Kootenay Calling

The car was stuck. I was stuck. Almost at the top of the hill, the engine had stalled against the weight of the uHaul trailer and the steep slope of the road. Foot hard on the brakes, I turned the key again and tried to get it going. Clutch in, clutch out, gas in, e-brake down, more gas. The engine revved loudly and black smoke began to drift from under the hood. Oh.

“Just back it down and we’ll take a run at it,” my husband said. “I’ll guide you down”. He hopped out and began waving his hands enthusiastically behind my mirror.

I started the car again and slowly let the brakes out, carefully backing down and then, uh-oh! The trailer began to curve into a jackknife. I twisted the wheel. Surely I could get out of this? After all, we’d watched helpful YouTube videos on how to back up a trailer, it seemed easy enough. But, no. The trailer curled across the road towards the far curb. The car firmly stuck on the steep hill. Traffic completely blocked off. If I let my foot off the brakes, the car began to slide. The e-brake wasn’t going to hold it. Well, shit.

After nearly 4000 kilometres and fives days of driving, the car was stuck within sight of our new apartment building in Nelson, BC.

My husband and I had lived in Guelph for nearly a decade and in many ways we loved the city with its river trails and limestone buildings and vibrant summer festivals. But in many ways Guelph was changing rapidly. Condo towers began to grow and shadow the downtown streets, the suburbs thrashed out further along the city edges, and bigger, boxier stores surrounded by endless parking lots became the new landmarks.

We love hiking, but found we were driving long distances to arrive at crowded trails that opened onto vistas of distant hazy cities: Brampton, Mississauga, Burlington, Hamilton. The Greater Toronto Area was swelling with people and cars and roads. There were only scraps of wilderness left. We poured over maps of the Bruce Trail, trying to calculate round trips that would keep us in conserved land. We drove hours in the off-season to distant Tobermory and Awenda and Killarney to try to find peace and quiet within the wild.

Meanwhile, we struggled in different ways with our jobs. I had a job that was too good to leave and Andrew did everything he could to get an interview somewhere better. Our young lives had been focused on work, jobs, occupation. We finished university and began working: call center and factory. We rarely saw one another on our scattered shifts. We took evening courses, applied for jobs, kept plugging away.

We began dreaming about other places, wilder places. We started to describe our ideal home: mountains, wilderness, small community, arts and music, a good growing season. We explored maps of British Columbia and began comparing interior cities: Kelowna, Kamloops, Prince George, then Salmon Arm, Vernon, Cranbrook, Creston. Slowly, Nelson in the heart of the West Kootenay mountains shifted into focus.

Our new landlord came down the hill, after a frantic phone call, to assess the situation. It was the first time we’d met. He shook my hand through the car window.

“I’m stuck,” I explained, “I can’t take my foot off the brake.”

“That’s pretty bad,” he confirmed. But our landlord was the right person to call, because he headed back up the hill and minutes later he was back with a buddy, a truck, and towing ropes.

After a few false starts, the whole ensemble got going up the hill: truck pulling car pulling trailer. We got towed around to the building’s back entrance and shakily stepped out. We’d made it.

It was hard to leave our old life in Guelph. We were surrounded by friends and family, and had bought a little stone house with gardens and chickens. The city was full of our routines and memories and connections.

It was hard to explain. “No, we’ve never been to Nelson. No, we don’t know anyone there.” And yet we had to go.

In many ways, our old life was very good. And in many ways, it was unbearable.

The decision to move away to the mountains came slowly, until it suddenly snapped into focus.

It began as a general sadness about the way things were- the lonely nights, long day jobs, slow drives in heavy traffic, suburbs, strip malls, people everywhere. Place is lost in Southern Ontario – the same street corners are repeated in every city. There is little uniqueness, chain stores and cookie-cutter houses.

And the people – so many people driving, commuting, shopping- so much competition. Everyone buying bigger, buying better, pushing forward for the next milestone – houses, cars, debts, jobs, vacations, family. We were pushing forward too, until suddenly we stopped.


After the trailer was unloaded and returned, we took a walk in the warm evening to explore Nelson for the first time.

It was April 1st, and the trees were budding green and red. We crossed a rushing mountain stream, watched the sunset glow fade across the evergreens. Downtown Baker Street was lit with voices and music. The distant mountains deepening into a hazy blue. Clean alpine air. A deep contentedness settled in me for the first time in months.

Somehow, we’d made it home.


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Karen de Villenfagne-Budd
Karen de Villenfagne-Budd
6 years ago

Abby, I love that you and A. have found your new home. And, I love this story!

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