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I Must Be Out of My Mind

I’ve been saying I am off to see the world. But in many ways, I suppose what I really want is for the world to see me.

Michael Badger  Screenwriter, Stand Up Comic, Poet and possibly the most foolish man alive (and wouldn’t have it any other way.)me

Join me as I attempt to hitchhike around the world from May 29th to July 27, 2016.  I hope this will be just one of many adventures in the years to come.

“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”

michaelbadgerworld@gmail.com

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In 10 days, I will make an attempt to hitchhike around the world.

Maybe it is a mid-life crisis.  Maybe this wouldn’t be happening if I could afford a big, flashy, ridiculously expensive car.  But I can’t.  Or if I had girlfriend half my age.  But I don’t.  All I can say for sure is that it all started with a television.newtv

I had just turned 50 a few days earlier and I found myself wandering through the electronic section of Walmart trying to decide between the 55 inch Smart TV or the 60 inch 4K.  Once I attached my android box to the device, I started fantasizing about the endless streaming I was going to be able to subject myself to.  Orange is the New Black.  Game of Thrones.  Better Call Saul. Gotham. Doctor Who!!!!

“Why,” I thought, “I might never leave the house again.”

And it hit me.  I actually might not EVER leave the house.

I bolted away from the wall of screens and out of the store.  I didn’t even buy the socks I had initially gone in for. I felt like I’d escaped a self-imposed sentence of seclusion.

I go to work, I make money money I can’t spend and sit alone in an apartment binge watching the 1948 Superman serial because it is only a click away. (BTW: If anyone knows why Kirk Alyn never got a credit as Superman on the show, feel free to let me know.)

Allow me to be clear.  I really like my job.  I am a professional poker dealer in one of the best casinos in Canada.  I make a good living. I like the players, I enjoy the game and I love the people I work with. But the hours can be grueling.  I start work at 9pm and often don’t leave until 10am.  Having a social life is almost impossible and even the simplest gathering with two or more friends becomes an scheduling nightmare, often ending in everyone’s disappointment because let’s face it: It is hard to enjoy happy hour beer and wings when your friends are getting off work but you only woke up an hour earlier and really want coffee and plate of sausage & eggs.

I’ve been saying I am off to see the world.  But in many ways, I suppose what I really want is for the world to see me.  Not in a grand, Kardashianesque attention whore way.  But in the simplest way imaginable.  Just a man standing in one spot believing that the world is good and kind.  I hope that the journey will be exciting.  I am certain that it will be challenging and I’m sure that it will be funny.  What I am really looking forward too is the opportunity to meet the best people in the world.  What will make them the best is that they have no idea how great they are.  I hope they share their stories with me so that I can share some of them with you.

So in 10 days, I’ll step to edge of the on ramp, just outside of Calgary, Alberta, seeking an adventure in kindness.  An outstretched thumb on the side of the road and a simple sign reading “EAST! Around the World.”  A return to the lost art of hitchhiking. Remembering that the hitchhiker isn’t just asking for a lift but offering the opportunity to connect again with a bigger world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No I didn’t Die

Just a quick update to the final readers of this blog.

I didn’t die.

As I traveled further into Europe, I started becoming more introspective.  Suddenly the journey was about the experience rather than the documentation.  Maybe one day I’ll regret not doing a daily blog, but right now I don’t.

For those who care here is a quick recap of the rest of my journey.  I bussed from London to Brussels (Only 7 Euro through the Chunnel.)  I bussed to Amsterdam, hitched to Berlin, Hitched to Prague, Hitched to Budapest, hitched to Salzberg, trained to Spittal on the Drau, trained to Vienna, hitched to Bratislava, hitched to Warsaw, trained back to Prague and hitched to Paris, finally flying back home to Calgary.

I’m back at work (still grateful they gave me the time off) and enjoying putting cash in my pocket again.  Still I long for the open road – makes me sound like a country and western song.

I’m currently dreaming of my next adventure, which I think is going to involve the United States.  I did a little hitching in the US years ago and I keep thinking I’d like to do something very strange.

The plan I keep gravitating toward is to hitchhike to every continental US Capitol city…in alphabetical order.  From Albany, NY to Trenton, NJ.

The irony of this plan is that the two capitols that are geographically closest to one another are Albany and Trenton.  But I like the idea of crisscrossing the US several times.  See if I can rediscover the heart of the United States that seemed to disappear during the 25 years I lived there.  Or was it my heart.  Maybe I’ll find out.

So after 2 months on the road, I can say, even though I didn’t make it around the world, I made a good trip around my head.

Happy Travels until next adventure.

Using My Left Thumb

Learning to hitch the opposite side of the road.

​Dublin to Heathrow. London to Bath. Bath to Cardiff.  Jumping planes and trains can get you in the habit of jumping on direct routes. It was time to really get my thumb out there again… Albeit for the first time ever I’d be using my left thumb.  

I’m such a creature of habit putting out my left thumb and hitching the opposite side of the road felt very strange. The bus driver in Wales helped me negotiate the furthest point east, which was so helpful because, as I have demonstrated before, escaping a city can often be more time consuming than hitching a ride thousands of kilometers. I found myself on the outskirts of Cardiff, at a light-       controlled roundabout with no shoulder. There was a futile attempt to walk up the ramp but it soon showed itself to be too dangerous. Luck was going to have to be on my side again as I knew the only way I was going to get a ride was to be able to make a good impression on any driver within three cars of the roundabout when they were stopped at the light.      

Oh, and of course it was raining. But rain, I believe, brings rides.

Sure enough, within 15 minutes, Gary picked me up. It was a mad hustle too get his child seat put in the boot along with my pack and soon we were on our way.  He wasn’t going far but was sure that an on ramp in Newport would be a better opinion and was willing to get me there. Gary was in a great mood because he’d just been to see his doctor and had been given the all clear to return to work after two surgeries to repair a badly broken wrist which he shattered falling off a stage in a pub in Cardiff. Sadly, he assured me it was an excellent stage diving story but a simple tail of a slightly elevated stage that was properly marked. He wasn’t even that drunk.

He dropped in the east of Newport and I hope he’ll somehow find out his intuition was spot-on because after less than a minute, Mark pulled over.  Another short trip, Mark was heading to to a small town about 40 minutes up the road. Generally pleasant, Mark is a designer of electrical engines and usually drives his electric vehicle to and from work but apparently the charging device at his home was on the fritz so he had to bring his gas vehicle to work. He’d have picked me up either way, he assured me but he felt a little better environmentally by snagging a hitched along the way.

We chatted about the Brixet vote the day before (for those less whole news savvy, Brexit was the UK referendum to leave the European Union.) Mark was disappointed in the vote because he felt that it was a vote against immigration and the Polish and Greek employees that his company had on the assembly floor were vastly harder working and more reliable than most of the employees that were from the UK.

He dropped me at a small rest area and my next ride was a little harder to get. Eventually, Briana gave me a lift to her hometown of Monmouth. I ate a fish sandwich and walked down to the highway but on my way saw this beautiful scene:

Tiny little town reminded me “The tourist gets to see what he came to see. The traveller gets to see what he sees.”


Who. What. Where. Why?

The day I got the one touristy thing out of the way. ..and it was totally worth it!

​Let’s backtrack a little bit shall we?

When I flew into Dublin I was grilled by customs immigration harder than is ever been questioned at any other pretty of call. The lovely yet sternly pleasant customs officer presented endless enquiries about the purpose of my visit, length of my stay, and my financial situation.  In her defense, I could only offer her vague answers. I never used the word hitchhiking but I kept referencing travelling and moving around. When she asked what I wanted to see in Ireland, I think my answer was something stupid like “Oh, you know. ..this and that. ” and I may have even asked something equally ludicrous like if she had any suggestions.  

I did however offer up the following explanation.  “To be perfectly honest,  the only touristy stop on my incredibly loose agenda, is to go to the Doctor Who Attraction in Cardiff, Wales.” This poor lady looked at me like my head had just fallen off, stamped my passport and told me I had 10 days to see Ireland then get the F××k out.

My guess is that she knows someone who might be a fan of the show. 

Well, pretty customs lady, I made it! And it was better than I expected.

First let me tell you that Cardiff is wonderful. I must admit that if not for Doctor Who, I’m not sure I would have known where Cardiff is. Quite frankly, it seemed that any reference is ever heard of Wales, beyond Charles being Prince thereof, it was often as the butt of a small joke. (From a Man for All Seasons: “Richard,  it profits a man nothing to gain the whole world but lose his soul…but…FOR WALES?”)         

The Doctor Who Experience certainly exceeded my expectations. I honestly thought it was a museum dedicated to the 50 year old television program but admission gets you so much more. I won’t offer spoilers except to say that the experience offers the opportunity to walk through an actual 15 episode of Doctor Who, complete with a guide selected, I am sure,  for his uncanny resemblance to David Tennant but a three dimensional interaction with Peter Capaldi.  You have to be a fan of the show,  and choose to go in with mentality of a child and willing to play along with the attraction, but if you do you’ll get to land the Tardis, fight Daleks, escape the Weeping Angels and save the universe.  

After the adventure, you’re treated to an extensive collection of props, costumes and artifacts from the 50 years of the show including the actual Face Of Boa! The actually freaking face! There are also several Cyber men including a Cyber man upgrade unit which, unfortunately you aren’t allowed to get into for “upgrading”, The Silence, K-9, three full size original Tardis sets including the complete War Doctor set, costumes from all the companions (although vastly more Clara oriented and only one Martha, which didn’t suit my Freema fetish), River Song, Jack Harkness, original outfits from all 13 Doctors and a complete set of Daleks from Darvos all the way back to one of the original Daleks from their first appearance.

Not bad for £15.  I only wish I’d been able to go when it first opened and Matt Smith was the Doctor and then was able to attend again when the doctor changed to Capaldi. The character is due to regenerate again in 2017. I think another trip to Cardiff might in my future…especially since it appears that the tourist event seems to be attracting people from all over the world… thousands per day

I loved Wales. It is beautiful. The people are friendly.

And after three days, I was finally ready to stick out my thumb again. 

                       

I’m A Terrible Tourist

All things being equal, I’m a bad tourist. If there is genetic material that compels people to see historic monuments,  I simple don’t have it. The gene for loud comic book shirts? Got it. The gene for being awestruck by the Tower of London? Missed me with that one.

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So here is a quick update. I arrived in Dublin and checked into the hostel. Toured around Dublin, discovered the heart destroying deliciousness of the Irish Breakfast and went off in search of real Dublin.

Couldn’t find it. Honestly, the city feels like Irish Disneyland. Good on them for embracing tourism and getting those dollars. One thing that struck me as odd was the abundance of rickshaws. Not what one imagines as the traditional form of transportation in Ireland but I guess if you give an American enough beer he’ll jump at any chance to exploit a local.

I managed to book a stand up set at Battle of the Axe in Temple Bar. It was the most international audience I’ve ever performed in front of. Americans, Canadians, Brits, Greeks, Portuguese and of course the Irish. I think they were waiting for me to drop the facade of actually hitchhiking around the world but once they were on board with the concept they warmed up to me.  And of course, they preferred the dirty jokes. International rule of dick jokes…they translate easily.

My initial plan was to take a ferry across from Dublin to Holyhead and hitch from there to Cardiff. After checking the departure times, I took a city bus to the Dublin port only to find out letter to giving ferry services that run between Dublin and the UK. The ferry that I planned to take over does not allow foot passengers. Everyone travelling must arrive on a vehicle. The next ferry to allow foot passengers did not leave until 7:30 p.m. which would have put me on the mainland of the United Kingdom well after dark. A quick check of the Internet found me a €61 flight direct to Heathrow so I high-tailed it to the airport and was in London within three hours. It is always a funny feeling when my plans change drastically at the last minute but London was a planned stop…but I only anticipated stopping there once. More on that later…

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After check-in to the hostel, I decided that I would pick the most touristy place I can think of are the top of my head and I took a famous, London double decker bus to Trafalgar Square. As I have said before, I really like surprises. I enjoy showing up somewhere and not seeing what I figure could be there. Trafalgar Square didn’t disappoint. I arrived slightly after noon only to find out that the entire square had been dedicated to an event called West End LIVE, a free afternoon of live performances from the best of the musicals currently appearing in London’s West End . Not only was I treated to performances from The Lion King, West End Kids, Jersey Boys, West End Gospel Choir, Legally Blonde and Madam Butterfly but there was also a small car show presented by the London Film Museum featuring several famous automobiles including The Flintstones car, James Bonds Austin Martin but also the Batmobile from Tim Burton’s original outing with Michael Keaton. Comic book nerd to one side and Heterosexual Broadway Fag to the other, all in the shadow of the Canadian Embassy which also happens to take up one entire side of Trafalgar Square.

The following day I just decided to hop on the underground in let the chips fall where they may. I ended up popping off at the Tower of London. As expected, the castle and grounds was  crawling with tourists. Don’t get me wrong. I am completely aware in that situation I am also one of the tourists. The overwhelming feeling I am  left with whenever visiting a tourist attraction is a lack of impact. Yes, the tower is beautiful and rich with history. I snapped a few pictures but at  the end of the day I walked away completely unchanged. The tower has stood for a thousand years and will probably stand for 1000 more. My seeing it doesn’t make it any more or less historic. It remains as unchanged as I am.

So what do I travel for? For the people. People change me. They impact me. My teenage driver in nowhere,  Saskatchewan. My long hauler lifeguard (who is now happily settled in Halifax). My mathematician poet in Winnipeg. My Muslim mother of three who picked me up and sheltered me in a rain storm. My new friend here in London, originally from Australia, who is training to be a tailor with a world famous designer that refuses to accept the purchase of a meal even though he’s lost his bank card. My teacher from Toronto I ate fish and chips with on the steps of Dublin castle when everything else was closed.

Thank you to you all. I’ll cross oceans for you. The Tower of London? It looks just as good in books.

Derailed in Quebec

A disappointing day trying to get the hell out of Quebec City and calling into question what I call this adventure now.

It’s been seven days.  I’m finally ready to write about it.

My disappointment is severe.  I am struggling to not allow it to affect the rest of my adventure.

I blame myself.  I was enjoying my ride with the Brazilian Jui Jitsu team so much, I didn’t notice that they were bringing me across the bridge into Quebec City.  A small alarm was going off in my head.  I’d looked at maps of Quebec City.  It’s quite a ways off of the highway.  What is worse is the bridges are long.

But that’s not the worst, I’d come to discover.

After checking into one of the last hotels in town (I hate paying for hotels, especially when there is an event in a city which takes up every spare bed in town), I awoke and for Pont Du Quebec, the one walking bridge out of the city.

But it doesn’t get you out of the city.  Just to the other side of the river.  After that, it is another small freeway with no shoulder.  I walked in every direction but couldn’t find a hitchhiking spot where anyone willing to pick me up. Every spot ranged from categorically unsafe to catastrophically awful.

I find glorious train tracks.  After about a mile, the ground under the tracks gives way to a bridge withnothing under the ties but the raging St. Lawrence River.  I’m not ashamed to admit I don’t care for heights, especially the looking down at certain death part.  I braved a few feet but saw that it was at least a careful 10-15 minute transverse and, even if I didn’t slip and fall through the tracks, if a train came along, jumping would be my only option.  Even if the fall didn’t kill me, lugging a 50 pound pack meant that I’d sink to the bottom of the river like a stone.

tracks

I walked back to the city.  Avenue Du Hotels was no better.  Five freeways out of the city and no where to hitch.  I stopped and got a bite to eat (I’m five hours in, at this point.) I poured over my  google maps and thought I saw a route I hadn’t attempted yet.  It was close and I opted to try.

I couldn’t find a passable route but what I did find was the VIA Rail station.  In six hours, there was an overnight train to Halifax.  With my plane to Dublin now only 36 hours away, it was a hard decision to make, but I made it.  I bought the ticket.

I tried to look on the bright side.  Although I love subways (love em) I had never taken a train adventure.  There is a mystique surrounding rail travel I have never been a part of. Perhaps there was something about it people were onto.

Perhaps not.

The only way I can describe Via Rail travel is the way to go if taking a greyhound bus is just too classy and quick.  The only positive is that the seats are slightly roomier.  But it is slow.  Sorry, not effective enough.  Slow as in sloooooooooooooooowwwwwwww.

18 hours on a train (the only cheap way out of the city since Greyhound doesn’t operate inside of Quebec City) stretches to a grueling 20 hours.  Depression washes over me because I KNOW if I could have made it to the damn highway, I would have been in Halifax hours earlier…and whether my “hitchhiking around the world” tag would still qualify.  That part really got me.  When I first set out to plan this trip, I almost booked a flight out of Montreal but my feeling was that if I was going to see the world, I should start by seeing the part of Canada, my home and native land, that I’d never set foot it.  Now, there it was, streaming past me out the window, mostly in the dark and I was $181 poorer for the experience.

I managed to jump off the train in Moncton so I could at least say I set foot in New Brunswick but the train rolled on and so did I.

We arrived in Halifax at about 630pm, two hours behind schedule and fortunately it gave me enough time to get to the hostel. The staff was pleasant and the guests were fun but one hot girl rubbed my nose in my defeat by having hitchhiked from Quebec City just that afternoon. (Note to self: Next time I try this, bring a hot girl.  Or be a hot girl)

A few hours sleep and I’m at the airport in Halifax. The rest is a blur.

I’m on a twin prop plane.  I hate prop planes.

prop

I’m asleep on a couch in the St. Johns Airport.

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Then finally…

The Naked and the Dead End

How I learned to not only pay attention to where I am getting picked up but where I am going to ask to be dropped.

It was close to 1am when I finally was able to make it to Marco’s home in Montreal.  He was happy to be waiting for me as, with most couch surfing hosts, he does so for his pleasure.

Even when they don’t wear clothes.

Yep, Marco is a nudist.  Or naturalist as he prefers to be called.  As I always say, when in rome…or when in Montreal…

After a little idle chit chat (or as idle as you can be when when you’re naked around a stranger) he gave me the key, pointed me to the bed I’d be sleeping in and said good night. Hitching is a beautifully exhausting process so I laid down my naked body…and so, to sleep.

In the morning I met my fellow surfer briefly, Nanzi, a communications student from Erie, Penn who is in love with Montreal.  Our singular meeting was brief as he had a friend to meet and was quickly dressed and out the door.  I did not get the impression he was anywhere near as self-conscience as I was with the house of skin.

I spent the day exploring Montreal and eating…alot.  Montreal has some great food.  I even tested one of their supposedly world’s best bagels.  Don’t even hold a candle to New York Bagels.  Sorry, Montreal.  The boost doesn’t hold up.

The following day we were joined by Alexander, another naked surfer from Hamburg, Germany.  A talented artist, Alexander is switching jobs and is taking time to see Canada in the opposite direction as me.  And he’s not hitching.  He’s flying.  And rightfully skipping Regina.  Good call, Alex.

The following evening we enjoyed a fine Duck Poutine then climbed to the top of the steps at Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal and got a pleasant view of the city.  After our outing, I took a little while planning an escape route from the city for the next day.

I awoke in the morning to see my young naked German friend cooking his special apple & Muslix pancakes he’d boosted about the evening before.  As I watched him prep and fry in the buff, I wished only that I had bought a pound of bacon the night before and requested he fry it up while starkers.  Bacon grease and nudity.  Hilarious!

I said goodbye to my host and boarded the Metro bound for the eastern most part of the city.  Once again, the escape from a city proves to be more stressful and time consuming than the actually thumbing of rides. I rode transit all the way out to Longueiul Station and transferred to the RTL.  The ticketing agent understood what I was doing and told me to ride the bus out to the Ikea store and assured me that I could cross to the Trans-Canada after getting off.  I don’t know if he made an honest mistake if he was deliberately screwing with me but after exiting the bus and walking toward the freeway I was confronted by an impassible ravine, forcing me to turn tail back the IKEA mall and walking to the TCH via the roadways.  1.5 hours down the tube.

I took up position on the on ramp like a good hitchhiker, willing to obey all the laws.  I was swore at for the first time from a passing vehicle.  Hey, buddy, my french sucks but I understood that!  After a couple of hours, I pulled out my phone and could quickly see what the problem was.  Only 2 kilometers up the road was a MAJOR interchange.  The Trans-Canada, 2 provincial highways AND the off-ramp to the United States. Of course no one is stopping.  It would be total guess work where I was going.  I packed up again and started walking east on the freeway.

My theory proved correct as within a few meters of passing the interchange, Justine, a young lady who works at Staples pulled over and I was rubberized again!  justine

It was a quick ride but I was grateful all the same.  Justine said her boyfriend would be jealous because she always finds the hitchhikers and he never does.  I suppose they have an informal contest going and she’s way ahead in scoring us side-riders.

Less than 10 minutes on the thumb and ride two was Daniel.  I think he was a little sour that my French was even worse than his English.  But 50 km is 50 km and I’ll always be gratful.

My next short hop was the opposite.  An SUV towing a dirtbike pulled quickly Danny stopped for me even though he’s never picked up a hitchhiker before.  He said he’d had a great day on the track and just felt that he should do something nice for someone else.  He was sad that he couldn’t take me further because he said he’d enjoy practicing his English, which was impeccable, with me.

Danny

It was starting to get late and as I walked down to the next interchange I started looking toward the woods for a good place to pitch my tent.  But again. luck and generosity was on my side as Dimitri and his friends, a group of four Brazilian jiu jitsu students, returning from a test to gain their blue belts pulled over.  The car was less than a compact and the passenger was at least half a foot taller than me, yet still he offered me the front seat and they offered to drive me to Quebec City.  Woo Hoo!

dimitri

Quebec City was my goal for the day.  Once there, I felt Halifax was hitchable within the day rather than the three days I had left.

Quebec City would also end up being my hardest lesson.  But a simple lesson.  Check the damn map.

Dimitri and his pals dropped me right in the heart of Quebec.  Interesting fact about that town…you cannot safely walk out of it.  I tried for an hour in the dark.  Frustrated, I bit the bullet and, with the help of my cousin Allyson via facebook, took a hotel room for the night.

$137.00.  Ouch.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have plenty of money for this trip but the adventure is about doing it as inexpensively as possible.  I doubt I had spent $137 on the whole trip.  And here I was dropping $137 on a hotel room.  If I could have safely got to the highway, I would have happily slept in the woods for free.

My frustration would only escalate the next day.