Selected hitchhiking stories 2/2 (EN)
DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS.
HITCHHIKING IS ILLEGAL.
That's what the sign read. We went on and passed by a hitchhiker who was standing on the side of the road just a few meters after the warning. He was holding a cardboard sign and was surrounded by a heap of stuff that seemed to make up his belongings. He looked like a hippie. In fact, it wasn't only his appearance but also the way he was dressed. I caught myself wondering how long would it take him to get picked up. Then, my mind wandered back to the sign. I remembered reading something online about a penitentiary located in Prince George which made it difficult to hitchhike around here because it was prohibited by law inside of the city jurisdiction. I didn't want to bother Kyle about it. I had asked him to drop me off at the outskirt of the city, just after the junction with the airport road. So he did, we said goodbye to each other and, after devouring a Cliff Bar, I raised my thumb again. I was right about hitchhiking being harder. But what I didn't know is that the prison was not the only reason and probably not even the main one. I was standing just at the end – or the beginning, depends how you see it – of the Highway of Tears. In fact, the stretch of road that goes between Prince George and Prince Rupert had seen a series of murders aimed mostly at young aboriginal women who where... hitchhiking. So yeah, to put it simply, no one was picking me up.
I waited two hours and, as always when I get stuck, I started to walk (see Naufrage: 4 jours entre le Kyrgyzstan et la Chine). Walking is better for my mood because it gives me the illusion of progress. Although, in most situations, it lowers your chances to get a ride because drivers can't see your face. Making eye contact, as well as smiling, is one of the most useful tool you can use when hitchhiking. Yet, to be fair, hitchhiking is nothing more than the computation of a series of random circumstances. And, among these random factors, there must lie some inexplicable ones because I always end up being picked up in less than 3 hours, at least that's how it went so far.
David, pulled over and offered to give me a ride to Mc Bride, a town two hundreds kilometers away. The conversation started as usual with exchanging words about us and our occupation. He was a dad of two grown-up sons and a faller. He explained that a faller is a forester whose job is to cut down trees and, in his case, danger trees (trees that are about to fail and therefore dangerous). And because of the big amount of wildfires in the area, there was a lot of job for fallers. Often, he would use the word 'saw' as short for chainsaw and told me he had to do two stops before hitting home for dinner, or what would be well after dinner time. It was dark already but I was inside a car which meant comfort for me so I didn't mind at all if we had to stop by every house in the neighbourhood. The first stop was at an old man's workshop in order to get one of his saws serviced. The two men digressed on topics loosely connected to chainsaws as I was standing beside them, lost in translation, although still captivated at times by the technical jargon traveling to my ears. Then, we stopped by a family house and this second halt was so quick in comparison to the first one that I can't even remember the reason for it. Also, my brain must have been exhausted already by the effort of trying to follow the foresters' discussion.
Dunster. That's were we finally arrived long after dark. David had told me he would drop me off at Pete. Pete, he said, would be happy to accommodate me. He described him as the man with the biggest heart of Dunster, a very active member of the community and someone who was used to having guests – wwoofers to be exact. If I remember well, it was almost 10pm when I entered Pete's house. He made me some dinner as I was telling him about my trip. Then, he let me stay in a little wooden cabin in the garden. It had a lot of charm with a small bedside lamp you had to tap three times to go through the different levels of intensity, a myriad of books aligned on shelves above the bed and, of course, a kingsize mattress that took almost all the space leaving just enough of it to enter the cabin. Under the low roof, there was a tiny mezzanine where you could find linens, blankets and pillows to make yourself warm during the cold temperatures of the Canadian Fall. All this was supplemented by a small electric heater which was just strong enough not to take away the delightful bite of the cold countries that, as a true possessor of the Northmen spirit, I cherish.
Pete was indeed the closest representation I had seen of what I would call a purely good man. By that, I mean someone who appears to do only good around him and who does not seem to be able to think bad of anyone nor do bad to anyone. Not that I spent enough time with him to know him well but three days were enough for me to form myself an idea of the character. To give you a contradictory example, I am not a purely good man. It costs me to be good and it's a conscious choice I make to try to be good until someone proves me that he doesn't deserve my goodness. Neither am I a fervent practitioner of the Christian principles for example to offer the other cheek. And, the mere idea of trying to be good at all costs no matter the circumstances makes me feel like I am going against my nature. By the way, it reminds me of something Jacques Fresco said in his talk in Stockholm:
"What do you think of Christianity, Fresco ?"
"This is a great idea, when are they putting it into practice ? ...Frankly, I've never met a Christian."
Well, Jacques, I just met one. And he probably isn't even religious but he may be more christian than most of the Christians I know. Pete, I know you're reading this and I apologize to have made you a Christian if you weren't one.
He's also a skilled gardener and even devote some of his time to seed saving – the practice of saving the seeds of vegetables or plants so that the different varieties do not disappear from our ecosystem. And because he used to be a teacher, he knows how to transfer knowledge which is something I find very valuable in people. So, he showed me the seed saver exchange catalog and explained to me how to use it. I couldn't believe that so many different varieties of tomatoes existed!
Here, let me illustrate with an anecdote:
"You know, I'm reading this book The Omnivore's Dilemma. And they spend a THIRD of the book talking about corn! And how it is in everything we buy at the supermarket." I started.
"Oh yeah, that's true. And Monsanto is making this genetically modified corn that's resistant to pesticides." "Yes, I heard about Monsanto. They are trying to control the whole food supply with their seeds, right?"
"You know one day I read about this story of a farmer who had an organic corn field not far away from a Monsanto GM corn field. The wind blew some of the GM corn seeds into the farmer's field and contaminated his organic corn. Monsanto sued the farmed for stealing their GM corn... and they won! I cried so much when I read this... and I sent him money. Oh yes, I cried and I sent him money"
"They won?! Really? That's the kind of things that makes me loose faith in humanity."
"Oh noo, I never loose faith in humanity.", he concluded in his mellow voice.
And that was Pete. He was so generous that the other inhabitants of the village would sometimes joke about it. "Pete, you give so much that you make us look bad" they'd say. To what he would reply, "Well, that's good, then give a little more!"
A fews days later, I hit the road again, headed towards Jasper National Park in the Rockies. I had what I thought would be a great idea. I found out by looking at a map of Jasper that there was a way to walk the Skyline Trail all the way to Maligne Lake and then cut across a valley or two to meet the Icefields Parkway some 70km south at the Poboktan Creek. That meant that I could hike for multiple days and then join the road and start hitchhiking without having to get back to my starting point. The only problem was that the last bit of the trail was absent of most maps, except one. On a topographic map though, it looked very doable. So I got excited by the idea. Also, I have to say that I was carrying around 25kg of equipment. So, for me it meant that either I was going to find a locker to dump all the things that were not essential to the hike and bare with the boring feeling that returning to my departure point always arouses in me. Or, I would carry my heavy backpack for three or four days before joining the road where I could keep hitchhiking to the nearest shower. There was no locker. The choice was easy. So, I decided to make a quick stop at the information center to see if there was any qualified ranger who could tell me if yes or no there was a trail between Maligne Lake and Poboktan Creek.
I approached a lady at the info desk:
"Hello. Bonjour." she said
"Uh.. Bonjour, j'aimerais savoir si–"
"Sorry, I don't speak French."
"Oh OK. I thought you did because you just said 'Bonjour' "
"So, I would like to hike the Skyline Trail. And then join the Icefields Parkway.. Uhm I found a trail on a map and–"
"The Skyline Trail is out of bounds."
"What does 'out of bounds' mean?"
"The Skyline Trail is full of snow right now. You wouldn't even be able to walk 10 minutes before getting snow up to here" and she showed me the snow would get up to my knee.
"Uh.. OK. So, it's good that I came to ask before, right?" I was trying to lighten the atmosphere in vain.
"This is how it looks like now" she continued in the same condescending tone while showing me a webcam view of what looked like a small ski resort in Switzerland at the end the season
I pretended to ask where I could buy topographic maps and left the building. The picture she showed me had nothing to scare me but at the same time she was right, it was full of snow. I could see it very well by looking at the mountain range. I was already walking towards the beginning of the trail when these thoughts arose in my mind. On one hand, I didn't want to walk for three days in the snow with my heavy backpack to be forced to backtrack. But, on the other hand, I had enough experience to know that if it looked possible on a topographic map, it was worth trying. We were almost in October but it wasn't that cold. The main problem was that when my shoes would get wet, after 5 minutes of walking in the snow, they would STAY wet. And, of course, there were the bears. I didn't have a bear resistant food container because in Denali I could borrow it from the ranger station which wasn't possible here. And I didn't want to buy one because it would take like half of the space in my already full backpack and it costed 80$ for a box of hard plastic which I would never need again. So, I had all my food in my 10L dry bag which is not at all bear resistant. I would usually hang it in the trees along with my toothpaste and other stuff that attracts bear. Except that, any place I can climb to hang something, a bear can climb too. So, in short, there were a few imperfections in my plan. I ended up hiking for a day, spending a night in the forest and after having made sure that, yes, there was a lot of snow, backtracking to Jasper to hitchhike on the Icefields Parkway.
Omar, a syrian refugee, was the first to pick me up. He told me that he couldn't leave someone by the side of the road because in Syria he had seen people die in the desert. He was friendly and the conversation very interesting. He started to tell me about the current civil war in Syria.
"But, I don't understand how the president can do this to his own people" I said.
"He is animal."
"He is worse than the animal."
"So, he doesn't like the Syrian people..."
"No, he doesn't belong to the human race... And, as an individual, I lost more than 20 persons from my family and our friends."
This felt so much more honest than the news. Right to the point. Stripped from all the political excuses of why half a million of Syrians had to die. I had to share it. So I turned on my camera and pretended to film the road, I let him talk.
"The first strike done by the Russians, he lost his life, himself and his wife, and six of his children and six of his grandchildren. Sixteen family member gone in one night, one shot."
"Innocent people... wow..."
"And do you think these bombing help fight ISIS?" (I wanted to hear it from him)
"No, ISIS they are just... uh.. within the civilians and once they get close to them, they just turn away" (not sure what he meant here but I'm transcribing right from the tape)
Then, he told me about the modus operandi of the Russians. "They first strike the hospitals, the bakeries and the fruit markets", he said, "that's how they force people to surrender". "And not only in one example, there are hundreds of examples". I was speechless. Anyway, what was there to say from someone who hadn't lived not even a tiny piece of what he described. So I just whispered it would be nice if everybody knew about it. Maybe it would change something, I thought, or maybe not.
Eventually, I got to Forks – whouhou Twillight! OK girls, calm down. The cool thing about Forks is that I got picked up by Gregg, Bryan and Lebowski, three awesome living creatures. Yes, creatures. Because Lebowski was half pitbull, half labrador. Father, son and dog were out for a week-long camping trip in the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park. First, they offered me to pitch my tent on their campsite for free. We had some great conversations by the fire and, the next morning, Gregg told me that I could stay the whole week with them if I wanted to. And that, then, they would drive me to San Fransisco Bay Area at the end of the week – that's where they live. I was very tempted as I didn't have any plan whatsoever of what to do in Oregon. But after thinking about it for a while, it sounded like taking the easy, comfortable way. A bit like if halfway through your ascension of K2, a helicopter would fly by and someone would yell from the cockpit "HEY, DO YOU NEED A RIDE TO THE SUMMIT?". So, I respectfully declined unaware of the fact that if I would have accepted, it would have saved me most of the trouble and misfortune that happened next.
Then, I somehow got myself out of Washington to land in Oregon. In the lower 48, hitchhiking was not as straightforward as in Canada or even Alaska. I would still get rides in under two hours but most of them would be short rides of 20 miles or so. It was a bit frustrating because it meant that I was spending most of my days trying to hitchhike while not really getting anywhere. That's when I made the decision of switching from Highway 101 (US 101) to Interstate 5 (I-5), thinking I could go faster that way. Oops, bad idea! But that will be the subject of the next story as this one was about selected – and by that I meant good – hitchhiking stories.
The cover photo shows David and his son, Linden,
walking ahead of me on our (long) day hike to Kiwa Glacier
The list of (almost) everyone who picked me up:
Lex & Rosie
Josh & Stephanie
Gregg, Brian & Lebowski
Cary and Daniel
Uziel & David