The summer I was 19 years old I bought myself a VIA rail pass, a frame backpack and sleeping back from Canadian Tire, and headed east. It was 1985 and I was looking for adventure. Or at least to get out of the house.
My first stop was Québec City.
After setting up camp at a small, cheap, only-mildly-sketchy hotel on the outer edge of the old city I went looking to buy a comb, the only vital personal care item I’d neglected to bring with me.
While I was equipped with 6 years of Ontario public school French, none of the vocabulary lessons I’d learned from Sol involved personal care items, so, lost in a pharmacy that had no combs in evidence, I was left to describe what I needed in more primitive terms.
“Avez vous un chose avec les petites batons pour écraser mon cheval?”
“Do you have a thing with little sticks to straighten my hair?”, I thought I was saying. I wasn’t.
But, somehow, I got a comb.
The next day I continued east to Moncton. I knew nothing about Moncton. But on the map it looked like it was close to the ocean, and I thought I might exercise my camping muscles by walking to the seaside.
The train arrived mid-morning. I stopped at the food court in the mall near the station for breakfast, and then headed out of town on foot.
I had no idea how I knew which way to go; I suppose I must have followed the signs for Shediac. I was entirely unprepared for walking the 30 kilometers ahead of me. I was wearing cheap old running shoes. I had no food or water. I’d never walked more than a mile or two before in one go.
But, like I said, I was looking for adventure.
After about 3 hours I’d escaped the suburbs of Moncton and was in rural New Brunswick. My feet hurt like hell. It was getting late. And I had no choice but to continue.
I kept walking. And walking. And walking.
In the late afternoon I was pretty close to not being able to walk any more: I had blisters on both feet, was dehydrated, and I had little idea how far it was to the sea.
So I decided, having really no other choice, to hitchhike to Shediac. I’d never hitchhiked before. It had never occured to me to hitchhike before: I’d never had anywhere I needed to go that I couldn’t get otherwise.
It was surprisingly easy: I stuck my thumb out, and the first car that came along picked me up. Ten minutes we arrived in Shediac.
I’m not sure what was going on in Shediac that late summer night, but there turned out not to be a hotel room or a campsite available. Not a single one. I walked (hobbled) from one end of town to the other. Nothing.
It was getting late — it seemed like midnight but I expect it was around eight — and so, in desparation, I headed off into the forest, just across the road from the RCMP detachment (perhaps I figured I’d be safe?). I didn’t have a tent, but I had a plastic sheet. And plenty of branches. So I set up camp as best I could, tucked into my sleeping back, and fell almost immediately to sleep.
Until I was woken up by what, at the time, sounded to me a lot like a bear. It probably wasn’t a bear. It might have been a squirrel, or a raccoon, or a fox. But whatever it was, I couldn’t see it, it was breathing really loudly, and I was terrified. In a panic I tore down camp and stuffed everything into the Canadian Tire frame backpack and ran out to the highway.
Where I stuck out my thumb. Toward Moncton. I was getting the hell out of Shediac.
Again, hitchhiking proved quite easy: a truck picked me up after about 5 minutes. Nice guy. Told me where I might be able to get a room in Moncton, and drove me right downtown, out of his way.
I spent a very (very) pleasant rest-of-the-night, no creatures in sight, in a room at the Colonial Inn — it’s still there — just 450 m from where I’d started the day 12 hours earlier at the train station.
The rest of my trip was much less eventful: the next day I took the train to Halifax, found a summer residence room at Dalhousie University, and hobbled around the city on my blistery feet for 3 days. I saw the The Man with One Red Shoe at the Paramount. Went to the public library. Saw a bit of the city.
And then, after 6 days on road, I got back on the train and headed back west to Ontario.