Far East…Further East

The old hippies on the road are starting to be replaced by the old punks.

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I spent three full days in Toronto visiting family and going to a couple of the neighborhoods I spent more than many nights drinking away paychecks and killing gray matter.

By day two, I was anxious to get back out on the road but by day three I was dismayed to discover that nerves were setting back in. All the old fears came leaking back to my mind. Suddenly, I’m concerned that no one will want to pick up this aging thumb – rider. What makes the start of every leg of the trip even harder is that getting out of major cities is often more stressful and time consuming than standing on the road in the middle of nowhere, smiling at passing vehicles trying to hitch a ride from one of them. Getting out of town usually requires buses and/or trains unless someone you know, a host or old friend offers to drop you on the outskirts. Fortunately for me,  just moments before I was about to navigate TTC and GO as far east as possible, my favorite cousin messaged. She’d been sitting in a conference which was particularly mind-numbing, and wanted to take me on a mini road trip which I gratefully accepted. Within minutes we piled all my things and ourselves into her jeep and we were east bound and down, as the song goes.

We spent our final couple of hours promising to make certain that another 25 years didn’t pass before we saw each other again and laughing because I told her that when she threw my laundry in with her daughter’s things, a pair of her 4 year old’s panties had worked their way into the leg of my jeans. We imagined my being hassled by a bored cop, choosing to initiate a roadside search of belongings and asking me to account for the pink undergo I’d hidden away.

All the truck stops in that part of Ontario seem to be franchised as they are all called On Route and all seem to feature Burger King, Tim Hortons, Southside Marios and a gift shop/convenience store. We grabbed a quick bite and she deposited me at the on ramp. I’m not sure how far she had to travel up the highway before finding a place where she was able to turn back towards Toronto, but as she passed on the other side of TCH, she managed to snap this photograph of me.

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It was a great location and the only problem that I had was the angle of the Sun made it impossible for me to make eye contact with the drivers as they approached. Before too long, a red minivan pulled to the side and I ran after it. The driver told me to throw all my belongings into the back but the sliding back door was stuck shut. He jumped out, ran around and finally managed to get it open from the inside. The gave me the opportunity to see something that gave me great pleasure. As he turned around, the bowling style shirt with the leopard print front sported the logo from one of my absolute favorite underground punk bands of the late 1980s.
“Oh my god, dude” I shouted “ls that a Mentors shirt you’re wearing?
“Hell yeah!” he replied, a massive grin on his face. And the connection was instantly made based on a little known musical trio known for being so offensive they’d be considered shocking even by today’s society.

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He introduced himself by name which which I quickly forgot once I learned that his stage name was Bobby Lawless and the band was Destroyer Scene. Soon we were just a couple of old punks, rolling down the road and talking about bands we love and shows that we’ve seen or wish we saw.  Bobby has given up city life, opting instead for the quiet of a cabin in the woods, opening the door for coining the phrase Bush Punk Forever. After a quick detour to the beer store, Bobby dropped me on a ramp halfway between Napanee, Ontario and Odessa, Ontario.

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I quickly accessed the ramp as pointless (about one car every two minutes) and strolled back down to the highway. The sign we’d just passed indicted that Odessa was 8km further down the road and had one of the On Route stops that I spoke of earlier. Time for a little backwards walking, the time honored tradition of walking and hitching at the same time. I’ve gotten pretty good at judging when the next wave of traffic will be on my back and turning in time to hitch. You can walk forward normally and thumb with your left hand but I’ve never caught a ride this way.  What driver is going to stop for a faceless stranger?

About 3km in to my jaunt, an 18 wheeler pulled over about half a click further down. I figured he’d stopped to complete his log book and felt that it was unsafe to hitchhike directly behind him, so I picked up my pace a little, planning to walk a hundred meters past him and continue hitchhiking from there or walking to Odessa if nessa’ (like that?).

Not nessa.

It turns out the trucker had pulled over to give me a lift. The third time a professional trucker has stopped for me and I don’t think I’ll ever not be surprised, knowing that in doing so they put their jobs at risk.

Still under the impression he’d pulled over for any other reason, I overshot his cab by 30 feet before turning around. Through his windshield I could see his heavily bearded face looking down at me, the expression clearly being “WTF?” I pointed to myself and he nodded. I ran back to the truck, threw my pack up and climbed on board. As the engine roared to a start I introduced myself to the most unlikely, non-stereotypical trucker I think I’ll ever meet.
(Note: Although a trucker, my driver gave me full permission to write about him and even film him inside the cabin)

Jeremie is only 21 years old, a French Canadian, and a father of a young son. When I speak of Bobby, my last ride, he looks pleased that I like harder music. He asks if I would like to hear some heavy metal from Japan and he turns on…Oh My God….BABY METAL!

He was equally surprised that I had heard Baby Metal before but I total him about my great friend and comic book creation partner in Las Vegas, Kyle Brummond and his near obsession with Baby Metal. I admit I’m not a huge fan and further admit that I never expected Baby Metal, a trio of sexy, school girl clad, tiny ladies dancing to grinding, Metallica inspired guitar riffs and singing in high pitched, Pokémon style voices, to rise any higher than novelty act status. I missed the boat predicting the international success Kyle was certain they would achieve. But I will take Baby Metal over country music at any time of day…or any time in my life for that matter.

Best of all, this was my home stretch ride as Jeremie was going to be able to drop me right in the heart of Montreal!

Four hours of listening to heavy metal, talking about the sadness of loss due to suicide, and discovering that the pizza at the Flying J Truck Stops is every bit as delicious as I’d heard, I was in Montreal and remembered that I was now further east in my home Country than I’d ever been before. I contacted my host and assured him I was on my way to his home and he assured me he was willing to wait up for me.

…and I was about to get naked.

So Close Yet So Far Away

When Hitchhiking, 20 minutes away can seem forever.

 

I knew that my amazing luck wasn’t going to be able to hold on indefinitely.  After a happy yet quick good bye with Cara in Orillia, I was fairly certain I was going to meet my biggest challenge…catching a ride into Toronto.  My not so hard and fast rule for this adventure has been that I can take private and public transport through the same areas the average local would. So I set my sights in Barrie, Ontario, the northern most point on The Go Train system, which brings commuters into the GTA on a daily basis.

It would be another two hours before the sun would be up so I took the opportunity to walk around, have what must have been my 10th cup of coffee and beg an empty donut box from the girl behind the counter. Tim^s donut boxes make excellent hitchhiking signs in a pinch, especially when it is pouring rain and you don’t necessarily want to dig around in the trash looking for the right sized piece of cardboard.

I tore off the cellophane top and made a sign that said something like

“TORONTO

or maybe

BARRIE?”

As soon as I was sure that the rain wasn’t going to let up any time soon,  I popped in my headphones,  and wandered down to the Number 11 highway to meet the early morning traffic…

And then the early rush hour…

Then rush hour…

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Then lunch hour…

5 and a half hours later, Craig pulled over in his beat up Kia Sorrento.  Music blaring, hitting a joint hard and driving with his knees he tells me he can only bring me as far as Barrie GO and after seeing him let go of the wheel and practically dive behind the back seat looking for a cold water, I couldn’t be more grateful that he wasn’t going further.  He has quite a bit of weed in drivers compartment and asks if I want any for the road. I thank him for the offer but tell him I don’t smoke. He insists, suggesting maybe I can barter with it. Again,  thanks for the offer but cops are known for harassing hitchhikers and I’d rather not be holding if they decide to search me. He can see my point there and lights himself another joint. He’s on his way to Barrie, he explains, in order to install some insulation.  He asks what I do for a living and I tell him I work in the casino industry.  He proudly tells me that he has a gold card to the local casino and has probably lost about 35000 dollars in the last year. Be it drinking, drugs, gambling or any other vice, I’m always amused by the pride certain people have in their bad decisions.

Craig drops me at the GO station just in time for me to catch the bus that will take me into the heart of downtown Toronto. I’m excited to see my cousin who I haven’t seen in over 20 years but I am aware of the special connection we’ve always shared. Once on the GO I can finally close my eyes. Its been almost 36 hours since I crawled out of the woods in Vermilion Bay. Sleep is paramount.

Nothing Short of Epic

Good morning from the luckiest guy in the world!

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!