Yesterday I told you about my first experience with hitchhiking, travelling with friends eastward across lots of Canada in 1969. That was the first of five trips I made between Waterton, Alberta and Toronto, Ontario. On the others I was alone. Me and my little green tent and my junk food.
Looking back, I’m amazed that my parents didn’t give me grief about these thumbings. They must have loved me a heck of a lot, and wanted me to drink deep from life’s stream.
I remember dad letting me off near the on-ramp of Highway 400, heading north from Toronto. We were not a hugging family but his smile told me everything I needed to know.
With a few rides under my belt, I was feeling the freedom. Nobody except the driver and me knew where on Earth I was at the moment. So cool. I usually had some good conversations with my benefactors. Working at the Prince of Wales Hotel the previous summer had cured my shyness, I believe. This 21-year-old guy was feeling his oats as he talked to folks far older than him, and with much different life experiences. Plus they seemed to like me.
One evening towards sunset, I was walking on a curvy road in Northern Ontario. I know that walking doesn’t make much sense when you’re traversing four provinces, but it did ease the problem of “stationary thumb”. I was singing “The Long and Winding Road”, and not under my breath either. I’m pretty sure that the roadside creatures enjoyed the serenade. I look back at that moment with great fondness.
I got to be quite good at picking a place to pitch my wee tent, usually in a little grove of trees or bushes, with headlights scanning the scene but not finding me. Oh, I loved that feeling! My very own hero, so I fantasized.
I think that my longest wait for a ride was nine hours. Such a humbling experience. I tried to look friendly and “together” to oncoming drivers, without coming across as goofy, but sometimes that just didn’t work. I was left with myself, a few snacks, and often aching feet. I liked who I was and it didn’t matter if my journey lengthened by a day, or even a few.
Only once on that trip was I scared. Two drunk guys picked me up near Moosomin, Saskatchewan. I didn’t think they’d hurt me but the car was all over the road. I wondered if my short and increasingly eventful life was coming to an abrupt halt. Happily, I convinced the bleary fellows that my destination was Regina, about 125 miles down the road. Open door. Walk on.
Somewhere west of Medicine Hat, Alberta, my windshield view began to include little bumps on the horizon. I was so excited. After a winter in Toronto, I was aching for the mountains. And perhaps they were aching for me. My last ride dropped me off in front of the dormitories of the PW, my spiritual home. Journey’s end. And a happy young man.