Saturday, March 24, 2007

One Flat Coyote on the Centre Line by Karen Goa

Karen Goa and her husband are transplanted Canadians, who have lived in New Zealand for twenty or more years. To celebrate Ken's 50th birthday, they decide to go back to Canada, buy an old wreck of a vehicle (also 50 years old) on the internet without ever seeing it first, do it up and drive across Canada - a place about which there is not much travel literature written.

Their first problem was trying to get through the hoops involved in ownership of a vehicle as a non-owner: luckily for them, they had family in Canada willing to be stand in owners, because from all accounts, it is near impossible. What did prove impossible was getting the car to the Yukon - that involved a climb over the flanks of the Rockies, but the car proved to not be up to the task, so they had to make use of the Greyhound instead.

On the whole, however, driving an antique car across Canada seemed to have its upside. On the very first day, they're looking for a park so they can stop to see a car show but instead find their car adopted as an entrant in the show. All across Canada, people are very keen to swap stories about their old cars, and to help finding parts when they become necessary.

The best thing about this book is its central characters; they seem to have a great relationship. Because they're not into the same things, they have to trade their way across the country: it costs Karen a car show to persuade Ken to attend a dance performance, and another one when she insists that Ken actually get up and dance. As they travel, they collect all sorts of experiences - a visit to what was once the world's largest factory of disposable chopsticks (who'd have thought that that would be up near the Yukon?), a tale of a beard that sold for $10,000, visits to a couple of closed religious communities, a sighting of an actual flying saucer - for real! The Americans had convinced the Canadians to build something called an Avrocar, to be used as a military vehicle, but which was really an 8 year voyage into folly as on the one time they managed to get one flying, it only hit a height of a single metre! Good stuff.

Of course, being in Canada, it would be difficult to get by without any encounter with a bear or two. They try precautions, but pepper spray, they're told only works within 5 metres of a bear and only in 70% of cases - the rest, the bear just gets annoyed. That night, as they're camping, they do have an encounter with a bear: they wake to find signs that a bear has spent some of the night, sat on its butt, leaning against their car:
There are times when it's best to sit a while, make a thoughtful cup of cocoa and ponder life's little mysteries. Such as, if a bear had sat bhind us in the night why didn't he just smash the window and snack on our innards? What was he doing, flipping through recipes? Or eyeing up Steve's tent as a better bet? This was not one of those times. We leapt back in the car - which started, as always, magnificently - and spend away from dark spooky woods and vampire-ish morning chill sucking the life out of innocent campers, and things that sit on their fat furry rumps in the night.

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