By Andrew Stuckey
Most often, the work of a journalist is to report on the activities of other people and organizations and their events and behaviours. Occasionally, though, as it is relevant, a journalist gets to share a story about him or herself.
Our family’s recent adventure getting to Vancouver is such an opportunity. Its relevance is linked to the likelihood that what happened to us could happen to others — in fact, has happened to others. It demonstrates the need for improved cell coverage on Hwy. 3 between Princeton and Hope.
Tracey and I, along with our daughter Keara, her friend Emily and our three-year-old grandson Brendyn, travelled to Vancouver on February 19. The weather was good and the roads were clear and we determined to travel Hwy. 3. Our vehicle, my wife’s Ford Focus, is in good shape and we have good winter tires on it.
We ran into trouble near Sunday Summit, about 78 km west of Princeton, when the vehicle encountered some fallen rock on the highway and we suffered a punctured tire. The rock shattered in such a way that it threw shards through the side wall, rendering the tire unrepairable.
Fortunately, we had a spare and were able to find space at the side of the road to effect a tire change. Unfortunately, the shattering rock also damaged the rim and I was unable to remove the tire as one of the lug nuts twisted on its stem.
That necessitated a call to BCAA for roadside assistance.
We quickly determined cellular service in the area was sporadic. It took almost an hour and several disjointed phone connections to get enough information to BCAA to arrange a tow truck. It was another hour for it to travel from Hope.
The truck’s driver was Tyler Strathren of Hope Towing.
Once Tyler arrived, his tools allowed him to quickly make the repair and we were on our way again, this time running on our spare. We hadn’t travelled 30 km, however, before a narrow road and an oncoming tractor-trailer unit pushed us through a massive pothole and a second tire was destroyed.
This stretch of highway was particularly dangerous but with the deflated tire all but shredding as we gingerly moved forward, we had no recourse but to get off the road.
Our predicament was immediately obvious.
On one side, the road dropped off to a ravine several hundred feet below. On the other, an overhang loomed above, sporadically sprinkling snow and rock around our vehicle as it sat on a very narrow ledge.
Worse, however, was the road itself; it twisted past in a narrow cut of pavement that was barely wide enough for large tractor trailer units to pass as they careened towards each other.
Our cellphones this time were useless.
While I attempted to flag down passing motorists and hurriedly ask those who did slow to summon help once they were back within cellular coverage, my wife and family remained in the car, away, as best they could manage, from the threat of passing traffic and falling rock.
We sat there, expecting to wait an hour or longer for RCMP to be notified and help summoned. As it turned out, that wait was shortened by the appearance of Tyler’s tow truck. He had stopped in Manning Park and was fortunately behind us heading back to Hope.
He immediately stopped, surmised the danger we were in and with some expediency moved the vehicle to a pullout further up the road where he could properly finish loading our vehicle on his truck.
With the bulk of the family — including Brendyn, who was tickled pink to be riding in the tow truck — crammed into the back seat of the truck, we travelled to Chilliwack, where tires were eventually ordered and purchased and our vehicle was repaired.
The ordeal was over.
It comes, though, on the heels of a petition undertaken by the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen’s Area H Director Bob Coyne. He and his RDOS Board counterparts are demanding Telus — which is contracted by the province to provide cellular service along Hwy. 3 but so far has apparently not felt inclined to finish the job — to improve coverage in the Eastgate and Manning Park area.
“The province spends a lot of money to bring tourists to the Manning Park area and they can’t use phones there. There are international tourists coming and they can’t use their phones,” Mr. Coyne reportedly told the RDOS board.
As our situation demonstrates, its not just increased tourism, though, that makes improved cell coverage critical for the area.
It’s not difficult to think it, but certainly hard to accept it, that my family might have been a casualty of corporate reluctance. I wonder how long — even as darkness was approaching – we might have sat on the side of the road awaiting rescue and, even worse, what our condition might have been as night enveloped the lonely highway and our precarious placement.
It’s easy to talk about numbers of travellers, limited use of the highway and other statistics as factors in determining the priority of work required. But I can tell you, the firsthand experience of dealing with a very stressful and potentially dangerous environment puts a rather solid point to the expediency of that work.
I try, but I can’t stop imagining the headlines of my family obliterated in the carnage of a Hwy. 3 accident, the text of the story discussing how we were stranded on the side of the road and smashed to bits when two tractor trailer units met in the darkness and, in order to ensure a safe pass, one moved a little to the right and found not safety but our vehicle.
Melodramatic, perhaps, but still all too common.
Chalk me up as one who will sign Mr. Coyne’s petition.
No, Telus, you’re not the only player in the program to ensure our highways are safe, but your role is a significant one. Let’s get that work done.