Grand Canyon and Speed Hitchhiking to NYC
I wandered about old town Flagstaff anticipating the week ahead of me, camping in Havisupai and what would need to be a brisk hitchhike across the country to New York City in time for the 4th of July.
Some friends connected me with some folks who lived in Flagstaff where I could catch a little sleep. I first grabbed a burger and beer at the brewery, and then headed to their place. I found my way in and met a girl there who'd just got back from traveling over seas and we talked for a while. I never ended up meeting the people who actually lived their, they may have come in while I was passed out on their couch grabbing some sleep before getting a call from Larry sometime after 2am. At that point I wandered down the block where I met Larry and two pickup trucks loaded with people aiming for the grand canyon.
We cruised through the night and arrived at the trail head just sometime after sunrise. There was about 30 of us gathered there, couchsurfers organized by Larry for this trip into Havisupai, we started down the trail.
We went down into the canyon and the trail flattened out, all told it was about a 10 mile hike, give or take. We passed through the village at the bottom, passing that the waterfalls from the creek started to appear. The water was a teal kinda clear blue color. Turning a corner on the last downward part of the trail Havisu Falls itself appeared, a beautiful pool of water below it with people swimming and smiling.
I was ahead of the bunch, I went straight to the pool below the falls, shedding my backpack and shirt emerging myself in the cool, clear water. Eventually I met up with the group as they made their way down the trail, we juggled campsites amidst the scattered and short downpours of rain, the only rain we'd see that trip.
We stayed for three nights all together, climbing behind waterfalls and jumping off, digging through caves and finding quartz crystals, stargazing and eating some great cooking. Mooney falls was 200 feet, we watched as they repaired the bottom that had been wiped out the last season.
On the last full day a group of us hiked to the Colorado River, a 15 mile round trip. It was a great hike, flat at some point, ropes required at others to climb up the rocks. We saw a group of big horned sheep who investigated us from across the creek less than 20 feet away. We also saw a rattle snake and big birds as we hopped down the trail. The best moment was coming up on the Colorado where Havisu creek flows into it. The blue water of the creek met the furocious brown river definitively, instead of fading into it, there was a strict line where one ended and the other began. I stood with one foot in the cold brown river and the other in the teal warm creek.
On the way back we stopped at a 60 foot cliff where another guy jumped off, I followed his lead a minute later and flew through the air leaping off the cliff into the deep pool below. It was one of the great hikes I'd been on, swimming and jumping all along the creek.
The last morning I awoke to people packing up their tents and other gear preparing for the hike back to the village and out of the canyon. A guy Matt and I ran up into a side canyon to do some last minute exploring, we went up a good ways and spotted a line in which we could make our way to the top of the canyon wall, an idea for the next time we may find ourselves back in Havisupai.
On the hike back a few of us stopped at some upper falls, waterfalls that had only been created after some landslides a year ago. I jumped in and washed up in preparation for the hitchhiking I had ahead of myself, I would have to pop straight out of the canyon and start making my way towards NYC if I were to make it in time for the 4th of July and Nathan's hotdog eating contest.
Up at the village we waited as we were flown out by helicopter four or five at a time, something Larry had set up. It was my first time flying like this, a great experience to cap a incredible camping trip.
We drove out of the canyon and towards Flagstaff, I was dropped off at a truck stop to begin my eastbound hitch while the rest continued on to Phoenix, it was mid afternoon.
The particular on ramp I stood at had been hitched from before, I saw a couple dozen notes on the lamp post written with sharpie markers, things like "Rainbow bound '09" and "hitching east '98". Despite the apparent popularity of this hitchhiking spot, I had no luck with rides. Another hitchhiker appeared at the bottom of the ramp, stopping to wait and lay in the grass below when he spotted me. Eventually he walked away, probably tired of waiting. Later still another hitchhiker appeared, also walking towards the gas station upon spotting me occupying the spot.
A total of 3 hours passed with no rides, not the best start, I needed to get about 2500 miles in less than five days. I left the apparently frequented hitchhiking spot and walked up the on ramp and on to the shoulder of the freeway, this turned out to be the right move, a pickup truck pulled over for me fairly quickly.
A mexican woman drove eastbound with her teenage son in front and a small child in the back with me. We didn't talk much other than to say where we each intended to go, she got me an hour or so down the road to Holbrook, AZ at the brink of sunset.
A short wait of thumbing yielded a car with a young Navajo couple. They were interested to hear of my travels, Calvin, the driver, was particularly into it as this lifestyle was a dream of his. They offered me bottled water and leftover pasta with chicken I munched on in the backseat smiling and sharing stories. They offered to let me sleep under the canopy outside their home on the reservation, I accepted and we turned off the freeway at their exit and went a ways down the dirt road to their home.
I met Calvin's mom, brother and dog, he also made me aware of the sheep in the distance, as well as horses and warning of early rising roosters. I got my sleep atop a picnic table in the comfort of my sleeping bag and sure enough, I awoke to a chorus of four roosters at the first hint of daylight in the morning. One of them made a point of shuffling his way right next to the table I laid to cry out a "Cockadoodledo!", I laid out for a while still listening to their continued cries until I sat up, packed up, and waited for Calvin and all to awake.
They let me take a shower after some coffee, then I sat at the table with them as Ashley, his girlfriend, peeled potatoes before he shredded them. They made a mighty breakfast of hashbrowns, eggs, bacon and the fluffiest and tastiest pita bread I've ever had. I talked with them and his mom, and soon his aunt joined us too. His uncle and grandpa were also there, but mostly spoke Navajo.
We soon got on the road, a late start for me given the time frame, but I was happy to have a full belly and a goodie bag of apples and other food and water Ashley made up for me. They dropped me at an on ramp to I-40 somewhere between 11 and noon, I'd have to start making some distance if I wanted to make it to New York in time.
I started down the onramp to the freeway immediately thinking their would be little traffic coming on the entrance, but a cop drove by from the jump warning me to stay on the on ramp if I was hitchhiking. Despite the sparse traffic, I was picked up quickly by a guy who took me just up the ways to the Arizona / New Mexico border.
From this spot I thumbed the traffic hoping to get another quick ride. After some time, I turned behind me to see another figure on the side of the road just behind me with his thumb out. I couldn't figure how he'd sneaked back there, thinking he could clearly see me and wondered why he was trying to hitch this same spot with me. I walked in his direction with the idea to walk down the freeway and give up the spot to him, despite the fact I'd gotten their prior. It was a friendly but oblivious Navajo guy, I told him I'd let him take over the spot and get to walking.
I walked about a mile further around a bend and soon was running up to a car pulling over for me. I opened the door to the car to see a simple smiling blonde girl with a discrete nose ring, "Are you headed to the gathering?", she was referring to the rainbow gathering, a sort of subdued Burning man event where people who loosely fit the various definitions of "hippy" get together in a peaceful setting. I told her I was headed to New York and hopped in, she was going as far as Albuquerque, a good distance away.
She was from santa cruz, she lived in the woods near her campus for a stint, had even built a small tree house for herself. "The one thing I never foresaw was the mold, everything from my blankets to books was covered in it after a while", she told me about it, this was the one downside, other than that she had had it pretty good. She dropped me off in Albuquerque, I showed her my bag of quartz crystals I'd gotten from the grand canyon and let her choose a few to take, then went on my way.
I stood at the on ramp, flash backs of my first long distance hitchhike more than a year ago from California to Oklahoma, Albuquerque was the first place I experienced a long wait for a ride, a few hours or more in the sun despite the heavy traffic that passed me by. This time would not be like that, after just a little bit I heard the honk from a pickup truck at the stop light, a girl my age in the passenger seat waving me over, I hopped in just as the light was changing.
They said they'd just passed me and turned around to pick me up and help me if they could, they were willing to drive me across town to a better spot. It was a mother / daughter combination, they had to make a stop at the pawn shop first. When they dropped me off they left me with a phone number asking that I shoot them a message when I made it to New York.
An old Navy guy picked me up next, he was just going home to the next town, "I live outside of the city so I can smoke my pot", he had a scratchy voice and a smile. He let me out near an on ramp, but I soon found out it was under construction and had to get to walking down the frontage road.
I walked a couple miles or more without finding the next entrance, but someone stopped for me, "jump in quick, the car's over heating!", I sat in the passenger seat with my bag on top of me. I had a short conversation with the guy, he lived in town, but was able to get me a few more miles up to an open freeway entrance. "Snake a beer if you want", he said eyeballing his 30 pack by my feet, I slid one out and into my bag, then headed on to the freeway.
A painter who worked in Albuquerque was my next ride, he drove me a short distance and let me out into the nearing sunset and threat of light rain. I walked down the freeway thumbing rides again, knowing I still had a ways to go and needed to cover a lot more miles tonight. A car stopped ahead and I ran to it, the license plate came into view, Pennsylvania. I got in and the guy asked where I was going, New York City the answer, he laughed in amazement, he said he was going to Philadelphia, "I could use the company and conversation, this is perfect". I thought so too, and as I got settled in the car I saw a giant rainbow that had formed in the distance, it remained visible for more than an hour.
His name was George, originally from Brooklyn and now recently living in Vegas for his job, but his accent was heavy New Yorker. We drove into the night until he couldn't drive any more, we stopped at the first cheap motel in Texas where he got a room with a couple beds and we fell asleep with the TV on.
We got on the road in the morning early and started putting miles behind us. We talked about Vegas, he was excited to start seeing what types of girls were running around, a self described player with stories to verify this. He was also a huge nascar fan and a racer himself, he told me his plan to pitch to the company he worked for to sponsor him and officially become a driver as soon as next year.
We made a short stop in Oklahoma City where he got a money order from his folks so he could cover gas expenses for the rest of the trip. We drove and drove until we were just shy of Indianapolis sometime just after midnight, we pulled into a rest area to sleep in the car with the idea to make the final push after a few hours of rest. I was laid out in the passenger seat for about 5 minutes, all of the sudden he reached in the glove box for some cigarettes and started driving again, I stayed half asleep.
About a half hour later we stopped at a gas station, when he was done filling up we started driving and I perked up. "Change of plans", he said, "I'm gonna stop in Columbus to hook up with queefing girl and catch some sleep there, is that cool?", he was referring to one of the girl's he'd hooked up with a while back. It appeared I wouldn't be going all the way to Philly after all, but I was happy to have gotten the 1,400 mile ride with him.
He dropped me off at a gas station just west of Columbus, OH, it was about 3am. I got to walking down the freeway to get past some major turn offs, loosely thumbing traffic under scattered dim street lights. I came to a bridge that looked like a good place to catch some sleep, I drank my "snaked" beer from the other day and slipped into my sleeping bag listening to the traffic pass by below.
I packed up quickly in the morning and made my way to a decent spot near the closest on ramp hoping to get across Columbus and keep shooting east. I got picked up quickly by a musician, he drove me clear across the city and gave me a yogurt when he dropped me off. I got picked up quickly again after this by a dreaded out guy headed to the doctor, he was originally from Detroit.
A ride after that came from an auto parts delivery guy in a minivan. I went with him into a small town to make a drop off at an auto shop, then he dropped me off up the road at a truck stop. I took a piece of cardboard to make a big "NYC" sign and headed for the on ramp. Someone stopped right away, an older guy with a hard italian edge. He told me how his son was traveling all over, but was more or less "jerking off".
He started ranting about the economy and countries and leaders, "Every one's jerking off, all this war bullshit, we should be working together to get into space and beyond like star trek, but no! They're just jerking off! Who are the people who think they're better than everyone else? Come out and show yourself? No? Then stop jerking off and let's make some progress, let's be human beings!", I did what I could to fuel his rant as we cruised down the road, he was headed to see his daughter in State College, PA.
He went a pinch further to drop me off by I-80, I walked down the freeway until a guy stopped for me, a student at Penn State. He took me to the next big truck stop, I got out and started thumbing cars at the on ramp until deciding to walk up on the freeway. An 18 wheeler saw my thumb and made a wild maneuver across lanes and into the shoulder ahead, I ran for it.
It was young trucker from Ohio, currently Brooklyn bound, my final ride that would complete a 2,500 mile hitch in an even 3 days, time to spare for my 4th of July target. We shared stories back and forth, he was interested in my travels and outlook on things, I was interested in hearing about his family and toys, like his plane and boat. He was doing pretty well for himself trucking, he'd learned from his dad and been going forever. He was about ready to get out though, and had started making some real estate moves to make enough money to leave the truck behind for good to spend more time with his kids and toys.
The New York City skyline showed itself with a pink swirling sunset clouds as it's backdrop, soon I was jumping out of his truck at a red light on to the streets of brooklyn, that's where I hopped on the subway, a familiar N train. I tried making a call to Mark, no answer, I headed for Astoria.
I got off the subway and made the walk up Astoria Blvd, popping into the deli along the way to grab a six pack. The neighbors buzzed me into the apartment building, Mark and Carl weren't home. I found a hidden key and showed myself in. I relaxed the night away waiting for someone to return to the apartment, Sean and Kelly were in San Diego, but I figured Mark or Sean should roll in at some point. Finally the sparse and scattered hours of sleep from camping and hitchhiking caught up with me and I passed out on the futon.
I awoke to excited shouting at 3am, Mark's shouting, Carl's and mine, they'd discovered the hobo sleeping in their place as they stumbled in from the party they'd been at. We immediately cracked into the six pack I'd picked up and got to catching up over a couple beers a piece. The light of the sun shined through the windows by the time we got to sleeping.
It feels good to be back in the amazing city with lifelong friends, and I'm sure it's got nothing but good times in store, including Nathan's Hotdog eating contest and plenty of beer from all over.