Hitching through the Midwest for New Orleans Debauchery

"Are your feet ticklish?"

"Not really," I replied with intentional disinterest; there's really nowhere positive this parting question could lead to. The old man sighed and drove off; I'd only needed to hitch two short rides from Pittsburgh to get where I was and he'd been the second of those rides.

I switched gears to my excitement for the brewery; my timing was good as I was arriving nearby just as the tap room was opening for the day. If there's two things I do more than the average person it's hitchhike and visit breweries -- "Hitchhiker Brewery" was a must-visit.

The day before I'd caught a bus from New York City to Pittsburgh where I spent just a night with a guy who'd hosted me through Couchsurfing in the past. I'd gotten the ticket more than a month in advance for only $1 through Mega Bus not even knowing if I'd use it, just knowing I'd be in NYC for a wedding and this would be one possible exit strategy after.

My overall plans now were loose, but my idea was to later hitch on towards Michigan and south from there visiting friends; all of this would eventually lead to a very rainy New Orleans Halloween night for a psychedelic black out.

First through, on to try all the beers and chat up the bartender who was surprised that I actually hitchhiked there. The owners popped through briefly and she was quick to tell them that I'd infact hitchhiked to Hitchhiker Brewery. Their reaction was a disappointment.

"Oh my God, really? People still do that, isn't it dangerous?"

This is the same line I hear from a lot of people, but not what I was expecting from people who'd name their brewery "Hitchhiker".

"It just sounded like a good 'community' name," they told me.

Suddenly the beer tasted thinner. They named their brewery after something they neither understood or respected, and didn't hang around to hear about it from someone who'd done it not only a whole lot, but explicitly to honor their brewery in this moment. Maybe I'd check back in years down the road and see if they'd wised up.

I walked to another bar for some different beers, then "dangerously" hitchhiked another ride out of town before dark.

I woke up well rested having camped up on a berm away from the road, but still in the general Pittsburgh metro area. I got a couple short rides amidst heavy rain that got me moving, but it was a girl named Rachel fresh back from teaching in Spain that got me into Michigan to Ann Arbor. I joined her for a beer at a bar where she was surprising a group of friends; they had no idea she was back in the country until we were sitting next to them.

I walked through town before getting the ride I was looking for; a guy heading to his cabin changed his route just slightly in order to drop me off in Lansing where my friend Luke was living. I'd met Luke some years earlier in Vegas, I'd also house-sat for him there one cold January where I did nothing but write, drink whiskey and eat chili.

I spent a little over a week there, partially house-sitting again for just a few days when he had to leave town, but mostly hanging out and running around Lansing.

From there I was distinctly pointing my thumb towards New Orleans, but now figured to put St Louis and Memphis on my path to see some friends. I only got a few rides hitching out of Lansing, landing at a diner just after dark less than an hour's drive north of Indianapolis.

I managed to find a Couchsurfing host in Indy for the following day, which turned out to be a pretty good move. After a night camping next to the highway it was good to meet someone eager to show me around the city; he took me to not only some great food and hiking spots, but to several great breweries. After a couple days of this I felt like I had a new friend there, and this would prove true over the coming months and years.

I hitched a few rides into Saint Louis from there, landing in the suburbs after hopping out of an eighteen wheeler driven by a couple Serbians who'd scooped me up earlier. This visit was short and sweet, simply about beer and football with some friends and acquaintances in the city.

I hitched a few easy rides down to Memphis next, surprising my friend Nick with a phone call that I'd come to the city. While I waited to meet up with him a guy on the street struck up a conversation with me, a gold toothed man from Atlanta who noticed I was traveling.

"If you need to make money," he told me, "then you need to start hitting up places."

"Like shoplifting?" I asked.

"No man, nah, like massage parlors. They usually have eight grand on hand."

We chatted for a while about more entrepreneurial endeavors, but eventually I met up with Nick to kick off several days of what we normally get into when together: fried chicken, bbq and donuts.

While still in Memphis I got word from James, a guy I'd met in Georgia who at the time was making outdoor gear, that he was down for me to swing back through Augusta and tackle my BivyPack project. I now had a new destination, but this would have to wait until after New Orleans.

Again I had an easy day of hitching, a couple short rides and then a quiet guy heading down to the city for the Saints/Giants game the coming Sunday.

I quickly caught up with my friend Heather and the drinks and amazing food ensued -- always a sure thing in New Orleans. The following day was Halloween, which began with shots of tequila and debate over costumes. Mine was simple: shaving chunks out of my beard and dying it black attempting some sort of spider-person look. Heather and her boyfriend saw it was going to rain and decided to dress as synchronized swimmers.

The shots and drinks continued to flow, from her house and out into the city from one house party and on to the next. It was there standing in someone's kitchen where I was offered a tab of acid, then only shortly after someone else extended a handful of mushrooms.

Either of these on their own, or even together really, would have been fine. It was the solid day of heavy drinking that proceeded (and continued) in conjunction that would prove to be new ground for me.

I distinctly recall leaving the party and moving on towards Frenchmen street; Heather and her boyfriend performed a synchronized dance on the street in their bathing suits as a crowd cheered them on. The rain slammed down in electric-rainbow fashion as the psychedelics were now taking hold. This was right around where my memory dropped off.

Suddenly I was on the side of a highway. Still dark, still raining, but I felt as if I'd just come back online. I was unsure how I got there or exactly how much time had passed, and besides the traffic rushing by me I was on my own.

Attempts to look at my phone to get a GPS read were useless given the rain and still present psychedelic state that always seems to render the screen of a phone unreadable.

A car was pulled off already into the shoulder of the highway, out of instinct I hopped in the backseat. The driver was not happy about this. He was too nervous and perhaps afraid to be angry or aggressive, but in any event I got the message and got out of his car.

Another car ahead was also pulled into the shoulder amidst the downpour, I hopped into the front seat there as well. He didn't seem to mind at all; his car had broken down and he was waiting for help. I jumped out again and started directing traffic to the side, inexplicably and unnecessarily. After several minutes of this useless exercise I continued walking, getting to the next exit and off the highway hoping to get my bearings. My phone was still wet and I was still not capable of using it.

Amazingly, two guys right then pulled over for me and I hopped in their backseat. I told them I was traveling and so forth and even told them about the night's debauchery, eventually just handing them my phone explaining that my friend's address was marked on their somewhere. They were slightly buzzed as well from the night, happy to rabble back and forth with me as we drove towards Heather's place, where I was unsure if I'd even be able to get in at this hour - the night would soon be turning to day.

Luckily as we arrived there was someone on the stoop and inside everyone was still awake (the cocaine monster had paid a visit). I whirled in to hoot and hollers and "there he is!" as I scrambled to find my pot, exiting just as quickly as I'd come back to go sit back in the car with the two guys and smoke them out as a thanks for saving my night.

They drove off and I returned to the house to hear how the night had gone and try to piece together the blacked out portion of mine -- basically a lot more bars, drinking, talking with people on the streets until I "disappeared" and somehow wound up on the highway.

Soon the sun was out and so were we, back on the street heading to the bar to watch the Saints game ourselves; sleep still impossible. The beers kept us alive. Also at this particular bar they gave everyone a free jello shot when the Saints scored, and on this particular historical day Drew Brees went ahead and threw seven touchdown passes. Properly hammered, tired and hungover at once we stumbled home, somehow ate, somehow watched more football, and finally passed out.

It took me the next day to fully recover, chowing more good food like a muffaletta and fried fish sandwiches, but the day after I'd be ready to get moving. On to Augusta for the BivyPack project to begin, which would be a whole series of chapters on it's own. Good times in all shapes and paces.

October 7, 2015 to November 2, 2015