The Hitchhiker's Guide to Canada: Day 1: Princess Ben

After a morning spent canoeing, Ben finally begins his 5,000km adventure hitchhiking across Canada

With the Sun shining brightly and maple syrup coated pancakes being served for breakfast my first day hitchhiking got off to what felt like a pretty good start. Best of all though was knowing that with just 300km planned for my first day's hitchhike I had a good few hours free to spend with my hosts who last night revealed their plans to take me canoeing.

After hours practicing my strokes on the beaver pond in Tweed it felt great to be back on the water
So upon licking my plate clean and strapping the canoe to the roof of the car, Tom, Katie and myself headed for the highway that will eventually lead me out to the Pacific Ocean and realising the significance of this moment I felt the most almighty tingle run the length of my spine.

Tom, Katie and myself
In the meantime though our destination for now was Squirrel Rapids in Algonquin Park which whilst initially filling me with concern given we only had a canoe, I was promptly reassured by Tom that we'd be steering well clear of any rapids sticking only to a series of interconnected lakes. In fact I was told by Tom that the most danger I could expect to face would take the shape of dead heads, which again, whilst initially leading to a raised eyebrow turned out to simply be the name given to the remains of trees which have fallen into the water during torrential rainstorms.

Deadheads aside though, it was beautiful. I have to say that after spending all those hours back in Tweed practicing my strokes out on the beaver pond it felt just wonderful to be back on the water. What was nice too was with two other people in the canoe it meant that one person got at some point to sit in the middle and do nothing but enjoy the ride - a position Tom and Katie likingly referred to as being "Princess".

Every man deserves to one day have the opportunity to be a princess and today was my day
But as wonderful as being a princess was I would later pay for it heavily receiving through the course of the trip the most almighty of sunburn and since my bleach-white pasty thighs have hidden from direct sunlight for what must I guess be years I knew the damage within just a few short hours would be nothing short of horrific.

Portaging and walking with the canoe every drop of available concentration

So making the most of the last hour or two where I could still walk without wanting to cry I gave my best shot at portaging the canoe before saying a massive thank you to my hosts who over the last 24hrs had gone to a lot of effort to make me feel exceptionally welcome in their home, providing not only a place to sleep but great food and a canoe trip so memorable that it is literally etched in to my skin.

Alas though the time I had finally come and as Tom and Katie drove out of my life and back towards Ottawa I turned to face the opposite direction and the biggest challenge of my life so far. And at this moment in time I have to say I felt... well, unsure actually of just what I was feeling. You see after working towards this moment for nearly six weeks and thinking a great deal about both the risks and opportunities I open myself up to it was strange to suddenly be starting out on what either way I knew would be an adventure. I guess when I think about it I was partly excited, a little bit daunted but most of all filled with apprehension as to whether 300km (187 miles) was an achievable distance to cover before nightfall, for you must remember, I have only once before stood on the side of the road like this and whilst it might have been a success then it was by no means a guarantee that today would go the same way. And so with a lot hinging on today's performance I put on some music, begun smiling at the oncoming traffic and let my thumb go to work.

Where it all begins
- - - Thumb's Up in Petawawa at 15:30 - - -

Ride 001: Derek. 21km from Petawawa to Chalk River
The first of what I hoped would be many rides came in the form of Derek, who in his early 20s and wearing full military uniform was an army medic at the military base in Petawawa. Derek was very pleasant and whilst only taking me 10% of the way it was a good first ride to get me in to the swing of things.

Ride 002: Eppo. 21km from Chalk River to Deep River
Eppo was a legend - it is as simple as that. In the short period of time I spent with him I developed a level of admiration that was far superior to perhaps anybody else I have ever met?

Originally from Holland, Eppo who now in his mid-40s came to Canada when he was younger looking for work where luckily within a short period of time landed himself a job working as a janitor at the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories which is a site of major research and development to support and advance nuclear technology (Wikipedia's words, not mine).

Anyway, fast forward to today and Eppo works in an established position within their research unit helping to determine what is deemed safe for workers who handle radioactive material. What was most amazing though is that he made this happen entirely himself - for having never studied beyond school age, Eppo self-taught everything there is to know on nuclear physics using the laboratory library alone and after proving his newly found knowledge was promoted all the way from janitor to eventually the position he holds today.

A remarkable story and a true gentlemen.

Ride 003: Graleila. 14km from Deep River to Melleurs Bay
I was under the impression that to secure a ride whilst hitchhiking you had to make clear your intentions by holding out your thumb or at least displaying a tatty cardboard sign. I was somewhat surprised then when with both hands down my trousers "reconfiguring everything downstairs" a car pulled over and signalled the offer of a ride.

Now like me you are probably wondering what sort of crazy person see's some guy on the side of the road with his hands down his pants and offers him a ride!? The answer it seems is a tiny middle-aged Ukranian lady who with a name that sounded something like "Gra-lay-la" had an indecipherable accent and ended up dropping me off in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.

Ride 004: Hank. 14km from Melleurs Bay to Mackey
Also from Holland, Hank was my third consecutive ride to have emigrated here from Europe. Much older though Hank was virtually deaf and with the window rolled down and the wind blowing through the car he did little to help either of us hear what the other was saying.

That said, from what I gathered Hank was clearly a very nice gentlemen and during the short time I was with him I was told (I think) about his forthcoming trip back home to Holland this summer which whilst sounds nice was in fact a little sad as he said he expected it to be his last.

Ride 005: Old farmer couple. 10km from Mackey to Yates Road
So they didn't introduce themselves as "Old Farmer Couple" but its what I have written in my notes and as grateful as I was for them picking me up these two were frighteningly frigid, barely moving the entire journey. Again, despite landing in the middle of nowhere with suddenly little passing traffic I was happy to get out of the vehicle.
"17:30 - Where have all the cars gone? And why are my legs so bloody sunburned!?"
"17:44 - GET IN!!! Just landed my first truck and he's going way past North Bay... He is right now in the shop buying a drink so guess I should put this down. Right, stop typing..."
Rod's Truck
Ride 006: Rod. 129km Yates Road to North Bay
With "Live Free or Die" tatooed on his left forearm, Rod looked like what my mind conjures up when I think of a Trucker.

From Quebec, Rod was travelling heading half way across the country in his new truck which throughout the two hour journey he was all too keen to show off to me, ensuring by the time we got to North Bay I was familiar with every knob, dial and pulley within the cab.
Rod drives an astonishing 5,300km a week
Then some half an hour before arriving in to North Bay, Rod spends the best part of a minute fishing around behind my seat during which he paid only a worrying amount of attention on the road. Eventually (I use this word purposefully as it felt much longer) his arm emerged revealing to me a baseball cap and with almost a child's innocence he said to me:
"That's for you Ben. To remember this journey by."
Accepting the cap gracefully I placed it on to my head to discover clearly that Rod must have been wearing it just prior to picking me up for it was soaking in his sweat. I tried my best to continue smiling but I just couldn't do it. As I went to take it off though I immediately clocked Rod's eyes losing their apparent innocence saddened it seemed by this apparent act of rejection. Thankfully, just as he went to say something I jumped in to thank him for his kindness.

Clearly though this had little impact as Rod still looked unimpressed and so thinking on my feet I reached for my backpack and said:
"Now I know what I'm like... this is going straight in my backpack. Last thing I'd want to do is leave this behind!?" 
Rod smiled and as his focus moved back to driving I simply sat back in my seat and wrote in my notes:
"Just been handed a baseball cap. Nice of him but can still feel his sweat and soaking wet. Will keep for sure but it's going to need a hot wash before I think about wearing it again"
- - - Pack Down in North Bay at 19:50 - - -

Upon arriving in North Bay my first mission was simple: aftersun because if I didn't know better I'd have guessed somebody had for the last few hours been grating the skin from my legs and dousing them in a salt-lemon combo. It was just as I had expected... horrific.

But half a bottle of aftersun and 45 minutes later I arrived on the doorstep of Kim where I have to say I was pretty happy to arrive almost exactly when I had hoped. Kim, also in her early 20s had just graduated from University here in North Bay and was living in a 3 bedroom house which apart from the kitchen which was pretty filthy, the house lay almost entirely bare.
"Spent the night drinking beers with Kim. Off to sleep with legs stinging like ****" 
The night that followed was if I'm honest nothing special and although I got to drink a few beers with Kim and some of her friends it did little in the way to distract me from just how unbelievably hot and sore my legs continued to be. Eventually though, after what had been a very long and tiring day I settled down where fortunately I was tired enough that despite sleeping on nothing but bare carpet I had little difficulty in getting to sleep.

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Today at a Glance
Awoke in: Arnprior, Ontario
Sleeping in: North Bay, Ontario 

Time travelling today: 04hrs20mins
Distance traveled today: 196km
Rides today: 6 

Planned arrival time: 18:00 - 21:00
Actual arrival time: 19:50 

Highlight: Cross between meeting Eppo and my new cap
Lowlight: My new cap

Total time travelling: 04hrs 20mins
Total distance covered: 196km
Total rides: 6