1,800 miles of Bikes, Booze, Soccer and near Molestation
I stood on the east side of Salt Lake City at the entrance of I-80 with my "Denver" sign up and a thumb out awaiting what was next. I starred down the bumper of a car coming my way, it was almost as if I willed it to stop, a guy going towards Park City was at the wheel.
He was an older skier who had a little land just before Park City, he said he usually didn't pick up hitchhikers. The last one he'd picked up didn't have a particular destination and apparently rambled and mumbled too much for his taste, he'd ended up shaking him at a truck stop down the road.
He dropped me off just before town and I walked up the on ramp to the main flow of traffic awaiting my next ride. On my way up a car with two young guys stopped, but said they were just going into town. I walked down the shoulder about 100 yards or so until a car stopped for me, pulling only half way into the shoulder of the road. I hopped in and met the guy about my age wearing an orange beaded necklace with a glass mushroom hanging from it. He took me just across town.
It was a nice day, slightly breezy, I enjoyed thumbing from the next ramp watching the clear cut clouds in the sky. A middle aged woman in a pickup truck stopped for me, saying I looked OK to her. She got fired from her job at the IRS somewhat recently, she went on about how inefficient it was and relived her hatred for her bosses, shouting in the car as she had shouted at the office. She explained when she gotten taken in and told she was being let go, "I slid one badge across the table, 'You can shove this one up your ass', then slid my other security card to my other boss, 'and you can shove this one up your ass', and walked out of the office, everyone could hear me".
She took me just a little ways until she wad to split onto I-84, I walked along in a valley on the shoulder of I-80 as traffic passed me by, chomping on a granola bar from my pack. A car started to slow and pull into the shoulder ahead of me and I went running for it, no sooner than a few steps did I hear the "bloop!" of a siren behind me, I turned to see a police car that was in the process of pulling the car over I'd thought was stopping for me.
I walked ahead and past the cop as he stood by the drivers window, questioning a speeding driver perhaps, I nodded as I walked by, he did the same. Despite the scene, I walked backwards with my thumb out to the cars, and one actually stopped without a care for the cop car flashing away. I ran for it, perhaps even more ridiculous scene - a backpacked guy running from a cop car towards another car - I hopped in.
The driver was my age or younger, bushy brown hair and eyes that looked high. His car was packed, living between Washington and Boulder, right now on his way to a the town of Steamboat Springs, CO. We shared some stories, he eventually rolled a spliff to smoke. We made one stop at the gas station and then he dropped me off when he had to turn off.
My next ride was a pickup truck, one guy in the passenger seat who didn't talk and a driver who was a self-proclaimed hillbilly. He told me a story of some folks he'd spotted in a covered wagon in his town. He'd gone up to them to investigate, learning that they'd come from Nevada in the wagon going anywhere from 12-20 miles a day on route to Texas. A mother and her son, her grandmother or so on had apparently traveled across the country in such a manner when the type of thing was the only option, so it was her dream to experience this as well. The hillbilly couldn't get enough of the story, and it was a pretty good one, he smiled recounting the details.
He dropped me off once he got to his town, the skies were grey, they'd been that way ever since I got to Wyoming. Thumb out again, traffic passing here and again as I walked just a bit, a truck passed, slowed, and stopped 100 yards ahead. I did the backpack dash all the way to truck saying "Laramie for sure!". He was coming around the side by the time I got to the truck with a bit of caution in his step, "This may be a stupid question to ask, but are you honest?", I assured him I was and he let me in his 18 wheeler.
"You looked OK, but you never know, I usually don't pick people up", he turned out to be about my age and had been trucking for a little while. He took a lot of pride in his truck, everything inside was chromed out. He even had a Peterbilt tattoo on his arm, "I told you I loved Peterbilts!", he laughed. He told me saw a hitchhiker almost every day, a lot different than what I usually hear from people. "I'll never, ever pick up a girl though", he explained, "My friend picked one up that seemed OK, when he got to the truck stop there were police waiting. She was going off about how he'd tried to take advantage of her this and that. Turns out she had a record of doing this kind of thing, so nothing happened to him, but I don't even wanna mess with that".
He was headed all the way to New Jersey along I-80, the thought of such a distance tempted me, but Laramie was the scene for now, he let me out a truck stop just after dark. I had a couple reasons for heading in this direction in the first place, Cameron was going to be in Denver for a soccer game and breweries that weekend and Zak and Anthony were going to be traveling through Laramie the next day. They'd got me in touch with a guy Maxim who lived in Laramie that they'd be staying with, once at the truck stop I gave him a call and started walking towards his place.
He met me half way on his bike, a math major at the school in town with a friendly spirit. He'd chained up a bike a little further away and soon we were both on bikes headed to his place. We took it easy there, he had homework to catch up on and I was good on relaxing. He popped out of the kitchen once saying, "I can offer you cheap college food", I gladly enjoyed microwave burritos and pizza.
In the morning he was in and out of class, once home he was trying on capes and goggles and goofy clothes in preparation. This day marked the occasion in which was Zak and Anthony's sole motivation for coming to town, and therefore the reason I was there. It was called "Tour de Laramie", a bar crawl to all 28 bars in town on bikes, which equates to biking to each bar and taking a shot or a cheap beer, costumes apparel apparently encouraged.
Zak and Anthony finally arrived, excited for the festivities in our future. They'd stopped at a thrift store to find ridiculous clothes including MC Hammer type pants. Maxim gave me an american flag colored cape, I put on a bow tie I'd been carrying around since Aaron's wedding in Sacramento, glad that I finally had an excuse to wear it.
We set out on our bikes, six of us at the time. The first bar was right around the corner, we burst in, a few of us wearing capes, a couple with goggles, another with bandannas hanging all over. We went directly to the bar and picked up shots of tequila, held them up, "Tour de Laramie!", and shot 'em down, marching back out the door to our bikes.
We continued in this fashion, occasionally sitting a bit longer when the cheapest drink was a beer. We ran into jello shots, watered down shots designed for folks like us on the tour, heavy shots, good beers and beer beers. At an applebees bar we saw the first group of other bikers on the tour and gave a hoot and a holler. Later we ran into a group of 10 or 20 all in "official" yellow shirts for the tour, as drunk as ourselves, we rolled down the bike in a swarm. Cars that recognized what we were doing gave us honks and shouted out their windows cheering us on.
Somewhere along the way the idea of bowling came up, we found ourselves throwing strikes and gutter balls for a frame enjoying a couple pitchers from the bar. We were off into the night again after that, fuzzily going to bar after bar. We made a quick stop back at Maxim's place where his roommate had some friends over and a small bonfire in the backyard, we fueled up on some food and were out the door again.
At some point I found myself without anyone I'd started with, I think I may have waived them off when they were calling it a night and kept going, I don't know for sure, but either way I managed to find my bike in the mix of other bikes and started going. It occurred to me I needed to be going somewhere, Maxim's house, I somehow recalled the address, but I had no idea where I was at the moment.
I raced around looking for something familiar, asking this person and that person for directions, occasionally getting caught up in conversations with other drunks. I went over a bridge at one point and knew that was either very good or very much the wrong direction. Now either I flagged down a cop, or he stopped me, but it was that point where me and the officer got to talking. He was friendly at first as I asked which way I should head, before he left he seemed upset and told me if he saw me on the bike I'd be going to jail, a DUI type of thing.
I walked the bike down the street until he was out of sight and then jumped back on, sideways at times in small bursts until I came to a side street. I saw a guy walking and asked him which way to go, he told me he wasn't from around here, but that his friend at home was and she would know.
Of course it was the type of hour where most people had been sleeping for a while, she was no exception. The guy had no problem waking her up, a girl about my age who was probably accustomed to this kind of thing. She laid in bed cursing us in a gentle way that sounds more like a sigh of "again... ?", we we're both playfully pestering her for directions, she'd clearly had a few drinks and resigned herself to sleeping it off.
I wound up laying in her bed trying to coax an answer out of her gently massaging her neck, she just laid there whispering, "That feels really good...", I could have fallen in right there, but I was on a mission, I finally coaxed a direction out of her and was out of the bedroom. The guy was in the kitchen at this point and offered me a shot of liquor on the way out, I took it and was back on my bike shooting the way she told me. I eventually made it, passed the house once, looped back and was home, promptly passing out.
I slowly came to in the morning with memories of the night before, rushing through the chilled air on the bike... it's that thought that of being chilled where I came to the realization that I must have left my sweatshirt, rain jacket, warmest shirt, hat and gloves somewhere, essentially the only warm clothes I had.
Zak and Anthony awoke shortly after, all of still laid out, recalling the various stories from the night before. Before I got up, I heard the door open and Keith wandered in, "I'll be back in about 20 minutes, will you be good to go?". Oh yes, I'd forgotten about that, but I'd talked to him about going to breweries between Laramie and Denver hitchhiking, and he was up for going too and was willing to drive.
"Hell yes! I'll be good to go", he was back later than 20 minutes, apparently coaxing a hungover Matt out of bed, one of the six original bikers from the night before. We took a quick trip to what Keith recalled was the last bar we'd been to, we got there to luckily discover my bundle of warm clothes was in a pile awaiting me.
With that, we were headed towards Colorado. Our first stop was New Belgium brewery in Fort Collins, we were too late for the tour, but not for the free samples. They let each of us choose four beers and gave us a 4oz sample of each. Matt stayed out of it, but Keith and I each enjoyed a good spread. Afterwards we popped into a local brewery, literally just popped in through the door and that was it.
We hopped back in the car with Left Hand as our destination in Longmont, 30 minutes south. Matt had no interest in drinking, or even leaving the car at that point. I'd spent just about the last of my money the night before in the biking boozing madness, all but a dollar bill and some change. Once we got to the brewery we just popped in and shared a sample of the Milk Stout, an incredible beer I was happy to try right from the tap.
After that we started headed towards Boulder with the idea of going to a couple more breweries, Boulder Brewing was apparently closed that day which we learned as we got closer, and Matt had about had it, and myself with no money made things less enticing. About 60 miles shy of Denver they decided they should get a move on back towards Laramie and let me out at a good spot so I could hitchhike the rest of the way, Matt threw me a few bucks for future good times and that was that.
A guy blasting hip hop in a an SUV picked me up shortly after, he took me to the edge of downtown Denver. I walked into the thick of it and shot Cam a message to let him know I was in town, but broke and likely not able to partake in the beer night. He called me right away saying he was happy to sponsor me for the night and get me into the soccer game, he was a dozen block away at the Wynkoop brewery at the moment.
I headed that way with a smile, I found him upstairs at a long table with a bunch of drunken soccer fans, including a couple other faces I recognized from Salt Lake. I enjoyed some dark beer and laughter, then we were on to the next brewery, the Great Divide.
We walked over and I talked to the guy in the group who'd organized this little brewery crawl, they'd already been to a few that day, he worked at Squatters Brewery in Utah and we talked beer and brewing, his name was Mark. We were just in time for a tour when we got to Great Divide, Mark, Cam and I got separated from the tour right away when we got talking to a guy filling up his bike tires with his kids, turns out he was the owner. His kids knew plenty about beer, Mark and the Owner could recall the name of a Pale Ale, the young kid shouted out "Scorpion!", he was right.
We all had a pint back at the bar, Hercules Double IPA is what I enjoyed. Soon enough we were piling in a van headed to the soccer game. We tailgated outside the stadium for a bit under the light rain and clouded skies, then headed in.
The game was routy, we were in the small section chanting for Real Salt Lake as little girls cursed us and the team. People in the group had drums, flags and the whole deal, despite all of this, we lost 2-0. As we filed out a girl next to me asked where the after party was, I didn't know so I had her put her number in my phone and told her I'd call her when we got there.
We went to our groups hotel rooms first and dropped off our bags, then grabbed a bite to eat. It didn't seem like everyone was keen on partying still, but Cam and I were still up for beers. I gave the girl a call to meet up, and after some miscommunication about multiple marriots we met her and a couple of her friends at a brew house and enjoyed a good pale ale. Then another, and more after that. Soon enough a shot of jaeger or some such came around.
Somewhere in the mix they mentioned they were driving back to Utah the next day and could give me a ride, going back to Salt Lake wasn't what I'd been thinking of doing, but here was a ride. I grabbed my bag back at the hotel and Cam and I wound up at their hotel down the way where a couple other girls were staying with them.
The drinking and wildness of such a night continued until I was waking up on the bed in the sunlight, Cam was out the door with a couple of the girls getting a ride back to his hotel, he'd be flying back to Salt Lake that night.
Once the girls got back we all piled into their little SUV, the five girls took their seats and I rode with the luggage in the trunk of shame, a 7 hour drive ahead. I mostly caught up on sleep while the girls giggled away vaguely recalling things, sleeping themselves at times.
They were headed to Ogden, so they let me out where I-80 splits into I-84 towards their direction, leaving just 50 miles outside of Salt Lake City, the clouds still grey with occasional light rain. It wasn't long before a car stopped for me, bound for Salt Lake.
An older guy was driving, he'd hitchhiked himself in his day, telling me stories of getting caught in snow storms and making due. He used to live in the hills nearby and pointed out the area to me. He was neighbors with Mrs. Fields at one time, the cookie lady. He told me how she'd tried to convince him to go in on buying a firetruck with her to have some extra protection, after all she did have a house with 27 bedrooms he said.
He was a good guy who clearly loved life from the beginning. He had a heart condition now with a defibrillator built into his body that would shock him something heavy if ever his heart stopped, which he said had happened 9 times so far. He was waiting for a solid year of no incidents, at which point he wanted to move to his land in Texas near a lake off the grid, it just happened to be 150 miles from a hospital though.
We got closer to Salt Lake, on the side of the road I saw a coyote tearing up some road kill, what looked like a deer. He decided to take me right to the house in Salt Lake, I thanked him and wandered to the side door. Cameron was at the table eating across from Candice, she looked at me and sort of smiled and sighed. Cam had just been home for half an hour or so, thoughts of the previous day rushed through but remained mostly unspoken. I took a load off and relaxed for a minute until I remembered I was hungry, I took a bike ride and picked up some ramen noodles to cook up. The night stayed quiet until all were sleeping.
I awoke in the morning and knew it was time to go. I was ready to go when Kate woke up, she said she'd give me a ride to the interstate which would save me a bunch of time and walking. She dropped me of just down the road on I-10 where I walked to the on ramp waiting for my first ride, I'd decided that Larry's by Phoenix was the destination.
A young guy who'd hitchhiked around Maui picked me up and drove me a few exits south, insisting I take $5 for a meal. I walked down the long on ramp I found myself at and waited for the next ride. I missed a call from Candice and listened to a voicemail upset I hadn't left with a goodbye, she was still sleeping when I'd left. I waited longer for rides, and eventually walked down the ramp to give her a call, no response, I walked back to the ramp.
Before I got back to my original spot, a work van stopped, the guy said he was going all the way to Vegas, I threw my bag in the back and hopped in. He was actually going just past Vegas and could take me to Railroad Pass, a spot I'd hitchhiked from before, and probably the best spot for hitching out of Vegas in the direction of Phoenix.
His name was Scott, an electrician working in the Vegas area. He got word of a break-in at a tile place he'd been working on and would possibly have to assess some damage and fix some things along the way, but someone else checked it out and just phone lines were cut, so nothing he had to worry about. We talked beer and sports and beer some more, he was a good guy.
He made one quick stop to put decals and something electrical near the tile place, we did a drive by and saw some damage to the doors that had been kicked in. He drove me all the way down to the Railroad Pass Casino and dropped me off. It's a good spot since it's basically the last spot outside of town, just before the hoover dam.
A light heat was in the air, I couldn't recall the last time I'd felt the dry warmth of a breeze like it. I waited as a good amount of traffic passed by, munching on my dwindling supply of granola type bars from my pack. Alas, an 18 wheeler pumped the breaks and pulled over, another 100 yard backpack dash and I was climbing up the side of the truck and opening the door. At first I thought the big old trucker was naked, but he was in fact wearing a pair of shorts, he said he was going to Phoenix and I took a seat.
He had stringy grey hair, balding from a big oval head, a dumb smile on his face. When he was shifting gears he had his arm draped over the stick shift resting his closed fist on the seat beside my leg. He laughed at the site of me, saying he hadn't seen a hitchhiker in a good long time, and that he used to seem them all the time, he yearned for the old days of trucking in many respects, "Trucking's not what it used to be, we used to help eachother out on the road, nowadays everyone's cutting eachother off and doesn't care about another guy. It used to be fun, now it's just a job". I asked him how long he'd been trucking, 40 years he told me, "I"m just a dumb truck driver, never figured anything else out".
We stopped on the side of the road so he could take a piss, he had me step out of the truck for the sake of his admitted paranoia, "I picked one guy up once and left him in the cab alone, 'stupid', I thought, he could locked all the doors and that would have been it!".
We kept on down the road going a steady 57mph, I asked him what time he thought we'd land in Phoenix, afterall I still hadn't even told Larry I was coming. He said it would be close to midnight and that he'd probably have to stop a couple hours along the way, truck drivers can only legally drive so many hours at a time.
He told me about the old days of trucking, flash floods in the area we were in, he'd even point out specific spots on the road as we drove over them where major accidents had happened. I told him a bit about my lifestyle which amused him, he told me I was crazy for it and that he needed too much structure in his life.
There was something uneasy about him though, his eyes moved up and down on me in breif glances from time to time, he was damn near naked and that hand was right by my side the whole ride. I let it drop though.
We pulled into a small town about 150 miles or more from Phoenix still, he told me he'd buy me a meal at the diner, I was pretty hungry by now too having just the granola bar earlier. I shot Larry a message and let him know I was on my way and getting close. In the diner he got me a big cheeseburger with fries that I chowed down with a cup of coffee.
He was going off about the hoover dam' poor security prior to 9-11, which has since forbid big truck traffic. According to him it would have been easy for a few trucks to drive over filled with explosives and crack it, which would have resulted in all kinds of problems "that would make 9-11 look like nothing". I was just happy filling my belly.
The waitress came around asking about dessert and started talking about pies, he told me to ahead and get something so I got blueberry and she put a scoop of icecream on it for me, it hit the spot. We headed back to the truck and started down the road, he said we'd stop soon to catch a couple hours of sleep. I wasn't too interested in stopping, but I was happy to be getting close with a stimach full of food.
We rolled down the road a little further, I wasn't sure if we were going to stop at all, or just keep on towards Phoenix, but just over 100 miles away he pulled into a dark and dusty parking lot. "You can throw on those shorts, they're clean, you can take the back and I'll take the front."
I hopped into the bed in back and changed into the shorts and laid out, he was scribbling things in his log book. I'd thought by "front" he'd meant the front seat, but apparently he'd meant front end of the bed in back, he got back and laid down beside me shutting out the light. He seemed to be getting closer to me than needed, given the size of the bed, I shifted tight against the wall. He got closer still, I rolled agaisnt the wall until I was pressed up tightly facing it on my side. He eventually rolled over the other way putting some space between us.
I wandered into thoughts of Utah, I owed Candice a phone call that would have to wait until the next day. My mind continued to drift for a while, eventually I shifted my arm slightly from my pressed-against-the-wall position. This seemed to trigger the trucker I'd just about forgotten about, who rolled over placing his hand on my hip. I figured what was going on, but I let it drop as if incidental. He started moving his hand and rolling slightly closer and I rolled away from it, he let it sit. This back and forth went on for a few minutes until I took my hand to move his away saying "sorry dude..."
He put it back a little looser now a minute later, never having rolled away. I took note of where my things were - backpack, shoes, pants and shirt - wondering if this would escalate and I'd have to exit the truck or some such. I moved his hand away a few more time, shifting my body tighter against the wall. Finally as I shifted it away once I again, I sighed saying "i'm not into it". At this I could hear him sit up, breathing as heavy as he had been with his hand still near my hip. He sat for a second and I looked up at him, he got up and went back up front and started up the truck.
I laid for a minute and got my jeans, shirt and shoes back on, it was a warm night now that we were closer to Phoenix. He scribbled a few things in his log book then took a piss out the door. I climbed back into the passenger seat and we started rolling back down the road into the night.
The windows were rolled down and a warm breeze came through hitting me just perfect, a minute or so went by and he rolled them up halfway, "Is the wind OK on you?", I told him I liked it and we kept on rolling.
A little while went by, we'd made it to the interstate 10 and I saw the sign that said "Phoenix 100", we weren't far now. He looked over at me, "I still admire you, it takes guts to do what you're doing, I think it's crazy, but I admire you for it", I thanked him and we kept on down the road.
A few more minutes went by and he spoke again, "Like a square peg in a round hole, you finsihed college and have your degree, you're supposed to start a career, get a girl, move into a house", he smiled, "You're so damn happy, why not be miserable like the rest of us?", still smiling.
"I just do what I like to do and it seems to work out."
"It's too late for me", he said, playing the old man.
"The same sun rises for both of us tomorrow, it's not too late for anything", he thought for a second about what anything could be.
"I'm just a dumb truck driver", repeating his words from earlier, "I don't know what I'd do". I mentioned his earlier wishes of going to Alaska and suggested that, he responded, "It would take a whole lot of planning".
I looked at him questionably, "Just go". He laughed and thought about it, bogging it down with details the way people do when they either can't fathom the simplicity of their goal or are complacent with their stagnency.
Words dropped and I watched the mile markers fly by, we were going a lot faster than earlier, Avondale was soon approaching. We rolled off exit 131 and he let me out at the bottom of the ramp, I thanked him for the ride and told him to go to Alaska, "I'll go this summer" he said, and that was that.
I started walking down Avondale Blvd a couple miles towards Larry's house, it was somewhere between 1 and 2am this point. I sang loudly to myself as I often do when I'm walking, thinking about the past few days and vaguely of the days to come.
I found my way into Larry's house and dropped my bag down in the room, I heard the TV on and went upstairs to find him and his dog Coy passed out. Coy woke up and followed me downstairs, that woke Larry up. I passed out pretty quickly thereafter, it'd been an interesting few days.