Hitchhiking to the 2014 North American Hitch Gathering

I went to the first annual North American Hitch Gathering in 2010, there was a grand total of four of who went camping in the woods just outside of Boulder, Colorado. Nothing like the European gatherings which boasted numbers around a hundred or more, but this year, 2014, was supposed to have a little better of a turn out.

A week or so before that was set to kick off, near Yuba City, I was already in California just coming off a few days of hiking a trail into Yosemite with Marilyn.

We walked off the trail to the road and hitched our first ride from someone in the park. The next ride came from a guy and a woman who'd just driven up from LA, they dropped us off at the lookout to Half Dome where they took a selfie of themselves and it seemed like they were turning right back around to LA, kind of a long drive for one picture, but that's there story.

A professor from Berkley gave us our next ride into the valley and dropped us off near a big waterfall. At least it was supposed to be a waterfall, with the draught going on in was pretty underwhelming mist at best.

Marilyn and I wandered back towards the road, pondering our next move, our route towards Grass Valley and the coming gathering.

Back on the little park road we coincidentally got picked up by the professor again, he got us towards the Yosemite exit.

We got picked up there by a retired Australian couple, they were heading for Merced. While we'd originally been thinking we'd head north, Marilyn was set on finding a motel for the night and Merced was bound to be cheaper in this regard. She hopped on her phone and started working her motel magic as we headed that way with the couple.

They dropped us off at a Motel 6, which ended up being the wrong one, but some sweet talking and a few minutes later we landed a discount and a key to a room for the night. Showers, beer, pizza, all the good stuff, settled for the night.

In the morning we unfolded our pizza box and scribbled "Turlock" on it, the next town up. With no hurry or definitive destination for the day we figured we'd go check out Dust Bowl Brewery there. We hitched a ride on the road from a pepper salesman who took us straight to the brewery.

We had a delicious pint or two there and had shuffleboard on our minds. We tracked down a place in town that supposedly had a board, but it was closed. The next closest place was in Modesto, the next town up, so we headed to the highway to hitch a ride.

Surprisingly it was a big unmarked passenger bus that pulled over at the sight of our thumbs, maybe Greyhound. "Sacramento?", the driver asked.

"Sacramento!", I confirmed, figuring we might as well get the miles north.

"Modesto!", he replied. OK then. Not totally sure what we were in for, we stared rolling north, but sure enough he pulled over in Modesto and let us out, the other passengers completely unfazed.

Modesto was fine, we started walking towards the bar we'd heard had a shuffleboard table. The day was getting late, but we'd figure out our camping situation or otherwise in time.

We stepped into the dark bar some miles later, a fair sized place with a girl behind the bar and just a few stools occupied. We immediately piqued their interest, clearly there weren't too many unfamiliar faces coming through, particularly not hauling backpacks in.

We grabbed a couple pints and answered the curious questions coming from the bartender and the locals, then we got some pucks so I could start putting the smack down on Marilyn, all while still chatting intermittently with the bartender.

Next thing we knew she was getting off the phone, "So I just called Tom, he does this 'Warm Showers' thing where he's always hosting travelers, he's coming over now!"

I knew of Warm Showers, it was a bit like Couchsurfing.com where people hosted travelers, except it was geared toward cyclists.

Sure enough friendly Tom rolled in, happy to meet us, he grabbed himself a pint and offered to bring us back after we finished our game, his backyard awaited our tent for the night.

After I crushed Marilyn's hopes and dreams on the shuffleboard table we hopped in Tom's truck and headed back to his place. We set up the tent and then joined him in the living room, chatting about travels, biking and good times, even enjoyed some cobbler for a while before calling it a night.

After some coffee and chatting in the morning Tom gave us a ride just outside of town. By this point we'd decided to head towards San Mateo to visit a couple of Marilyn's friends, being that we still had several days until the gathering started.

We got one ride from a jewelry salesman from Afghanistan, he was heading for San Jose and changed his route slightly in order to get us closer to San Mateo. Where he dropped us off we started walking along the highway, but were quickly picked up by highway patrol, as technically you're not supposed to walk on interstates in California. It worked out well, though, as he gave us a ride close enough to where we could just walk to Marilyn's friends' place.

We spent the night and the next couple days there, drinking some good beers and grilling by their apartment building's pool. We made one stop to a pub called the Swingin' Door where I had what is claimed to be the spiciest burger in the world, it was indeed spicy, but delicious. Life's a fragile thing, one minute you're chewing on a burger, the next you're dead meat, but I survived this one and apparently my photo is on the wall there now.

We hit the road, now ready to head up and out. Our thumbs yielded us a ride up to Berkley from an interesting guy, he used to sell weed to Willie Nelson and hang with the Grateful Dead back in the day.

Since he was heading to Berkeley we had him drop us off near the Torpedo Room, Sierra Nevada's little taproom where a friend of mine works. He happened to be there and we popped in for some samples before hiking back to the highway entrance.

We scored a ride there to Vaccaville, but that's where we ended up getting caught up for the night. We tried hitching out, but it got dark on us before we managed a ride. Luckily, we were close to a brewery.

We popped in for a couple pints, meanwhile Marilyn worked some magic and found us a responsive couchsurfing host at the very last minute. We didn't get to know him that well, but he happily scooped us up and let us crash out in an empty room for the night.

We hit the ramp to the highway in the morning, ready to continue on. At this point our plans were about to split for a couple days. I'd gotten word from my friend in Sacramento about his plans to drive to Oakland for the A's game, a day of tailgating, baseball and trips to various beer bars. Marilyn had sort of worn out her welcome in Sacramento, so I'd be going on this excursion on my own while continued straight on towards Grass Valley and Yuba City for the gathering.

We scored a great ride from a guy going straight through Sacramento, he was able to drop me off in the suburbs at my friend's place and continue on with Marilyn eastbound a bit. I hopped out, I'd see her next at the gathering.

The next day a group of us piled into a car equipped with beer, hot dogs, donuts - all the essentials. In no time we were pulling into San Francisco hitting a couple beer bars, first Zeitgeist and next Toronado, soon after back across to Beer Revolution before winding up in the parking lot ready for the game. Some tailgating, the game itself, then a slightly slower ride back to Sacramento.

With that good time out of the way, the next morning I was ready to continue on up to the gathering. My friend gave me a great head start by getting me over to Auburn where I needed only to head north.

I hitched a ride in no time, a hash maker heading to Grass Valley. We stopped at her dad's place briefly on the way for a smoke, then she started driving me up to to Nevada City. Sure enough as we got to the little town I spotted Marilyn walking by, I thanked my driver friend and jumped out to meet back up with Marilyn.

She'd spent the last couple nights there down by the river where the gathering was. We grabbed some food and beer and then thumbed out to get back there. We got a ride to this rainbow market first, then a second ride from someone heading to the river themselves.

Marilyn lead the way, to get to the gathering spot involved some dipping under the bridge, down a steep grade and some boulder hopping until we got to a dark rock, so the directions said, but she'd already been there so knew where we were going.

We came upon the small group of hitchhikers, clinging to shade at the moment. One guy I recognized from messages, but had never met, then there was a girl I'd couch surfed with in San Diego along with a few of her friends, and a few other people altogether.

There was a great swimming hole to splash around in and jump to from the cliff, it really was a great spot. The whole thing was pretty laid back really. We spent the night and the next day chatting about hitchhiking of course, swimming, made a trip to town and back and generally relaxed. Compared to the European Gatherings it was a bit more like a camping trip, but still good fun.

After a couple nights camped there by the river Marilyn and I had to get back going on the road, more adventures awaited, north and eastbound towards Michigan and points between, points beyond. Always moving.

August 2, 2014 to August 12, 2014