North

B.C. man drives stranded American family 1,700 kilometres to Alaska

A Fort St. John resident stepped up when an American woman stuck on the Alaska Highway put a call out for a help.

Fort St. John resident steps up when American woman on the Alaska Highway puts a call out for a help

Gary Bath stepped forward when an American traveller needed help on the Alaska Highway. He went 1,700 kilometres out of his way to help out. (Dave Croft/CBC)

A Fort St. John, B.C. man is earning praise for driving an American family in need from northern B.C. to the Alaskan border near Beaver Creek, Yukon.

The roughly 1,700-kilometre trip up the Alaska Highway in winter didn't deter him from volunteering to help out, said Gary Bath.

Bath said he noticed an online plea for help last week from an American woman driving to Alaska who was overwhelmed by the winter driving conditions and couldn't drive any farther.

"I didn't care how far it was, I just knew they needed help and they had a few short days to hit the border before they were going to get in trouble, so," Bath said, referring to the four-to-six day period Americans are given by Canada to drive from the lower 48 states to Alaska.

He said the stranded woman, Lynn Marchessault, is a former member of the U.S. military and was driving herself and her two children to Alaska to join her husband, a current member of the military.

Bath is a Canadian Ranger, and he said that was an added incentive for him to get involved.

Marchessault said she had never driven in snow before when she and her two children left Georgia to drive north.

She was driving a pickup and towing a large U-Haul trailer. As soon as she hit snowy roads she began having trouble with traction on hills.

Marchessault believed the tires on the truck were rated all-weather, but shortly after leaving Fort St. John a woman told her they were actually summer tires and helped Marchessault find a set of studded winter tires.

Bath drove Lynn Marchessault and her children from Pink Mountain, B.C., to the American border near Beaver Creek, Yukon. (CBC)

Marchessault continued on, but the driving stress was too much and she pulled over at a highway lodge for temporary workers at Pink Mountain, B.C.

The staff there let her and her two children stay the night while she went online to see if she could find somebody to take over. Her husband would not be allowed to come to their aid because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Bath and his wife Selena showed up with extra winter clothing for the Marchessaults and Gary volunteered to drive them in their vehicle to the American border.

"I had to make the hard choice — were my children safer in my own hands in these conditions, or in the hands of a kind stranger who was willing to get us to where we needed to be, safely," said Marchessault.

Bath said the trip was mostly uneventful and they reached the Alaskan border on Thursday where Marchessault's husband was waiting.

He said they all wore face masks the entire time they were in the vehicle.

From left, Beaver Creek RCMP Cpl. Robert Drapeau, Gary Bath, Lynn Marchessault, Payton Marchessault, Rebecca Marchessault and Tim Marchessault. (Gary Bath)

While they were on the road, Bath's friends, his provincial MLA and strangers were working to find a way to get him back home. 

An RCMP officer in Beaver Creek gave him a ride from the American border back to Beaver Creek and found him a ride to Whitehorse. Donations from the public paid for Bath's airfare from Whitehorse to Fort St. John.

'Forever grateful'

Bath is downplaying his good deed, but said he was struck by the kindness he was shown by various people, including women working at the highway lodge at Pink Mountain and the motor inn at Beaver Creek.

Marchessault has similar comments.

"We are forever grateful to Gary and I'm thankful to his wife for bringing him up and loaning him out. I met her that morning when she drove him up to the inn. And so we just had a good time," she said.

She said she hopes they can all meet up again when her family eventually moves back south.

Marchessault said Canadian drivers were also kind toward her on several occasions.

"There's a lot of road rage in my life, especially in America, but there were several times where I was driving pretty slow and I never experienced not one, not one interaction of road rage or anything," she said.

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