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Day 23 – Walk Across Canada
Some drama today that left me rattled. But first….
I took some extra time this morning to take care of my feet, so I didn’t get on the road until 6:15. I have a couple more blisters that have been problematic. I was having trouble draining one of them. I kept poking holes in it and squeezing. Nothing. And then finally, swoosh, it went squirting all over my foot. Relief.
I covered the blisters in dressings lathered with Polysporin and taped them in place. When I started walking, my feet felt better than they have in days.
Early this morning, around 6:45, along a rural road nearly 7 kms east of St Thomas, I came across a little church with stained-glass windows. It really is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by farmers’ fields. The church is big enough to hold maybe 6-7 people. And I noticed the door was open, so I wandered in.
Inside is an altar covered in candles, many of them lit. There are French-language religious pamphlets on a table. People are welcome to light a candle in prayer; the recommended donation is $5.00.
Outside the church is a parking lot, so maybe this is a place people drive to regularly. There are other religious icons and statues on this bit of land, a short walking path, and a grotto with a sign “Jesus Immaculee Conception”. I imagine pilgrims walking slowly along the path in meditative prayer.
This little oasis is called “Sanctuaire Notre-Dame de la Paix”. I haven’t seen anything like it so far in Quebec. And I had the place to myself to explore. What a fascinating concept, and obviously well used.
And now for the drama.
From time to time, the need to use a toilet overcomes a walker/hiker, which is why I carry toilet paper and a lighter and am always eyeing the woods. Today, however, the need kept growing, the highway was busy, and there was just nowhere to hide. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer, so I rolled Kitty off the road in a ditch, grabbed some TP, and sprinted for a small copse of trees. It wasn’t ideal, but it would have to do.
When I finished and started walking back to the highway, I noticed a car had stopped. The passenger door and trunk were open.
TWO GUYS WERE STUFFING KITTY IN THE BACK OF THEIR CAR!!
I started sprinting toward them, yelling, but they didn’t see or hear me, or were pretending they couldn’t.
Now the younger guy, the guy I think of as the Kid, had slid into the passenger seat and closed the door. The driver was strapping down the trunk, with my very own bungee cord, no less.
Now the driver was heading to the driver’s side. I kept screaming and sprinting, but it seemed they were ignoring me.
Now the driver was in his seat, the door closed. I was almost there. A single leap across the ditch just as the driver started his engine, and then one, two strides and I leapt in front of the car, slapping my hands on the hood.
My face was a mask of rage. If I wasn’t sure if they had heard or seen me to that point, I was sure now. They hadn’t. The fear on the Kid’s face and the way he raised his arms to protect himself couldn’t be faked. I had just scared the bejeesus out of him.
I was a man in a rage. Barely in control of myself. If that driver would have put that car in reverse, I would have been over the hood and through his windscreen for his throat.
I was ready for a FIGHT!
I was ready to rip these F***ERS to pieces.
But it didn’t turn out that way. The driver threw up his hands in apology. He put the car in park and got out. With a mix of French and English, he said he thought it maybe fell off a truck. Where was I? “Toilette,” I said.
I was still snarling, still on edge, but I was calming down. They helped me get Kitty out of the trunk, and as the Kid replaced her front tire, I was happy to see that his hands were shaking.
I chatted a bit with the driver about my walk and told him that this was such an adventurous moment that it needed a photo. “Can I take your picture for Facebook?” I asked. He said yes. I didn’t really care about taking his photo. I still didn’t really trust him. I just wanted to see if he would let me take his picture in full view of his license plate. He did, so maybe everything really was on the up and up.
The whole incident rattled me. Losing all my kit wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, certainly not bad enough to rip a man’s throat out for. It would have cost a lot of money and time to replace everything, and claiming a stolen passport would have been a pain. Even Al is replaceable. But I’ve endured worse in my life.
No, what has really rattled me was how close I was to losing control. Violence has not been in my nature. I’m always the understanding one, the one who remains calm when all hell breaks loose. People have depended on me to keep a cool head throughout my career. And yet today, I feel that if they had done the wrong thing when I confronted them at the car, things could have gone really badly, really quickly.
I don’t even know what the lesson learned is here. I lock up Kitty 100 percent of the time, except for this one time. Desperation for a toilet combined with an absence of anything to which I could lock Kitty made for more drama than was needed.
Right now, I’m at a Timmy’s. I’m calmer. And I’m watching Kitty from the window. She’s locked to a post. And Al is keeping an eye on her.
I’m ready for some more evening walking.
Day 24 – Walk Across Canada
I had my first near miss with a vehicle today. Yikes! But first….
I was getting used to the wonderful shapes and sizes of the homes I walked by in Quebec; brick, stone, log homes, every one seems unique. So I was shocked when I came to a new sub-division outside Sainte-Sophie, where every third house was the same, the fencing was all the same colour, and the siding was all the same, only with slightly different shades of brown.
I was horrified. But this is what we’ve become used to, isn’t it? Nobody goes to an architect anymore to have their houses designed. For the sake of cost, most of us have decided that uniformity is OK. We can always make the interior unique to our liking, after all. It’s when we see uniformity in contrast to the uniqueness of older homes do we even notice.
I was one of those people. I owned a home in a St. Albert suburb in Alberta. The third house down to the left had the same look and the third house down to the right had the same look. We could put up a fence, but we had to follow the exact fencing plan for the neighbourhood, and we all had to use the exact same colour. I didn’t like it. But that’s the way of the new world, so I’ll grin and bear it and accept that travel will keep things fresh.
I’m caught in no man’s land between embracing the new world and resisting it with all my heart. When I arrive in a town, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to distinguish it from any other town. There’s always a Timmy’s, a Subway, a McDonalds and every other kind of franchise. Often, these are the only choices available. Where I struggle is that I really like Timmy’s. I like the soup and sandwich, I know it will always taste good no matter which Timmy’s I’m at, and it’s reasonably priced. And although my dear friend Richard Plourde might gasp to hear this, the coffee is pretty darned good too.
But the best experiences I’ve had have been the meals in the little cafes and mom-and-pop diners along the way. You never really know what kind of experience you’ll have, so it’s always a little bit exciting.
There will always be a market for uniqueness. Almost all of the artisan cafes I’ve been to in the Okanagan are busy all the time. To get a seat in my favourite cafe in Penticton, you’d have to get there pretty early in the day.
Uniformity is becoming the way of the world, though. But I suspect I’ll frequently be seeking out those lovely unique homes and those artisan cafes. They make living more fun and interesting.
And now for the near miss.
I had been eyeing the traffic along highway 158 like a hawk all morning. It was raining, the traffic was very heavy for a Sunday, and the gravel part of the shoulder was so muddy, it was like pushing Kitty through sand. So I took my little bit of asphalt on the five-foot wide shoulder and kept my head up.
There were long lines of vehicles, and there were always a few riding on the white line. Some people were tailgating the cars in front of them, so they only saw me at the last second. Frequently, cars would make little swerves to get off the white line when I came into view. It must have happened 30-40 times. It was unnerving, so I was on heightened alert.
But the near miss was different. Like I said, I was watching the traffic like a hawk. In a line of about 10 vehicles, one pickup truck edged over the line directly at me.
What I’m about to tell you, in real time, happened in about 1.5-2.0 seconds. But I’ll present it like a slow motion replay.
I saw the wheels of the truck cross the line, so in mid-stride I pushed myself to the left of Kitty, out of the line of fire, now with just my right hand on her handle bar. The vehicle didn’t right itself immediately in the lane, so I released my hand from Kitty to let her be annihilated by the demon truck. While this was happening, I raised my eyes to look at the driver and noticed both the iPhone clearly showing above the steering wheel and the look of horror on the face of the middle-aged woman who was driving the truck. I turned my shoulder against the imminent impact and by the grace of good fortune, the woman swerved past, taking away one of Kitty’s nine lives, and leaving Al so speechless with fear that I had to buy him a club sandwich to calm his nerves.
I don’t know about you, but if I was reading a text message while driving and looked up to find myself not only off the road, but also about to knock some poor schmuck wearing a blazing neon green vest into his next lifetime, I would probably have the same look on my face as that woman had.
I wonder if this scare was enough to get her to put her phone away while she’s driving in the future.
I think it might, especially if she thought there was a baby in the stroller.
Pretty soon, though, I’m going to have to have that awkward discussion with Kitty and Al, where I say, “Sorry guys, there wasn’t enough time to save us all, so I decided to save myself.”
After the near miss, I noticed a guy sitting in his truck waiting to enter the highway. He had seen the entire incident. He caught my eye, rubbed the back of his hand across his brow and flicked his wrist. The international sign for “whew, that was a close call.”
You better believe it was, brother.
It rained most of the day today, but I didn’t mind so much. It’s not as cold as it was a few weeks ago, so I didn’t need to wear gloves.
Besides, Rain and I are friends now. I mean, he’s been coming out almost every day since I started this journey, so I figured maybe he just wants to hang out with me. So over a handful of peanuts and M&Ms, we made a pact to be friends.
We have a routine now. Rain dribbles down on me giggling, and then I call him a cry baby. Then we run off to the pub, laughing heartily at our silly antics, slap each other on the back, high five each other, and then take big gulps from our pints of Guinness. Oh, such good times.
Rain won’t really be a good friend, though. He’ll be more like a quasi-good friend. He won’t always be there when I need him and sometimes he’ll show up when I don’t want him around. But we all have friends like that, don’t we? Ones we know aren’t reliable at all, but we still like to hang out with them from time to time?
By the way, the black flies have hatched. I removed the first carcass of the season from my eye today.
Two hours until sunset. See you tomorrow.
Day 25 – Walk Across Canada
I woke up to the sound of the wind. A hearty wind, strong enough to whip through the woods and flip my tent upside down while I was dismantling it.
On the highway, the wind was almost straight in my face. Heavy gusts that momentarily stopped me in my path and then suddenly I would jerk forward after it passed.
As it warmed up, though, I was happy for the wind. It kept the black flies away from my face.
I met up with an old friend today, the Ottawa River. We’ve had some good times together over the years. White water rafting. Swimming. And all those lazy days when I sat along her shores reading books and contemplating life. It’s good to see her again.
I found another religious grotto along the highway this morning. A figure of Mary stands inside. Her halo has an inscription: “Je suis L’Immaculee Conception”. Recommended donation: 50 cents for a small candle and $3.00 for a large one. It was peaceful and I needed a rest, so I sat on the available bench and looked out over the distant farm land.
I stopped for a poutine in a little village about an hour’s walk from Montebello. I’m way ahead of schedule. I’m stopping for the night in Montebello and it’s only 1:00 pm. So why not stop for a poutine? I didn’t tell Kitty and Al though. I told them I was just going inside the restaurant to use the toilet. Hehe.
I arrived in Montebello early to meet my great friend, Leo Lavallee and his wife, Chantal. We’ve been into the wine all afternoon and evening, eating delicious food, and singing to the oldies.
Leo arranged for the fabulous Sylvie to give me a foot massage. I didn’t scream from the pain, but I tried to squirm away from the pain of massage. Felt much better after.
Thanks so much to Leo and his friends for a wonderful, fun-filled evening. Good times.
Day 26 – Walk Across Canada
It’s morning and I’m waking up in the most comfortable bed in the most comfortable home in Montebello, built in 1917, and now with its fifth owners, my friends, Leo Lavallee and his wife Chantal, who own the restaurant Le Cafe Entre Amis, which, according to Trip Advisor, is the second best restaurant in Quebec.
I’m a little dry from all the wine last night and my voice is raw from laughing. It was such a fun time.
One of the things I absolutely love about Montebello is that they have passed a bylaw: No Franchises. So every boutique, shop, hotel, inn, cafe, and restaurant is completely unique. What a happy difference it makes to the senses.
Over the last couple of weeks, many of my friends have offered to reach out to their friends and family to host and feed me along this journey through Quebec. Thanks especially to Richard Plourde, Derrick Steeves, Claude Lavoie, and Margaret O’Dell for this.
I opted not to accept any beds for the last 11 days, and I’ll try to explain why.
For the first two weeks of this journey, I didn’t really feel committed to this walk. It was something that has been sitting on my to do list since I was a boy and I just wanted to get it done so I could move on with my life.
It’s true that I was still putting in the kilometers each day and working hard to build momentum, but there’s a big difference between showing up for work and being committed to one’s work. It’s a mental and spiritual difference.
The best way I knew of to get my head in the game, from previous experience, was to get myself dirty, filthy even, to become an unshaven ragamuffin, to become as comfortable with feeling uncomfortable as I could be, by walking all day and into the evening, sleeping in the forest, being cold and wet and sore and sometimes miserable. And I knew by doing this, it would change my state of mind. It always has worked in the past when I’ve taken on other challenging physical endeavours. It also worked for me all through my military career. The more difficult the circumstances, the tougher I became – physically, mentally, spiritually – for the mission ahead.
And so it has worked again.
I feel now like I am fully committed to this walk. Despite the physical strain I’m putting on my body, this trek is much more of a mental and spiritual game than you might think. And now, after those 11 days of being filthy, I feel like my head and heart are truly in this.
By the time I cross the Ottawa River by ferry into Cumberland at the end of today, I will have completed about 1,430 kms, maybe a bit more from all the detours I had to take, but close enough.
That means I’m averaging 55 kms per day, which is so totally beyond what I thought my body would be capable of that I’m shocked. And not only is my body surviving, it seems to be thriving on this activity.
A few years ago, I read about a guy who walked across the United States, averaging 80 kms per day. So 55 kms per day seems mild in comparison. Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised at the workload my body is able to out each day. It’s just that I’ve never done this much distance before, so I’m surprised.
I think this is the same for all of us. Once we start on a project or endeavor, we often surprise ourselves with what we are capable of accomplishing.
Some friends have suggested I take a rest, that this pace is not sustainable. They may be right. But it also hasn’t felt like I’ve really pushed my limits yet either. I’m not really ready for a break. I’ve got too much momentum going for me right now.
My body feels strong. I’ve lost a few pounds and am feeling lean and light. I can walk the first five hours of the day now without even thinking about it or feeling like I need a break. Since I started, I’ve overcome leg swelling, a painful rash on both legs, numerous blisters, and a right quad injury. Now, my legs and body feel like they have adjusted to the workload and I don’t want to disappoint them by taking a long rest.
So I’ve set a new target for myself. I’d like to finish this walk by August 15, which is about 37 days faster than I thought I could do it, but a little bit slower than the pace I’ve set so far.
I’m more excited now about this walk than ever. And I have all of you to thank. Your enthusiasm and positive comments are infectious. You lift me up with your cheering. Thank you so much for that.
I’m at the Ottawa River ferry crossing to Cumberland. Dad will be waiting on the other side. We’ll probably get into his liquor cabinet tonight, so I hope my body is ready for a little more abuse. Hehe