St. John’s, Newfoundland: Couchsurfing in the Cat-loving Commune (day 2 of 3)

11 Aug

At 8 AM (a mere 4.5 hours since I fell asleep), my alarm chimes to tell me it’s time to make the most of the day in St. John’s.  I roll out of the King sized bed and face the day – coffee is the first thing on my mind.

The morning actually starts with a chore; getting a new rear tire for Connie.  I thought there was enough tire tread to do this trip – but apparently Connie really likes to burn rubber and I’m well past the tire wear markers and now running thin on what remains of the tire.  The thought of gambling on a tire while riding 12 hours from one side of Newfoundland to the other does not appeal. I find a shop that’s kind enough to squeeze in (a foolish) Ontarian first thing in the morning and I’m on my way about 40 minutes later.  These Newfies fit me in a pinch, and I did a great job.  Kudos!

While waiting for my tire to be fixed, I get a text from my host’s friend (my host does not have a cell phone, which is amazing this day and age – and slightly difficult for meeting up!).  Anyways, the friend says waffles and coffee are on at house #2, and I happily head over to join them for breakfast.

On arrival, it seems both me and my host have the same question for each other; “where’d you end up last night?!”

As it turns out, my host and friend ended up returning home before me and decided since the weather was so nice they would sleep on the roof!! They brought sleeping bags up on the 4th story roof (which is slightly sloped and has no railings).  And they went to bed (the roof) before me and woke up after I’d gone to run errands.  Thus no crossing paths!

We enjoy good conversation over homemade waffles with Cashew Butter (like peanut butter, but made of cashews) and coffee.  3 or 4 other house mates (or dwellers of one of the many communal houses) join us.  

Discussion moves to plans for the day; another group dinner is planned!  Menu options are discussed and lean towards scallops.  I chime in and insist on bringing something to contribute to the meal tonight.  One of the group says, “Great!  Bring scallops!” and I gladly take up the charge.

 As we approach noon, it’s time for me too test out the new tire and go for a cruise with my Aunt Nelly and Uncle John how are Mount Pearl residents (next door to St. John’s).  Nelly, John and I enjoy a beautiful ocean side cruise and enjoy catching up over seafood chowder at one of the many scenic stops along the way.  It’s great having an Aunt and Uncle that share the passion I have for riding bikes!  After a few hours of cruising it’s time to head back towards my host’s house and pick up my contribution to tonight’s meal.

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I stop at the fish depot and ask for 45 scallops (I called the communal house to see how many guests to expect at dinner tonight) at about a buck a scallop.  I think the dinner could use something else and ask the fisherman / store owner if he had any suggestions (and boy did he!).

“Well ma by, we have fresh cod tongues in from this morning’s catch.  Never been frozen!  And they are from small cod, not the big ones – so the flavour is da best.  Are your friends from Newfoundland?   If so, they’ll love cod tongues.  You might like ‘em, you might not, but I tell ya ma by, these are the tastiest things.  I’d eat them breakfast, lunch and dinner if I could – and sometimes I do!”

With a sales pitch like that, I can’t say no and add Cod tongues to the menu!

Once back at the house, I take  a short nap in the King bed and then head over to house #2 wherein dinner preparation is already underway.

There are people coming and going between the 4 houses; folks are adding to the dinner and all seem happy with the spread of scallops, and the Newfies of the group seem particularly thrilled about the cod tongues!

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Looking into the kitchen and seeing how busy it is, I think it best that I stay out of the way of the more gifted chefs of the group and watch as they make pasta from scratch.  One of them raided their herb garden and presented a spread of 8 different types of herbs for tonight’s meal.

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I sit and chat with one of the many inhabitants of the 4 houses, I learn about living small.  In his short-cut fluorescent green shirt t-shirt, shorts, and army / hiking boots, my new friend Richard (like Simmons), tells me his experiences hitch-hiking around Newfoundland, working at a job for ~20 hrs a week, and having enough to live off and enjoy life.  Sounds like a common theme through this leg of couchsurfing.  Folks who live small, and find ways to keep the cost of life down.

One way that this group has certainly succeeded in keeping the costs down is the number of communal meals!  These guys seem to share everything.  And it seems that dinner is nearly ready.

To start with have the most delicious squash soup – which I can only assume is mostly made up of local ingredients and move to the main affair of homemade pasta noodles, scallops seasoned with 8 locally-grown-herbs, and most appreciated by the locals – cod tongues!

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The Cod tongues have a nice taste and a gelatinous texture which nears on slimey.  Definitely not what I had expected from a tongue, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to try them!

There’s about 8 of us sharing the meal and as we’re finishing up, the topic of dessert comes up – “Killer Bunny Cake!” says one of the inhabitants.

I wonder if Killer Bunny Cake can beat the ‘fresh off the floor chuckle-berry pie’ we had yesterday (apparently when being withdrawn from the oven the pie took a tumble to the floor – but the 10 second rule ensued and we all (most…) had some floor-pie).

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I ask what the story is about the cake, and it turns out that this chocolate cake was made of killer bunny rabbits from easter time. 

I enquire further about the bunnies and the group explains that they have many bunnies – hundreds of bunnies – more than they could ever use!  

The source of the bunnies?

A dumpster, shortly after easter this past year.

It turns out that, like my hippy hobit friend in New Brunswick, these folks save a few bucks (and help reduce the total waste of the world) through a phenomena of dumpster diving. 

The concept is somewhat new to me – so the group explains;  they have a circuit of ‘dumpsters’ which they which they raid and share the spoils of between the houses.  

There was one time (again shortly after Easter) where the group scored an entire dumpster of candy.  More candy than one could ever eat… ever.  They filled the trunk of a car with candy and shared the spoils with anyone who was in need (of a sugar fix).  

After dinner the conversation and killer bunny cake keep going for a long time.

One topic of conversation is the cats.  It happens that one of the owners of the cats one was explaining the cat situation to a family member, it went like this;

“Well Aunt Jemima, we have a cat and our friends down the street have a cat and our friends the street over have a cat.  All these cats typically go from house to house and eat food at each house and sleep at whatever house they like.  The cats share most everything really.”

To which the aunt replied, “sound like hippy paradise for the cats”.

“Yes… for the cats only, of course….” replied one of the dwellers of the house – who was about to share a meal with the house mates next – and possibly sleep over there.

Eventually it’s time for me to crash and I hit hay at 1 or 2 am.   My host insists on sleeping on the roof again, while I’m quite happy in my corner of the king bed.

Newfoundland: The Final Frontier (Day 1 of 3)

5 Aug

Pre-amble:  I had such a fun and jam-packed time in Newfoundland, that I had no time to write about my experiences.  While this actually occured on Thursday August 1 – it’s only being posted now (August 5).  Day 2 and 3 to follow!

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I wake up on the floor of the ferry, at some point through the night, I joined the popular school of thought that lying on the floor between the “air chairs” is actually more comfortable than the chair itself, which only turns out to be marginally true.

Between…

Monday’s sleepless night in the woods;

Tuesday’s big night out with the PEI party girls; and,

Last night’s ‘floor of the boat’ sleep on the ferry; ….

I have probably managed 1 collective full nights rest over three days… No one said couchsurfing America would be easy (or restful…)!

And now onto the main event: Saint John’s Newfoundland for George Street Festival to celebrate completing my “Couchsurfing Mission”.

As I ride my bike out of the ferry and onto, “The Rock”, it feels good!  I made it to all 50 states and 10 provinces in North America, and couchsurfed the entire way. Though, I only have a short ride to reflect on all my experiences of couchsurfing America, as Saint John’s Newfoundland is a mere hour from where the ferry docked.  

Canada

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I locate my host’s home in Newfoundland, park the bike and knock on the door. 

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My host had not responded to my text messages earlier… so I wonder if I might be in trouble.  As I stand at the door, I review my couchsurfing messages and note that the phone number she gave me was for a land line!  Not a cell.  Now wonder I didn’t get a response!

My host materializes behind from the street and says, “You must be Couchsurfer Dave!”  The name is catchy and sticks.  I’ve been called couchsurfer Dave all across America.

After brief introductions, my host shows me to the room where I can ‘surf’ tonight.  She explains that recently she moved rooms and now lives in a huge room, with a King size bed (possibly California King – I’ve never slept in either, so don’t really know the difference), a couch, a desk and a great view of the St. John’s Harbor.  Connect to her room is the balcony with an equally great view of the harbour.  And then the grand finally… there is a ladder leading up to the roof; where one can see the harbour, signal hill and most of Saint Johns. 

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I feel lucky to stay with a host with such an awesome place!

Continuing the tour, my host takes me across the street to another house and another group of friends…. And then to another house and another group… It seems that they have a hold on all of St. John’s!

After the tour and many introductions, I explain that a friend of mine is in town (St. John’s town), and would like to meet up briefly.  My host explains that there is a Pot Luck, which I would be welcome to attend – or, if not, we can meet up elsewhere sometime in to the night.

I meet up with my friend Michael and his crew; while enjoying Newfoundland brew and fish and chips  (with dressing and gravey – a Newfie Poutine!).  As the Newfie tasting session winds down, I head back to my host’s neighbourhood.

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Once back in the neighbourhood, I enter yet another of my host’s friends house.  This time no one answers my knock, so I stroll on in with a case of beer in hand (my contribution to the pot luck).  I reach the backyard and there is a table spread with food overlooking the harbour. 

One of the potluckkers facing me; says, “Hi, umm, do you guys know this guy”.  My host comes to my rescue and says oh yes this is couchsurfer Dave, to which I am warmly welcomed and enjoy food and conversation.

At about midnight, I check my phone to see multiple text messages from friends from Ontari-o-i-o; all saying that they are George Street, enjoying the festival.  Heading down to the street, I end up meet up with my dear friend Amanda and we manage to hop from pub to pub exploring George Street until about 3 AM (last call in Newfoundland!).

I walk up a very long hill to get home to my hosts house.  In fact the name of the street has both, “Long” and “Hill” in it.  It seems that this one was aptly named.  At the top of the hill there are still 3 flights of stairs until I get to the bedroom!

My host is not in the room, so I figure she must have stayed at one of the 3 other houses tonight and I collapse into the (quite possibly California sized) Kind Bed, but make sure to only take up ¼ in case the host returns and wants some king size real estate.  After all, during my tour of the house earlier today… she did say I could crash in the bed right?  photo 2

Or was that my own wishful thinking?  

… and suddenly, I’m out before I can answer the question…

Ferrying my way around the East Coast.

4 Aug

Waking up in PEI is tough potatoes. 

I slept solid as a rock, just not long enough. 

It’s 8 AM and I need to catch the 9:30 AM ferry leaving the south side of PEI, in order to drive 4 hrs to Sydney Nova Scotia ferry to Newfoundland.

I start packing up my things and notice there are few changes to the decor in the living where I slept on the couch; for one, the large painting that was on the wall is now on the floor leaning up against the wall.  The tall skinny dresser that was in line with the book shelf is in the middle of the room.  The top draw is open, shedding light on a collection of women’s underwear.

I’m not sure what happened here last night, but I definitely slept through it.  Maybe my hosts can shed some light on this when we touch base when we touch base later – but for now I have to run to make my ferry! (This is very reminiscent of living on Toronto Island).

I pass by ‘The Shed’, where I’m sure the festivities continued to the early morning this morning.

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I head East and South to the bottom of PEI and make good time, while enjoying the great roads and the fantastic scenery.  I even have enough time to stop and send a couple of post cards from PEI.  That leaves only Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to complete the set of 60 postcards!

When I arrive at the ticket terminal for the ferry, my first question is; ‘is there food on the ferry?’, I need a greasy breakfast and quickly.  She tells me I need to order the Islander breakfast and it’s great.  I pay the $40 ferry fee and get in line for the ferry.

I check my side view mirror and find a strikingly similar bike to my own behind me.  Queuing up, I find it’s a Concours – just like my own!

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The ferry lands at Nova Scotia, and I check the time.  Looks like I have 4 hours until I’m supposed to be on the ferry – and google says it will take 3.5 hrs on the most direct route.  I enjoy the pleasant Nova Scotia ride (and even meet some characters along the way!) and make it to the ferry at exactly 2 hrs before departure (apparently you must arrive this early, else your ticket is cancelled).

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When I get to the ticket desk, my pre-paid ticket does the trick to get me queued up for the ferry.  I nonchalantly ask about a return ticket for Monday.  The teller looks at me like, ‘you can’t be serious ma-by’.  She then asks if I’ve listened to the news at all lately, like I’m supposed.  I look at her – look at my bike – and look back at her and respond with a simple, “No, my car radio isn’t working today.”

Kidding aside, she explains that one of the Marine Atlantic Ferrys has run aground!  (She also tells me ‘I didn’t hear it from her’ and ‘don’t tell anyone I told you’ – blogging doesn’t count, right?).

So it turns out that the one of the ferry’s to Newfoundland has run aground and will be out of commission for a while.  I book a return ferry ticket from the West side of Newfoundland (Port-Aux-Basques).  It’s not ideal – as the ferry disembarks at 3 AM… So that will be another ferry sleep for me.

The cars and bikes all queue up and wait for an hour.  Eventually the bikes get waved toward the boat, only to stop again as a couple of big trailers are loaded.  The bikers watch as the motorized carts the trailers toward the boat.  One trailer cuts it too close to some steel spikes sticking out of the ground and we all hear; “WOOSH” as the tire pops.  The supervisor stands and surveys the damage.  It was a dual axle trailer and one of the tires remains inflated so they load the limping trailer onto the boat.

First a boat runs aground, then the dock help pops a wheel on the trailer.  Who knows what’s next from Marine Atlantic?! All I know is I’m going to tie down my own motorcycle (far from anything else that can move on the ferry) and find out where the life jackets once I head up stairs… Just in case they decide to re-enact the Titanic.

Once aboard I chat with some fellow bikers at the bar (popular place on this Newfie boat, if you can believe it ;).

I string up the hammock on the deck just for fun (no plans to sleep outside tonight!).  Eventually, I find a quiet place in the ‘air chairs’ and spend the night off and on throughout the night.  No couch for me tonight.

The PEI Party Girls

1 Aug

I woke up many times through the night in the Hippy’s Hobbit Hole. Sometimes due to the cold; and once due to something furry rubbing against my face (I hope it was a kitten).

As I lay in may state of perpetual drowsiness, it looks like my host, the hippy, is waking up.  Hippy unzips his hammock mosquito net from the inside and sticks his head out to face the day.   I sit up in my not-mosquito-netted bed and scratch one of the bites on the back of my neck.

Hippy is proud to present 2 eggs fresh from his chickens who live next door.  Hippy says that he had planned to have bread with the eggs for breakfast, but the bread went bad during the night.  I wonder how the bread spoiled so quickly, because it looked like Hippy had just bought it! Over breakfast, Hippy talks about different communities that live a similar lifestyle.  He says that a good source of food is dumpster diving.  Hippy says he can’t bring himself to do it, but others he knows do ‘dive’ and often “share the wealth of a big score”.

I don’t ask where the bread we ate last night (and was spoiled this AM) came from… I don’t want to know.

I enjoy a fresh egg for breakfast and coffee from a stove top coffee percolator (which was a gift from another hippy).  Hippy’s mind is well and alert this morning, as he brainstorms ideas to turn the coffee percolator into a mini-still to distill moonshine on the stove-top.

Hippy has no shortage of ideas.

Conversation turns to my work and a brief introduction to nuclear fission and fusion.  Hippy talks with admiration about a the Radioactive Boyscout in the United States who attempted to build a nuclear reactor out of fire alarm components.  While his experiment was ultimately a failure, Hippy can’t help but imagine how self sufficient he could be with his own nuclear reactor.  I tell him that I think there’s room for the reactor beside the wood stove just off in the corner.  Hippy nods with agreement, obviously contemplating the idea some remote sense of feasibility.

Eventually, I pack up and we leave the cabin.

In the daylight, I can see that Hippy does have water… there is a sink outside with a rain water collector.  I’m glad the coffee was well boiled.

After saying thanks to Hippy and his BBQing cousing, I hit the road.

It’s been over 24 hours since my last shower and I crave one badly.

First stop is Timmys and I get some more caffeine and a breakfast sandwich.

I search Miramachi, New Brunswick for a pool or community center where I could pop in for a shower.  All I can find is a coin wash.  This is not so bad as Connie needs a good cleaning.

A dollarstore near buy gives me bargain bike cleaning supplies (and Dave cleaning supplies, having forgot my toiletries bag in Rimouski).

I find the coin wash and give Connie a good scrub.  Checking to make sure no one’s looking, I give my hair a rinse with the pressure washer in the last 30 seconds of wash time.  I consider using the ‘soap’ mode, but settle for ‘rinse’, not knowing what kind of soap in a coin car wash would do my hair.  Using the powerwasher on my head is a first for me; I can say the water pressure was great.

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Continuing onwards, I enjoy a lobster roll lunch and   a moose-light at Shediac, New Brunswick and write up the day’s events on the blog while looking out on the harbour.

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After a tasty lunch, I head towards PEI.  I take the Confederation Bridge (Longest bridge in the world that  over a freezing body of water…) to the island.

The roads in PEI are fantastic for riding a motorcycle.  They curve left and rift and go up and down over the rolling hills of farm land.  The pavement is great and all this makes for good motorcycle riding.

I text my host to tell her that I should be arriving shortly.  I make on last stop at the PEI liquor store and get a 1.5 L of Yellow Tail Shiraz.  There are actually 3 hosts tonight; 3 students in a student house near University of PEI, so opted for the large size wine.

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On arrival, I meet one of the 3 hosts who invites me in.  After a brief, get-to-know you chat, I’m informed that I’m one of the few couchsurfers that ‘made the cut’.  Apparently, these are picky hosts and I should feel honoured to be hosted – and I do!  I wonder to myself what I’ve done that helped me make the cut?  Was it the surfing to all 50 states in America?  Or that the hosts were three single 21 year old girls and my picture on my profile was when I was in the best shape of my life?  I guess I will never know!  One should never read too much into a hosts motives (though it’s hard not too sometimes, like that one time in Tacoma Washington).

Shortly into the conversation with my host, I request a shower.  It’s been about 36 hrs since my last one, and I’m worried I might get kicked out due to odour before even given a chance to surf.

The shower is heavenly.

When I come back downstairs, Host #1 is gone, and Host #2 is suprised to see me (no one told her that Couchsurfer Dave was here yet!).  Host #2 who was a pleasant ex-Ontarian and now happy to be on Island.  

I’m told that Host #1 sings at a local bar on Tuesday nights, and I ask if we can go listen.

Sounds like it’s going to be a big Tuesday night!

I step out for a burger at Harvey’s next door and return to 6 people in the living room who say it’s time to get the party started.

I’m told these girls go out a lot.  As students, in the summer, there are little commitments and they commit to going out regularly.

Host #1 states that she had a 3 week run where she was out every night of the week.  Then was sick for a week (I’m thinking liver failure).

Host #2 explains that they have regular spots for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday nights.  Friday and Saturday are wild cards – depends on what’s happening and where the working stiffs are going, will determine where the girls go out.

We have a few drinks at the house before the walk to downtown PEI, where the band is playing and our host is ready to join in for a few songs.  She belts out Aretha Franklin’s RESPECT, while me and the only other guy at the party head to the bar to have a welcome to PEI shot, and then another…

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As the night progresses its well passed midnight and I start to think about what time I should be getting up to make the Ferry from South PEI to Nova Scotia, in time to ride for 4 hours, to make it to the ferry from North Nova Scotia to Newfoundland.  I need to be at the second ferry docks at 3 PM, which counting backwards means I need to be up and on the road at 8 AM.

I take my leave, worried about tomorrow AM, and catch a ride back to the house with a friend of the girls.  My hosts stay out.  All of them will walk by me sleeping on the couch, but I have no doubt I will sleep right through it.

After a night in a cabin in the woods, a long day of riding, and a night out with these hosts – sleep on the comfortable couch comes very easily.

Couchsurfing in the Hippy’s (Hobbit) Hole

30 Jul

Hmm… for some reason photos are working in this post.  Photos to follow – they add a lot.  Words can only describe so much of this experience..

I wake up comfortable with like pouring in the windows.  I’m disoriented and trying to remember who’s couch I am waking up on.  As I take a look around the nicely decorated bachelor apartment, I recall this is my absentee host.

Checking my phone I see it’s 5 AM, but it’s bright out.  Rimouski is quite far North and East compared to Toronto – but still in the same timezone.  The result is the sun gets up EARLY in Rimouski… so I do the same.

Looking out the window this morning, I can see it’s going to be a rain gear day.  I ride over to the university and meet up with friend-of-absentee-host, who wishes me well on my ride and agrees that rain gear is most essential today.

I had considered a mega-ride from Rimouski, around Gaspe Peninsula and ending in Bathurst.  But the weather made my decision for me; I was going to go ‘straight’ to Bathurst and cutoff the Gaspe (and effectively 5-6 hrs ride time) off today’s journey. 

My technology starts acting up:

  1. Camera malfunctions and lens is stuck open (can’t take pictures);
  2. GoPro video camera charger stops working (gotta make this charge last!!); and,
  3. Cell phone / GPS holder and charger on the bike stops working.

On top of that, my laptop sometimes chooses to reboot at will, putting my daily blogging at risk (ironically, after typing that sentence, my laptop crashed).

Around 2 PM, my stomach tells me it’s time for food.  Realizing I’m approach the Quebec border, I crave a roadside poutine stand – and just like that one appears!  I settle down at a picnic table to some of the most delicious poutine I’ve enjoyed in my life. 

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It’s only 15 more minute ride until I hit the New Brunswick border.  Although there are no signs for the border, there are many saying last chance for ‘cheap Quebec beer’.  I take a hint and pick up my host for tonight a 6 pack of Heineken and a bottle of wine.

I use the directions from my host to find his cabin in the backyard of the cousin’s place.  I pass a few more rustic houses, some of which have campers in the backyard.  I wonder if I’ll be in one of those campers (which actually wouldn’y be a first while couchsurfing America).

Finally, I pull into my hosts address.  There is a rustic home and a more rustic shed next door.  I look further into the backyard but can’t see a cabin… 

An inhabitant of the house walks out and greets me, with open, greasy hands.  He says he’s been working on a BBQ, while admiring my bike momentarily.  We go into the shed, Cousin “Red” says he needs to text my host Cousin “Green”.  While we wait for Green, Red shows me his BBQ.

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I’m told that the BBQ is an old oil drum which Red has converted into a BBQ for family gatherings.  Red says this summer’s BBQ is expected to have approximately 150 attendees (those are all direct relatives of his Red’s wife – quite the budding family tree!). 

Apparently, last year one of the family members had challenged Red’s ability to BBQ enough food to feed the masses.  So, Red decided to show them up by modifying his oil drum BBQ by adding a rotisserie.  The over-engineered Rotisserie was precision machined on the metal lathe in the shed.  A small electric motor is geared down by a set of sprockets.  I count 7 sprockets on the bottom and 3 on the top.  This Rotisserie is potentially a 21 speed!  I confirm with Red that he did in fact salvage these parts from a bicycle.  I’m told the total effort expended on the BBQ is in the hundreds of hours.

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I’m reminded of an old saying, “If they don’t find you handsome, at least they’ll find you handy”.

Red grabs me a beer and we settle onto ex-mini-van seats, which I assume had also been salvaged, which are arranged in a semi-circle in the shed. 

Green finally arrives enthusiastically greets me and grabs one of Red’s beers.  He takes off his overalls and launches into a summary of how he was helping a neighbour put up a shed.

The conversation turns to occupations / lifestyles (I include lifestyles, because Green doesn’t have an occupation).  Green (my host) has decided to take a ‘self reliant’ approach to life.  He has eliminated his wants and focuses on his needs and attaining them on his own (to the extent possible).  Green admits that this is no small feat, and if he’s 50% self reliant through his life, he will be happy.  I wonder how this self-reliancey will impact on my sleep / couch tonight. 

One of Green’s self reliance capabilities is the making of Moonshine.  Red and Green describe the process in significant detail and then get some of the ‘premium’ moonshine out and pass the bottle around.  It’s not bad half bad (for something made in the backyard).  Green says it’s pretty time intensive – taking 6 hours for one or two litres of shine.  I also learn that Moonshine is best brewed at night – as it’s easier to see flames (and thus avoid potentially lethal explosions in ones backyard), the flames are easier spotted at night – thus the name, “Moonshine”.

The Red and Green team continue to explain (at length) other self reliant experiments; a vegetable oil engine, a wood combustion engine, and a hydraulic ram pump.  I helped build hydraulic ram pumps in Indonesia about 8 years ago.

Discussion somehow moves to snowmobiles, to which Red announces he has not 1, not 2, not… …. But 5 snowmobiles.  Then he wants to show them off.  He opens the back door of the shed, and I’m surprise to see the shed continues on another 20 feet.  In the back are 5 snowmobiles in various states of disrepair.  The ‘new’ snowmobile is from 1983.  The others are OLDER.  Red says they just don’t make them like they used too. 

Now they turn.  These older models went wicked fast (in a straight line).

More beer and moonshine later, my host says it’s probably time to head back to the cabin.  Looking through my saddle bags, I realize my toiletries bag is back in Rimouski.  But, as it turns out, I would have no use for them at the cabin…

I follow Green into the forest behind the shed.  We walk for 20 mins in darkness.  My cellphone shows a whopping 9% power and 1 bar of reception… and I follow Green further into the darkness of the forest.

Finally we arrive at a rustic cabin, something like what I would imagine the Hobbits of Lord of the Rings lived in. 

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I’m surprised to find out there’s light, which must be battery powered.  The cabin is a single room approximately 15 x 15 feet. 

There is no floor.  Well, there’s a floor… but it’s just rocks. 

Looking up in the ‘rafters’, approximately 6.5 foot off the ground are 2 mattresses suspended in the air. There’s another mattress in the corner and a total of 3 hammocks hanging from the rafters. 

In the center of the cabin is a fire place, on which there is a coleman cooking stove. 

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There are two small windows.  The walls are made of logs, with no insulation between them – it looks like Green has taken to stuffing whatever he can find in the cracks for insulation, including many plastic bags.

Green introduces me to his cat, and the cat’s 4 illegitimate kittens.  He says there is a ‘cat infestation’ and if I step, I should step lightly and lift up my foot if I hear a meow.

I sit in one of 2 chairs in the room, as kittens claw up my leg and Green starts up the Coleman stove to cook pasta and sauce.

Green tells me that he is planning to use mud on the walls to fill the cracks.  The entire cabin cost him $500 to date, which is a large sum of money to Green – as he doesn’t actually work, and hasn’t for 18 months (apparently living off just $5,000 in that time).

Green tells me he once hosted 9 people in this cabin.  He said that there were bodies everywhere, and I take some kind of relief in the fact that there is only one guest (me) here tonight.

But, I start to wonder what I got myself into…

There’s no washroom.  At all.  A roll of toilet paper hangs on a rung near the door.

There’s no water (maybe outside?)

There’s a hole in the wall for the cat to get in and out; freely allowing wildlife to do the same.

After dinner, I head to ‘bed’, which is a mattress with 2 less than clean blankets, and a bag of something which Green says can be used as a pillow.  Green tells me its 16 degrees, I’m freezing and put on all the clothes I brought.

As I shiver myself into a kind of drowse until morning.  As I’m falling asleep, I consider that Green spent last winter in this cabin.  The average temperature was 4 degrees above freezing in the mornings when he woke up. 

He says it was a cold winter.

I believe him.

 

 

 

Hello? Anybody home?

29 Jul

I wake up to the sound of walking on the floor above me.  

Despite heading to bed at 1030 PM, I sleep solid until 730 AM and could have kept sleeping another hour or so.  I guess couchsurfing is harder work than I remembered!  I’m quick to get out of bed though as the smell of fresh waffles wafts down the stairway to my chocolate-on-the-pillow bedroom.

My hosts have a great spread of fresh waffles and fruits and I’m offered an espresso to start my morning.  

Wow! Again!  

I’d like to say this kind of hospitality is uncharacteristic, but to be truthful, most hosts not only offer a couch but a few good meals to go with it (but these hosts are truly over the top, and I wasn’t complaining).  I watch the hummingbirds land at the bird feeder and we both enjoy breakfast compliments of my gracious hosts.

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I sparingly pour Quebec maple syrup  on my Waffles, and my host sees this and rebukes my poor pour.  I’ve always treated maple syrup like liquid gold.  While I only buy the real stuff, I try to stretch it out to last as long as possible as it’s not cheap.  However, in this land of plenty, my hosts insist I have a solid pour of maple syrup.  They tap ten trees in and their extensive backyard and use it freely. BTW; maple syrup is to my hosts, what Franks Red Hot is to my brother; ‘they put that $@&^ on everything!

Once I’ve had my fill of liquid gold, and another espresso to ensure I’m alert on the roads, I load up Connie and pull her off the welcome mat and point the front wheel southwards – to cross the St. Lawrence and start my journey towards the Gaspe peninsula.

St. Laurence

The ride along the St. Lawrence is cool, windy and beautiful.  I take hwy 132 which follows the river the whole way up.

Riding

My hosts had advised me to stop for fumee poison (smoked fish), in particular I needed to try the smoked eel in Kamarouska.  I took their suggestion as the mission for the day and my lunch menu was picked!

I thought I’d reached Kamarouska, and found a restaurant that had a picture of a fish (my French not being so good, I took that to mean I could get fish there).  Well, turns out it was a lot fancier than I thought, and after being seated – seeing the menu (and the prices), I thought it was time to go – I’d obviously stumbled upon the wrong spot. 

Now, leaving a restaurant after being seated in an English speaking part of Canada is rude, but if you can’t speak the language to communicate why you had an abrupt change of heart – it could come across wrong!  So I’m stuck having some smoked Salmon that comes as 7 slivers wrapped up with some capers for flavour – with a price tag of $20.  It was tastey, but the 5 bites of fish left me hungry… so I pressed onward after settling my tab.

Eventually (20 kms later), I found the real Kamarouska and stopped at a Poissonerie to enjoy the fumee poison.

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I’ve heard that smoked sturgeon was first made at this poissonerie; so I have a smoked sturgeon sandwich.  I buy some fumee anguille (smoked eel) for the road (I get some glace – ice, to keep it cool) and I head onwards to Ramouski.

I would be excited to meet my host tonight, she has traveled extensively and usually just packs a bag and goes (no travel plans / bookings).  Cool person to meet.  Unfortunately for me, my host has decided to go gallivanting and left yesterday for the West Coast!  

For the first time in Couchsurf America history – I am host-less….

However, that does not mean that I am couchless!

My host had offered to leave the keys to her apartment with a friend.  When I arrived to Ramouski, I simply had to connect with the friend, pick up the keys and left myself in.

This is a first for me in couchsurfing.  While in the past, I have had let myself in while waiting to meet up with the host later.  I’ve also had folks who met me, but then had to leave for the evening and asked me to lock up behind myself.  But this is the first time I didn’t meet the host AT ALL.   This is a testament to the trust with the couchsurfing community!

So I meet up with the friend of my (absentee)-host, grab a bottle of wine for my host (a thank-you for when she finally gets home) and some beer for me and head to my hosts apt. Now, I packed light for this trip, but not light enough.  I could fit the wine in my saddle bags, but not the beer.  I manage to squash the 6-pack of PBR between my own 6-pack and the gas tank of the bike.

This is the most well defined six-pack I have ever had!

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I let myself into the very cozy and nicely decorated bachelorette pad in Ramouski.  There’s a clean towel and washcloth on the bed.  My host said she changed the sheets before she left and I was to make myself at home – with all my couchsurfing experiences this actually not to hard for me to do.

The sun comes in the window and seems to have a ‘light shining down from the heavens’ affect on this bed.  I’m happy for a night of simple R&R and resurrecting the old couchsurf america blog.

I set myself up with a beer and some fumee anguille (a great combo btw) and start typing up a storm.

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Half way through this writing session, I take a break and walk down to the St.  Lawrence and enjoy the sunset.   My Canon G12 camera decides it no longer wants to work and the lens is stuck fully out.  Dear Canon, I will be writing you a letter soon for my G12 and my cousin Cara’s G12!  Looks like you might be making lemonade instead of cameras now.

I return to the apt and enjoy the rest of my smoked eel and beer, and it’s time to call it a night.

I settle into a cozy bed and am thankful my host had been kind enough to offer up her place for a very relaxing night.

On the road again!

28 Jul

So after 322 days off of Couchsurfing America, I’m on the road again and aiming to complete my mission of riding to all 50 states and 10 provinces in North America – only 5 provinces to go!  I’m headed to the East coast of Canada; Quebec, New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland!

This morning, I woke up in Brighton, at my favourite place to couchsurf (mom and dad’s Cottage).  I take a moment to question my sanity… Leaving a comfortable bed, at the cottage, with a beautiful lake, great company (family), and no shortage of nice golf courses and trading it for long hours in the saddle of the bike and sleeping on couches.   After the week I had at work, nothing appeals more than, ‘taking it easy’ at the cottage… but, then I remember the amazing experiences I’ve had couchsurfing America and am excited to see what couchsurfing brings me once again.

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I point my wheels Eastwards and start cruising along the 401 and start to think about the couches in my near future:

  • Couch 1: A middle age couple who have researched me at length, read my blog long ago (before I asked for a couch);
  • Couch 2: A girl my age who is planning to be out of the country, but has left keys with her friend so I can let myself into the apartment and come and go as I please;
  • Couch 3: A guy who lives in his brothers backyard and ‘lives off the land’;
  • Couch 4: 3 girls studying Psych and living on the small island province of PEI (I may have to tell them how I feel, while reclining on their couch);
  • Couch 5: A Newfie girl host, who lives with 3 roomies, and has joined the interest group, “Couchsurfing Anarchists”
  • Couch 6: Another Newfie girl who is a professional Folklorist

And that only gets me TO Newfoundland.   I will have effectively completed my mission with the above hosts by couchsurfing the rest of Canada.  But I’d like to keep it going by CSing around Newfoundland and all the way back home.  Alternatively, I could “IronButt-it” home and try and beat my previous record of 1992 miles (3200 kms) in approx 36 hours; but that option is neither the most enjoyable, or safest.

Tonight, I’m headed to a place called Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier, near to Quebec City.  My host tonight has done her research (on me!).  She mentions that she read my blog… prior to me sending a couchsurf request to Quebec.

Finally!

I have achieved slightest, most insignificant sliver of fame (And yes it’s going to my head)…. This means that people read my blog without knowing me… and like it!!   I feel so validated… much like Sally Field;

Ok… maybe not..  But still, someone read my blog! wow – and they like me!  They like me! (enough to host me),

In this digital age it’s amazing how much someone can find out about you with a quick google.  Right now, when I do a vanity searh (search your own name in google) the first like that pops up is, “I fought the Law and the Law kicked my Ass“… the story of how I fought a parking ticket in Washington DC.. The little Canadian against the big American government.   It’s not going to help me with clients, employers, or grad studies, BUT, I there are a lot worse things that could appear on a google search.  So I will settle with Couchsurfing America as my claim to fame.

Onwards… I cruised passed Kingston, Cornwall, Montreal, and right by Quebec City.  I managed 700 kms on the super slab and didn’t take in too many sites.

I called my host when outside of Montreal and said I would be arriving around 6 PM, to which my host replied, “there will be a cold Bud Light waiting for you in the fridge, I read on your blog that you like that kind.  And there is something waiting in the driveway for Connie”.  Connie is my 2009 Concours 14, aptly nick-named Connie.  She’s been to the continental 49 states with me and 5 Western provinces.  She’s a real Steel Horse, which reminds me of (one of) the  theme song for this trip;

On arrival to my host, I coax Connie of the steep gravel driveway.  When I make it to the top of the drive, I see my host waving to me and a big piece of plywood for Connie to spend the night on.  There’s even a sheet of paper that says, “Welcome Connie“.   And people wonder why I love couchsurfing?! this is it!

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I greet my hosts and they welcome me with a cool bud light and a seat on the patio where we can catch up and get to know each other while looking over the rolling hills of Valcartier.  Their house is surrounded by greenery and great, natural langscaping.  As chatting I hear something whizz by my head.  Then again.  The third time, I look around for helicopters, but my hosts inform me that it’s just one of the 12 or so hummingbirds that hangout in their back yard.  This place just seems magical..

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After some chatting, we sit down to a meal of lamb kabobs, and delicious bread.  My wine glass is full and conversation is good, as I (once again), wish my French was better.  My hosts English is great though, so we have no shortage to chat about – with couchsurfing being the obvious go to conversation.

After dinner we walk down the street and say ‘bonjour’ to the neighbours.  The houses on this street are amazing, in the woods, but very well kept with a friendly community feel.  We meet some English speaking neighbours who are disappointed that the Yukon hasn’t been counted as a part of North America to visit.  They proceed to walk with us, and tell me over and over, in different ways, why Yukon is so great – by the end I’m sold! (next couchsurf mission; the 3 territories of Canada).

Once back at my hosts, we are all set for dessert.  We grab the fixings from the house and embark into the woods.

My host says, “This is where we bury the couchsurfers”, to which I don’t know whether to run, or laugh.  I laugh, but survey my exits!

Instead of a mass couchsurfer grave, we come to a gazebo in the woods, where we enjoy fresh local fruits with maple syrup, with a side (or two, or three) of slivovitz (Slovenian Liquor).  Good conversation and liquors last a long time, until I realize how the first day back on the road has tired me out.

At 10 PM, I head to my room – hardly feels like couchsurfing, as I crawl into a very comfortable bed and set the alarm for 9 hours from now.  I need a good nights rest as couchsurfing America is no small chore.

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It’s good to be on the road again.

PS. Did I mention that there was a chocolate on my pillow?

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