Sparking Summer with California to New York Hitchhiking Adventure
There's plenty ways to get across America; I could go straight west and head north at the east coast, straight north and head west from Idaho, north a bit and through Arizona and too many other zig zags to mention. I wouldn't have to race across as fast as I had in past trips, but it wouldn't exactly be a saunter either.
Looking at the map I liked the idea of heading up through Vegas and heading west in Utah to pass through Colorado. Vegas was home to a good friend of mine and had it's own inherent madness, Colorado had Vail where two hitchhiking girls I'd recently met in Washington were living. Beyond that I had a loose tie in Kansas City and thoughts of the booming beer town of Asheville, which was also a place I'd been hearing general good stories about for years.
Choosing a route on such a trip is little more than a conversation piece, the road decides the actual route and the timing, and it's always right.
With this in mind, my brother drove me a bit to get me on to Interstate 15, which would take me north towards Vegas to start things off. I hopped out of my brother's truck into the blue sky day with final words regarding the fermentation of our beer and so forth.
I stood by the ramp happy to get things going. A woman stopped after a bit and I ran up beside the car sticking my head level with the open window.
"Are you Phil?", the woman asked me, a phone pressed against her opposite ear.
"Um, nope, I'm not", I said smiling.
"Oh... I thought you were Phil... sorry", there wasn't much more than that and she drove off.
Not too much longer a fancy silver car pulled up. I'd think after these years of hopping into thousands of different cars I'd have a better retention of car brands and styles, but I don't. A beautiful Colombian woman probably just about thirty was smiling inside asking where my car was and if I was ok. Her smile brought me one as well while I explained I was bound for Vegas and this was my way of getting there.
Soon we were cruising up the road in the smooth ride while she told me stories of how beautiful Columbia was and how hitchhiking was more common there, getting rides was easy she told me. I wondered about all the people who'd ever passed me by on the side of the road, all the people I'd talked to at bars and parties and otherwise when hitchhiking was brought up who told me they would never pick up a hitchhiker with quotes like, "That's so dangerous", "I don't want to get raped and killed" and the universally lazy phrase, "That's crazy!". Here I was with one of the more beautiful women I'd seen in a while with a body a fraction of my size driving an expensive car and she was smiling, laughing and loving. There was no fear in her, no thoughts of getting robbed, raped or otherwise, just happy to give a guy a ride and share some mutually inspiring stories along the way.
The purity of it was the right start to the trip. It wasn't a very long ride, but it didn't have to be and a lot of short rides would follow as well, I was just happy to keep moving. The next guy kept warning me about the heat, a nay sayer of sorts doubting my progress, then a guy on his way to work for a few miles, then a carpet cleaner who got me to Riverside.
At the on ramp there a cop rolled by, then backed up and shouted at me through the rolled down window, "You can't hitchhike there!", so I shouted back asking if I could go up the ramp more and hitch from there, "You can't hitchhike!", he shouted, my face covered in false innocent confusion.
"So up there?", I shouted back as if I couldn't hear him properly.
"Just not on my beat! You get it?", he said this with a winking tone, or that's how I took it. He drove off and I walked up a dozen feet and kept sticking out my thumb as cars passed while keeping an eye out.
A woman pulled up and I stuck my head to the window, she looked over at me with a smile, "You're not gonna rape or kill me, are you?", she asked. This told me she was aware of lopsided stereotypes of hitchhikers and also believed rapists and killers were not the type to lie about their craft.
I assured her all was well and we start buzzing north. Before long her phone rang, it was linked up to the speakers in her car so I was able to hear the conversation with her frantic boyfriend. He was fed up, "I'm about to steal a car, I gotta get out of here, whatever I gotta do, fuck this shit, I don't wanna go back to jail, but I'm gonna do what I gotta do, I gotta get over the border", and so on.
It shook out that he was in Oregon just north of Bend and the woman driving me had now told him she would come and pick him up some 900 miles north from where we were. She took me a couple exits up, she was pretty casual about the whole thing, rolling her eyes while he was talking and smiling. She now had to head back to her place to pack a small bag and make the trip up to Oregon, I wished her good luck and went up to the freeway to continue on my journey.
My next ride came from a soccer player who told me about his dreams of going to Spain some day, he dropped me off in Fontana. I stood in the sun until two guys heading to Victorville scooped me up, I made room for myself in the backseat and we cruised along. While waiting at the next on ramp I realized I was hungry and more so thirsty, I went across the street to the fast food place and remedied this, then came back to the spot feeling better.
A guy from the Bronx picked me up, he'd seen me in the fast food place where he'd just been as well. He was out visiting some family and bidding on foreclosures, he told me about various properties he had around the country, some he'd never been to, some he ignored when he couldn't sell them and let them slip away. At the moment he was heading to Barstow to look at a property he'd just lost a chance at in a bidding war, but he was curious to see what it looked like. Other than that he was telling me about his 50th reunion from Marine boot camp that was coming up, he only knew one other guy who was coming.
He left me at a familiar spot in Barstow waiting for my ride to Vegas. Barstow is a junction town, to the south is LA and San Diego, to the north Vegas, west is Bakersfield and east is Flagstaff and the rest of the country. My first hitchhiking trip had me here late at night heading east and many trips towards Vegas had left me in the exact spot I was in now.
After a while I woman passed and caught my eye, it's not the best ramp for pulling over so she went halfway around the bend and pulled up over the curb into the dust as her tires spun a bit sinking in. "You have a license, you wanna drive?"
"Sure, where you heading?", I asked as she got out and I came around.
"Vegas!", of course, I threw my bag in the backseat of the pickup truck while the weathered woman got in the passenger seat. She explained to me how tired she was while piecing together her own story of getting her purse stolen while down in California and heading to Vegas where she didn't have a home either, but had a cat, somewhere. The story was all a bit disjointed and inconsistent when she repeated parts of it while explaining other parts.
I was happy to have the ride, driving quickly at the pace I like while subtly catching vibes from her to judge how fast might be too fast or if it mattered. She was telling me how she'd been panhandling at gas stations for money to keep the tank full and that once she got to Vegas everything would be sorted out. I glanced at the gas gauge, half a tank, perhaps barely enough to get to Vegas, but far from a sure thing.
After some cruising and our first drift away from conversation into the sound of the road and poor reception of the radio, she broke it quickly, "Next chance we get to stop for some gas, let's do it". Some time went by rolling through the desert and we found a station and I pulled off the freeway, parking near the pumps.
She got to asking people right away without much luck. I went in to use the bathroom and refill my water bottle while she kept at it. Back in the parking lot she asked a girl through her car window, the girl grabbed a whole pile full of a change and filled up the woman's hands. She took it back to the truck where she dumped it out on the console and we counted out just over $5.
We went into the cashier and she dumped it on the counter, "Pump four please!", the cashier counted it out, we splashed some gas in the truck up and kept on moving. She kept asking me if I thought we had enough to make it Vegas, at this point it seemed like we would, more than that I was eager to get there and not so interested in prowling gas stations for people's loose change.
We quickly came up on Baker, slightly more populated than the odd gas station we'd come from and she thought about stopping there as well to get more gas, but we kept going. Darkness rolled in quickly and I could feel the lights of Vegas coming. We'd dropped all conversation and I was left to the ambling mind of straight road driving.
Just before coming to the Nevada border she'd brought up gas again, always looking at the gauge, "Next chance we get we should get gas again", I was in no position to argue. Just then traffic slowed to a near halt and we spent the next twenty minutes at a snails pace through some construction. Just past this was the border and the first of the casinos and therefore a big gas station, so I pulled off and we parked again.
She got right to it, asking people for change and running her story at them, I felt like some thug standing behind her as she asked, part of a con rather than an innocent request for help. I escaped to the bathroom again more so for her to get lucky in my absence rather than perpetuate my own spin on the situation.
She'd had no luck when I'd gotten out and suggested I ask some people on my own while she had a bathroom break of her own. I paced around, but caught no friendly eyes among the sea of fuel pumps here so close now to Vegas.
She came out and I told her I had no luck, so we continued going around getting varied responses from people that didn't result in change. A couple people ignored us entirely, it was surreal, the way people walking by a bum with a sign keep their pace and stare away, except we were standing right in front of them while they pumped gas as the feigned impossible obliviousness.
Another woman saw it coming and cut off the woman I was with before she could speak, "Let me guess, you lost all your money, you got mugged, and you need some change?", she laughed the way she'd laugh at a friend she knew too well.
At last a younger woman pumping gas pulled two dollars out of her wallet without looking or saying anything as if she were getting mugged and just wanted it to be over, quick and easy. We walked back towards the truck and she asked a couple other people, but this was not the scene. I pulled the car to the pump and she went inside to pay, two more dollars of gas dripped into the car.
We started driving again and she had us pull over one last time at a ghostly gas station where no one existed, we stayed there for five or ten minutes while I waited for her to realize this obviousness and for me to remember the obvious isn't always that, not to everyone.
We hopped back in the car and all I could do was drive faster and faster just waiting to turn the corner and see the lights of the strip knowing just ahead my friend was working behind a bar and all I wanted was to get there without another sad survey at another gas station.
Finally we came around the curve and I was quick to announce, "We made it! And with gas to spare", and so on and so forth knowing that lights and buildings are like mountains that seem closer than they actually are, we were "there!" and hopefully with no reason to do this gas trick again. We were sitting on a quarter tank still, plenty enough.
I could feel her about to say one thing or another about gas as we rolled the last little stretch to the strip and I was quick to ask her exactly where she was going and so forth, where I should pull off. Even her destination was disjointed, her cat could be in one place, she needed to be in another, which turned into something different and vague, then something about the Flamingo. All I knew is that I was heading uptown, or "downtown" as they call it in Vegas, north of the strip anyway, and the less walking I had to do the better.
I cut through her ambiguous destination talk and said I knew exactly where she was going and cut over to the left express lane leaving no room for an early exit running us all the way up to the Sahara exit where I'd only have a mile or two to walk and she'd still be on the strip which is as good a landmark as anything.
I parked in the parking lot of the world's biggest gift shop (so says the sign), thanked her and moved on. She seemed lost in her own stuttering thoughts, she'd find them eventually and all would be well up there.
I'd met Shana years ago in Vegas when she'd hosted me then, I'd been in town for a court case, one for trespassing related to other shenanigans, the case was dismissed right away and my birthday was the next day which happened to align with a pub crawl Shana was running. This same on going monthly pub crawl happened to be aligned with my current arrival, it would be the next night, and even though Shana had since had a stint in New York and perhaps a year in New Orleans, she was back in Vegas and back on crawl duty.
We went to a bar next door for a shot and a ponder, then headed to another bar to meet one of Shana's friends who had her mom in town, a mom that the entire bar had been revering as a great milf when the two had been there earlier.
The mom bought Shana and I drinks straight away, and we all got to talking about Vegas, milfs and bodies all together. Shana and the mom had to go into the bathroom quickly for Shana to show off her chest, youthful and perky proof in private. We sat with this type of conversation a while until it was time to move on, we parted ways and Shana and I retrieved her car from the nearby parking garage and made our way to her new place a few miles away or so.
We talked and sipped some more sitting on the trampoline in her backyard. The house she was living in apparently had six or seven odd people living in it all of high character and varying backgrounds, I didn't meet any that night or much at all going forward, all was quiet, but Shana seemed very happy with the situation.
I woke up on the floor in the morning and Shana prompted me to take her place in the bed, she was up and just about out the door for a day of work at the bar. I slept as long as I could, munched on a plate of food she left for me, then motivated through the shower process and was out the door after briefly meeting one of the girls who lived in the next room.
I got to walking towards where the bus was supposed to be that went back to downtown, for a while thinking I may just walk the whole ways to save the buck or two or whatever it was, but the heat was something else on this day. I'm not usually one to get thirsty, not in a fixated kind of way, but the little time I was walking all I wanted way something cold to drink.
Eventually I met up with Shana up in the hotel room she'd rented for the night, I met her boyfriend there as well. The Jameson began to pour, shot here, on ice there, the night was starting.
We relocated to the bar where the pub crawl would begin, people started showing up and were buying their tickets and slapping on their name tags, all joke names. Mine was "Craven Moorehead", I sipped my Guinness and watched the people file in.
I was wrapped up in it somehow, dragged along to another bar, accepting a free drink, then dodging away into the abyss of the Vegas crowd on the street, familiar faces gone and still buzzing with drunken electricity. Craps tables, video roulette, asking people for directions and instructions I didn't need just to see what may spark from it. After much bouncing and jumping I'd at last exhausted the night and headed for the hotel room where I was surprised to find an empty bed to fall into.
At last one of roommates emerged with talk of heading back to the house, the sun was still up, I remembered the road and buzzed enough to think I should still head to it. I rode back with him and grabbed my pack from the house, then was on foot for quite a while, hopping a public bus at some point gaining a bit of ground, then on foot again, wandering, thirsty, a quick stop to ponder and water up, then darkness.
Somehow I was in the north of Vegas, no rides, I found myself a small place under the road to call my bed for the night, feeling foolish for not having just stayed with Shana another night rather than the hours of meandering to nothingness. Tired as I could get, I fell asleep easily in my sleeping bag atop the gravel.
Morning came, perhaps afternoon, back into the sun I began walking in zombie like fashion on to the road and in the shoulder of the freeway looking for the first ride of the day. It was a fair bit of walking until I got past the speedway exit north of town I've hitchhiked from so many times before.
Time brought me a convertible and a friendly woman driving it to Cedar City to visit her daughter. It felt good to be moving, cooking all the same in the sun, but moving. We got to town and she offered to get us lunch, so we stopped in to her daughter's place, she had that, "Yup, that's my crazy mom" look upon meeting me, the hitchhiker. All was well and we went to a cafe for smoothies and sandwiches.
She gave me her info and slipped me some cash and then a big hug, nervous about putting me back on the road like I was her own child. It had been a great drive and conversation all the way, but I had to keep it moving.
I walked up the on ramp to the freeway where I caught a two minute ride from a Colombian woman with her two kids, then I walked a bit thumbing until a big rig pulled off into the shoulder. I jogged on up to it meeting the Indian driver and his co-pilot from Pakistan. The Indian guy didn't speak much English, but never broke his smile. We chatted a bit until the co-pilot took to making phone calls and I watched Utah blaze by out the window, lost in my thoughts.
They were heading straight up and up all the way to Canada. Tempted as I was, I hopped out at middle-of-nowhere junction where I-70 begins and heads east taking you all the way to Baltimore if you let it.
This was another junction I was familiar with, I'd been dropped off there coming from all directions, heading in all directions, all times of day. I'd once been picked up heading this same direction in the middle of the night and gotten a ride clear to Denver arriving in the early morning. That ride was on my mind, now hopes for something similar, at least to Vail, my next idea of a destination.
Traffic was pretty light going my way for being on an interstate, a car every minute or five. I paused to munch on what was left from a sandwich, right as I got into it a minivan stopped for me. It was a woman and her niece who was about my age coming from Vegas. They'd passed me by and flipped around to pick me up, but not without a couple nervous questions from the woman and a promise from me not to kill and/or rape them.
I hopped in and slowly had her feeling more at ease, although they weren't being too clear as to where they were going. We stopped at a gas station where they filled up, she also called her brother, he wasn't too pleased that they'd picked up a hitchhiker. We started moving again, but she said she'd have to let me out at the next town to appease her brother. This didn't happen though, we just kept cruising, it seemed a silly notion anyhow.
Eventually they did get to a town where they were going to get a hotel for the night, it was dark at this point, I hopped out at the bottom of the off ramp and we parted ways. I walked along the freeway with my thumb out for the headlights, only as a matter of course though, I was really just scanning the side of the road ahead trying to eyeball my camp for the night. I found a nice dip behind some bushes off the road a ways and called it home for the night.
I woke up right with the sun and got to walking, the town nearby was Green River. I got a ride from a Russian couple who were in the country for a month visiting as many National Parks as possible, it was a short ride as they soon made the turn south towards Moab and the Arches.
Not long after I got my ride to Vail, a trucker heading towards Denver. He told me about Jesus and how he got saved, the whole story and eventually his Christian Rock collection took over. He was a pretty nice guy, happily offering future rides, even talk of heading to the east coast in the coming days, but it wouldn't quite time out like that.
We caught up and then headed into town where Riley had to head to her restaurant job, I went with Amy to the farmers market and helped some people take down their booth in exchange for some free veggies.
Amy showed me around the village a bit, then we joined up with a biking pub crawl going on where I met some of her friends at a few bars we went to. At the last one they doled out prizes in a raffle and there was talk of a half-Christmas party at one of the guy's houses the next night.
After all this we headed to a full house where some of Amy's friends lived, a six or seven roommate house that was a party even without any guests over. Beer pong, pot luck, a foamy keg and good times into the night.
We dreamed and looked at peeks in the distance until Amy came and met us with a friend of hers to play some frisbee golf on the course up there. We played nine holes, then took a break at the slack lines that were set up. Amy's friend took off for work afterwards, but the three of us finished up the back nine before heading back down on the gondola.
We paused back in the apartment for a quick rest and then rushed out the door back to town for a free classical music concert that we listened to from our grassy spot on the hill. Amy went her own way for a soccer game after, so Riley and I grabbed a drink and pondered the night, the half-Christmas party was the thought.
We poked at a bus schedule, but with all the talk of hitchhiking we decided we had just enough daylight to hitch the five or six miles to the party. We got to walking and did a fair bit of it and darkness came quicker than we thought, but we still managed to get a ride from a couple guys who took us right to the party.
Inside was a big Christmas tree decorated with slippers and random junk tossed on it. We had a few drinks with talk of the area for a good while enjoying the night and the company. We found out later that the bus was continually running, part of our hitchhiking reasoning earlier was based on the misinformation that it stopped at a certain time at night. Not the case, plus it was free, we managed to catch the bus back into Vail later in the night. Buzzing and loving it was tempting to extend the night at some other pub or some such, but we headed back to the apartment, talking into the night over popcorn until sleep overtook.
The morning came, another day to get back on the road and continue the march towards New York. First though, I wanted to get one more hike in with Riley and she was all for it. We headed up to a trail and side winded up a while and eventually bush whacked up our own path until we got to a good view point to sit on an overhanging rock a while.
Eventually we climbed our way back down to the apartment, one last shower before the road, then thoughts of waffle coned ice cream had us going back to town. I dragged my pack along with me and we sat by the river enjoying the magic that is a waffle cone full of ice cream, few things are better.
We at last parted ways and I was on the side of the road again, ready for the rest of the adventure eastbound. A guy with his dog scooped me up and took me over the pass a town or two forward. That's where the rain began, that became hail, then luckily another ride from a vacationer who got me out of the storm to the next town.
The storm caught back up with me, but right as it did I was rescued again, this time by two young girls on route to Boulder. We cruised along and they dropped me off just outside of Denver where they turned north. Now approaching the city, the on ramp was tight and I questioned whether I should keep walking given the minimal space for a car to even stop.
I lucked out when a guy just stopped in the middle of the road, pausing traffic while I hopped in. He was surprised to hear I was heading all the way to New York and happy to get me as far as he could, using the word "wow" as much as I'd heard it in one conversation.
Still around Denver, my next ride came, a nice guy who got me just past the city. I began walking along the freeway, traffic was at a near standstill and I was moving faster being on foot. Wind kicked up something wild and dust started flying, I saw a cloud moving towards me and just as quickly I was in it getting pelted and blown around, torrential enough that nothing but a smile did any good.
A Mexican family rescued me from that latest freak weather situation and drove me a few exits forward. I kept on walking from there until getting a short ride in the back of a pickup truck. Where he let me out the sky had become incredible, the sun setting behind a mountain that was on fire, literally, smoke in the air creating more reds and a big cloud with golden lining for extra effect.
A father and son from Afghanistan got me a few more exits up, then a van full of caged dogs picked me up, I sat in the back with them. They were all show dogs, the driver told me how he'd won best in breed with them three years running.
At last I came up on where the highway over passed the land below and it seemed I may be able to find a spot. This became unnecessary as soon as another car pulled over. The guy's name was Ken, he was a golfer slowly on his way to Michigan stopping at courses on the way to get some rounds in.
It ended up being my longest ride of the day, we even stopped once for coffee, then he dropped me off when he became ready to find a motel for the night. I got to walking on the freeway and saw plenty of camping options ahead, but before I could dip off the road, a car stopped, it was Ken again.
"That place was way too nasty, I figure I'll drive to the next town", so I got some more miles in before calling it a night, now in Kansas.
I woke up just up a hill off the road. Right after first light I was on foot again, walking a good while until a woman picked me up with a big barking dog, but he settled down after a minute of licking and making much noise.
The woman was on her way to Colby to see about her son who'd just got put in Jail. They were road tripping back to Oregon and got into a shouting match at a rest area, they cooled down and got back to driving, but someone had decided to call the cops. An officer pulled them over and took the kid to jail after hearing that he'd pushed her at the rest area, despite the woman denying this and saying everything was fine.
We got up to Colby and she dropped me off so she could go deal with the whole situation now, bail or otherwise.
The next ride I got would be the long one and the more interesting one for a number or reasons, but also the most blistering hot. The guy's name was Harold, a 74 year old guy going to the rainbow gathering in Tennessee. I'd heard of these gatherings, over simplified it's a chilled out hippie fest, sometimes thousands gather in national forest or otherwise, trade, share food in a big circle every night, and when (if) they leave everything is replanted and there's no trace they were there. This is what I've heard anyway.
Harold was driving a pickup truck with no air conditioning, worth mentioning given that every gas station we stopped at we were told that it was a record heat day for the area, somewhere around 105F. The windows down and hot air blowing in like a hair dryer, the blistering heat, wind and noise of it all stifled any potential conversation past our initial introductions and exchange of stories. He had a damp rag draped over his head, I just let my skin dry up and eventual insanity set in.
We paused at a rest area for much needed water, down the hatch and splashed on the face, anywhere I could get it. Continuing down the road we were still mostly silent, I began falling in and out of dreams, they mostly consisted of being in a different car in the same seat watching a different road fly by. Reality ceased to be the norm, I now had two, flashing between each one with a start and then acceptance, no way to determine which was a dream, I could be on any road on the planet leading me to anywhere, fried and flying.
Somewhere in Missouri we began keeping our eyes open, a change for me, looking for a campground to stay the night. We searched and found one, he may have paid the fee at the gas station if there was a fee, then we drove in and picked our spot.
He began setting up his tent, I through my bivy on the ground and aimed myself for the shower house, hobbling towards it eager to remove the dry crust of sweat that was perhaps never liquid to begin with. The water sprayed out with the strong scent of sulfur, but it was enough to refresh and continue on.
Back at the campsite Harold was ready to smoke. We blasted a few hits and got to talking, making up some sandwiches he told me more about the rainbow gathering and his past. He called himself part of the "Invisible Generation", I don't think he had any ID or otherwise and lived off the grid. He told me about cars he made that ran on air. He'd become a lawyer way back to battle the war on drugs, in a number of ways, and had apparently been a wanted man for a while, still unable to get funding for his various inventions, black listed through and through. He seemed optimistic about the future, he felt like things were changing, but still had a ways to go.
We journeyed on in the morning, blasting through Missouri on a day said to be hotter than the last, setting the record all over. Finally we got to Evansville, Indiana where his road went south and mine continued on. We stopped at a McDonalds where he got us a meal, then I hopped in the truck for one last quarter mile to get to the on ramp.
As I got out of the pickup truck I said my goodbyes and thanks, shutting the door. I put my water bottle on the ground and then turned to grab my backpack from the back of the truck, but he started driving off right as I reached for, absent minded and moving on. I tried to grab on to the back of the truck, but it was too quick. I started shouting and waving my arms, "Harold!", but he missed me entirely.
I was sprinting in the middle of the road still waving as he sped on and away and finally out of sight. Still running at full speed, backwards no less, I was waving and thumbing cars frantically. Just strange looks, nothing more. My bag was gone. My only thought now was I would have to hitchhike to Tennessee, find this rainbow gathering, hope to find him in the crowds of people. Making it to New York by the 4th of July may now be impossible.
Still running, a cop happened upon the traffic heading my way, unlike the rest of the traffic he reacted and pulled over. I ran up to the side of the car out of breath, "I was just hitchhiking and the guy accidentally took off before I could grab my bag from the back, I couldn't get his attention, everything I own is in there".
"Alright, hop on in", the officer said, I ran around the car and hopped in the passenger seat, "we'll see if we can catch up to him, what kind of vehicle is it?".
We buzzed on down the road, traffic lights a plenty. After the second one I asked if he was able to buzz on through them or anything, "Not with you in the car unfortunately", but soon he gave up on that notion and we were cruising through traffic lights with quick siren blasts and lights flashing.
We seemed to be driving ten minutes or more and still hadn't caught up to him. "Well, I hate to do this, but I can only go so far here, and I need to be back at my post. I can only go to the next light and I'll have to turn around", I was sunk, so close. Then, right at the next light, Harold's blue pickup came into view.
"There he is!", we raced up to him and he flashed the lights to pull him over. I felt bad in a way, I knew we scaring the hell out of old Harold, the last thing he wanted to see was a cop, but I'd made a point of talking him up as a nice guy who'd just been absent minded right at the end. The cop talked to him very briefly and I grabbed my bag, Harold thanked the cop for racing me up to him and apologized, all this while looking straight forward, no eye contact at all.
We U-turned it around just as another car was making the turn as well, one person pushing it from behind trying to get it started. The officer parked his car dead in the road and raced over to help push, it started up and he came back and we were cruising back towards my freeway. I couldn't thank the guy enough, a hero of the road. He told me stories about high speed chases and the like as we made our way back, we'd actually gone quite a ways trying to catch up to Harold, especially apparent going at a normal speed on this return trip.
He let me out back where I'd started and I thanked him some more, then found my way to the freeway entrance where my water bottle still sat where I'd dropped it, boiling hot now already. I waited on the next ride, buzzing from this last experience, happy to be back on course instead of journeying to a rainbow gathering with nothing but the clothes on my back.
A friendly woman picked me up after a good hour or so in the sun and got me about forty miles up the road. After that was a guy heading to see some nascar that he'd won free tickets to, he said he could get me as far as Louisville. Realizing it would be fairly late in the day by the time I got there, I used my phone to post to the CouchSurfing group there to see if anyone would be up for hosting that night.
He dropped me off in Louisville, as I walked along the freeway contemplating getting the next ride, I got a response from someone in town. Her name was Megan, a laughter yoga master, she already had a girl from Indiana coming to stay with her the night, but after a quick check with her she confirmed it would be alright for me to stay as well.
I sipped a local IPA that was on special and waited for the girls to arrive. Megan was all smiles, as I imagined a laughter yoga instructor must be, and along with her was Marilyn , she was a nurse from Bloomington, Indiana on her way to Nashville to see her sister.
Another round of beer and I happily answered the line of questioning coming from them both about traveling and life on the go. We cruised on over to a late night outdoor cafe for a bite to eat afterwards, me listening to stories about laughter yoga and healthcare and so forth. All together it was a fun night, they were both pleasant to talk to and Marilyn and I had a little flirtatious thing going on which always keeps things interesting.
We headed back to Megan's apartment and kept up conversation and swapping travel sites and other knowledge for a while until finally all going to sleep.
In the morning we figured I'd be able to catch a ride with Marilyn for a dozen miles or so just out of town before she made her turn towards Nashville and I kept on east. Goodbyes and thanks to Megan, then we were off, stopping for coffee and a snack and then on the road. Marilyn and I exchanged numbers and she invited me to come and see Bloomington if I was ever by, she'd been doing some bragging on it the night before, eventually this would happen. I hopped out of the car along the freeway, marching again.
I got a ride in no time from a girl heading up the road just a bit. After some good conversation she decided she could get me further on up the road to Lexington, saying she had some things she could take care of up there anyway and it was a good excuse. Once there she offered to get us a meal too, after all, I couldn't leave Kentucky without some KFC.
After stuffing full with the buffet we parted ways, she left me with her number if I were to ever pass through again and wanted a place to stay or someone to explore with. I walked on up to the freeway and soon got a short ride from a guy who used to hitchhike a lot when he was in the army.
The day was hot and increasingly sweaty as I got further east. A couple of sympathetic women picked me up for another short ride a little further down the road. I was then walking along a long line of cones blocking off one lane of traffic for no apparent reason, no construction in sight. I was happy to see a car pull a nice maneuver to weave through the cones and stop a ways ahead of me, then blast into reverse to save me the jog up to him.
The driver was a businessman heading to Virginia after some work up by Lexington. He offered me ice cold waters right away, along with a clean towel to do away with the sweat. We cruised along talking about travels and him telling about his family life. He'd cheated on his wife a long way back which caused a divorce, years later they'd gotten back together and remained so now.
"I should have never admitted it", he told me, "It was my biggest mistake and incredibly selfish. It's called guilt shifting. I should have lived with the guilt of having cheated on her rather than shifting it to her and hurting her so badly, things will never be exactly how they used to be. Never admit it, deny deny deny".
He got us a big meal along the way, I surely wasn't going hungry that day. We reached just north of Charleston and I decided to get out there. It was a toss up looking at the map, whether to go on west with him to Virginia or get out where I did, but it seemed like I may have better luck this way.
I walked a good ways, the road getting hilly now, sweat continued. A woman stopped down the hill and it took a good run to get to her, I was rewarded with a gatorade from her cooler and a ride a few extra miles up the road. She said there was word of a big storm coming in, so she was on her way to make sure her cattle were tended to and everything buttoned up on the property. It seemed like a beautiful day to me, all be it hot.
I jumped out of the car and back down to the freeway, a quick ride from a guy in a van just a few more miles up to a desolate exit, no stores, houses or anything in the hilly bend in the road among the thickly tree covered terrain.
I stood up on the freeway, standing still figuring that was my best bet, no point in walking into the curves where it would be far more difficult for cars to stop. Then, coming from the south up in the sky, I saw it. A big black cloud creeping around the bend, debris swirling wildly. As fast as I could I emptied a loaf of bread to wrap my phone in the plastic, threw on my pack cover and rain jacket, all this just in time as the rain slammed down as heavy as she goes. The wind was powerful, swaying me around in a swirl from all angles, unpredictable.
Another storm that called for nothing but a smile. I had no recourse, no where to go for shelter, I was in it. Cars came slowly creeping through the downpour, I was eyes and a blistering smile peering through a rain jacket hood, a thumb extended. They cruised by.
After twenty minutes the storm did nothing in the way of letting up, but someone pulled over just ahead and I ran for it. I hopped in the back and met the West Virginia couple that had come to rescue me out of the mess. They were on their way to a campground where they had a trailer a ways up the road.
They seemed a bit nervous, perhaps only picking me up given the circumstance of me being in the middle of nowhere in this whirlwind rain storm. I'd find out later that the guy driving had a gun pointed at me the entire ride, perhaps that would have made me nervous too, but I didn't know, so I was all smiles, happy to be out of the storm and moving.
We made it up to their turn off after some good conversation, the storm had seemed to let up some, mostly just your run of the mill rain at this point. I told them my plan was to likely set up camp somewhere before the storm picked up or maybe even catch one more ride in this last pinch of daylight. I thanked them and hopped out of the car, crossing the street back towards the freeway entrance when the guy called out to me.
I couldn't hear much in the wind, so ran back over to the car.
"Hey", he said, "So, if you want, you can come stay in the tent tonight where we're going", he said reluctantly, his wife looking over, clearly this was her motherly suggestion that he was relaying, "In the morning we could drive you back to the freeway".
I hesitated for just a second, right then a huge thunder clap shook the sky with comical timing. We all laughed as I ran around and hopped back into the truck.
Like many a decent storm like this, the immediate aftermath brings people together. Shots were being poured, drinks mixed, beers cracked and stories told. I had a blast with the friendly bunch, throwing glow sticks into trees and telling stories with everyone. Now that this couple had gotten to know me a bit, and given that their tent was gone, they just let me sleep in the other room in their trailer on a proper bed for the night. Comfy, drunk and dry.
Eventually we headed out so they could get me back to the road. They'd offered to stop for a meal, but the power was out in the town and the next one over that we drove to. I hopped out all the same, happy to have met them and ready to keep getting to New York.
I got a ride from a woman who was on a mission to find ice in the aftermath. After that was a Catholic Priest who was also on the hunt for supplies, then another guy doing the same a little further north. Where he dropped me off the traffic lights were working again, power restored, at least this far north.
A few guys in a pickup truck got me another ten miles further, then another short ride from a guy close to Morgantown. After him a cute girl gave me a short ride, but told me to grab a beer from the backseat if I wanted one. She had a Dogfish Head Chicory Stout, amazing. It was warm, so I stashed it for later.
After that I was picked up by the drunkest father/son combo in all of West Virginia. They passed their bottle back to me so I could attempt to somewhat close to their level. It was a short ride, I headed back to the freeway with something of a buzz.
A woman in a minivan picked me up, getting me over the border and into Maryland. I walked for a little ways, then getting picked up by another minivan with a Chinese couple and their baby in a car seat next to me. I drifted in and out of sleep as we got deeper into Maryland.
They dropped me off where I-70 and I-81 meet. As I waked to get past the merge, a state trooper stopped to check me out. He ran my ID, gave it back and told me to walk to the next exit to get off the freeway. I did so, then got picked up for another short ride from a guy a few exits up.
I waited at an on ramp there, avoiding the urge to walk back on the freeway after having talked to the cop. A couple guys on scooter passed me and looked over as I waited for my next ride to come. They pulled into a parking lot next to me and got my attention, motioning for me to come over.
I walked up and they asked where I was heading, I told them my story.
"You're hot, we wanted to talk to you", the one guy said, "but aww, your straight aren't you. Otherwise I'd offer to bring you back to the house", he laughed. He instead offered to let me ride on back and get me over the border to Pennsylvania just a few miles away.
We buzzed around the back roads, arriving over the border as promised to the next freeway entrance. I thanked him and walked straight down the on ramp and onto the freeway again, no need to worry about the warning from the state trooper now, I wasn't in his state anymore.
I got a ride then from a guy on his way to a bible retreat, deeper into Pennsylvania, getting close to sunset. I walked down the side of the freeway, then finally a white work van pulled over down ahead of me. I ran the ways up to it, two Mexican guys inside. "Where you going?", they asked.
"New York City", I told them.
"How much you pay?", they asked me.
"Nothing", I said, "I have no money to pay, I'm hitchhiking".
"Three hundred", they said.
I laughed, "No no, I don't have any money", I repeated, "Where are you guys going anyway?".
"Manhattan.", he replied.
I lit up, "Really?"
"OK, two hundred", he bartered.
"No no, I really can't pay. I've hitchhiked all the way from California on no money. I'd love to ride with you, but I can't afford to if you need money. Thanks for stopping though".
"OK, a hundred", he said.
"Awesome! Thank you so much!", I ran around and hopped into the caged back of the work van among some of their equipment and off we went.
We cruised on some hours into the dark, they talked amongst themselves and I stared out the back window excitedly as we got closer and closer to the city. We passed through the Holland tunnel, then they found a place to stop and let me out, suddenly much friendly then the side of the road negotiations, smiling warmly as I thanked them for the ride.
I'd made it! California to New York with plenty of days to spare. I triumphantly marched through the New York streets, buzzing from the trip and ready to have a blast.
June 20, 2012 to June 30, 2012