WildNorth: Surviving Alberta’s Wild North Highways

WildNorth Emergency Transport – my record for the longest and most costly transport – 1129 kilometers (700 miles), 12 hours traveling time; and $400 (gas, lodging, food, windshield washer fluid)

As a WildNorth transport volunteer, I’ve developed a reputation for taking on the long distance runs. Driving Alberta’s ribbon of highways and backwoods country roads has satisfied my adventurous spirit. So when a Cedar Waxwing fledgling needed a lift from Grande Prairie to Edmonton, I accepted the request.

Now understand, I can’t just grab my purse and soft-sided animal crate and fire up the Trail Blazer. Most importantly, the needs of my two shelties come first. Who is available to come to my home and let them out for pee breaks? Sammy and Jade are fortunate to have a few ‘Aunties’ who have the secret access code to my humble abode. However, on this past Thursday, I had a niggling feeling that Sammy and Jade should accompany me on the Grande Prairie run.

There must have been an angel guiding me in that decision for it would become the saving grace for another creature.

After I confirmed that the bird located at a Grande Prairie vet was indeed still alive, Sammy & Jade in their dog crates in the back of the Trail Blazer, the 425 kilometer, 4-hour drive began. Understand that Highway 43 has to be one of the most beautiful drives in Alberta. The four lane divided highway, freshly paved, and my radio delivering my favorite tunes – well, that pleasure was about to come to an end.

I did arrive in Grande Prairie in good time, an hour before the vet clinic closed. With my new passenger safely tucked in my crate, I met with Lorraine Nordstrom for a quick cup of coffee. Lorraine is also a WildNorth Rescue volunteer and the lady who was involved in Geronimo’s rescue. Surely you haven’t forgotten about the small brown bat incident?

Things might have not become askew if I had not stopped for that visit with Lorraine. While catching up with her adventures, my cellphone buzzed – a text message from Kasia Brytan at WildNorth. There was another cedar waxwing needing transport to Edmonton.

From Peace River!!!!

Would I go to Peace River? Another two hour drive north would not be something to get all twisted up over. However, Highway 2 from Grande Prairie to Peace River is not a road you want to drive unless you are well rested and experienced in driving hair pin turns on the side of a cliff.

Lorraine munched on her cookie and eyed me as I weighed the pros and cons. What where the chances of another volunteer driving to Peace River, a five-hour drive from Edmonton? If I went, would my patient survive the delay in getting to WildNorth’s hospital? And, is there enough money in the account to buy a lot more gas? If my SUV breaks down in a very sparsely populated part of Alberta ….. OMG!

I called Dale Gienow, WildNorth’s Rescue Manager. He reassured me that my cedar waxwing would be able to make the trip given the Grande Prairie vet’s assessment. I agreed to make the trip to Peace River the next morning.

Dale Gienow

Sammy, Jade and I stayed in a comfortable enough motel but were up at 06:30 heading north on a two lane road. In the rain, in the dark, on a ‘highway’ that had more twists than a writhing snake. My goal was to arrive in Peace River and back to Edmonton before WildNorth hospital closed for admissions – a 7-hour drive.

The one positive on this drive was watching the sun rise over the most wild boreal forests of Alberta and crossing the huge Peace River. The rain had stopped and I had the road mostly to myself. Then a few truckers threw mud on my windshield at which point I realized I hadn’t added windshield washer fluid since, I couldn’t remember when. Note to self: carry windshield washer fluid. I managed to arrive in Peace River but with a brown streaked windshield.

At the Peace River Vet clinic I met Allison and the second Cedar Waxwing. He looked just as feisty as mine. His story was that someone had cut down a tree but hadn’t noticed the nest, nor the fledglings. Some time later, the neighbor (Allison) spotted the little bird and rescued him/her. Allison had bought some black berries for her patient which had apparently enjoyed the snack.

Not wanting to delay my arrival in Edmonton, I bid Allison goodbye and tucked Allison’s bird and carrier in the back. I also put a few blackberries in with my cedar waxwing, just in case he was hungry. He was not interested in anything except to keep a distance from my hand.

Gased up for the third time since leaving home, windshield washer full, I headed back south, the route I came on. However, my GPS insisted I do a u-turn and head further north. I can tell you that nothing would encourage me to drive so much as a mile northward. I stopped and opened up my map. Can you believe that the portion of Alberta that I needed to see was not on the map? The whole west side of Alberta had not been printed. Ugh!!!!

What choice do I have but to obediently follow “Elsie’s” instructions (GPS name)? As it turned out, the road did eventually head southeast. And, I made it back to WildNorth’s hospital with two shelties and two cedar waxwings. All very quiet during the entire road trip.

When Kim Blomme, Director of Wildlife Services, inspected my little patients, they greeted her with threatening open beaks, covered with blackberry juice.

Kim Blomme

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