The Adventures of Rob and Dorrit (the Toyota Echo): The Storm

Vancouver weather is similar to Ireland’s in that it is usually wet as the city is located in a natural rainforest. Locals jokingly call it ‘Raincover’, but I wasn’t laughing last week when Dorrit and I got to spend three and a half hours in crawling traffic as a sudden storm battered the city with high winds and torrential rain.

9:30 am - I teach a morning class out in Surrey once a week and it is a brief thirty-minute drive on the Trans-Canadian Highway (Highway 1). Last week, I headed off as usual and the weather appeared dry and pleasant enough. Sure, there was a nip in the air and it has been getting darker progressively sooner, as we are now well into fall. I got to the school and all was still dry and calm.

12:05pm - After I was finished I jumped into Dorrit and began to head home taking my usual route. To be fair, Google Maps did highlight a delay along the Port Mann bridge of twenty minutes. I could have found a longer route home, but I impatiently started driving away figuring twenty minutes wasn’t that long. I regretted that decision as soon as I came onto the highway. There was a massive tailback and I had no choice but to merge with it as I couldn’t turn around.

1:05pm - The twenty minutes quickly turned into sixty minutes. Thankfully, I had used the toilet before setting off but I was frustrated, hungry and hot after sitting in crawling traffic for so long. I could hear Dorrit’s fan come on at regular intervals to cool the idling engine. Had she not been a Toyota, I would have been worried about overheating and being left stranded on the side of the road. Dorrit doesn’t have any sort of ‘Stop/Start’ technology. I had half a tank of gas and hadn’t been too concerned about it until I found myself sitting in this traffic. I tried turning off the engine and started it again when the traffic began to move and this proved to be even more frustrating. The traffic was crawling slowly, but it was moving and stopping and starting the car constantly could do more harm than good in terms of fuel economy and mechanical wear. All I could do was sit and stew. I remembered that famous scene in ‘King Lear’ where the elderly king ranges at the storm and how it was an exercise in futility.

2:40pm - After two and a half hours I finally reached the epicenter of the tailback. The highway was closed at the junction at Brunette Avenue. TOTALLY CLOSED. Not a single lane was open and this extreme tailback suddenly made sense. The cause turned out to be fallen electricity lines on the road. A storm had been raging in Vancouver all morning apparently. It had drizzled over the last two hours on the highway, but I could see dark storm clouds on the horizon in Vancouver. Traffic was directed off the road and Google tried to put me onto the Lougheed Highway, which by now was also highlighted in red. I didn’t have the time, patience or fuel to sit in more traffic. I had to get the car home and take the train downtown for my evening class which was due to start at 4:30pm. I decided to be brave and hit the suburbs of Burnaby, the city in between Surrey and Vancouver.

3:00pm - I was making good time through Burnaby and following Google Maps for dear life as I had no idea where I was going. I knew the direction I should be heading but the rain was now pouring down. I had the fan on full and the wipers on their top speed. The female navigation voice coming from my phone was drowned out by the rain drenching Dorrit. I was so focused on just getting home that I didn’t really have time to be too worried about the various pedestrians running around, both on the sidewalks and across the busy roads to escape the heavy rain. Rain terrifies me for that very reason. People do stupid things and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stop suddenly on these wet roads as Dorrit doesn’t have ABS. Drivers in Vancouver also never seem to slow down. It’s crazy. In Ireland, I was taught to reduce speed when it rains, but here people drive at the same speed as when the roads are dry. To not actually cause an accident, I forced myself to keep pace with everyone else.

3:15pm – I was finally on Kingsway, which is a familiar road. I turn off onto Victoria Drive and I know home is a mere five minutes away. I was starving and now needed a toilet. I got to my front door as the rain began to ease. It has just gone 3:20 pm and I have a few minutes to eat and pee before I had to brave the weather again and catch a train downtown. Dorrit had about a quarter tank of gas left and I was grateful to the car for getting me home safe and sound. The storm raged on for the rest of the day and I was walking home in the rain at around 7:30 pm that night.

I have never been in such a bad traffic jam in my life. The M50 tailbacks back home had nothing on the delay I endured. The funny thing is if I had gotten a bus and train home from Surrey I would have missed out on the whole adventure and it also showed me that I have finally begun to settle into driving in Canada. Sitting in Dorrit for that length of time got me accustomed to the sounds and feel of the car in the wet too and that is valuable education as we head into winter.

I just hope the snow holds off for the next few months.