One dump truck, a big parking lot and a grandmother with a bucket list.
When the three intersected at a truck driving school in Niagara-on-the-Lake recently, 64-year-old Lori McInnes was able to accomplish something she’s always wanted to do since she was a kid. Drive a transport truck.
So, maybe it wasn’t an 18-wheeler. And maybe it wasn’t actually on the road. But all that didn’t matter to Lori.
“I had the chance to go for it, and I did,” she says.
Lori was among a group of about 30 people who gathered at Hospice Niagara earlier this month to talk about a personal bucket list – things they’d like to do in life before they die. It was the first in a series of discussions on death and dying. The series is called Die-alogues, and its meant to make people in the community feel comfortable talking about death.
“We want to break down the barrier and say the words, death and dying,” says Carol Nagy, executive director (who wants to sail on Lake Erie with her husband).
“We can have a heck of a lot of fun talking about it.”
And sure enough, as people brainstormed, then shared items that they have put on their personal what-I-want-to-do-before-I-die lists, the result was a lot of laughter. And then more sharing.
Many people had travel aspirations. Others wanted to learn things, like French, knitting, quilting and culinary skills. A couple people wanted to make more friends. One woman wants to have a big family reunion.
Lori told the group that she’d like to build something with her hands, in a far-away place with Habitat for Humanity, bike around Europe, and see k.d. lang in concert.
Then, the issue of the transport.
Sure, she’s pulled a 35-foot house trailer hitched to a pickup truck. By herself. Several times to Florida.
But a fifth wheel is bigger. More complicated. More, well, alluring.
“I like to do things unconventionally,” she says.
Indeed. In her 20s, Lori raced a Lotus Super 7 in timed, autocross races. She drove a red Honda motorcycle. She was once a high school teacher, then did an educational-180 and opened a daycare. She has operated a children’s clothing store in Niagara-on-the-Lake. And along her with late husband, ran an antique auto parts business, selling components as old as the Model T.
Her father drove long haul and Lori has been a passenger in his cab. But never, ever behind the wheel.
And so, after the session at hospice, her friend, director of care at Hospice Niagara, Laurie Straw, suggested to Lori: “You don’t have any boundaries. If you decide on something, you do it.”
The pair laughed, and Laurie added: “What if we went for lessons?”
Lori paused. Smiled. “That would be an option,” she offered, slowly.
And by the way, Laurie’s No. 1 item is to live with dogs. Lots and lots of them.
“I’ve had a list in my head for a long time,” says Laurie, 57.
“Dogs are in my heart. I’ve always wanted to have a big yard and a big barn full of dogs.
“I want to be tripping over dogs.”
Mind you, this idea might take some refinement. And time. Laurie lives in the city with two dogs.
Meanwhile, Pat and Karan Gardiner of St. Catharines, have been integral to each other’s bucket lists.
When 53-year-old Karan turned 40, she put “run a marathon” on her list. She had done shorter distances before, but never the 42.2 km of a marathon. So, she started training. And in 2001, ran her first – in Athens, Greece.
They were living in Cyprus at the time. “If I was going to do one marathon, I’d pick the original,” says Karan.
She will complete her ninth when she runs in the Boston Marathon in April.
Somewhere in the midst of all of this, Pat, 54, decided he would run alongside his wife while she trained. One day she pointed out: “You know, you’re just as prepared to do this.”
Pat ran his first – and only – marathon in 2005.
In preparation, the couple had come home to St. Catharines for Christmas 2004, and needed to do a 30 km training run while they were here. There was a foot of new snow in the city, so they clocked the 30-K on a treadmill at the YMCA.
“We ran out of different things to count,” says Karan. Think cars in the Costco parking lot. Transport trucks on the QEW.
They each have new bucket list goals.
Pat wants to do a triathlon (swimming, biking and running). “I wonder if I can put three things together,” he says.
Karan wants to help someone complete a marathon. At last year’s Boston, she saw a father running, while pushing his adult son in a wheelchair.
“It was really humbling,” she says. “I know what a great feeling it is to accomplish that distance on your feet.”
A bucket list keeps their lives adventurous.
“We’ve heard so many stories from family and close friends who held off doing things until they retire,” says Karan.
“And then two weeks after they retire, they have a heart attack.”
A list can be the catalyst an inherently procrastinating human needs to be able to push the play button on life.
“It really makes people think about their lives,” says Cait O’Donnell, a volunteer ethicist at Hospice Niagara.
“We always think we have more time than we do.
“We assume we’re going to have tomorrow.”
Lori does not live with assumptions. She lives with intentions.
The conversation shifts back to the transport.
“What kind of hat do you want to wear when you drive the truck?” asked Laurie.
“I just want the belt buckle,” she says, laughing.
“Peterbilt or Mack?”
And so, not long after that discussion, and with help from the Ontario Truck Driving School in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Lori took a couple spins around the parking lot in a tri-axle, Freightliner dump truck. Not as big as a transport, but with air brakes and a box that can carry 2,210 tonnes of cargo, it’s not minor leagues either. Instructor Warren Campbell sat beside her, and talked her through the intricacies of wide turns and convex mirrors.
“I thought I’d feel dwarfed in the cab, but I didn’t,” says Lori.
“We drove around the parking lot once, and Warren asked me, ‘You want to go around again?'”
And then it ended where it began, with Lori backing the rig back into the parking spot.
It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate her life as it is. And if she doesn’t manage to check off everything on her bucket list, she won’t have regrets. Still, it’s fun to dream, she says.
“You always have aspirations. You have to in your life.”