One of the greatest adventures of my life was when I hitchhiked from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island with Lynn, my girlfriend at the time, way back in the summer of 1996.
It was shortly after the cod moratorium was announced on Canada’s east coast and Newfoundland’s economy was even in worse shape than it usually was as a result (this was before the oil boom there), so Lynn and I decided to pack our bags and head west.
We had originally planned to make the trip on my motorcycle, but just days before our planned departure, the bike broke down and required major repairs so we decided to leave it and switch out saddle bags for backpacks and hit the road on our feet.
I figured that as I was in my early 30s at the time, if I didn’t take advantage of an opportunity to hitchhike the approximately 6,770 kilometres across the country while I was still young enough, I likely would never do it.
We got a ride to the Argentia ferry, which is about an hours drive from St. John’s, and went on the 18-hour ferry ride to Nova Scotia and that’s where the real fun began.
We were relatively new to the whole hitchhiking game, especially crossing a whole continent, so we didn’t have the experience to know to talk to drivers on the ferry during that long ride to see if anyone was willing to take us further west, so when we got off the boat (in a pouring rainstorm I might add) the vehicles passed us by without giving us a second look.
We walked alongside of the highway and unsuccessfully hitchhiked for awhile until, soaking wet and cold, we decided to set up our tent in the woods just off the road and spent a miserable night wondering about the wisdom of setting out on this journey in the first place.
It was still wet and cold the next morning, but we dutifully packed up and went out to try our luck hitching a ride west on the TCH again.
After several hours passed with no luck, Lynn, who was frustrated, wet and miserable, took off her backpack and violently threw it to the ground before turning on me for coming up with such a stupid idea as this trip.
After just a few seconds, a man pulled over and beckoned us to get in the car.
The man, a travelling salesman who spent much of his life driving from one community to another, quietly told me while Lynn attempted to change into dry clothes in the confined space of the back seat, that he saw that I was in trouble “with the missus” so he pulled in to give us a ride and get me off the hook.
That changed the whole nature of the trip as we learned how to manipulate drivers into picking us up.
Every time we had difficulties getting a ride, Lynn would tear her backpack off, throw it to the ground and begin yelling at me and usually within a minute or two, some sympathetic guy (it always seemed to be a man travelling alone) would pick us up and carry us further west.
Now that we had the science of a couple hitchhiking down pat, we began travelling pretty quickly and the weather turned warm and dry as we crossed through Quebec and Ontario and into the Prairies.
After more than five weeks of hitchhiking, we arrived in Banff, Alberta, and our intention of spending just one night there turned into almost a week as we relaxed from our long and gruelling journey in that park’s amazing beauty.
By this time, of course, we always talked to people in our travels and we connected with a truck driver who was heading to Vancouver and he agreed to take us with him on our last leg of the journey before taking a ferry to Vancouver Island, where I’ve lived ever since.
I remember at the beginning of the trip that I just wanted to get across the country as quickly as possible, but by the time we got to the Island, I didn’t want to stop.
For more than six weeks, we woke up every morning with the sole intent of continuing to head as far west that day as possible.
Life becomes very simple when your goals are so few and I miss those weeks of complete freedom.
But I’m glad I did it when I did because, as I thought from the start, I have no intention of ever doing it again.
Robert Barron writes for The Cowichan Valley Citizen.