Lynn Earls Marchessault of Martin didn’t intend on becoming one of the best feel-good stories of the 2020 holiday season.
When she and her two children and three household pets – two dogs and a cat – struck out on the 4,250-mile road trip in a Dodge Ram pickup towing a U-Haul trailer to Fairbanks, Alaska, all she wanted was to have her family together again as they would join husband and father Staff Sgt. Timothy Marchessault at his permanent duty station at Fort Wainwright.
What a trip it turned out to be.
With Tim already in Alaska, Lynn and children Payton, 13, and Rebecca 10, were temporarily living with her parents, Cindi and Mike Watson of Martin.
Complicated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and a later than anticipated start in November instead of September, Lynn found herself mentally and physically exhausted in a small town in British Columbia, Canada, still a thousand miles away from her husband and Fort Wainwright with tires unsuited for wintry conditions and non-operating windshield wipers.
Lynn said a series of events occurred that led her to this seemingly desperate situation.
After crossing over from the U.S. to Canada, her cell phone, which she was using for GPS navigation, often would not connect to a signal.
“I got lost several times due to not having service and my GPS not redirecting me. I would have to find my way back to the route on my own each time. This took an entire hour both times in two major cities in Canada – Saskatoon and Edmonton.”
Then the Canadian winter started to set in.
“About that time, I was running into snow and my windshield wipers had stopped working (the motor that powers the wipers had stopped working). I tried finding somewhere to get them serviced. After three attempts with local shops – they were all closed due to COVID – I wound up at a dealership. They did not have the part needed. They wanted me to wait three days for the part to come in, but I could not do that for fear of getting in trouble with the border patrol for not getting to my point of exit on time and fear of running into more extreme winter weather.”
The Canadian border patrol had given her exactly five days to pass through Canada and exit into Alaska.
She forged ahead without properly working wipers.
Then the Canadian Rockies threw up the next barrier to overcome.
“As we entered the mountains, we ran into snow, something I was hoping would not happen. I have never driven in snow. I was handling it okay. As we continued driving, the conditions continued to get worse,” she said.
The snow eventually turned into whiteout conditions, she said.
“We stopped in a very small mountain town called Wonowon (British Columbia). I needed gas and the kids needed to go to the restroom. I found myself crying because I was a nervous wreck at this point. A woman comes out of the gas station and sees me. She checks on me and I tell her what’s going on and of our journey and where we came from,” Lynn said.
The woman was Tee Sew, an EMT.
Sew took the Marchessault clan under her protective wing. She took her to a local tire shop where they placed four studded snow tires on the pickup truck.
This was done on a Sunday, the store worker’s only day off.
“I can’t tell you how thankful I was,” Lynn said.
It was now 4:30 p.m. and dark was rapidly descending.
Sew had Lynn follow her to a hotel up the road where the weary family could spend the night.
“She drove 45 minutes out of her way to lead me to the hotel because I was still a nervous wreck,” Lynn said.
Sew’s Good Samaritan nature continued.
“I told her I did not want to finish this drive. I wanted to find a driver who would be willing to help us get to the Alaska border and Tim and I would pay for their way home,” Lynn said.
Her new Canadian friend reached out to a friend who had served in the Canadian military. Then came a social media post on a veteran’s page – and then another and another until Gary A. Bath saw the message.
After talking with his wife, Bath agreed to drive the Marchessault’s on to Alaska. The Baths even video chatted with Tim Marchessault at Ft. Wainwright to ensure Lynn’s safety and that of the children.
On Nov. 17, Bath slid behind the wheel of the Marchessault’s pickup and turned to Alaska for the 1,000 remaining miles of the trip – a two-day journey.
The veterans who had joined together online to discuss Marchessault’s predicament raised the needed money to pay for Bath’s return trip home to Fort St. John, British Columbia.
The story of Lynn Marchessault’s odyssey and the help she received from new Canadian friends was picked up by multiple news outlets in Alaska and Canada as well as several publications geared for armed services personnel and their families.
The New York Times also covered the story in a lengthy article.
Bill Hunt of Martin read about the woman with the Stephens County connection being stranded in Canada in the Jan. 9 issue of the Minneapolis (Minn.) Star-Tribune which he shared with the staff of The Toccoa Record.
And the Marchessault’s?
They’ve settled in to their new hometown of North Pole, Alaska, a suburb of Fairbanks and are adjusting well.
“It’s cold here but we get out in it every so often,” Lynn said Monday. “Alaska is a beautiful place.”
And, there’s more to the new Marchessault lifestyle.
“My husband is an avid snow boarder,” Lynn said. “He’s busy trying to teach me and the children how to do it.”