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.

 

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!