The Weirdest Car Ride of My Life

Having braved freak lightning storms and bear encounters, we weren’t expecting the most nail-biting part of our trip to be the drive homeward.

In July 2012, I had just finished paddling the Yukon River with my partner, Kevin, and our friends Daemon and Lyana. We emerged unscathed, ready to celebrate surviving the northern wilderness. But after freak lightning storms and bear encounters, we weren’t really expecting the most nail-biting part of the trip to be the car ride homeward.

We paddled our battered canoes into Dawson City to buy tickets for the next bus to Whitehorse. Our flight home to Toronto was leaving at dawn, and Dawson to Whitehorse is a six-hour drive, so there was zero room for setbacks.

We hadn’t realized there was no bus that week. Our options were: 1) permanently settle in Dawson, or 2) find someone with an enormous car that could accommodate the four of us and all of our gear, and was heading to Whitehorse immediately. Sensing our escalating anxiety, the man behind the visitor information centre counter made, oh, roughly 2,000 calls. “I may have found a guy!” he exclaimed.

An ancient van an exhausted shade of beige sputtered to a crawl and Stan climbed down from the driver’s seat, grinning. He was in his mid-60s and gangly, with neon yellow suspenders and wavy white hair. He introduced himself as a professional birthday clown. He chuckled, sharing lately that his van hadn’t been working and marvelled that the Klondike Highway is so remote that you can’t get cellphone reception anywhere. The van was also missing a seat belt, so we’d better decide whose life mattered least. We were off.

Two hours into our journey, the van started making angry noises. Stan yawned, which crescendoed into an extended, snarling, snorting explosion and then: “I always get really tired when I drive!” He let go of the steering wheel to smack himself across the face. That’s when the van broke down.

We were about 100 kilometres outside of Carmacks, a village of 500 or so people. It was decided that Lyana and I would hitchhike there to get help. Daemon and Kevin would stay with our gear. No one had any way to contact anyone else, but we were desperate and it was a chance at escape.

A nice, sensible-looking car came toward us, and we climbed in. The driver dropped us off in Carmacks. We headed into a restaurant, where we had two crucial missions: find a new ride and obtain some desperately needed food. Within minutes, the entire village was making calls and throwing out suggestions. Meanwhile, Lyana and I procured fettucine alfredo. I began to relax. At that precise moment, Stan’s van roared into view.

“He fixed it,” Kevin mumbled, shrugging. The sky had gone dark, and Stan, back behind the wheel, began shouting anew. “I don’t have night vision at all!” he hooted. Stan’s hands were busy with his pasta, so he’d jab the steering wheel with his elbow. At one point, he moved his face toward the wheel and attempted to steady the car with his open mouth. And then: loud, defiant flatulence. We pulled into the Whitehorse hostel’s parking lot at 4 a.m.

“Let me get a photo of you for posterity,” I offered. Stan turned around and pulled down his shorts and boxers, revealing all.

“DID YOU SAY ‘FOR POSTERIOR?!’” he cackled. He laughed all the way back to his van, hopped inside, slammed the door and drove off into the night. I could hear him chuckling through his open window as he put on his seat belt.

It’s over a decade later now, and I’m 1,000 per cent confident he’s still laughing.

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Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada