We had not stood more than 15 minutes on a major street with a sign with red lettering which said "ALASKA BOUND" before a pickup stopped. "Hop in!", said a man. "I aint going far but I can take you out of town. Alaska, huh? Wish I could go with you." Out of the city of Lewiston, Maine, we quickly picked up another ride which took us close to the Canadian border. We walked to the Canadian border where we were asked what we were about, how long we were planning to stay and how much money we had. At first we were denied entry because we had only $200 between us. "Insufficient" they said. Then I remembered that I had dual citizenship--I was a Canadian and American citizen. I gave the immigration officer the information he needed. We waited 3 hours before he could check the records and the laws and finally let us through. The $200 was sufficient to allow Joe Caron entry. The rule did not apply to me, since I was a Canadian citizen. We were warned that hitchhiking was illegal in Canada, as it was in the states.
We hiked 5 miles before resuming with the sign. By midnight, we found ourselves in Sherbrook, Quebec, about 200 miles from home. We ate a healthy piece of my mother's fruit cake with a good spread of peanut butter and continued to walk, hopeful that another ride would come. By 1:00 A.M. A van stopped. "Where are you going?" they asked in french. "Alaska" I said (in French). "hop in". We slept all the way to Ottawa, through innumerable stops to drop off newspapers at key points. They were kind enough to take us to the the other side of the city on the outskirts, where our chances for a ride were best. It was not long before a traveling salesman stopped and offered us a deal. Help drive, he said, and we could make it halfway across the country in two days. We did and found ourselves two days later in Regina, a small gold and copper-mining town above the great lakes. People here were not very friendly--very distrustful of strangers. No rides all day but several drivers tried to scare us off the road. One of these drivers continued to come by several times, driving within inches of our bodies. I later recognized him as the man who invited us to stay in his establishment for the night, the constable who gave us each a jail cell so that he could "get a night's rest". In the morning, he escorted us out of town.
We were thankful for the ride. The next ride was with a retired man in a small pickup truck. He wanted Joe to drive--but no more than 40 miles per hour as the cars passed us at 70 miles per hour. I had to ride in the back of the truck with my poncho over my head to keep out the cold rain. How I wished I had a pillow for my rump! On occasion the man would go to sleep and Joe would speed up to 60 miles per hour. The man was generous to his driver and passenger--bought us a meal and let us sleep on the floor of his motel room. On the second day we could take the snail's pace no longer and thanked him in Saskatoon, Saskatchuan. We were tired and wet. Our gear was damp and it continued to downpour. We set up the ponchos into a tent and bedded down for the night. It was a miserable night with little sleep. We were both edgy. We quickly caught another ride in the morning which took us to Dawson in the Yukon. Here we spent the night at a hotel to lift our spirits. Our skin still burned from the toxic chemicals in the river water where we bathed beneath a bridge in Regina.
We tossed a coin for the first to use the tub. While I took a nice hot bath, Joe went out and bought us a nice chinese meal. In the morning we were rejuvenated and in high spirits again.
We did not really experience many significant events so far on this journey but somehow time had become distorted. It felt like we had been on the road for months and we somehow felt like we had assimilated more knowledge than we could recognize. For sure we had seen things which we had never before seen like the inside of a jail, the intimidations of a constable, the chemical burns from a toxic river bath, the midwest desert of wheat and endlessly boring roads, the replacement of the beautiful eastern trees like the paper-birch and maple by poplars. We saw rivers of caterpillars which were so thick on the highway as to make driving and walking hazardous. We met friendly young waitresses drawn by the allure of adventure, vicariously taking the trip with us away from their humdrum lives. We drank much free coffee loaded with sugar and cream. We met people of Russian, French, English, Chinese, and Swedish decent and many Native Americans. I really felt sad for the man and his family in Sault St.Marie. They had a beautiful expensive camper on the back of a pickup-truck. The fuel pump had failed. He jury-rigged a can of gasoline under the hood to gravity-feed his engine. As he started the engine the can exploded under the hood spreading the instant fire all over the front of the cab. They barely had time to evacuate with the two children before everything went up in flames. The woman tongue-lashed that man without mercy before the crying children. What a way to spend a vacation. We saw a car hit a bear which rolled over the hood and flattened the top of the car, locking in the passengers in the overturned vehicle. No one was seriously hurt. The victim bear lay in the road suffering for an hour before being dispatched by the bullet of an RCMP. We only saw small events in a slowly turning world but strangely felt older and wiser, as if we could see things through new spectacles.
I shall never forget the marker in the form of an obelisk at the center of Dawson. Here visitors would hang a sign to show where they were from. The traffic island was littered with signs--a legacy of people from around the world. We felt that a new chapter of adventure was before us--past this Mile Zero Post on the Alaskan Highway.
A Glorious Hole
My buddy, Joe Caron, and I before hiking down the Canyon.
"Clicaty.....clicaty.....clicaty.....clicaty". The monotonous sound of the hot iron wheels on the joints of the iron rails seemed to count the spans of time as we headed toward our immediate objective--The Grande Canyon. "Why in hell do you want to go see that infernal hole in the ground?" asked my hobo neighbor in the dusty box car. "Just curious", I said in amazement. I had read a bit on the geological history of this Chasm and wanted to hike down through the two billion years of Earth history. I wish that I could have stayed longer to see and experienced more. Standing on the edge and looking over the immensity of it all and hiking the Kaibab trail can only be called a "religious" experience. It took Joe and I just 3 hours to hike to the Colorado river, even allowing for time to poke into rattlesnake holes and upturning stones in search of scorpions. As we walked the dust on our clothers and faces reflected the colors of the rainbow marking the layers of Earth history. We camped along the river at the bottom and fished using the scorpions for bait. We were the only humans there for the two days and shared our space with the unhurried Mule deer that made us feel that life was superficial in this inverted mountainscape.The ascending trip was much longer! We took advantage of the numerous rest stops to study and collect fossils along the trail. We found an incredible record of ancient life that made us resolved to visit the Smithsonian for more information.
Life takes on new meaning in experiencing such places. The telling of it only frustrates. It needs to be experienced.