Raising your thumb on a Canadian highway does redefine the concept of ‘worst fears’.
Canada is not a country notorious for housing belligerence and natural hazards. Yet when, every once in a while, I proclaimed my quest to hitchhike across what is the second largest country in the world, any sense of security evaporated before my breath. Eyes would dilate, gasps emitted – as though my very words had transported my listener to the most inhospitable part of the globe.
Alas, fear is infectious. Psychopaths habitually seeking hitchhikers to prey upon, bears with supernatural abilities to maul whole human bodies into smithereens; these had always been passing concerns – never had I imprinted finger marks upon a bottle of pepper spray solely from an anxiety-induced grip. My above-average height seemed like a much more efficient lightning rod than, well, any conductive objects around me.
Even when scrambling along the side of an empty highway could I not resist envisaging myself assuming the mantle of a road kill.
Evidently I completed my journey having evaded the imaginary assailant – though my pride was hardly unscathed from the mocking stares of squirrels.
Fundamentally, my worst fear remained with being hopelessly stranded. And preferably not in the middle of nowhere. Travelling over 6000km entirely by hitchhiking, from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic shores, I had a fair share of getting marooned in spots more desolate, solitary, and fouler than the most gruelling challenge a survival-show contestant has to endure.
Remaining optimistic was my best anti-insanity device – so was having an end goal.
Almost without fail someone would swerve towards the kerbside – an invitation. Scurrying to pick up my possessions amidst a racing heart rate, thus was the moment where my prayers to every known deity had been answered.
The exhilaration could not be any more heightened; even when I had settled down on the passenger seat, watching my former waiting spot speed away until it merged with the horizon, the thrill now lied with becoming acquainted with the driver – your random Samaritan – as we divulged our lives, witnessing strangers abruptly becoming unlikely confidants.
The rides were always worth the wait.
Even for seasonal hitchhikers like myself, we often risk getting too carried away with the desire to reach our destination – frequently because we were so hopelessly stranded and wanted to shed some pessimism by imagining how gazebo’ed we’d get once arriving at the endpoint – and, in the process, neglect the spell of interaction with people who picked us up.
Throughout Grand Canadian Hitchhike I had encountered oil-rig workers revelling in their wealth, convertible-driving war journalists, vagabonding hippies, a conspiracy-theories-spewing ex-militaryman – who empowered me with such insights into their country that no guidebook can rival.
The true joy of hitchhiking lies with the process rather than the result – once the enjoyment kicks in there’s really nothing to fear about it.
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Category: Guest Post