I was on the tail end of a Greyhound backpacking trip around the United States, meeting interesting people and hitching rides when I could. So far, I’d been to the Grand Canyon, spent a few days in Las Vegas, and stopped at various cities along the way. Earlier, I’d caught a taxi to Mount Rushmore.
After fifteen minutes of walking, the city’s business district gave way to rundown restaurants and boarded up windows. The street became narrower, hemmed in on either side by parked cars. Scents turned from tantalizing to putrid. I didn’t pass anyone walking, although clusters of men, speaking Dutch, stood outside of a few bars.
At night, back roads along Nova Scotia’s southern coast are treacherously dark and terrifyingly narrow, especially when fog rolls in off the ocean.
Everything turns inky black.
That’s how it was around 12 a.m. one spring night in 2015, as I sleepily persevered behind the steering wheel toward Murphy’s Camping on the Ocean. Months before, my girlfriend, Brianna, and I had booked the camping destination online while planning a roadtrip through New England and northeastern Canada. We’d only seen vague pictures of pitched tents, ocean water, and campers; we didn’t know what to expect.
The seeds of my obsession with traveling by bus were sown more than a decade ago in 2006, when I was 15, on a dirty tile floor in the heart of Pittsburgh, Pa. While on a cross country trip to Mo. with my Dad to see the oldest of my seven brothers, Peter, graduate Army Basic Training, we were snowed-in at the city’s Greyhound station for 28-hours. After the first day, the local Red Cross brought cots and distributed food vouchers. There weren’t enough cots, though, and I ended up sleeping on the floor instead, coat balled-up under my head, sweatshirt covering my face.
As evening sunlight fades, the charming city comes alive with twinkling lights, like those shining on the Smith College sign overlooking Main Street’s historic brick buildings. They also hang in strings above Pulaski Park, watching over couples strolling past, and old friends lounging at outdoor tables.
On the overseas travel front, I went to Mexico and visited with El Rancho Del Rey boys for the third time, traveled through West Sweden for the second time, and experienced Iceland for the first time. In-country, I went to New York a few times, Georgia, Alabama, Cape Cod and Boston.
Dad would pull the pallet onto the work floor with a hand jack and slap down another in its place. The scent of that building has lingered with me after all these years: a mixture of stale ink and dust. It was so dry I’d have to run to the bubbler every half-hour or so for a disposable cup of water.