“Yippee! We’re going for a ride!” Lynn crowed.
“In you go, kids.” Their mother held the door for them. Lynn’s older brother, John, had his driver’s licence and proudly announced that he would treat them to a Sunday outing in his new 1959 VW Beetle. Lynn piled into the back along with her younger brother and two little sisters.
“Don’t go too fast now,” Mother admonished John. “You have precious cargo aboard.”
“Na-a-a-h, stop worrying.” John waved her off. Like all eighteen-year-olds, he knew everything.
He drove north on the Rolla Road for about half an hour from Dawson Creek and stopped where the road ended at the banks of the Peace River. An old wooden sign nailed to a tree read: Alberta border 12 miles. Below it, on the same tree, another sign read: Clayhurst Crossing. Use at your own risk.
“That’s the end of the road,” Lynn said, as she stared across the frozen river. “Guess we have to turn around now. We didn’t bring our skates.”
“Are you kidding?” John said. “We’re just getting started. We’re going to the other side. This is an adventure.”
“Other side?” Their mother‘s voice conveyed enough fear for all of them. “The barge doesn’t run in winter.”
“The ice will hold us.”
“No-o-o!” the kids all screamed at once.
“John, it says, ‘Use at your own risk.’” Lynn’s voice was an octave higher than usual.
“Look’it. The big oil tanker trucks cross here all the time, so my little Beetle can cross.” He inched out onto the frozen Peace River and everyone went silent.
Their mother whispered frantically to John, “Do you know what you’re doing? Maybe we should turn around.”
“We’ll be fine. I know what I’m doing.”
The kids stared across the wide stretch of ice, their faces reflecting a mixture of fear and wonder.
Lynn remembered seeing the Peace River earlier that year, its muddy waters rushing past as she stood on the bank. She imagined that same water flowing beneath the ice now. Her insides tightened into a knot.
She was surprised that the car didn’t slide around on the ice. It rolled along just as easily as it did on the snow-packed road they had just driven. About halfway across, she noticed a crack shooting along the ice from under the car. Several car lengths farther on, another crack shot out like a lightning bolt. And another, and another. Near the other side, the cracks stopped appearing and at last the car rolled onto terra firma.
“I’m not going back with you,” Lynn said. “I just won’t. I’ll walk.” She fought back tears. “If we’d gone through the ice, we’d all be dead—the whole family—and Dad wouldn’t even know where we were.”
John’s face was pale in the rearview mirror.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll take the back road to Fort St. John and come home the long way, over the bridge.”
“What are you talking about? You know the bridge collapsed.”
“Not the suspension bridge. I mean the train bridge.”
“No-o-o!” the children wailed in unison.
“Don’t be such wimps! Everyone’s using it till the new bridge is finished. It’s perfectly safe…as long as no train comes along.”