By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily
For all the international travel I’ve been fortunate to experience, I’ve had amazingly good luck. But that luck had to run out, and my trip to Canada last week was the time.
I started out by waking up too early in the morning, getting all the ranch work done and then heading to the Jackson airport. It was snowing and cold, but the plane took off for San Francisco without a hitch. I landed with a leisurely layover before my flight to Calgary and that’s when things started to go wrong.
I received a phone call that after 19 blissful wolf-free days on the ranch, a new pack had made its presence known and had scattered the elk from a nearby feedground. I relayed the information back to my family at home and tried not to worry.
The plane was delayed, first for a half-hour, then for another half-hour. By the time all the half-hours went by, it was three hours late and I landed in Canada about 1 a.m.
After being up for some 23 hours by then, I was exhausted and barely able to keep from arguing with the pushy car rental agent who wanted me to purchase insurance I didn’t need, and warned me I was personally responsible for the navigation system I’d rented as a backup (in case I found myself out of cell range in my drive to a rural area where I was slated to speak the next day).
Oops, by then it was already the next day. I went out into the -17° cold to meet my rental “smart car.” My family thinks it is hysterically funny to picture me driving such an advancement in technology, since my normal rig is a feed truck on the ranch.
I find a sleek car in the rental space and look down to see I’m holding a key fob with no key. I pushed the first button on the fob only to find it set off the blast of the car’s emergency alarm.
Although there was no other fool out in the dark and cold to hear the blast, I frantically pushed more buttons, finally shutting off the alarm and getting the danged vehicle unlocked. I hopped in and automatically moved to push the nonexistent key into the nonexistent key-starter – only to find a button. I look again at the key fob and realize my mistake. I push the button, but nothing happens.
After pushing it a few more times, a text appeared on the car’s dash instructing me that if I want to start the car I should push on the brake before hitting the starter button. Okay, done. Yaay, some heat to take off the chill as the car defrosts.
I got myself organized in the car and booted up the navigation system, plugging in the name of the hotel where I had a room waiting, but the system didn’t recognize it.
I then typed in the address, with the same result. I pulled out my cell phone and found that it had no service, and wasn’t able to roam on a Canadian provider. Great. Middle of the night, Calgary, no idea how to get where I need to be.
I headed south, finding the first flaw of the “smart” car: its lights don’t automatically turn on. I pulled over to find the lights on the steering column before continuing on my way, attempting and failing to find my hotel. After about 20 minutes, I gave up and I found another hotel with an available room.
After dropping $150 for three hours of hotel room rental, I was back on the road again (using an actual paper highway map), headed to a town two hours south – in a snow storm in my rented smart car.
The dashboard continually provided insights into my driving, contrasting whether my driving was “economical” or “aggressive.” So great, the car was “judgy” too, which probably made me slightly more aggressive as I engaged in war with the car.
After an hour, the car suggested I take a break, tempting me with an image of a steaming cup of coffee. I ignored it and drove on. It continued to make obnoxious suggestions as I drove, yet warning me about every slight curve in the wide, well-maintained, divided highway.
I arrived in the town where I was to join a rancher forum for the day, and stopped to search the rented navigation system for the location of the meeting. The navigation system had never heard of such a place, or such an address.
A helpful convenience store clerk explained that the place may have a new name on the building, but it was known as the Elks Lodge and that I would find it just past the local Dodge dealership. That’s the kind of navigation I could follow, and soon arrived at my destination. Only to find my cell phone (with my schedule and reservations detailed in its electronic calendar) was missing.
I raced back to the convenience store, where a nice passerby had found my phone where I had dropped it in the snow. It had been recently run over by a vehicle. Oh yes, another complication in my sleep-deprived travels.
Fortunately, the meeting went smoothly, and was well attended by ranchers throughout the region despite the snowstorm. I borrowed some internet time for a quick search of the location of the hotel I had failed to find during the night and headed back toward Calgary, reaching the city in time for rush-hour, stop-and-go traffic.
My judgy rental car finally decided my driving was economical by the time I reached my long-lost hotel and I dropped into an exhausted sleep.
With an early morning flight, I returned the car to the rental lot and locked it. The placard outside the unmanned station instructed me to drop the keys and the rental agreement in the box provided. But the box was only large enough for the key fob.
I spoke with another befuddled car renter about what to do, and we decided to drop the keys in the box but take the agreements back to the rental desk inside the airport.
I had packed the worthless navigation system back into its carrying case and we ran through the cold to the rental desk. Which was unmanned. We tucked our rental agreements (detailing the mileage driven and proving we had returned the cars with full tanks) and the navigation system behind the desk and hurried through the terminal to begin the security process.
By the time I could check telephone messages on a layover back in America, I learned the car rental company was looking for me – something about a missing navigation system.
Although I tried to return the call numerous times, the rental company refused to answer the phone but had maxed out the available credit on my credit card.
The next flights went smoothly, and I landed back in Jackson to be met by Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce members welcoming travelers to the valley and handing out free mimosas near the luggage kiosk.
Mercifully I made it back to the ranch with no further mishaps, where I’ll be spending hours hounding the rental car company, talking to the credit card company, and ordering a new cell phone.
I’ll happily fire up my stupid, ugly, and unjudgy ranch truck that has manual windows and door locks, and that doesn’t try to convince me to take a break despite not getting out of four-wheel-drive for four months of the year.
We’ll be navigating around the ranch in the snow, searching for wolf tracks and escaping the advancements in technology that have made life so easy.
Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@iclou