"What do you guys think about an epic road trip?"
Not the first words you might expect to hear at a hospice -- especially not coming from someone who is a handful of hours away from losing a father.
For six months, the Freeman Family lived furiously in order to make every last picogram of goodness available to our most favourite human. Even in sickness, Dad led the way in ensuring that each day was well-used. We did everything in our power to make those things happen -- to accommodate visits with friends, to find ways to get outside and stretch his legs in spite of hindered coordination, to go out on the town, to foster special moments with family -- and through him, we too lived thoroughly and completely during the days of Dad's cancer.
This multi-month excursion is not a means of running from what was surely the most stressful, shattering, paradigm-shifting, and exhausting period of our lives. No. This journey is meant to act as a perfect lead-off -- a way to ensure that we walk life's path with Dad's gait. We want to make sure that we continue to live with the volume turned up to 11, just the way Dad has done forever, maybe longer. Regular life will happen. Setting familiar routines and treading grounds steeped in memory is absolutely in our future, but we want to ensure that we tread that ground with vigour, ready to jump at life. This is our method of reset. This is our way of adjusting focus from caring for the man we love to remembering the man we love and miss dearly, using these cerebral archives as motivation to stomp the pavement harder, and with fluorescent sneakers.
Our first version of 'technicolour' transportation was to be a recreational vehicle (RV) of some form. Something that could hold three humans -- two being of average size, one having sasquatch proportions -- and possibly sleep them too. Amidst the mountain of death-related paperwork in need of addressing, our dream team scoured the internet for anything rentable that could transport us in relative comfort for a couple of months -- a huge preference was given to 1970's era Volkswagen campers. Naturally, July is a very busy month in the world of van and RV rentals, so the frequency of purposeless, 'You should have called us months ago!' responses to our request was botheringly high. We were in a tough spot and with less than two weeks to act before our intended take-off date, but when there's a will -- and a massive network of world-class friends -- there's a way.
We recalled that Dad had a good sailing buddy out west named Marty Vellner, who was about to become an integral character in this drama. Dad and Marty had shared many days of fast racing and many nights of harnessing their inner rum connoisseur during trips to the Caribbean in years past. They had made a strong enough connection in those days, that when Marty heard that Dad had become ill and was receiving treatment at Princess Margaret, he booked a ticket from Red Deer…to stay for one afternoon. The guy is committed to friendship and to this family, as he made sure to let us know that if there was anything we needed, he would be ready at the other end of a telephone. Well, we decided to call in a favour this time. See, as we spoke for the first time in Dad's Princess Margaret 'penthouse', Marty explained to me how he knew Dad, what he had been up to over the past few years…and that he owned an RV dealership. BOOM. Of all the things I could have teased from my jumbled memory in the days following Dad's death, this was a 'jackpot' packet of information to have available. Using another of Dad's good buddies, Pat Festing-smith, as a liaison, we got Marty's number and rung him up. We explained the plans and the timeline and he said, "Give me a few days."
Those few days passed, he rung us up, he explained coolly, "I've got an RV in Earlton, Ontario."
"I'm going to buy an RV for you guys. It's in Earlton, Ontario."
"Wow. Well then, where's Earlton?"
It took a good period of further cool explanation from Marty in order for us to get the whole picture. He dropped a line on a dealer pal of his, one with a business closest to Toronto, surveyed the guy's stock, and sought out the most appropriate camper for the three of us. Marty proceeded through every step necessary to purchase the vehicle, except pulling the trigger -- he would wait for us to give the 'ok' for that one. The 'ok' came pretty quickly.
We were taken aback. Who does this for people?! Though this was an extra-special, super-duper over-the-top act of awesome, it is amazing what can happen when you just take a chance and ask. We never expected something of this magnitude to come back from this request, but I think this speaks to the quality of Dad's friends, perhaps reflecting the quality of friendship that was offered them. Regardless, Marty had just ensured that our journey would indeed happen, that our journey would be significantly more comfortable and economical than anything else available to us, and that we would have the freedom to do exactly what we wanted, on our own schedule, during this journey. For this, we are severely indebted to you, Marty, and we cannot wait to arrive in Red Deer to show you the subsequent experiential gifts we reaped as a result of your initial, domino-esque gift -- a big domino, but a domino still.
A 2014 'Minnie Winnie' 25B Winnebago was to be our 'Giddy Up Mobile' for our Giddy Up Tour and it was waiting for us in Earlton. Earlton, you say? Never heard of it? How could that be?! It's just a couple of hundred of kilometres north…of North Bay. We were in for a haul in order to grab this sweet sassy whip of ours. Mom and I ended up making the mission a few days before our ultimate take-off from Oakville after frantically wrapping up last minute affairs and doing our best to dive into full travel mode. We took an overnight bus DIRECT from Toronto to Earlton -- how could you have not heard of a place that has its own bus stop -- and we were dropped off unceremoniously, bleary-eyed at a French-speaking greasy spoon diner, awaiting a pick up from our friends at Earlton RV. Mom and I collected ourselves and our senses so we were ready to jump into the nitty-gritty of this beautiful machine during our orientation. Instead, Mom and I found ourselves crushed -- riding on the coattails of a moderately effective coffee-buzz and trying to distract ourselves from that ever-present sensation of overnight bus grime; backpackers tend to be well familiar with the feeling. In spite of how we felt physically, Mom and managed to have a lovely time with the outgoing and pleasant staff at Earlton RV, who are so very proud of the statues, plush toys, and keychains made in the likeness of the founder's glorious buffaloes. A photo with the statue and/or the buffalo-inclusive sign is a mandatory part of picking up an RV here.
In our travels, we had the pleasure of meeting one of the award-winning establishment's proprietors, Pierre -- Rick, also a fantastic guy, just bought the place. Pierre was the kind of guy who brings light to a room and energy to a conversation, filled with life and brimming with passion for his work. He had heard the premise for our journey and immediately began to speak about Dad, though he had never met him -- I love this quality in people and I wish folks would do it more often when someone has passed away. People in mourning want to talk about their loved ones, even though the loss of that person is the source of their grief. We call them 'loved ones' for a reason and we could go on for days remembering their awesome memory. So please, next time you encounter a friend in mourning, try not to dance around the subject, because the subject is nice to talk about -- Pierre told us about a few people he had recently lost in his life and he began speaking about their wonderful characteristics, and my god, did these folks ever sound like Dad. One of my most favourite quotes that came from Pierre was this, "The best people in your life are the ones who are both interesting and interested. They tell you great stories but they are also enthralled by yours. Those are the people you want to have at your party." This man just described Dad to a tee AND gave me a better understanding as to why Dad was such an extraordinary character. He was a cool guy, but he was made cooler by thinking that you were a cool guy too! I get it! Thanks Pierre.
Mom and I rolled off the premises with an enriched understanding of life, Dad, and RVs, but with battered bodies and growling stomachs. Driving only one of the eight hours towards home, we pulled off at a burger shack, threw food at our faces, and promptly passed out. Thirty minutes was the magic number for sleep time, and right away Mom took the wheel of the truck and hauled ass towards home. As a part of our training, we experienced all varieties of weather, traffic, and road quality on the way back to south south south Ontario, as they may call it in Earlton. We arrived home minutes before a welcoming party of close family descended upon our driveway, just in time to get a demo of my first ever RV reverse park. Unfortunately for them, this time I didn't bulldoze the other vehicle sitting in the driveway -- there will always be a next time. Semi-conscious, we gave our kin the grand tour of our new baby -- the Minnie Winnie, the Giddy Up Mobile, Team Freeman's adventure ship.
The next morning, the morning of our journey's take off, we had called in another favour that will surely make this adventure an awesome one -- at least it will look awesome. Our family's pal, Jimmy Brace, the young and talented owner of JBR Designs Inc. (www.jbrdesigns.ca), a design, fabrication, and digital printing company, came over to apply some custom decals to our GIddy Up Mobile, and truly transform it into the Giddy Up Mobile. An idea Mom had conjured up only a few days previous, we decided to emblazon the Minnie Winnie with decals that read 'Giddy Up Tour' in 1+ foot-high letters, 'In Honour of Geoff Freeman' in smaller letters, and '#makeEachDayCount' in smaller letters yet. Jimmy woke up early so that we could have a beautiful looking, super-custom vehicle that would surely act as a conversation starter all through our journey. Jimmy, you're awesome, and this RV is a sight to be seen. On the first leg of our trip -- Toronto to Montreal -- we got spotted by three different groups of friends! It worked!
The Minnie Winnie is in our hands now, and she lives on a strict diet of adventure and good times -- we're doing all we can to keep her well fed.