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We set out on a cross-country road trip with no plan

nolan pelletier The Globe and Mail

When the job I'd held for 23 years vanished in June, I became a rudderless ship with a malfunctioning compass. Fear underwrote my new freedom and I had no idea what to do.

The second blow followed swiftly. My closest friend of nearly 50 years decided she was leaving Windsor, Ont., and moving to British Columbia. She had been like my right arm since we were toddlers.

I felt like the dunk tank lady whose bull's eye had been hit twice in quick succession. The door to my old life was slamming shut while I dog-paddled and spluttered for air.

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"I've decided to drive to Vancouver Island," my friend announced. "Feel like a road trip?"

"You've lost your mind."

"Why not? You can help me decide where to settle when we get there."

I shook my head. "Aren't we a bit old for a Thelma and Louise adventure?"

"It'll be fine," she said, "Are you coming or not?"

Unwilling to let her tackle the trip alone, I reluctantly agreed. "Okay, Thelma, sign me up. I'll put an itinerary together, book rooms, research gas …"

"Stop right there," she said. "No planning! We're going to get in the car and trust everything to work out."

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My open-mouthed expression shouted disbelief.

"It'll work if we work it," she said, stealing her mother's favourite expression.

Day 1 we rolled northward along Lake Huron. The kilometres coasted by as we reminisced over the beaches and campgrounds that had given us so many memories. I fretted silently over our lack of a plan.

As we neared Tobermory, Ont., the sun was already dipping into the lake. "Okay, Thelma, we're running out of highway and it's getting late. What now?"

The next curve produced a campground sign with its arrow pointing left. She smiled. "I guess we're going left."

The campground was beautiful. It was an August weekend but a cancellation left us a cozy cabin with everything we needed.

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"See," she said when we tucked into our bunks that night, "I told you it would be fine."

"It's only Day 1," I said. "The jury is still out on the no-plan thing."

The days passed pleasantly. We wondered at Lake Superior's spectacular scenery, cried over old tunes and memories as we crossed Manitoba, and marvelled at Saskatchewan's big skies stretching to eternity above us. Each night, just the right lodging would appear at just the right time. The no-agenda plan was working well. I was grudgingly beginning to trust her.

In Golden, B.C., we left the highway a little shaken by the hairpin turns and aggressive truckers urging us down steep mountain grades. Bullied past our planned exit, we settled for the next one and landed in the town's centre. We parked at a grocery store to gather our wits and purchase a few things for dinner. When we exited the lot, a motel sign winked at us from an unlikely spot around the corner.

"Wait," my friend said, pointing at the sign, "I have a feeling we should check that place out."

I wasn't keen on dodging more trucks on the highway, so I agreed.

Yet again, the price was right, the room was wonderful and we decided to stay. Later, drink in hand by the pool, I took a good look around and began to chuckle.

"What's funny?"

"I don't believe this. I thought it was déjà vu."


"I stayed here, in this very motel, 25 years ago. I always wanted to come back and spend time here but somehow, I thought it was in another town."

She shot me the told-you-so look. "Funny how things work out – if you get out of the way and trust."

Our urge to get to Vancouver Island faded. We stayed for four days and it was perfect. We relaxed, laughed and said all the things that needed to be said between best friends soon to be parted. When the time was right, we moved on.

We reached Vancouver Island two days before my flight back to Ontario. I was concerned about leaving her to search out a new home by herself but she told me not to worry. If only I could be as comfortable with the unknown.

I had relatives on the island who were expecting a brief visit, so we chose a little beach town nearby to spend our last two days. She got a wonderful deal for a month's rental on our cabin and the area was exactly what she had envisioned for her new life.

We said our goodbyes in Victoria. As the airport bus whisked me away, I knew she would settle in well. She lived on faith, trusting life to land her on just the right runway, and it seemed to work every time.

As my plane sailed toward the stars, I suddenly understood – the entire trip had been a lesson for me. When doors close in your life, there is a secret to moving forward again. My friend had just given me an example: "No planning." She had proved to me that letting go, giving up the need to control everything and trusting things to work was the best plan of all.

I felt like my rudder had been reinstalled and my compass restored. I couldn't wait to un-plan my new life and watch it unfold. I leaned back into my seat with a contented sigh and knew that I, too, would be just fine.

Michele Meloche lives in Windsor, Ont.

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