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Continental Drift, pt. 3

"Gooseberry Falls to Mirror Lake"

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I met some nice folks at the State Park. An older couple (probably about the age I am now) staying in an RV in the next camping spot over shared some of their breakfast with me, and wished me luck.

I walked out onto the highway. I got a ride right up to the Canadian border early the next morning. He stopped before we got there.

“You aren’t carrying drugs or anything,” he asked me.

“No, I promise.” I was being truthful.

“Or, like, weapons or anything.” He laughed but looked a little nervous.

“Just a big chain,” I said, returning the laugh, and already I could see him getting a little nervous.

“A chain? What chain?”

His nervousness was obvious enough so that I felt bad staying in the car with him. I understood his nervousness; I’m not sure I would have driven a stranger across an international border, even a stranger as seemingly clean-cut as I.

“Why don’t you let me off right before the border station?” I saw immediate relief in his expression. He let me out, I grabbed my big, weird yellow pack 

I walked through. I don’t recall having any problems crossing (as opposed to my crossing back over, which was endless, but more about that later), though I don’t remember much. It was uneventful. Again, I’ll throw out the “it was a different time” amazement, that I could cross an International border so easily, on foot no less.

I had a passport, and I was a nice, clean-cut, well-spoken young white man. Everyone trusted me.

I waltzed through after a few minutes of questions, and got a ride easily on the far side of the border, goofy pack and all. 

It was a different time.  


One of the things I did to pass the time was journal about the trip. I wrote in real time about the trip, and included a great deal of detail. I wish I had that journal now.

Sadly, that journal was stolen, as were several hand-written scripts, when my knapsack was stolen from my Dad’s pickup on New Year’s Eve. I’d driven it up to Minneapolis a few days before. They’d broken into the pickup by smashing the window, and I discovered the damage on a freezing cold New Year’s Day where 1) I was very hungover from a New Year’s celebration, and 2) I’d vowed to quit smoking for the new year.

Since I was planning to drive back to my parent’s house that day, I had to attempt to repair the window with clear plastic and duct tape. It was not an effective repair; the temperature was too low for the tape to get sticky. As a result, the clear plastic ripped off the window mere miles into the drive home. I drove home on I-35, hungover, wrung out by my sudden withdrawal from nicotine, wearing a stocking cap because the driver’s side window no longer existed.  I had the heater on high, and the vents pointed toward my hands to keep them warm. The drive from Minneapolis to Ames was three hours long, but that day it felt endless.     


This was the 80s, the time of the Walkman, and I was no exception.  Before I left, a friend of mine made me a set of cassette tapes for the journey. I remember the case for the cassettes clearly: a zippered case, a tough, slightly reflective outer material. It held twelve cassette tapes, 90 minutes each, 45 minutes on each side, prefect for an album plus a few more tunes to full out the tape.

I made the tapes with two friends. The name of the guy who owned all the albums and stereo equipment and actually made the tapes is lost to time. I knew him from the Band Box diner, where he was a regular, and where I worked. The other attendant to these recording sessions was my friend Ken, who worked at the Band Box as well.

I tried to make the making of the tapes as mythic as the other aspects of the trip, and remember our taping sessions pretty well. We’d get pretty high, perusing his extensive album and tape collection, debating which 24 albums (12 tapes, an album per side) would make the cut. Yes, the tapes were for me, but the guy who owned all the equipment had pretty strong opinions, and I was limited to the albums and tapes he actually owned.  

I wish I remembered the albums that DID make the cut more clearly. I’m kicking myself; I’d love to know the entire list. New Order’s Power Corruption and Lies I remember clearly, because I’d never heard them much before, and the guy making the tapes LOVED New Order. After hearing them, I did too. The Doors Morrison Hotel got a tape side too, though the guy could be a little snooty about classic rock (it wasn’t yet classic rock back then, it was just rock). He allowed the Dead’s Workingman’s Dead, and very grudgingly allowed Bruce Springsteen’s Born in The USA. I don’t think he even owned any Beatles (gasp!).

Laurie Anderson’s Big Science got a side (he turned me on to her too). Talking Heads got a whole tape too: Remain in Light and Speaking in Tongues. King Sunny Ade’s Synchro System. Kid Creole got a whole tape—that was Ken’s influence.

You’re showing your age if you remember how slow the process of creating a cassette tape actually was; it was something that happened in real time. You played the album or tape, and you recorded the music as you played it. If an album was forty-five minutes long, it took forty-five minutes to record.

We got high as we recorded the albums, and when the albums were over, there was usually a little time left at the end of the tape. These small bits of five or ten minutes at the end of the tape would get stuffed with songs we’d thought of after a night of drugs, weird little songs we thought of at the time that didn’t fit anywhere else. Eno. Fripp. Bonzo Dog Band. I’d discover these songs as I was out on the road, my thumb out, and they make me smile as I listened, remembering the sessions as we recorded them.


God bless the Trans-Canadian Highway. Looking back, I can see this must have been another part of my planning.  Here in the present, looking at Google Maps, I can see that just north of the border, Highway 61 hooks up with the Trans-Canadian Highway (Highway 17) in Thunder Bay, and follows the shores of Lake Superior and Lake Huron before dropping down into Toronto and Buffalo. I could stay on one highway for nearly the entire Canadian section of my hitchhiking trip.       

The thing to remember about hitchhiking in Canada is that while there’s not much traffic, if you get a ride, it will likely be for a very long distance, because there aren’t a lot of towns up there, at least when compared with the US.

My first long ride was a family that picked me up—Mom, Dad, their little boy--and it began to dawn on me that there was less stigma surrounding hitchhiking like there was down in the States. It did not seem surprising to be picked up by a family. The whole counter-culture and escaped convict vibe of hitchhiking in the States did not exist. Hitchhiking seemed quaint and wholesome.

The family offered to let me camp on their campsite. I accepted immediately. It saved me seven dollars. I set up my tent in the corner of the lot. It was an actual campground, and I remember a lake, so as I look at Google Maps I can see the only likely spot for the campground is the Mirror Lake Campground. 

They invited me to dinner as well. Their camping set-up was nice; as their kid played and explored the campsite, the parents set up their own tent, as well as a shelter with netting that provided shade and protection from bugs, and a small fold-up dinner table. Their little boy was cute and well-behaved; if I had to guess I’d put his age at around three.

As the Mom and the little boy got dinner ready in the shelter, the Dad asked me as he brought out a tin.

“Do you smoke?” he asked. He didn’t specify nicotine or weed, but as smoked both, it didn’t matter.

“Yes,” I said.

“Good.” He opened the tin to reveal a small amount of leafy material. I still wasn’t sure what it was.

“What we do,” he explained as he laid out a cigarette paper, “is mix a little pot in the tobacco. That way it’s just a little background high.” He dropped some tobacco into the paper, then sprinkled the tobacco with pot (the usual word for it at the time, now the word “weed” seems more common). The ratio of tobacco to pot was maybe five to one.

“It doesn’t really get you high,” he told me. “It’s just a little background buzz.” His final step in preparing the joint was to fashion a filter out of a bent up piece of cardboard. He slipped it into the end of the joint and twisted the whole thing up. He brandished it triumphantly, then handed it to me. “That one’s yours,” he told me, as he prepared one for himself and one for his wife.

He wasn’t wrong. The effects of the pot were barely noticeable; it was the background buzz he’d described. We all smoked our joints as they finished preparing dinner. I showed the husband my tapes, and he went through them with interest. He chose New Order for us to listen to as we dined.   

I’ll say it again: this was a different time.  I’m not oblivious to the idea that maybe the three responsible adults in the mix shouldn’t have all been high with a three-year-old boy around. But I don’t recall it ever seeming weird to me. The effects of the pot were barely noticeable. It certainly didn’t affect our behavior, or the safety of the child.

I spent a couple nights camping with them, smoking pot-infused cigarettes, hiking the shore of Mirror Lake, listening to my tapes, marveling at the enormity of Lake Superior in the distance, like a dream.

I babysat their kid once as they took a stroll together around the shore of Mirror Lake. I taught him to talk to fish, by walking to the very edge of the water and shouting, “Here fishy, fishy.” He found the game to be great fun.

The family was spending the week at Mirror Lake. After a couple days, I thanked them for the food and free campsite, the tobacco and the weed.  I walked out onto Highway 17 and stuck out my thumb.

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