Well, by now, you hardly need an introduction to today’s guest blogger Jim Ferguson (above, 1978).

As Jim says in his post, he and I have been fast friends since meeting in the hospital hallways of Stanton Hospital in Canadian Arctic town, Yellowknife, in 1977. Yes, we were the original Dumb and Dumber… just kidding!

Jim has led an adventurous life as a Physician Associate, travelling and living for over 40 years in many US towns/cities including Nome, Alaska, along with his wife Deb.

Recently, the adventure bug has bitten once more and Jim has migrated across the continent from Oregon to Michigan to live closer to his daughter’s family.

Today, Jim shares with us a story from his youth, a young, naive Maritime lad seeking life experiences along the – perilous – road…


I was recently listening to Gord’s Gold (Gordon Lightfoot – such a fantastic album and one of my “favs”) …

… and as I was listening to Carefree Highway, I found my mind and thoughts drifting like a rowboat down a lazy river in a gentle summer breeze.

My thoughts were not of love or one-night stands as seems to be the theme of Gord’s song but rather I was reminiscing of hitting a different sort of carefree highway-the Trans Canada highway, in my youth with my backpack on my back with all my worldly possessions and setting my sights on Yellowknife (YK) in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

Back in those days, all my friends in high school were talking about “going out west” to work in the tar sands at Ft. McMurray and dreaming of making the “big bucks”. I was less interested in the tar sands and more interested in YK. I remember looking at an atlas and seeing where the town of about 9,600 (at that time) was located and thinking to myself “that is where I want to be”.

It would be foolish for me to say I was not nervous as my mum took me to the train station in Halifax, NS in early June 1975 to start the first leg of the journey by train.

It was the first time leaving home for me, and at the time I was but a lad of 17-years old with long blonde hair and looking like I was about 12-years old.

Larry can attest to how young I looked. In Yellowknife Larry was this adonis-like beautiful specimen of manhood with his gorgeous quaff and thick moustache and hirsute chest while I was the total opposite of that image…😊. I looked like Kevin McAllister from the movie Home Alone. You get the idea.

With such an image in mind what could go wrong traveling alone across the country…right!!! Well… the initial part of my trip took me by train to Montreal and from there I hitchhiked to Edmonton, Alberta where I caught a flight to YK.

My aunt picked me up in Montreal and I stayed the night with her and my uncle. After breakfast the next day Auntie Sheila gave me $20 bucks and drove me to the west end of Montreal and dropped me off on the Trans Canada Highway and the real journey began. Auntie Sheila gave me a travel map of Canada and I recall enjoying long studies of the map and imagining where I was going and how the trip would unfold and the sites I would see. It was all very exciting (although my aunt thought I was crazy).

I have vivid memories all these years later standing on the highway, or just walking westward with my thumb out hoping for that “mother of all rides”, the one where you jump in and the driver tells you that he/she is going all the way to Edmonton! Well…those types of rides were rare and more often I would get a ride a couple of towns further along the highway, BUT when those longer rides did come along it was gold (not Gord’s Gold but Jim’s gold 😊).


My hitching days (frequent thumbing adventures from 1975-79) were filled with exhilaration, frustration, reassurance of my faith in humanity, and that the world can be an extremely dangerous place. Where better to experience these emotions and feelings than when alone thumbing across the country, eh?

The feelings of exhilaration mainly revolved around the absolute beauty that is our homeland-Canada! Wow!!!! What a beautiful country.

Yes… I am referring to the geographical beauty of Canada BUT I am also referring to the beauty of its people.

On the geographical side, there is magic traveling the roads and highways of the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia or along the mighty St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, or through the vast wilderness that is Northern Ontario to the seemingly endless great plains of Western Canada, and then seeing the picturesque Rocky Mountains and finally crossing over Great Slave Lake and coming into YK.

Go and listen to Gord’s song, Canadian Railroad Trilogy to get a vast sense of the beauty and majesty of Canada. It is truly hard to put into words the stunning beauty that is Canada from east to west and south to north. I’m sure you’ve all had your own taste of it. I never get tired traveling in Canada even to this day.


On my travels “across this mighty land” (Canadian Railroad Trilogy reference intended…thanks Gord) I encountered amazing diversity of colour, religion, nationalities, etc., all making Canada their home. I’ve long sensed that Canada’s greatness lies in its diversity and in the way such diverse groups can come together and create a peaceful community.

Even though I’ve lived in the States for decades, I have NEVER stopped being a proud Canadian, an admirer of Canadians’ exhibition of qualities of friendship and peace to others. I’ve encountered English Canadians, Acadian Canadians, French Canadians, white/black/brown Canadians, religious and atheist Canadians, male/female/LGBTQ/trans Canadians and everything in-between. No matter who they were… they were amazing people.

Yes… there were frustrating experiences… sometimes going several hours without a ride, or in the case of Northern Ontario, sometimes going several hours and barely seeing a car back in those days could be frustrating! There were lots of times where I would be caught in rainstorms and soaked to the bone with no bridge under which to seek shelter.

Some days when the sun was beating down and it was hotter than the Hobs of Hades (I understand that to be damn hot) it would be challenging to find respite from the heat.

I can’t tell you the number of times I unrolled my sleeping bag and slept on the side of the road off in the trees or in a field. Been there… done that! These were minor frustrations in the grand scheme of things. I always have loved being remote and having time alone so while some frustration did creep in, I did my best to appreciate the experiences… to enjoy the moment.

My faith in humanity received a boost during my hitchhiking days. I got picked up by some amazing people (see next paragraph for a glimpse at some of the #%*holes).

I was heading out of Winnipeg with my sights set on Edmonton and a car pulled over and offered me a ride. The man was probably in his early 50s and he was headed to Saskatoon. I struck gold!

What a gem. He worked as a regional sales manager for a pulp and paper company, and he had served in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Well… we began to talk of my dad who was an RCN pilot and was part of the history of Canadian aerobatic flight – known mainly in the Maritimes as The Red Herring. This man knew of my dad and personally knew some of those in the RCN my dad worked with over the course of his career. The man let me drive part of the way so he could rest. He treated me to lunch along the way. He had a CB radio (remember those? “Breaker…Breaker…19”) and when he dropped me off on the west side of Saskatoon, he sent out a call over the CB telling people about me, and if they saw me on the side of the road to stop and give me a ride.

His final words were that if I ever hitchhiked out west again and if I got stuck or ever needed money, I should call him at any time of day or night and he would come get me if I was close by or would wire me money if I was not close by. His name was Neal Gelinas. We stayed in touch over a number of years, and I suspect that he has long since “moved on from this world” but he left a lasting impression on me as a young man on how I should treat others. There were many other wonderful examples I could share of the kindness of others towards me while traveling the highways and byways of Canada in my youth.

As you can imagine, hitchhiking as a teenager (especially one who looked like a 12-year-old) could be fraught with potential danger and peril. I experienced it all.


I was close to decapitating myself in Northern Ontario as me and this other young hitchhiker I had met on the way west decided to “hop a train” while it was racing through the woods northwest of Thunder Bay in the dark. Not a smart idea. Luckily, we came to realize that our plan had lots of holes in it and we came to our senses before either of us ended up dead.

On other occasions, I got into cars and didn’t smell the odour of booze or weed until the driver was speeding up the road like a madman. Luckily, I escaped any serious injury.

I know you are wondering “Heh Jim…did you encounter any scary weirdos?” Yes…there were scary weirdos! I won’t go into all the “hairy” details but suffice it to say that I’m a firm believer in keeping BOTH HANDS on the steering wheel while driving.

I probably should have sensed “Danger Will Robinson! Danger!” when one guy pleaded with me to change into some skimpy shorts he “conveniently” had in his trunk on one hot summer day when he picked me up in NB. I declined but still got in the car (what an idiot…yes I was a bit naïve back in those days).

I carried an 8-inch hunting knife with me but never had to defend myself with it thankfully. After 15-20 km things were getting a bit concerning so I had the guy drop me off under a bridge just north of Fredericton New Brunswick. He was going all the way to Montreal, but it was not worth the aggravation to stay in that vehicle any longer than I had to. There were other weirdos too.

As I sit here reflecting on those crazy days, I realize I would not trade them for anything.

They were great adventures, and I met some amazing people along the way, not the least of whom is Larry and his wife Maureen. All these journeys took me to YK where we met during the fall/winter of 1977, and we became fast friends enjoying lots of fun and interesting times together in Canada’s north and even a couple of visits in our later years.

My hitchhiking days (my old backpack below) are over so I will just have to live vicariously through Gordon Lightfoot’s Carefree Highway going forward.


Jim Ferguson