a few days later, turned around and drove another 30 hours back to Winnipeg. I’ve yet to do that drive again.