The ongoing story of a girl and her van on an epic journey across Canada.
Day 114 (Tuesday August 31st)
Since I left Halifax 23 days ago, I haven’t spent much time with other people. It’s mostly been short exchanges at grocery stores and gas stations, and most topics of conversation have revolved around requests for me to sign little pieces of paper, and me complying.
Let’s backtrack even further. Since I left Victoria 114 days ago, any time anyone has asked me where I’m going I’ve vaguely said St. John’s, Newfoundland. It was easier than saying I really don’t know, I’m just sort of driving aimlessly with the hopes that something will jump up and hit me over the head screaming THIS IS YOUR NEW LIFE because I really don’t know what I want to do or where I want to do it and a road trip seemed like a good way to avoid decisions for a while, you know?
So I’d say St. John’s and people would say cool!, and I’d think yeah, I know, and then go about my business.
And then, 114 days later, something happened that I had never really considered. I actually arrived in St. John’s. There I was, in St. John’s. My destination. And it was the middle of the day, and sunny, and there were lots of people around, and the roads are really steep and didn’t make much sense as to where they led and I didn’t know anyone and OHGODWHATAMIDOINGHERE???
So I left the downtown area and decided to take shelter in the part of Canada I have come to know intimately. The big box shopping streets. Every single town in Canada has this. It’s wonderful. You can drive for hundreds and hundreds and yes, even thousands of kilometres and drive into a place you’ve never been in a province you can’t even spell and it’ll feel like you’re driving home. It’s all Walmarts and Costcos and gas and fastfood and Home Depots and parking lots and car dealerships and garden centres. It’s the part of any town where I can handle all of the people because it is so totally anonymous. I understand these parts of town. I can function in them. I can find what I need and slip in and out without being noticed and without feeling guilty for not appreciating my surroundings.
I decided to ignore St. John’s and do laundry instead (and no, I didn’t launder my sunglasses or wallet this time). While my clothes spun and tumbled I sat out in my van eating Vienna sausages and cheese slices while checking my email on a very weak wi-fi connection.
Yeah, so, I had a bit of a freak out.
In my defence, I’d just spent three weeks in a cabin on the coast of Nova Scotia, then on the beaches of PEI, and finally in the wonderfully underpopulated west coast of Newfoundland and Gros Mourne park. All this civilization would have overwhelmed anyone. Right?
I was starting to do travel math (how long do I need to spend in this place before I can leave without looking like a total loser for bailing too early) when my phone buzzed. It was a text from Terry.
Terry is a friend of a friend. One of those Oh, you’ll be in that place and I know someone there so you should look them up!things. My luck with these sorts of introductions have been 50/50. I’ve met some fantastic people this way. I’ve also had some very awkward phone conversations and cups of coffee.
So Terry was texting me to say he was heading out of town the next morning for a few weeks and was really busy that night, but if I could come over right away he could squeeze me in for a beer. I almost said no. I was perfectly happy lying in my van feeling sorry for myself and waiting for it to get dark. Making small talk with a stranger sounded like hell.
Fortunately, the whiny, self pitying part of my brain — while always present — is rarely in charge. I headed back into town and this time, with a local guide, it was much better. I actually managed to sit in a bar and drink my Guinness without cracking up. Go me!
Terry had this absolutely wonderful quality that endeared me to him for life. He actually felt bad that he was leaving town while I was entering it. Seriously! Me, a total stranger who just waltzed in and was all I know Andrea and so do you. He seemed to feel the need to provide shelter and entertainment. Sucker!
So he brought me over to his friend, Dr. Iguana*. I can see how maybe Terry would feel like he should look after his friend’s friend. Dr. Iguana, however, had absolutely no reason to be nice to me. But he took me in, gave me his couch, a place to park, and became my own personal tour guide and chef.
Dr. Iguana and I have gone to Cape Spear, the most eastern point of North America, with tons of scary cliffs and angry waves. We spent a day driving down to St. Mary’s bird sanctuary, which is basically a massive cliff face where thousands and thousands of birds hang out and mate. We walked around Branch and enjoyed their list of 21 reasons why moving there is a good idea (they hope to increase the population to 500 over the next 15 years). We went down to Ye Olde Inn in Quidi Vidi village and drank beer at the smallest, kitchiest bar I have ever seen (the decor was primarily licence plates, hockey sticks, baby shoes, and seal clubbing tools). We’ve traipsed through the museum and art gallery. Along with Alien Boy** we drove around Bell Island looking for abandoned mines and drinking beer with local hooligans.
And my temporary insanity seems to have disappeared. I have not felt the need to run away and hide in a massive parking lot, and I haven’t even been tempted to buy a can of Vienna sausages. I’m cured!
* Not his real name. He requested this alias specifically. Swear!
** Another self selected alias.
All photos by Sarah Gignac
St. John’s Street
St. John’s Harbour
Reasons to move to Branch, NL.
St Mary’s Bird Sanctuary (you’re looking at 50,000 Northern Gannets).
Dr. Iguana & Alien Boy
This article was first published on Raggedy Threads in September 2010.