When Winnipegger Kate Fenske landed at the Montreal airport at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, the plan was simple: hop in a cab, meet co-workers for the 7:30 p.m. puck drop at the Habs game and head back to the hotel for a restful night of sleep before a work meeting on Wednesday.
But a record-setting blizzard hitting the region changed those plans, plugging up highways and turning what should have been a half-hour Uber ride for Fenske into an eight-hour odyssey.
Luckily, Fenske's Uber driver, Raul Valencia, turned into a bosom buddy, and the two whiled away the time snacking on banana chips, listening to classical music and forming a fast friendship.
Fenske, who works for CN Railway, says she got her first inkling things would not go according to plan when she descended the stairs from the arrival gate at the Montreal airport and spotted the "hundreds of people deep" lineup for a taxicab.
She texted her co-workers about the predicament and they set her up with an Uber ride. Six minutes later, she was in the car with Valencia, running late but optimistic.
"I got in the car and I said, 'We're trying to make the Habs game. He said 'OK, we got it, we got it, it's crazy,'" Fenske said.
"The blizzard here, I think there's been 40 centimetres of snow in the last little bit. He said, 'Might be a few minutes late, but we'll get you there.' And the night kept going."
Then they hit the highway, and Fenske said it became immediately obvious they weren't getting anywhere quickly. Ramps exiting the highway were frozen, she said, and even semi-trailers trying to use them were getting stuck.
"Raul and I just kind of looked at each other, we said, 'All right, this is what it is, we're just gonna have fun. Let's enjoy the ride,'" she said.
Valencia said it was the longest trip he's ever made as an Uber driver.
"That would be the first time in my life, but I love it," he said on Wednesday.
As the two crawled along, they listened to classical music — "to reduce the stress," Fenske said — and she had Valencia do a taste test of the snacks she had packed. And they talked. And talked.
"We talked, probably, about everything," she said. "I know he's got a 24-year-old daughter who's going to be an ophthalmologist, going to school here in Montreal, two boys — I even chatted with one of his sons at some point last night."
Fenske learned Valencia was a lover of opera and owned property in Nicaragua, where she had just been for vacation.
At one point, they spotted another driver in need of a boost and Valencia sprung into action.
"He said, 'Do you mind if we give this woman a boost?' I said, 'Of course not, this is Canada, it's what we do, we help each other out,'" Fenske said.
Traffic was moving so slowly they didn't even lose their spot in line.
'A beautiful experience'
When Fenske finally made it to her hotel, the kitchen had already closed for the night, so she went straight to bed.
The final bill for the Uber ride? $215.92.
On Wednesday morning, when Fenske was preparing to head back to the airport, she knew exactly who to call.
"I texted Raul. I said 'Hey, you want to reunite and take me back to the airport?' He came right over," she said.
Fenske says she wouldn't take the experience back, even if she could. She calls Valencia her "Uber hero."
He says Fenske was the best passenger he's ever had, and the ride was "a beautiful experience."
"She's amazing, you know? Now it's like we know each other for long, long time," he said.