Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The centre of the Universe, Log Cabins and kielbasa sandwiches.

The 401 guided me into Toronto with much ease around dusk.  My destination was metro Toronto, right smack dab in the central core.  My friend Dann had an apartment with his pregnant girlfriend a couple of blocks from Canada’s premiere landmark, the CN Tower.  The transition from sandy beach to skyscrapers was jarring.  Instead of birch trees lining the water, it was buildings and light poles along the busy streets.

I was on the phone with my mom coming into downtown, and we were arguing about something.  I hadn’t talked to her in a while and was a bit perturbed knowing that our only time speaking in weeks had degraded into a fight about some stupid motor that I was supposed to NOT pick up in Northern Ontario.  My phone died and I reached my destination on Nelson St. simultaneously.  I had to text Dann to come down and meet me, but I had wasted the precious remaining energy in my cell arguing with my mom.  I plugged my phone into the AC converter in the car, and got the phone up and running.  I sent a text to Dann who replied almost instantly, stating he’d see me soon.  My mother called back shortly after, apologized, as did I, and we spoke until Dann burst through the giant wooden door of his condo lobby.

 He was beaming as was I.  It had been two years since we last saw each other in the flesh.  He jumped in my car and we went to the underground parking.  We got to his apartment about ten stories up and he took me out onto his deck, which faced the CN Tower.  It was so close I felt I could reach out and grab it.  The apartment was like a shoebox, but the spectacular view made up for the condensed living space.


We made our way to the roof of the building, which was bustling with activity.  Young twenty-something Torontonians littered the roof like broken glass.  Everyone was a Venus or an Adonis in their own way, while I was looking like a beach bum gang banger, and was too tired to really care if I fit in or not.  I met Dann`s baby mama and girlfriend, a tall sultry blond named Jaclyn, his sister and her boyfriend.  I was offered some potato salad, burnt chicken and greens and wolfed all three down with vulture like violence.  I had skipped the road meal from Sandbanks in the hopes my hunger would be satiated upon my arrival in the big city, which gratefully, it was.

Dann and I wandered downtown Toronto while Jaclyn retired for the evening.  We visited the Horseshoe, one of the city`s more famous landmarks in the music scene.  The small club has hosted some of Rock n`Rolls biggest acts; the Stone`s, Ramone`s and U2 to name a few.  Even at midnight on a Wednesday the streets are alive in Ontario`s capitol.  We wandered aimlessly and talked about life, its many twists and turns, and mentally jabbed each other, each of our egos vying for the upper hand in the bright city night.

I had a hard time sleeping that night, the sounds of T-oh like an ocean of noxious noise; sirens, honking horns, yelling, more sirens, car alarms and custom car exhaust systems kept me awake, their din amplified by the tall buildings. I realized I had packed earplugs, and put them in, and found a few hours of solace.  The next morning was humid, and light streamed in through the 30 foot high, uncovered windows.  The rubber air mattress had a layer of my perspiration trapped between it and my arm.  I got up, checked my email and facebook and looked for something to eat.  Jaclyn was up shortly after and we hung out for a bit, talking about pregnant life, and her plan to move with Dann out of the city mid-August.  I petted Cal, the world`s cutest bulldog and hopped into my first shower in about 3 days.  It was Dann`s 35th birthday and our plan was to go and pick up a gift and drop off his lunch.

Jaclyn and I wandered the downtown core, meeting up with Dann, who had been at work for a few hours already, and handed off his lunch.  We went to a music store to find Dann the guitar he wanted for his birthday, it was out of stock, but I had a great time hanging out for a quarter of an hour in front of the store.  People in big cities are always in a big hurry, and if you look into the faces of pedestrians passing you by on the streets, they are in their own worlds, full of worry and sometimes joy.  When you have a big cute bulldog, and you are sitting in front of a music store on Queen St, in the heart of the city, when people see that dog they are temporarily snapped out of their mental dramas and smile.  That dog brought presence and joy to about 30 strangers, in a span of 15 minutes.  For a dog that can`t swim, or do any tricks, he was a master of inner city, joy cultivation.

That evening we celebrated at Wayne Gretzky`s bar with a few of Dann`s friends and co-workers.  I drank a virgin Caesar followed by a red bull and had a great time socializing with a great group of people.  It was a beautiful night and we commiserated on the enormous patio until after dark.  I had been corresponding via text with my friend Neil in Hamilton and decided I would head over and pay him a late night visit.
Only in Toronto will traffic come to a dead stop at 11 pm, but thems the breaks in a city that does the majority of its road work after dark.  I got to Hamilton around midnight and knocked on the well maintained town home of my friend Neil.  My old mentor answered the door and it felt good to see him.  He welcomed me in and we drank lemonade and talked into the early morning hours.  The next morning Neil whipped up a nice breakfast and I was back on the road to Toronto.

When Dann finished work we packed up my car, gassed up and hit the road, destination: Jaclyn`s folks log cabin, twenty minutes from picturesque Bobcaygeon Ontario.  To all of our surprise, the six o`clock traffic was eerily fast moving, truly baffling for Toronto traffic, where a two hour rush hour is the rule not the exception.  We made good time to the cottage arriving with the evenings twilight still lingering.

Jaclyn`s parents, Keith and Marcia waved us into the cabin, which was still under construction but nonetheless impressive.  The main space was all open concept, with the kitchen and living room clearly visible to one another.  I was introduced to Jaclyn`s sister Ashley and her husband Andrew, a sweet couple who were only a couple weeks earlier in Athens competed in the special Olympics.  Dann introduced me to Reba, Jaclyn’s youngest 16 year old sister with whom he had a catty and snarky rapport.

We grabbed some grub, a homemade vegetarian chilli, and sat around the fire.  Jaclyn`s parents were warm, salt of the earth people who made me feel totally welcome as they peppered me with questions about my one grand adventure.  I was more than happy to be the centre of attention responding to their queries with enthusiasm.  Everyone else turned in except for Dann and I, and we spent a couple of hours once again talking about life, and the future.

The next day was a plethora of activity, I was thinking I would start driving west again, but felt it would be a waste of a perfectly sunny day to spend it on the road to Sault St. Marie.  So I hung out with Dann and his girlfriend`s welcoming family, and went snorkeling, swimming and tried unsuccessfully again to fly fish.  This last attempt to use my barely used rod resulted in me pulling it out of the case only to find the tip snapped off.  I tried in vain to work the rod, but that final loop and tip are there for a reason, obviously no fish were caught that day.  A happy camper I was not, but I moved on.

I enjoyed hanging out with the Mitchell family and they were very funny people who enjoyed being outside as much as I do.  Marcia told me about her own travels, and those of her brother, a dude who traveled the entire world on a motorcycle, an awesome feat worth mentioning.  

The next day was a work day.  I got out my work/hiking boots and a pair of ripped jeans and with Keith acting as foreman, Dann, Andrew and I began putting together the rest of the cabin’s solid maple floor.  Never having done a floor before I was eager to learn more, and I did.  Keith was a patient and talented foreman, the entire cabin he had built pretty much himself from the ground up.  I am envious of those individuals who possess enough skill with building and carpentry that they can build an entire house with their own talents and ingenuity.  I have added this endeavor to my own bucket list.

After a good six hours of work, we grabbed a bar of soap and made for the lake.  Covered in sawdust, glue and blisters we dove into the cool waters and refreshed ourselves and our souls.  A job well done and a new skill learned, I was ready to make my way to Sault St. Marie, and then my birth town of Sioux Lookout the following day.

I offered my thanks, and Dann being the good friend he is helped me out with 60 well needed dollars.  The budget was wearing very thin.  With Dann’s contribution my total leaving southern Ontario was $230.  I was a bit worried to say the least, however, I tried to focus on the fact that I still had money, I was leaving with a full belly and a cooler of food packed for me by Marcia.  I was still abundant and I just kept telling myself I will be OK.  I am going to keep going, the universe will provide.

Surely a part of me was saying: ”yeah right”.  However the skeptic in me wasn’t the one who made it through the Maritimes and back into Ontario.  The skeptic wasn’t responsible for all the good fortune, good people and good weather.  Something else was, and that something else, has told me time and time again to be patient, to live in joy and to trust in it and myself.  I know all I have to do is have faith and keep moving west, and so at three o’clock in the afternoon that is exactly what I did.

I said goodbye, again.  I looked west and set the GPS for Sault Saint Marie Ontario, over 600 kilometers away.  I knew I wouldn’t be getting to town till after 11pm and would be spending the night in my car.

The drive through the Muskoka region was beautiful, and I could see the scenery changing into the familiar Canadian Shield country that I have grown to love and associate with homecoming. Rocky outcrops spattered with lakes and marsh, ideal habitat for the moose was all around me and the sun was shining the entire way.

I arrived in Sault Saint Marie, stopped at a McDonalds and bought a hamburger for $1.89 and pulled out the laptop and utilized the free wi-fi to check my email.  It was about 2am, much later then I had anticipated getting to town, and now I had to find a place to park and sleep.  I found such a place behind the Royal Order of the Moose’s lodge just off the trans-Canada and off I went into the back seat, I was out in a few seconds.

I woke up to my phone ringing and it hung up before I could orient myself and locate it.  It was 7:30 am and the phone read: “missed call from Dad 2”.  I called the number back and talked to my Dad who I tried to call the night before with no luck to let him know I would be delayed a day.  I told him I’d be in Sioux Lookout late, and to be ready for me.  I kept the call brief, since 25 cents a minute ain’t cheap.  

I went to a Food Basics and grabbed some groceries, yogurt, some kolbassa sausage and some other small on sale items.  Total bill: $7.81.  I had to also refill on gas, that bill was almost fifty bucks.   Budget was down to about $180… not good, and I knew I’d have to refill again before the day was through as my GPS was telling me it would be 1059kms to Sioux Lookout Ontario.  I headed out of Sault St. Marie bypassing the downtown core and heading right for highway 17, my golden ticket into northern Ontario.

I turned up my ipod and settled into the ass groove of my bucket seats, it was going to be a long day of driving.  As I was heading out of town I saw a hitcher on the side of the road with a cardboard sign with TBAY scrawled in heavy permanent ink.  He was a huge, harmless looking kid wearing a tank top.  For some reason I imagined he was some farmer’s kid running away from home and looking for his shot at taking on the empire all by himself.  These are the weird thoughts that pop into my head.  Anyways, I was going too fast to stop safely and I vowed that I would pick up the next hitchhiker instead.  A long drive goes quicker when you have someone to talk to.

About fifteen minutes later I had a conversation buddy and my new friend Jake had himself a nice one thousand km ride.  He was wearing a Bob Marley tank top, had a beard as long as my own mange, and an army cap.  I liked him immediately.

Jake was in the same boat as me.  No job, no plan, spiritually inclined but economically declined.  We were also exactly the same age and were both recovering from break ups that happened late in 2010.  The parallels were uncanny to say the least. We talked about conspiracy and spirituality from A to Z.

We stopped and shared food together the entire day, I provided mustard and kielbasa sandwiches and he provided candy and crackers.  I told him about my blog and my videos and he told me about his idea to do a documentary on hitch hiking.  In the hope that springs from new friendship we agreed to collaborate together in the future.

Jake was making for Tofino in BC on Vancouver Island; I promised I would track him down as soon as I got there.  I gassed up in scenic Terrace Bay, a friendly outpost town and my budget was down to around $135 bucks.  Jake bought me a coffee and we were on our way once more.

As the day dissolved into afternoon, evening and dusk, we caught sight of a bear, then a moose.  Jake, a shaman in training told me these were good omens, and I was inclined to agree.  My turn off to Sioux had passed around 9pm; we had made really good time.  It was time to say our goodbyes; I drove Jake to an abandoned school outside a small town called Wabigon on the outskirts of Dryden Ont.  We exchanged emails, and gave each other a good hug.  The time shared was life changing for both of us, I waved farewell and off I went, keeping hope in my heart that we would indeed see each other again in Tofino.

Me and the third hitch hiker on the trip: A great guy named Jake.

I turned onto HWY 72, the 45 minute home stretch into Sioux Lookout.  The sun was setting and the northern sky was a sombre and beautiful, upside-down lake of pinks and blues.  A baby doe, on the side of the highway scurried away into the bush upon my approach, its white spotted back vanishing into the underbrush. 

This was a good omen, a good omen indeed.

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