As I start to write down what’s happened over the last two weeks I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my plane to arrive. I’ve just said goodbye to Max, feeling strangely melancholy as I try to put things in to words, the last two weeks have been entirely out of the ordinary for me. How much can change in the space of a few days, saying yes instead of overthinking. I wouldn’t regret any of it for a second.
Back in Toronto I had been struggling to get any response from my CV, a phone interview gone terribly wrong, a complete miscommunication between what the job was or wasn’t, the advert either entirely wrong or HR had no clue what data analysis means. The whole thing left me feeling a bit dejected and considering if I should just go ahead and take the SmartServe course. But the thought of spending a full winter in Toronto working in a bar or a coffee shop wasn’t what I had in mind when I left my job in Scotland two months ago. No, I came here for the mountains.
I make the decision, it takes hold, and becomes all I can think about, why wouldn’t I head back west? It all just fit. And with these thoughts bouncing around in my head I encountered Amy, a welsh girl coming to the end of her travels. Her and her boyfriend Toby would be heading back to England in a week’s time. I liked her instantly, something slightly odd and open, a lightness I don’t have myself. She’s the first person to not give me a look of disgust when I say I’m fed up here, instead revealing the original reason they came to North America, to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and how after a few weeks they had to accept defeat and instead decided to travel. ‘If it’s not for you, it’s not for you. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just give it a week before you make any firm decisions.’
There’s something special about this hostel which makes it so easy to socialise with everyone. Then next evening I’m sitting next to a guy from Ireland – full of false charm, across from Max – too cute to talk to, all bright blue eyes and messy hair. Amy introduces me to everyone, making me feel welcomed amongst strangers. The pub crawl quickly abandoned instead we drink on the roof all evening. An attempt at playing Uno by the light of a candle, it soon lies forgotten as the conversation takes over. Max and Toby trolling each other, Amy keeping the peace. Sharing stories, too much information, the embarrassing, the weird, right up until the roof closes.
The next evening the hostel are hosting a film night – 500 Days of Summer. I’ve seen it enough times to know the story almost by heart, it annoys me incessantly. After a while I head downstairs, finding the others in the common room. We drink, play games, Chinese whispers mixed with Pictionary, I’m enjoying myself but we soon head out to a bar nearby.
Around the world from the Planet Traveler, Toronto
Deep in conversation I somehow end up talking to Max, less than two minutes in and I’m on to Myers-Briggs – yes, an incredibly sad mild obsession of mine, I apologise. At this point I’ve assumed Max is gay, long story, but strangely enough it makes me more relaxed talking to him. He’s an ENTP and me being the dorky twat I am, too enthusiastic ‘Aww we’re a perfect match, we’re gonna be besties!’, god love him for not running out the door immediately.
At some point a raccoon appears in the bar!? He’s a regular visitor, but I’m gutted I didn’t get to see him, or the bouncers reaction, too wrapped up in conversation. We leave, the group breaking apart and it’s just Max, Amy, Toby, Anaís and I. Back in their room, more beer, gin mixed with Smirnoff Ice, this is when you know things are getting messy. The poor French girl looks like she can’t quite decide what to do with herself. She cracks out a few perfectly timed comments before leaving the four of us to it. Scared off by the weird Brits and the American. I wonder if we’re the oddest people in this place, brought together by mutual weirdness. The good kind.
A late night pizza delivery tastes like the best thing on earth. Sleepy and comfortable, Max lies with his head in my lap, I massage his head innocently enough not thinking anything of it, he’s like a big puppy. It’s 5AM and long past time to go to bed, all four of us squished on the bed like an old school sleepover. Yep this might be the strangest end to a night I’ve had in a while, topping the time I tried to teach yoga to a random ‘anarchist’ Aussie in the kitchen of a hostel at 6AM in Croatia. Before we part ways he surprises me with a massive hug and a kiss, so maybe he isn’t gay after all.. Or I look like a dude. Shit.
Three hours sleep later, groggy, I need food. I bump in to Amy in the kitchen, we had talked about going to Canada’s Wonderland the theme park yesterday but all of us are far too hungover to be getting thrown around on rides all day. Instead they plan to go to Niagara, I’m envious but too shy to ask if I can still join them. Maybe she can tell. Max surfaces, far too chirpy for how drunk we all were the night before, I wonder if he can remember inviting us all to Charleston for the eclipse. Toby appears, a little worse for wear. I’m sad they’ll be leaving soon, just me and Max left. How am I going to talk to him when it’s just us? I feel awkward already.
Once they’ve made their plans Amy asks if we would both like to go to Niagara with them. Yes! I want to, but can I really? I have a room here for another week, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to leave, maybe this is it.. And so with less than an hour till check out, I make a rough plan in my head, Niagara, New York then I’ll start making my way back east. Rushing upstairs I pack my stuff, cancel the rest of the nights I planned to stay in the hostel and set in motion something unheard of for cautious me. Max and Toby get the hire car while I make sandwiches and Amy packs bananas and water back at the hostel. Four people, once strangers, now friends.
Barely 30 minutes down the highway when there’s nearly a pile up. A car in front swerves in, traffic stops, we hear the screech of breaks and a crash behind us, the car behind us pulling out into the central reservation so not to hit us. Shaken, the rest of the drive is slower, listening to Max and Toby debating the ridiculous, trolling each other. How often is it people meet and form a unit so quickly? Maybe I’ve just never been so lucky.
Max makes us stop at Popeye’s, I talk to him a little, shyly, while Amy and Toby wait for our order to come up. He always has something to say to ease the awkwardness. He’s just as awkward as me but in the way that he can talk through it rather than staying silent like I do. He asks again if I’m going to come to Charleston. I want to, I say yes but I’m a little worried, I’m barely healing from the last American. But he hasn’t so much as acknowledged my existence for a month. Speaking to a friend back home, she tells me not to worry about things or let it stop me from enjoying myself. Cara, my eternal touchstone of normality and logic.
Finally making it to Niagara, the Air BnB host agrees we can stay. The house is beautiful, with a blue porch, filled with beautiful old furniture, two cats and a puppy. The room is in the eves of the house, little doors shut tight leading to who knows where. I can see there is space outside, small but roofed over. I can’t keep my imagination from running wild imagining what might be behind them, secret passages, entire rooms. Secrets.
We wait a few hours, lazing around, talking about anything and nothing. I feel oddly relaxed for having just met these people. Max is leaving for Chicago tomorrow, early, and this is the only chance he’ll get to see the falls. He has a wonderful knack for stumbling into situations, stories, he’ll talk to anyone without realising his awkward charm. We see a house being torn down and somehow Max ends up talking to the guy, next thing we know he’s getting a lesson in how to handle the thing. And soon enough we’re all having a go! One more thing off the bucket list of things I didn’t even know I wanted to do!
A hidden jem. The house being torn down had a wonderfully painted mural of the little mermaid inside, soon to be destroyed, and a fitting quote; “Do your own thing, on your terms, and get what you came for”.
The American Falls
The Canadian Horseshoe falls at night
I came here when I was 12, but they’re even more impressive than I remember. As the sun sets we get to see the light show, and fireworks. I sit with Max while Amy and Toby go to stand at the barrier, unsure if we’re just two friends, no mention of yesterday. I wonder if he can even remember, how much had he had to drink? As spectacular as the falls are, the city which has built up around them is pretty horrific. But we succumb to the trash, going for a ride on the bumper carts, planning what we could do tomorrow, the mirror maze, a haunted house – seriously this is what Niagara is.
Max, Toby and Amy on the main tourist strip
Hungry and tired we go to (IHOP) International House of Pancakes, blueberry pancakes, whipped cream from a can, bacon, and syrup. It’s pretty good, more than pretty good. But the portions are huuuge! Good food, good company, I feel happy, like I fit somewhere for the first time in a while.
Driving back to the house the thunder starts, great bolts of lightning longer and brighter than any I’ve ever seen before strike all around us, the rain so heavy the wiper blades can barely clear it before it’s covered again.
When we get in we go straight to bed. As soon as Max goes to the bathroom, Toby asks me if I like him. I’m evasive, I don’t know how to answer. We haven’t really said much about the night before other than a brief moment over pancakes, I do, but I feel awkward and pressured. Toby leaves it, just saying something along the lines of, ‘Okay, but he definitely likes you’. Blush.
His alarm goes off early. I give him a brief awkward hug before him and Toby drive to the bus station so he can catch the bus back to Toronto. I’m worried he won’t make it having only given himself an extra hour to get there. He manages somehow to go to the wrong airport, I can’t help but laugh, not even the main airport in Toronto but the shitty awkward out of the way one. Feck knows how but he talks his way onto the train to the main airport for free and makes his flight with time to spare! Must be the Irish luck shining through.
Down to three we sleep the rest of the morning away. By late afternoon we’re back in Niagara, Toby accidently books the boat tour for the following morning but it turns out to be a lucky mistake meaning we can take the day easy. We do the walk behind the falls instead, filling the day with ridiculous chat, sometimes edging in to more serious territory before one of us says something ridiculous again. Amy calls me out for being ‘adorably dorky’, man really, I can’t decide if this is a compliment or not. But it’s probably true, I can’t deny the nerd.
Niagara by day
Rainbows everywhere, from here you can see the sheer force and power of the water cascading over the falls
Getting up close and personal on the journey behind the falls
Amy providing some entertainment while we queue!
The next morning we do the boat, filled with tourists like us but with their back to the falls videoing the experience. Really, why pay to watch it from a tiny phone screen when you could do it at home? When we get close the water is so strong I can’t see anything, seriously I paid like £25 to feel like I was back in Scotland in October. Shoes soaked through, cold, wet, but it was pretty cool to feel the force of the falls. And to see them up close before the spray took over.
By now it’s Sunday, six days since the first night on the roof. I’ve finally planned the trip; two days in New York, one in Washington, before meeting Max in South Carolina for the eclipse. A boy I hardly know and now I’ve agreed to spend four whole days with him, apprehensive but excited. The flights doubling in price while I try and make the connections work. But it’s done. Sorted. I’m sad to say goodbye to Amy and Toby, the first travellers I’ve teamed up with for more than a day. They make a perfect unit, ridiculous, hilarious. We say our goodbyes and I leave them to their last week in North America, we agree to meet again back in the UK if we don’t see each other elsewhere in the world. But for me I’m heading to America once more, this time to New York and the east coast.
This post is continued in ‘From New York to Washington DC’