Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 21: Detroit News

by Jeff Rand

Ron looked across the haze at the remains of Parliament Hill. The great seat of Canadian government lay dormant and neglected. Just years earlier, the view from the porch of the ambassador's residence had been one showing bustling activities among the stately buildings.

In typical imperialist fashion the American delegation had opted to create its own Neural Virtual Reality centre rather than trust those of its Canadian hosts. As deputy ambassador, Donohue had joined the others at the ambassador's residence to participate in World Unity Day. Even at this juncture, he was not sure the Americans were committed to this enterprise, but it hardly mattered now.

Donohue's dual US and Canadian citizenship helped him achieve this most sought after post. After he made a career move to Baltimore, he tended to gravitate towards the seat of power in Washington DC. For a short period he held a key post in Housing and Urban Development before the cabinet branch was abolished. He readily accepted the opportunity to join the state department and move to Ottawa, if for no other reason than to experience a little more winter than just a few days at each year's end.

Ron remembered that the residence had been fitted with over 200 connections for prolonged activity with NVR. The nutritional and waste exchanger had been a marvel of engineering in its ability to work on a small scale for a prolonged period. A quick analysis showed the system to be in working order, keeping the other Americans inside the residence oblivious to reality.

The lack of any other human activity actually surprised him, as he expected to encounter the customary marine guards. He thought, "Perhaps the guards are still here going about their duties in the virtual world." It hardly mattered to him now. Knowing that his wife was not among those in the residence, made his decision to leave a bit easier. She was likely connected to the Net somewhere in Hawaii where she had travelled to visit relatives.

Ron chose not to attempt to wake any of the others from their forced hibernation. Instead he would make haste for a westward journey. This, he reasoned would be his most logical course in a world now unready for much conscious human activity. He could only hope that at least one other person was roaming the earth. He concluded that the best place to start would be the ranch at 880 East Sutton Road in Metamora, Michigan.

Turning his head to look down Wellington Street, Ron could see a few parked cars. Looking further in the distance he observed debris filling the roadway, making passage difficult for a motor vehicle. "Doubtful that the train station or airport will offer any help either, although it might be interesting to try my hand as an engineer in a locomotive," he thought.

Ron could not see the Ottawa River to the north of Parliament Hill. Water had been the preferred means of travel centuries earlier for his Canadian ancestors. Perhaps it would now play a key role in solving his current dilemma. He recalled the experience he had years earlier he had boating on a quiet section of river upstream on the Quebec side.

A quick inspection of the ambassador's residence provided Ron with most of the supplies he would need for an extended journey. He filled a large duffel with his emergency rations. "Americans," thought Ron, "didn't fully trust the Canadians to provide for their well being and had created a well stocked residence and embassy complex in case there was a siege from separatist Quebecers." He was particularly pleased to find a down parka and boots. Ron included two weeks worth of MRE's with his provisions. In addition, he located a case of chemical boil packs. The CBP's might prove useful if he needed to heat water.

Ron decided that maps and navigational aids might be useful. He was pleased to find in the logistics room, charts of the Ottawa River, but could not locate any of the Great Lakes. As a last resort, he grabbed an Ontario highway map.

Almost as an afterthought, he decided that he might want to bring a weapon. However, his attempt to open the weapons locker proved futile and he had no idea where to find a key. When he decided to explore the ambassador's personal quarters, his efforts were rewarded with the handgun he found in the dresser.

Ron departed from the building with the duffel upon his shoulders. A cool northern breeze greeted his exposed flesh when he stepped off the porch onto the walkway along Wellington Street. With his first taste of fresh air in years, he guessed the temperature to be about 10 below Celsius. While he had put the parka over his shoulders, he expected that he might be closing the zipper and cinching the hood before nightfall. Looking toward the midday sun, he realised he had no watch. "I believe I know where I am. But when?" he thought. "If my life in the virtual world has at least been true chronologically, it should be December 30, 2030. I go with that for now."

Deputy Ambassador Donohue hiked west about 6 kilometres, dodging an occasional obstruction to reach the Champlain Bridge. Ron was pleased to find the bridge intact, but was surprised to find the river completely frozen. Once he crossed the bridge into Quebec, he headed west once again to the marina belonging to the Club de Golf Royal Ottawa. Although not a member, Ron had been a welcome guest on several occasions and was familiar with the marina. His hopes of finding a nice powerboat to take him downstream evaporated upon the realisation that an icebreaker was not among the inventory of vessels.

Discouraged, Ron could not think of any reasonable means to get to D-A. As far as he knew, the world was devoid of human activity and no mechanical device could be found to journey 800 kilometres to Michigan. Yet, he sincerely believed that he was called to return to D-A and Winter Camp. It was not mere chance that he escaped from the world of NVR. The recent events at Winter Camp, although virtual, had shocked him back to reality. Winter Camp, it seemed, had become self-aware, beckoning its human vestiges to action.

Recalling some fond thoughts of Winter Camp, Ron became more confident. As if he were at an early planning meeting suggesting ideas for new activities, he proceeded to build a mental list of some of the more unusual ones. Standing among the seemingly useless boats, he remembered an experience he had at this very place a few years earlier, which was an activity of Winter Camp stature. His friend Chip had given him his first real experience ice yachting. Ron had marvelled at the ability of this simple vehicle to achieve speeds nearing 100 kilometres per hour, as it sailed across Lake Deschenes.

Ron searched the harbour and grounds, quickly determining that if an iceboat was to be found, it was not out ready for sailing. Perhaps he would have better luck inside the clubhouse. The force that broke down the door was not typical of the character that Ron portrayed with his Canadian hosts. Yet no one who had known him for the past 50 years would have been surprised the see the glass door pulverised. Apparently, the commotion had no impact on the rest of oblivious humanity.

By mid afternoon Ron had found the components necessary to assemble his very own ice yacht. Normally a single experience might fade from one's memory, but typically Ron could often recall details easily forgotten by others. He moved the materials outside to the edge of the frozen river. There he assembled the two side runners and passenger shell. He affixed a third runner to the front of the passenger shell, which would serve as the rudder. Next he installed the rigging and oversized sail. Ron noted the large letters DN painted on the sail. He made a few guesses as to how to assemble the lines to the mast, hoping that he would be able to turn the thing once he got it moving.

Nightfall arrived early as expected and Donohue decided to spend a night in the clubhouse before embarking upon his journey. He woke feeling sufficiently rested and eager to get moving. He ate some kind of slop packaged as an MRE, unable to read the contents of the packet in the darkness of an early winter morning. Not certain about the time, yet anxious about the long trip ahead, he decided to start before sunrise. It could have been 4:00 a.m. for all he knew.

Stepping outside, he learned that the wind velocity had increased during the night, bringing a chill from the great north. Although the moon had set, the clear sky and bright snow removed any trepidation he had about starting out before sunrise.

Ron moved the vessel to the river, proceeding to hoist the mast. Almost instantly the wind grabbed the sail and tipped the boat sideways onto the ice. Ron realised that there might be a thing or two he needed to learn about sailing. His next attempt to raise the sail was parallel to the wind. Once he had the mast and sail in place he tied them to the rigging and frame, and as a precaution he tied the boat to the pier. The iceboat was designed to carry a single passenger and minimal supplies, so Ron had created two slings on the sides of the passenger shell to hold his duffel and supplies.

Dr. Beast untied the vessel from its mooring and pushed it away from shore, careful to keep the sail from catching the wind. He placed himself in the passenger shell, hoping that it would hold his weight. When he turned the sail, it bent forward as it caught a gust of wind. Momentarily the force was sufficient and the boat thrust forward without any damage to the sail or rigging. The boat starting off slowly, but accelerated to a speed in excess of 50 kilometres per hour once it reached to middle of the river. This burst of speed surprised Ron and caught him unprepared, as he sailed toward the opposite side of the river. He did not want to crash into shore, so he grabbed the steering shaft to turn the rudder to the left. Unfortunately he did attend to the sail and his excessive speed caused the boat to bounce, as it forced itself forward with the sideways rudder, much as if it were an automobile in an uncontrolled skid.

The boat was nearly ashore before Ron overcame his sense of panic to turn the sail from the full brunt of the wind. Although a fairly competent canoe paddler, he wished he had spent more time learning to sail. Thankfully, the vessel stalled before it hit shore, suffering no damage. Ron got out for a moment to allow his heart beat a chance to slow. Before he got back into the boat, he turned it down river. The next attempt proceeded more cautiously, as he worked the sail to catch the crosswind. After a few minutes he attained a reliable speed of about 10 kph.

Ron practised with the rudder and sail to gain a bit of experience. Eventually he felt more comfortable and turned the sail to catch more of the wind. The resulting force accelerated the boat to about 25 kph, a quite suitable speed. When the River curved northward, Ron learned how to tack, making a zigzag across the river in order to proceed downstream.

Although it was still dark, Ron could see fairly well to navigate and avoided several objects floating on the ice. Occasionally he hit a large crack or rough patch of ice, where he wished he had installed some shock absorbers.

By the middle of the morning Ron had sailed his ice yacht to the outskirts of Montreal, a distance, according to his charts, of 160 kilometres. Quite pleased with his newly acquired ice boating skills, Ron parked the boat at the junction of the Saint Lawrence River for a rest break. He removed a small metal pan and CBP from his duffel. He filled the pan with snow scraped from the riverbank. He removed the stiff plastic cylinder protecting the chemical boil pack. Then he grabbed the packet and bent it to crack an internal tube. He threw the packet into the pot of snow. The mixing of chemicals within the packet produced heat enough to melt the snow. Ron added more snow to produce about 250 ml of boiling water. In his MRE rations he found a packet of instant coffee. Momentarily tempted, he discarded the vile substance, as it offered little more than a drug fix. He was delighted to find a package of hot cocoa, which provided something with real food value. While the CPB could do little more than boil a cup of water, Ron was able to use its residual heat to melt more snow for water.

After his short rest and meal, Ron set upon the next leg of his journey. The wind still blew from the north and was more in line with his direction up the St. Lawrence River. Ron wasted no time turning the sail into the breeze. He had gained confidence in his morning of ice boating and did not want to waste the opportunity. Soon he was sailing at speeds approaching 50 kph. The St. Lawrence was larger than the Ottawa and prone to erratic ice. Yet, Ron did not deviate from his mission, having reached the shores of Lake Ontario by late afternoon. He had another snack and continued for about two more hours before making camp inside a small shack on the north side of the lake.

On the second day of his ice voyage, Ron woke to a clear sky with very light winds. He waited until first light, hoping that the wind would increase. He thought it did, but he could not get the boat started at first. When he moved it out from shore, the wind increased enough to move the vessel at something between 10 and 15 kph. It would be a long voyage across Lake Ontario.

Approaching the skyline of Toronto, Ron made the decision to leave sight of the north shore to make a beeline across the lake. It was late afternoon and he hoped to make it to the Welland Canal before stopping for the night.

The ice grew more fissured and Ron slid over numerous pressure ridges on his voyage into darkness. The sky became cloudy and a light snow began falling. Still Ron pressed on hoping to reach the south shore, rather than bivouacking in the middle of the lake. As the hours passed, Ron became aware of his progressively slower speed and the increasing snowfall. After hitting a particularly nasty pressure ridge, he ceased moving altogether. At this point his weight was too much for the ice and it caused the ice to break and separate. Ron quickly got out and moved the boat forward unto solid ice.

When he investigated the ice, he found the separation had grown to more than two metres. Then he walked forward about 10 metres, to find an expanse of open water. Ron now found himself on ice flow somewhere in the middle of Lake Ontario. It was snowing and he had minimal shelter. He could only hope to survive the night without plunging to his death in the icy waters.

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