I still haven't forgiven the city of Seward, the city from which I began my hitchhiking expedition across Canada. I still haven't forgiven Seward for the slight I received at a little gift shop. I was looking for a map of Canada; I though such a map would be useful for someone who was crossing that country by thumb. I had tried the grocery store and one or two other shops and finally ended up in a touristy gift shop. I was checking there because a lot of their customers drove their RV's through fifteen hundred or so miles of Canada. "Excuse me, do you have a map of Canada?" I asked. "This is Alaska," she replied with a heavy tone of condescension. To this day, I'm still dumbfounded.
I was headed to meet up with my girlfriend in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I was pretty much broke, a hundred dollars in my pocket and an empty bank account, after spending the last month or so of the summer working as a deck hand on a small charter fishing boat. The only way I was going to be able to get to the other side of the lower 48 was to beg for rides. I bought a few packs of cigarettes as gifts, since I didn't have enough money to offer to share gas costs.
I don't remember the rides from Seward through Anchorage. Well, I have a hazy recollection of walking from about where the Best Western hotel is where the Seward Highway crosses 36th to where the Parks Highway starts to form next to a shopping center after passing Merrill field.
The Alaska state fair was going on when I arrived in Palmer. I ended up getting dropped off near the fair grounds. The Sun was starting to go down and there was a chill in the air. Waiting for my next ride I could hear the sounds of happy people screaming on the rides. Now that I think about it, hitchhiking next the a fair grounds is probably not the best idea. In any case, I wasn't having much luck getting a ride. When a small pickup truck pulled over I was very grateful. The driver, a very skinny older fellow, ignored the road, instead staring at me the entire ride with a cooky smile on his face. There was a spooky bright green glow coming from under his dash board. Maybe it was just because of my vulnerable position, but he looked to me like the Hollywood caricature of a psycho-killer. Of course, the kind gentleman dropped me off without incident. I found myself in the dirt parking lot of a small country store that had just closed for the night.
Night time is not the time to hitchhike but I wanted to keep moving and that parking lot, on the outskirts of Palmer, lit brightly by the sign on top of the closed country store, did not feel like a good place to open my bed roll. It did take a while, but I was picked up by a young guy in a rental car. He asked if I knew where any hotels were in the area. I told him I had no idea. I'm not sure but we probably made it to the near side of Glennallen before we found some kind of lodge. It must have cost an arm and a leg. I still hadn't practiced the sleeping-like-a-hobo thing, so I was relieved to be invited to share the room. We avoided the issue of the extra person charge because my host didn't tell the hotel clerk that he had a guest.
I remember waiting a long time for a ride on the Richardson Highway just north of Glennallen. I think it was in Tok that I got the luckiest ride. A clean cut young Alberta farmer who had been doing some commercial salmon fishing in Alaska was the driver. He asked me an alarming question: I thought he said: "are you clean." Which I thought might be a reference to drug use. I assured him that I was and hopped in. After mulling the question over for I while, It occurred to me what he had really asked and why: "Are you Canadian." He was asking because the Canadian border holds drivers responsible for their hitchhikers in an interesting way. Because there is nothing on the US side of the Alaska Canada boarder, the Canadian border officials will require the driver to bring a hitchhiker back to Tok if for any reason the hitchhiker isn't allowed into Canada. There is a requirement that anyone entering Canada have enough money to take care of themselves during the trip. They were going to ask to see that I had at least $200 Canadian. I explained the misunderstanding and he said that he would take me to the border anyway. As the trip wore on, I admitted to him that I didn't have the cash required and suggested that he drop me off before the border. Now you see why Canadians have a reputation for being nice: This guy actually offered to let a hitchhiker borrow $100 to get through the border.
Border guards are quite thorough with hitchhikers. This time the border guard asked me to take everything out of my backpack and completely undo my bed roll. The awkward thing here was that I was actually smuggling something. My boss, the skipper of the salmon charter boat, was worried about me standing on the side of the road in the wilds of Canada and had given me the gift of a can of bear spray. Bear spray is not allowed in Canada. I did not declare the spray but instead left it in the pocket on the underside of the top flap of my backpack. I guess I felt like it would be ungrateful to let the gift be thrown away so easily. A can of bear spray is not easily concealed in an empty backpack, but my intention was to say I had forgotten that pocket and play dumb about the legality of the item. I never got to find out what Canada does to bear spray smugglers because the border guard, having gone over every item from my backpack with care, ran his hand over the backpack pocket without noticing its heavy, bulgy contents.