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.

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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.

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…

 

 

 

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.

cottage

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.

 

Best Advice: Be Openly Crazy

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