It was just after Labour Day in 1969. The Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta was closing for the winter and we employees were scattering to the far reaches of Canada. Six of us looked at each other and decided that it was time for an adventure. We lived in Calgary, Alberta; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (two of us); Regina, Saskatchewan; Carman, Manitoba; and Toronto, Ontario (me!). “Why don’t we hitchhike together?” someone bubbled. So we did – in pairs. After success on the road, we found the others in our destination city, stayed for a day or two in the home of whoever lived there, said goodbye to that person, and headed off towards someone else’s home.
I sure didn’t have any thought about us getting robbed or mugged. Lots of young folks hitched from here to there. People were good. We would be safe. And we were.
I remember sitting in Carol’s kitchen in Calgary, absolutely full of myself at what I’d accomplished. I didn’t know it back then but I loved my companions. In Stephen King’s words, we were a ka-tet – a group of human beings bound together by destiny (or so I would have thought if I’d read any of his books back then. Hmm … Stephen didn’t publish Carrie, his first novel, until 1974. Oh well.) Anyway, I was 20. We were on a heroic quest. And I was actually crossing a big slice of my country under my own power, so to speak.
One evening, our slightly smaller ka-tet was walking down an alley in Saskatoon. (And a bit of background. Waterton is a mountain park, and black bears often wandered into the townsite, looking for food. My friends and I went out some evenings, trying to find bears. We’d run if we saw one … not such a great idea). Anyway again, there we were in that nondescript alley on the prairie. “Why not?” I said to myself. So I yelled “Bear!” and broke up laughing while my four compadres took off in a sprint. Such fun. Well, okay, they didn’t think so.
It’s funny, I don’t remember anything about my time on the road, thumb raised. Guess my partner and I just breezed through unscathed. No waiting hours for a ride. That’s good.
Finally, it was just Marie and I crossing the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border, leaning towards Winnipeg. Somewhere near Portage la Prairie, I think, we said goodbye. We were friends, and we were shy with each other. And I never saw her again.
So I was alone, moving past Winnipeg and through the endless rock and forests of Northern Ontario. I was okay with being alone. Besides, I had one more glorious quest. Before we left Waterton, another friend, Sherri, told me that on a certain date (let’s say September 15) her parents would be driving her from Peterborough, Ontario to Toronto International Airport, where at a certain time (let’s say 2:00 pm), she’d be boarding a flight for Europe. I told Sherri that I’d meet her at the airport. And I did. Hadn’t even got home first. We smiled a lot at each other.
Whatever I’ve become since, who I am today was molded to some extent by this journey of like souls. Wherever you are, my friends … peace.