Helping hands come to rescue in family's epic journey to Alaska

Highway Samaritans help

Lynn Marchessault and her two children were driving from Georgia to Alaska last week to reunite with their husband and father when they experienced a Christmas miracle of sorts in Northern B.C.

The Marchessaults had been on the road for six days when they were caught in a snow storm on Nov. 15. Through a series of coincidences and mutual connections, Fort St. John's Gary Bath came to the rescue and drove the family — who were inexperienced driving through snow, let alone a blizzard — the rest of the way to the Alaska border.

The family had been away from Staff Sgt. Tim Marchessault through most of the pandemic, who is stationed with the United States Army at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Early in the fall, the family made the decision for Tim to re-enlist in the army, and for Lynn and the family to move up to Alaska. Though the plan was in place to hit the road before winter, the travel documents required to drive through Canada didn't come in for another two months.

Not wanting to travel in the heart of winter, the family made the choice to start their journey on Nov. 10, and made it all the way to Wonowon by Sunday before Mother Nature decided to make things difficult. 

"The roads leaving from Grande Prairie were OK at first, until we got to B.C. I was driving very slow, with lots of big trucks passing me on the highway — I don't know how they do it," Lynn said. "The snow was getting heavier and heavier, road conditions were worse, and I was having trouble getting up the hills. That's when we decided to stop for gas."

While her kids were using the restroom, Lynn began to cry at the gas station when Teena Seu noticed her distress. Sew noticed the tires on Lynn's 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 were unfit for the journey, especially because they were towing a large moving trailer.

Seu accompanied the family to a local tire shop. Though it was closed, the owner arrived shortly after by happenstance, and after hearing about the situation, fitted the truck with four winter tires. 

"I felt more comfortable, but the snow was still a lot to handle. I had never driven in whiteout conditions before," said Lynn.

Eventually, Lynn asked Seu if there was anyone she knew, possibly with military experience, who might be able to help take the family the rest of the way.

Seu reached out to Canadian military vet Tanya Hunt, whose Facebook post caught the eye of Joe Elliott in Prince George. Elliott shared the post, catching the attention of Bath, an army ranger, who didn't hesitate to come to the family's aid. 

"I saw lots of people saying they wish they were able to help and would if they could. I talked to my wife Selena and decided that I would help them get the rest of the way," Bath said. "It’s getting close to Christmas, and you don't want to see a family split up for Christmas. I heard there was a family stranded who needed help, and thought if I could help them stay together, then why not do it."

After formulating a plan, Selena drove Gary to Pink Mountain by Monday evening, and the unlikely traveling crew took off for Alaska on Nov. 16.

"It was really amazing. Gary was a great driver, Canada is a really beautiful country and I love the Canadian people," said Lynn. "This was a scary situation, where I had to decide if my kids were safer in my own hands or in the hands of a nice stranger willing to take us to where we needed to get to safely."

Once the family was reunited at the Alaska-Yukon border, MLA Dan Davies contacted an RCMP officer in Beaver Creek, who picked up Bath from the border. From there, Bath caught a ride back to Whitehorse with a mechanic who happened to be headed that way, before catching a flight back to Fort St. John, paid for by the generosity of a number of people who caught word of the story online. 

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