So, due to poor attention to detail, I posted Day 7 before I posted Day 6, so these two posts are out of order. Sorry about that!
I must have made a sufficiently good impression on the drive from Sudbury to Thunder Bay, because Caitlin (my incredibly lucky lift from the day before) offered me a lift for the next day as well. She was staying with friends in Kenora, near the Ontario-Manitoba border, so our second day driving together was a much shorter drive. Frankly, I was just happy to have a lift right from the start, and the added bonus of not sleeping in a ditch had me in good spirits.
I had not researched hostels in Kenora, so I planned to keep going through if the lift with Caitlin felt as if it had run its course by the end. Thankfully though, we continued to get along well, despite being in each others presence for many consecutive hours, and she suggested I stay at her friend’s place.
While I thought that was a nice gesture, I did not think it likely that her friend would agree to host a potentially smelly hitch hiker she had never met, but Caitlin called ahead and again I was surprised by the hospitality of strangers. She explained that Megan, the host, was in a relationship with ‘the ultimate backpacking hitch hiker dude’, so was happy to support the travelling cause and host the two of us. With that, I had a place to stay for the night, and so the day was established to be the easiest hitch hiking day ever.
Caitlin and I, by the Kakabeka Falls (Thunder Bay)
The drive to Kenora itself was uneventful, with no unpleasant surprises waiting for us. Caitlin had a couple of audiobooks with her, so we decided to start listening through The Poisonwood Bible, which had incidentally been recommended to me by my English teacher 4 years earlier. The recommendation turned out to be a rightful one, as we quickly became enthralled in the characters and their struggles.
It made me think back to that English teacher, and it dawned on me how much of an influence she had been – her reference played a large part in getting me into a volunteer program in India after I left school, her support in my final year had encouraged me to change from physics to English at university, and even a few of her phrases had made their way into my vocabulary. I made a mental note to send her an appreciative email when I next had the chance.
After 5 hours on the road and one crossed timezone, we arrived at Wendy’s house. Similar to Caitlin, Wendy was immediately friendly and likeable, and invited us to join her weekly pot-luck dinner at a friend’s house. We came prepared with corn chips and salsa, but when we arrived, it turned out to be sushi night. While everyone else showed up with crab meat, avocados, carrots, and other assorted sushi-suitable foods, I sat there with chips. My contribution was still welcomed by the host though, and so we made an oh-so-multicultural fusion cuisine dish of sushi with a side of nachos.
There were a handful of people there, the majority of whom were full of fun banter and quick jokes, but one of whom I could not figure out. He was the only other male there, a tall and ungainly fellow named Pat, with a sense of humour that neither fit the audience nor seemed appropriate for any other conceivable situation. His wife was inexplicably beautiful and sweet, with a far more suitable sense of humour, and I found myself genuinely puzzled as to what drew her to him.
Perhaps that was shallow of me, perhaps I was petty in my judgement of him, but I truly did not understand. How did his his sleazy jokes, obsession with correcting others, and achingly boring stories manage to win over a woman who clearly was the object of much admiration? Surely she could have done better than him? But, each to their own, and I chose to take courage from the evident fact that sometimes awkward guys manage to do well for themselves.
I might have been the odd one out, but I was not the misfit. 5 points for guessing who that title went to. (Kenora)
It was about halfway through the evening that the host questioned how it was that I ended up at the pot luck. It was not interrogative, nor had I made myself unwelcome, she simply wondered what my connection was, but was surprised by my answer. ‘So, I get that Caitlin is Megan’s friend,’ she said conversationally as she turned to me, ‘but how do you fit into the equation?’.
‘Oh,’ I replied, thinking it had been explained to her before my arrival, ‘I’m just a hitch hiker Caitlin picked up the other day’. The response around the room was simultaneous and almost identical.
‘Hahahah wait WHAT? Are you serious?’
They genuinely did not believe me, and for a moment I was worried that I may not be so welcome any more. Thankfully, they were not too concerned once the initial surprise has settled down, and we could return to our storytelling. Caitlin later pointed out to me that most of the people there were born-and-bred small town folk, so the prospect of hitch hikers was well outside of their comfort zone. To be fair, that is probably out of most people’s comfort zones, but I was glad I had established myself as good company before being exposed as grimy road-trash.
After a pleasant evening, Caitlin and Megan and I headed back to Megan’s house for the night. It was a small place, and the ‘sleep on the floor’ bed arrangement for me really did mean sleeping on the floor. There was not much padding between my angular bony physique and the equally unyielding floor, but I was happy to be sheltered and grateful to Megan and her hospitality. My family has hosted many people over the years, but we had never hosted a hitch hiker before, let alone at such short notice and so short on space. I added another entry to my extended mental list of favours to pay forward, and promptly fell asleep.
To be continued (with the last entry, exciting times!)