The following is a true story from a long drive from Grande Prairie, Alberta to a reserve up north called Fox Lake. It took about seven hours, and went wrong in spectacularly amusing ways.
Our society has the strangest phobias. Not just an individual level, but on a large scale. For example, when wishing someone farewell for a long period of time, if they have a plane ride ahead of them, many people will say something along the lines of "Have a safe flight!" as though getting on a plane is some sort of death sentence, and the entire plan is simply a ten-spaced roulette wheel with "Die horribly" in three of them. However, though I never feared flying before, I've come to appreciate the safety of being kilometers above the things that are truly terrifying in this world. Trucks, for one, as well as blind driving, ice, and winding forest trails.
It was dark. Not in the, "Turn on my nightlight, mommy" sense of the word, but that swallowing, despair-fueled sort of darkness that you can only describe to someone who's known it well. That darkness where, from the back seat of the car, even with your eyes shut, you can still feel it crushing down upon you as though the sky itself has decided to end your life. Where even the highbeams, which I remember my mom swearing at for their brightness in the city, won't put a dent in the depth of the foreboding shroud surrounding us. My dad's calm in his face, and his hands are firmly on the wheel. He's done this before, several times. He knows this road well, and knows where to go if a truck sweeps across in front of him. He barrels down the road at a cruising 80 clicks, though he can't see even his stopping distance, particularly pulling the trailer, ahead of him. We're all relatively still, not saying much to avoid distracting him when I hear his voice from the front.
"Gaaah!" He announces, as if in disgust, and my eyes are drawn first to him, then to the windshield, which has now turned to whiteout in an instant. It takes me a moment to realise it, but this is not just fog. Fog doesn't descend like this. This is a layer of snow being kicked up onto the hood, blinding us all to what's ahead.
"There's a truck up there." My dad speaks nonchalantly. "It's kicking up the snow, I can't see a thing. I literally don't even know if we're on the road at the moment." This declaration comes with a response of relative terror from the collective three of us in the backseat. I can't see my sister, but I imagine she's no less calm, given that silence has taken her, just as it has taken us. It's a few more seconds before we have any sort of feedback informing us of our position, and that comes in the form of a red light just up ahead, slowly approaching on us. It takes me a moment to catch on, but this is about when I realise, it's not approaching us. We're approaching it. And the "it" in question is the snow-covered taillight of the tractor trailer just ahead.
"Why are we getting so close?" I inquire ahead. The road is icy. We're pulling a trailer. If that truck begins to slow, we're going right into its tailgate, without a question.
"I need its light to see! I can't even tell if we're on the road, and I need to be this close to see the light!" My dad yells back. Everything but the light is a white screen, and we all realise our predicament, though only my dad says it aloud. "We are driving blind, pulling a trailer, on ice, in pitch black darkness, at a distance behind this truck that I wouldn't choose to take on a perfect day, on a clear road, without the trailer." This is terrifying. This is utterly horrible. But the strangest thing happens in the face of inevitability. When we all think we're about to die, and yet none of us can do anything about it. I start laughing under my breath a bit. I try to hold it back, thinking that I'm just being strange. That's when I realise, however, that it's not just me. My sister has started laughing in the front, as have Connor and Cole. In fact, even my dad has joined in the merriment. I burst out, and the whole car is in an uproar now. We could all die right now. The van could crash, and everyone who doesn't just die flattened between the trailer and the tailgate of the truck ahead will simply freeze or starve to death in the woods. No one would even know we're gone at first. So what are we laughing about? Is it just that we've all accepted this and want to die happy? Or the absurdity of all these factors conspiring against us? No one is sure, but underneath it, at a few points, I hear someone discussing who would die in what way; who would just be killed on impact and who would have to freeze, and it seems like general consensus that the people in the front would die outright, while lucky me would probably have his legs crushed and crawl from the wreckage to expire just off the path. This state of strange equilibrium continues for about five minutes, with us gaining no ground on the truck, and not being able to see enough to pass it. Eventually, though, leaning to the side, my dad confirms the way to be clear before darting out beside the huge truck, gunning the engine, and powering past it. As we get beside it, though, the whiteout doesn't clear, as I expected it. If the truck was kicking it up, there's no reason now for it to not disperse, right? Perhaps it's just throwing some sideways too, and we're just caught in the midst. But yet, even as we get in front of the truck, it seems thick as ever. My dad seems just as confused as I by this for a moment, but then a realisation dawns on all of us at once, as we see another, slightly brighter red light just ahead.
"There's two trucks." He declares to us all. As we get closer, I identify the truck ahead as a propane truck, and yet, the laughter never ceases, even growing to heights I've never heard from this family, and may never hear again. Fortunately, the light is bright enough on this truck, having recently been cleared of ice, that we can stay back a little further. Still not a safe distance, and the truck behind us is now right on our tail, so were we to stop suddenly, our odds at a quick death have improved exponentially. Maybe this is what we all look to as comfort, as my dad zooms up to close the margin of error between ourselves and the truck ahead. My feet have ceased to shiver, though they're no less cold than they were just moments before, yet the humour continues to flow, warming everything from them to the top of my head.
"Alright, here we go!" My dad calls out between gasping laughs. "Round two!" And with that, he pushes hard on the accelerator, moves out from behind the truck, guns it hard to the dismay of the engine, and once more, we drive past the propane truck, identically to our first battle against physics. Once more, though, the snow fails to clear, and my heart drops a little at the thought of yet another truck being just out of view. Relief fills me, though, and as the trailer slides ahead of the propane truck, our view becomes clear as mud yet again as we plow further on into the dark embrace of the heavily wooded ice-on-dirt-on-gravel road. The laughter dies down a bit, and I almost miss it as the cold seeps back into my mind.