“How much farther?” Dale Hanson asked his wife.
Donna peered at the Garmin and groaned. “The screen still says we’ll be there in four minutes.”
Dale snorted and kept his eyes on the road. What he could see of it anyway.
The Hansons had left Arizona in Donna’s car two days ago. After one night in Las Vegas and a night in Salt Lake City, they’d planned one long day of driving to get all the way to Miles City, Montana, so they’d be home in Weyburn by mid-afternoon on Thursday, in time for their grandson Connor’s last hockey game of the season.
But right after they stopped for lunch the clouds started piling up.
“Doesn’t look good up ahead,” Donna said.
“Check the weather app,” Dale ordered. He preferred to do the driving when they were both in the car.
“No data plan,” Donna said. “Remember?”
They hadn’t had a data plan for the entire two months they’d stayed in the park in Yuma, in the trailer Dale’s late father had owned.
The couple in the next trailer had suggested they buy a new SIM card. “There’s some at the gas station that’ll give you all the data you need while you’re here,” Nancy had said.
Nancy and Rich were from Lethbridge. They’d been spending winters in Yuma for years and seemed to have all the answers.
But between not quite understanding how SIM cards worked, the bill they were paying to have Wi-Fi in the trailer, and the memory of his father, Ed, saying that he’d loved everything about the trailer court except those irritating neighbours from Lethbridge, Dale and Donna had never bothered getting data. “If the pioneers could cross the country in a covered wagon without a map, surely we can spend two months in a seniors’ park without checking our email when we drive to the grocery store,” Donna remembered saying.
It hadn’t been convenient, but it hadn’t really been a problem until now, when it would have been nice to have a little advance notice about this grim-looking weather.
Donna flipped through the radio channels but kept landing on the same static-filled country stations until Dale asked her to stop.
By three o’clock, there were a few flakes of snow.
At three-fifteen, the flakes were large.
Dale kept up a pretty good speed for another half hour, but as they travelled north, the highway turned icy, and the snow was falling so hard and fast he could barely see.
“This might turn into a real blizzard,” Dale said.
Traffic slowed. Between four and four-thirty, Donna figured they’d travelled a little less than 20 miles. Now they were almost to Caspar, where Dale thought they should try to find a hotel for the night.
“We’re not going to see Connor skate tomorrow if we get rammed by a crazy American driver and wind up upside-down in the ditch,” Dale said.
“I’m sure Connor will play again next year,” Donna said, resigned to missing the game.
Dale ran the windshield wipers nonstop.
“Should’ve brought my truck,” he grumbled.
“Just two more miles,” Donna said. “We’re going to be fine.”
“Of course we’ll be fine,” Dale said. But he wasn’t as confident as he wanted Donna to think. This was some of the worst weather he’d ever encountered, and he’d driven in at least one bad storm almost every year of his life.
They drove by a semi in the ditch. Then two trucks. Then a car just like the one they were driving.
“How the heck did the pioneers get by?” Dale said. “You’d never leave the ranch without wondering if that’d be the day you’d freeze to death.”
Traffic crawled on, until finally they saw buildings on either side of the road. They’d made it to Caspar.
Donna was relieved. Until Dale said, “I don’t know if it’s any safer in town.”
“At least the ditches aren’t as steep,” Donna said.
“I suppose,” Dale said. “Where are the hotels around here?”
Donna had already consulted the Garmin. “Keep going. I’m afraid they’re mostly on the north end.”
“Should we phone?” Dale said. “Everybody might have the same idea.”
“Not much point now, when we’re so close,” Donna said, leaving her phone in her purse. “We’re almost there.”
After watching their slow progress for the past two hours, she should’ve known better. The distance that would’ve normally taken less than 10 minutes to cover took almost an hour. Finally, they pulled up in front of a Days Inn.
“Not fancy, but it’ll do the trick,” Dale said. “Why don’t you run in and get a room and I’ll try to keep the windshield clear.”
It wasn’t that easy. Donna came out in less than a minute looking concerned.
“You’re right,” she admitted as she climbed into the car. “I should’ve called earlier. The gal rented out the last room fifteen minutes ago.”
“It’s a burden, always being right,” he kidded.
“There’s a Ramada next door,” Donna said. “She said they might have a few rooms.”
Dale pulled out of the parking lot and onto the street, where he skidded to make the sharp turn. It wasn’t until he was pulling up in front of the double doors that he slapped his palm against his forehead. “We should’ve called,” he said.
“Oh, right,” Donna said, embarrassed.
The Ramada was out of rooms too, but this time Donna stayed inside, getting the receptionist to help her find the numbers for other nearby hotels until she finally hit pay dirt.
She came out to the car triumphantly. Dale was standing outside, scraping snow off the windshield almost as fast as it was falling.
“Look at that,” he said. Across the parking lot, a dog attached by a leash to a red sled was pulling a little girl down the sidewalk.
“Did you get a room?” Dale asked.
“Nope, but we’ve got the last one at the Super 8 down the street,” Donna said, pointing with one hand while she protected her hair from the wet snow with the other. “Two blocks that way.”
Fifteen minutes later Donna had checked them in, Dale had parked, and they were wheeling their suitcases through the lobby of the Caspar Super 8.
Dale heard someone call his name, and he turned.
It was the neighbours from the park, Nancy and Rich. “I thought that was your car in the lot,” Nancy said.
“You’re staying here too?” Donna asked.
“Well, no,” Nancy said. “You two just got the last room. We’ve been driving through this storm all afternoon, hoping we could get here safely, but we’re having no luck finding a place to stay.”
“Nancy’s phone ran out of data about an hour ago,” Rich said. “Paid for the darn SIM card all winter so she could read the news while she was at the mall, and now when we need it, damn thing doesn’t work.”
“We’re fine,” Nancy said. “We’ll just sleep in the car.”
Dale and Donna looked at each other, silently debating whether they should offer the couple the second double bed in their room. It was an emergency, after all.
“Now it’s a real blizzard,” Dale said, nodding.