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.
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.”
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.
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.
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…
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.
I won’t pretend to be surprised by how Deeply One sleeps when there’s nothing to distract you from the act of sleeping. Once I had satisfied myself that I hadn’t prepared my body is a tasty treat for a peckish grizzly, and wrap myself up in a tarp like a blue polyurethane burrito, I managed to get a fantastic night. If I woke up at all I don’t recall it. I was awake at first light and before turning my cell phone on I quickly and correctly surmised that it was up at 5:30 in the morning. I do believe that we all have an internal clock but years and years of ignoring has made it a little less than reliable. I cleaned up camp, packed up my things, and headed to the truck stop but I’ve been dropped off the night before. I may have just totally roughed it the night before but there was no way I was going to start my day without a hot cup of coffee. Come on! I’m not an animal!
Even though the truck stop and attached fishing tackle shop had not quite opened for business, the parking lot was already quite full of pickup trucks hauling well apportioned fishing boats. They’re probably can fishermen eyeballing me as I strolled out of the woods. With my now well-worn fishing hat perched upon my head, I think they thought I was either a bum when the most badass and night fisherman that they’d ever seen.
I bought myself a hot fresh coffee and a can of Deep Woods bug spray. I I sat down on one of the many picnic tables to enjoy my Java and a morning cigarette. I’m not going to lie. My closest friends and acquaintances will tell you I’m not exactly the person they think of when they have to recollect who is an outdoorsy person. But I need to spend a whole night in the Woods by myself and was feeling pretty darn impressed with the Badger.
With the cigarette and the self-congratulations over with, I slowly strolled out to the highway, unraveled my headphones and started mentally preparing myself what I had allotted to be at least three or four days of thumbing it to get through the rest of Ontario.
Well, I must have sat on a horseshoe somewhere outside of Regina, because what was about to happen was going to propel me to legendary hitchhiker status.
I stuck out my thumb and the very first car…the very first one…pulled over for me. And as I jumped in her car I told her, as I’ve told many of my drivers, ” I need to get to Halifax by next Tuesday morning so I’m willing to go as far as you’re willing to take me.”
Very long story made very short, as far east as she was going to take me turned out to be a Orillia, Ontario, only two hours north of Toronto.
There she is! Her name is Cara! If there’s a patron saint of hitchhikers, she should be it. I don’t even know if she’s Catholic. But she put up with me for 21 hours and 1700 kilometers, so if that’s not worthy of canonization, I don’t know what it is.
The sun had gone down and I had not managed to secure a ride out of Vermilion Bay Ontario. Fortunately, one thing this neck of the woods has no shortage of edge of the woods. Trees, trees, trees! As far as the eye can see in every direction… pics of course the truck stop which is 50 metres down Highway.
I feel as though I have prepared for every eventuality.
I purchased a sleeping bag which is rated to minus 22 Celsius. I have a bed which is promised to offer maximum comfortability with minimum weight. I have a 10 foot by 12 foot tarp in case the last three days of rain have left the brush and surrounding area damp. Additionally, thanks to my adoptive lesbian parents, I also have my small, inexpensive tent. The one thing I’m not there for, are the mosquitoes. I have a couple of friends in Calgary, who are from Ontario / Manitoba region and they’re assured me without a shadow of a doubt the bugs not be a problem that early in the season. Boy were they ever wrong! Not only were the monster blood sucker out in full force, they had abandoned any form of surreptitious nibbling on unsuspecting prey, preferring to adopt a multiple angledfull frontal Feeding Frenzy assault. These little bastards are willing to attack any exposed vein producing surface. I’m pretty sure one of them even tried to sting me in my eyeball. I I can only imagine the irritation that would come from getting a mosquito bite on your eyeball. How do you, in the name of everything that is natural, scratch your eyeball?
Resigning myself to sleep in the bush for the evening, and the truth be told someone excited about the prospect, I want it back over to the 24-hour truck stop, ready to play over inflated city boy trapped in the country prices for a single can of insect repellent. I was slightly more than mildly perturbed when I discovered the 24 hour truck stop , a feature they proudly advertised on their signage , was only twenty-four hours in the months of July and August. They had closed 15 minutes earlier sentencing me to the role of bug smorgasbord.
I strolled down the road found a path into a clearing about ten meters from the highway shoulder, spread out my tarp , laid out my bedroll and sleeping bag, look up to the sky and greatly assist but it didn’t looklike there was any more rain on the way. I put off setting up camp for so long it was Pitch Black in the woods and I’m relatively certain I would have had no success trying to set up my tent in the first place. I laid down , looked at the stars for a few minutes , allow the earliest mosquitoes to have a nibble or two, then folded the tarp over top of myself , closed my eyes it was even surprise myself as I gently , calmly drifted off for an evening of blissful…
“What did she say about bear attacks?”
It had all been part of casual conversation and as we found between Walmart and Canadian Tire looking for the aforementioned inexpensive tent in my solar charging panel that the lesbians had absolutely insisted that I get when one of the two of them mention the possible need for bear spray. Now I’m laying in the woods, completely exposed wondering just how common bear attacks in Northern Ontario actually are. I go from mild concern about waking up in the morning with a few irritating bites on my skin to a sudden paralyzing fear good I’m going to be mauled to death while I’m sleeping. Fortunately, in order to feed into my paranoia, although I found myself in my experience being in the middle of nowhere I still have ample cell phone reception. Here I am surrounded by all of the beautiful nature that Ontario has to offer, pulling up my reading glasses turning my phone back on, and Googling the Wikipedia page that has a complete breakdown of all the Fatal bear attacks in North America for the last 10 years. I learned that there’s only band once in such an encounter in the past three years and I’m happy to categorize bear attacks in the same column with terrorist bombings which is to say that my philosophy is and if you’re going to be killed by either of those two uncommon occurrences , your time has come and if the universe wants you dead that desperately it’ll choke you to death with a chicken bone.
I snuggled into my brand new sleeping bag prepare for a cooler evening spent in the woods. I was covered in hair from head to toe who is a buddy, sweater, t-shirt, jeans, socks. Unfolded my trusty Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy purple towel into a pillow size nugget and placed it on top of my shoes. It is only over the course of the next 3 hours that I learned that a sleeping bag rated – 22 Celsius can turn out to be rather uncomfortable when the overnight low where you are sleeping only tips to a balmy + 14. My socks are pulled off first, soon I ditched the hoodie , the sweater, then the T-shirt, and finally the jeans and my Captain America underwear. I could have laid there and waxed poetic about being reborn into the world comma but all I was really concerned about was a giant mosquito stinging my penis.
Despite all my concerns, I did eventually fall asleep surrounded by silence and total darkness I have to admit it was one of the more peaceful night’s sleep that I’ve had in several years.
( once again, find reader, understand that I am writing in the blog post using a speech-to-text application. Sometimes the application has a problem recognizing words so, as always, please feel free to private message me any errors that you see)
It’s not the writing… it’s the rewriting. It’s not the packing… It’s the repacking.
Things I have lost:
1) The first sign I made for my adventure. I put a lot of time into it. It was bright yellow and read “Hitchhiking Around the World”. It became the first casualty of my adventure, as I watched it blow down the Trans Canada Highway within minutes of starting my journey.
2) The book that I bought for downtime entitled “Command and Control,” a nonfiction piece about the history of the Cold War. Didn’t even get a chance to crack the cover. Its current location is unknown but somewhere before Winnipeg. I hope wherever it is, somebody is reading it, and enjoying it as much as I was told I would.
3) My e-cigarette, vape pen. My hope was that I would be completely off cigarettes by the time that this journey ended. It was excellent for a quick hit on the side of the road, especially for a lifelong nicotine fiend like myself. Smoking while hitchhiking has got to be a bad idea. Current location: I left it in the cab of the first trucker who pick me up in Medicine Hat, Alberta. I’m glad that’s where I left it because he had mentioned he wanted to get one for himself in order to kick the cigarette addiction also. I hope he’s using it and wished that I had left behind a tasty e-juice for him as well.
4) Car charger: this is the item I’m most upset about having lost up to this point. I absolutely must replace it as access to all the information on my cell phone is imperative. I often wonder how people did what I’m doing before the invention of the Android cell phone.
Things I have abandoned:
The gloves I bought in Medicine Hat, the grey sweater, my board shorts where the zipper doesn’t go all the way up comma my new Nikon camera that I can’t seem to get the pictures to transfer over to my laptop properly, 1 box of pens because depends I like to write with are only available in a 12 pack and I only needed two, 1 pack of 24 Duracell double a batteries, in most upsetting, my Zoom HPN mobile podcasting device, which I believe I will need to return because as far as I’m concerned right now it is a piece of garbage. Distortion and feedback even in the most controlled environments. Very disappointed that I will not be able to do the podcast on this trip. Very pleased that this now gives me an excuse to do another trip just like this.
On the whole, I am relieved and pleased to announce as I’m beginning the journey between Toronto and Montreal, I have managed to decrease my carrying weight by five to seven pounds! As of last night, everything that I brought with me which I have neither lost nor discarded can all fit in my larger backpack. After I use the knapsack as my carry-on to Ireland, it can be discarded or donated.
Last night as I was going through the experimental shifting, figuring out what I no longer wanted to carry with me, the theme to the television show WKRP in Cincinnati kept running through my head.
“… got kind of tired of packing and unpacking… Town to town, up and down the dial…”
Crime pays! Within 15 minutes of thumbing it right on the Trans-Canada, I saw a small red car zip across two lanes of traffic and slow. Honestly, I thought he was breaking down but…NO!
Success! I ran towards the car…first time I ran with my pack. Another thing I should have gotten used to. I walked with the pack on several times but didn’t factor in running after cars.
Where you headed? Anywhere East! I can get you as far as Medicine Hat. Thats 278km.
James is an welder in the tar sands of Alberta and often picks up hitchhikers. Mostly to hear their stories. He loved the fact that I am hitchhiking for pleasure and was thrilled to be my first ride. I was so excited that the journey had begun that I, unfortunately, completely forgot to take any pictures or video. So James, if you ever find this, please send me a photo and GOOD LUCK WITH THE BABY!
Amazingly, James bought me coffee. I really wanted to pay but he told me that HE WAS SO GRATEFUL for the company that it was “the least he could do.” I guess that drive back and forth to the ‘Hat can get pretty boring.
He dropped me at a place along the highway called Trukkers. Sounds promising to a hitchhiker, right? I went in the store and bought a couple of thing (new pair of gloves, trail mix then strolled into the restaurant. Truck stop fare is usually excellent. Large portions and, while hardly ever exotic, usually delicious. That is a big USUALLY…because then there is this meal…
It is called the “Trukker’s Scramble” and I’m not sure if it is made with real trucker meat. It sounded delicious when I ordered it but honestly I would have rather ate the paper the menu was printed on. Anywhere else, I would have sent it back but waitresses at truck stops can sometimes be the reference you need to get a ride. Kicking up a stink over a $10 food item might be the difference between catching a lift or waiting it out.
Pack on, I walked back out to the road. The wind picked up even worse within the 2 minutes I was on the road.
Yes….ONLY 2 FREAKING MINUTES.
After only a handful of cars passed by, an 18 Wheeler made a right out of the truck stop and started to pull forward. One of my unwritten rules of the road is when trucks are trying to get onto a freeway, back way off. Truckers are extremely safety conscience and you want them to know that you’re respectful of their space. And the shoulder is there space. They need that area to safely get up to speed or pull over in case of emergency. When I see one pulling, I usually like to back off a couple of steps just so they are aware that I’m acknowledging they are coming toward me and they don’t have to be concerned that I’ll accidentally wander in front of them or worse, decide life on the road isn’t for me and throw myself in front of it.
As the big red truck inched forward, making no attempt to merge, I didn’t realize he was stopping for me unless his hazard lights started blinking. The passenger door stops directly in front of me (NO RUNNING!), the door swings open and I am face to face with Crackles, my driver’s black cat.
“Oh, he likes you! If he didn’t he wouldn’t let you into the cab. Where you headed?”, he asks. “East,” I answer. “Well, I can get you as far as Regina, if that helps.”
I climb up and soon we are chugging down the TCH, 7000 pounds of frozen beef behind us. My driver is an old hitchhiker himself and has been trucking for 30 years. He is pleasant as can be despite complaints of a hemorrhaged disc in his lower back that confined him to the bathtub for two days until his son could help him get out. He loves driving, reggae music and Crackles, his cat whom he calls his co-pilot.
We stopped only once in the 500 kilometers traveled. Cheap roadside coffee and a whiz. He seemed surprised when I paid but if a comfortable ride that far isn’t worth a hot cuppa, what is? He pointed at the vape pens in a display case and told me he’d been thinking of using one to get off the cigs. I explained that I had just bought a new one and, while it hasn’t got me to drop the smokes completely, I have cut back substantially. The conversation reminded me to charge my vape once I was back in the truck.
We rode in relative silence the rest of the trip. About 30 minutes outside of Regina, the rain started in heavy and I suddenly became concerned that I had no place to sleep that night.
Victoria Avenue in Regina. I climb out of the cab, throw on my pack and start heading toward the “Open All Night” sign. I’m homeless, hundreds of miles away from family, caught in a downpour…
Here is a complete list of everything I have packed for my hitchhiking adventure beginning Monday, May 30th.
4 pairs of socks. 4 pairs of underwear. 6 shirts. 1 pair of jeans. 2 shorts. 1 sweater. 1 hat. Deodorant. Oral care. razors. Two rolls of toilet paper.Sleeping bag. Bed roll. 1 80 page note book. 7 pens. Go pro. Lap top. Phone. Two extra batteries.for each. One Digital voice recorder. 3 extra memory cards.
…and of course, one passport.
When I posted the list on my facebook page, my friend Rod Harvey asked the question I have often pondered….
I have some sick friends. Fortunately, through the wonders of social media, I get to take them with me.