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Family Matters

Road Trip with the Littles

June 20th, 2014

By Dawn Booth

“Family road trips are overrated.”These were the words said – verbatim – out of my husband’s mouth during our first family drive to Calgary. And though he said it with humour, due to the reality of the chaos that took place within the trip’s final hour, I couldn’t agree more.

We decided to pack up our two toddler boys (Landon was two and Dawson just turned one) into our compact SUV to take a trip down south for Father’s Day weekend.

It was the first week in June 2013; we wanted to enjoy a relaxing getaway before our lives got even more hectic, as we were getting our home ready for sale by planning and preparing renovations. We needed fresh paint, a new roof on the deck and electrical work completed to get our home up to par. And so, a weekend family trip seemed like the best thing to do before we dived in to the Fort McMurray housing market.

We had planned the trip several weeks in advance and then a couple of days before leaving, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo declared a State of Local Emergency due to flooding of the Hangingstone River with concern over the Clearwater River. Sadly, our region’s most historical buildings at the Fort McMurray Heritage Park are still in ruins a year later.

Before departure, we dropped by Grandma and Papa Booth’s home to say our goodbyes.  They wished us safe travels – though they weren’t too keen on the idea of us leaving and warned us that storms and flash floods would be following. We unknowingly assured them we’d be fine and made our way out of the city.

With a playlist lined-up with tunes from Paul Simon, Queen, Counting Crows and The Cure, we were off. Our first stop was on the side of the road at the old Mariana Lakes’ location for diaper changes and a quick walk-about. I knew that this was going to be the first of many more breaks along the way. However, we were prepared for this and decided we were going to take our time.

We continued with my husband, Ryan driving the highway. I was busy taking snap shots of clear sunny skies to ensure our safety to our worried parents back home.  We stopped several more times at popular eateries and gas stations along 63, through to Edmonton.

We were in the tenth hour when we reached the Queen Elizabeth II Highway. Things were going really well. The boys were happily content, but my husband and I were getting exhausted. The sun had set and it started to rain. Ryan drove the entire time up until this point. And though I was a beginner driver, I felt that I could brave the rest of the trip to give him a break.

We stopped to eat at the Starlite Diner Car in Bowden (between Edmonton and Calgary), which creepily resembled a setting out of HBO’s True Blood vampire series, but it was closed.  So, we switched seats anyway and headed by back on the road.

It was a mere ten minutes of me in the driver’s seat. And with just my luck, thunder rolled in and lightning was a blaze in the sky. The rain was pouring hard now, blurring my vision of the road. In a matter of moments, complete catastrophe hit.  Both boys were crying from the noise of the hard rain pounding on top of the vehicle.  And poor Dawson was so scared he started to throw up on himself.

Ryan was trying to help our youngest from the passenger side, but Dawson continued and was now choking. Scared and trying to remain calm as a heavy volume of traffic was passing by, I was able to pull off onto the highway’s shoulder and get out of the vehicle to help him.

Dawson caught his breath again, but he was still very upset.  I tried to give him some water and wipe him down. I jumped in the back, to sit in between the two car seats, and tried to soothe my sons.

With my husband back in the driver’s seat and complete concentration taken away from directions, we missed the turn, got lost and ended up in a parking lot in what seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.

The rain had lightened up and I was able to get out and remove more of the vomit from Dawson and the back seat, while Ryan called our friend, Kyle, who we were in contact with the entire trip down as he was hosting our stay.

Kyle’s place was just outside of Calgary in Chestermere. Being the great host he is, he had gathered friends and had dinner waiting for us. But now, we were several hours late and it was almost midnight.

“Family road trips are overrated,” my husband chuckled on the phone to Kyle, who luckily told Ryan that he was just around the corner. And eleven hours later, we made it. Kyle came out to see us and my first greeting words were, “I need your tub.”

The rest of the trip had a few more rainstorms periodically. But thankfully, we didn’t have any further unexpected circumstances on the roads.

We took the boys to the Calgary Zoo for their first time and we were joined by my long-time friend and Calgarian, Roxie. We laughed at monkeys, admired the elephants, and spent plenty of moments looking at penguins (Ryan and I definitely thought our oldest would really enjoy the animals, but he was more interested in eating ice cream). The weekend continued with more get-togethers with Ryan’s old pals from high school, many humorous conversations and, even, a fun afternoon of shopping at CrossIron Mills.

We decided to break up the trip back to Fort McMurray by spending the last night with our friends, Sarah and Steve in Edmonton. And though it was short, it was sweet to wake up and spend Father’s Day morning with more great friends.

Overall, once we arrived back to our homestead, we were able to reminisce on all of our happy memories of rekindling old friendships and sharing the experience of our first big family road trip. And we plan to do it again, even further, to British Columbia this summer. Though this time, I will be packing towels and plastic bags.

*If you would like to make a donation to the Fort McMurray Historical Society’s Heritage Park flood-relief program, go online to

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