This tour has been the most stressful and most rewarding thing I've ever done in my life. Between moments of utter desperation and sheer joy, I never thought I would learn so much and gain so much confidence in the goodwill and ability of people to come through no matter the circumstances.
As we traveled across Canada in our less-than-safe propane powered Chevy G20 band van, I'm sure we were all picturing the all the horrible ways we could die at any moment. To be fair, that probably made it easier for us to roll with the punches that came our way, as we ultimately did survive this journey despite all the dangers we faced along the way.
Our first challenge was faced when we were still in BC. We went to hit the road after our show at The Habitat in Kelowna, only to find our vehicle wouldn't start. At that point we were still looking at our barely working gas gauge to get an idea of how much propane we had (not realizing it wasn't functioning at all), and hoped it was simply a matter of filling our tank. An amazing and super supportive friend of ours (Quinn McGraw from Living Machines) got us a tow using his CAA membership, which got us to a mechanic's shop. I stayed in the van that night, watching over all our gear like a sleepy hawk, but a hawk nonetheless.
In the morning, we got another tow truck to bring us to a propane station, where we filled up. With hope in our hearts we turned the key, and nothing happened. Feeling defeated only four dates into our tour, we put up a sign asking for help and started messaging all our mechanically-inclined friends.
Several hours later, another friend from yet another band, Talon Wade of Psycherelics, stopped by to help us out. Not two seconds after sticking his head under the hood we hear "Well here's your problem right here... got some duct tape?" and all our jaws hit the floor simultaneously. He pulls out a length of tubing with a big chunk taken out of it, as it was apparently resting directly on one of the belts in the engine. I quickly grabbed my trusty roll of black duct tape, wrapped it as best we could, then replaced it and tried starting the engine. It shudders to life. We all exchange hugs and one or two professions of eternal love for Talon, who wipes his hands and takes off like it was just another day in the life.
This event showed us just how little about our vehicle we knew, and made it apparent that we quickly had to get familiar with maintaining it ourselves.
From that day forward we were obsessively checking our propane levels on the proper gauge (at the back of the vehicle, underneath the tank), checking our belts and hoses, and triple checking transmission fluid, brake fluid, and oil levels. A few shows and a few thousand kilometers went by, and we felt like we were making good time. We had a hiccup in Regina as we were loading into Cloud 9, but things seemed to fix themselves by that evening.
Then we passed through Winnipeg. Immediately after making it out of the city limits, it felt like our gears slipped, the engine started winding out, and we couldn't maintain speed. We pulled off the highway onto a small side road and attempted the fixes we were told to try earlier, as a the symptoms were similar to what had happened in Regina. This time we couldn't get it going again, and based on what all our sources were telling us, it sounded like our transmission was dead.
A chill of death passed over all of us, as we knew that was an end-of-the-road type problem. We didn't have the money or the time to fix something like that, so we were all less than optimistic about the possible outcomes, and weighing our options carefully. We were told there was a transmission specialists' shop in the area, so we might as well try to limp there on the one gear we had.
Alex hopped into the drivers seat and took us slowly down the highway, tractor-trailers whirring by at 100kph, while we struggled to maintain a measley 20kph. After a half hour of dragging our van's corpse through town, we arrived at Trans Tech and set up camp in their parking lot. We all discussed our plan for tomorrow, then split up to clear our heads and get food nearby, as there was luckily a 24hr 7/11 a half hour walk away. I made sure to get Oreos and milk, the ultimate comfort food, and pulled out a half bottle of tequila when we got back to camp, all in an attempt to brighten our spirits. We were hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.
I think I speak for everyone when I say that the next day was the single most extreme emotional roller coaster we've ever experienced.
We woke up right as Trans-Tech opened and rushed to speak to a mechanic. We explained our dire situation, how we were stranded, what was wrong, and what we were doing so far from home. Something inside them clicked, and they immediately switched gears to help us with an emergency repair, which by itself blew us away. It's tough to get someone to drop a paying job in lieu of one where we might not be able to pay, much less one where the possible cost is so high, but they jumped to work like it was their lives on the line.
We spoke to the receptionist, June, who got us immediately in touch with Jason and Frank, both of whom got right on top of things. They let us know what would need to be done before they can get an exact quote, as well as a ballpark for what it would cost to do such a hefty emergency job. While Frank ripped out our dead transmission, June kept me informed while I waited in the lobby. Jason set up the rest of the band with a complimentary replacement van so they could go get breakfast across town. Just before they hit the road, we brought up some ideas for how to pay for the repairs, with the idea of a Go Fund Me being thrown in as an afterthought. While on the road, Alex and Graham setup the campaign, expecting maybe $40 to help with repairs.
Frank and Jason kept working on the van, letting me know that the transmission was toast, but they happened to have one for a 4x4 that they could rebuild for us. It was a lot of work, but they said they could possibly have us on the road that evening. The level of speed an accuracy at which these guys worked was astonishing, and I couldn't wait to tell the band once they returned. I continued to sit and wait, editing a homework assignment on my laptop in the corner of the lobby and trying not to panic over how we would pay.
Then, Alex comes skipping through the front door. He leans in and whispers, "We're at $400 already, people are sharing the campaign like crazy" and we both nearly burst into tears, laughing and hugging each other profusely. I told them about the estimated time and cost of repairs, and we all put our heads together for additional solutions as I rushed to submit my homework assignment on time.
Over the next two or three hours, Alex kept coming back and giving me updates on the Go Fund Me campaign. "Someone just donated another $75, bringing us up to a grand!" he said as tears welled in both our eyes. As the hours passed, more and more positive updates came from Alex, and I did all I could to stop from breaking down while working on schoolwork. Then, Jason and Frank emerged again.
"We topped up all your fluids, checked your brakes, and replaced the transmission. You're all good to go." said Jason. We all rejoiced, partially from the great news that we'd be back on the road before 4pm, possibly giving us enough time to make it to our Toronto date in a few days, and partially because our Go Fund Me campain had just reached it's goal of $2000. Trans-Tech Industries saved our butts something fierce that day, as well as all of the people who donated to our campaign, and continued to try and email us money even after it had closed.
In the end, our campaign covered the entire cost of repairs, which Trans-Tech gave us a fantastic deal at a huge discount. The generosity of people willing to help strangers in dire circumstances hit me hard that day, as none of us were expecting to even get into the shop that day, much less drive away on our way to Ontario.
The rest of the tour was a massive high for us, which I'll share more about later. There are so many other lessons encountered along the way, but the biggest take-away by far was this: get reliable transportation if you're hitting the road on tour. The amount of stress we faced just worrying about the possibilities along the way was nearly unbearable by itself, which made facing real issues even harder. We managed to keep eachother safe and relatively positive, but this was a massive challenge despite the positive outcome. Be prepared for the worst. We did our best to be prepared, and it still wasn't enough. Only the generosity of friends and people who met us along the way saved us in the end. For that, we can't thank you enough.
Much love, and thanks for reading,