Using My Left Thumb

Learning to hitch the opposite side of the road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Who. What. Where. Why?

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

​Let’s backtrack a little bit shall we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                       

Derailed in Quebec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tracks

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

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

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

Perhaps not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

prop

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

sleep

Then finally…

The Naked and the Dead End

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

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

Even when they don’t wear clothes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danny

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

dimitri

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

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

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

$137.00.  Ouch.

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

My frustration would only escalate the next day.

Far East…Further East

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

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.

image

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.

mwntors

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.