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.
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.
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.
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.