Hitchhiking Highway 1 (part 3)

[This is part three of three]

The driver of the Mac truck was a man named Shamus McHugh.  He was also from the maritime provinces, though I don't remember which one. He was hauling bread for local delivery to grocery stores, so he wasn't able to bring me far.  I mentioned that I was surprised to be picked up by a trucker.  He agreed that he really wasn't supposed to.  Pointing out that picking up hitchhikers is dangerous, he described a time that a hitchhiker had stabbed him. He pulled up his shirt to show a nasty scar below his rib cage. Shamus apologized for risking my life by giving me a ride in a truck with such bad tires.  At one stop he showed me the wear on the tires and advised me to always check the tires of a truck before accepting a ride. At another stop he gave me a couple of loaves of bread from his load.  He didn't accept a pack of cigarettes, but gave me his address and asked me to send him a postcard.  I did send him a postcard quite a bit later when I was back in Alaska.

Parts of Saskatchewan were pretty slow for hitchhiking and I got several short rides, so I had plenty of time for enjoying the scenery.  There had been lots of natural beauty to contemplate on the whole trip, but Saskatchewan was where I started to see landscapes that I am less familiar with. I remember the wind dying completely in one spot and having to do a brisk walking and hand waving routine to keep the mosquitoes off of me.  I remember the low rolling landscape in that spot and a weathered gray barn.  Somewhere in Saskatchewan at sunset an image of old buildings clustered around a tall grain silo burned itself in my memory.

I slept one night in a thicket of trees in a little town with no buildings over one story in height.  There was a sprinkle of rain as I drifted off to sleep. In the morning, trying to catch my first ride, I watched firetrucks, a news crew and a crowd of gawkers converge on a fire in a strip mall.

Further down the road as a more serious rain began, I got a ride from a doctor driving a Honda Civic who had emigrated from Czechoslovakia.  We drove through the afternoon and into the night as the rain continued.  He was a little worried dropping me off in the rain at night in a lonely intersection on the plain, but I told him I'd be fine and not to worry about it.  The only sign of life was the music coming from a bar with a few cars parked in front of it.  The name of the bar contained the word "inn," although it didn't look at all like an hotel.  Contemplating the rain, I decided to go in and ask. The proprietor was a clean cut and very cheerful man in his thirties.  The room would cost me $10 Canadian and the beer (I drank a Molson Canadian) was unusually inexpensive.  The hotel portion of the inn was clearly meant as a flop house for drunks, but it didn't seem to be used much.  None of the farmers chatting warmly downstairs had looked like they would have trouble driving home that night.

One of my next hitchhiking spots was just beyond an intersection where the traffic of Highway 1 has to wait at a light.  I wanted to stay close enough to the intersection so that cars wouldn't have sped up too much by the time they passed me.  Drivers had to sit there and contemplate me while they waited for the green.  I stood far enough back from the intersection that drivers didn't have to feel like I was looking at them and tried to keep a friendly smile on my face.  The young woman who picked me up looked like she had made an impulse decision and realized too late that it was unreasonably dangerous. She seemed not to have the nerve to just pull away.  She looked a little white in the face as I climbed into the passenger seat as she asked me if I knew how to drive a stick shift. Apparently she was in a great hurry to get back to Toronto and was hopping to hot seat it.  I was of course ecstatic about the idea.  I got in the car exactly as there was a pause in the tape that was playing, so that I didn't even know the stereo was on.  Moments later, we both froze in a horror of awkwardness as Nirvana's "Rape Me" began.  If you don't know the song, the refrain "rape me" takes up about half of the lines in the 2 minute and 49 second song.  We both pretended not to notice the words.

The young woman told me that she was a nursing student who had been visiting her family and was worried that she wouldn't get back to school in time for her first class.  The rest of the ride was happily uneventful.  I slept part of the day and then drove through much of the night, so we made excellent time.  Before she dropped me off she asked if I could help cover some of the cost of gas.  I told her I didn't have any Canadian money but offered her a $20 US bill.  She almost didn't want to take it.  "Do you know how much that's worth?" she asked.

The nursing student had dropped me off before the turn to Toronto.  I was still planning to continue to Ottawa at the time, but after a little while on the side of the road I decided I wanted to head straight down into the states.  I didn't want to hitchhike in the US, so I planned to take a bus from Toronto.

Big cities are such a problem for hitchhiking.  It took forever to get a ride from that rural spot into the city.  I got dropped off on the shoulder of an elevated three lane highway separated from the light industrial district below by chain link fences topped with barbwire.  Any time I think of that spot the Nancy Griffith song "It's A Hard Life Wherever You Go" pops into my head.  "There's barbed wire at all these exits / And there ain't no place in Belfast for that kid to go."  Well, life wasn't so hard for me but the situation was annoying.

Toronto was quite a change of pace from the rest of the trip.  I took a city bus to get to the Gray Hound bus station during which I must have overheard three different non-European languages.  I wondered about the safety of disposing of a bear bomb in a public trash can.  I imagined a garbage man getting gassed when the hydraulics on the truck crushed the can.  I didn't want to leave it lying around for some kid to pick up and so decided to risk the garbage man.

The bus ride to Scranton went smoothly and I still had a few bucks left in my pocket and a few slices of bread in my backpack.  It had taken me about 5 days to travel what Google maps estimates as a 4507 mile trip requiring 3 days and 18 hours of driving time. Describing some of the trip to my dad, he reminded me that as a young man he had hitchhiked highway one from one end of Canada to the other.

[This is part three of three]
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