The kids excitedly waved goodbye to their uncle Mike as we pulled out of my brother’s driveway in Cranberry Portage, Manitoba at 7:11am on Thursday morning. It was the last day of August and we had spent the past two weeks in the best possible way: at Rocky Lake where my brother had a trailer in the same spot we had camped with our parents back in 1971. It was almost as if he were living in the past, reliving those childhood days every summer in his seasonal camping spot, often visiting during the winter too, for ice fishing or just for some quiet.
I had not slept well in anticipation of the 12.5 hour drive to Calgary, but determination spurred me on. I had been up since 5am, intending to have the car packed, my coffee drunk, and goodbyes said before 6:30. But as it was the end of summer, dawn was later than expected. As I peeked out his kitchen blinds at 6:45, the dimness was just seceding. I half expected to see one of the town’s black bears strolling down the street, but no such luck. While it would’ve been cool to see, it was the reason I wasn’t packing the car until daylight – I didn’t want to turn around after loading the trunk to find a bear sniffing my snack bags!
As we pulled out onto the #10 highway out of Cranberry Portage, we waved goodbye to the school playground where the kids had enjoyed the high swings. People who grew up in snow understood the swings were high so you could still play on them when there was three feet of snow on the ground, but this had been a source of great wonderment and joy for my Vancouver-raised kids. We yelled goodbye to Rick’s, the store where the kids had bought candy. Once out of town (a whopping 2 blocks later) the kids settled in for the long drive, and I set my hands at 10 and 2, and focused on the road ahead.
The car’s stereo had only been operational since the previous month, so I wasn’t accustomed to the stereo controls on the steering wheel. On top of that, I hadn’t driven my car in a week because it had been at the shop having a new fuel pump installed, so everything was new again. I was delighted to spot a large button near my right hand thumb, with two smaller buttons below it. My eyes were still bleary from lack of sleep, and the coffee hadn’t quite kicked in yet, but I could see the word VOLUME on the big button. I pushed the power button on the stereo and thumbed the volume button. Static. I lowered my thumb and pushed the SEEK button, scanning for the closest radio station, Flin Flon’s. Nothing. I turned the volume down and decided to try it further down the highway, perhaps the reception there would be better.
It was a 25 minute drive from Cranberry Portage to the Wanless turnoff, where we turned to get to Mike’s Rocky Lake trailer. After that, there was another 30 minute drive to The Pas, the town which had raised me in the 70’s. It was the shittiest shithole you could ever imagine, but it was home and I loved it. And my kids loved it. It was weird. We had thoroughly enjoyed our time in The Pas and I was looking forward to making new memories there with my kids in future summers. For now, we were only stopping in to gas up at Extra Foods and grab a coffee at McDonald’s.
We passed the last business district at 8:32am and the next stop would be Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan. This is the route we had driven to get here, so I was comfortable with the knowledge of the road conditions. What I wasn’t prepared for was the weather.
The thunder and lightning storm I had been hoping to see for the past two weeks had finally arrived, and it was displaying directly above my route. We drove toward the dark cloud, the trees around us escalating from a gentle sway to a blustering bend. The rain intensified, and sheets of lightning glowed in the distance. CRACK! A bolt of lightning jolted, spanning my entire windshield from left to right. My ears rang with electricity and I yelped.
Desperate for a distraction, I tried the radio again. I pressed the volume up and heard only static. I pressed the seek button. Silence. I pressed it again. Static. I lowered the volume defeatedly and frowned. It was no surprise the reception was bad, but it was still a disappointment. I resigned myself to listening to the kids playing their new game: counting down and trying to predict the next bolt of lightning. “Five! Four! Three! Two! Ooooooone! NOW!” They were invariably wrong each time, and they would burst into laughter and try again.
I gripped the wheel hard and my heart leapt with joy every time a car passed us in the other direction. They were few and far between, and in the end only maybe five during our whole time on Highway 10. But at least there were other people on the road, people who were familiar with this weather, people who weren’t deterred by the dark clouds, pelting rain, and ominous claps of thunder. If they could drive through it, so could I. We forged ahead.
After 40 minutes of weaving in and out of the eye of the storm, we finally drove out of the dreariness and into brighter skies. The sun was a red disk, obscured by smoke from nearby forest fires, but at least the rain had stopped and daylight had resumed. Whew!
I tried the stereo again, hoping the passing of the storm would have cleared the air and we could tune into a station – ANY station – instead of driving in silence with interjections of the kids’ squealing, arguing, and jeering. Only static turned louder as I pressed the Volume button up. I tried the seek button again. Nothing. I pressed it again, hoping it was just scanning. Nothing. Maybe we’d have better luck with the AM stations, I thought. I reached over to the console and hit the button I assumed said BAND and not ‘HAND’ or “RAND’ as my eyes read it. I really needed new glasses.
I hit seek and nothing happened.
I hit it again. Static.
It was clear this storm was going to ruin my entire drive from Manitoba to Saskatchewan, so I turned down the volume and decided to give it a rest for now.
At 10:07, we turned right onto the road which led us to Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan. It was a paved but badly rutted road, worn by decades of long winters causing freezing and cracking. To make things worse, the so-called pavement ended and the final 6 kms before we hit the Saskatchewan border were nothing but gravel. Washboard, potholed gravel. I slowed to a crawl and silently cursed the Manitoba roadworks.
At precisely the spot where the “Welcome to Saskatchewan” sign stood, the road miraculously turned into a freshly paved thing of beauty. My spirits brightened and I stepped on the accelerator, hoping to gain back the minutes I had lost while treading lightly on the Manitoba cattle trail. With renewed hope, I tried the radio again.
Click on the seek button. Nothing.
Humph. I rolled my eyes and turned down the volume again. It was another hour to Hudson Bay so I resigned myself to travelling without music. Thanks to a nicely paved road, I didn’t have to concentrate so much on driving; I tuned out the kids and let my mind wander.
The eeriness of the dark clouds, thunder, lightning, the staticky radio, and the orange ball in the sky got me thinking about a conversation I’d had with my brother during one of our lazy afternoons at camp. We had been sitting around the table in the trailer, having a snack and chit chatting. Mike was in one of his “sharing” moods, so I sat back and let him roll. It required little effort on my part, a simple “mmhm”, a nod and an occasional raised eyebrow was enough to keep him talking for hours.
Though Mike couldn’t remember what he’d had for breakfast, his mind was sharp when it came to the past. He could remember impressive details about things that I had very little memories of – he was 2.5 years older than me which I guess made his memories of our childhood slightly clearer than mine. Something sparked a memory for him and he started talking about the time he and his buddy Jay had seen a UFO at a gravel pit. My ears perked up and I raised my eyebrows. Not wanting to show TOO much enthusiasm for fear of scaring him into silence, I slowly sat forward, cocked my head and said “I forget that story. Tell me again?”
It was the winter of ’78/’79. He was 14 and his buddy Jay was 16. They had driven Jay’s car to the gravel pit where they had hidden the skidoo they had stolen from some bikers. That was another story all in itself, but I didn’t want him to get distracted so I’d ask him about that detail later. It was 10:45 at night so they had to hurry if Mike was going to be home for his 11m curfew. They got out of Jay’s car and were walking over to the skidoo hidden in the woods when all of a sudden a saucer appeared.
Here, Mike ran his arm directly to his side horizontally to show the projection of the saucer, holding his hand out flat, palm down, as if it were the UFO. He moved it at shoulder level to his front, dropped his arm half a foot, swept it further to his front, and dropped it another half a foot. This is how the UFO moved from above the treeline, dropped into the clearing, moved over the gravel pit, and dropped into the gravel pit.
The two friends ran back to Jay’s car in a panic. Mike reached it first, jumped in through the passenger side, slid over to the driver’s side and started the engine. Jay jumped in beside him and the two sped away, Mike driving despite being only 14 years old. He had probably been driving secretly since he was in diapers, so this wasn’t the most shocking part of this story!
A few miles down the road, Mike pulled the car over and the two switched places so Jay could drive. The pair were in shock and disbelief, and talked excitedly about what they had just seen. Jay drove Mike home and when Mike walked in the door of our childhood home, it was 1:00am. He had lost two hours and had no explanation for his parents when they asked why he was two hours late.
Since that day, Jay and Mike have never spoken to each other about that incident. However, they have each told their own circle of friends, and because some of them were mutual friends, they would say “hey, Jay told me that exact same story!”
That was the first of many UFO sightings and stories I heard that day. I was enthralled! This was better than scrolling Twitter or posting on Facebook or watching my soaps! So much better!!
Over the next hour I heard many stories, but none more disturbing than the one about the convoy of hunting trucks travelling along the Thompson/Snow Lake road, Highway #390. The time frame wasn’t clear to me but I didn’t want to interrupt to ask, but I believe it happened in the early 80’s. Four trucks were following each other on their way to their hunting spot. All of a sudden their engines died and they all rolled to a stop. A large saucer (or saucers?) was above them.
One of the drivers had their window open and their arm hanging out the window. He turned his face up to see where the brightness was coming from, and he got a sunburn on all of his skin that was exposed to the light. The entire left side of his face and all of his left arm are (apparently) still sunburned to this day. He lives in Snow Lake. Go look him up!
The bright light burned the paint off the tops and hoods of the trucks, and the government came and confiscated their trucks. This is what I’m told. I’m sure they have no record of such a thing, but you would think this story would be easy to corroborate, having multiple witnesses to the event. But I digress…
The next story was about a Cranberry Portage fella who bought himself a brand new boat for fishing. He took his new boat out onto Athapapuskow Lake (Athapap to locals, and pronounced Atha-pa-pooh-skow), and while he was fishing a saucer drove into the lake right beside him. The saucer entered the lake and made NO splash. The poor man was so freaked out, he took his boat out of the lake and it’s been parked in his yard ever since. He has never gone fishing again. It’s been twenty years.
My brother has been travelling the stretch between Wanless and Cranberry Portage for about 15 years. He drives it every few days after the snows melt, and in the winter he drives it far less. There is one part of the route where he has seen the UFOs so often that he no longer gives them a second thought. This is the part spanning the two curves between Wanless and Sturgeon Landing. The “lights” are usually hovering over the curve closest to Namew Lake (pronounced Name-You), but he’s also seen them at the end of the straight stretch out of Wanless.
One night last year, he left his trailer and headed for his house in Cranberry Portage. It was already dark, but he’d only hit a moose once in his 35 years of driving, so he wasn’t worried about driving home after dusk. As he turned north onto Highway #10 from Wanless and drove over the first crest, he could already see the “lights” at the far end of the long stretch of highway, above the first bend in the road. He’d already had to pee when he left the trailer, but thought he could hold it until he got home 25 minutes later. However, this new development prompted him to pull over and empty his bladder before he floored it all the way home.
Mike pulled the car to the shoulder, walked to the passenger’s side, and pulled out his wang. The first drops of his stream had barely touched ground when all of a sudden the “lights” at the end of the road raced down the highway. In the blink of an eye, they were hovering above him. He abandoned the pee and shoved his trickling dick back into his pants as he raced back to the driver’s side and hopped in. He put the pedal to the metal and raced all the way home, not looking back to see if they followed him.
Though this encounter was scary, Mike’s most memorable sighting was the UFO that looked like a 10 story apartment building. He had been travelling south on the #10 and had just passed Sturgeon Landing when the “10 story apartment building” appeared from the Namew Lake side of the treeline. He says he drove right under it, but it was hard to get any further details about the shape of it, other than that the lights were in rows as if they were windows in an apartment building. When I pressed for more details, all he could tell me is “it was the size of a 10 story apartment building! But it was just floating there. No doors, no flames shooting out the bottom, nothing. Just floating.” Huh.
Mike is not the only one who has seen the UFO’s in that area. A relative of his girlfriend’s was telling him about two separate occasions when he and his hunting buddies had seen the saucers hovering over Namew Lake. They were hiding in the bushes around one of the gravel pits, waiting for an unsuspecting deer or moose to happen by, when they saw three saucers nearby. On the first occasion, they all grabbed their gear and got the hell out of there. On the second occasion, this guy told his friends to sit tight because he wanted to watch them for a while. The buddies watched the saucers for an hour. He said he took his rifle and looked through the scope because he wanted to get a closer look, and he could see flames shooting out of the bottom. The scope on a rifle is pretty good, but it’s no telescope. The saucers couldn’t have been more than two miles from where the men were hunkered down.
Another time, Mike was paying for gas at the Esso gas station in The Pas when a man came in with his eyes as wide as dinner plates. He looked stunned as he said to Mike “Can I ask you something?” Mike is a counsellor and a really nice guy, so he said “Yes, sure!” The man asked him “Do you believe?” Instinct told Mike what the man was talking about, so he said “You mean in UFOs?” and the man nodded yes. He said “I just saw a cigar shaped one over Namew Lake!” My brother nodded and said “I know. I believe you.”
Someone else had also told Mike he had seen a cigar shaped one, and someone else had seen one that was shaped like a piece of tinfoil. As he told me about this, Mike grabbed a tissue from a nearby box and held it up by two corners, then fluttered it away like a flag being blown by the wind. This is how it was described to him, but no further details (lights? Flames? Timeline?) was forthcoming. I was loathe to interrupt this fascinating flow of information, so I kept my questions for later.
According to Mike, UFO sightings are as old as the hills around that neck of the woods. You could ask just about anybody and they’ve all got a story. Mike snickered when he pointed out that the cops don’t (or won’t) patrol around that area, those two curves near Sturgeon Landing. Mike said he has no trouble talking about the sightings, and is happy to listen when others need to get it off their chest. That said, he would not be interested in being interviewed by suits about the goings-on. He’s extremely private and values his freedom and space. Facebook baffles him, and as the world evolves he retreats further away from it. He’s a recovered alcoholic – been dry for 15 years – but weed helps him keep the demons at bay.
That’s not to say that these stories are a figment of his imagination, or more of a wish than actual fact. This man still believes that Steve Miller is singing “Big ol’ jet had a light on” when he sings “Jet Airliner” – it’s hard to imagine he could be making any of this up! His capacity for creativity doesn’t go much beyond carving a piece of soapstone into a fish.
So that got me wondering – what if it were true? What IF there are UFOs? And what IF they are hanging around that area? What do they want? What are they doing there? My brother’s theory is that the dinosaurs were an experiment, and after a while the aliens got bored of them (because “how exciting could they be?” Mike said laughingly.) They killed off the dinosaurs and humans are their new toy. He figures the saucer that came to watch him peeing was occupied by a bunch of nosy teenagers, and the others were research ships or something similar. Okay, I can see where that theory has more holes than a fishnet stocking, but who knows what the truth is? I’m not saying I believe in UFOs, but I’m not NOT saying it either…
We had reached Hudson Bay. I pulled the car into the gas station and we all piled out for a pee. We grabbed some snacks and hopped back in to continue our long journey home. As we were pulling out of town heading for Tisdale, I decided to give the radio another go. Something made me glance down at the steering wheel, and there, on the left side by my thumb, was another set of buttons. One large button, and two smaller ones, mirroring the ones on the right side of the wheel. It was 11:56, and by now my eyes had adjusted so I could see more clearly. Maybe the coffee had kicked in. I focused on the large button and saw the word SEEK. Confused, I looked at the small buttons by my right thumb.
I hadn’t been pressing the seek button. I had been pressing the Mute button for the past 5 hours. 🙄