Thumbs Up to Generosity Hitchhiking in the Midwest

Travel magic is all too common on the road, not to be taken for granted, but an ever present possibility arising in forms of unexpected places to stay, bites to eat, rides and unthinkable adventures.

Perhaps one of the more impactful of these forms of magic is the place to stay for the night. It saves either the money for the hotel or the time and occasional restlessness of finding a stealth place to camp, which in a city can be an especially amplified chore. Of course there's sometimes fringe benefits besides just a good night's sleep, like often getting a shower or a bite to eat, but the greatest aspect is the feeling of trust and getting to experience an unexpected person's life for a short time.

Couchsurfing.com, where you can organize such experiences, obviously shares a lot of this magic. This story, however, highlights the brand of travel magic that I live for, the kind that's kept me on the road all these years craving more, the spontaneous magic between a trusting, generous person and the receptive traveler in the right place at the right time. Along with Marilyn, we were about to experience four nights in a row across the Midwest that would highlight exactly how these sorts of things happen.

We left Madison in the wake of a thunderstorm, our rain jackets still at the ready for the sweeping trickle-downs throughout the day. The eighty mile hitchhiking trip to Milwaukee was easy, first a ride halfway from a couple talking about their horses, then a couple girls with their kid that took us directly into Milwaukee, dropping us off at Horny Goat Brewing.

After some beers we used some more of our Lyft credit to catch a ride downtown. We first paid homage to the Bronze Fonz, then got ourselves some food before heading to the Lakefront Brewery, located in a big historic looking building on the river. We signed up for the tour and started digging into some samplers, the owner himself gave us the tour ,we scored some free beers, then returned to the tap room to keep sampling.

At the same time we were looking on Couchsurfing and at a map of the city seeing if we had any options of camping for the night. A guy next to us started chatting, Peter, he'd just moved from Chicago and was trying to get a job in the beer industry, hopefully right there at Lakefront.

Before even five minutes went by he offered Marilyn and I a place to stay in his apartment for the night. It turned into a great night besides just the great place to stay, we met up with some of his friends for a beer elsewhere in the city, then all wound up at his place sipping on some beers from his personal stash before Marilyn and I finally passed out on the air mattress.

We woke up early the next day and were up and out when Peter was, thanking him and parting ways. Now Marilyn and I were on foot, ready for another day of hitching and angling to Michigan's Upper Peninsula by way of Green Bay.

The first highway entrance we came to wasn't ideal, but we managed to hitch a ride from a pretty rad girl north of town. Then another girl gave us a short ride, a different guy after that, then we waited around and were greeted by a local sheriff who said he could care less that we were there, but someone had called in so he was just showing up to make it seem like he was being proactive.

A guy who'd seen the sheriff stop came and picked us up after he'd left and gave us a ride to Sheboygan. After that we got a ride from a woman who said she felt bad seeing us on the side of the road, she ended up being really nice, driving us out of her way to get us right up to Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

We walked up into the stadium hoping to get a peek at the field, but such peeks were reserved only for those willing to pay the expensive tour price. Instead we managed to find a couple breweries in town, a nice pause before heading back to the highway to continue hitching.

A road worker scooped us up and got us to the next gas station, there a couple guys heading to Oconto gave us a ride and offered up their yard for us to camp in, but with more daylight left w decided to push on. A woman gave us a ride to Marinette, then we caught a ride from another woman with her daughter who got us up over the border into Michigan.

As it was now getting closer to dark we asked her if she knew any potentially good spots to camp, but she instead suggested maybe we could stay in her dad's trailer. We stopped at his house, but he wasn't exactly up for it. Instead she consulted with her daughter and then called her husband, after just a short conversation they offered to let us stay at their house for the night.

Another night inside, we met the husband briefly before he left for the night shift. We got a great night's sleep, in the morning we scored a waffle breakfast and then a ride back to the main road to keep on heading north.

We hitched a short ride from a real estate agent, walked a ways, then got picked up by a few guys hauling a trailer, they worked for a moving company. They started some Jesus flavored preaching after a while, stories of one of them being a "high ranking Chicago gangster" with a classic life-turned-around narrative, but soon we were back on foot looking to get the next ride.

A turtle expert gave us a ride to Marquette, from there we walked until hitching the next ride from a couple bound for the casino just out of town. We scored a ride from there from a local Munising guy, he dropped us off at a tiny little brewpub called Shooters, we got some samplers there and quickly determined that it was likely the worst brewery in North America. Just about everything had soured, but at least the food was half way decent, we got out of there quickly.

We walked towards the water, thinking maybe we'd hike and find a place to camp. A car pulled into a lot, offering us a ride. Before a few minutes went by he was offering us a place to stay, saying he'd done quite a bit of hiking himself. We instantly agreed and rolled on back to his house.

Once there we met his wife, they'd gone hiking together and before long we realized we had a couple mutual friends. Altogether it was a good night, talking gear, hiking and travel, yet another hit of magic on the road.

They were driving in a similar direction the next morning, we cruised along with them until finally hitting the junction, we thanked them and hit the road with thumbs out, waiting for the next ride.

A state trooper rolled up as friendly as anybody, we told him we were heading up to Tahquamenon Falls. He said he'd have to head up that way at some point during the day, so figured now was as good a time as any. We hopped in and cruised on up, he dropped us off right at the entrance to a good hike. Conveniently there was a brew pub right there, so we got our fix before taking the hike and checking out the falls.

We got back to the road eventually where we hitched a ride from a guy in a '37 Chevy that absolutely made Marilyn's day, he took us as far as Paradise. From there we got a ride over the bridge to Mackinaw City, we waited outside a gas station for a good while, but soon the sun was getting close to gone.

We managed a short ride in the back of a pickup truck, then quickly got a ride from a woman going only a couple mile. "If you smell alcohol, that's me! I've been drinking beer all day!", she told us.

Two miles later we hopped out and luckily managed another quick ride, but then found ourselves walking along the highway as only a hint of light remained from the now downed sun. At this point we were eyeballing the woods more than the cars, finding a place to camp now on our minds. Somehow, though, we got one last car to pull over, a couple and their daughter heading down to Gaylord, Michigan.

We got down there in the dark where they dropped us off at a gas station. As luck would have it, a brewery was just nearby, the perfect place for us to grab a beer and contemplate our next move. As it turned out the beer was pretty damn good, we sipped slowly as we looked at the satellite view of our surrounding area, debating where might be the best place to tuck away and set up the tent for the night.

For the fourth night in a row, though, this would not be necessary. A waiter came over to the bar and asked us about our backpacks and what kinda trip we were on, then started telling us about how he'd floated the Mississippi with his girlfriend and what a trip that had been. Before long he was on the phone with her, confirming that it would be ok to put us up for the night.

Soon he was getting off work and we rode over to his apartment, we spent the night sipping wine with them and hearing about their epic river trip, I started getting ideas.

The next day we'd continue our trip, heading towards South Carolina, but with several of our friends to visit on the way. The road takes good care of travelers, we couldn't appreciate that fact anymore than after the past few days from Madison to Michigan. More adventures ahead, as always, time to find the next hit of magic to come.

August 25, 2014 to August 29, 2014

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