Westerns, Model Ts and Crystal Cars, Jackson to Flagstaff by thumb
I woke up in Jackson with the road ahead, it would be one of my more memorable hitchhiking trips. I got my things together and snagged some sample toothpaste packets from the fancy spa on the lower floor. My mom drove me to Hoback Junction, about a half hour away, this is where I'd begin my thumbing towards what would end up being Flagstaff, Arizona.
There wasn't a lot of traffic, but a pickup truck eventually stopped and I hopped in the back seat, I'd opted for route 189 rather then going back through the busier road to Idaho Falls. The driver was a friendly guy off to work, his son sat in the passenger seat with headphones on, I never heard his voice or saw his face.
He dropped me off a ways down in Daniel, a junction town with a population of 100 odd people. I got picked up by the first car I saw there, a young guy headed to Big Piney just a little ways down the road. He dropped me off at the far edge of the small town and I got to walking for the sake of moving forward. Two cars in a row mirrored my thumb with their middle finger, young guys in flashy pickup trucks.
A state trooper passed my extended thumb, he turned around twice to pull over behind me, got out and asked me the basic questions, taking my drivers license back to his cruiser. He came back with a written warning, the second of I've ever gotten. He told me I couldn't hitchhike in Wyoming, but walking was OK, and if someone happened to stop and offer me a ride I could go for it.
I kept on walking, my thumbing powers disabled, or at least mildly paranoid out of commission. Eventually someone stopped at the site of backpacker trekking through the middle of nowhere, someone always stops. "I've got my guard dog here! Hop on in", I threw my backpack in the bed of the pickup truck and jumped in the passenger seat and met his "guard dog", a tiny pug named Lucy, really his road dog. The guy himself had a slightly scratchy voice and a big presence to him, he was off to his job in Beaver, UT. He offered to take me all the way, I had ideas of stopping in Salt Lake City for the night, but there was plenty of miles to decide what to do.
We cruised down the road talking about things until we stopped at a gas station where he said I could look at a map to decide whether I wanted to get dropped off at the turn off that would lead to Salt Lake, or continue on to Beaver with him. I knew the roads pretty well, but looked at the map anyhow while I thought about it.
I decided to stick it through with him, he said I'd be able to crash in the hotel room he was staying at, paid for by his company, plus it was extra couple hundred miles down the road. While at the gas station he picked up some up some CDs, books on tape, specifically westerns featuring "Smoke Jensen", who he said was "the biggest bad ass the west had ever seen, this guy kicks every one's ass, no bullshit!", he popped it in.
For the rest of the ride we were transported to the old west, Smoke was being forced to defend his land while old rivals came to town along with miners and people chasing the gold rush. He told me he'd listen to a good 15-20 other stories from the same series.
We stopped at a Wendys where he bought me a burger and we kept on going. In the meantime, I got a message from a girl in Cedar City who said I could stay on her couch the night, Cedar City was just less than 60 miles south of Beaver.
When we got close to Beaver we made a quick detour to his work spot so he could drop off the generator he was towing, he was working at a geo thermal site. He explained it to me, they were drilling into an underground volcano where essentially they'd pour down water, this would heat up and create steam, the steam would power turbines that would provide great amount of power, "It's goes along with that, what is that they're always saying... 'green' shit people are always talking out nowadays.", it sounded cool to me. His voice sounded a bit like Smoke Jensen's.
We rolled into Beaver with about an hour or so of daylight left, we were only on CD 4 of 6 in the old western shoot 'em up. A part came up where Smoke put his guns down and fought his rival fist to fist, kicking his ass thoroughly. "I told you!", the driver said, slapping me on the shoulder, "Smoke is no bull shit!". He dropped me off at the gas station on the south end of town, "I'll tell you how it ends, Smoke kicks every one's ass.", I was glad to hear it.
I walked down the on ramp to the shoulder of the freeway looking for my ride to Cedar City, it came quickly. A slick car picked me up, the guy driving had an earring in one ear, a bluetooth headset on the other and sunglasses across his eyes. He was probably about 30, hyped up, he may as well have been coked up, maybe he was. He'd been driving all day, coming from Wisconsin on his way to Vegas where he'd stay for the night before continuing to LA.
He was interested to hear how'd been moving about the past two years and told me about his travels over the years. He dropped me off at a gas station in Cedar City, one that I'd hitched from going north twice before, including just a week or so ago.
Jessi came and met me there, a girl I'd found on couchsurfing who offered me a place to stay for the night. She was a nice girl with an itch to travel, an itch yet to be scratched. She made some grilled cheese for us both and we talked a bit before she went to sleep, she had to be up early in the morning for school and work. I stayed up for a bit, enjoying one of my last two beers from a six pack I'd got in Wyoming.
I was up around 6am in the morning when she got up, she pointed me to the shower. When I got out she had scrambled eggs waiting, we chowed down and hopped in her car. She dropped me off at the mouth of the valley headed east and went her own way towards school.
I stood at a pull out on the road next to a sign that was supposed to say "Falling Rock" but someone had scribbled on to now say "Falling in love rocks". The sun was starting to shine on the valley, but I was still in the shadow of the cliffs next to me. I got to walking down a ways down the road to see what was ahead, but a pickup truck packed with three guys stopped before I got too far, they had me hop in the bed of the truck saying they were headed to Duck Creek.
The drive ahead was unexpected and one of the most amazing rides I'd had, it also showed me how Cedar City got it's name. It was thirty miles of riding through cedar trees in a national forest, wind blowing through my hair, the smell of cedar, whipping through turns along the river and towering cliffs of different shades and shapes. A smile never left my face, at one point we were so high I could look out and see what I thought had to be Zion in the distance.
We at last got to a gas station where they dropped me off and asked where I was from, they were all smiling, I think they'd probably looked back and saw my perm-grin of awe during the whole ride. They told me that what I saw in fact was Zion.
I got to walking down the road, it was still in the national forest, they said I was 10-15 miles from the turn to route 89 which lead to Flagstaff. As I walked I saw old school cars passing me I'd later discover were all Ford Model T's. I guy stopped for me and gave me a ride the 10 miles out to the main road, he'd been a guide at the grand canyon for a while and told me how much he wished it was him going to Havisupai, the falls where I was eventually headed to.
At the gas station there were a dozen of the cars parked, I asked an older couple next to one what the story was, apparently it a national Model-T day of sorts where they all got to caravaning around. I walked down the road a hundred yards, thumbing the southbound traffic and waiving to the northbound Model-T cars, they were driving much slower than the other traffic on the road, I must have seen two hundred during the day.
An older couple picked me up after a long wait, a wait I didn't mind at all with the parade of cars passing me, some honking with their swamp style horns, awooogah, awooogah!
The couple took me to Mt. Carmel Junction where they turned off towards Zion. I stopped in a diner to relax for a minute grabbing a cup of coffee and a half order of biscuits and sausage gravy, then headed to the edge of town to start hitching to the next spot. I stood for a while beginning to feel the effects of the sun burning on me. An older couple in Model T passed me, I recognized them from before as they did me, awoogah! They honked at me as they passed for the second time smiling.
I was on the edge of a golf course where I was standing, a guy working on the course approached me, asking where I was headed. He told me his girlfriend worked at the Thunderbird, a nearby diner, and that if I went there he'd be sure she hooked me up with a free meal, I couldn't turn that down. To add to it, he shoved a $10 bill my way saying hitchhikers gotta help hitchhikers.
I walked to diner and was greeted by the girl, he was in the doorway already having just talked to her. She took me to a table with a menu and a smile. Before long I was sitting in front of a bowl of chili and a chocolate cream pie chowing down. I ate every last bite until I was entirely full, she left me with a to-go cup of water and said I was all set, back to the edge of town I went.
My next ride arrived shortly after, a middle aged guy headed to Kanab, yet another junction town. He worked at a place along the way and said he'd show me around if was interested, of course I was. It was called "Best Friends", a haven for recovering animals. He noted it's relative fame in that it had spurred a show about it's Dog Town on National Geographic and also currently housed Michael Vick's fighting dogs.
We passed dog town, cat town and the bird place where he worked, then went on to a "hidden lake", that's where we got out of the car to check it out. It lived up to the name, it was a small lake mostly under a boulder through a cave entrance. I took note of the location as a cool place to go back to some day and camp.
We drove me through the rest pointing out horses and other things while telling me about everything, apparently many old westerns had been filmed there as well, I wondered how many bullets Smoke Jensen may have fired in these parts.
Kanab split in two directions, both of which lead to Flagstaff, he dropped me off in the direction that would go through Page saying it was a more popular route, seeing what happened next, I'm glad he did.
I stood by the road with an extended thumb, cooking under the sun a bit more. As always, someone stopped in the shoulder ahead, a young couple in a mini van packed with camping and outdoor gear. They made room in the back saying that they'd hitchhiked earlier that day after hiking through Zion to get back to there car. The young guy drove and the red headed dreaded girl sat in the passenger seat with a friendly smile as we swapped hitchhiking and camping stories.
They were going as far as Page, and then splitting off. They intended to go for a swim when they got there, as some more miles went by I became a part of this plan too. We stopped while they picked up some lunch for themselves, I was still filled up from Mt Carmel, and then headed for Lake Powell at Antelope Point. We found the beach area and made our way to the water.
Kristen, the red headed girl, leapt into the water straight out, losing her sun glasses to the bottom of the lake all at once. She tried looking for them, but they were lost. We swam around for a couple hours, they had inflatable fish rafts they floated around on. We decided to hit the road eventually, they had to find a camping site and I had to get down the road, there was still a couple hours of daylight left. They went to a Walmart at the edge of town to get some things, like new sun glasses, I headed up to the road to catch my next ride.
A pickup truck stopped for me full of Navajos, I said Flagstaff and they said they were headed that way, I hopped into the pickup truck bed in the back like I had to start the day, off we went. I watched Lake Powell fade away while the warm air whipped around me. We wound down a road tight on the cliff, I had an incredible view the valley in the impending sunset. They finally pulled into a turn off where there was a group of others packing up there jewelry stand, that was as far as they were going.
Ten minutes later another Navajo guy stopped for me and I was shooting down the road again. This guy had been living in Denver for 15 years working as an inspector for large scale pipes, up until a month ago, he was now living back on the reservation with his family and had gotten a new job with a towing company.
He was headed for Tuba City, he dropped me off a couple hundred yards past his turn to a roadside pull out where there were about a dozen wooden booths used for Navajo jewelery sales, they were all abandoned at this moment. He drove away, the sunlight was dwindling. An empty motorcycle stood in the lot, a couple was sleeping in the booth, each on their own table, the guy looked up at me and I waived.
I thumbed out for rides for a while, eventually the biker couple got on their way wishing me luck. Daylight disappeared quickly without any cars stopping, there wasn't much traffic anyhow. I made myself at home in one of the booths deciding this is where I'd sleep for the night. I pulled out the last beer from my Wyoming six pack and cracked it open. It was easily the warmest beer I'd ever drank, hot really, the unique Lagunitas hoppy taste sizzled on the way down.
I started to sleep the night away, popping my head up every time a car or truck pulled in, people either stopping to take a leak or catch a few hours of sleep themselves in their vehicles, I don't think anyone noticed me there.
I woke up for the final time in the blazing morning sun, blue skies and scatter white clouds. I wiped the sleep from my eyes and lugged my bag to the side of the road and started thumbing the scattered patches of cars passing.
A pickup passed by and I my eyes locked with the woman's at the last moment, I turned my head with the truck as she pulled in to stop for me. "I hope this isn't a mistake", she said, clearing things off the passenger seat, "I'm joking of course, I'm a good judge of character", she laughed, I hopped on in.
She was a slender Scottish woman heading for Sedona to work a new job at a gallery in town. She was interesting to talk to, very into crystals and this type of thing. So much so in fact, that she had invented a system with crystals that increased her gas mileage by 20% and had just started to sell it, the truck we were riding in was fitted with the system too. I asked a lot about it and she told me even more, quartz was the crystal she was using, she told me all about the powerful qualities of it and other uses for it, how to program it and so on.
She went on telling me about her thought on the universe in general and how it works, essentially saying that whatever you wished for is what was returned to you, think one thing and it's mirrored back. She went as far as to talk about bending time and connecting with people across the planet.
She dropped me off in Flagstaff, she gave me a card so I could check out her crystal invention some more, the website is aqt4all.com, AQT stands for Advance Quartz Technology, pretty cool stuff with implications greater than just better mileage.
I walked down the road in the direction of down town and made my way to the Flagstaff Brewery, which is also a coffee house. I grabbed a cup and caught up on some things online, also getting in touch with Larry about getting picked up later for the Grand Canyon trip. I easily got talked into a pint of beer, and then another cup of coffee.
I wandered around a bit after that in search of a place to catch some sleep, I found nothing but park and city benches to rest for a bit. I finally settled in a different coffee shop to put off the need to sleep. Later on Larry should be passing through town, around 1 am, and then it's on to Havisupai and the falls in the Grand Canyon. It promises to be good times, then I'm bound for NYC.