Girls A-hitchhikin’ on the Rock – Canada

Girls A-hitchhikin’ on the Rock

Newfoundland, Canada

The island of Newfoundland is one of the most curious places in North America. First of all, a lot of people have never even heard of it. I sure can’t remember when I first learned what and where it was, but then I attended school with several “Newfies” and man, did they talk funny. Especially when it was in French. Imagine a sassy girl from Labrador or a feisty little guy from Grand Banks, full of them “You know where it’s to?” catch-phrases, communicating in a foreign tongue. It’s priceless.

So where is Newfoundland for those who don’t know? Well, it’s an island off the coast of Nova Scotia. Way above Maine. It is considered an Atlantic Province while Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island are the Maritime Provinces. Though Newfoundland is more sea-centered than the former provinces, it does not bear that maritime distinction.

I must add that after touring eastern Canada for a month and returning home, I told my college-educated brother where I had been. Like many Americans, he thought that there was nothing but ocean past Maine. Those maps on television, the silhouettes of our nation, always leave out the best parts of the continent. I remember on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” the map behind Jon Stewart lacked completely the large island. Nothing but ocean there.

To be sure though it is quite isolated from the rest of the world. To reach the island of Newfoundland one must take the ferry from North Sydney, Nova Scotia. There is a seven hour run to Port-aux-Basques, from April to January. In the summer months the longer ferry (16 hours!) runs to the southeastern corner of the island. From January to April the only way to get there is by plane. An expensive ticket too if you can imagine.

Newfoundland is called The Rock because, well, one can picture why. From the shore one sees incessant gray cliffs, making the shore seem impenetrable in most parts. And it is covered with boreal forest, spruce and fir trees which somehow take root in the shallow soil. This place is virtually unfarmable. The Vikings had better luck, but then again the climate was different 1000 years ago. Moose are commonplace, though they only just recently migrated to the island from Labrador. Moose are extremely adept swimmers. One of the most common causes of auto accidents is collisions with a moose, usually resulting in (human) fatalities. So watch out!

Newfoundland was the first place on this continent where white Europeans settled in modern times that we know of. The Vikings! Leif Ericson! Pirates! Yea we know Columbus did not discover America. Or at least from our occidental point of view. Around 1000 CE the Vikings continued on past Greenland and Labrador until they found what they called Vinland. The climate was warmer then; where L’Anse aux Meadows, on the northern peninsula, is now snow-covered some eight months out of the year; a thousand years ago it was suitable farmland and was thus used as such. Cattle were raised, houses built, even a smithy shop! The Vikings stayed for some three years before something or someone caused their retreat home. As for the grapes, well, I read that Vin is Old Norse for pasture or meadow, so it does not necessarily refer to wild grapes as is commonly thought. The ruins were only recently discovered, by scientists and archaeologists I should say. The local fishermen all knew they were there. Now this town is the site of a National Park, with the homes recreated and costumed Park guides explaining life there a millennium ago.

Basque fisherman also frequented the islands long before Canada and the United States were even founded, but hey those guys went everywhere. They can fish the hell out of an ocean. And if anyone needs their own country it’s those guys.

So with the distinction of being the first place settled by white people, Newfoundland was the last province to join Canada. It was not until 1949 that Newfoundland joined the Confederation, ten years before Alaska and Hawaii became states, and 72 years after the founding of Canada. Labrador got thrown into the mix as well and is no longer a territory; the official name of the province is Newfoundland and Labrador. The ties with her mother England are still apparent; I saw more Union Jacks flying in that incessant Newfoundland wind than Maple Leaves, that is for sure.

So these Newfies, who are they, beside the butt of innumerable ethnic jokes up north? It is similar to our blonde or redneck jokes. They’re stupid, poor, backward, they marry their sisters, their sisters are ugly and poor and stupid and backward. Here’s an example:
“Did you hear about the Newfie who went ice fishing?”
”He caught fifty pounds of ice and his wife drowned trying to cook.”

For sure, Newfoundlanders like humor, as is evident when they name their towns. There is an actual town called Dildo. Another called Come-By-Chance.

And as in Quebec, there is a “Free Newfoundland” movement, though not quite as infamous or apparent. I did witness some pins and bumper stickers in St. John’s displaying this desire. It is not so much of an issue of politics as an identity crisis, I feel. I asked a lad about it in the pub. What this one Newfoundlander said had already resonated in my ears all year in Quebec, albeit in another language: “We are different.” “On est different.” Same shit, different province and language.

Newfoundland is a half-hour ahead of the Maritime Provinces and thus an hour and a half ahead of us in the Eastern Time Zone. It is the only time zone in the world on the half-hour slot. Half-hour off from everybody. This gives them certain liberties. One year they made daylights savings time change two hours instead of one. The sun wouldn’t set until 11 at night, and then it got dark very early in the winter. The people didn’t like it. They changed it back.

The people. Newfoundlanders. I have always felt that Canadians have much more of a regional identity than Americans. You got the Scots in Nova Scotia, the French of Quebec and New Brunswick, the British-loving Ontarians, and the Americanized cowboys of the western plains. Plus a bunch of hippies and loggers on the West Coast. Hailing mostly of Irish descent, Newfoundlanders have their own dialects and accents which have since disappeared in the mother country as its language became more uniform. However, in isolated fishing town accessible only by boat on the Rock, these accents and expressions survived and are still there today. One elderly gentleman, in his seventies, picked us up while we were hitching in his new red Ford Taurus. He was only going a few miles but he hefted our packs into the trunk and drove us down the road. His accent was unmistakably Irish, but I doubt if he’d ever visited the old Country, let alone spent much time away from the Rock.

Newfoundlanders say such things as “I likes this, I says this, I does this.” “Where it’s to” in lieu of “Where it’s at.” One, two, tree. No {th} sound, just the t. Girls are mai’yds (maids) and men are b’ys. And the actual name of the province is not NewFOUNDland. It’s NewfinLAND. Accentuate the last syllable. And get it right or else. AND be sure to get screeched in. Take the shot, kiss the cod. Right on the lips, if a fish has lips. Then you will be a true Newfoundlander.

For these are a fishing people. It is said that the cod used to be so plentiful in the Grand Banks that you could walk on the water, you could scoop a bucket into the sea and lift it out full. But, due to overfishing and lack of regulations, the cod are gone. So is much of the fishing industry. Men and families who for generations have depended on the sea now face a slew of regulations about where and when they may fish. Natives, of course, may still fish when they desire, and while I was in the Maritimes the white Canadians were protesting this fact. But regardless, the fish are gone. The province is dirt poor. There is something like fifty percent unemployment. I have heard that if the province did secede everyone would starve. The federal government definitely sends more money back than Newfoundlanders shell out in taxes.

So Newfoundlanders have turned to lumber, and to tourism. Ha. Who wants to visit a rock of a land, unfit for farming, covered in snow almost eight months of year, and even after the snows recede it is still frigid, rainy, foggy, or windy, where icebergs float past and most of the island can only be reached by boat? A place where one lone highway, the TransCanada of course, bisects the island and connects the capital city and half the population with the ferry stop at Port-aux-Basques, a 14 hour drive? Ferries which run only from April to January, and then you must pay a fortune to leave by airplane? Where the capital of Canada is harder to get to than the capital of England? Who wants to go there? Me, of course, barely 20-years-old, fresh out of a year-long French immersion program, and my road-trip/hitchhiking companion, Miss Colleen of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Why did we go to the Rock? Of course, we had friends from school that lived there. But we really didn’t know much about the place aside for all the jokes we’ve heard, Colleen for her whole life and me during my year in Canada. We checked the ferry schedule while we were at Carolyn’s house in Truro, Nova Scotia. To take a car was very expensive and we instantly decided to leave our loyal station wagon behind and head out on foot. For walk-ons it was only 25$ for a 7 hour ride, no cabin of course. Who would pay over 100$ to get a bed for a few hours? So we drove north to Cape Breton Island, saw the nastiness that is the Tar Pits of Sydney, and left my car, the green ’92 Subaru wagon, near the ferry docks in North Sydney. We paid 30$ bucks to park for the duration of our excursion and saddled up the backpacks, carrying that Coleman tent we never once used. And we were off.

The weather was somewhat clear as we left Nova Scotia. But cold, windy, that typical north Atlantic climate. The ocean was black and daunting. We were the only backpackers on board that we saw. The ferry was a floating city; there was a bar, a movie lounge, a cafeteria, an arcade, and tons of little cabins. The people watching? Superb. All sorts of characters. We drank a couple 5$ canned beers in the bar and observed the strangers around us. The accent was astounding. I had never heard anything like this, a huge room full of Newfoundlanders fresh from the mainland, all excited to get back home, where they were understood. Up on the deck the rain had begun, and we tried to conk out on the floor, where we were instantly awakened and ordered to move (Fire hazard.) I did get a little bit of sleep hiding underneath a table, until that dreaded tap on the shoulder and then it was back to those hard chairs which barely reclined. We had our sleeping bags but no pillows, no comfort. It proved to a long ride.

The movie was “Serendipity.” It was so lame and I even like John Cusack. But alas movies make the time pass and soon enough we were docking. It was four in the morning. It was pouring. Did I mention it was early May? I am talking snow. Winter was not over for us yet. And we were planning on hitching in the dark, which as most of us hitchers know is nearly impossible.

We saddle up the backs and leave through the pedestrian exit. Everyone else is driving off the boat. It is freezing and we are soon soaked. There was another couple hitching and I sadly admit we jumped in front of them for the better spot. I have no clue if they ever got a ride.

So we got our thumbs out. We’re girls. It’s late and cold and even in the dark we can make out these creepy arctic mountains jutting upward in the distance. We’re in a strange place where neither of us has been. And the cars are just flying by us. We start to worry. What if we don’t get a ride? This flimsy tent is hardly waterproof and we’re already soaked. We’ll freeze to death. Hours until sunup. Then, a tractor trailer pulls over. Should we do it? We have not ridden with a trucker before. We’re desperate. We jump in. It’s warm and dry and the trucker informs us that his buddy had just seen us and radioed back, “Hey, there are two girls hitchhiking in the rain. Pick them up!” So he did.

We were exhausted and our hero treated us to some Tim Horton’s coffee. Where are you headed? Ummm, Rocky Harbour. It’s off the main highway, a few hours north toward L’Anse aux Meadows. Smack dap in the middle of Gros Morne National Park, and home of our friend Erika from French school. So we’re off.

Our trucker is Mike, from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, but he knows a lot about Newfoundland. As the sun starts to rise we gawk at the cold and barren landscape. This is the most arctic looking place I have ever seen. I was convinced that these mountains were the biggest in the east, but they barely rose above 2500’. It was the lack of trees that made it seem so raw. Our driver tells us how trucks always blow over in the wind here and we witness the “Wind Gust” signs and “Use Extreme Caution” warnings posted along the highway. It felt like a completely new country. But hey, they are different here.

To get to Rocky Harbour we need to get off the highway at Deer Lake. Our driver radios around and finds someone who is headed north off the main road. They agree to rendezvous at the Irving service station there, where at about 7am we meet up with our next ride. He’s an older man, gray haired, sweet and delighted to have two young travelers (female) as companions.

We climb into his rig and we’re off with the coming dawn. That was when I saw my first moose. It was ugly as sin, gray-furred and angry-looking, right on the other side of the guardrail. Our trucker told us he had already seen 17 moose that morning and that they’re dangerous, though not so much in a Mack Truck.

The scenery, from what I could see of it, was much like Quebec, that northern boreal forest. The trees appeared to grow sideways because of the constant wind, especially up in the northern Peninsula.

We arrive in Rocky Harbour about 9am. We had called Erika the day before in Nova Scotia mentioning that we might drop in. I mean, she gave me her number, right? Isn’t that almost as good as an invitation? So we call her from the gas station. This town is tiny. TINY. A motel with a lounge and a gas station. On the western coast of the island, in a natural harbour. With huge chunks of ice floating around. So Erika Pittman arrives in her mom’s car, a little tired and surprised to see us. She takes us to her parents’ house. They both have master degrees and work for the national park. Her mom, Karole, is a birdologist or whatever the scientific word is for that. Her father had been an arctic explorer. She took us into her office, a separate room from the quaint beautiful house, and shows us maps from his expeditions. And some of his clothing. And his seal-skin boats. I am in awe. Their home is tastefully decorated replete with soapstone native sculptures which cost a fortune in a gallery. Karole tells us that her father had had an Inuit wife at one point, and somewhere she has a brother, half white and half native. She has some pictures but they have never met.

The Pittmans lived for two years in the Northwest Territories while Erika was younger. She went to school with natives and was one of the few white children around. They explained how in the summer the sun made what seemed like a U shape across the sky, never completely setting. I am astounded. I have always been fascinated by the far north and here are people who have actually lived it.

Erika’s father Gary is extremely educated but was the first person in Canada, after my nine months of residency, who gave me grief about being an American. He cracked a joke about letting an American sit at the dinner table. It was only after explaining that I was the sole person in the town of Benton registered with the Green Party that he softened up. Both his wife and daughter seemed slightly embarrassed.

After arriving we took a nap in Erika’s brother’s bed, ever so comfortable. Then we explored the area up the road. It follows a cliff jutting out into the foreboding sea. Waves crashed below us and ice floes were still extracting themselves from their winter casings along the shore. We followed the road to an old light house, empty and locked tight, with several outbuildings. The mountains of Gros Morne rose to the south and east, and I again exclaimed that those must be the biggest mountains in the east. I guess rising from sea level assisted, and the rocky outcroppings increased my amazement. What a place.

We returned to Erika’s house and took some silly photos on their porch, me holding a moose antler above my head and the ice floating out to sea behind us. We asked what people do in this town. “Well there is one bar,” we were informed but it didn’t sound like much fun. For dinner we ate a stirfry with caribou meat and rice. It was delicious. I felt like such a northerner. Erika’s parents are so educated and knowledgeable, I found myself becoming slightly jealous. Here was a girl raised in a National Park surrounded by the sea with parents who cared deeply about the environment and who enjoyed exploring their arctic retreat. Amazing. We looked at some digital images of Erika’s dad’s skidoo excursion into the snowy wilds of the park. Amazing. We talked for a while then headed to bed. Colleen and I had ambitions for the next day. We were going to hitch to the capital, a nine-hour drive when you have your own car. We wanted to start bright and early.

For breakfast we dined on Welch wibbit or something like that. I remember it was a rich creamy tofu-based sauce with toast. It was good but filling. Erika’s mom drove us and our packs in her pickup back up to the main road. Here’s where things got ridiculous.

“Welcome to Newfoundland! You’ll be blown away!” –my journal entry

It’s nine in the morning and the wind starts to blow. This is the fiercest wind I have ever experienced. To the north is L’Anse aux Meadows where the reconstructed Viking settlement lies under three feet of snow. We were planning on visiting the site until we learned this fact. To our amazement there is another hitcher on the other side of the road headed north. Luckily for him there is a cliff at his back which blocks the wind. He has a huge pack on and we ponder his motivations. Meanwhile, Colleen and I are literally hanging to a signpost, one hand looped around the sturdy pole holding for dear life, the other arm extended with that universal hitching signal, the thumbs up. At one point Colleen’s tuque blows off her head and down into the ditch, and at the same moment I am caught up in a gust and I head off after the hat whether I like it or not. “Your tuuuuuqque,” I called into the wind, catching the escaping cold-weather necessity and somehow returning to our post. Cars whizzed by. People stared at this bizarre spectacle. I could tell they’re thinking we’re nuts.

At last a car pulled over and we eagerly climbed in. It’s a schoolteacher from a tiny coastal community. He had a lot of computer equipment in his car because I guess he teaches classes online to students in even more isolated areas of the province. Trying to reach out to them. He drove us back to the main highway. On the way we passed a tractor trailer which had flipped over in the wind. It was sagging pathetically, battered, and looked completely flimsy. No one was hurt but traffic was blocked in one lane. We continue on. He dropped us off at the same Irving service station we were at the morning before. It was pouring. We hid beneath the awning and asked people who are gassing up for a lift. Then we met Debra. She drove a tiny pickup with a cap and a small backseat. She’s 40 and from Passadena. Not California, Passadena, The Rock. She nervously agreed to drive us and we throw our loads in the back. “But I have to tell you I know every cop from here to blahblahblah so you better not pull anything.” She was nervous to have hitchers but we seemed like nice enough girls. A lot of times we got rides from people who said they never pick up hitchhikers but we just looked so sweet. Our key was to have a sign and our biggest grins, and it usually worked. Who could resist two smiling faces in this frigid climate?

Debra drove us for two hours in the torrential rain, and at the end of our ride we were like old friends. We cruised along, blasting The Guess Who (Canadians!) and sharing stories. She even hugged us goodbye. I thought she was going to cry. She left us at the next service station.

“Here one can feel the earth living, moving, aging, and the people adapt, not the other way around. I’ve never experienced it like this before – a little in SLJ [Saguenay Lac-St. Jean] + Gaspe, but not like this.”

“People here measure distance by the time it takes to get there and population by the # of families in a town.” -journal entries

I believe that day we had some seven rides. It only took us eleven hours to hitch a nine hour drive, not bad considering food breaks. One elderly couple gave us their phone number and address, and though they lived a half hour from the main road, they offered to come get us and let us stay in their big empty house and even cook us dinner. So kind.

Another guy offered us his place to crash as well but he seemed a little too lonely so we smiled and politely declined. The ride was incredibly foggy. We caught another lift with a man who knew Erika’s parents; they were actually all headed to the same wedding that weekend. He gave us an auto tour of the town of Gander before dropping us off. Our last lift was a trucker. He was Rod, younger, less experienced and thus reprimanded in the trucker community. He was very intelligent but doesn’t seem too familiar with non-Newfoundland subjects. We passed a pond and he informed us that the week before somebody crashed his rig into the pond and died. It was tiny but deep and the trucker froze before he could swim to the nearby shore. He sank with his truck. The snow and ice had only recently receded. Sad.

We passed through Terra Nova National Park and saw the Moose-Car Accidents so far this year sign – 4. That meant at least four fatalities. Few survive striking a moose in a small vehicle.

St. John’s. The Avalon Peninsula. It’s big, and rocky. 250,000 people live in and around the capital, and only 500,000 inhabit the whole island so it’s the hub. And it’s still raining. Rod tells us he has to park his rig but then offered us a lift downtown in his car. We wait while he backs up his load, finishes his job, and gets his car. It’s tiny and we cram in and we’re off, whizzing through the streets of downtown. He drops us off in front of Tim Horton’s. It’s a Saturday night and we’re in St. John’s. I am in the eastern most point in North America. We know of George Street, where there is supposed to be more bars per square foot than any where else in North America. It’s drizzling and getting late. The Tim Horton’s is closing soon. No cash on us. We ask to use the phone. It’s behind the counter so we can’t but the guy working there offers to call numerous bed and breakfasts and hotels for us. Everything is expensive, around 90$. I get frustrated and hungry.

We find out that the Captain’s Hotel is 69$ with a CAA (Canada’s AAA) discount and decide that’s our best bet. The girl behind the counter gave us free donuts and then later some muffins (they were about to get thrown out) and asked us all sort of questions. A lot of people are surprised to find someone from BC, let alone an American, traveling together through the province in early May. We walk the several blocks to the Captain’s place. On the way some skateboarder asked us if we knew “where’s it to.” Blessed Newfies. We get a room. It’s a comfortable place, a little shady, with a tiny bathroom. We shower and hit the town.

What sucks about George Street is that they charge covers at almost every bar so our bar hopping fantasy was instantly shattered. Could not afford it, seeing that I took this whole trip with only 400$ US and now we were paying for a motel. We hit up the few bars that did not charge covers, saw some live music, talked with some university students. The street was bumping in spite of the bad weather. They must be used to it. Vendors are selling greasy and gross food, hot dogs and such. We got pizza way late. I asked for blue cheese with my slice and they gave me a bizarre look. “We don’t have that.” Little differences. I heard someone behind me exclaim, “That’s a good idea.” Yeah, people in Penn Yan have known that for a while.

We crash. It was so nice to have a place to ourselves, not imposing on anyone. When we wake up we rent the room for the next night. We cannot leave yet. That day we lounged until about three and then explored the city. All the houses are painted in brilliantly bright colors. We walked along the huge ships in the harbour and checked out some shops and fancy hotels. Most things were closed, being Sunday. We went out to eat and I remember asking our waitress about jobs in Newfoundland in the summer. I wanted to stay. I guess I was starting to like the rain.

The walk back was I think the wettest I have ever been. I don’t know how this is possible but I have never walked in rain and gotten so drenched. My “waterproof” Columbia ski coat was soaked through. We got back to the room and stripped off our layers and laid them out on the heater. Sunday night in St. John’s. We relaxed and watched Newfie TV. Our departure was tomorrow morning.

Another continental breakfast and checkout. Before leaving town we left our bags at the front desk and trekked up to Signal Hill. This is where they sent the first telegraph message across the Atlantic Ocean. Gorgeous view of the Atlantic. When you’re here you are closer to London (3600 km) than Winnipeg. Vancouver is 5000 km away. Colleen said aloud, “I am so far from home.” There was a Battery too, an old military outpost. The United States used the island a lot in the two World Wars, being that it is so close to Europe. To me Newfoundland is more akin to Iceland than anywhere else.

Without our packs the walk was simple but long. We explored the area and headed back to downtown. So we made a sign. “Grand Falls,” a larger town about halfway to the ferry at Port-aux-Basques. We were walking through downtown waving our sign and the first car to pass us, some guy in a minivan, flashed us a grin and pulled over. “Need a ride?” Louis. He drove us way out of the city onto the highway. Louis is awesome. He has some well-paying job selling environmental filters and was having fun in life. He dropped us off at yet another Irving service station. They’re quickly becoming our second homes. We ate some subs and instantly catch a ride with another trucker. We no longer fear these huge monstrosities of vehicles nor these harmless men so often ostracized by society.

A lot of truckers pimp out their rigs. Some have satellite radio, or an immense CD collection. Most have TVs, and one guy had a laptop and a Playstation2. All genuinely nice guys. Let it be known!

This trucker was hauling a sort of acid used to clean out beer bottles. He worked for Molson. I dozed in the back, sitting on the bunk propped up against my pack. Colleen chitchats in the front. To the next Irving!

One man stopped, but his car was packed and no room for us with our loads so we courteously turned him down. It was a nice try though.

Our next ride was a kid in a Pontiac. The only young person to pick us up. I saw him and his shaggy hair pass us, then he circled back and picked us up. He’s Stefan, younger than us, in high school. He lives in Corner Brook, where we want to stay. We chitchat, I peruse his CD collection and change the disks, all the while telling him what I think is good and what sucks. At one point he went into a gas station to find a phone book and left us in his car. With the keys. He thought we might steal his car. He looked relieved when we didn’t. He helps us find a place to stay. We checked out some sketchy room above a bar, saw some crackheads with their doors opened, and declined. We ended up finding a tourist home for 50$ called the Poplar Inn. It’s still pouring out. Our driver dropped us off nearby. I still chat with him on MSN Messenger in fact. Colleen, whenever we were ready to head out to a new locale, used to always say, “Are you ready to bust a move?” or “Let’s bust a move.” After he dropped us off, I looked at the slip of paper with his email on it and there it was, bustamove. Crazy.

We walk the few miles to the tourist home and we’re the only guests. It’s someone’s house and we get our own beds and bathroom. In the morning the dining room is all set up for breakfast and we breakfast on cereal and fruit, wondering how far the produce had to voyage to get on our table. I even get to check my email in their kitchen. Very informal, but people don’t seem to fear two young girls.

It is our last day in Newfoundland. We need to catch the ferry at 11:30 that night. We haven’t seen the sun since we arrived. This day it comes out for maybe 20 minutes. A young guy named Tim ended up driving us way out of his way. Another trucker, then Eddie who tried to sell us his golf course. One of our best rides was this day. It was a younger guy in a tiny red Rav 4 with Northwest Territory plates named Cotr, like Cutter. He had a husky puppy under his seat. He’s an underwater welder working in Alaska, and he just drove straight home by himself. From Alaska to Newfoundland. Took him ten days. That’s five and half hours difference in time zones. I am fascinated because Alaska is my dream destination. He makes 150$ an hour. Has no kids. Grew up around here and wanted to come home. Super intelligent. He asked us if we want to go to a bar and play pool. We stop in this town of about 15 families (they don’t do population by person, but by families in some parts.) It’s called Gallant, like the Acadian family name. There’s one bar, mostly where ski-doers congregate, and beside the bartender there was one other guy hanging out. We played pool and the girls lost. It was early afternoon. We blazed another spliff right in the bar and had some beers. We’re in the sticks, it feels like the law can’t touch us. Had a few more beers and some chips. Girls like us don’t roll through this town off the highway very often, we can tell. Then we’re off again, back to the main highway.

We ride with a trucker, and old Irish guy who serenades us with his tales of hitching and riding the rails way back in the day, then we hit a lull in rides. No cars were coming. Finally a trucker picks us up and drives us right to Port-aux-Basques. We waited for a long time because we actually arrived early. This very terminal was on the national Canadian news that evening because there was a fire and boats were delayed. Now the boat will not leave until 3am. We wait a long time but there was bar in the terminal, of course. But soon enough we are back on board and we say goodbye to the Rock. We hitched the whole distance of the island and back again, never having to wait longer than fifteen minutes with our fantastic smiles.

On the ferry we chitchat with some Quebecois truckers and then we notice the lone backpacker. He notices us too and since we have an unspoken bond we start talking. He’s William, from France, speaks perfect English, and he is going to hitchhike to the Yukon, but was planning on stopping in Montreal for a while and getting a job. We tell him our hitching stories and how we almost got blown away. “Was that near Rocky Harbour?” he asks us. Turns out he was that other hitcher heading north that very same morning a few days before. Small world.

William starts talking in French with our Quebecor buddies, who were by the way thoroughly impressed with our Chicoutimi joual. (That’s the northern Quebecois dialect that we learned accidentally.) William decides to catch a ride from one of them once we reach the mainland though we offered him a ride in the Subaru. He’s a hottie, but it was not meant to be. Before we know it we’re back on Atlantic time, back at my car, and headed to another friend’s house on Bras d’Or Lake. Blessed l’ecole de langue, you gave me friends everywhere.

Since my trip to Newfoundland I have met only one other Newfoundlander, a hitchhiker I picked up in the Yukon. Well, his parents were American but they ran to The Rock during the Vietnam War. So he has no bragging rights.
And one time in Plattsburgh, a mere twenty miles from the Quebec border, which explains it, I saw a car pass me with a white license plate that I know so well. Am I mistaken? I follow them. Sure enough, Newfoundland and Labrador. I pull up next to them at the red light. “Are you lost?” “Yes.” “You’re from Newfoundland? I’ve been there!” Instant friends. The light turns green. I wave helplessly. “Well, bye!” It’s not a common sight to see some Newfies south of the border.

And I have yet to go to Labrador. But who visits Labrador, honestly? Nothing but a bunch of trees, mountains, lakes, rivers, snow, wilderness. One recently paved road. Sounds good to me.

Traveler Article

Leave a Comment