Drive Safe

When you're heading south from Fort McMurray to anywhere, you often get a two word response when you share the news: "Drive safe!" The sincerity with which it is said, and the meaning and the history behind it is unsettling. It's a dangerous stretch of road, I would argue one of the most feared in the province, as it has gobbled up lives, destroyed families and provided more frights than your favourite Friday night horror flick.

I have a good relationship with Highway 63, but I treat her with respect. I stick to the speed limit and when conditions warrant, I knock back 5 or 10 clicks slower just to be safe. In truth, I'm probably one of those drivers that others curse for being too conservative, more often than not opting to follow at a safe distance rather than passing.

For the second time in a month, I did a round trip to Edmonton in one day, leaving at 5:30 am and returning by 8:30 pm - 10 hours behind the wheel with several hours in the city to spring Dylan from the Glenrose Hospital and bring him home for good after three months of recovery from leg surgery. Carrying the most precious cargo of my wife and children, I was more alert and cautious than ever.

As we're driving along, part of my brain is thinking about the animals that could suddenly pop out from the dark recesses of the snow-filled ditches, part is focused on long lines of approaching vehicles watching for someone being caught out in my lane trying to pass. Memories from the last trip were hanging out in the shadows of my mind, of just missing getting hit head-on by an errant passer and of slowing down to a crawl to pass someone who had his hazards on only to drive over the recently deceased deer lying bleeding in the middle of the lane, impossible to see in the frosty dark of early evening.

They (the people to spout off statistics) say that Highway 63 doesn't inflict pain because of extraordinary volume problems, that if you go by the numbers, it's not a stretch of road that deserved to be twinned. But everyone will tell you that it is 2.5 hours of steering-wheel-gripping driving fun that serves up more tanker trailers, semi-trucks and gargantuan over-sized loads that pierce right into the first third of the opposite lane to which they are traveling than anywhere else in the province. It is the volume of the big stuff that seemingly necessitates the "go for it" passing that often makes the head spin....and the metal explode.

In the seventies, after a long trip, in a car full of kids (we had 6), as we turned the corner on to Second Street, Mom would always say "Thank you God for getting us home safely." It embarrassed me then, I fully understand it now.

The other thing that is said about Highway 63 is that she is not to blame for the carnage that has happened over the past decade; human beings are to blame. Impatience, stupidity, ambivalence, imperviousness and a serious distortion of priorities all combine to make the trip from the outskirts of Fort McMurray to Grassland the crap shoot that it has become.

Our journey was incident-free yesterday, only shuddering through one moment of surprise as I swerved to miss a mangled mass of uncooked venison. Heading home on a Friday night, we were largely driving against the flow of traffic, as long chains of headlights swept past, clumped together as a caravan, before fading off into the horizon in my rear view mirror leaving us in the dark, alone, safe and sound, in one piece, one step closer to home.

December 18, 2010 - 204 pounds, 30.2% body fat


  1. Well written article Russell: Highway 63 has been labelled as one of the 10 most dangerous highways to travel in Canada. It is the drivers that make it so dangerous as the highway is straight, trees are cleared back well from the edge of the road (not like the East where a moose sticks its head out of the forest and it is already on the road), and for the most part the road is in good repair.

    Here's hoping that everyone travelling the highway will arrive at their destination safe and sound for Christmas by driving safely and defensively just like your family :)

  2. Well written Russell. I hate driving that highway. I am a safe driver but yes it is those drivers that try to pass when there is oncoming traffic. I have had many near misses on that highway because of someone passing and I have had someone give me the bird because I was doing the speed limit.

    I have to say when I am finally off of Highway 63 my hands hurt because of white knuckling the sneering wheel and also it is like a big weight is lifted off my shoulders. I also say the same thing your mother said "We made it off of that highway safe and sound once again". I try and not go on that highway in the Winter if I do not have too but sometimes you need to go to Edmonton for those special Doctor's since Fort McMurray does not have a lot of specialist, like an audiologist for my son.

    Here's hoping that highway becomes twinned but will it stop all of the accidents on there. I am not too sure about that because it is not like you said Highway 63 fault it is the drivers.

  3. Reading your blog makes me rethink whether I shd actually drive next week to Edmonton for our Christmas luncheon with friends. It sure sounds scary.....

  4. I have to disagree, if the drivers won't change, and they have showed us time and time again that they won't - Than how many deaths does it take to warrant twinning 63?
    No if you go by the text book it doesn't need twinned; but when does anything in Fort McMurray follow the stated rules of the rest of mainstream teachings?
    We the people of this Municipality deserve to be safe when we drive out on 63.
    Surely the monies we generate for the province and country could grant us this pass on what the computer states would warrant a twinned hi-way?
    Surely just the sheer volume of precious life lost could justify it?


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