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Continental Drift, part 6

"Ottawa to Albany"

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My rides dried up. I’d had pretty good hitching luck up to then, with only a few long stretches of waiting for cars. Now, the situation had changed. I had a big bloody scabby bruise on the side of my face, right up against my nose. It did not seem to be engendering a lot of trust in me with the many cars passing me by.

I wasn’t feeling too mythic.

It didn’t help that I’d left the comfort of the Trans-Canadian Highway, trading the East-West of Hwy 417 for the North-South of Hwy 416. Traffic slowed significantly.

I don’t know how long it took me to reach the border. I just Googled the distance from Ottawa to Prescott/Ogdensburg (the place where I think I crossed the border), which should have taken me an hour, but I’m pretty sure it took me two days.

I remember smelling a horrible smell in the air as I neared the border. Someone pointed out the paper plant, and the smokestacks far out on the horizon. I felt nauseated, though I wasn’t sure if the smell from the smokestacks was the reason.

It seemed unlikely I’d be able to find a ride across the border between Canada and the U.S., I remembered my inability to do so when I was entering Canada.

I opted for a motel room. I also opted for a sit-down restaurant meal of chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes: comfort food (I don’t know that chicken-fried steak is a big thing in Canada, but we were close to the border).

It felt like a defeat. I don’t remember much about the motel room, but I remember walking across a parking lot toward it and feeling sick, and being really glad that I had a warm, comfy bed to sleep in. I took a bath. In general I pampered myself. I felt guilty for spending the money, and weak for settling for a motel room, but I needed the break.



I walked across the length of the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge the next morning. I felt refreshed clean and well-rested. I saw the paper mill that had made me so nauseated the night before. I still smelled the noxious odor, but I was better able to stomach it.

I reached the midpoint of the bridge, and the Customs Station. Back at the beginning of the account, I told you the ease with which I walked across the border from the U.S. to Canada. The crossing back to U.S. soil was not quite as easy.

I don’t think they saw a lot of hitchhikers on that bridge. The gut who was charged with making sure I was safe to allow to cross the border was an older, overweight man that reminded me of a New York cop. He was gruff and unfriendly, and was hot inclined to trust me. He took every single thing out of my backpack and went through it. Clothes, food, camping equipment, even my address book. He asked me question after question: where was I from? where was I going? did I have a place to stay? did I have a job? I’m sure most the things he was asking me about were questions essential to my re-entering the country, but at times it seemed like he was just trying to trip me up and catch me in a lie.

Lucky for me, my entire story was truthful.

The chain I planned to use for protection—you may remember toward the beginning of this where I talked about practicing whipping out the chain in my parents’ basement—was the hardest thing to explain. I told him the truth; that it was for protection. He confiscated it.

Toward the end he was flipping through my address book, peppering me with questions about names and numbers and who was who. I didn’t—and don’t, to this day—know if his intense scrutiny was legal, but it’s an International Border, so probably, yeah.

His last question: “What’s this?”       

He pointed to a single entry on the inside cover of my address book: McSorleys, 15 E 7th St. I told him. It was the address of a bar in Manhattan (a pretty famous one, it turns out: the oldest bar in New York) that someone had told me about back in Minneapolis.

“It’s a bar in Manhattan.” 

He looked me straight in the eye, handed me my address book, and said, “You’re free to enter the U.S.”

I repacked my pack (which took some time), slung it onto my back, walked across the border and back into the United States.



The sun shone bright on me, it was a summer day, and my mood was quickly improving.

I got a ride fairly soon, from a friendly, outgoing man. The canyons of buildings of New York City may have been my destination, but we were driving into mountainous, heavily wooded terrain.

He noticed my sleeping bag strapped to the outside of my pack. “Are you camping around here?“

“Kinda. I camp wherever I happen to be. It was pretty easy in Canda, the whole route is campgrounds.”

“We’re heading into the Adirondacks. Plenty of camping down here. You’re lucky.”

I was feeling pretty lucky.

“Do you know where you’re staying?”

I didn’t.

He added, “I own a bar down here. We have creek running out back, and a lot of land. You’re free to stay on my property for a few days.”

Who could possibly say no to that?

“That sounds perfect.”

It was perfect. My mood was improving since crossing Victoria Bridge, but I was still pretty tired. That two weeks of following the shores of the Great Lakes had taken its toll, and the idea of setting up camp and kicking back for a couple of days sounded pretty fine. A friendly bar a few hundred yards away was certainly a selling point.

I’d be lying to tell you where I was camping for that brief interlude. I’m poring over Google Maps, and nothing is ringing a bell. Keene Valley, maybe? Baxter Mountain Tavern, perhaps? I know I had to be near Lake Placid because I remember hearing the name of the town, but that’s not where I was staying. I just googled a list of bars in the Adirondacks, but recognize none of the names.

The location of the bar will remain lost in the tangle of neurons that is my long-term memory.

I relaxed for two days and nights. I read, I wrote in my journal, I wished I had brought along a portable hammock. At night I’d wander up to the bar, have a hot meal and a few beers and some human companionship.  

After two relaxing days, I thanked the owner profusely for his kindness. It really was the perfect little pause in the action before taking on the hubbub of New York City.

I stuck out my thumb and hit the road again.          



“I’ve never picked up a hitchhiker before,” she said. She blushed a little when she said it. She was cute and friendly and flirting.

We were still inside the Adirondacks, heading down I-87 toward Albany. She was heading toward Albany to pick up someone at the airport. Who she was picking up remained unclear.

“It’s a beautiful day,” I told her. She agreed. I told her about my adventures up in Canada, she told me about her life in upstate New York. The conversation was fun and flirty for hours. I knew nothing would come of it, she had an appointment at the airport. Still, it was a nice respite. I think of it, along with the two days camping behind the bar, as a refreshing break before the final push into NYC.  

As we approached Albany, and her turnoff toward the airport, her mood began to change. I assumed at the time it was due to the approaching reunion with whoever she was picking up. She was cagey with the identity. It was clear from the name (I no longer remember it) she was picking up a man. I couldn’t figure out if it was a boyfriend or a family member. 

As we approached the Albany exit, her mood shifted. Her responses seemed shorter, more clipped, anxious. I even remember getting a little offended, when she said something bordering on mean-spirited. She did apologize. She knew her manner had changed.

As she dropped me off on an entrance ramp in Albany somewhere, to go pick up her mystery date. It reminded me that you never know what drama people are in the middle of when you happen into their lives. All you can know is what they tell you, and what you can glean from their actions.   

I never learned who she was picking up. Once you depart someone’s life, you are left with only the mystery.      

Written by verbal
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