After reliving some Australian travel adventures with Myles for the last 3 days, it was time to hit the road yet again. But before I left, I made sure to have a beer on Piper’s Porch. I packed up my things, threw them in Myles’ car and we went off to where Highway 16 meets the perimeter highway of Edmonton (the 216). Myles dropped me off, gave me a $20 donation for the cause and we bid each other adieu. BIG THANKS goes out to Myles Marleau!
After Myles took off, I walked over to the on-ramp and did the ol’ routine that a traveling vagrant would do: bag down, sign out, smile on, wave constantly. Though after about 30 minutes, only 5 cars had passed me by. So I realized that I had to switch spots. I noticed that there was a side road hugging Highway 16 that headed due west. So I packed up my sign and my smile, propped down my skateboard and headed in that direction. Approximately 5 kms later, I found the next exit and made my way to the on-ramp. I put my bag down, attached my skateboard and before I even had time to switch into my H4H shirt, a car pulled over.
I walked towards the car to find an elderly couple sitting in the car. “Is everything OK,” they asked. “Oh yeah, I’m actually hitch hiking towards Jasper” I replied. “Oh well, we are headed to Stony Plain, it’s not far but you can come with us if you want” they said. “The further away from the city, the better” I replied. I grabbed my bag, tossed it in the car and then off we went. Their names were Ken and Ruth and they were a lovely couple who were very supportive of Hitching For Hope. They were semi-retired and had gone into an online auction business together. After about 15 minutes, we had reached Stony Plain. They wished me luck in my adventure, donated $20 to the cause and let me out of the car. BIG THANKS goes out to Ruth and Ken!
Ken and Ruth
Once they let me out, I pulled out my sign, and started waving again. After about 15 minutes, I noticed that a truck had pulled over down the on-ramp. I hadn’t realized how long it had been there for but it lay motionless for about 30 seconds. I told myself, “Hey, why not?” and headed towards it. After I took two steps forward the pickup truck started to back up towards me. Two thumbs up for initiation! Once I arrived to the truck, I saw that a big burly aboriginal man with a long pony tail was in the driver’s seat. “Hey, sir, where are you off to?” I asked. “I’m going to Grand Prairie, how about you?” he replied. “Jasper” I said. “OK, well I can take you about 80 kms down the road” he said. “Amazing!” I exclaimed. I tossed my things in the back of his truck and off we went. His name was Vance. A kind, easygoing, soft-spoken man. He told me that he was a Wildfire Firefighter near Grand Prairie and had been doing this job since he was 17 years old. Now he was one of the head managers for the organization. We talked about his encounters with various bears in the wild and how he always carried a massive knife on his chest if he went camping out by himself. “If a bear attacks, I’m not going down without a fight” he told me. And I believed him. He was a true man of the outdoors and loved working outside no matter how low the temperatures got. He had just taken 4 days off to visit a friend of his who was having her first baby in Edmonton but unfortunately had been called in early to go fight a fire in Northern Alberta. He said it was an 18-day shift. “Wow, that’s busy!” I said. “Yeah, I have to be though, I have to feed my 7 children. But I don’t mind, they are my pride and joy, so I live with it” he chuckled. This is the type of man you would want with you if you ever found yourself in the middle of wolf country. He dropped me off 9 kms shy of the town named Wildwood and wished me luck. BIG THANKS goes out to Vance!
I had made it about 100 kms out of Edmonton and had another 250 kms to go but it was only 1 pm. I still had time. Though this spot was not very ideal. Since there was nothing around, I had no choice but to stand on the side of the highway as I waved to cars flying past me at over 110 kms/h. After about 40 minutes, I noticed that a car pulled a U-Turn and came back towards me. Inside were two men going to the town of Wildwood just 9 kms down the road. “Sounds much better than here” I said and off we went. Their names were Chris and Joe. They said that they were just killing time as they were coming back from picking up supplies for work. Since the ride was so short, I didn’t get a chance to get to know them very well, but they were kind of enough to give me a ride. So BIG THANKS goes out to Joe and Chris!
Joe and Chris
Once in Wildwood, I felt much more confident in finding a ride since cars were not going as fast as they were on the straight-away highway. These feelings were confirmed as I saw a car pull over after waiting only 10 minutes. Inside was a guy that must have been in his early twenties. “Hey man, where are you off to?” I asked. “I’m off to my cabin in Robb, AB, it’s near Edson (80 kms away)” he replied. “Oh amazing! Do you mind if I tag along?” I said. “Nope! You’re not going to kill me though, right?” he answered. “I don’t think I could if I tried” I told him. And off we went. His name was Justin. He told me that he had hitch hiked in the past and had an amazing time doing it. He told me that my skateboard was the X factor in pulling over. Justin was an avid BMX rider who had been working as a power line technician for the past couple of years. He said that he loved his job since it gave him a fantastic opportunity to travel around Canada. The job itself sounded death-defying. He mentioned that it had not been deemed a professional trade because of the amount of deaths per capita in the field. Justin dreamed about becoming a Park Ranger or a Conservation Officer in Alaska. It seemed like the perfect job for him. I hope it happens! Justin and I got along so well that before we knew it, we were already in Edson. We quickly grabbed a bite to eat, chatted about Thailand and headed to the outskirts of the town where Justin dropped me off. BIG THANKS goes out to Justin!
After Justin drove off, I turned around and saw the first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. Even though they were about 100 kms, they towered over the vast spruce forest leading up to them. Just as I turned around, I notice that a car was pulling onto the highway and was slowly approaching me. “I’m heading to Hinton,” the man said. “Awesome, I’m heading to Jasper” I replied. “Alright, well I’ll take you halfway there” he said. I hopped in and off we went. The man’s name was Wayne. He told me that he had hitch hiked all over North America in the 60s and 70s and empathized with my travels. Wayne said that he had just come back to Canada a couple of months ago after living in the Caribbean for the past 44 years. He told me that he had grew near Hinton and that his family used to own a lot of land in the area. Unfortunately, the land was sold off and had raised in price tremendously. He was finding it hard to find a chunk for himself after being away for quite some time. Wayne became very engaged after I mentioned that I was hitch hiking for Ovarian Cancer research. He told me that he himself was planning to pursue a venture that cured a form of skin cancer. Being a horticulturist, he told me the Kigelia Pinata tree held a certain form of jelly that cured various forms of skin cancer. He told me that he had suffered from skin cancer and had applied the jelly to these regions. He mentioned that after a two week period, the cancer had completely subsided. Even his doctor couldn’t explain it. Who says there is no cure? After a lovely ride, Wayne dropped me off in Hinton and wished me luck. BIG THANKS goes out to Wayne!
Arriving in Hinton, I was on the cusp of the Rocky Mountains, within striking distance of Jasper. I knew that the next ride would probably take me to my final destination.
The Gateway to the Rockies
After waiting under 10 minutes (!!), an 18-wheeler pulled over. “YES!!!!” I yelled to myself, amongst the racket that the truck was emitting. This was the first time a truck pulled over, and I was very excited to ride in this massive machine. I climbed up to the passenger seat “Where are you going?” I asked. The man inside stated “Vancouver”, “Amazing! Do you think I could ride with you to Jasper?” I asked. “But of course” said the man. I gathered my things, hauled them in the truck and we were off carrying a miscellaneous amount of plywood through the gateway to the Rockies. The man’s name was Bal and he was originally from India. He told me that he had recently moved to Vancouver almost 7 years ago but was a farmer in the Okanagan Valley before he took a job as a truck driver. I wished I had talked to Bal more often and gotten to know him better, but my jaw was constantly dropping as I peered out at the landscape that was developing in front of me.
Mountains Beyond Mountains
Needless to say the Jasper National Park made a very good first impression on me. The combination of clearwater lakes, snow capped mountains and scurrying wildlife was a lot to take in. We reached the outskirts of the town and I bid adieu to Bal. BIG THANKS goes out to him!
I jumped out of Bal’s 18-wheeler and walked towards the downtown core of Jasper. Once I reached the town, I scurried to a payphone and left a message on an old university friend (Margot Bishop)’s phone. I sat down on the curb with my gear and took in the sights of the majestic mountain range. Do you like living?
Until next time…