A Humbling Breakdown

“Got any beer or smokes? For some reason I drove all the way out here with nothin’ tonight,” the stranger said.

I remembered the single Budweiser in the van and handed it to him in the deep, dark British Columbia woods. By headlamp, the three of us talked over the situation, as the rising moon pushed its lamp into our circle.

The situation included two friends stranded 24km down a No Service dirt road. My left-front wheel was resting near-horizontal from an earlier driving error, and our potential savior was now sipping a Budweiser.

He wore a vintage Patagonia vest, not for style, but because he hadn’t shopped in 30 years. His belly opened the vest’s three bottom buttons, and he stroked his santa claus beard without pause.

“I live by myself in the woods for a reason,” he said. “I’d offer to put you two up tonight, but…” He stopped, and he didn’t need to finish, we understood. Eventually, we hashed out a plan – he’d call CAA (the Canadian AAA) with my information; we’d stay the night in the van, waiting to see if his call worked.

Once we had a plan, his tone dramatically shifted, “Hey, you guys want a beer?” I could sense Leah and I were equally confused – why was he suddenly interested in socializing AND offering exactly what he just asked for? But, you don’t call shenanigans on a helpful stranger, so we took the beers and learned our savior’s name was Will. “I haven’t talked to anyone in four days, my cup was overflowing… it’s sure nice talking with you two,” Will said.

We went ‘round the moonlit circle taking turns at our life stories. I told about my conservative upbringing, costly business degree, and, ultimately, my decision to hit the road seeking stories and self-sufficiency. I voiced frustration that this rural breakdown would probably be a weeklong ordeal.

Will cut me off. “Whoa whoa whoa! Don’t forget who caused this… you asked for this with your adventurous life. You can’t be mad when something goes wrong, you want this,” he said, and pointed to my van. 

His words bit sharply, but the truth in them was clear. Will continued, “You’re one of those independent types, you and your big, bad American independence. You know, you’re not independent and you never will be… look at us right now, we’re all dependent on each other for something. We need each other.” I answered him with silence, but he eventually broke it, “Hey, how about another beer?”

Leah and I paused, both eager for bed after a full day of snow-slogging up Valhalla’s Gimli Peak. Will sensed our hesitation, “Okay then, we’ll put it to a vote whether I can stay,” he said. “Each of us gets one vote and one round of feedback. I’ll go first… I vote to stay, I’m really enjoying your company.”

Leah was next, and after a thoughtful pause, she voted yes. My turn. “Look Will, I want to share another beer, but I’m also anxious to see whether CAA will come out here, or whether we’re walking,” I said.

“Whoa, feedback time!” Will exclaimed. “Remember, I’m the one helping you, and now you’re concerned about the efficiency of my message delivery. I just want to point that out.” “Well, dammit Will, seems you only speak in truth,” I said, and we cracked the three new beers.

About an hour later, our messenger clanked his Jeep down the washboard road, leaving us in the broken-down van. We attempted to explain his two-hour presence, but eventually decided it was better left a mystery.

Somehow, though, that mystical stranger in the Canadian backwoods illuminated the dark spots of my ego… the exact parts I had hit the road to break down.

The drum, drum, drum of a diesel tow rig woke us at 3AM.

[This post was written in partnership with REI, and all words here are my own.]

Hiking to the base of Mount Gimli in British Columbia
A broken down front suspension of my Volkswagen Vanagon
A mechanic works on my broken Volkswagen Vanagon
Volkswagen Vanagon driving through rural British Columbia