The Smart Car Winter Expedition

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This is in Kelowna, the start of Day One. I can't describe the excitement on the first day; you check in the night before, have a briefing seminar before dinner, and get to know the people you will spending the next week with. It's a little nerve wracking, but incredibly fun. Yes, I said it. This is a dream job. See all that crapped stuffed in there? I thought by choosing a skinny little Frenchman with a backpack to drive with, I'd be giving myself all the room. He ended up hauling along a huge checked suitcase. I had a carry- on suitcase. The two fit, with coats stuffed on top, and his backpack and my purse *just* fit behind the seats. And it's women who overpack, right? Right? Yeah, right. This is the pace car - a Mercedes 350SL. A 450SL was the chase car. Gorgeous vehicles. The lead carried a full array of snacks (or, snay-aks, to quote my friend Melissa the last time I was in the Yukon - see the RV Adventures last summer) and medical supplies. At each stop, Melanie, who was driving, would flip up the back and everyone would descend to get waters, juices, pop, power bars, peanuts, almonds or chocolate bars. I worked on a construction site for a time, so I automatically called it the Maggot Wagon. I don't think they were too impressed. With the two big SUVs sandwiching the 7 Smarts, you might be wondering what would happen if we should happen to run into trouble that couldn't be solved with a powerbar or a Diet Pepsi. This is the G-Wagon that brought up the rear. I sooooo wanted to drive this.
This is the Billy Barker Casino in Quesnel, B.C. That's pronounced 'Kwe-nel'. It's a little tiny town with a casino that looks like a gingerbread wedding cake in a whorehouse. We went in. They take your cameras from you, so I stuck mine in my coat and pretended I was pregnant. And then I lost 20 dollars in a slot machine that featured Greek mythology. Zeus did me wrong. By Day Two, the only traffic we saw as we climbed north through British Columbia were these: giant logging trucks. These thing scared the crap out of me in New Brunswick a couple of summers ago - and I was driving a 30' RV. Imagine how tiny you feel in a Smart. But the cars stuck to the road. A little perspective is always a good thing, however. Ah, the wit of journalists... Roadside ice. In parts, it is turquoise and pink. We didn't stop for the turquoise and pink, so you'll just have to trust me on that.
Seriously beautiful? Oh, yeah. And seriously dangerous. We're driving on ice. They don't plow down to the pavement, and salt stops working at -10C. So it's gravel and sand - the windshields were hugely messed up by this point - we had 4 cracks and a beauty of a chip. The G Wagon had spare windshields on board, but your war wounds become badges of honour. Well, badges of something. Sasquatch Crossing, B.C. Which I of course instantly started calling Samsquantch Crossing, in honour of Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys. Everywhere you go in the part of the world, it's trucks. In Dawson Creek (where the Alaska Highway starts), there was a Ford dealership with an acre of pickup trucks. That's all they had. It was awesome. In front of this diner, my little Smart hangs out with the big boys. Obligatory convoy picture... The Smarts on a frozen Muncho Lake, high up in B.C. By 4pm, you're losing sun.
Liard Hot Springs. About an hour from where we stayed in Muncho Lake on Day Three, these hot springs are in the Liard National Park. You park in an eerily deserted parking lot - we got there about 8 at night - and walk along a wooden boardwalk through the silent forest. After about ten minutes, you finally come across the springs - surrounded by a wooden deck, with two change rooms sitting to the side. Unheated and unlit, you undress rapidly (it was -22C when we were there), pop on your flip flops and gingerly make your way across the piled snow. You go down the stairs that are piled with hardpacked snow; the surrounding trees are huge and hung with snow and ice. The only light is the reflected moonlight off the snow, but when you hit the water, it is heaven. 57C - some spots too hot to stand in. Definitely a high point of the trip. Absolutely amazing. Until some brat from the Star started throwing snowballs. Hee. See what happens when you get along reasonably well with your previously-unknown co-driver? You emerge from lunch just in time to stop them tying cans to your bumper... Once the snowmobile tracks disappear roadside as you get further north, the roadside landscape is replaced with wolves, bison and deer. Herd of bison blink at you as you stop for pics. They don't seem too concerned. They shouldn't; they weigh more than a Smart Car. What happens when one of those huge trucks decides it wants the whole, icy road? Well, kids, this is what happens. The headlights behind my Smart are from the lead 350 GL, which took the ditch immediately before me. My choice was the front of the truck, the back of the GL, or this happy little landing spot thankfully devoid of rocks or trees.
This is the final night for me, in Whitehorse. We handed keys over to those who would take it on to Inuvik, in the Arctic Circle, and then back to Whitehorse. For the Star, that meant Mark Richardson, my editor. He in turn would hand our Smart over to Jim Kenzie, who would bring it back to Vancouver. What are these two thinking?</p>
<p>Lorraine: 'I can't believe I've driven 2500 km in four days in a Smart Car. Somebody hand me my gin and tonic. These idiots have no clue what they're in for, and look at them, all running around the bar being exuberant when they should be sleeping, sleeping I tell you. Fools.</p>
<p>Mark: 'What a bunch of wussies. They think they did some serious driving? Not bloody likely. We are the warriors who will take these Smarts up to the top of the world. This first bunch merely brought them to here, like a bunch of valets. Somebody hand me my beer.'