Lynn Marchessault and her two children were driving from Georgia to Alaska last week to reunite with their husband and father when they experienced a Christmas miracle of sorts from the northern B.C. community.
The Marchessaults had been on the road for six days when they were caught in last week's snow storm in Pink Mountain on Nov. 15. Through a series of coincidences and mutual connections, Fort St. John's Gary Bath came to the rescue and drove the family — who were inexperienced driving through snow period, let alone a blizzard — the rest of the way to the Alaska border.
However, there's more to the tale in how Lynn and her two children, Payton and Rebecca, made it that far in the first place, and how Bath was alerted to their dilemma.
The family had been away from Staff Sergeant Tim Marchessault through most of the pandemic, who is stationed with the United States Army at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Early in the fall, the family made the decision for Tim to re-enlist in the army, and for Lynn and the family to move up to Alaska until it was time to move to the next station. Though the plan was in place to hit the road before winter, the travel documents required to drive through Canada didn't come in for another two months.
Not wanting to travel in the heart of winter, the family made the choice to start their journey on Tuesday, Nov. 10, and made it all the way to Wonowon by Sunday before Mother Nature decided to make things difficult.
"The roads leaving from Grande Prairie were OK at first, until we got to B.C. I was driving very slow, with lots of big trucks passing me on the highway — I don't know how they do it," Lynn said. "The snow was getting heavier and heavier, road conditions were worse, and I was having trouble getting up the hills. That's when we decided to stop for gas."
While her kids were using the restroom, Lynn began to cry at the gas station when Teena Sew noticed her distress. Sew noticed the tires on Lynn's 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 were unfit for the journey, especially because they were towing a large moving trailer.
Sew accompanied the family to a local tire shop. Though it was closed, the owner arrived shortly after by happenstance, and after hearing about the situation, fitted the truck with four winter tires right there on the spot.
"I felt more comfortable, but the snow was still a lot to handle. I had never driven in whiteout conditions before," said Lynn.
Eventually, Lynn asked Seu if there was anyone she knew, possibly with military experience, who might be able to help take the family the rest of the way.
Seu reached out to Canadian military vet Tanya Hunt, whose Facebook post caught the eye of Joe Elliott in Prince George. Elliott shared the post, catching the attention of Bath, a former member of the CIC and current army ranger, who didn't hesitate to come to the family's aid.
"I saw lots of people saying they wish they were able to help and would if they could. I talked to my wife Selena and decided that I would help them get the rest of the way," Bath said.
"It’s getting close to Christmas, and you don't want to see a family split up for Christmas. I heard there was a family stranded who needed help, and thought if I could help them stay together, then why not do it."
After a day of talking with the Marchessaults about the idea and formulating a plan, Selena drove Gary to Pink Mountain by Monday evening, and the unlikely traveling crew took off for Alaska on Tuesday, Nov. 16.
They made it to Whitehorse, where they noticed one of the trailer's four tires was missing. The trailer was sliding a bit prior to Whitehorse, but the group chalked it up to icy conditions. Nevertheless, the U-Haul centre in Whitehorse was nearby, and before they knew it Bath, Lynn, their children, along with two dogs and a cat, were back on the road.
"It was really amazing. Gary was a great driver, Canada is a really beautiful country and I love the Canadian people," said Lynn. "This was a scary situation, where I had to decide if my kids were safer in my own hands or in the hands of a nice stranger willing to take us to where we needed to get to safely. It wasn't the right choice, but I felt that I made the right one, and I told Gary that he and Selena are our new adopted Canadian family."
Once the family was reunited at the Alaska-Yukon border, MLA Dan Davies contacted an RCMP officer in Beaver Creek, who picked up Bath from the border. From there, Bath caught a ride back to Whitehorse with a mechanic who happened to be headed that way, before catching a flight back to Fort St. John, paid for by the generosity of a number of people who caught word of the story online.
"Lynn is ex-military, and we had lots of things in common to talk about. The kids were well behaved, the dogs were totally quiet, and we had a good trip and all got to know each other," Bath said. "Thanks to everyone who was involved in donating and helping out, I don’t know if we would be able to finish it and get the job done if it wasn’t for everyone chipping in."
Email reporter Dillon Giancola at firstname.lastname@example.org.