Day Six: The Riders

Today has arrived. I’m here in St. John’s to welcome the Tour du Canada riders as they climb Signal Hill and complete their cross-country trip to the tune of 7600 kilometres. These cyclists are my heroes.

I’m sitting in the Bagel Café, a few blocks from the start of the climb. I have my lawn chair and my feet are ready to go. I’ll talk to you at the top, or earlier if I’m pooped.


At the top! Complete with a pounding heart. It’s so humbling to be far less fit than I was two months ago … oh well. It’s still a fine life.

I’m pretty sure that Webster, when he was doing research for his dictionary, found the definition of “steep” on Signal Hill. An old gentleman, not from the tour, was riding his bicycle up the 10 to 15% grades. Later I saw him descend and I tried to warm him with applause. He didn’t acknowledge me at all. Once I was settled beside the ancient tower at the very top, I glanced over to the parking lot and saw him again. My goodness – he was doing laps!

On my way up, I passed lots of folks walking down. I decided to say the same dumb thing to each one of them: “You’re not even breathing hard!” Most of them smiled. That’s the thing about people new to me: they’ve never heard my silly lines before.

A few minutes after plunking my lawn chair down out of the wind, I see two more bicycles crest the parking lot. And these ones have the telltale TdC reflective triangles under the seats! I hurry down the path to the smiles and handshakes of Tony and Chris. So glorious to see them again. Neither has words yet for what the tour has meant to them. That’ll come.

Jim from Colorado is the next rider to top the hill. I head out into the wind with my hood up and sidle up to him. “Nice day to finish riding across the country.” “Yes it is, Bruce.” So much for surprising him. We stood on top of the tower and talked about the journey and about how very much Jim longs to be back with his wife Margaret. A little smile.

An hour later, there’s a whole string of cyclists climbing the hill. As they reach the top and dismount, the world is full of smiles and hugs and handshakes. I join in. “So happy to see you.”

The wind whips letters off a poster that family have created. “Congratulations, Carolyn” becomes “Con ratulatio s, arolyn.” A great family portrait ensues.

Then there’s Paul’s crew, all the way from Nanaimo, B.C. Large orange signs laud the achievements of “Paul/dad”. Three women are beaming at the man.

Soon it’s time for the group portrait. Nineteen cyclists, Bud our tour director and Grant our truck driver pose in front of the tower. I look on from afar, bittersweetness filling my mouth. Congratulations, my friends. May your monumental achievement touch the rest of your lives. I was part of your family for awhile. In fact, I’ll be part of your family forever.

Tonight’s the Tour du Canada banquet. I’m going. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

Sleep tight.

Day Five: The Bus

I got on board at 8:00 am and I’ll get off at 9:00 … pm that is. That’s a pile of asphalt and, so far, endless trees. For the first two hours, I was freezing, and the hostess gave me some reasoned response about why they couldn’t turn on the heat. After she finished, I was still freezing.

The rains came down and the clouds dropped low. Plus I was awfully hungry. Later a convenience store provided the necessities of coffee, potato chips and a raspberry flaky but I was still grumpy.

Then there was the announcement: “Welcome to ____ Bus Lines. If you’re late getting back on the bus after a rest stop, the driver won’t wait for you. You’ll be responsible for your own transportation. Consuming alcoholic beverages is prohibited. If caught, you’ll be escorted off the bus at the next stop … We hope you enjoy your trip.”


All the window seats are occupied and only a few of the aisle ones. Although I laughed with a few pre-passengers in Port-aux-Basques, now we’re about twenty-five solitudes. Sort of sad but I don’t feel a desire to hop over next to anybody.

I’m noticing that I’ve fallen into the trap of letting my environment dictate my well-being. It’s time to create goodness for myself, and starting this blog post helps.

Hours later, there are no views out the window, just masses of trees. It seems to me that long views are a precious reflection of an expansive life. “Look long into the good light and see the marvels displayed there. Walk towards that light.” That’s it, Bruce. The views are mostly internal. If the good Earth co-operates, I see to the far horizon. If I’m enclosed in a corridor of trees, that’s okay too. Keep looking.

Now it’s movie time on the bus – Sister Act 2. Whoopi Goldberg is the coolest teacher and the disgruntled student Rita is gradually drawn under her wing. Sister Mary Clarence is a magnet. Yay for teachers!

The rain keeps pouring. It’s pooling on the road and we’re creating huge splashes out my window. All is well.

Finally some ponds and meadows. I seek moose. Even a deer would be fine. No one.

It’s nearly dark now. I guess the moose and deer will have to remain in my mind. That’s all right. St. John’s is two hours away and I don’t want to write anymore. I hope you understand.

Goodnight all.

Day Four: Staying Put

It was my day to explore Port-aux-Basques. I started off in the dining room of St. Christopher’s Hotel, where I’m staying. The young woman serving me was emotionally flat. Rehearsed words seemed to be coming out of her mouth. I had to go looking for her to get a second cup of coffee. Negativity started bubbling up in me and then I took a step back. Here was a girl, maybe 20, no doubt dealing the same self-esteem issues that I faced back then. “Cut her some slack, Bruce.” So I did. Silently I wished her well as I left. It’s true that she was very different from the other newfies I’ve met … and that’s fine.

I walked down to the harbour and gazed past the tiny islands to the free water beyond. Such an immense feeling of space. Something caught my eye and I looked left. The huge ferry was leaving port. Way up on the promenade deck, where I had stood yesterday, about twenty-five souls stood looking towards the land. I waved madly and kept it up for probably a minute. Not a single person waved back, and I was sad. I so much yearn for true contact with other human beings, and in those moments it was not to be.

Off I strolled to the often steep streets of Port-aux-Basques. How do they get cars up some of those driveways? At the high points, I had other views of the ocean. I enjoyed the vistas. Still, it’s people who move me the most, not nature or architecture.

I saw little fishing boats. My favourite was “Eastern Comfort”. Marine Drive was an empty little road by the water, lined with industrial buildings and the occasional house. It was such a contrast to Marine Drive in Vancouver, British Columbia – a busy and speedy thoroughfare between lush greenery and opulent homes. But contrast is everywhere in life, I’d say.

My ankles had puffed up with the walking and I was sore. A tiger waffle cone at a convenience store helped immeasurably and so did my conversation with a young girl, about ten years old. She liked her summer adventures but was absolutely thrilled to be returning to school and being with some friends who were absent from her life for the past eight weeks. She talked to me as if I was a local. Cool.

I came upon a gaggle of teens in front of a grocery store. There was a yellow cylindrical cement post, about four feet tall, to keep cars from smashing into the building. A young man was standing on top of it. I couldn’t resist – the opportunity was too sweet. Crossing the street, I called out “Does everybody put you on a pedestal?” He smiled and replied “Pretty much.”

His friends seemed to be looking at me in wonder so I kept going: “I hope you’re not looking down on these fine folks!” Smiles all around. We talked for another couple of minutes and then I was off. They waved goodbye.

As the afternoon waned, I headed to the cluster of tiny pastel buildings which were near the music stage. It was time to sample Geraldine’s food. She gabbed gaily with me while her friend or sister was off to the side, peeling PEI potatoes for the fries. I succumbed to a cheeseburger and natural fries, and when Geraldine told me she’d gone home last night after the singing and baked chocolate chip cookies, I succumbed again.

At one point, I looked over to the orange kiosk across the way. It had a sign saying “Intuitive Tarot Readings”. I spied the young woman inside and asked Geraldine loudly “I wonder where I could get a Tarot card reading.” And there was a small smile from inside the orange place.

I went over to meet Justine, who kindly gave me the only chair in the place. She’d overheard my chattering over at Geraldine’s and concluded that I was “a happy person”. I am.

Her Tarot reading pointed to the image of an arrow flying off to a target. Wow! That’s so true. I experience myself as being launched towards an unknown future, one of beauty and contribution.

Justine and I talked of the spiritual life. She was slow in her soul and it felt like home. I told her of the book I wrote about my wife Jody and her eyes brightened some more. I’ll send her a copy when I get home.

I like people.

Day Three: The Ocean

I’m on a huge ferry, taking six hours to cross from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia to Newfoundland. Before boarding, I sat with a fellow from Newfoundland at a Tim Hortons in North Sydney. I had asked a friend of his if I could look at the sports section from his newspaper, and had received an enthusiastic “yes” in response. So I offered to put the gentleman into my will. He seemed pleased with the prospect, but soon toodled off to another table to woo a woman.

So now we were two. I asked my new friend how folks from Newfoundland feel about being called a “newfie”. He smiled and said “depends on the attitude.” As I struggled with his accent, I had no problem with his being. We chuckled together … and then said goodbye.

On the ship, I sat with a mom and daughter from Digby, Nova Scotia, off on an adventure together before the younger begins her university adventures. Taylor was the Prime Minister of Student Parliament in high school and seems to have a firm sense of what leadership is all about. I marvelled at her commitment to contribute and wished for a time machine to view the adult she’ll become.

Now I’m in the forward lounge, facing a straight line of water and sky. Not a ripple of land at the horizon. The simplicity is sweet. I want to be alone with my beer, on a break from human beings. A bit of yin, a bit of yang … and so we go.

Finally the land – Port aux Basques – pastel-coloured houses on a mass of rock. The beauty of the sea bounding the end of the world is stunning. Welcome to Newfoundland, Bruce.

My hotel is on a hill facing the ocean and I sit on a bright yellow chair, taking in the horizon. Way below me I hear music – guitars and accordion punctuated with voices cranking out newfie songs. I go down to investigate. A outdoor dance floor is surrounded by colourful bleachers, and a couple are strutting their stuff. She especially is smiling her way through the twirls.

Now the band moves into a tender one:

Put me in your pocket so I’ll be close to you
No more will I be lonesome and no more will I be blue

The dancers flow and the audience nods in approval. We’re down home together. Nice. I chat with a few folks and lean towards bed.


Day Two: Rocking and Rolling

Walking on the train was an adventure. The dining car was about ten cars ahead of where I slept, with the dome four back. Since people’s small cabins stretched across most of the width of the train, the corridor was sixteen inches wide. As the train moved and grooved on the rails, so did my bod, caressing the walls as I stumbled forward. I was left to imagine what travel would be like if I had a beer or two in me … “Bruising on the Halifax Express”!

I loved my tiny space – two comfy chairs that a staff member transformed into a bed in the evening. I had visions of leaving the drapes open overnight so I could be bathed in moonlight, but a series of red lights flashing by soon dampened my romantic aspirations.

My bed was just fine, although I half expected to fall off at 2:00 am, given how narrow it was. As I laid down my head, the jostling of rail travel had me thinking that it would be a short night but that thought soon fell into sleep.

At breakfast yesterday, I looked out at the views – left was a wide stretch of water and right forests and fields. I had asked a gentleman sitting alone if I could join him and he smilingly said yes. Habib was a Pakistani fellow from Toronto, a commercial real estate agent.

And … we had the most marvelous conversation – my life and his life, and how important it is to be kind. I asked him if he experienced much discrimination, and he said yes. He spoke without antagonism. In fact he spoke with love. The scenery around me faded away and our words flowed.

Other meetings followed. Karen in the dome car, just returning from a yoga retreat and so interested in my long term meditation experience. Like-minded voyagers on our dear planet. Then there was Jo at lunch. She was from the UK and had fallen in love with Kelowna, B.C. A future possibility as a Canadian was beckoning.

Late in the day, a staff member told me that our train was an hour behind schedule. Oops. I was supposed to get off at Truro, Nova Scotia at 4:20 pm and get on a bus to North Sydney at 5:00. As the minutes ticked by, it became clear that I wasn’t going to make it. Jo stayed by me as I grappled with sketchy phone service to call the bus company, my soon-to-be B&B hostess, and other transportation options. Jo was so supportive.

I was amazed at how calm I was. I just knew that the universe would provide. I would get to North Sydney tonight and take the ferry to Newfoundland tomorrow afternoon. I sat there quietly pleased with who I’ve become.

Via Rail arrived in Truro at 5:05. The bus had left at 5:00. And a shuttle van was picking me up at Murphy’s Fish and Chips at 6:30. All was well.

I had a homemade piece of coconut cream pie and a fine chat with my server. When it was time to pay, I approached an older woman at the counter. I told her my Via Rail story. Her response? “Okay then. This is on the house.” I was tempted to protest but the look in her eyes told me not to. Thank you, Natalie, and to the other fine human beings who have come my way.

Night One: Sleeper

Ahh … the dome car. As the evening light fades, I look out across the fields to the hills beyond. Maybe forty years ago, I passed this way by car and was brought to silence by a huge white cross way up high. Tonight I searched for it but no luck. It’ll have to stay vivid in my memory.

I’ve been talking to a couple from Colorado. They’re so proud of their son, who’s a star football player. And the three of us shared memories of walking through the ancient streets of Quebec City.

And now it’s dark. Our attendant Emily is in the car, telling us about the ghost who lives here. Apparently he’s a former conductor, complete with swinging lantern. I hope he comes by.

Dinner is in half an hour. Lovely.

I get to sit with Dianne from Mississauga, Ontario, Claude from Campbellton, New Brunswick and Steve, a Via Rail employee from I don’t know where. Thank you, dear power of the universe, for providing me with these genial folks. Yes, I like my own company but this was far better.

Claude has lived in Campbellton all his life, and it’s been a long one. There’s nowhere else he’d rather be. His eyes shine when he talks of his family. Claude stays pretty quiet as the other three of us blab away but I can tell he’s enjoying our presence.

Dianne seems alone in life but delights in travelling the world. She’s met so many cool folks on her bus tours. She likes the quiet, slow ones (tours, that is). No “If It’s Tuesday It Must Be Belgium” for her.

Steve has loved trains ever since he was a kid. With bated breath, he tells us the history of the cars we’re rolling in – many of them were built in the fifties and are still doing fine, thank you.

In the late evening, Steve, Dianne and I retire to the Bullet Lounge at the back of the train. We’ve let passengers off at Sainte-Foy after crossing to the north side of the St. Lawrence River. Since there’s no way to turn the train around to get back south, we need to back up for five miles at 25 mph or so! This requires an engineer to sit with us in the lounge to make sure nothing or no one is on the track, and that we miss the nearby freight train. In walks a grizzled old fellow, wearing coveralls over a dress shirt and a perfectly-French-knotted tie, as well as a vibrant smile. Steve says this gentleman has been an engineer for forty years. The two of them engage in a long conversation in French, punctuated with back-and-forth talk on the walkie talkie with the engineer at the front of our train and the one on the freight. Steve’s eyes are aglow, absolutely captivated with this piece of history sitting beside him. I give off a faint little smile that won’t disappear.

Well … I guess I misnamed this post. I never did get to my sleeping accommodations and I’m tired of writing. Stay tuned for more Bruce-on-the-move adventures.

Day One: On to Montreal

And so I begin the journey. I’m looking out the window on my Via Rail train, bound for Toronto. So many fields, so many trees. I’m out in the middle of nowhere until we cross a road at an angle. Briefly I’m brought back into the world of cars … and then plunged back into the wild. The plunge is delicious. A few kilometres back, a hundred Canada geese sat together in a bare field. It was family, and I loved seeing them.

The whole thing is magical, with the morning mist rising above the land. I have a private view of scenes usually beyond me – dense tangles of underbrush, tiny ponds, towering deciduous trees and the sweep of rolling fields. It’s a privilege to be here.


Well … so far I’ve composed this post using my Android phone because I couldn’t get any connection with my laptop. A Via Rail employee tried to help me but eventually ran out of ideas. He suggested I phone the tech support 1-800 number, so I did. Nearly an hour later, the gentleman on the other end of the line was still trying to fix me up. He had a thick French-Canadian accent, and I struggled to understand what he was saying. Plus nothing he recommended worked. What was miraculous was that we were both so determined … and so patient with each other. Just what a frustrated human being needs!

Finally, my Via tech guy said he’d phone me back in five minutes. Told me that he had one more idea. Meanwhile, a fellow named Christian had got on the train miles back in Kitchener, and he was my seatmate. He asked if he could help. Of course. His fingers flew over assorted screens and soon he came to a setting that looked like a problem. He switched things to “automatic DNS settings” and …

Thank you, kind sir

A few minutes later, tech support guy phoned back and I told him that Christian had fixed the problem. I handed the phone over and the two of them talked computerese. Sweet. I imagine Mr. Via is embarrassed that another passenger got the job done in a shake of a lamb’s tail, but he’ll be okay. Thank you, everyone, for pitching in. Exactly what the world needs.


We’re rolling east of Toronto. I look forward in the car and realize how very narrow a train is. Just a little arrow of human togetherness. And the corridor through which we pass is also squinchy. The life of the landscape is just metres away, flowing away as in a dream. Here’s a crow walking along the rail beside me. Here are the clouds billowing overhead. Here are cars lined up to let us pass.

Dead trees poking out of an evaporated wetland. Pillars of crushed rock evoke the pyramids. And now the sun shows up to animate the leaves. As we slow towards a town, a gaggle of residents look up to mark our passage. Somebody’s shirts are drying on the line.

Into Belleville, we parallel a road, and the cars have no chance in keeping up with us. At the station, I glance over at John’s Variety, where I savoured an ice cream cone two years ago. That time I came here to see the play “Jake’s Women” three nights in a row.

A Via Rail employee just made an a announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, may I remind you that it is strictly prohibited to smoke anywhere on the train, especially if you are in car five, in the middle.” Oops. Public shaming.

Now, at the Kingston station, there’s a sea of marsh grass out my window, waving in the wind. I imagine each blade as a person, and see us flow together. Fifteen minutes later, a complete contract- the 401 freeway parallels on my right. I find myself wishing for a traffic jam, so I can experience leaving them all behind. Nasty, Bruce.

It’s Sunday afternoon, and the final round of the CP Canadian Women’s Open is unfolding in Regina, Saskatchewan. I’m not just stuck to the window. I’m stuck to my phone. Canada’s darling golfer Brooke Henderson has a three-stroke lead on the back nine. Go, Brooke!

A great blue heron just flew beside the train! So graceful. These sublime creatures have a wingspan of six feet. Now, back to Brooke. She has a three-stroke lead with three holes to go.


She won! Brooke is the first Canadian woman to win our national championship since 1973. Marvelous. Yay for Canada.

I’m so high that I’m virtually on the roof of the train. No more travelling words right now. I’m just going to bask in the glory of hero worship.

Tonight at 7:15 or so, I’ll step into my sleeping compartment on the Montreal to Nova Scotia train. I no doubt will so hyped this evening that I’ll have to write you again. I’ll call it “Night One: Sleeper”.

See you then.

Deer Hunting

I was driving home from London today, taking a well-treed secondary road called Dingman Drive.  At one point, I looked to my left and saw the curve of a bare field against a grove of trees.  And … sploing!  I was transported back years ago when Jody and I used to go deer hunting.

If you know me from my writing, you might be surprised that I’m a hunter.  Well, I’d be pretty surprised myself if I actually wanted to take another being’s life.  I do not kill deer.  I find them.  I gaze at them in wonder and kinship.  Or so I did with my beloved wife when we lived in Union, Ontario.

Once firmly ensconced in my Lazy Boy chair this afternoon, I knew what I’d be doing in the late evening, after tackling all the packing for tomorrow’s trip.  Scarlet and I would go looking for dear.  (I just misspelled the word, or did I?)

Sunset was at 7:48 tonight.  At 7:43, I was on the road, heading back to Dingman.  And my heart was going pitty-pat.  I remembered the pitty-pats of long ago, and the joy of seeing a graceful animal at the edge of the woods.  Oh, the joy of anticipation, of yearning for contact, of sharing the world with a four-legged one.  I would travel the quiet Drives – Dingman, Westminster, Scotland and Manning.  And maybe I’d have company.

No friends lingered in the fields of Dingman.  There was lots of corn, though, perfect for hiding the brown ones.  A thought came that has often been my companion: Even if I don’t see them, they are there.  This is their land, and the sense of deer is here.  That’s always been comforting when my searches don’t seem to produce results.

As I turned onto Westminster, I was soaring.  I was in relationship with other beings, whose lives were so different from mine.  The communion was important, far more so than sightings.

Westminster was empty of me seeing deer … Scotland as well … Manning the same.  My timing was perfect, bracketing the sunset.  Surely my friends were out there feeding, no doubt hidden by the corn.  In October, once farmers have taken off their crop, the fields will be bare and I’ll get in Scarlet about 6:30 to seek my fellow citizens of planet Earth.

Jody will be along for the ride, cheering me on.


A Natural Exit

When I drive into London from Belmont, I usually take the 401, our Southern Ontario freeway, which has a speed limit of 100 kph (about 60 mph).  After ten kilometres or so, I’m ready to take the Wellington Road exit.  The ramp goes straight for maybe a kilometre, and then around a slight bend is a 50 kph (30 mph) sign.

As I veer off onto the ramp, I lighten the pressure on my gas pedal and gradually decrease to the 50.  I sense I’m in a natural rhythm of blending with my environment.  It feels good, like I’m flowing from one chapter of my life to the next.

Other drivers disagree.  Usually I’m tailgated on the ramp and the crowd of cars behind sometimes reaches double digits.  Once a fellow swerved onto the paved shoulder to get by me.  At the 50 kph sign, a second lane appears, with traffic lights shortly thereafter.  If the light is red, a vehicle or two has time to blast by me on the left and then slam on their brakes.  If it’s green, a convoy flows past, with most of them then flashing into my lane, since lots of us are turning right at the next light.

I let myself feel the pressure of the tailgating, and my fear.  It’s definitely a part of life.  But it’s very sweet to maintain my flow in the midst of impatient drivers.  I’m the source of my actions, not them.  Overall, the whole thing is a meditation and I’m pleased that I choose to experience it regularly.


I ask myself if I’ll have the same grace as I leave this planet.  Will I let myself feel the body diminishing and the mind clouding?  Will I let the words of William Shakespeare linger?

Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace!
And lips, O you the doors of breath
Seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death

Or will I vote with Dylan Thomas?

Do not go gentle into that good night
Old age should burn and rave at close of day
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

The ramp awaits
Soon, or not soon, my turn signal goes on

The Rails Ahead

On Sunday at 7:30 am I get on a train in London, Ontario.  Two trains, two buses and one ferry later, I arrive in St. John’s, Newfoundland on Thursday.  The next day I get to greet the cyclists of the Tour du Canada as they end their cross-country journey.  So I’m on a journey of my own.

All told, I’m gone for ten days.  And I ask myself: “What can I create in that time?”  Seems like a odd question.  Am I not going simply to absorb all that the world of travel offers?  To consume the land, the food and the people I meet?  Well, yes, that’s part of it.  I want to draw experiences, conversations and scenes inside of me … so they may nourish me.  Yes, I want to be fed.  But if my life is all about eating, I fear that I’ll bloat – be so full of incoming energy that I don’t even give a thought to what I’m sending forth.

Very simply, I want to contribute to the lives of the folks I meet.  That starts with the attendant at the London train station, as I figure out how I’m going to make my luggage work for both the train travel and the return flight from St. John’s on September 4.

There may be a human being sitting beside me as the fields give way to the towers of Toronto.

There may be a hot dog vendor outside the Montreal station.

There’ll be a waiter or waitress as I get to eat three fancy meals in the dining car while we roll through Quebec.

There may be fellow travellers watching the world go by from the next table.

There may be a host or hostess orienting me to my sleeping berth.

And on and on.

Will I share my heart with the human beings I meet?  Yes, I will.  And if they turn their head away or move the topic to the fortunes of the Toronto Blue Jays, then I’ll gracefully follow their lead.  It may be, however, that some of my companions will be fellow explorers of consciousness … and we’ll fall together into the mysteries of living.

Will I make people laugh?  I’ll sure try.  The thing about meeting new folks is that they haven’t heard my repertoire of silly comments.  It’ll all be fresh to them.  Perfect.  And as for those who just stare when I sing them “a little number” (i.e. “3”) I’ll bless them as they retreat.

Maybe the coolest thing is that every day I’ll be blogging to you cyber inhabitants.  I bet there won’t be any shortage of material.  We human beings are good at being noteworthy.

See you on the train and boat and plane