Extra-Nice Canadians Saved this Army Wife's Disastrous PCS Drive to Alaska

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Gary Bath, Lynn Marchessault, Marchessault’s two children and Staff Sgt. Tim Marchessault at the Alaska-Yukon border
A Canadian police officer, Gary Bath, Lynn Marchessault, Marchessault’s two children and Staff Sgt. Tim Marchessault at the Alaska-Yukon border. (Gary Bath, Facebook)

We all know Canadians are supposed to be nice. But now Army wife Lynn Marchessault has the receipts to prove it.

Marchessault and her two kids were making a permanent change of station move from Georgia to Fort Wainwright, Alaska when they encountered a winter disaster in Canada. But an online force of Canadian veterans swooped in to save the day, sourced a driver to help them travel and safely delivered the trio to the Alaska-Canada border.

Marchessault hit the road with her two children and pets in their 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 towing a U-Haul the week of Nov. 8, according to Alaska Highway News. Her objective was to join her husband, an Army staff sergeant, at Fort Wainwright before peak winter weather hit. With five days to get through Canada according to the country's current travel regulations, she became increasingly nervous when her phone stopped working near the border, and she was only able to update her GPS in the evening via hotel Wi-Fi, she wrote in a post on her Facebook page.

The days-long journey between U.S. borders through Canada is lonely and risky for motorists in the best weather. Add COVID-19 related travel restrictions and bad weather, and you have a situation where things can get dangerous, fast.

Even if you are traveling with an international cell phone plan, there is typically no coverage available between major towns, which can be hours apart. Gas stations, vehicle repair help and hotels are also extremely limited, especially during the winter off-season. Regular travelers of the Alcan, as the road into Alaska is known, advise that you not only carry at least one emergency fuel container, but also make sure your vehicle is well equipped with proper tires and emergency supplies -- and that you are comfortable driving long stretches in bad weather.

"After we would get on the road, I was on my own. I got lost several times due to not having service and my GPS not redirecting me. I would have to find my way back to the route on my own each time," Marchessault wrote in her Facebook post.

Things only got worse from there. Her truck's window wipers stopped working, and several shops she visited in search of a replacement part told her it would take three days to arrive, bumping them past their five allowed travel days, a rule firmly enforced by the Canadian government. Then, in northern British Columbia, a blizzard moved in and Marchessault stopped on the road to put her car in 4x4, leaving the hazards on and hoping she didn't get hit from behind in the white-out conditions.

Enter the friendly Canadians.

"We stopped in a very small mountain town called Wonowon. I needed gas as we were at 1/2 a tank and the kids needed to go to the restroom. I found myself crying [because] I was a nervous wreck at this point," she wrote. "[A] woman comes out of the gas station and sees me. She proceeds to check on me and I tell her what is going on and of our journey and where we came from."

Teena Sew, a local EMT, checked Marchessault's tires for her and, after seeing they were summer tires and not good for the road conditions, helped her source winter ones with the owner of a nearby shop.

"My new friend ... explained to him my situation and he immediately was willing to help. He had exactly four studded snow tires that would fit my truck," she wrote. "Y'all they did this on a Sunday, their day off, on a day they were closed. I can't tell you how thankful I was."

Still a long way from Alaska, Marchessault asked Sew if she knew anyone who could help drive them the rest of the way, a suggestion made in a Canadian travel Facebook group. Sew turned to social media, contacting Canadian military veteran Tanya Hunt. Hunt's post seeking help made its way to a Canadian veteran page and, eventually, Canadian Army Ranger Gary Bath.

"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 told Alaska Highway News.

"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."

Bath met up with Marchessault and drove her the remaining 1,000 miles and 20 hours through Canada, encountering a trailer tire problem in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, about a six-hour drive from the border. The local U-Haul was able to provide a fix, and they were soon back on their way, eventually meeting Marchessault's husband, Staff Sgt. Tim Marchessault, at the border.

"We chatted a lot the entire drive, which took us almost three days," she wrote. "We talked a lot about military, family, different holidays and lots more. We got along like old friends."

The same community that helped Bath and Marchessault connect also paid for Bath's flight home from the border to British Columbia.

"We are so thankful for all of those involved in helping us get to our destination safely and for helping Gary get home from the border as well," Marchessault wrote.

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