By Garry Sowerby
It was a swan of an assignment, perfect for the dog days of summer. Drive four different vehicles a combined driving distance of 7,500 kilometres over an eight-day period and that was it.
Since the mission would be broken up by seven flight segments, it wasn’t a continuous stint in road prison though.
The route didn’t cross the Gobi Desert, hightail it through the Australian Outback or meander through European countryside. This one involved flying to Toronto, driving to Halifax, flying to Montreal, driving to Halifax, then flying back to Toronto and driving to Halifax yet again so I could fly to Quebec City and drive to Halifax one last time.
The upside was the four completely different new vehicles I would be driving. The first was a rip-snorting 460-horsepower Mustang GT. Then, while the other side of the world was experiencing a lunar eclipse, I had my own in the form of a Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross. The third was an Atlas, the big new people hauler from Volkswagen.
The last vehicle was the biggest, a 2018 Chevrolet Suburban, and I had 48 hours to get it from Quebec City to the Halifax airport to hand over to a visiting Ontario journalist for an evaluation run.
At 1,006 kilometres, this was the shortest of the four-stage driving assignment, so I planned an evening away from dash lights and taillights visiting friends Pam and Al McPhail in northern New Brunswick.
The next morning a four-hour fun session with my toddler grandson Dorian in Fredericton would entertain and delight.
In Quebec City, as I approached the black-on-black Suburban, I noticed it was dirty, but not overly so. Up close I focused on white powder dust filling the fender gaps and rubbers around the windows. Strange.
The white dust was caked on the door jams and hinges. Inside, every surface was covered and it had infiltrated seams and crevices throughout the massive interior. The floor was covered with a layer of dust and sand and bits of gravel.
It was about the grubbiest vehicle I’ve ever encountered.
The Suburban earned its dishevelled state on loan to a film company from France that used it as a film platform on a back-road 10-day Quebec adventure, and it seemed half of those back roads had been harvested in the interior of the new $84,000 vehicle.
On top of that, the windshield was broken in two places, one a starburst the size of a grapefruit.
I hated to sit in it. It felt like I was checking into a trashed hotel room wondering whose clutter and dregs surrounded you.
After an hour on the telephone I determined the only available windshield was 1,006 kilometres away in Halifax and to get it replaced for the airport delivery deadline, I had to be there first thing the next morning.
I called Pam and Al in New Brunswick and announced the leisurely evening would be a quick stop to give their shop-vac a workout that turned out to take an hour and twenty minutes.
The next stop was a midnight visit to a coin-operated high-pressure coin car wash in Woodstock where I blew through $16 in toonies blowing off the body, wheel wells and door jams. Then I headed for Moncton and checked into a hotel for five hours.
During the drive, on a few occasions I actually ducked, thinking the starburst windshield damage was a low-flying drone. Was I being tailed by some mysterious force?
In the morning on the final run to my date with Speedy Auto Glass in Halifax I dumped more loonies and toonies into a car wash in Sackville, N.B., for another go at the baked-on bugs splattered over the front bumper and grill.
I made it to Halifax on time and in a few hours had the Suburban home for yet another vacuum then hand washed it and spend an hour wiping down the interior.
On the way to the airport to hand the Suburban over I felt on top of the world. The four drives had been done on time and the big Chevy looked like a showroom queen. Its new windshield was so clean it looked as if wasn’t even there.
Just before turning into the airport I noticed the car ahead straddled a smallish roadkill and I steered slightly left to miss it.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a bald eagle swooped down like a laser-guided bomb, grabbed the roadkill and swerved on his climb out of harm’s way just missing the windshield. The road kill dangled from its mighty talons.
For a split second, before I sped under it I saw the eagle’s beady eyeball peering in at me.
It was a moment I’ll never forget, and I suppose Mr. or Ms. Bald Eagle thought that was one shiny Chevy Suburban it just dodged for dinner.