By Christian Deo
Chapter 1: Seeking Adventure, We Hire Serial Killers
We met our serial killers in the heartland of Mississauga. In a strip-mall parking lot, surrounded by modest subdivisions and six-lane avenues, we approached the strangers who would be driving us across the country. It was the end of July, and for all I knew our adventure would abruptly end in two hours when they would pull over to the side of the road, put bags on our heads and use us as their personal ass-meat for the rest of our lives.
We had made first contact with Gareth Cranny and Katrina Scott, a couple from Brampton, four days earlier through Craigslist’s Rideshare section. After three months of unemployment and boredom I was craving adventure, and so was Matt Prokopiw, a friend from Carleton University also neglecting the workforce. It was Matt who had initiated contact with the couple. He had been trolling Craigslist sporadically throughout June and July, looking for any cheap ride to a faraway destination. When he found their post, he responded immediately.
Back in the parking lot we scanned for the silver Kia crossover attached to the motorcycle trailer that Katrina had mentioned in her texts to Matt. Serial killer jokes were flying indiscriminately between us when we spotted it. The couple were fitting large plastic bins into their trunk. I imagined they were filled with the complete Dexter Morgan arsenal as I got out to approach them. Trina, as she preferred to be called, quickly dispelled my fears with her heavy East Coast accent. “So these are the serial killers,” she said. Apparently we weren’t the only ones concerned for our safety.
Matt and I loaded our packs into their trunk and I said goodbye to my dad and girlfriend before climbing into the hatchback. Our trip would be a week-long backpacking odyssey, starting with a 24-hour trek east by car to North Sydney, NS. We would keep to the 401 through Quebec until we hit New Brunswick, then ride the U.S. border south-east to Nova Scotia and our destination. It was my first trip to the coast. Gareth and Trina seemed okay in their emails to us, but they were still just strangers. Over the next day we would learn a little too much about them.
Chapter 2: Small Talk on the Highway of Heroes
Rideshares are a popular travel choice among students because they are cheap. Samuel Greenfield, a campus marketing rep at Travel Cuts, says that taking rides from strangers is dangerous, but it’s not that dangerous. The 21-year-old journalism student has experience hitchhiking the East Coast, and used cautious common sense to keep him safe on the road.
“It’s a judgment call when you get in a car with someone,” he says. “Worst-case scenario is they abduct you and torture you and kill you.”
Noted. We hit the on-ramp to the 401 at full speed, giddy as school girls. It was too late to turn back now; we were in this for the long haul. Not that Gareth, who was driving, could have pulled over anyways. Amidst a sea of red break lights we found ourselves at the mercy of rush-hour traffic on the busiest highway in North America. The wheels of our adventure had ground to a halt.
We turned to the couple and eagerly told them about our plans for Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. Matt, who did most of the talking, told them we’d look for a place to stay first.
“You guys don’t know where you’re staying yet?” Gareth asked. He thought we were out of our minds.
Maybe we were. Matt was tearing through Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and couldn’t help raving about it. Kerouac’s ability to up and leave—with no plans, no real goal but the journey itself—both fascinated and inspired in Matt a desire to travel. His vibe was contagious. I knew there was a lot to be learned ‘on the road’. I was hoping that being a stranger far from home with few possessions, travelling only where the road took me, would somehow reveal some of life’s secrets. It was something I felt I needed to do.
As we finally broke out of the rush-hour traffic, Matt and I took pen and paper to record the first part of our journey. We would keep detailed notes for the rest of the trip; like Kerouac, we resolved to chronicle our most impressionable experiences. Our spiritual shepherds up front would provide us with more than enough material. In the front seat Trina was joking to Gareth about how we were like their kids. Gareth laughed.
“I think we’ll call them Team Cuntbatt,” said Gareth with a grin. Trina giggled as Matt and I exchanged confused looks. Clearly trying to get a reaction from the back seat, Gareth explained. “‘Cause his name starts with C,” he pointed to me, “and his ends in ‘att!”
I didn’t get it. Neither did Matt. But we let the remark pass as the newly-christianed “Team Cuntbatt” rolled through Ontario to the Quebec border.
Chapter 3: The Battle of Quebec
The scenery didn’t change much. As the sun set Trina produced two pillows and a bag of sour keys from the front seat. Her generosity was well received. “You have sour keys?” Matt said. “Unreal! Those are my favourite!”
Trina Scott was a lively girl in her 30’s, who grew up in Newfoundland. The couple, who had met through motorcycling friends and started dating earlier that year, were on their way to Trina’s hometown to visit her family.
Gareth, in his late 20’s, was born in Wales before his family moved to Canada when he was young. The both of them now lived in Brampton, and, with Gareth at least, it showed.
“Fucking frogs,” he growled. The Quebecois drivers were getting to his English heritage and he missed no chance to cuss every Quebec license plate not using their turn signal. The pillow offered me comfort from some of Gareth’s more abrasive statements. “Why don’t they just have all their signs in English? It would be so much easier,” and “PFK? It’s KFC you fucking frogs!” It was clear he was getting anxious at the wheel and I put on my music and closed my eyes to escape the car and reflect on the road so far.
Greenfield warns that, while ridesharing is safer than hitchhiking, there’s risk to any form of travel. Especially when you’re in a car with a tense driver.
“If people are getting irritated and emotional in a car it’s always a dangerous situation,” he says. “If you’re unsure don’t be afraid to ask somebody to stop.”
We were halfway through Quebec and I had no desire to get out and try and hitch the rest of the way, no matter how tense the situation was. When I opened my eyes Trina looked uncomfortable. Gareth was still cussing. He had programmed our route into his Blackberry, which had now led us 15 minutes in the wrong direction. It was a scene straight out of Dumb and Dumber. I had given road maps earlier to Trina but Gareth only mocked them. Turning around to head back to the highway, I could see Gareth starting to crack.
Chapter 4: The Highway’s Cold Shoulder
It was four in the morning and somehow I had managed to fall asleep. We had been traveling for 12 hours. I slept with cramped legs and hands clutched in my lap to keep warm. The pillow was better used as a blanket. When I awoke the car was not moving and Gareth was swearing. It started under his breath and as more of us awoke in the car, he realized he had no reason to hold back.
We were near the border of Quebec and New Brunswick. It was raining lightly and the land around us was low and flat. There was no sign of civilization except for a parallel highway to our right which seemed to be the focus of Gareth’s anguish.
Another wrong turn had been made. Gareth’s solution? Reverse down the shoulder of the road until we could turn onto the correct highway. He couldn’t see past the luggage in the rearview mirror so he stuck his head out the window to see where he was going. The rain came in and I got wet. But I didn’t say anything. He was already cussing enough and my complaining wasn’t going to help the situation.
The motorcycle trailer in the back was preventing us from reversing in a straight line so for every five metres we went back, we had to go three forward to straighten out. For 15 minutes we endured a stream of profanities, rain and the smell of the burning clutch. Trina said, half-sleeping, “Gareth, getting angry won’t solve nothing.” Gareth raised his hand in exasperation. “DO YOU WANNA DRIVE?!” he barked.
Chapter 5 : The New Brunswick Switch
Greenfield advises carrying a cell phone for those emergencies when you need to text a friend your location and the license plate number of the car you’re in. I had forgotten my phone.
But I knew we were well into New Brunswick. By about 6 a.m. Gareth had finally had enough driving. We stopped at a Tim Hortons and the two adults switched. Trina had never driven stick before. I was nervous.
She got the hang of it after only one stall. Gareth kept his temper. He was playfully flirting with her and seemed content to be out of the driver’s seat. But it wasn’t long before trouble started.
Trina was confused about which gear was in which position and asked Gareth for help. She asked him three times. By the fourth, he had had enough.
As if in a military exercise he put his hand over the shifter and shouted, while moving it accordingly, “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE!”
And repeated, “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE!”
Team Cuntbatt sat silent in the back seat. Trina was frozen, and Gareth was red and hot as hell. I sketched a caricature of Gareth breathing fire with an angry look on his face. I slid it over to Matt, who burst into laughter. Gareth ignored him.
Chapter 6: The Break Up, and Return of The Punisher
We made it to Cape Breton a few hours later and were promptly lead in the wrong direction by the Blackberry. On the dashboard Google Map’s green arrow mocked Gareth. Trina, still driving, took the brunt of his revenge. Her iPod shuffle was playing through the car’s speakers and Gareth took the pleasure of personally insulting every song in her library. He skipped from song to song spitting insults and spewing outrageous laughter. Matt played a few songs from his iPod to curb the abuse but his selection of Celtic Punk didn’t help ease the tension.
Half an hour later we had driven straight through North Sydney to find Gareth and Trina’s campground. Matt and I were dying to get out, but were told they would drop us off after they had found it. Of course, Gareth’s Blackberry and Trina’s map gave conflicting routes. We stopped in a hotel parking lot to get directions and the fight broke out. After about two minutes Trina dropped the bomb. “I don’t like being treated like a twelve year old,” she said, crying. “I’m not your girlfriend anymore.”
She slammed the door and walked off. We had just seen justice in full effect. After 20 hours of dishing verbal abuse, the look on Gareth’s face was priceless. It spelled every man’s worst nightmare: the realization that you just blew your only chance of getting laid and that, as Pink says, “It’s just you and your hand tonight.”
Team Cuntbatt stared in disbelief. Here we were, stuck in the car with a man who now had nothing to lose, mere minutes from our destination.
Gareth got out to comfort her, leaving us alone in the car. As soon as the door closed we drew up our escape plan. Greenfield says that, in a dangerous situation, it’s wise to consider whether the costs you’re saving by riding with others is greater than your personal safety. If they’re not, you should consider coming up with an excuse to make a hasty exit.
We didn’t need an excuse. The Punisher was to return in ten minutes and our plan consisted of getting out of the car as fast as possible. Somehow he managed to console Trina, and the two agreed to drop us off downtown—the best news we had heard all trip.
Chapter 7: Epilogue
“The thing that drives people to hitchhike, aside from saving money, is the same thing that drove Columbus to travel the world,” says Greenfield. After spending a week camping and hitchhiking around Nova Scotia, living Kerouac’s dream in paradise, we met up again with Trina and Gareth for the ride home. It was thankfully tame. As we drove west the flat land began to morph into rolling hills under the grey clouds. Team Cuntbatt travelled in silence. There was not as much to be said as there was to be thought about.