How many memories are created by a simple family vacation …

Depending on how you look in the rear-view mirror, the road behind can seem rocky – one of bad luck and poor decisions – or like a yellow-brick road of which each stone is a shared experience in both its problems and its joys.

It can bring one together with one’s loved ones or push them apart, but I think it’s more about how and what you choose to remember that is far more important.

I’m not sure, but I think I travel under a special star that makes sure every holiday I take on the road is an adventure – not a disaster, but close enough to remind me I have a guardian angel working overtime.

In July of 2004, I decided to drive to Vancouver Island accompanied by our two younger teenage children with the intent of having a holiday as we took our son to soccer camp on the island.

The Yukon was burning up …the Alaska Highway had been closed the day before we left because of forest fires. So I decided, with a little trepidation, to take the Stewart-Cassiar Highway south.

This road, although chip sealed, is extremely winding with bush very close to the roadside. The weather turned overcast as we arrived in Dease Lake for dinner. We decided to continue in hopes of finding a nice provincial campground a little farther south.

So back on the highway we went.

After traveling an hour or so, we came upon a long line of cars and trucks. As I pulled up and stopped, a nice young gentleman in the truck ahead of us told us the road was blocked by a landslide and should be cleared in an hour. So we decided to wait.

After returning from nature’s call, my daughter came to me and said, “Mom, I think the tire is flat.”

“No way,” I said because, before I left, I had all the tires checked, including the spare. Good thing. One of my rear rims was now on the road.

Our daughter went and asked for help from that nice gentleman as I opened the rear door of our mini van to get the jack (fortunately, I’d asked my husband where it was before I left Whitehorse).

What I didn’t plan on was getting to this stuff under all the camping gear. Everything was piled behind the back seat, so that had to come out first. And I knew the tire was under the van, but I didn’t know how to get it out.

I managed to get the jack first and while I unloaded our things, the good Samaritan jacked the van up. It took a while, but we figured out how to let the tire down and the two of us changed it. Phew!

So once the car was put back together, the work ahead had progressed enough for us to travel past the mudslide. Amazing how in the Yukon everything was burning up and yet, just a few hours south, the rain had fallen so hard it created a mudslide.

Only happens to people like me.

So we continued on down the highway looking for a campground. The funny thing is, we never thought of going back to Dease Lake … no, that would be going backwards, wouldn’t it.

So as the darkness settled in, the realization that we were, after all, traveling in the North (and that campgrounds were far apart) registered. I thought, Well, at least the moon is out and it’s lighting the road.

It was quite pretty, actually. The gravel shoulders were so dark it was hard to tell where the asphalt ended and the shoulders began. We came to a pullout, to go to the washroom, and I said, “Well, shall we set-up our tent here?”

With a resounding, “No!” the kids piled back in the van and we continued on south.

Then the fog came.

Just my luck. So, as the kids were snoring, I was wondering if we would make it to civilization before I was too tired to drive and made a mistake on that narrow winding road with the trees almost at my doors.

I thought, Well maybe I’m exaggerating a bit … but, hallelujah! (the answer to my prayers, “Little Switzerland”, appeared around the bend – a place called Bell Two, with a hotel and many beautiful chalets.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I knocked on the locked front door, not caring how many hundreds of dollars a room would cost. No answer. So, I go around back and find a man coming down the stairs.

“The hotel is full,” he says, “but you can camp in the campground.”

I drove around the building to see a near-empty RV campground. He points to an area way in the back in the trees and says, “That’s where you can camp.”

Have you ever wondered why RVs, which have their own toilets and showers, are located right near the bathrooms? I know, I know … it’s cheaper to build the plumbing all together, but really!

They wanted me to set up our tent in the dark at the edge of the vast wilderness (with bears) where I would have to hike to get to the washroom.

So you know what we did? We set-up our tent, nicely as you please, on a little grassy knoll between two RVs – a short walk to the facilities.

Then it started to rain.

I don’t know if I mentioned this, but if you plan to camp, call me first. If I’m planning to travel anywhere near where you want to go, don’t go! (it will rain. I guarantee it).

The next morning, we took down our wet tent, loaded up the van and went to pay for our site in the nice dry hotel. Fortunately, they had a tire repair shop. So with our flat tire fixed and our soggy camping gear stowed, we hit the road.

The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful.

I often wonder if these things happen to give substance to my Christmas letters each year. Or perhaps it’s something more …

I’m reminded that with every challenge, a solution was quick on its heel. Can I say it was a bad trip? No, not really.

You see, with every telling of this story, my children and I laugh and talk about how we felt and what we did and how, in the end, everything worked out.

Through our shared experiences (sometimes through our problems), the road behind us helps us realize that the one in front of us is something that can be looked forward to.