Atikokan, Ontario – October 4, 2013
I stood by the highway off French Lake with my thumb in the air and a paddle laid out across my bags like a makeshift sign.
“Not crazy, just a paddler,” it said to anyone who could read it.
Trucks motored by, rumbling down the road toward Atikokan or Fort Frances. I thought of grocery shelves filled with fresh food as I watched them pass. The slow push up and over from the Kaministiquia, days where miles took hours, had left my supplies a bit thin, especially with winter knocking on the door.
A truck rolled to a stop.
“I’m not going all the way to Atikokan,” the driver said,”but I can drop you at a place a few miles up that would be easier to catch a ride from.”
I threw my bags in the back and we zipped along toward a roadside restaurant with a gravel parking lot.
“Sorry I can’t take you the whole way,” the driver said.
“That’s no problem,” I said. “I’ve got a friend in Atikokan who can come get me if I can’t find a ride.”
“Oh yea, who’s that?” he asked. “I might know them.”
“Sally Burns,” I said.
Friend was a stretch, since I’d never met Sally Burns in my life, but she knew Sally and Dan from Thunder Bay. They’d given me her number in case I ran into trouble.
“Oh yea!” he said. “I know Sally! Tell her Scotty says hi!”
“I will,” I promised, hopping out of the truck and grabbing my bags.
The man waved goodbye and disappeared down the road. I stood with my thumb out for another twenty minutes counting cars then gave up. Sally had told me she would just come get me from the start, but I thought I’d give hitching a chance first.
“Be there in an hour,” she said.
I stood by the road, waiting, nothing to do but think about the long connection that brought me there. It all led back to Isle Royale and the decision to go a hundred miles in the wrong direction because a smudge on the horizon looked interesting.
That smudge, that detour, it led to a houseboat in the Everglades and an apartment in Key West, to Dan and Wim in Thunder Bay and the crew of the Absolut-ly Knot in Two Harbors, to Rose and Ruth’s trading post on the Kam and to the side of a road thirty miles from Atikokan where Sally pulled up in the gravel parking lot and gave me a big hug.
Not bad for a wrong turn, if you believe in those things.