They say a photo says a thousand words, but this photo doesn’t even BEGIN to touch the story behind it. What started as a joke photo led to me helplessly trying to push the Patchbus out of a ditch, and eventually, to us experiencing the kindness of strangers. The photo in question is the one above, but lets not get ahead of ourselves. The real story starts about 24 hours prior to this photo being taken.
So here’s the scene: It’s Saturday afternoon, and my girlfriend Anne and I are leaving Peterborough in the Patchbus, bound for my uncle Kevin’s wedding in Barrie. It started like any other road trip, with a coffee for the road and some good tunes blasting.
I don’t know if there’s a more efficient route to Barrie, but my favourite is to take Highway 7 to Oakwood, then get on County Road 6 and follow that (after it turns into Simcoe County Road 46) to Highway 12, then take that to Highway 11 into Barrie. As we were heading north out of Oakwood on County Road 6, we passed a gravel country road called Black School Road.
As we passed it, Anne exclaimed “Did you see the name of that road?!” Being young adults, our minds instantly jumped to probably the most offensive possible meaning of the name, suggesting it refers to the racial segregation of years past. She asked if we could stop and take a photo at the road sign on the way back. “Sure!” I said, since I love stopping and taking photos of the Patchbus in the different places I visit.
The rest of the trip there was fairly uneventful. After arriving in Barrie, grabbing some dinner and doing a little running around, we set up the van for the night’s sleep in the schoolyard across the street from my Uncle Rob’s house. The legion the wedding was at was very close so we decided to walk to it, and halfway there I realized that I had left the front flap of the canvas pop-top on my van open, meaning if someone really wanted to, they could easily get inside… And so could the rain. Fortunately the sky was blue so my worries were eased a little.
The wedding was beautiful, especially for a Leafs fan. See, my Uncle Kevin and his new wife Christine are big Toronto Maple Leafs fans, and decided to have themselves a Leafs-themed wedding!
The wedding was a great party, and we were all having tons of fun… But when the rain started, I started to worry more about my van and how soaked it would be when we returned. Over the next few hours, a few small but powerful thunderstorms came through, bringing lots of rain with them… When I finally got back to my van around 3 AM, I was pleased to find that the damage was minimal. The floor inside was a bit damp, and so was the foot of the bed. A few electronics got wet (including a boombox which no longer seems to work properly) but beyond that, it wasn’t so bad. We still had a place to sleep!
The next day, after spending some time with family and having breakfast, Anne and I hit the road to come home. Time was kind of tight, we only had 2 1/2 hours before she had to work, and the Patchbus is not exactly a quick vehicle. After a stop at the grocery store in Kirkfield, time was even tighter. We still decided to stop again at Black School Road for that photo op we had discussed.
As I got back in and started driving, I said “Let’s see what’s up this road.” When I take a road trip, I often like to take little side trips just to see what’s around. Anne replied “We have NO time to play with.” “You’re right,” I said, as I started into a 3-point turn a little further up the road. No more than 30 seconds after she said this, I’d backed the rear of my van off the edge of the road into a ditch. What now? I get out as Anne gets into the driver’s seat and start to push. These particular vans are rear-engined and rear-wheel-drive, so that means I was basically trying to push the heaviest part of the van back onto the road so the drive wheels could get some kind of grip… But I’m just not strong enough.
So while Anne takes my phone and starts calling work to tell them she’ll probably be late, I start walking toward County Road 6 (aka Eldon Road) to hopefully flag down a 4×4 pickup to pull us out. At this moment, I can barely believe my eyes when I see another Volkswagen bus (slightly newer and in better shape than mine) come around the corner. That was the first time I said “What are the chances?!” during this ordeal.
The gentleman behind the wheel of the bus must have seen us on his way by and turned around to offer a hand. That’s one of the things I love most about owning a classic VW: when you bump into another person who owns one, it’s always a super friendly encounter. When you pass someone driving one on the road, there’s always a wave and maybe a honk of the horn. This gentleman offered to try and pull us out, which I found amazing because I’m not sure how willing I’d be to use my bus for such a duty. They’re not exactly suited for that kind of work.
Anyway, I took him up on his offer and grabbed a little ratchet strap that was inside the van. I could tell as soon as I grabbed it that it probably wouldn’t do the job, but we tried anyway… And sure enough, it snapped after only a few seconds of pulling.
The gentleman (whose name I should have gotten) then continued on his way, after apologizing for not being able to help more (Canadians are so damn polite!). We were thankful that he would even stop to help.
To give you an idea of where we were, here’s a map.
So at this point, we’re still stuck. I take my phone and start the process of calling National Auto League (NAL), my roadside assistance provider. Given our location, I figured it would take at least an hour for a tow truck to get to us. As soon as I walked back toward County Road 6, I noticed a flatbed tow truck coming down the road, so I threw my arms up in the air and flagged him down. Sure enough, he saw me and turned around. This was the second time I said “What are the chances?!”
As he backed his truck up to my van, I asked him “How much does something like this cost?” He says “Usually about $85″ At this point, Anne and I had fairly limited amounts of cash on us, having spent most of what we had during our time in Barrie. “Do you have a credit or debit machine or something?” I asked. “Nope,” he replied. “Hmm, okay… We don’t really have a whole lot of cash on us.” “How much do you have?” “Maybe 15 or 20 bucks?” “That’ll do.”
So, after I scrounged up a bunch of change from inside the van, I had managed to scrape together $20. I handed it to him as he began to hook his flatbed’s winch to the front of the Patchbus. The first attempt was no good, because the angle was a little too sharp to pull it out. After repositioning the winch on the van, another pull and we were finally free!
When all was said and done, we had lost maybe 20-25 minutes from the ordeal, and it was pedal to the floor after that to try and get back into town on time… And as it was, Anne was only about 15 minutes late for work.
It just goes to show that you can often depend on the kindness of strangers, and that at times, lady luck can really be on your side. If that tow truck driver hadn’t seen me, we would have been stuck considerably longer. Same if he hadn’t agreed to do it for the relatively paltry sum of $20… But everything went better than expected. Looking back now, I wish I’d taken a photo of the stuck van so I could show you all, but at the time I was beyond embarrassed.
Have you ever had a similar situation and gotten lucky? Tell me about it in the comments!