13 Rides, Hiking, and a Bus to Oklahoma

After an unexpected good time in bakersfield, it was time to hit the road. Oklahoma city the target, I-40 seemingly the road to get there. I know this road well now.

My new bakersfield friends dropped me off by the highway after helping me sell one of my hard drives for some extra money in my pocket and fewer pounds in my pack. I stood by the onramp with my cardboard sign reading "Barstow", the next biggest city likely to be a target to these drivers.

After some decent waiting a woman in a pickup said she was heading somewhere, I couldn't understand exactly what she said and hopped in the back anyway. I laid in the back with the wind blowing, I was going east.

She dropped me off a ways up the road, and I stood with my sign again as day turned to night in a new town. I was finally picked up by air force guy who'd seen me first when pulling into town to get gas. He told him about Vegas and he told me of a time he'd played blackjack with $200, turned it into $6,000, got up, sat back down again when offered another beer by a waitress, and went back down to $300 losing. His $100 profit felt more like a loss, and he said he learned his lesson. He took me clear to a starbucks in barstow, and even left me with $15 I hesitantly accepted.

I pulled out my computer inside Starbucks, where I was given a free 'mistake' drink, something with caramel. I wanted to keep moving, and headed to the closest onramp in the dark. Few cars came, i counted 11 in an hour. I started looking at my surrounding for a place to sleep. Finally a pickup truck stopped driven by an old mechanic. I wasn't sure where 'Newberry' was, but i hopped in. Turns out it was just 15 minutes down the road at some obscure exit in the dark.

Why he picked me up at all I'll never know, but now I was stuck, no cars would come or go from Newberry. I decided to sleep up in the underpass. It was cold, I didn't like my chances catching a ride out of Newberry, and decided to walk east in the dark towards a next exit. No exits were coming up, and no cars stopped in the dark rushing down the highway. I saw a big patch of trees in the median, and broke out my sleeping bag. It was comfortable and hidden.

I woke up with the sun and the same trucks flying by I'd fallen asleep with, and began walking east again. after several miles i made it to another exit, I was still in Newberry. This was even more obscure than the last, and sunlight revealed the surrounding desert as far as the eye could see. I waited, maybe an hour or more, few cars passed and none stopped. I'd seen a sign saying no exits for 30 miles until Ludlow. I decided to start walking east, again.

The mohave desert. It's slightly hot, but it's the weight of my pack that kept me moving slowly. I still turned around for every car, thumb out and my cardboard sign held high, now it read "Needles", the next big city on the map. I had to stop, had to rest. I continued to work the traffic from a stand still, sucking down the water I had. After what seemed like forever an 18 wheeler stopped 100 yards up the road and I made run for it before he could change his mind.

This guy was a self proclaimed jesus freak, and spent most of the drive across the desert lost in his bluetooth call or his preaching of jesus and the fallacy of evolution. "If we came from monkey's, why are there still monkeys around today?". I nodded in and out of sleep, periodically nodding to his thoughts about jesus along the way. At one point he flipped a switch some bible on tape or some sort boomed through his speakers. "God said 'hear my word', not 'read it'".

He dropped me off at a truck stop in Needles where he decided he would get some sleep. While walking back towards the onramp an old women said hi, recognizing me as the hitchhiker she saw pushing down the desert freeway.

It wasn't long before I got picked up again holding up my new sign saying 'Flagstaff'. The driver seemed nice and even gave me a burrito he'd just bought. He was a meditation expert for soldiers with post traumatic stress syndrome and coming back from a training session or some such. He also talked to me a whole lot about cave diving as we drove clear to Flagstaff where he left me. There was some daylight left and I headed for the onramp in hopes to find my next ride.

After a bit of waiting, an old man picked me up headed to a city I'd never heard of, but it was 100 miles in the right direction. His passenger seat was full of papers, and I sat in the back mostly quiet, answering familiar questions about places I was coming and going from. He would break the silence here and again with stories from his hitchhiking past, like the time him and his brother picked up some runaways from California some years ago.

Hollbrook, AZ is where he left me at a truck stop in the dark. It was late and I was a bit tired, but I tryed flaggin down one last ride for the day. After an hour with no luck I decided to hunt for a place to sleep, and found one behind a concrete guard rail next to the freeway. It was an ideal spot to unpack my sleeping bag, and I slept under the stars, there were so many to see.

I woke up before the sun, cleaned up in the truck stop, and started back to my corner with my thumb out. Dozens upon dozens of big rigs and cars passed me before a green minivan stopped, a well traveled european woman who was jesus preaching on a reservation in new mexico. She had been to places all over the planet and discussed cultures from different regions.

I was dropped me off at an obscure exit up a half hour up the road where I was sure I'd be all day. I was pleasantly surprised when the third car that passed picked me up, it was another windy ride in the back of a pickup truck towards Gallup. They dropped me off right there on the freeway before they took their exit.

I was picked up before I even made it to the onramp by a native american who said he could take me across town to a busier exit. He tryed to convince me to go to a ceremony on the reservation and gave me his email if I make back to town. He said their sand paintings, dancing, singing and other great things I may enjoy. He struck me as a sort of promoter for the whole thing.

Once at the new exit, which was actually far less busy then the one he scooped me from, I waited a while before another pickup truck came stopping, and the guy hung out the passenger window saying "pitch some money for gas bro?". "I have no money... can I hop in anyways?". "sure, we're going to Albuquerque, don't fuck with my shit, hop in back!".

Fine by me, his "shit" was a crossbow and similar gear. I curled up in the windy pickup bed and fell asleep for the 150 miles or so through New Mexico. They dropped me off in town and I once again headed for the onramp. The onramp in Albuquerque was the busiest one I'd come across on this trip, a constant flow of cars, and a huge shoulder which would make it easy for any car to stop and pick me up. After 3 hours not a single car stopped, I had only a sunburn to show for it.

A few people pumped their first "you go man!", woman of all ages smiled or giggled, one guy hung his head out the window screaming "get a real job!". Was I working? I was about to call it quits and head for a starbucks to regroup when a green car finally stopped in front of me.
A mom and her 16 year old daughter, they said they'd passed me and the daughter convinced them to turn back and pick me up. They said they were only driving 15 minutes up the road or so, but to a busy truck stop where I'd have better luck, I was happy to get away from that damned Albuquerque.

Before we stopped they shared a look in the front seats, the mom handed the daughter her wallet. After a minute the daughter reached back and poured 43 cents into my hand and wished me best of luck. "No, you shouldn't have" I said, laughing inside.

This truck stop was no friendlier than the onramp in Albuquerque, I began to wonder if I had just gotten lucky earlier in the trip, or was unlucky now, or if New Mexico was just an unfriendly spot for hitchhikers. I tried every corner, every distance to the on ramp, exits from the truck stop, and even sitting in front of the gas station with my 'texas' sign, asking truckers if they were headed east. Night had come a while ago, I'd spent more of my day looking for a ride than actually riding. It was time to start walking, find a better onramp down the road, feel like I was moving east just a little bit, or at least a hidden place to sleep.

This may be hard to believe, but since i began this hobo deal, through montana, portland, california, vegas - no rain. Not a drop. Now it rained, with the wind. I found a ditch next to the freeway with a couple patches of tall grass and broke out all my rain gear and sleeping bag, I called it a night.

I awoke before the sun as to not be seen packing up, and walked towards the next onramp. The wind was blowing hard from the west making it difficult to face the sparse oncoming traffic. So I stood there. I gazed towards the horizon waiting for the sun to peak out and warm me up. I probably stood there a half hour completely still, ignoring cars that drove past until the sun finally conquered the mountain in the distance. Then, for no particular reason, I started walking towards it, right on the shoulder of I-40.

I didn't know it, but there were no exits for 10s of miles, just fields, no trees even. I walked for hours, stopping once in a while to put down my pack and thumb out cars. No one was stopping. They were going 70 or 80 and I was a guy with a hood over a baseball cap carrying a huge backpack. I was stuck in winding New Mexico. I kept walking, head down towards the sun.

I almost bumped right into the idle pickup truck, I hadn't seen it stop with my head down looking only at my feet walking. I couldn't believe it, I ran up to the window, the guy said he was headed to Amarillo. I threw my stuff in the back and east we went, out of New Mexico.

We killed a roach he had in his ashtray and he told me about historical sites he digs around for work. He even uses his metal detector at beaches once in a while with his kids to find all the good stuff people dropped. He had a lot of ways to make an extra buck, but the way he talked about it I could tell money was not his motivation. One time he was in line at the store and the woman in front of him had paid all in silver dollars, original silver dollars. When he stepped up to the cashier he changed his dollar bills for all those silver dollars, which he later sold for $60 each.

We made it to Amarillo in no time, I stayed and he continued on to Dallas. Once again I found myself looking for a ride. The two previous attempts left my confidence down, but I found a huge piece of cardboard and wrote "OKC" so big you could see it down the road, and had to put my pack on top of the bottom so the intense wind wouldn't blow it away.

An hour or two later and still no rides. I was so close to OKC, I decided to check greyhound since it must be cheap now. It was a cheap ride, but the station was 5 miles or more west. I started walking to try and make the last bus out of town.

As I walked towards greyhound my mind wanderd back to walking the desert road in arizona and the windy freeway in new mexico. Both times I had no idea how much further I'd have to walk, just that I had to keep moving forward, east to a far off starbucks in oklahoma city. My backpack somehow felt lighter now.

When I got to greyhound there were delays and changes of course, and it all shook out to a bus leaving to OKC in an hour, not too bad. I headed towards a corner store 10 blocks away for a gatorade, and ran into a man with a backpack trying to get rid of some exstacy, he wanted $10 for his 6 pills. I had no use nor the money for this. I saw him later back at the bus station, he looked away when I recognized him.

The bus driver for this particular ride was out of place. He introduced himself to us passengers and asked if anyone knew how to get to Oklahoma City and the other stops. He really didn't know. One passenger volunteered to be his "co-pilot" and guide him along. Right away he got on I-40 West. Other passengers realized his mistake and shouted him off the freeway to turn around. After a series of stops having to deal with an air leak I still don't understand and 5 or so hours later we arrived at another greyhound station, finally in oklahoma city. I'd made it.

It was around 1am, and the particular starbucks that interested me was 6 miles away. I found an outlet in the station behind the vending machines to charge my phones while I faded in and out of sleep, still standing guard on my charging phones. When 4am hit I started my hike down the road towards starbucks. 2 hours and one bloody foot later I limped into starbucks. Carolina wouldn't be coming in until 5 that evening, but I was happy to finally rest after the past days travels.

Shortly after 5pm I saw her, headed for the entrance. I beat her to the door and opened it for her, standing in her way. She made 3 of the most distinct faces of shock I've ever seen in such a sequence. First, general confusion of who this man was in her way. Second was recognition of who I was, and third was a look of fear and pure shock. Needless to say she hadn't expected me. She sat down for a minute and I gave her some pez, but she had to hurry off to work her shift.

She shot me glances and mouthing words to me from behind the counter in bewilderment of my appearance in her city, along the lines of wondering why I hadn't given any warnning. I've never seen such an interesting sequence of expressions before today, and perhaps that's why I hadn't called ahead. None the less I started to feel a distance, her feeling of being stunned far out weighed any happiness to see me it seemed. She had a look in her eye I didn't recognize when I talked to her, and I'm sure I returned an unfamiliar look in return because of this. It wouldn't be until the next day that I'd feel at ease with her again, and I was happy for that.

I was on the road only 3 days, tossed around, lost, found, stuck, cruising, dirty, hungry, full, freezing, sun burning... and I loved it. Even when I was seeminly trapped in New Mexico getting rained on in the wind, the thought of later looking back as I am now comforted me.

For now I'm in Oklahoma City. I'm happy not knowing about next week.