Three U-Turns In The Night

Imagine for a moment that you are a seasoned solo traveller. You have been to a lot of places and done a lot of things, and you have pretty much figured out travel by road, air, and sometimes train. You also have a good handle on computer and cell phone technology so you can do all the planning, booking, scheduling, and checking-in with ease. What could possibly go wrong? Google Maps could go wrong. That’s what.

You may have read about my previous debacle with Google Maps when I arrived in Nanaimo, British Columbia at the end of a long day, entirely dependent upon my phone app to tell me how to get where I needed to go, and how it refused to talk to me. It was like having a perfectly capable human sitting in the passenger seat and holding a map but being in a snit and saying absolutely nothing. Well, my return journey from my Air BnB to the airport was almost as bad.

I had booked a 6:15 AM flight for which I needed to arrive 90 minutes to 2 hours early. In addition, I had to return a rental car. Before returning that car, I was supposed to fill the tank with gas. Fair enough, I thought. I’ll just pick the nearest gas station to the airport en route. Hah! The gods laugh at such naïveté.

At 3:30 AM it is very dark in Nanaimo. The highways are pitch black and fast. There isn’t much traffic at that time of night, but what there is is usually a truck in a hurry. I, on the other hand, slowed down for every bend because I had no idea where the bend was headed. And, there are a lot of bends on the road from my Air BnB to the airport. Nevertheless, Google Maps and I managed to get to the Gas N Go in good time for me to check in at the airport, but the one thing I had overlooked in all my planning was to find out if the Gas N Go was actually open at that hour. It isn’t.

As I was standing by the gas pump looking befuddled, another car drove up and a woman got out. She said with a smile “You’d think everyone would be up and about at 4:00 in the morning like us, wouldn’t you?” She was very friendly and, it turned out, a local. She got on her phone and found the nearest 24-hour gas station, the Mid Island Co-op. She assured me it was easy to find and I should just drive back into Nanaimo, under the parkway, and there it would be. I had no idea what she meant by “the parkway,” but before I could ask she was back in her car and headed north.

“No worries,” I thought. I’ll just ask Google Maps to get me there. I typed in “Mid Island Co-op” and Google told me it could not connect to the internet. It was out of range of any cell towers, apparently.

“How hard can this be?” I thought. I’ll just head up the highway and look for signs. Well, it turns out “the parkway” is a major route headed northwest and there is an interchange that probably looks easy to navigate in daylight. I, of course, took the road onto the parkway instead of going under it. I soon realized my mistake and decided to make a u-turn. Once I had done that and saw the back side of a sign post, I realized I was going the wrong way on a divided highway. Gasp! So, I did another quick u-turn and continued on this road that seemed to have no exits.

By this time I was imagining driving clear across Vancouver Island without being able to get back to Nanaimo Airport. It seemed like an eternity before I came across an opportunity to turn left and hence u-turn to go back the way I had come. As I headed back to the airport I decided I would rather pay the penalty for not getting gas than try to find gas at that time of night.

As it happened, though, when I was almost at the airport I found a Domo gas station that had lights on the pumps. Yay! All is not lost. Well, don’t be to hasty in that assessment. I parked in front of one of the pumps and saw that I had to use a credit card to prepay, so I dug it out of my luggage. When the card was in the slot and I had selected the amount of gas I wanted, the screen told me it was connecting and then . . . nothing. I just kept on telling me to wait. I must have waited five minutes before I cancelled the transaction. Then I tried again, but it said it was not allowing me or my card to use that pump any more. I think its feelings were hurt.

At this point, I was next to the airport, shorter on time than I wanted to be, and having run out of patience. So, I drove the car to the rental company lot and took the key in to their office. After I put my key in their drop box, I left a note explaining that the gas stations were closed, even though that was only partially true. I didn’t have enough paper to tell them the whole story.

I don’t yet know if I will be charged a penalty for this, but frankly I don’t care. I’m just glad the ordeal is over. In future, I will probably not book an early morning flight, and I will definitely check to see which gas stations are open. Oh, and I plan to write to Google Maps to let them know of their shortcomings. They may already know, but my need to tell them outweighs their lack of desire to hear it.


  1. Oh I am sorry for all that hassle, however I have had a great laugh at the considerable frustration you encountered. Wrong way on a divided highway, eek! Seeking a gas station at what time? Trying to find anything in absolute darkness in a strange area? Yes, I admit I laughed. However I also admire your tenacity SO much! I believe I would be rolled into a ball crying had I been you. Overall though, what is your impression of what you were able to visit in Nanaimo?

    1. I am glad I gave you a laugh, Mary Beth. I admit to wanting to curl up in a ball crying more than once on that journey, but the need to reach my goal kept me going. Also, I knew it would make a great story! 😉

      I really like Nanaimo and the surrounding area and am glad I had the opportunity to check out a lot of potential rental properties. I now have a much better idea of what to look for and where to look for it.

  2. Okay, I felt bad laughing at this debacle but I could picture it perfectly. Been there, done that. Of course it’s very confusing; the Parkway was meant to funnel traffic from the ferry terminal directly onto the express highway that bypasses Nanaimo so it crosses the old highway – the main road through all of Nanaimo you had to take – two hundred meters sooner from where you were told to go! So close… but, hey: it’s Nanaimo where it’s always a crooked line with three different names between you and where you want to go.

    The good news is that the car rental agency will (or at least should) just add the gas to your bill.

    Also, in our various back-and-forths using the Nanaimo airport compared to all others in many countries, we can say with some expertise that the security there is by far the most invasive and hostile. I sincerely hope you found it had changed for the better…. but few things in Nanaimo suffer that burden.

    1. Your comments about the confusing roads is very reassuring. Thanks, tildeb.

      The security at the airport was a delight compared to every US airport security I have ever encountered. In fact, I would describe the person I talked to as charming. I would say it is definitely better than your experience.

  3. OMG!!!! That’s scary!!! for sure I’d be crying!!! Koodos to you!! I be you were so relieved to board the plane !! Not a great birthday gift!!

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