Kiss the Sunset Pig:
A Canadian's American Road Trip (with exotic detours)

by Laurie Gough


Penguin Canada, 2006. ISBN 9780143056157 (or B000GNW1IK).
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 08/15/2006

Nonfiction: Travel/Adventure

Laurie Gough is an intrepid traveller with a youthful exuberance for adventure. I realize, though, that no matter what one's age, some people are born with wanderlust and have a need to travel the world. The interesting thing is, travellers always return home. That's what Gough does. She's been to thirty countries, hitchhiking thousands of miles by herself though fourteen of them. But she always returns to her hometown of Guelph, Ontario in Canada.

At the beginning of Kiss the Sunset Pig, Gough sets off for California from Guelph in a "blue, beat-up mini Ford Bronco" she calls Marcia. To help with driving and expenses, she picks up a travelling companion named Debbie, whom she has met through an ad and, before the trip begins, has only spoken to on the phone. Debbie gets dropped off in St. Louis, Missouri, at the home of a boyfriend she has never met face to face.

"Sometimes I think I'm still looking for an axis," Gough writes early on in her journey. After reading her book, I think the axis may be the wanderlust. It's who she is. For a person with wanderlust, there is no perfect place to live. A place may seem ideal, for a time, but really it's just a base at which to prepare oneself for the next adventure.

Reading about her encounters with strange and wonderful people is frightening at times (for the reader and for her), but I realize travelling with a companion or in a group, as I usually do, one is not open to the same exciting possibilities. Travelling solo, Gough finds herself talking to strangers more readily as she's more open and more herself. "That's the thing about travelling: it's like peeling away a layer of yourself, exposing yourself to the world so it can expose itself to you".

The structure of the book is an interesting one that works extremely well. (She did the same in her first book, Kite Strings of the Southern Cross, which I highly recommend.) Rather than write a book of travel stories in chronological order, Gough reflects on previous journeys as she drives across the United States in a car that needs lots of garage visits along the way.

One of those reflections is the Greek island of Naxos. There Gough created a temporary home under a small bamboo wind shelter on the beach. Her backpack went missing for a time and to ease her panic, she looked at the "dependable milky rock" of the moon. Gough realized things like that didn't matter "in the great scheme of the universe" (she had her passport and money), and I realize too, as a traveller, one needs to practice non-attachment. Gough describes Greece beautifully as a "land where myth and reality swirl around each other in a luminous haze." Yet she needed to move on, "to see the rest of the world."

One summer, Gough hitchhiked to the Yukon, 3,000 miles from Guelph. She says hitchhiking is "always a surprise study of human beings." Her travelling companion Kevin told her of his own world adventures. His advice was "You have no idea what's in store for you, but if you let yourself go along with the flow of the unknown and accept whatever happens, things seem to work out".

The "exotic detours" of which Gough writes don't all have happy endings. Her teaching job in Kashechewan in Canada's sub-Arctic ended after only three months with Gough defeated and exhausted by the chaos of a third-grade class. A trip to Jamaica with her sister ended quickly, as Gough likes to stay with locals while her sister prefers fancy hotels.

Gough is full of questions about where she belongs. Those questions don't at all detract from the book; they help us relate. After all, travel is about looking for oneself, and as travel-book readers, we get to reflect on similar questions.

On her trip to California, Gough plays Joni Mitchell's "California" that includes the phrase "kiss the sunset pig." She carries a tattered notebook called "Cave Journal" and would like to find that cave on the Pacific again, where she spent some time thirteen years previously. Along with her questions and her longing, Gough has a healthy sense of humour about her encounters along the way. She describes a town on the Great Plains called Grainfield as the "size of a bath mat."

At an earlier age, Gough described herself as "still on my way to everywhere." She has learned that travel can mean "hours, even days of despair, rain, heatwaves, snow, mosquitoes, late trains, no trains, followed by a single moment of dazzling elation. It was those single moments one tended to recall." Gough makes some realizations at the end of her California trip that I don't want to reveal here. But I would say, even though she is older and perhaps wiser, I still see her as on her way to everywhere.

Gough has married since the stories written about in her book and has a baby son. They divide their time between a farmhouse outside of Guelph, Ontario, and a Quebec village. Seventeen of her stories have been anthologised in various literary travel books, including Salon.com's Wanderlust: Real-Life Tales of Adventure and Romance and Sand in My Bra: Funny Women Write from the Road. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Outpost, Canadian Geographic and numerous literary journals. See her website at www.lauriegough.com.

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