Into The Woods… without Stephen Sondheim

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.

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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)

No Plans. Only Goals.

Winnipeg, Inuit Art, fun with my gays, barbecue and sleeping in the woods for the first time ever!

Winnipeg is the city of my earliest memories but I have no recollection of it beyond the street I grew up on.

Deposited on the edge of the city at about 1am, I was fortunate enough that the public transit still ran until almost two.  I was very grateful additionally that my host lived within blocks of the only bus there was to catch at the end of town. My poor host, Serhii, a mathematics teacher at UofM, waited for me until the wee hours as I finally made it at 230am.  We exchanged pleasantries, a couple of stories of the road and immediately went to sleep.  There would be plenty of time to get to know each other in the days to come.

The following day, I boarded the bus to Patterson Avenue, the street I have my first memories of.  Everything seemed so small.  The mansion I grew up in is a split level rancher.  The park where I played, a vast, green wonderland is small enough where I might be able to throw a baseball from one end to the other in two pitches and my daily trek down to the corner store is simply a three minute stroll.

serhii

The evening was spent eating Indian food with my Ukrainian mathematics friend.  Serhii is a fascinating fellow.  Like many University teachers, he is surprised to discover every year another batch of students who received all A’s in math are coming into his more advanced classes with barely a fundamental understanding of fractions.  Like many, Serhii seems to be caught in the trap of having pursued that which he is good at (math) and abandoning that which he is passionate about (literature & travel).  By the end of the meal, we’d devised an idea for his first novel simply titled “The Mathematics of Hitchhiking.”  I really do hope he follows that dream and more importantly, that I get a dedication in the book!

Day two in Winnipeg had me impersonating my host (at his insistence, of course) in order to gain free admission into the Winnipeg Art Gallery to see the Marc Chagall exhibit using his WAG membership card..  To be honest, I know just enough about art and art history to get by at a cocktail party full of auto mechanics but, as the old saying goes, I know what I like.  Video two is my discovery of Master Inuit Stone Carver Oviloo Tunnilli.

After one slightly touristy event, it was time to hit the road again.  I love the expression “hit the road” especially “Time to” and “I gotta”.  City Transit out to the edge of town…thank you Google Maps and Winnipeg Transit.  A short 1K hike to the Trans-Canada and I am looking for a relatively dry place to set my knapsack.

First car, first thumb, first ride!  Just a short one but what a feeling!  My driver assures me that the short trip will be a better hitching location and I readily agree, hopping in the backseat long before I think “If I got my first ride off my first car within 30 seconds, how much better can the next spot be?”

My luck continues!  Less than 3 minutes later, Craig picks me up in a pick up (Been waiting the whole trip to write that phrase), I throw my bag in the back bed and we’re quickly on the road.  Another short trip and I’m dropped under the turn off to Stienbach, Manitoba.  I am always grateful for any ride but I am also amused by non-hitchers that THINK they know what a good hitchhike spot is.  Under the road is never great, unless it is raining.

Still, I must have a magic thumb.  I always start every hitching session by listening to the song “Free” by Stevie Wonder.  It features the lines “Free: Being nowhere and everywhere I choose to be” as well as “Free: Having nothing.  But possessing riches more than most.”

The song, which runs about 4 minutes, hadn’t even finished playing when a minivan pulls over and I half-sprint half-waddle after it with my 60 pound pack on my back.  My driver, Darren has a cold water waiting for me by the time I get to the passenger door.  Again, the amazing generosity of strangers never ceases to amaze me.

darren

Darren works for Native Affairs of Manitoba and owns property out in Winnetka, Ontario.  He’s on his way to “cut the grass” at his cabin, which I gather is an all day affair.  By the end of the 2.5 hour drive, he’s inviting me out to stay at his cottage for the weekend, promising to introduce me to the McDonald Sisters, a gaggle of seven single women from ages 32 to 45 whom all love to party.  As enticing as this sounds, I assure him I must really get further down the road.  He drops me on the turn off to Winnetka and my thumb is out again.

Not the best spot.  Most cars turning onto the Trans-Canada are going very short distances so even if they were inclined to pick me up, they can’t see why I’d want them too.  The worst part is the geography of the turn off.  My spot is both at the bottom of a basin and on a slight curve.  Anyone travelling east on the TCH will only be able to see me for 3 to 4 seconds…hardly enough time to see how absolutely charming and handsome I am.

Not too terribly long though, I am in the backseat of Laddi and Sam, two adorable lesbians from Windsor.  Sam is in Kenora working as an Occupational Therapist for the next three months and her partner, Laddi is out for a visit.  On learning that I did not have a solar charger, they insisted that they bring me all the way into town to buy one. (I haven’t used it yet but probably still a good idea to have.

After a long comical ride, that involved having to return to my original destination because, somehow…and I still have no idea how, I left both my jackets on the side of the road…and their decision that they were going to take me a much greater distance until we found a “good spot” we discussed gender politics and the 5 different types of lesbians and who they are allowed/expected to date.

lesbians

After a spot of barbecue, where I devoured a Philly Cheese-steak made with pulled pork we gave each other huge hugs, took selfies and I walked over to the on-ramp.

And then the sun went down…

 

 

 

In memorandum. Things lost and things discarded

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:

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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…”

Off to Montreal! Happy travels, everyone!

Any day you don’t have to dry your shoes is a good day

Learn to appreciate the small things in life… Like dry feet

Greetings everybody! This is the first blog post that I’m going to write on my cell phone with the new WordPress app. Please forgive me if you see the strange word here and there because I’m using the speech to text app and every once in awhile it will misunderstand a word and I won’t catch you didn’t proofread. ( catch it in the proof read)

I took 2 days of rest to stay with my cousin Allyson and her two lovely children, Georgia and Tatum in their lovely home in Toronto, Ontario. I’ll be visiting my sister, Godmother and Godfather and other Toronto cousins this afternoon, then my evening will consist of laundry and repacking my backpack. I know! Who knew World Travel to be so exciting!

I have set a goal of dropping another three or four pounds for my primary pack. My ultimate goal is to be able to use my knapsack as a carry on for my plane to Dublin and then ditch it as soon as I land. I’d like to be able to get all the necessary equipment and clothing into my larger backpack and use that exclusively throughout Europe.

The weather in Toronto to be quite lovely. I’m not a Sun Chaser by any stretch of the imagination, but one thing is certain: it’s been wonderful not having to dry my shoes.

I sure do hope that when I get back to Calgary in July, there’s a cheap,  over the counter treatment for trench foot.

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Happy travels!

Having So Little-Giving So Much

Day 2: Regina to Winnipeg. One red paperclip and a big red truck

Caught in the rain.  Prairie monsoon.  Denny’s beacon.  I start across the shoulder, through the massive median.  Everything is wet.  Down the off-ramp, across Victoria Avenue.  Everything is muddy.

Ding! My cell phone chimes.  I look down and my heart explodes with gratitude.  Someone has accepted my last-minute couchsurfing  request.

I put the request out to three people on Couchsurfing.org only 20 minutes before my last ride dropped me on the side of the highway.  In my excitement to get on the road, I’d neglected to find someone to host me in Regina.  Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Montreal…all secured.  I even had offers from hosts in Saskatoon.  But when my cross Canada plan change to include the Queen City instead of the Hub City, I didn’t put out any requests.  As the sheets of rain coated the windshield of the 18-wheeler I was cruising in as we approached Regina, I frantically put out a couchsurf request to three people.  I can’t say that I was even surprised when Shannon contacted me almost immediately via text.

“Where are you?”                                                                                                                              “Victoria near the highway.  I see a Denny’s and a Sandman Hotel.”                                     “Go to the Denny’s.  I’ll find my keys and pick you up in 5 mins.”

The next time you’re feeling down on humanity, think about Shannon, young mother of four who came out in the pouring rain, a picked up a total stranger so he didn’t have to sleep in the rain.  Shannon and I didn’t get to spend too much time together but I learned she recently converted to Islam, married a man from Paris and struggles to pay all the bills.  She’s a beautiful, strong woman who deserves our praise and I will always be indebted too.

After an evening on the couch, and a morning drinking coffee and meeting her children, Shannon helped me pile all of my belongings into the back of her Kia and deposits me a little further down the road outside of a very small town called White City. The sky is gray, threats of rain in every direction. I quickly scanned my surroundings to recognize both the pros and the cons of the location that we’ve chosen. On a positive note, it seems to be a fairly busy intersection with access to several restaurants and one major store. On the downside, the other major building 100 yards away is an RCMP substation. Surprisingly, the day before I had not encountered a single RCMP vehicle on the Trans-Canada Highway. Like many places in North America, the laws regarding hitchhiking are unclear and the enforcement of those laws is sporadic at best. But I supposed that the best way that I could test how high on their priority list ridding the Trans Canada Highway of hitchhikers was, would be to hitchhike right on their front doorstep.rcmp-door

I arranged my packs meet neatly on the side of the road, put in my earphones, opening upbeat playlist, and stuck out my thumb. The Third vehicle to approach the intersection was, of course, an RCMP Cruiser. The officer eye-balled me quickly, but then she drove away without a second thought or glance. I have to admit I was somewhat relieved. For the most part come on any interactions I have had with the police since returning back to Canada 2 years ago have been courteous and polite, but I’m still somewhat gun-shy when it comes to dealing with the men and women in blue after spending 25 years living in the United States.

Saskatchewan Internet Sensation

Before too long, 30 minutes at the most, the dirty white Ford Escort slowed to a stop and the passenger window rolled down.

“Where are you heading,” the driver, a thin young man whom I assume to be in his early twenties but would later learn was a mere 17 years old, asks me.

“East,” I replied. “Eventually I have to get the Halifax by June 13th but I’ll go as East as you’re care to take me.”

As I open the door, he says “Okay hop in. But just to warn you, if you’re planning if you’re planning any sketchy stuff, it isn’t worth your time. I only have $11 to my name.” I tried to give him my most reassuring you smile, and say to him, “Don’t worry about it. I have much more than $11 on me.”  Only in Canada would you try to reassure a potential victim of crime by setting yourself up as an even bigger potential victim of crime.

Zack, my young driver, lives in Kipling, SK and has recently had a falling out with his family. He’s on the way back to Kipling, about 150 KM south-east of Regina in an attempt to patch things up.  He’s never picked up a hitchhiker before but figured that the way his luck has been running, maybe if he did someone else a solid, he’d pick up a few karma points.

As we rocket down provincial highway, Zack assures me there is nothing of interest in Kipling, except, well, “a few years ago there was this guy who had one red paperclip….” Excited, I interrupted him. “Holy cow, the house he traded the paperclip for is in Kipling?” Zack seemed please that, not only had I heard of it but I was genuinely excited to see the place.  Added bonus the town erected a giant red paperclip in the center of town.  Double Added Bonus:  The house is now a restaurant and guarantees of the best cheeseburger in all of the Saskatchewan.  One of the things you have to love about hitchhiking is the adventures you’ll find yourself on which you had no idea were coming five minutes before.

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The burger wasn’t the best I’ve ever had but one of the better ones I’ve had in recent memory.  The whole house has been converted into a diner (see more in the video). Our stomachs full, it was just a terrifying jaunt up a gravel road to get back to the TCH.  Zack and I had a quick cocoa and he was actually thanking me by the time he dropped me at the side of the road in Whitewood.

zack

 

My second and last ride of the day was in a huge, red 18-Wheeler (and people say truckers won’t stop for hitchhikers anymore.)  I wasn’t going to film in his cab without permission but I also forgot to get his permission to write about him either.  It is sad because, while I’ll simply tell you he is a new immigrant to Canada, the rest of his story is pretty fascinating, so remember to ask me about him if we ever meet in person.

I rolled into Winnipeg at about 1am and fortunately my couchsurfing host was happy to wait up for me.  Again, I hope I always continue to be amazed by the kindness of total strangers as I continue this journey.

 

Day One: Calgary to Regina

No turning back now!

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…

trukkers
what the hell is it!?!?!

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.

crackles
“Turn left! There is a fish store in the next town!”

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…

And I haven’t felt this good in years.

EAST!

 

 

Michael Badger: Outlaw!

A rocky, emotional start to day one leads me into a life of (minor) crime.

May 30th, 2016.  I officially make myself homeless, giving up the cozy little one bedroom apartment I’d holed up in for the last 2 years. No more internet included, fully furnished, heat and hot water.  This is it.  I’m a nomad.  Unfortunately, I had words with my landlady for the first time ever.  She’s sweet but somewhat high strung and after giving her six weeks notice, not 48 hours went by before she would ask me once again what my exact schedule was.  When I would be actually leaving.  I had told her Monday, May 30th at the latest but she kept thinking it might be sooner even though I told her that by sooner it might, just might, be the 29th.  I really like her so I helped her all I could to find a new renter for the apartment and even allowed her to rip out the kitchen while I was still living in it.  She came down and measured and remeasured everything, planned for new carpet and flooring and told me all the new wonderful things she was planning for the apartment once I wasn’t in it anymore.

Monday morning rolls around and as soon as she realizes I’m awake, she is in there pulling up carpet, asking when I am going to leave and pulling her extra boxes out of the storage unit under the stairs.  Again, I understand that she’s high strung and has two days to sell some of the furniture and put in the new carpet but she seems obvious to the fact that at least until the door hits me in the ass, that I still LIVE THERE.  I have a little more repacking to do (life on the road is spent packing, repacking and maintaining some sort of balance both in your soul and on your back.) and just wanted to spend some quiet reflection alone moments before I go on what might be a life altering journey. “Do you need this box?””I found these mints on the bedroom floor.” “Do you think I should keep paying all these premium channels on the cable?” and telling me for the 15th time that there was someone coming later in the afternoon to install the carpet.

I felt that I tried a few subtle hints to let her know that she was in my way but she was in her world and I respect that but she was really getting under my skin.  Finally I opted out of the “private reflection” and opted into “saddle up and run”.  I threw my packs onto my back and for the first time felt that I’d made a mistake by packing all my electronic equipment into my secondary pack which I’d attached to my primary pack with carbiners.  All in the secondary pack weighted probably seven kilos more than the primary.  The slung over my left shoulder, the secondary pack continued over and walloped my right shoulder, throwing me off balance and pinning the right strap to me back.

“Can I help?”, she asked. “Yes, I replied, “You can really help by not being here!” I saw the tears welling up in her eyes, having never heard a terse word leave my lips, and even though I knew I’d regret it, I went for the kill shot “Goddammit,” I let loose, “Did you notice that I haven’t even moved out yet!”  She left the room crying and I knew I was going to have to make an apology before I left.  My temper used to be a lot worse and one of the reasons I regained control over it years ago is because, despite the ill feelings I have in the moment, making amends afterwards usually takes exponentially more time that the outburst, however warranted, was worth.  With the apology quickly out of the way, I careful threw my pack on and was out the door and up the street to catch the #36 bus which, after a series of transfers would eventually leave me with a kilometer of the Trans-Canada highway.

45 minutes later I was kicking myself because I want to make sure that I filmed the first few minutes of my departure but the mono-pod was unhinged and the go-pro was flopping around.  The footage is there and it certainly shows that no matter how prepared I think I am for any change, I’m never truly preparing till I am in the paint of it.

But there I was, standing on the on ramp for Stoney Trail and the TCH, smile plastered on my face, thumb outstretch and waiting.  And waiting…

stonyTCH
“Why do you rob banks?”  “Because that’s where they keep the money.”

And waiting.  Until an hour later, I decided “Screw the rules.  There are way too many cars on the actual highway.  I’m breaking the law and standing on the freeway not the on-ramp.”   Breaking the Law by Judas Priest rang in my head as I hit the shoulder and threw out my thumb. Breaking the law for the first time since I was a teenager.

And reaping the rewards for my crime!

Best Advice: Be Openly Crazy

Never shut up about your dreams. You’ll hold yourself to them.

Official Photos

It is strange to see yourself age.

I understand why they don’t want you to smile in driver’s licence photos.  No one is smiling when they get pulled over.  Or as  Carol Leifer said in stand up routine, “If you need a picture of me how I look when I get pulled over, I should be crying hysterically with one of boobs pulled out.

But Passport photos don’t make sense.  I took me two minutes just to shoot my new passport photo because when I would think of my trip, I’d break out into a smile that would make the Cheshire Cat reexamine the meaning of happiness. I’ll be smiling as I go through customs at every stop, shamelessly asking them to put an old fashioned stamp in my passport.

When I applied for my new passport, I was surprised by two things.  First, Passport Canada has really got their shit together.  I was in and out of the office in Downtown Calgary in under 30 minutes. Second, they didn’t want my old passport.  Granted, it expired over 15 years ago.  I kept meaning to renew it but living in the States and renewing a Canadian Passport is a huge headache.  Plus for many years, I was travelling to places that did not require a passport…and then, for many more years, I couldn’t travel at all; for a time because of business obligations and then because I just couldn’t afford it (See blog post: Where do you find the money?) But when I asked if they needed it, they smiled and said, “Keep it as a souvenir.”  It is full of stamps but best of all it has a great old photo of me, which I have been able to place side by side for a startling comparison.

oldnewpassport

Oh my God!  Look at the hair!  Hey, it was the 90s.  Don’t judge me.  But I can’t help but see these two photos and think, “From lady killer to serial killer.”

Good thing I shaved and can smile on the side of the road.  I’f I looked like this image all the time, I’d never get picked up.

 

Where Did You Find the Money?

Turns out it was behind the couch the whole time…

As more and more people discover my upcoming travel plans of hitchhiking around the world, the question I hear the most often is,  “How are you going to hitchhike over the ocean?”  After I resist the urge to smack them upside the head, I politely explain that I’m flying over the oceans and hitchhiking the land bits (and I suppose the smaller water bits but most European ferries have started charging per person as opposed to per vehicle)

A close second is, “Where did you get the money to do this?”  My favorite answer is, “Pocket change.”

I suffer from a rare disorder called “Coin Hording”. I doubt A&E will ever do a series about it. For years, my ex-wife used to call me the “Change Magnet.” She was convinced that I could leave the house with $20 dollars in my wallet, make two quick stops and come back with $3.50 in change.  I used to think maybe I was blacking out and reverting to my alter personality, a hobo who would stand on the corner and panhandle whilst whistling Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”.

The simple fact is that I’ve always seemed incapable of reaching for change when paying for an item of any value.  I’d go into one store and buy something for $8.20.  Eighty cents went in my pocket.  Three minutes later, I’d be buying a 75 cent donut using a five dollar bill. Later in the day, I’d buy $72.56 worth of groceries and pay with a hundred.  I wouldn’t give it a second thought until I got home, got undressed and all my change would end up on the nightstand.  None of it ever found it’s way back into my pocket.

The disorder was serious enough while I was living in the United States.  Things really took a downward spiral when I moved home to Canada. In the States, they have pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and the rarely used Kennedy half dollar.  But here in Canada,  although we phased the penny out of use in 2012, we have Loonies and Toonies! ($1 and $2 coins).

Loonie-Toonie

Too make matters worse, every day at work I collect two tip envelopes for my prior day’s hours. One for the night hours and one for any graveyard shift time.  In these envelopes is between 25 cents to $4.75 in change as well as, fortunately, plenty of folding money as well. And where has the change been going?  Right into my pocket, of course. Then right onto the night stand.  My disorder was at a new low.  22 Months at my current job. Night after night, the change built up. I was keeping it in boxes, in zip lock bags, in nightstand drawers.  Eventually I was keeping it all in plastic Dryers Ice Cream Buckets in the top drawer of my dresser.  One evening, not long ago, I opened the dresser drawer…and the whole thing capsized from the weight.

When I first started thinking (dreaming?) of this adventure, I knew the change was going to be play an important part.  I estimated I had a little over $900 in change.  Well, even a novice sneaker-tramp knows you can go a long way with $900 on the open road.  So I started sorting.  And counting. And sorting.  And Counting.

I stopped sorting and counting once I reached about $1500CAD in just Loonies and Toonies. There was plenty more not even including the two buckets of dimes, nickels and quarters.  It was time to get serious.  I got stacks of coin rolls and started rolling…and rolling…and rolling.  My girlfriend came over and joined in the fun and within a couple of hours…Behold!  The Great Pyramids of Badger!

rolled
If you’ve ever wondered what $2288 in change looked like…

My fingers already hurt and I resigned myself too the fact I’d never get through the nickels, quarters and especially the dimes (Canadian dimes are VERY small and thin) so we made a quick run to the Coinstar machine where I begrudgingly gave up an 11.9% fee in exchange for a five minute quick sort.

20160525_192403
And for 11.9% fee, I doubt I’ll use it again

For a grand total of $2516.68.  Over and above the cost of airline tickets, insurance and equipment (which so far have run me about $1200) I think $2516.68 is an excellent budget for a two month, worldwide hitchhiking adventure.  But don’t worry, I have more than enough in case of emergencies.

The moral of the blog is even you want to do something, the money is there.  You often just have to turn over a rock, or a couch cushion or two.

cha-CHING!