Wyoming to NYC, Part 1 - Another Hitchhiker and the Trampoline Bust

I woke up just before the sun came up in Wyoming, a shower started my day, I wasn't sure when and in what town my next one would be. My mom woke early too, she gave me a three hour ride to Shoshoni, WY where I'd start hitchhiking from, I was eastbound on my way to New York City. It had now become a tradition to get to the city in time for Nathans Hotdog Eating Contest which was on the 4th of July, it was June 22nd this day, plenty of time.

I got picked up by a drill operator heading to his home in Casper, he told me about drilling mile deep holes and the abundant amount of oil in the area. We stopped in something that might have been a town, just a few buildings surrounded by miles and miles of prairie desert, he was looking for a post office. We stepped into the tavern to ask, no post office though. He got himself a jager bomb and me a shot of tequila, we fired them down and headed back to the car.

We stopped again at the next thing that looked like a town, this time going into a little shop. He picked up a six pack of beer and inquired about a certain type of hot sauce, they didn't have it in stock though. The shop keeper had some sort of skin disease his entire face and neck was covered in in bumps, it looked like a pot of boiling water frozen in time.

We kept on towards Casper while kicking back a couple beers. He was excited to get back, as he'd soon be driving down to Colorado to link up with his daughter and catch a flight to Orlando for some vacation. We got to the outskirts of Casper and rolled into a parking lot and up to a drive thru at a bar. He asked for a couple shots, but they wouldn't serve them at the window, this bewildered him. He told the ladies to pour them up and we'd just come inside.

After a couple more shots inside we got to driving again, he said he'd drop me off on I-25, the road that headed north and on to I-90 that would keep getting me east. We drove down one street which reminded him of a time he outran the police, or tried to, "You gotta make 'em work for it, you know?". After some twisting through back roads we emerged again on the freeway, he drove me a few exits up and let me out.

A guy named Tony picked me up next, an ex-meth head who worked on oil rigs and fixed computers in his spare time. He got me pretty far to a town called Gillette up on I-90, still in Wyoming, he dropped me off at a Flying J truck stop he said his daughter worked at.

I walked to the onramp and got picked up by a spiritual guy cruising for New Jersey, this was his ultimate destination, but he was giving himself weeks to get there. Along the way he had lectures to give and places to explore, he was heading for a national park or some sort of landmark at the moment. We pulled off the freeway for him to drop me off, there was another hitchhiker thumbing the desolate ramp. "Looks like you've got some competition", said the spiritual guy as he let me out, he also gave me some seed packets in which to plant, "anywhere, they'll grow anywhere!".

I walked towards my fellow hitchhiker, "Hey, where ya heading?", I asked him.

"Maine", he told me, "I'm coming from LA".

"Cool, I'm just gonna walk up the ramp to the main freeway so you can keep this spot, I'm heading to New York City myself."

"Ah, OK, up the ramp... maybe that's the thing to do, I worry about cops though".

I paused and talked to him just a bit more, briefly explaining that the cops are a fairly frequent occurrence, but rarely is it too big of a deal, as long as you don't have a warrant. I waived goodbye to him, happy to be getting to the main flow of traffic instead of the few cars every so often getting on the ramp. It was those few cars that would win out though; half an hour later a pickup truck pulled into the shoulder to pick me up, Aldo was in the passenger seat, this was my fellow hitchhiker's name.

The guy driving was going just a ways, he had a screw the police sort of mentality and all together it felt like the three of us were on the lamb. I got to hear more of Aldo's story and he heard mine. He'd hitched from Maine to Los Angeles a month or so back, bummed around, found plenty a party on the way and was now returning in time for the 4th of July, same deadline as me. 

We got dropped off at an exit surrounded by trees and nothing else, our driver told us there were mines nearby and the workers were constantly coming and going. I stood talking with Aldo a few more minutes, curious how his trip had been from LA to here, where he'd spent his night, what kind of rides he'd gotten and so forth. It turned out the same spiritual guy who'd dropped me off at that spot had given him a ride there as well we figured out, I was surprised the guy hadn't mentioned anything, only that line, "looks like you have some competition". I again parted ways with Aldo, opting to walk down to the freeway while he took control of the lonely on ramp, no cars had passed while we were talking.

I walked a good ways while thumbing cars, there wasn't much to be seen in the distance ahead, sometimes I just like to walk anyhow. After a good while a car pulled into the shoulder, a tattooed woman in the driver seat, and Aldo again in the passenger seat. The woman was a miner going to pick up her daughter in Spearfish, the three of us talked, the woman joked that we were runaways or some such, especially Aldo who said he was 21 years old.

It was a good ride, a small dog bounced around the backseat and we cruised forward. She dropped us off after exiting the freeway, as we got out another car slowed and stopped. She drove off after we thanked her and the guy from the other car asked where we were going, he said he could get us as far as Sturgis and we hopped in.

The guy used to hitchhike growing up, he seemed really happy to have found us, listening to the stories we told him with excitement and nostalgia. He offered us some pot too, smoking us out as we cruised. We at last got close to Sturgis, he asked when we'd last ate anything, "You want a burger or something?", we were both starving.

We rolled off the freeway and into a strip mall and went inside a buffet place, "I gotta get going, but I'll set you guys up", he paid for us to eat there and took off. Aldo looked confused, "What's going on?", slightly stoned and probably tuned out from riding in the backseat with the windows open.

"Dude got us a buffet man, load up!", he was stunned and happy, we both piled up our plates and chowed, plate after plate of pizza and pasta and chicken and whatnot, sodas and waters in big cups. We at last filled up entirely and decided to get back to the road. The sun was dwindling at best, the sky was ominous as it had been most of the day, threats of storms that didn't seem to hit. Yet again, I left him at the bottom of the ramp and headed up to the flow of traffic along the freeway. "Maybe I'll see you again!", I shouted as I walked on.

I started walking and soon felt the storm was really coming, I'd feel a loose drop of rain every now and again and walk faster, the storm was chasing me. Before getting dumped on entirely, I was picked up by a woman, but she was just going to the very next exit. She pulled off the freeway and let me off underneath the overpass telling me that the storms usually passed quickly. It started pummeling down, wind blowing water in all directions, but in half an hour it had settled to a light drizzle. The sun was all but gone, I made my move back towards the road.

As I walked up the on ramp, now with a rain jacket on, a car stopped. A pretty girl from NAU was driving, the big school in Flagstaff, Arizona. I was somewhat surprised, it's rare to get picked up by a younger girl by herself, let alone the fact that she couldn't have possibly seen my face or anything else with my hood up and all. She said she'd picked me up for company during the storm, she didn't like driving at all in these conditions.

She was friendly and fun to talk to, that was no surprise given her trust to pick up a shadowy figure sight unseen. We talked all the way to Rapid City, she told how she was a sponsored snowboarder, working in the city during the summer, but excited to get back to Flagstaff.

She left me at a gas station, I continued on to the road and got to walking again. It was mostly dark now, but a van with one headlight soon stopped to pick me up. There were three people my age inside, a guy driving, his girlfriend and their friend in the back. They were friendly and said they'd picked up hitchhikers often. I told them where I'd been and where I was heading, they then offered to let me stay at their place for the night, I gladly accepted given the wet alternative on the side of the road. 

Their house was just east of Rapid City, the guy driving lived with his parents. It seemed to be a flop house of sorts, they often had friends crashing their for extended periods of time, and hitchhikers too here and again, some had stayed for months helping in the mechanic shop they had behind the house. They told me about all the classic cars they had, in the morning I'd get a look at some of them.

They heated up a huge tray of lasagna telling me to eat up, "If you leave hungry it's your own damn fault", laughed the dad. He was interesting to talk to, a big guy with a hippie tone of voice and stories from Woodstock to back it all up. They were packing the pipe the minute I walked in and remained lit fairly consistently.

The guys who'd picked me up had to take off into the night for one errand or another, I stayed talking to the parents about festivals, their mechanics and the area. They told me about all the wild storms that had been passing through, "It's been like this just about every night for weeks, so much rain. It's good though, it's green in places where we didn't even know we had places!"

There was an extra bedroom for me to crash out in, it was nice to get some good sleep. In the morning I was up before most, fixing myself a bowl of cereal as they'd told me to do the night before. Slowly the rest woke up and were just about to get going with their days. We took a quick look at some of the classic cars in the back, then were off to Rapid City where they were going to try and sell some old car parts. The idea was to sell those and get some oxycontins, of which they'd give me some, then drop me off in a good spot to get a ride. I wasn't as much interested in the drug, I'd never done it before, but tagged along.

They weren't able to sell their parts right away and dropped me off as is at the closest truck stop. I went to the on ramp to the freeway and was picked up by two guys in a pickup, Mark and Smurf. Smurf had a tattoo, of a Smurf of course, "I bet you've never met anyone named Smurf", I hadn't. They had an extra fastfood burger they shared with me, I munched on it while they explained South Dakota to me.

"Most people here got stuck here, you get busted here, you go to jail here, then you gotta live here. That's how they keep their numbers up. Happened to me, happened to both of us". Drugs were the reason at least one of them was stuck there, a trace amount of cocaine he was caught with. The driver, Mark, had hitchhiked a decent amount, this was the reason he said they'd picked me up.

They smoked me out and dropped me off about 45 minutes further east. Next I got a ride from a guy going towards Sioux Falls for business. He spent a good amount of time making his phone calls, I caught small naps during his calls and talked with him in between. From where he dropped me off I got a 2 mile ride from a guy who's brother used to hitchhike, so he said he'd always stop and pick someone up.

A work van was my next ride, two guys going to fix up some houses. They changed up their route a bit so they could take me a little further. I sat on a cooler in the back while he told me about the area and days when they used to hitchhike. They dropped me off in a place called Blue Earth.

I waited there for some time, enjoying the time right before sunset with nothing but road and fields to be seen otherwise. A big rig truck pulled into the shoulder far ahead and I dashed for it, the guy was going just past Austin, Minnesota - the town I wanted to be at. I'd gotten on couchsurfing a few days before guessing I may end up around there one night, I guessed right, so I had a place to stay.

The trucker described himself as "the last outlaw trucker", cruising around this region and Minnesota. It was just an hour or so to Austin, he told me about the earlier years of trucking, buying toothpicks covered in speed and going cross country like it was nothing. "Times have changed", he told me, I'd heard from many of the older truck drivers. More regulations, slower seasons, more competition and everything else.

He dropped me in an arbitrary spot in Austin, I hadn't managed to get in contact with my host in town, but figured I may as well get out there and give it a shot. I munched on some salami I had in my bag, it was still good, I was hungry, waiting on a phone call. It was dark now, I walked down to the freeway to find a place to camp for the night, that or get a last chance ride, maybe even get that phone call.

I did get the phone call, turns out my host was so close he could see me from his window. I had to hop the fence between the freeway and the neighborhood, then I met up with him and his young son. "I hope you don't mind", he told me, "but I wasn't expecting you for another day or so, I've got my kids tonight, and I don't really mind, but if my wife were to know about this it wouldn't fly to well, so you'll have to sleep outside", he'd mentioned this on the phone too, I didn't mind a bit.

I told him I had a good sleeping bag and all, as we walked up to his condo on the lake he saw the trampoline and said, "hey, you could even sleep on that if you want, it'll keep you dryer and off the ground", sounded great to me. We headed upstairs to his unit, I met his daughter there too, he heated up some soup for me and I threw a loose beer from my pack into the freezer.

We talked for a while, a lot about his travels in Mexico and my travels around. Soon he gave me some extra blankets, "No one should bother you, there's only the neighbor downstairs, but he's a long haired hippie named Mick, he's cool". I got comfy and went to sleep under the Minnesota sky, it was my first time in the state.

The morning came, I woke to a voice, "Hey. What are you doing right here?", the calm and inquisitive voice of a police officer, his partner in tow.

"I was sleeping...", I replied, "I'm staying with my friend Ned", I pointed towards the condo. I saw a long haired man coming popping along behind them, this must be Mick I thought, perhaps an angry hippie, I realized what was happening and rolled with it.

Mick started going off, "I wake up, and this guy...", pumping his finger at me, but not looking at me, "is on my trampoline, I have grand daughters to worry about!".

I smiled gently, "this must be Mick", I said it out loud, I don't think anyone heard me or paid much attention. The officer asked to look at my ID, explaining to Mick that I'd claimed to know Ned on the top floor. Just then Ned popped his head out the window, the commotion must have woken him up.

"Welcome to Minnesota!", he laughed out the window. I smiled back up at him, some more police arrived. The woman cop, joked with me, "I wanted to jump up on here to wake you up, it would be fun!", it seemed everyone realized the ridiculousness of the whole thing, except for Mick, he was still fuming. Another cop joked, "that's Austin for you, send the whole force to see a guy sleeping on a trampoline".

Ned came down and things were quickly cleared up, the cops left, Ned and Mick had a few words, nothing too bad, and that was that. Upstairs I got a coffee and a shower, then Ned drove me the short way to the truck stop for an early start to another day of hitchhiking, the next stretch to New York City.