Amidst streets swept clean of shattered glass, amongst commuters and backpackers alike, the chinook decelerated along Granville Street and pulled up beside the hostel – and thereby augmented my anxiety.
Hauling our possessions out of the SameSun, Michael and I waved at Lorna of The Roamantics as she stepped out of her vehicle.
With ride number one before our eyes, the commencing of Grand Canadian Hitchhike dawned upon me.
Intertwined with my exchange of dialogues with Lorna, who then proceeded to drive us to Langley, south of Vancouver, were bubbles of silent contemplation – two weeks of pampering and leisurely travel around British Columbia, sponsored by Tourism BC, I felt somewhat intimidated by the prospect of throwing myself into the hands of unpredictability.
The Grand Canadian Hitchhike may have been months in the making, yet my fate would only reveal itself one hitch at a time.
Inevitably Lorna dropped us off outside of a petrol station and we parted ways. The challenge, as we clenched our fists and straightened our thumbs, had truly begun.
For a struggle to escape an awkward hitchhiking spot – by a bus stop on a high-speed major road leading up to Trans-Canada Highway – a mere one-hour wait was flattering. A ride all the way to our first intended destination, Kamloops, may have been wishful thinking, though the commuter between Langley and Chilliwack had dropped us off on a rampart adjacent to Vancouver’s furthermost suburbia – beats getting stranded among intra-city traffic.
One and a half hours later our appeal was answered by a honk and a couple travelling to nearby Hope for a psychedelic festival.
They dropped us off by a service station. Dusk was swiftly catching up with us but, convinced the prolonged summer sunlight will linger for at least a few more hours, we stuck our thumbs out again and hoped for a long-distance ride – though the temptation of staying behind and attending the festival was firmly occupying our minds.
Soon after we were dashing along the Coquihalla Highway, northbound, ascending into the snow-filled mountain ranges.
The bloke driving the pickup truck was travelling to Alberta and, having to stop by Kamloops to pick up his son before returning home, was happy to drop us off in downtown Kamloops. We managed to reach our intended destination – I could sense the nerves evaporate from my weary body as we gulped down celebratory pints, laughing away the night and plotting our next course of action with more ambition.
Except our quest to cross the remainder of British Columbia and arrive in adventure-capital Banff didn’t happen until after a wild-goose-chase of a hunt for the night’s accommodation and a serendipitous encounter.
When the alarm failed to wake the pair of us early in the morning, we skipped breakfast and trekked a brutal distance to the outskirts of Kamloops, bailing from one fruitless hitching spot to another – the fortunes that smothered me in cockiness and over-confidence the previous day seemed like a fateful betrayal.
Then Michael went to speak to a trucker at the service station we ended up in – the casual enquiry for hitchhiking advice became our first lorry ride. Albeit only for a short distance, some 10km down the road.
We strategically positioned ourselves on the highway itself, yards away from a turnoff point that diverted traffic south towards Vernon. Once again, the raised difficulty level was felt by our increasing sore limbs.
A native strolled past us, thumb hoisted; he warned us about police presence.
Then, the item of antiquity with boat in tow pulled up beside us and screeched to a halt. I approached with whatever hope I managed to salvage; the reward was a ride – however as unimpressive as I’d so vainly wished for – some 130km to Sicamous.
Kelly, who filled us in with his quirky accounts of mining in his Saskatchewan properties and cranky antics, dropped us off just outside of his destination; by then we’ve noticed the thinning of traffic – even though we were supposedly on the busiest highway within the province – and lamenting were we of our decreasing chances of reaching Banff.
I was becoming very frustrated. I may have had “pls?” and a smiley face scribbled on the sign, yet our plea remained mostly unanswered: how heartless could people be? How much will my faith invested on the rest of my journey – with some 7000km left – be repaid instead in scorns and distrust?
We lingered by the side of the road for over an hour, then retreated into an adjacent lorry park. The inhospitality prevailed, except in verbal form muttered by truckers – a stark reminder of an earlier statement by the lorry driver who delivered us out of Kamloops, who mentioned how insurance policies forbade truckers from picking up hitchhikers.
My heart sank – the motel perching on the opposite side of the road had been a temptation, yet it appeared more as a taunt of our failings.
The final decision of the day: we’d attempt for a final time to hitchhike, loitering close to the motel our last resort.
Mere minutes later, I raced towards the crimson pickup truck parked before us; heart throbbing and humbled, I accepted on our behalves the driver’s offer – to take us all the way to Banff.
As sunlight dwindled and the Mountain Time Zone enclosing, we traversed the national parks amidst conversations of wild life and struggles to stay conscious within the dark. Eventuality arrived as the numbers on signposts subtracted before one directed us into Banff.
By 1.30am we were reclining in hostel beds, eyelids tightly enshrouding me in darkness; yet I couldn’t sleep, for the cocktail of exhilaration, surrealism and sense of achievement would not wear off for days to come.