highway 4 in tofino

The Grey Volvo

by Janice Lore, Tofino


I have decided to go for an extended visit to my family while Richard is away for the summer. He has landed his dream summer job: flying an amphibious plane, a Grumman Goose, up north in the lake country. Richard will drive us, since he is going that way. “Us” refers to me, my computer, my sewing machine, my canning equipment, my books.

Things have been really hectic since I decided to head out with him. I have cleaned all the winter dust out of the house, said goodbye to the whole town, written letters, made lists, packed boxes of books and suitcases of clothes.

“ Good God,” Richard exclaims, “You would think you were never coming back!”

The way Richard and I are fighting, he might be right.

Richard is used to leaving town for long periods, but he usually goes by himself. He is used to going to a job, not taking his job along with him, which is what I have to do as a writer and homemaker.

As far as I can see, Richard is doing nothing to get ready to go. Except criticize me.

I inform the post office, the cable tv, the telephone company, the fire department, the neighbours.

“ For Christ’s sake!” Richard says impatiently, “the only person I ever let know is the landlord!”

“ Thank you!” I say and make a note of it. I had forgotten him.

But then I ask, “Not even your own brother?”

“ What for? He’ll figure it out.”

“ What about a family emergency?”

“ What could he do about it?”

“ Well, he might like to know.”

“ I doubt it.”

Two days before D-parture Day, Richard springs into action. I see that he has been busy, assembling a mental list that he now methodically ticks off. He takes his bike out of the basement and dissembles it, his tool box out of the storage closet and checks its contents. Then he sets up the step ladder in the middle of the living room. I poke my head around the corner to see what he is up to. He gazes admiringly up at the 7 foot scale model Goose which hangs suspended from the ceiling. Then he climbs the ladder, carefully lowers the airplane and removes its wings.

“ You’re not taking that?” I ask, and regret it instantly. He has been saying that to me for the last month, and I had sworn not to play tit for tat. Besides, he spent the winter building this radio-controlled model and now he wants to fly it. Would I begrudge him his fun?

Richard starts to pack the truck the day before we leave.

I spray the oven with Mr. Muscle, then I start carrying things out to the truck while I wait for the oven cleaner to work.

Richard does not want my help. He knows exactly how he wants to do this, he says. I will just be in the way. Do I have everything packed? I point to my pile in the living room.

“ You can leave the loveseat and sofa,” I say.

Richard doesn’t laugh.

So I pour descalant into the kettle, cut my fingernails, polish my shoes, and watch Richard’s face grow grimmer with each load he carries out. His tread becomes heavier on the step. He begins to slam the door.

He carries out the model Goose. Three trips later, he brings it back in.

“ It won’t fit,” he says accusingly.

I immediately feel badly. “Take some of my stuff out.”

“ No,” he says. “That’s okay. It doesn’t matter.”

I can see that it does matter, that it’s not okay. But I’m not going to argue. I am the one who usually makes the sacrifices. Would I begrudge him his fun?

We climb into the truck the next morning.

“ I am never doing this again!” Richard declares, as he always does when we head out on a trip. The first time he said that, I thought he meant he was never going on another trip with me. I still think that’s what he means.

There are four mountain passes and two days’ driving between us and my family. For the first 200 km we barely exchange two words. Richard is totally absorbed by the road.

I admire the rally car driver in him. When we get in the truck he looks at his watch and knows exactly what time we will roll into my parents’ yard. He can see the whole road in his mind’s eye, knows exactly how he will drive it, where the passing lanes are, how fast he will take each curve. He even allows for my bladder and stomach.

Unfortunately for me, mountain roads + rally car driving = motion sickness. This morning, I want to throw up just to show Richard how upset I am, but I realize that is short-sighted. So I close my eyes and try to relax, until my stomach and my feelings settle down.

When I finally open my eyes, we are a few kilometers this side of the first pass. There is a steady stream of traffic, with no opportunity to overtake, but everyone is going the speed limit. Ahead of us is a grey Volvo station wagon with out-of-province plates.

“ He passed me a few miles back,” Richard says, indicating the Volvo. “I don’t know what the point of that was. He’s not going anywhere. He just had to get by me.”

He shakes his head. “There is just something about people who drive Volvo station wagons.”

I can see a man behind the wheel, a woman beside him, a baby car seat strapped in the back. The cargo hold is full of suitcases. Looks to me like a family on vacation.

“ He’s mad because I passed him back at the LeClerc River bridge. Passed by a half-ton with a v6. Overloaded.” Richard gives me a significant look, but there is satisfaction in his voice. The truck is performing well.

We start up the pass, and the motor homes and trucks ahead slow down as the grade increases. Richard keeps the revs up, stays close to the Volvo. He knows there is a passing lane coming up.

When we reach it, he swings out into the left lane. A split second later, the Volvo does, too. Just in front of us. Richard can see the Volvo is about at the top end of its power. He dogs it, rides its bumper, but the driver refuses to pull into the right lane.

Richard is getting ticked off, but it’s a long passing lane, and he’s got an ace up his sleeve. Richard knows the road, knows that ahead there is a sharp curve to the right, its speed posted at 50 km/hr. He knows that he can safely take that corner at 70, knows that the Volvo driver doesn’t know any of this.

We see the sign for the curve. The Volvo hits the brakes. Richard is right on his tail. All the Volvo must see in the rear view mirror is the menacing grill of our truck. He grudgingly pulls over. We both scream around the corner and the Volvo immediately accelerates. Richard cannot quite get by him and we head up the last grade of the pass, neck and neck.

We round another curve, and there is a logging truck in the right lane. The Volvo stands on the brakes and we flash past him, past the logging truck and over the summit. Richard shifts up, the truck quits straining, and we skim down the long smooth curves, the sunlight flickering through the trees along the road.

Richard grins at me and checks the rear view mirror. The Volvo station wagon has disappeared.

“ I can tell you what’s going on in that car right now!” he crows. “His wife is yelling, ‘Are you crazy? You’re going to kill us all!’”

It’s a measure of Richard’s skill as a driver that I am not yelling. In fact, I am laughing, too.

He winks at me, blows me a kiss.

Late in the evening we stop at a hotel. Over dinner, Richard inspects the calm, reflecting surface of his wine as if it were a northern lake on which he is about to land. He circles, setting up his approach. And his departure. It’s all the same. A bush pilot arrives thinking about how he will leave, assessing terrain and the distance required for take-off, how to keep the most options open.

As a pilot, he says, you rely on training, reflex, faith: a wing and a prayer.

I have discovered that, as a partner, Richard is untrainable, but his reflexes are good, and I have a lot of faith in him.

He would like to depart without fanfare, but there always seem to be fireworks. The process of disengagement, taking off is fraught with difficulty.

Today, after 700 km, we are finally “on the step.” Hydroplaning. The plane, which was buoyed by pontoons, is now lifted by wings. Speed and attitude have overcome the water’s drag on the floats.

I know exactly when it happened. It was the burst of speed on the pass, and the waves of laughter rippling through the cab of the truck, breaking the tension. The Volvo is behind us, the summer ahead. We are on our way.

In Tofino you can find all of Janice Lore’s books at Wildside Booksellers at 320 Main Street

Tofino Time Magazine February 2005

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The Grey Volvo, a short story by Janice Lore, about driving the road to Tofino, for Tofino Time Magazine.

tofino time february 2005

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