Mark gets a regular route from Edmonton to Yellowknife transporting supplies for the winter ice roads. Halfway through his first trip he gets sleepy and nearly drives off the road. When he takes a break and gets out of his truck, he’s swarmed by insects. After jumping back into his truck, he is fighting off the bugs all the way to High Level.
Mark reaches Yellowknife and immediately hits his bunk in the yard in an attempt to get some much-needed sleep. However, Johnny Jones, a driver Mark had helped in the past recognizes Mother Load and refuses to go away until Mark lets him take him into town. Mark has a great time, but gets little sleep, making driving even more of a challenge…
Back in Edmonton, Mark checked into a hotel and wasted little time getting settled in. He bought a take-out meal from a Chinese restaurant next door then ate it dressed in his underwear and watching the Eskimos hand it to the Argonauts at Commonwealth Stadium. Feeling full, and a little bit sleepy, he took a long hot shower and was more than ready for bed even though it was just only just past nine in the evening. The bedsheets never felt as warm and comfortable and in moments he was out. But the respite was short-lived.
In his haste, Mark had neglected to shut off his cell phone, and now the device was ringing and ringing…as if someone on the other side of the world really wanted to sell him new windows, or someone on this side of it really needed to get in touch with him.
He reached over and took a look at who was calling.
It was his mother.
“Hi mom,” he said.
“How did you know it was me?”
“Technology, ma,” he said. “It’s come a long way since the phone was invented.”
“You would think so, but I’ve been trying to call you for a while now and it kept telling me that your phone was unavailable. Have you been paying your bills?”
Mark recalled that there had been a number of missed calls, but he’d thought that had just been because he’d been out of the range of most providers. If it was important, he always said, they’d call back. “No, mom, I’ve been up north where there’s no cell phone
“Is something wrong?”
“Not any more.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, your father was in the hospital with blood clots on his lungs.”
“Geez, that sounds serious.”
“It is, I mean it was. They say that one out of every five people die from it.”
Mark could feel the blood drain from his face. “He’s still alive though, right?”
“Yes, he was one of the luckier ones. He’s been complaining of pain on his side for days but refused to go to the hospital. You know how he is…”
Mark knew. He was a lot like his father in that regard, never admitting there was a problem until it was almost too late. “How’d you get him to go?”
“I called the doctor and told him what was going on. Doctor Katz called him back right away and ordered him to go to the hospital.”
“So he’s going to be alright?”
“He’ll be on some medication for six months, then they are going to re-test him. The doctor at the hospital said he’ll probably be on blood thinners for the rest of his life.”
Mark breathed a sigh, but there was still an awful knot in his chest. “Do you want me to come down and be with you?”
“There’s really no point,” his mother said. “The worst is over and he’s home from the hospital now. Worst thing is he’s inside the house all the time now. Every time I turn around he’s there. Maybe in a few weeks you can pass by and take him with you on a day trip or maybe a single overnight to Montreal or Chicago.”
Mark’s dad had been a trucker his whole life and was one of the reasons Mark took up the gig. “I’d like that.”
“He would too,” she laughed. “Hell, I wouldn’t mind so much if he were out of the house for a couple of days.”
They talked a while longer, and his mother told Mark what was going on with all the rest of the family, but all Mark could think of was his father nearly dying while he was about as far away from the man as you could be and still be in the same country. Thank God he didn’t die…that would have been one of the saddest and longest drives home in history. The conversation wound to a conclusion.
“So come by in a few weeks. He’ll be finished feeling sorry for himself and be ready to get out of the house by then.”
“Okay, Mark. Drive safe, bye.”
Mark hung up his phone, shut it off and tried to get back to sleep. But his mind wouldn’t let him doze off. Instead, he lay in bed for the next few hours, twisting and turning in a fitful sort of state that was anything but peaceful.
The next day, like every day on the MacKenzie Highway, Mark felt fatigued. He hadn’t been driving crazy long hours, had been perfect in terms of on- and off-duty hours in his log book, and he’d done his best to get the rest he needed, but none of it was working. Something – sometimes important, sometimes not – always seemed to intervene. But this wasn’t the first time he’d had a stretch like this.
While his divorce was being finalized years ago he’d been a wreck, talking with lawyers and his ex-wife for hours on end. And when he hadn’t been talking about getting divorced, he’d been thinking about it…ways that she was trying to screw him over, and ways that he could get back at her for trying to screw him over. It all led to little sleep and zero rest, something he was getting close to now.
Before you knew it, Mark thought, I’ll be like that guy in front of me, unable to decided which he likes driving over better – the shoulder or the centerline.
And that’s when it hit him. The driver in front of him, also hauling a step-deck loaded with bags of concrete, was falling asleep at the wheel. He was veering from side to side, then overcorrecting before settling down for a minute or two of straight driving. Mark got on the CB radio hoping to get the guy’s attention. “Hey concrete-bagger heading north on the MacKenzie just north of Peace River, you got your ears on?”
No answer. Mark closed in tight and blasted his horn.Nothing.The truck just continued on following the straight line of the highway. Up ahead was a sweeping left-hand turn. Mark blasted the horn again, but the truck in front of him just kept on driving straight, slowly drifting to the right, then going right off the road and down into the ditch, coming up again – still upright – on the flat ground on the side of the highway.
Mark immediately geared down and pulled over.
Mother Load seemed to take forever to stop. Mark jumped out and ran back down the highway and off the road.He climbed up the side of the cab and opened the door. The driver was slumped over the wheel, asleep but looking very much as if he were dead.
“Hey buddy, wake up!”
Mark slapped a gentle hand against the man’s face – once, twice, three times. Finally, the driver’s eyes fluttered open. “What happened?”
– Mark Dalton returns next month in the conclusion of Miles to go before I sleep.