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Day 55 – June 14 – Walk Across Canada
I’m at a family restaurant for breakfast in Upsala. Everyone’s talking about the storm we had in the middle of the night. It woke up everyone in town, except for one guy who looks suspiciously like an alien. The giveaway is that he’s wearing a baseball cap with the logo ‘Intergalactic Seniors Games’, which I can read clearly from the other side of the room without my glasses. (Later, I walked close to him and saw it was a Blue Jays logo.)
I was in my tent, of course, and listened to the whole storm. The tent was shaking and pulling at the stakes, like I was being attacked by the ghost of a she-bear. “Easy, girl,” I said, “easy. Blueberries are over in the next field. Run along now.”
Lightning strikes were everywhere, followed by the thunder. It was getting closer. At one point, I saw a flash and heard the crack of thunder in the same instant. And then a little scream. Was that Al? Poor fella. Maybe he can do the walking and I’ll guard the camp at night. I’ll discuss it with him once his heart starts again.
There’s not much you can do in a storm if you’re in a tent except wait it out. For myself, after that nearby lightning strike, I decided that if I was to be hit by lightning, I’d rather be sleeping. So I closed my eyes and nodded off again to the sound of rain pouring onto my tent.
When I woke up, it was still raining lightly and I had a dozen slugs visiting. “Good morning, fellas,” I said, cheerily. They didn’t say good morning back, so I knocked them off the tent.
The weather forecast doesn’t look all that nice. Rain is expected almost every day for the next ten days. I can see that red licorice needs to be added to my grocery list for purposes of morale. I haven’t seen jujubes on the shelf anywhere since Sudbury, so licorice had been the substitute. They were just waiting for their chance to get in the game.
The road has been mostly flat and straight for the last couple of days. It’s been typical walking along a one-foot asphalt shoulder. On the road and off the road again, although if I don’t hear any traffic behind me, I hold my place on the asphalt and vehicles go around me. I’ve only had to send mental daggers after two drivers who passed vehicles behind me when I was walking in the passing lane. (No, I didn’t end up getting a mirror in Thunder Bay.) One of the cyclists I met said that, if he remembers correctly, the paved shoulder widens permanently after Dryden, which I will pass through midday Saturday. I’m cautiously excited about it.
It was getting close to the supper hour, so I eagerly anticipated my arrival in the town of English River. A billboard had promised a restaurant. “OPEN”, the billboard promised. But it wasn’t. The restaurant was closed, permanently by the look of it. Along the highway, another building was boarded up and the English River Inn, the one place I might get a meal and charge my phone, only catered to guests. I saw just a single home off the highway. Sigh. The town had such promise.
So now, I’m sitting by the English River, eating peanuts and M&Ms, and trying not to scratch what appears to be a horse-fly bite. He got me good while I was doing my business in the woods. They seem to know when you’re most vulnerable. Buggers.
It’s early. I’ve got more than four hours of light left and I’ve already walked over 50 kms. Looks like a 65- to70-km day. There’s nothing else to do except walk and listen to the frogs try to attract a mate.
Day 56 – June 15 – Walk Across Canada
It’s been a low-morale day for the most part, with an unexpected turn of events that I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams. Read on, friends.
I survived another thunderstorm in my tent. There was a severe weather warning last night for Dryden, which was about 150 kms away. I caught a piece of it, rain, lightning, thunder, but the lightning never came closer than 7 seconds away.
I lost some sleep last night for another reason. I kept hearing a noise like something was outside my tent. I made some coughing sounds, but it persisted. I then blew my whistle, and it stopped. But then I heard it again later. There was definitely something out there, and very close to the tent. Finally, I opened up the tent and flashed my light outside. Nothing. Everything looked normal. Al was keeping a good eye on the campsite. So I went back to bed. Just as I was falling asleep, I heard the rustling again. Was there something in the tent with me? I flashed my light, but there was nothing. Perhaps there were mice running through the moss under my tent. I pressed down but couldn’t feel anything. Finally, I opened my tent again and looked out. Still nothing. It was only then that I noticed the branch of the little shrub rubbing against the tent fly. Aha! And I went back to sleep.
I was tired today. Very tired. I’m tired of fighting off the hoards of deer flies and horse flies all day and the mosquitoes all night, after having spent the last three weeks fighting off the black flies. I’m tired of this godforsaken highway 17, which, as part of a national trans-Canada highway system, is nothing less than a slap in the face to the safety of cyclists and pedestrians. I’m tired of focusing so intently on the traffic heading toward me, and sending out the mental message, “share the road, share the road, share the road”. I’m tired of the rain. I’m tired of idiot drivers who drift close to me with their cell phones perched on top of their steering wheels. I’m tired of the selfish drivers who, for whatever reason, refuse to share the road. I’m tired of drivers who tailgate other vehicles and swerve to miss me at the last second. And I’m tired of drivers displaying a complete lack of empathy by passing vehicles behind me when I’m on the highway and can’t see them. I’m just plain tired.
Today, I gave a driver the finger for the first time. It’s not the kind of person I want to be, but I’d had enough, and I just gave it to him with as many mental daggers that I could muster. He was headed straight for me along the white line while I was trying to grab some asphalt. I quickly looked behind me to see if he was avoiding oncoming traffic, but the highway was empty. He kept coming at me, so I pulled Kitty off the asphalt into the dirt. This is usually enough to satisfy the handful of drivers who drift toward me to, seemingly, ‘teach me a lesson’ for trying to walk on the asphalt, but this guy kept coming straight toward me. So I ditched Kitty, took a step aside and gave the jerk the finger. I held that finger up for two full seconds before the guy noticed and swerved back into his lane.
Then I went back to being tired.
The unexpected turn of events happened while I was having some food in a restaurant in Ignace. A guy came up to the table and asked if I was the one who was pushing the stroller. Then he apologized for almost hitting me on the highway. Me: Are you the guy I gave the finger to?
Him: Yes. And thank you for doing it. I was daydreaming and when you lifted your hand and gave me the finger, it woke me up. So thanks.
And we shook hands.
You just can’t make this shit up. Real life is more bizarre than fiction.
Here’s how I deal with a low-morale day. I just keep walking. Putting in some kilometers is the best recipe for dealing with the blues. Walking is the key success factor in the completion of this cross-Canada quest. You can always start to feel better when you continue to take steps toward your goal, even if at the moment you feel that the goal sucks.
Ontario has been tough on me. I’ve endured bites from black flies, mosquitoes, deer flies, and horse flies. I’m still suffering from a poison-ivy rash. I’ve been walking along the worst part of the trans-Canada highway for weeks. And I’ve had to deal with the worst drivers, not necessarily because Ontario has the worst drivers, but because highway 17 just highlights the worst. It’s been a tough go.
But every morning, I still get up and say, “Dave, you only need to walk 8 hours today.” Although now I’ve changed my mantra to 9.5 hours/day. And so I do it.
Most of the time after I’ve had a break, I really don’t feel like getting back on the highway and facing that traffic again. But I do it anyway. I’m stubborn, which can be a good thing when trying to achieve a goal. And if dealing with the challenges of bugs, poor highways, and bad drivers is what it takes to achieve the goal, then bring it on, Baby!
It’s not all hardship, of course. There are good days with sunshine, nice views, and nice people. It’s what makes all this worthwhile. Without the challenges, how could we ever appreciate our good fortunes?
So today, with my morale low, I walk on toward the better tomorrow.
Day 57 – June 16 – Walk Across Canada
I was overwhelmed with love for all my FB friends who commented so nicely after my low-morale day yesterday. Thanks to all of you.
Today is a better day, as we all knew it would be. I had a good long sleep in an excellent stealthy spot off the highway and woke up as chipper as a chipmunk.
In the morning, I had a meeting with Al and Kitty and I made the motion that I wouldn’t give the finger to any more drivers on this trip. “It’s a failure of good character and discipline,” I said, trying to sound wise. The motion passed, but in the minutes, I wrote, “Dave shall not give the finger to any more drivers on this trip (although mental daggers are okay)”. Hehe. Don’t tell Al and Kitty.
So this morning when a driver of a transport came toward me, initially swinging wide to give me space, and then swerving back toward me in a way to suggest that he was avoiding oncoming traffic, but me realizing this wasn’t the case after a turn of my head revealed an empty highway, and then watching him edge across the white line on the shoulder side, causing me to jump off the road, and then my realizing that this was happening because of either a case of gross driver negligence, or a case of a driver trying to ‘teach me a lesson’ about trying to take a few inches of asphalt in the driver’s lane, or a case of a driver wanting to have a little fun with a pedestrian in the absence of witnesses, well, I can assure you that I DID NOT, I repeat DID NOT, give the driver the finger. Instead, i watched him disappear down the road behind me as if he didn’t have a care in the world, other than the mental dagger that was flying towards him and aimed at his testicles. I turned to Al and said, “Did you just see what that idiot did?” But Al didn’t respond. He was cleaning out his underpants.
A police officer stopped by today to wish me well and to see if I needed water. And later on, another stopped to see if I was ok. What nice officers.
The funny thing about having a good day is that everything just seems to go your way. For instance, today I went looking for something in my daypack, and I came across a full bag of forgotten jelly beans. Whoa! It was the mother lode! I hadn’t even opened it yet.
So for much of the afternoon, I walked down the road singing:
“Would you like to swing on a star?
Carry jelly beans home in a jar?
Eating handfuls wherever you are?
Or would you rather eat some Nibs?”
I wonder if Frank Sinatra would approve.
While I was eating some jelly beans at a snow plow turnaround point, a transport truck pulled in. I chatted up the two drivers, who were switching for the next 12-hour shift. Shifts are 4:00 to 4:00, 11 days on and 2 days off, for about $60,000-70,000 per year.
I asked them if they like their jobs and both said ‘no’. It’s a tough gig. One guy is married, has children, and an east-European accent. “It’s hard. When I get home after 11 days, my kids want to play, but I’m exhausted. But what can I do? I don’t have a university degree or special skills, and I have to support my family.”
The two guys have been working together for 11 years.
“Do you two get along?” I asked.
“Oh sure. When someone says something the other doesn’t like, we’ve learned to keep our mouths shut.”
We talked about highway 17. “It’s the worst highway in Canada,” the one fellow said. “There’s no consideration for truckers or cyclists. The lanes are narrow and it’s not always easy to see the cyclists.”
I told him I had met at least a dozen cross-Canada cyclists already.
“It isn’t even the height of the season yet,” he said. “Soon this highway will be packed with cyclists and walkers. Aboriginal people walk along this highway all summer long. People cross this country on all types of contraptions. Last year, we saw two guys near Wawa who were skateboarding across Canada. Every year, a few people are killed on this highway. But nothing is done about it.”
Indeed. I saw a roadside memorial for four people who have died on this highway. Today, I passed two aboriginal teenagers. Neither was walking against the traffic and neither was wearing any sort of safety jacket. I can see how it’s possible that bad things happen.
I bid adieu to my new trucker friends. As a matter of course, I had been waving thanks to truckers who gave me space on the highway. Now I’m doing it not just with my hand, but with my spirit.
A police officer just stopped while I was writing this. One of the teenagers I passed seems to be missing, or late arriving somewhere. When I had passed the teen, he had asked me what time it was, so he must have known he was running late. Hopefully it turns out well.
Until tomorrow, my friends.