Hitchhiking to Nashville and Asheville

Leaving town I had several things on my mind. I was off to link up with a girl I'd never met to travel somewhere undecided after I could track her down somewhere on the east coast. Between Indiana and there I was fairly certain I wanted to see Asheville, North Carolina, which left several days of travel and possibility. Further down the road there was now a growing possibility of some extended bouncing around with Marilyn, my lady friend who was contemplating the ditching or pausing of her nursing job in Bloomington, the town which I was now walking out of with threats of a coming thunderstorm in the sky.

I got to the edge of town and things seemed to start well as two cars pulled over at virtually the same time looking to give me a ride. I gave precedent to the one who'd slightly edged out the other and my trip began.

He didn't get me all that far, but at least I was moving. A younger guy got me out to the Crane entrance, sharing a bag of fried chicken livers with me. Next was a young couple that got me to the start of Interstate 69. I walked along that freeway until a Crane employee picked me up, a guy who built energy solutions for weaponry. He got me a big fast food meal before leaving me out further up the freeway holding a comically large soda cup to go along with the feast.

I managed to get under an overpass by the time the rain got heavy, once it died down I kept on walking until getting a ride in a van with a Russian guy. He seemed confused when I told him how long I'd been hitchhiking around. "You're not a normal hitchhiker", he said, "I thought you were just a regular guy". He didn't think people hitchhiked unless they were beat up, down and out, or had to in a pinch after running out of gas.

He took me to McDonalds for a bite to eat while showing me a slew of pictures on his computer of Russia. He took me just a little bit further afterwards, now in the dark. I walked a good ways that night, eight or nine miles along the side of the freeway where it's difficult to be seen and therefore less likely to get a ride.

I walked all the way to jumble of freeways intersecting at a junction until I found a spot to duck down off the freeway and into the woods where I could camp for the night.

I got to walking in the morning, catching a ride into Kentucky just a little ways right away. Next I was picked up by a guy who worked for the CSX railroad who was heading south, he said he 'd be passing through Nashville and I decided I'd stop there for the day. Marilyn had some friends there and I figured she'd be able to set me up with a place to stay.

I wandered the city exploring a bit, a bite to eat here, a beer over there a seat by the water for a while. As it got closer to night I walked over to a sports bar to watch the first half of the basketball game. It was a sad scene in the little spot, but I did get word from Marilyn that she had a friend who was getting off work round about midnight that I could stay with.

I headed to anther pub for the second half that was equally as empty, but somehow less depressing. When the game was over I went to seek out a late night munchie spot where I chowed down, but still hadn't heard back from Mike, the guy Marilyn had put me in touch with. I decided I'd just walk to the club where he was working and wait until he got off work.

It was a bit of a ways away, so I got right to it. After just a bit of walking a car rolled up alongside me with the window down.

"Hey! Are you homeless?", the guy asked.

"More or less", I decided, staring through at him with my backpack on my shoulders.

"You need a ride, you wanna hang out?", he asked.

I studied his face and tone momentarily, he was a dark skinned guy probably about forty years old, and although it seemed strange that he'd stop by me here in the middle of the night on the dying streets of Nashville, I couldn't see any harmful intention in him, plus the thought saving myself some walking seemed pretty enticing.

I hopped in and we got moving. He could tell I was still slightly processing the situation, if not borderline suspicious. "I'm good people, man, don't worry", he assured me, and I felt assured. I explained to him about the club I was trying to get to and my general traveling around and so forth.

"You wanna head back to my place and drink some beers?", he asked me, "I've got a couch too", he added. I thought about it for a minute. I still hadn't heard back from Mike and wasn't entirely sure that he'd come through. If I got dropped off at the club and he was gone then I'd be on my own looking for a place to camp in the middle of the city in the middle of the night.

"Sure, why not?", I told him. I kept telling him about my travels and thanking him, telling him how he was an example of the sort of unexpected fortune I'd found on the road that kept it running so interesting. We started to pull into the parking lot of a gas station to grab some beers and he hesitated.

"I think we're looking for two different things", he admitted, "I'm gay, man".

"Ah OK", I realized, "Usually I pick up on that. Thanks for not letting it get too far", I said, thankful this hadn't been revealed awkwardly on said couch at his place.

"Yeah man, I don't put my business out there", he responded to my lack of picking up on what was happening. He instead drove me to the club, telling me how he'd do this kind of late night cruising quite a bit with a pretty high success rate of finding guys to come home with him.

I thanked him for the ride and hopped out at the club where it seemed the music was done. It wasn't long until a guy popped out and got on his phone just as my phone started ringing, there was Mike. I hopped in the car and we cruised up to a town just north of Nashville where he lived. We talked for a little while, but pretty quickly went to sleep in the late night.

After some espresso and more talk in the morning after sleeping in Mike gave me a ride back to the road, I was now focused on getting to Asheville in North Carolina. A painter gave me a ride to the next town over where I hopped out and started walking along the narrow country road. A pickup truck paused just quickly enough for me to jump in the back, then paused again once there was room to pull over so I could hop up front. He was a friendly guy and gave me a cheeseburger before dropping me off at the interstate up the road.

A ride came from a guy going Carthage, then another ride in the back of a pickup truck and a third ride from a big guy in overalls heading to Cookeville for an art class. I walked alongside the interstate from there. I'd been walking backwards mostly to face traffic with my thumb out, at one point I turned around to see a car pulled into the shoulder and ran a far ways up to it. I arrived alongside it to find it was empty and tagged up by the police, just an abandoned car that had fooled me. That same car got me my next ride, however, a Vietnamese guy picked me up shortly who had been fooled by it as well, thinking it was my broke down car that now had me walking.

He got me to the next town, still in Tennessee and now in the dark. I took a break inside a fast food restaurant, looking up at the TV that was talking all about the big storm that was coming through. I quickly made myself back towards the freeway, standing under the streetlight for a while hoping for another ride. Nothing panned out right away, so I got to walking so I could find a place to camp before the rain came in.

I nestled up in the woods just off the freeway just above a little stream and set up my bivy sack tent. The rain did come and it came in pretty fierce. I got through the night, but by morning I was pretty wet, I apparently hadn't set up to well. When there was a break in the rain I got packed up and emerged onto the side of the misty freeway once more.

I walked for a good while until a car finally stopped, a guy let me hopped in and passed me a joint, but he was only going a few miles up the road. I walked for a couple hours after that through the cold misty day. At one point I passed four poorly dressed Mexican guys walking the opposite way asking how far it was to the next town. I had no idea what kind of mission they were on, but they had a ways to go and were walking on the wrong side of the freeway to have any hopes of catching a ride in the right direction.

At last I got picked up by a young guy who was a janitor somewhere in the last town, he too rolled up a blunt to ease my travel day. He drove me just a little extra way out of his way to get me past another busy junction. I waited at an onramp until a cool couple picked me up with a daughter about my age in the backseat. They were all talkative and friendly, from California and pretty well traveled.

They got me just east of Knoxville where I got picked up quickly by a timeshare salesman who took me a short distance, then another short ride got me to Newport, fairly close to the North Carolina border with an hour or so until sunset.

I could see another hitchhiker waiting on the onramp, so I walked straight down to the freeway from the off ramp, deciding to try my luck down there rather than waiting on him to get a ride. A mile or so of walking and there was now a car pulling over with that very hitchhiker in the backseat, a guy up front and an energetic girl in the passenger seat.

"We're just out fucking around!", was there response when I asked where they were headed. They bantered back in forth in playful arguments within apparent new loving between them. The hitchhiker in the back said he'd been traveling ten years and was now heading to Greensboro, coming from the west coast.

The two up front blasted music, passed an emptying liquor bottle and kept jabbering on, saying they were up for driving a ways, just had no gas money. The hitchhiker indicated he could help with some gas money.

They responded, "If you give us maybe fifteen bucks we'll drive as far as we can, until the needle goes halfway". The hitchhiker was cool with that and we stopped at the next gas station, at which point they'd further negotiated that part of that cash would go towards some form of beer as well.

"Don't drive off on me now!", pleaded the hitchhiker as he hopped out of the car. The couple laughed and the girl went along with him, leaving me alone with the guy driving.

"This girl's crazy! I gotta get outta this!", he laughed, still serious, telling about how he'd just met the girl and so forth. She returned with the hitchhiker and we got cruising. He started driving at hefty speeds, weaving between cars and the like. The hitchhiker next to me was noticeably stressed and telling him to slow down, his lady friend was saying the same, but this just seemed to entertain him and promote more risky moves. I just kept my eyes on the road, knowing that somehow my attention would meld into his and increase our chances of survival.

All the same it seemed like Asheville was now our destination, not only the furthest we could get on the gas, but they also seemed to have an uncle or somebody with an apartment. They offered both of us the place to stay for the night to get showered up an so forth. The hitchhiker tentatively jumped on it, knowing it would be nice to sleep inside and get cleaned up, but also aware of the momentum of the couple's wildness.

I'd gotten in touch with a girl in town via couchsurfing.org, so I declined the offer. Somehow we made it, even after some looping around and confusion. I hopped out thanking them, extremely grateful that I'd made it there right on sunset. I called Blythe right away, the couchsurfing host I'd been in touch with, leaving her a message when she didn't pick up.

I then started walking towards the Wedge, a brewery that she'd mentioned in her initial message that she said was close by to her house. I figured I could grab a beer there until she got back to me and I'd at least be near.

I grabbed myself an Oatmeal Stout and started nursing it in the tight little space near the bar, a few dozen people inside and out near heat lamps.

Halfway through my second beer I started considering my other options for sleeping, it was getting later and I still hadn't heard back from Blythe. After some time looking at a map I struck up a conversation with the friendliest face in earshot, asking if he knew of any twenty four hour coffee shops or otherwise in town. He didn't know of anything. It was obvious I was a traveler, he asked me how I'd heard about the Wedge, it was kind of off the beaten path after all. I told him about the couchsurfer Blythe and how she'd said it was close by, how I hadn't heard from her quite yet.

"If you don't hear from here then you can stay with me, I live in an artist warehouse, there's plenty of space", he offered. We both got another beer and chatted some more until our glasses were empty and my phone still hadn't rung.

I hopped into his car, grateful for yet another dose of travel magic, heading across town to his place. It was indeed a warehouse, home to several artists of different styles who lived or just worked there in the space. Right away I hung up my soaked sleeping bag and other gear, then got to drinking a few more beers and hanging out, meeting a few other people who lived there.

Sure enough, after having settled in nicely, I got a call from Blythe. She was apologetic, her phone had died or some such, she said I was free to come on over. We decided I'd just come over the next day, being that it was late and I was all set up where I was.

I slept like a rock on a coach in the main wide open space, now eager to explore Asheville before heading south to track down that girl I hadn't met yet. For sure there was much to see and new adventures to be revealed shortly.

April 16, 2013 to April 20, 2013