Angel of the Coquihalla

My wife and I drove out of Vancouver and headed up into the mountains late one afternoon. We both had to make important family and work-related connections the following day so we decided to go ahead despite the nasty change in the weather as we ascended towards the summit at Roger's Pass on the Coquihalla Hwy.

As often happens on that stretch of highway, the higher we climbed the harder it snowed til the visibility was nil. We managed to make our way up to the short tunnel just before the final ascent, where about seven or eight vehicles were parked to wait out the storm. Snowploughs were by now struggling to keep the highway clear but we could see it plugging up again almost as soon as they passed by.

We crept out of the tunnel to take a peek at the conditions. Tractor trailers were jack-knifed off to the side of the highway, and stranded there with their hazard lights flashing. There was probably a foot or more of fresh snow on the ground, it was getting darker by the minute and it was virtually impossible to see where the highway ended at the precipitous edge. We were driving in a station-wagon. Not exactly an off-road vehicle. So we decided to throw it in reverse and slide back into the relative safety of the tunnel. By now there were more vehicles in there and a lot of them were evidently preparing to spend the night. We could see that sleeping bags were coming out and people were hunkering in for the duration.

For us though this was not an option. We had pressing business. A few minutes later, a guy drove into the tunnel in a little 4-wheel drive Jeep, paused for a moment, and pushed ahead out into the stormy night. He soon returned as well and politely asked the driver of the vehicle parked next to ours if he would like a tow up to the summit. His offer was quickly declined as the driver explained that he felt it would be too dangerous. My wife and I heard the conversation between the two men because we had our windows rolled down a bit. Then the guy approached us with the same offer. We all exchanged smiles and we immediately agreed. I had a tow-rope in the back of the car that we hooked up and away we went, feeling somehow reassured that we could make it up to the summit despite all the stranded vehicles that we saw as we plowed ahead.

It seemed like we made it up almost effortlessly. At the summit the kind stranger got out of his vehicle and approached us to unhook the tow-rope. He told us that he would carry on ahead of us and that he would keep a watchful eye on us. If we ran into trouble we should flash our lights and he would double back to help. What an amazing and generous offer! We headed out as planned and white-knuckled it all the way up and over the summit til we hit the junction of the Trans-Canada highway at the Kamloops turn-off, always watching the kind stranger's tail-lights as he shepherded us along. By the time we finally reached the junction, the weather had cleared off and we could see the clear night sky with all the points of starlight. Perfect visibility.

The mysterious stranger simply veered off to the right and sped away to the south without so much as a toot of his horn. We wanted to thank him for his generosity but there would be none of that. Who was this brave soul who had appeared out of the night to help us up to the summit? We will never know. We will always remember him as our 'Angel of the Coquihalla'.

by Michael R. Gaudet