Rescued! A close call on Cape Breton

Well this is a story all about how, my GPS got flipped and turned upside down, and I’d like to take moment and just sit right here and tell how I became ….a ‘legend’ on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. (ok, I kind of lost it at the end.  Just go with it, ok?)

After many years of delaying, I FINALLY planned one of the trips that had been on my bucket list forevvvver: Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Following a loosely planned route, I finally made it the Cape Breton, home of the world-famous, Cabot Trail.  I’d been doing a lot of driving, having driven from Boston and was putting in about 3-4 hours a day on the road going from place to place.  So, I decided to take an ‘easy day’ and just relax a bit and cut down on driving.  I started the day by driving into Baddeck and meeting up with Captain John from Amoeba Sailing Tours and spending a delightful day on Lake Bras d’or watching eagles and enjoying gorgeous scenery.

Afterwards, I headed over to Mabou for an early dinner at the Red Shoe Pub. Because….FIDDLES!  Because the road was winding and there are lots of animals one could possibly hit, I made sure I wrapped up dinner with about 30 minutes of daylight left to get me back to the main road.  In all,  the journey back home should have been about 1 hour and 45 minutes.  But, apparently the universe and my GPS had other plans.

First, while I wouldn’t say I have a bad sense of direction, I do find myself lost every now and then.  And when I am lost, I have this habit of just going straight.  I mean think about it , if you’re lost, and you just go straight, that should make getting ‘unlost’ easier, right?  Part of the reason why I get lost so much is that 7/10 times, if I am supposed to make a left, I make a right.  I usually figure it out pretty quickly, but you know, it’s an issue.

I mean think about it , if you’re lost, and you just go straight, that should equal making getting ‘unlost’ easier, right?

That’s exactly what happened when I left the Red Shoe Pub.  I took a wrong turn, noticed, turned around immediately, and headed towards what I thought was the main road.  My GPS however, in that time, had recalculated a ‘shorter route.’  “Turn Left” it said.  Hmm, really?  Uh, ok.  “Turn Right,” it chimed in again.  “You mean down this dirt road?,” I thought.  I guess.

My GPS had taken me on a dirt road short cut earlier a few days earlier and got me to my destination, so I had no reason not to trust, right? Well, before I knew it I was too far in, my 30 minutes of daylight had turned to darkness and I settled into the general feeling of “oh, sh*t.”

Oh, and not only had the daylight faded, so had my cell signal.  But, luckily the map and the step-by-step instructions were still on the screen along with the little blue line that reminds you just how far away you are from where you’re trying to go.  Ever calm in  awkward situations, I focused in determined to make it out of the maze, and according to my GPS, down Skye Mountain Road to the main highway.

But, the more I drove, the more isolated and primitive the road got.  There were huge mud puddles and with each 1/4 mile I felt my little Ford Focus getting lower and lower to the ground. And then, I hit a dead end…one that my GPS had apparently not predicted.  Looking ahead, it was clear that it was a logging area so I knew there was no road.  I looked longingly at my GPS and suddenly the arrow moved.  I was away from the blue line.  Oh, good!  Maybe I just accidentally veered right or something.  if I just get back on the blue line, I’m golden and back to the main road in no time.  Nope.

Driving by moonlight....except without the light.
Driving by moonlight….except without the light. My view of the road.

I did get back on the blue line, but things only went down hill from there.  The puddles got bigger, the road got rougher, and I began having my own little lamaze class in the car to keep calm. Seriously, I could have popped out a kid with ease; the breathing focus was THAT real.  I realized I was in danger if I didn’t get out of there soon and went into survival mode.  Then, I saw the first sign of hope…literally a street sign, pointing at the upcoming right turn. The sign said Hwy 105!  Woot!  That’s where I was going.  AND, the GPS said Skye Mountain Rd was only 500 feet ahead.  Double Woot!  I got excited.

And then I turned right and my stomach sank.  The ‘road’ had clearly not been driven on in months.  It was overgrown with weeds; I could barely see anything because it was pitch black.  But what I did see, scared the hell out of me.

I slowly inched forward and after about 100 meters and I freaked a little.  I could not drive on the road.  And even if I made it down this road, what was after that?  Every turn I’d made had only gotten worse.  My car was scrubbing the ground and this road was straight out of a Friday the 13th movie..and I was that ridiculous chick driving through the woods looking for danger.

The road was narrow so turning around wasn’t an option. Hoping to find a way to turn around, I inched forward a little more and the wheels skidded a bit to the right.  I cut to the left to avoid going over the embankment on the right and subsequently went over the small but muddy embankment on the left.  I sat there a second, took a deep breath, put the car in reverse and pushed slowly on the gas.  My stomach sank again. In that moment, I realized I was stuck, completely perpendicular to the road, in the dark wilderness, where it looked like no one had been for months.  Stuck.  With no cell signal. I hit the steering wheel and let out a few four-letter words and then all the Lifetime movies I’d ever seen flashed before my eyes.

The muddy embankment my car made friends with.
The muddy embankment my car made friends with.

But first, I had to pee! I’d actually been holding it since a few minutes after I left the pub and just couldn’t any hold it any longer.  I’ve never peed outside.  I’ve always been like ‘how the hell do people do that and not piss all over themselves”.  Well, let me tell you, when you’re in the middle of east bumblef*ck and you’ve got to go, if your experience is anything like mine, you’ll make it happen without even thinking about it and execute with sniper-like precision….all in under 5 seconds.  Ok, back to Lifetime…

Stay put. Try to make contact. Get everything you might need from the trunk and put it in the car then lock the door.  Don’t freak out.  Luckily because I had driven from Boston, I had Gatorade, snacks, fruit, and blankets in the car.  If I had to, I could manage for several days and not starve. But the only think I could think in the moment was  “Oh, God!  I do not want to spend the night in this car.”  Sh*t got real.

Wait, is that a chainsaw I hear? Who is breathing so hard? Did someone just say Pennywise the Clown?

Still with no signal, I tapped out a text to a dear friend Jo in Georgia who is like a mom to me and always looks out for me: “I’ve just wrecked my car on a interior dirt road.  I love you.” I hit send. Nothing happened.

Though I’d far from given up, I was aware that the situation wasn’t good and I’d started to think about my options, which were pretty slim.  I’ve watched way too many movies and staying in the car overnight was my biggest fear.  But, I wasn’t leaving the car to look for help.  First rule of being lost…stay put.  I had no clue how far I was from civilization and I was really clear that whomever I might have run into in the woods, I didn’t want them to help me or even come near me.

I've made a huge mistake.
I’ve made a huge mistake. Look at the darkness outside!

I looked down at my phone.  The message I’d tapped out was still on the screen. Sent. Wait!  What?!  A glimmer of hope.  Despite having zero bars, that message somehow got out.  Then, I kicked myself for sending such a useless message with absolutely no real information.  I immediately tried again: ‘Canadian Police. Call. Tell them I’m on Dunakin Rd. 500 meters from Skye Mountain Rd. Cant get call signal.’

 I immediately tried again: ‘Canadian Police. Call. Tell them I’m on Dunakin Rd. 500 meters from Skye Mountain Rd. Cant get call signal.’

By some miracle that one went through too.  I sent similar messages to the next in line on my Emergency Protocol list and just hoped.  I got no texts back and despite repeated attempts to get out to 911, I could not make contact.  I grabbed my notebook and started writing.  My first thought was that someone was going to find me and think I came out here kill myself in peace.  That turned into maybe I’ll get kidnapped and I’ll at least have left a note behind explaining how I got there.  I really just wanted to write down as much as possible and it helped me focus on something other than prospect of spending the night in the car…and dying.

My first novel, lol.
My first novel, lol.

An hour passed.  Nothing.  I dialed 911 again. I never heard a ring, but I saw the call timer start on my phone. OMG! Now I know how Tom Hanks felt when he saw that ship.  I calmly explained to the operator that I’d wrecked on Dunakin and Skye Mountain Rd.  Then she said calmy,  “Is this Rese?” Um, yes!  Yes it is!  How awesome is that?  She knew my name! OMG!

“We think we got a good location for you, I need you stay on the phone.”

No sooner than she said that, my phone disconnected. But I was thrilled not only that Jo had made contact with the police, but also that people were looking for me!

I wrote in my notebook: “I’ve just got through briefly to 911.  They are looking for me.  Hope is alive. Amazing people in my life.”

I was renewed.  People were looking for me.  But, what if they don’t find me?  I wrote again: “Disconnected shortly after contact.  Only one text came through. Situation is scary. Hope they find me.”

The next hour or so was just a waiting game.  I alternated between turning the car off and on to save gas and not run the battery down.  I thought about the life insurance papers sitting on my living room table and how I’d delayed signing and mailing them. I had lots of thoughts. I thought of my beloved grandmother whom I just knew was working her celestial magic to push my text messages out and watch over me.  I thought about how I’d not been terribly impressed with my beer at dinner and what a shame it would be to not have had a good last drink.  I thought about all my previous adventures and close calls and realized how lucky I was to have experienced so much and overcome so many obstacles.  Then I knew.  Somehow, I knew it would all be ok. It aways was.

I reached for my phone again.  It had been charging on the console.  I rolled the window down hoping to get a better signal and I dialed 911 again.  Low and behold, the same woman answered.  When I tell you I was in the middle of nowhere, let that be a sign of how remote of an area I was in.  She asked if I was hurt, if anything was leaking.  Before she questioned any further, I was blinded by headlights.  I told the operator I saw headlights but couldn’t see anything else.  “Roll up your window and lock your doors!,” she warned.  A guy got out with a flashlight and started walking towards the car.  I still wasn’t sure if it was the cops until he got a little closer.  Relief.  The operator made the RCMP office identify himself before she would get off the phone with, something I was super appreciative of her doing.  Relieved, I could now enjoy the comedy of errors that followed.

The RCMP officers, both named Brad, were so ridiculously incredible.  They immediately made sure I was ok and tried to ensure me that everything was going to be fine. They surveyed the area and damage and were super nice about trying to figure how in the hell I’d manage to get to the middle of nowhere.  I was in such a remote location that their radios didn’t even work!  They had to walk a little down the road to radio back to the dispatcher to call off the other rescue units.  Since I wasn’t able to provide much information to my friend who called or to the operator, they were not sure if I was ok and sent out all the troops.

They’d also called a tow truck, the only one in town.  However, the owner of said tow truck did not get the call because he was also a firefighter.  And, since the fire truck had been dispatched to get find me, he was not available.  Lol.  So they had to call a truck from an hour away and then figure out how to get him up the mountain and through the rugged terrain.  While the older Officer Brad waited for the tow truck, Young Office Brad sat in my car with me and filled me in on all the hunting regulations for the upcoming hunting season and revealed that I was actually on a snowmobile trail, not an actual road.  Nice. Apparently, folks have gotten lost a lot on Cape Breton thanks to Google Maps mistaking snowmobile trails for roads.  Go Figure. I felt a little better about my situation.

The tow truck finally made it to the area after getting lost for a while.  BUT, since it was a narrow road, the closet turn-around was a whopping 5 KM up the road.  So, he had to drive his massive flatbed truck in reverse for 5KM.  When he arrived he was basically like, this is some of the craziest ish I’ve ever done in 20 years.

Because I was perpendicular to the road, it took a little bit of physics to figure out how to get me out.  At first the RCMP suggested the tow truck just turn me around and I could go back out the same way I came in. I politely declined. I was 100% certain that it would not end well.

Luckily, the back of my car was facing a tree.  Wade, the tow truck driver, wrapped a wire around the tree and I maneuvered the car up onto the flatbed.  It looked like someone had planted a bunch a chia pets at the bottom of the car.  It was nearly completely covered with grass and twigs. Remarkably, there was very little damage to the car. We bid farewell to the RCMP who drove out ahead to lead us out and headed towards the main road.

Turns out we were about 20 minutes from the main highway.  Those 20 mins, on a narrow road, with a gruffy tow truck driver, and even more mud puddles and awkward terrain were brutal.  I was literally digging my nails into the side of the armrest.  But, the conversation with the tow truck was equally perplexing and hysterical.

“You’re Rese from Georgia, right?”

“Uh, yes.  Wow.”

“You’re all over the radio.  We heard you’d fallen off a 60 foot embankment and were on the roof of your car.  This is the most excitement we’ve had around here in a while.  You’re a legend.”

He went on to assure me that if the cops had not called him, he would not have come. I   didn’t blame him.  He said in all his years of towing, he had not done a crazy job like this and that his boss was never going to believe him.  It was an interesting 20 minutes but we finally made it to the end of the road and ALAS…..Hwy 105!

The plan was to drop me off on the highway and send me on my way.  It had been a five hour ordeal. It was dark. And, it was STILL over an hour away from my B&B. We checked out the car.  Wade said it was possible the chia pets could catch on fire but that it should be fine to drive.  That was comforting.  Nothing seemed to be leaking, I had a quarter tank of gas, and really could not afford for anything else to go wrong.  I paid Wade, tipped him handsomely for essentially saving my life and hit the road.

It was so dark. I was afraid of hitting a moose.  So, I drove about 40 KM the entire time adding about 30 mins to the drive.  But, I made it!  The owner of the B&B was up and about and thought I’d been out partying.  She got a real kick out of my story and I got a real kick out of seeing my bed and you know, being alive and not sleeping in a car.

My phone wouldn’t dial out so I couldn’t call and rain down immense praises and thanks to Jo for sending help.  But, soon my phone connected to wifi and all the text messages I had sent seeking help went out at once and my friend in Texas was working hard trying to contact the Canadian Police, lol.  Yikes! We got everything settled eventually and I settled in for a greatly earned good night sleep! I went to bed so thankful for the wonderful folks in my life who always look out for me.  And, even though there were some holes exposed in my emergency protocol, I was glad I had something in place.

When I had time to process things the next morning I remembered how when I’d first wrecked, aside from my moment of frustration, I was not panicked. As I tossed around in my head whether or not the cops would find me before someone else did, I felt a strange peace.  I thought: ‘Well, at least I am going to die doing what I love.’

After breakfast, I was back on the road again looking my next adventure!




2 thoughts on “Rescued! A close call on Cape Breton

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