The hitchhikers

The hitchhikers

( Mid August 2017)

Soundtrack: Secret Victory – East Pointers

hitchhikers.jpg

It took me quite a while to write this article. I did not have as much free time or time on my own, I did not write in my journal as I went and somehow I did not really find motivation to write. But now it is different, I have more time and I want to use it for writing, for reading, for planning. As I go, my projects start to take a clearer shape and I find out more and more about myself and about what I want to do. But this new chapter of my adventure has also been really busy, and once again, full of life lessons. After leaving the Maggies, I went back to Prince Edward Island and Charlottetown because it was on my way and I spent most of my time waiting for the day Léa would come meet me in Nova Scotia. Léa and I met in Business School seven years ago. We were in the same class during our first year there and pretty much spent all our time together. But we haven’t seen each other since our graduation ceremony back in December 2014, and to tell the truth, we haven’t spent any meaningful amount of time together in the last four years. We were both too busy living in opposite side of the world. And when I say opposite side I mean she was in Berlin when I studied in the US and she moved to Hong-Kong when I moved to Germany. We always kept in touch tough and now we are finally going on a new adventure together and I am really excited about that.

Once I get back to Charlottetown, I start planning for this new adventure. Léa and I make the bookings for our hostels and I look at car rental companies. We quickly realize that things won’t be as smooth as expected. For the first time since I started my trip, some of the hostels we try to book are full on the dates we were looking for. Since they aren’t so many hostels around that region, we might have some problem along the way. For two nights in our journey, we have nowhere to stay. I try not to stress out too much about it and hope that we will find a solution in time but I also spend a lot of time online looking for that solution. I take a bus from Charlottetown to Halifax because they forecast heavy rain and I don’t want to be stranded on the side of the road in the middle of a rain storm. Of course when I am safe in the bus, it doesn’t rain! But that’s another issue. I arrive in Halifax two days before Léa, and I have to juggle between hostels and airbnb because once again I did not book enough ahead of time. I get a bit tired by all this back and forth but then Léa finally arrives and all is fine in the world. From the moment we reunite, it is as if we were never apart. We have so much to tell one another, so much to catch up on that I know our journey will be epic.

We spend two days in Halifax together, visiting what we can, eating what we want and dodging the rain as best as possible. But mostly, we talk. We talk about our lives while we were apart, our most recent adventures, the people we’ve met and left along the way, the ones that stuck around for good and the ones we wished we’d never met at all. I have managed to rent a car for us on the second day after leaving Halifax, and I also found a couchsurfer willing to host us on the first night we had nowhere to stay. It seems that things are slowly falling into place on their own and plans adjusting accordingly. The only obstacle remaining is that we have to cross the island to get from Halifax to Sydney where we will pick up the car. It’s about 500 km of hitchhiking, the longest ride I have done in a day, and Léa’s first try at hitchhiking. As per usual, things go rather easily. We get picked up by six different drivers, a young couple, a fifty something woman, a sixty something guy named Don, two young fellows, an elderly couple and Matt, a thirty something guy. It takes us almost all afternoon to get to our couchsurfing but all in all it runs pretty smoothly. At the end of the day, while we wait for what will be our last lift, we are both a bit tired by the journey, I have initiated Léa to the art of “obvious sign showing”, which basically consist in showing your hitchhiking sign in a very obvious way while you pretend to be simply walking to get to your hitchhiking spot. Sometimes people see you and offer you a ride without you having to actually do the hitchhiking-thumb-showing thing. I have also introduced to her the sweet sound of How Bizarre, by OMC and while we wait for someone to offer us a ride, we just dance on the side of the road, with our backpacks on and our sign in hand. And somehow it works, and two different people offer to drive us. The journey turns out to be pretty successful, especially because we’ve met Don, who lives in New Glasgow and organizes every year the Music Mountain Festival, a rock festival over a weekend in August. And it turns out that the weekend is precisely the one when we had nowhere to stay. Don invites us to come to the festival for free and offers to host us while we are there. Funny how things work out by themselves if you let them. Now we have free accommodation for both nights while a little while ago we had nowhere to stay. And with every new part of this journey comes a new life lesson, this one being that there is no point in being anxious or stressed about things because everything will eventually fall into place on its own. You might have to spend a little more money than expected or sleep somewhere unexpected, but ruining you trip by overthinking and over stressing won’t change anything expect the memories you’re making.

When we arrive at our couchsurfing, our host is not there yet, so we wait for her to return, sitting on her porch, with her two big dogs keeping us company. The house is rather isolated from the street or any neighbors and there is a carillon outside that rings every time the wind blows. It’s all pretty gloomy and Léa and I start imagining scary movie scenarios. We both love writing and we promise each other on that day that we are going to write a collection of scary stories based on our adventures, but also and mostly based on our imagination. We have a wonderful night at Jenna’s and the next morning, she drops us off at the car rental company. We get a free upgrade and are now the proud drivers of a big fat Ford SUV. Well I am, because Léa doesn’t drive, but she turns out to be a pretty damn good co-pilot.

We spend the rest of our time roaming the roads of Cape Breton, We drive 2017 km, through every road on the island, back and forth and back again. Music blasting in our ears, singing our lungs out to old Disney songs and musical classics. We laugh, and talk, and redraw the world. We make plans for the future and dream of bright days to come, proving that our friendship can withstand the test of time, that it knows no boundaries and is not altered by distance. We are so different in many ways yet are hearts are quite alike, we have opposite dreams that mirror each other but find common ground somewhere in their similar roots. We crave for the same things: love, friendship, laughter, a sense of belonging and a cause to drive us along the way. The night before our last, we spend several hours at the table, talking about how different time seems to pass when you are travelling. We’ve been here for only two weeks yet it feels like two months, in the best kind of way. We reminisce about the adventures of our first days together feeling as if it were a different life. The experiences we live are so full of meaning, so rich, that it seems time takes a different rhythm around here. We celebrate my two months on the road over wine and I am filled with gratitude towards everything I had the chance to experience, two months is a really short time and I still have a long way to go, yet it feels like such a long time, as if I had been on the road forever. Sometimes I feel like I am in a different universe, so far away from the worries of my “normal” life. I don’t worry about finding a job, going to work everyday, paying my bills and cleaning my apartment. My worries are different, yet they aren’t really worries either. I worry about where I will sleep next and what great adventure I will take on. I wonder about what I will do when I come home and what I truly want out of life. Time passes, as it always does, but on a different pace. Léa and I have lived countless adventures in our short time together, made memories for life, taken thousands of pictures, watched every new episode of Game of Thrones and every behind the scenes videos, talked for hours about the current plot and made crazy theories about what would come next and sang so much (and so bad) we would have deafen any soul around if we weren’t in the safety of our rented car. I can’t talk about all of our adventures, neither do I want to, but I will share a few of the most memorable ones, as a tribute to our shared journey. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

The hitchhikers

On the day of the Music Mountain Festival, we leave our hostel with a long drive ahead of us to reach New Glasgow again. Don has invited us to the festival and promised he will host us and let us in for free, but we haven’t heard from him since and aren’t really sure he will hold his promise. We give him a quick call but a lady picks up the phone and tells us entrance and accommodation will cost us 70 CAD. Quickly after we hang up, Don calls back and tells us there was a misunderstanding and that he will welcome us as promised. Relieved, we start our long journey, speculating about what the festival will be like. We joke it can either be a Canadian version of Tomorrowland or a weird redneck gathering with twenty family related old people reminiscing about the old rock days. And when we finally arrive, we are not disappointed. The festival is held on a lawn somewhere rather isolated, dozens of camper vans are parked on the grass and probably around two hundred redneck-fifty-something people, sitting on their fishing chairs with a beer in hand listen to an old rock singer who is apparently a former guitar player from the Canadian equivalent of the Rolling Stones. Léa kept telling me early in our trip that she wanted to experience the proper “America” and Don did not disappoint. This is cliché America at its best. Don is very happy to see us, he shows us around and explains that we will sleep in his trailer and he will sleep on the couch. He introduces us to his parents and brother as “the hitchhikers“. When we tell them about our adventure and how I hitchhiked across Canada, they look at us as if we had just told them that we have magic golden hair that lightens up when we sing (Rapunzel reference everyone!!). As we tell them our tale, they seem more and more surprised and I am not sure if they find us remarkably brave or just plain crazy, until Don’s mother casually asks us if we carry guns, and then I realize we might not be the crazy ones. We spend the evening observing everyone, sipping wine, and dancing to old rock covers. All in all a fun night and more inspiration for some scary stories. The next morning, everyone we meet, who seems to be related to Don somehow, calls us “The hitchhikers“, we joke it could be our gypsy rock band name if he had any musical talent, which clearly, we don’t, as proven by our recent carpool karaoke performances. We don’t linger around for too long, we say our goodbyes and leave Don knowing we made memories that will last a lifetime.

The inn keeper

One of the highlights of the Cape Breton is a hike called the Skyline Trail. It is rather short but the view at the end is mesmerizing. You are perched on a high cliff and can see a big portion of the Cabot Trail, running along the Ocean. Sunsets there are said to be breathtaking. On our first day on this side of the island, we arrive around five at the hostel and despite the bad weather, decide to quickly check-in and go for the trail. It rains quite a lot when we start walking, but mostly it is really cold. The lady at the hostel told us it was really worth it. I spend most of the way there jokingly complaining sarcastically about “how great this hike is” and “how happy I am to be here“. But as always, Canada does not disappoint. Through the clouds, the sky colors in orange, red and pink, we can see glimpses of the sun piercing through as it slowly goes down into the water. We also see a moose not too far, or rather a moose butt as he faces on the opposite side of us. The cold is hard to withstand but it is indeed worth it. We take as many pictures as possible and head back to the parking lot. When we take the car back, it is already dark and we both feel wet and chilly. On the drive back with see another moose down in a lake. Léa had never seen any before so it made her evening. We decide to have dinner in a restaurant near the hostel to get warm and when we walk in, the lady of the hostel is here to greet us again. Surprised, we joke that this town is so small that we will probably see her in every corner. We imagine her waiting for us at the wale watching tour in her yellow parka, and cashing us at the super market. We are both tired and can hardly hold our nervous laughter. After dinner we go back to the hostel and watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones and with every plot twist joke that we will see the inn keeper from our hostel appear on screen. This joke will follow us for the rest of our trip. We go to bed lighthearted and while I try to fall asleep, I still laugh alone in my bed.

Moose alert!

One day as we are supposed to go wale watching, the captain informs us that the tour has been cancelled due to bad meteorological conditions. Instead, we decide to go on the skyline trail a second time, hoping for better weather. On the way to the view point, we see another moose in the distance. I tell Léa that I have been told a moose can charge you if it feels threatened, especially if it is a mum and a baby. And I act all smart telling her that if a moose runs after you, you can probably just hide behind a big tree and it will run past you because it can’t take a sharp turn. I imagine that if you stay very close to the tree trunk and turn around it to be on the opposite side from the moose, you can probably outsmart it. Léa is doubtful but doesn’t say much about it. We reach the view point while it starts raining on us but linger for a while because the colors are just amazing. The sky is all grey and orange, a bit foggy and the hidden sun colors the trees all around in a dark green color. Everything looks very gloomy but very beautiful. On the way back, as I walk, minding my own business and instagraming stories of our hike under the rain, Léa suddenly turns to me with scared little doe eyes and in her best child voice tells me “Flooo, there is one right there, right next to the path”. I lean forward to see a huge moose, quietly feeding on a tree right next to the hiking trail. It makes no noise, yet I hear something close by. I guess it might not be alone and finally spot the baby moose even closer to us. A mum and a baby, worst possible scenario. We can’t possibly pass without them noticing us and if the mum gets scared she will probably attack. And let me tell you one thing, in that moment I feel more like melting myself into the ground than hiding behind a tree expecting her not to get me. We take a few pictures and instagram stories, because let’s be honest, if we might die, at least the word will know we saw two moose on the side of trail and that’s all that matters. When mama moose finally notices us though, we start to panic. We quickly retreat without loosing sight of her: “Abort mission! I repeat abort mission!“. Finally we decide that since we can’t go back the way we came, we need to try and walk past them. They have moved a bit further away from the trail and if we are quick enough, we think we can just move along without drawing attention. I go first and as I pass in front of mama moose, our eyes lock. My heart skips a bit and I let out a “oh my god! oh my god! oh my god!“, but we keep walking and we make it back to safety. After that encounter, we are high on adrenaline and giggling at the memory of how incredible what just happened was. Later that evening, we google any kind of information possible about moose and among other things find out that they can measure up to 2.1 m at shoulder height, weight 700 kg, run at almost 60 km/h and that eye contact is the first sign of aggression. Oh well, I guess you would not last long hidden behind your tree… That was close!

On the night before last, grateful for all the adventures we just experienced, Léa and I spend hours at the dining table, reviewing everything that happened during our short time together. We remember fondly our first days together, our hitchhiking ride and all the moments spent in the car. We have seen together amazing landscapes and taken the best pictures, we cooked and ate lobsters (and nearly drowned them in freshwater), we tried pastas with scallops as well, swam in waterfalls, climbed the steepest trails, and got caught under the rain three times while hiking, we saw five moose, probably sang a thousand songs (to which we surprisingly remembered most lyrics). We also reminisce about our time in school together and how much we have endured since then. We talk about everything we’ve been through during our time apart and how sometimes we felt we wouldn’t survive. I confess how exhausted and depressed I was in Stuttgart towards the end and how I felt I needed to get away from it all. I explain how Montreal became a place to run away to, a perspective, something to focus on to get out of my everyday life in Germany, and how it does not feel right anymore. I tell her how I don’t want to run any longer but most importantly that I don’t feel the need to. Because I’ve made it through, and I am fine now. I survived and she did too. She fought her own battles which are not mine to disclose, and she came out the other way, we both did. And we might not be the same girls we were back then but we’re still here and that’s all that matters. Talking with her I realize how naive I was when I graduated from business school, and how unprepared I truly was to face the great big world. Everything that I experienced before that time was nothing compared to everything that I had to face afterwards. Maybe we only truly grow up after that, when we are left to our own devices in the real world…. Or maybe it is just me.  In any case, I am happier now that I have been in a long time, the storm that scourged my head and heart has passed and that is the greatest thing.

Way too soon, Léa has to leave and go back to France. I drop her at the bus stop and as soon as her bus departs we start texting and joking remotely. Our time together here in Nova Scotia has brought us closer together after all this time apart, but mostly proved that our friendship is built to last. It won’t be long before we see each other again now, and for that too I am grateful. In the meantime, I have to ease back into solo travelling and get used to being on my own again…

‘Til next time,

Openheartedly,

F.

 

P.S: Pictures at the end taken by Léa, the photography wizard. To see the final product of her talent, you should visit her page here

P.P.S: If you want to read our first try at scary story writing, it was written by Léa, and you can read it here. More will follow hopefully later.

 

Pictures below by Lea

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