Driven from North Dakota

By 1000 I was raring to go. Another set of wily nurses had replaced the shift from yesterday. They still wanted a stool sample which I denied them. Too bad so sad, they’d have to get their precious stool somewhere else. There was a lot off biking to be done.

The doc re-appeared and bowed and scraped a bit, apparently unsure how to tell me that the bed needed vacation by sundown. Not a problem. At 1130 the IV was out, clothing restored and the bike rescued from its parking spot in the bleach-white hallway.

A burger stop was required at Neil’s Harbor and then it was non-stop to Pleasant Bay. The doc had been doubtful that I’d make it, said there were several mountains between here and there.

Maybe he’d never biked it himself but the only mountain I found was a 13% incline that went on for five K [ridiculous – I was almost afraid of falling over backwards].

Coming down out of Cape Breton Highlands National Park I looked around myself and thought how nice it would be to find a hostel somewhere. And miraculously one appeared.

Ahead of me on the road was a sign for Cape Breton Hostel. I’d had no idea.

Up the road about one K from a pink hotel overlooking a typically maritime theme – boats lined up in a sheltered harbor – the hostel presented itself. A house built from three trailers stacked together with the walls knocked out to make an integrated space.

A nice lady named Jean, with a lazy eye and a penchant, I would notice, for knitted sweaters, was doing dishes when I rolled up. An artist, she’d moved here for the summer and was doing a bit of gardening work for cheaper accommodation. Several years had been spent in Vancouver in the ’80s before i was even born, studying and taking meditation classes upstairs at the Naam restaurant. Other days had been spent abroad and in Ottawa, teaching art, particularly pottery, and now the mainstay was oil-on-canvas landscape productions. She didn’t actually live in the hostel building but down the yard in a small fifth-wheel.

Lizzy showed up a few minutes after I did and took my money. She’s in her early forties, managing the place for the young couple who own it. Childhood had started in England and and in her late teens she’s immigrated to Canada by herself. One of those immigrant stories we hear about showing up from the boat with ten bucks in her pocket, she’d found a job and lived in Van on Dunbar and 16th for sixteen years. A few circumstances in Van eventually prompted her to pack her car and trailer and start driving East, and just before running out of ground and making a wet landing in the Atlantic she’s found Cape Breton and established herself. She now works for a whale-watching company for fourteen weeks of the year, plus this hostel-management gig. She has a house, a car and a whole country of tax-payers kind enough to help her out with her winter months of mortgage, utilities and grocery expenses.

Filling the bivy bag with clothing greased by NL sweat and tears and NS puke stains I took jaunt down to the pink hotel where laundry machines abounded for three bucks a load. While waiting to retrieve, I carried on down the road to as store and then further along towards a beach in the sheltered harbor.

Its always an excellent circumstance when a blonde Ausie chick stops you for directions, and in Cape Breton the encounter was as pleasant as it was unexpected. The white Escape had come driving towards me, its massive American frame to big for the alley-size road it was terrorizing and by a quiet sucking sound the automatic window removed itself to reveal an immaculate face. It was like Barbie in her jeep – sexy – but something about the match just didn’t click. Either she was too small or it was too large. The seat fairly swallowed her – even sitting on a phone book wouldn’t have helped.

There was a shadow of maleness on the passenger side but I ignored it. The question on her lips was about fish and chips and of course I was useless.

“I just got here.” I said, and a thank you was issued, quick banter exchanged and the machine crawled on.

The blonde and her shadow would re-appear when I returned with the soap-smelling laundry. This was forty minutes later and the interval had provided what they wanted: a restaurant ten minutes down the road – and any restaurant in Cape Breton is a guaranteed answer to good fish and chips.

Mel was the girl’s name and her mysterious shadow was Niel, sharper-cut than a guillotine and taller than a bad lie. He would’ve made a good contender for Marlboro Man Of The Year and if it ever came down to fighting him or running like hell I’d pick the flight option and maybe later drop a sandbag on him from a high building.

These two were not a package but had met up in Halifax. It was mere coincidence that both were Ausies. The simple fact was, Neil was in the money and had rented a car and Mel was on a budget and needed a ride. The two would soon be splitting up, Mel to find a way to St. John’s and Neil to return Down Under, his four months of freedom exhausted.

Going inside we found a guy from North Dakota sitting on the couch in company of a Macbook. Twenty, first time away from home, quiet but with an aura of ambiton that came out in conversation later that night. He’d got a second-hand Cuttlass from his grandpa as a graduation present, worked for a bit and gotten jaded by the flat endless prairie and his birth-town that never grew, changed or vanished but simply existed to turn colour with the two seasons of that land. That’s when he took computer, clothing and a long deep breath and fired the ignition on a new lifestyle. The lifestyle of the road. And now he’d showed up here. A bit of WWOOFing [World Wide Oportunities on Organic Farms] had been done, where a traveller works for food and shelter, and relatives had been visited in Ontario. The future was uncertain but one thing wasn’t: Dakota was home, but not the pasture he was looking for. The question now was whether to sell the car, because nothing slims a wallet like gas money, and carry on by some other means. But until the answer found itself there was always the Cape Breton Highlands which is a dirt cheap place to go about making long drawn-out decisions. Contact with the family was good and he’d had few good talks with a sister over Skype. Dillon told me that night about asking a farm-owning lady he’d worked for what she would do if she won the lottery. To her the answer came fast: A new truck, a new barn, some horses maybe. And the point that Dillon brought up was that in a way he envied this lady, because happy are those who find their satisfaction easily. In five years or so, this thinker of a twenty-year-old pointed out, this lady could have her dream come true. What about people like us? Call us wanderers if you wish. We could never do that. But when your wish is to wander maybe a piece of the joy is to never find what you’re truly seeking – because when the object is found the wandering ends.

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