THEA GRAY HAS SPENT A LIFETIME IN AND OUT OF THE WILDERNESS. NOW THE TRUCK-DRIVING, GOLD-PROSPECTING, BACKCOUNTRY BUSH KID—OH DID I MENTION DOULA—IS ON TO HER NEXT ROAD LESS TRAVELLED. >> BY PETER WORDEN
If you were once soaking in a hot tub and got sprayed by a snowplow that was (probably) Thea Gray. (She’s really very sorry.) If you ever watched an RV catch fire in the Nomad parking lot, also her. If you ever went to an epic teepee party at Nine Mile, yep, her place.
Her recent career as a truck driver started on a steep learning curve. (“Let’s just say Vernon’s still missing its stop sign,” she jokes, not joking.) She cut her tooth, that is, the teeth of the snowplow she was driving, on the guardrail of the Mica dam bridge, leaning her side-wing plow up against it just enough to clear snow and not go over. The work she calls sporty, and her last gig as a bush driver in Hinton, Alberta she calls the best job in the driving world.
“It’s cowboy-up. It’s pretty full on. You got to chain up and get to play in the mud. It can be really fun.”
Forgiving the errant splashes of sleet when she couldn’t get the plow up in time, Thea is the perfect neighbour. She’s a woman of countless rugged life skills whose doula-ship has helped bring 15 babies into the world. Best of all she’s never around.
It’s a far cry from her double-clutching days practicing for a Class 1. Now she’s “slamming gears like nobody’s business” wearing sunglasses and a moustache and getting cheeky on the CB radio. She, in addition to taking an astrology course, also reads “super-huge rednecks” their horoscopes.
“It’s like, OK Pisces, today…” she laughs, feeling at home on the job. “I’m in my own space. I have two doors, locks and it’s my own space. I deal with customers and it’s smiles and sunshine then I get back in my truck and keep karaoke-ing. I love that.”
Thea moved to Revy in Grade 10, the daughter of the town’s two psychologists, which is probably another story altogether.
“I just need my bush time, you know?” says Gray from home in Hinton, a day or two before heading back into the bush. She has been living off and on in Revy since the age of 15. When she is here, you’ll find her at 12-mile. Mostly though she’s somewhere outside Hinton or Golden and comes back for births. “I have a really nice connection that way”
“I had a pretty rad childhood.”
Gray was born in Whitehorse—“almost in a snow bank and that’s a true story,” she says. Her dad was a bush pilot with the Yukon Game Branch and a musician. “So, I had a pretty rad childhood.” She describes days spent as a three-year-old flying around helping him transplant mountain goats, keeping them cold with a hose when they landed at gas stations.
She refers to him lovingly as a complete redneck who trims his trees with a .22— “about as red as they go”’—but credits her stepdad who came into her life early on as the one to get her into the great outdoors differently. She was backcountry touring with him at the age of six.
“Loved it. Loved it, loved it,” she remembers fondly.
She moved to Revy in Grade 10, the daughter of the town’s two psychologists, which is probably another story altogether, and she began cross-country ski racing competitively. She moved to Canmore for that until she met and fell in love with a European man she would marry and “drop skiing like a hot rock,” she says.
The two took off on a two-month Arctic expedition beginning in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut where they saw real muskox and even more boulders that resembled muskox, but that they skied hours to see up close, and called them ‘musk-rocks.’
The two married when Thea was 21. They planned to fly a Justice of the Peace up onto Begbie for the ceremony. But as they approached the glacier, rain and fog rolled in so thick they barely had SAT phone use. So, they just did the thing at Thea’s tee-pee.
“—oh yeah, I lived in tee-pee for nine years,” she juts in. The wedding party congregated at her cone home at Nine Mile, and, naturally, it was epic. (When she uses epic to describe stories, it actually is.) The wedding video is punctuated by her mother-in-law’s three screams as a black bear circled the tee-pee three times.
Another one of her homes, an RV she named War Pony used to be parked at 12-mile. But War Pony went up in a blaze of glory one afternoon stopping for a burger at the Nomad. “Fire trucks pulled up and it was really embarrassing,” she says. It wasn’t her first car fire. A few years earlier her Ford Festiva also went up in flames. “All these epic things happen to me in Revelstoke.”
She and her husband are divorced now, “but it was amazing,” she says, adding, “I’m currently in love with an Alberta redneck.” Their next golden opportunity may be the untouched wilderness around Golden; Thea compares it to Revy, which she says is being bombarded by dirt bikes and quads. “It’s changing. Golden has that wildness to it still.” Or it may be another gold-prospecting gig, “digging holes and smashing rocks,” as she puts it. Her backcountry savvy and the Yukon gold in her blood make her sought highly by geologists. More likely for now she’ll take an even more grueling down to earth job as a new mom. She says with a laugh and about eleven e’s:
“I think I’m going to bre-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-d! You can write that down.”