Thumbing from New Orleans to Wyoming

My first attempt leaving New Orleans was pretty pathetic, no rides in 6 hours, just a lot of walking out of the city limits and sleeping under a bridge, comfortably at least. I made more progress the next day with 7 rides.

I waited at one on ramp until I got bored and hungry staring at the Denny's across the street. I stopped in for a bagel and endless coffee and hit the ramp again, full and caffeinated. I waited longer yet singing lyrics as they came to me looking like a madman. A woman finally stopped, she spoke Spanish exclusively, I hopped in her car when I could understand nothing. We struggled to communicate more, she didn't even understand "New York City", so "Wyoming" helped nothing at all. From what I could tell she thought I lived a few blocks away, she strangely got off the the very first exit trying to find my "address", I hopped out of the car with a "gracias" as she gave me a "sorry" and I gave her a "no worries" she likely didn't understand, I wandered down the road to another entrance to I-10 West.

I got picked up by a couple tatted up guys, tear drop tattoos and a dirty car. They immediately veered off in another direction less than a mile onto the freeway so I hopped out, walking down the freeway raised over the swamp in Louisiana. A couple miles down a cop car pulled over with their windows down, I spoke to the driver over the female cop in the passenger side. "You can't be up here, turn around and walk back!".

"Yea I don't wanna be up here, trust me, can I just keep walking forward or get a ride?"

"It's 12 miles until the next exit, you're best walking backwards".

"Yea... can you give me a ride?"

"Ah... ok, hop in the other side!"

I jumped in, unavoidably stepping on his inexplicable dry cleaning in the back. They spoke among each other at a low level as they drove the 12 miles only asking me where I was going once and losing interest immediately. They dropped me at a gas station which to my surprise was the turn off to 55 north, my next big step. I walked to that entrance just down the road waiting for another ride, shouting the lyrics to my new hitching tune to pass time.

Jon picked me up, just a cool guy in a pickup truck who made $255 a day working on a tug boat "not really doing much", getting 1 week off for every 2 weeks he worked. He dropped me off a ways up the road after buying me a gatorade. From there I got a one exit ride from an Indian man with an expensive truck, that landed me at a busier exit in the town of McComb, Mississippi, I remember the name of the town because of the cop that came later.

I stood at the on ramp watching cars pass for a while before he came, the cop that is. No stranger to cop cars recently I leaned over to the window smiling as he pulled up, he motioned me to move forward into the open shoulder which I did. He hopped out, a bigger guy standing around 6 and a half feet I'd guess, mustache too, looking upset and genuinely disgusted. "Let me see your license", I started pulling it out my little blue water tight bag, I caught his eyes looking at the rip in my pants, "what are you doing out here anyways? You have any smoke on you, a little pot with you?". I had some in my backpack, I didn't mention that of course, "Nope, I don't even smoke cigarettes", I laughed and told him I was headed for Wyoming to see some family. He didn't laugh, smile, just radioed in my license to a bored woman on the other end.

"I just don't understand kids like you, when I was 17 I had a job, I became a cop, what do you do, how long have you been doing this?", it was a classically hilarious old and cop thing to say, and I smirked as much while trying to maintain some sense of respect and composure, replying "More or less for the past year seeing America, it's huge, I do some odd jobs here and there", I even mentioned Trip Hopping calling it an "online travel website" just to get his old brain stirred up a bit more.

"How'd you like to go to jail in the city of McComb?" was his reply, to that I said "I wouldn't be into that at all, isn't hitchhiking legal as long as I'm off the freeway?", "There's a local ordinance against it here in McComb, how fast do you walk?", "4 or 5 miles per hour usually" I told him. He seemed a bit off guard my quick and precise answer, but managed the math in his head quickly too saying "The next town is 2 miles down, I'd say that gives you a half hour to get there, if I see you here with your thumb out before you see the sign that says Summit (the next town) you'll be sitting in a McComb jail." He said it was fine to walk down the freeway, the one and only thing most cops in any other state actually care about.

"You won't see me again.", I took my ID back with a uncontrolled smirk still on my face and left before he changed his mind, up the freeway I went. One mile down he was waiting for me at the next exit in his car, I guess just to make sure I was doing what I was told, he drove off before I got too close. Just as I made it to the next exit and next town, a yellow PT Cruiser pulled to the side of the road for me, I hopped in meeting a friendly man and immersing myself in the ice cold air conditioning.

This guy had an auto part business, we talked about that and traveling a bit as that was part of his gig, and I fell in and out of sleep for a bit while he listened to the radio, it worked out great. When we hit Jackson an hour or so up the road he said he could drop me off of I could come run a few errands with him and he'd take me another 50 miles, I opted for that. He stopped quickly at a farmers market, and his second errand was actually stopping at a nice restaurant and buying me beer and a chicken gyro, I liked that errand best.

We took me about to his exit 50 miles up as promised right as it started down pouring, so he left me right near the exit under an overpass. By the time I put my pack cover on my bag and broke out my rain jacket, the storm stopped, of course, and I decided to keep walking down the freeway since the exit was a ghost town, as was the next one 2 miles down. I probably walked a total of 4 or 5 miles before a car broke into the shoulder ahead of me.

Shane was his name, sales was the game. He had nothing but advice, and "everything is sales". He apparently turned his life around selling cleaner, which he showed me, even gave me a pamphlet and encouragement to call them up for a job. He told me he was gonna go out of his way 30 miles up the road to drop me at a good truck stop, then asking me if I smoked as he pulled out a blunt and some seedy stemy pot from somewhere. He rolled it up as I grabbed the wheel, going on about how sales changed his life, got him women, "1050 of them", and he promised to get me a ride with a trucker when he dropped me off.

We smoked most of the blunt on the way, he gave me the last bit to pocket when we pulled in. He asked a handful of truckers about getting me a ride, they all said no or they were heading the wrong way, he pointed at me in the car , I could only imagine what these truckers thought as a sales guy was trying to get a ride to some guy sitting in his car. He instead bought me a taco, he took that opportunity to con taco bell out of a taco saying they screwed up the order when we got it, "You see how I used the power of sales to get what I wanted there? It works, I'm telling you!". I ate my taco, he gave me 5 dollar bills and was off.

It was dark, raining again, I waited outside the gas station for a bit hoping for one last ride, I asked a few people who were friendly, but they were headed south. I walked out into the rain and down under a bridge where I smoked the last of the cheap blunt, cleared out some spider webs and went to sleep.

In the morning I retired my jean shorts, the hole had grown large enough that I thought it may effect the rides I could be getting. I threw on my bathing suit and also changed my shirt to the bright yellow staff shirt I got at the All Good festival, heading for the on ramp feeling slightly fresher. David was the first to pick me up, he took me about 25 miles while we talked about camping and backpacking, he gave me a camping pillow I later got rid of because of the added bulk, I've been using my shoes as my pillow which are surprisingly comfortable.

My next ride was a local truck driver, once a nationwide driver. He also took me about 25 miles, but to a pretty deserted exit with a gas station I think only he knew about. I started walking towards the next exit, a mile down I saw the sign that said "5 miles to Oakland". Bah, I walked, and walked, really expecting to get picked up before hitting the next exit. The sun beat down, I stopped a few times for swigs of water and relief from the pack on my shoulders, feebly sticking my thumb out to the cars flashing by.

When I reached the exit finally I was happy to see gas stations in the tiny town. I threw my pack off next to a man eating chicken at the table inside and went straight to the bathroom to drink as much water as I could. I bought a small pizza for about $4 and gobbled it up along with more water from the soda machine, there's few things better than ice cold water in a styrofoam cup, nothing. I eyeballed the ice cream cone picture, I gathered up my change and asked for one. The woman smiled at me and gave me a taste of one of the flavors, oreo java or some such, I think it was a Baskin Robbins. She handed me the cone and I looked to see where to pay, she just smiled and said "I got it", I smiled a goofy kid smile and uttered some kind of word that couldn't decide if it was "wow" or "thanks", a grateful sound none the less, I sat and happily ate my ice cream.

I grabbed my pack when I was done and headed out, she was out smoking a cigarette and I thanked her with actual words and talked with her a bit answering the typical questions about where I was going and why getting the typical response that I'm crazy but interesting because of it somehow. "Stay safe!" she shouted as I walked back into the sun and the road.

This in ramp was no good either despite the gas stations there, and after a while I decided to walk down the freeway again with my renewed energy. After 2 miles I got lucky, a pickup slowed for me and let me hop in the back amongst piles of steel and other junk, driven by a man and his wife. We stopped at a rest area a ways down for his wife to use the bathroom. He told me he walked 3 days down that same stretch of freeway once without getting picked up. He gave me a soda from a cooler and drove me down the road some 50 miles, they left me a legitimately busy exit feeling better and full of soda.

I got picked up fairly quickly from there, a man in a pickup who used to drive trucks for concerts, he was on his way to take a piss test for a new job driving trucks for dollar general. We swapped stories about music while he drove me just past Memphis where the 55 meets I-40 at a truck stop.

I went to the bathroom, while I was washing my hands a guy asked me where I headed, he told me him and the trucker he was riding with were headed up to ohio and then headed west the next day. Not totally sure if that was a good idea, he said if I was still around when he came back they could give me a ride. I sat down for a bit and he was back in no time, I'd already thought he was gone. Without thinking about it too much I agreed and went to the truck to meet his girlfriend and the actual truck driver, Chuck, and the three dogs riding in the truck.

We started coasting down I-40 heading East and I started wondering what I'd done. I was heading in the wrong direction and none of them seemed sure or confident that they'd actually head West for sure the next day after dropping off their load. I cleared my head and faded to sleep in the back. I thought I felt my shirt being tugged a bit and awoke, unsure if it was one of the dogs or Chuck who always had a distant happy searching look in his eye, a strange look.

I fell back asleep again in the corner of the mattress, when we reached Cincinnati at their first drop point I stretched out on the bed, Brandon and his girl slept on the top bunk and I was on the bottom with Chuck and a couple dogs, I pressed as far against the wall as I could. Throughout the night I kept feeling something on my back, unsure if it was a dog or Chucks hand, I kept shaking it off and pressing against the wall more until morning finally came.

I guess while I was sleeping the first load was unloaded, the next got unloaded in Dayton, I then decided I'd get out of the truck as soon as possible seeing as how none of them seemed to know about their next step still and we were now cruising further east on I-70, Chuck tried to put his hand on my knee a few times and scratch my back while Brandon was driving, nothing seemed right. I told them I wanted to jump out at the next big truck stop, and they stopped when we came to it, I asked if they'd jump on the CB radio and see if any other truckers would be willing to pick me up and get me back west. I grabbed my pack from the top bunk when we stopped, Chuck took that as an opportunity to quickly brush his hand against my package and I came down on him with my bag, apologizing like it was a mistake and got out of the truck.

I headed for the on ramp once again, wondering why I went so far east, but happy I was further north and not subject to molestation by a lonely trucker. For the first time since I've been hitchhiking, an 18 wheeler truck actually stopped for me on the on ramp, he was headed for Chicago so I jumped in. The single laid back trucker in his junky old rig was a great change of pace, and it would make up for the minor Ohio set back. He was a recovering crackhead who used to sell pot, coke, and crack. He used to steal and resell baby formula to support his habits, and the same with expensive maps when he became a trucker. For most of the ride he had the radio cranked way up, I liked just catching the breeze from the window and laying back.

He bought me a sandwich and chips at one stop, and he ended his day just shy of chicago in Gary, Indiana. He even tried getting on the CB and asking other truckers to give me a ride, but none responded amongst the noise of other truckers rambling about what truckers ramble about on the CB channel, so off I went.

We saw another hitchhiker walking towards the ramps when we pulled in, I'd hoped he was heading east or already caught a ride, sure enough though he was also heading west and I saw him from a distance with his bright orange shirt and giant sign I imagine said "West" or whatever else. I walked back to the truck stop with it's disjointed exits, an almost impossible hitch. The sun kept falling, I finally went back and orange shirt was gone, it actually gave me some hope that he got picked up, and I took his place. It only took me 10 or 15 minutes until an older guy picked me up. He said he was only headed 10 minutes down the road, I gladly accepted the ride though and he told me all about his hybrid car, showing me the graphic that displayed his average 55mpg he was getting, a toyota.

He dropped me at a busy looking intersection with just a hint of daylight left, I marched happily towards to entrance to the freeway only to discover orange shirt hitchhiker was already there, I'll be damned, he got dropped in the same spot I did. I laughed at my luck and walked a little ways away to wait for him assuming the sun would be completely gone by the time he got a ride, if he did. I tried waiving at him to share the laugh, I don't think he caught the waive though. Surprising, he called it quits after about 5 minutes or so and walked in the opposite direction, I never did see his face or hear his story, but I went ahead in took his place not yet ready to call it a night.

The sun got just about all the way down when a pickup truck with an old an subtly frantic man at the wheel stopped for me saying he was going just 10 miles down the road which was fine by me. He took the very first turn off though, away from I-80, we then went in circles, crosses, double backing, wrong turns, and all sorts of other driving feats while he tried to get me back when he realized he was not actually going my way. The whole time he told me stories of his hitching days, like catching a friendly ride from a cop with a half pound of pot on sweating bullets. Eventually he left me a freeway fork, he drove off to the left and I walked along the freeway going right, back on the 80.

I hurried down hoping for an exit coming up, now thinking of the small amount of pot I had an rumors of hard Chicago cops. I was happy to see nothing but nature to my right, plenty of trees, grass, and bridges going over everything providing excellent sleeping conditions, but I really just wanted to get to the next exit. It wasn't far, and it turned out to be a giant rest area that stretched over the freeway, like a floating mall solely for travelers passing by. McDonalds and Starbucks were open still, I grabbed my fix from each and found a nice little table to plug in and catch up on emails and everything else I'd neglected the past few weeks.

I found a nice grassy spot behind the trees to lay out my sleeping bag for the night, there was plenty to choose from. In the morning I cleaned up in the bathroom, a brush on the teeth and some splashes of water did the trick. I went out to the exit of the rest area feeling confident that I'd get a ride from distance travelers, but I stood there for about 2 hours until finally getting in a car.

An father of a 40 year old picked me up, amused by my stories and attitude calling me a "free spirit". He dropped me at a freeway fork not too far, I walked a couple miles to the the next exit, every step in the grass resulted in 20 odd grass hoppers flying everywhere, sometimes managing to cling to my leg for three or four steps.

The next on ramp was peaceful, a wide shoulder and good vibes. A guy about my age stopped, I was once again "the first hitchhiker I've ever picked up", he took me to Joliet, IL. I waited in that spot for a good while, I'd long stopped checking the time, but going by shadows I'd say it was between 2 or 3 hours before someone stopped. The whole time I watched work truck after work truck fly by. When I'm standing on the on ramp like that I don't expect 18 wheelers to stop for a number of reasons, I usually just waive or nod my head in respect to those who call the road home. I can claim to "live my life on the road", but truckers, the road, the concrete and everything in literal terms, that is their home, their day, their night, their life. A grandpa and his soon-to-be-trucker grand daughter picked me up, appropriately enough they dropped me off at a truck stop 40 miles up the road or so.

Once there I did what I usually do when I get to a truck stop, slowly walk in and go the bathroom. I want to give every trucker and anyone else the opportunity to see me and perhaps inquire as to my location, and perhaps offer me a ride. No luck this time, but I filled up my water bottle and walked to the on ramp headed west only to discover another hitchhiker. He didn't see me, I headed back to the truck stop thumbing rides for a little while. No luck, I headed back to the on ramp and he was still there, I saw a Chillis and thought of beer, I decided I'd grab one and wait for him to score his ride. He looked my way and we waived at each other in recognition of the hitch struggle, I had my beer and a cup a chili listening to the girl behind the bar amazed by my hitching, channeling my mother's worries.

I stepped out into the day filled with 20 odd ounces of beer and happiness, the other hitchhiker was gone, presumably riding down getting closer to his destination, I walked up to that spot hoping for the same fortune. I stood there a while, every kind of car passed, every kind of face peered at me from inside. Isolated old women whose confusion defaults to disgust, uniterested truckers, teenagers classifying me as a bum, business men who can't be bothered, bubbly 20 something girls on their phones pointiny and smiling, mexicans with nastaligic smiles and trucks to full to acomodate, and every other face that passes a hitchhiker without stopping. After an hour or two I saw someone walking up the hill towards my spot, I'll be damned it was the hitchhiker from before, he didn't get picked up afterall. "Were you he before, that's you?!" I shouted as he got closer.

"Yea!", he got right up into the shoulder with me, I kept casually thumbing to the cars passing by as I talked to him, more interested in conversation than cars that wouldn't stop, "I'm going to Seattle. It took me a day and half to get here from Boston and I've been in Illinois for a day and half now! It's crazy here! The next exit is 15 miles off, I'm gonna walk it on the side roads".

"It's brutal man, I've been trying to get out of here too. I'm gonna try another 30 minutes or so and walk it myself.", I told him.

"Brutal... yea! It is brutal!", he walked away and down the road. After 30 minutes I too walked, but I chose the freeway. I figured he feared the police or the heavy traffic as his reason for choosing the side roads, I've dealt with the cops and don't care about traffic, the shoulder of the freeway was fine by me. The traffic was heavy and steady too, every car that passes by poses another question... "Why won't they stop?", I knew alot of the answers. "He's gonna kill me", "He's gonna steal something from me", "He stinks", "He's a lunatic", "My car's full", "I'm not going far", "Why is that guy walking with a backpack?", and plenty of other legitamate or ridiculous rationales.

Eventually a car pulled into the shoulder a disatnce ahead of me, I ran and ran surprised by my own stamina, getting into the passenger side in a thin layer of sweat and slightly in need of air. I thanked him up and down and even told him they should build a statue of him in the fields here for picking me up, it's been a long day with few miles covered. Most of the time I sit back and coax stories out of people, but this ride was my turn, I told him all kinds of stories mostly from the past few weeks.

We met up with his wife and brother-in-law and he got me a burrito, a great one, and then I got dropped off further down the road at "The World's Largest Truck Stop" in Iowa. Another hitchhiker was there and the sun was going down, he gave up and I took his place. A trucker pulled into the shoulder after a little waiting, I was pumped. I hopped into the truck, a laptop was on the dash with a movie playing, Borris was the truckers name and he said he was headed all the way to San Francisco! I'd be getting to Wyoming finally.

He drove through the night, not stopping until almost 2am when we landed a little ways in Nebraska and I climbed to the top bunk and passed out. In the morning he got me a free truck stop shower and breakfast, I was clean with a full belly for the first time in a little while. At one point in the day the AC unit broke near Cheyenne, WY. It took some time out of the drive while he went around trying to fix it. Around midnight he pulled over for sleep, we were just 20 miles from where I'd jump out and I was happy to get to sleep inside again.

In the morning he bought me breakfast again, he plowed through his like he did the morning before, slamming his coffee like a free beer at a keg party. He dropped me off and I started walking up the road, just 200 miles from Jackson. I walked a good ways with very few cars passing, but I was content singing to myself enjoying the peace. After a few miles or more a pickup truck stopped, inside was a man coming from Dallas. He'd been stopping at churches the entire way getting gas money and food to sustain his trip home. He shared some food with me and most of the rum and coke he'd poured for himself. After 40 odd miles I hopped out in search of a new ride.

I walked through a small town until a local stopped and drove me to the far edge of it, from there I walked some more. There was a whole lot of nothing to my left, right, and forward, I just kept walking waiting for someone to stop, a nice couple in a pickup finally did. They drove me a good while to a gas station, I used the bathroom and started walking again. I didn't get far before another nice couple picked me up heading to and through Jackson. They left me just 7 miles from Teton Village where my folks were staying, I smiled and started walking down the road and thumbing rides without any doubt that I'd get my final ride in no time.

Luke pulled over for me, I river guide who moved to Jackson a couple years ago and loved everything about the place. He was surprised and amused when I told him I was coming from New Orleans, many locals hitch that road just to go back and forth to town. He let me out right in front of the place where my family was, I walked in and waited by the front desk, chewing on an apple while I waited to talk to someone. A guy walked through and asked if I needed help, I started to ask about what room my folks were staying in and he had apparently been told a lot about me, he even knew about, and coincidentally went to one of the same high schools I went to, I think graduated the same year as well. He pointed me to their room and I went up, my mom was coming out of the room right as I got to the hallway. Lot's of excited screaming occured on her part, I came in and caught up with everyone.

That night we went to dinner and I filled myself jam packed with chicken wings, beer, and buffalo meatloaf. Later I went and picked up a 6 pack of local beers and tried a couple before passing out on a bed for the first time in months.

I imagine I'll stay another day or so and then have to start the hitch through Canada and on to Alaska for the Couch Surfing collective. It feels good to be in Jackson for now, a beautiful spot, I'll enjoy it while I'm here.