California, Here We Come!

Where´s the shade? Arches NP, UT.

Where´s the shade? Arches NP, UT.

The most remarkable thing about hitching in the States is that you get picked up by REALLY interesting people. Not all the time. But our beloved weirdos are more common in the US than anywhere else I’ve hitched. Regardless of what you think about the States, it’s easily one of the most interesting places to hitchhike, especially if you LIKE adventure.Chael” — Hitchwiki

So it’s been nearly a year since my last contribution to this little blog, and so much has happened since! Luckily for you all, most of what has come to pass has been school related, so I won’t write about it here. This is a travel blog, after all!

For now, I’ll just give you all a quick down ‘n’ dirty about things so far.

The overall plan for our trip this summer was to fly into Denver and make our way back to SF by thumb over the course of about two weeks, taking in national parks and such on our way. Then, we´d spend 2 weeks in California before setting off for Central America for the rest of the summer. It was kind of an ambitous plan, considering our tiny budget and the fact that we were hoping to catch rides in a big country that I didn´t know well, but we´d traveled and hitched together in the past and both of us were keen to see what the elusive states of Colorado and Utah had to offer.

Now, for all the hitching I´d done in other countries, my experiences in the U.S. had been limited to the Tahoe region of Eastern Cali. I´d caught one or two rides up and down the PCH now and again, but I, in general, shied away from hitching in America. In other countries, it is a somewhat reliable means of transport. With lax laws permitting rides in the beds (or on top of the cab, or wherever the hell you happen to fit) of trucks, plus the novelty of picking up a “ferenji,” “bule,” or “chinita,” rides come often and easy, and one can be quite choosey when selecting whom to go with. Dozens of hitchers line the highways of nearly every developing nation on earth, and joining their ranks is easy and, in general, quite safe.

In contrast, I had a car while I lived in California and had only ever seen a handful of hitchers… well, ever. Most of these were Argentinian ski bums or the odd surfer on his or her way back up the PCH. I had yet to see people thumbing on the great stretches between states, and, after my friend Dan jovially pointed out that we´d be taking these distances on our faith in the kindness of Americans… through the desert… in the middle of the hottest month of the year, I began to dread the approach of June 10th. At night, I laid in bed visualizing our desiccated carcasses, lying supine on the shoulder of Highway 70, our right thumbs outstretched, and our left arms cradling a crackling sign reading, “California or Bust!” while the crows deftly plucked out our eyeballs and the sun blazed overhead.

Our trip started out wonderfully. Julia and her lovely boyfriend stuffed us full of BBQ and beer in preparation for our westward flight and hugged us good luck at the Alewife T. Bethany, a friend of Amanda´s and fellow traveler and nurse, took us in on the other side, and we swapped travel stories and ruminated on the best exit point out of the city while munching on dollar tacos and lazily ambling down Denver´s warm streets. We made the acquaintance of one of the most (and I´m not using this term lightly here) AWESOME families I´ve ever known, and got set up for our ride to Breckenridge in the morning, from where we´d begin our adventure.

Yeah, Denver is pretty much awesome. Denver, CO.

Yeah, Denver is pretty much awesome. Denver, CO.

In reality, the next two weeks passed without much incident. To my delight, I found that hitchhiking in the West is relatively straightforward, in spite of the draconian laws and regulations that govern each state. In general, the police left us alone, and although we spent more than one day slowly deep-frying our scalps under the hot American sun waiting for a ride, we never failed to make it to our destination for the day, and, eventually, to our final destination of the trip — home. At the end of it, I have more vivid memories of the people we met in two weeks of thumbing in my own country than I do of most of the rides I´ve caught through the years elsewhere. There were sweet families that let us jump in the backseat with their kids, and other vagabonds that happened to have a car for the moment and wanted to repay their debt to the karma pool. There were some who were willing to pick us up because we just looked so pitiful and hot, and others who stopped for us just because they´d never picked up a hitchhiker before, and hell — why not today? After all, “struggle is REAL, Ma!,” (according to Mason, an off-duty marine who picked us up at the CA-NV border on her way back from Warped Tour). What follows here is a “greatest hits,” if you will, of the best and the worst of the people we met in our two weeks heading westward:

Matt: The very first ride of our trip picked us up in less than 10 minutes’ time from the side of the highway just beyond Breckenridge, CO. His name was Matt, he was 21, and he worked 4 months out of the year (and not at all for the other 8 – the man had it figured out!) as a pro flyfishing instructor. He was taking his first holiday after 40 straight days of work, thinking that he’d go out for a little solitude and fishin’ of his own. He was the top-requested flyfishing instructor of a private resort that catered almost exclusively to billionaires, and upon hearing that we’d never been before, he insisted on taking us out for a day ‘o’ catchin’ an’ releasin’. An hour with him ordinarily cost upwards of $1300. He took us out for free, and not only that, he gave us a lift all the way to our Couchsurfing destination in Grand Junction, all while blasting Pretty Lights and talking about snowsports. He set the bar for the rest of our trip and had me thinking that thumbing in the states might not be so hard after all…

I caught and released 3 trout! The Frying Pan, Western CO.

I caught and released 3 trout! The Frying Pan, Western CO.

Jeff: But I was wrong. The next day found us on the Eastern side of the CO-UT border for the better part of three hours while car after car zoomed past us, not even slowing down enough to notice that we´re harmless and cute and fucking roasting to death for God´s sake. We walked together along the perfectly straight, seemingly endless highway, and my emergency packet of trail mix was reduced to nothing but a few coconut shavings. It felt like we´d hit a wall, and we marched together, mute and solemn, wondering what we were doing wrong.

Enter an old beige jalopy — wheezing onto the shoulder of Route 70 with a completely obscured back window, captained by a shirtless, tousel-haired hippie named Jeff. I´m not even sure we had been sticking out our thumb just then — but he was a hitchhiker himself, and his foot had instinctively hit the brakes once he saw our tiny figures in the distance. This guy was nearly mythological in his coolness. He had the tramping lifestyle down, from Ayahuasca trips in Iquitos to roadtripping across Kazakhstan. He drank water out of a growler and spent a full two minutes hunting around his car for a shirt to put on when we stopped for gas. I´m not sure how old he was — maybe 27, maybe 37 — but he´d just about gone and done everything on my bucket list without having traditional work for at least a decade. He´d supported himself with trimming and busking, and was making his way, guitar-in-trunk, to keep on living the dream through trimming season in Shasta.

Now, there are a million ways to finance a wanderlust. I´ve met schoolteachers taking the summer off, computer programmers working from whatever exotic destination they deem fit, students eking out the last of their school loans, and (mostly) people who work a job that they feel almost no passion for with the diligence that befits a heart surgeon because they´re saving, on the side, to make their dreams come true. I´d always counted myself among the lucky ones because I love nursing and it will pay well. I can have two things that I love, and I can save money quickly… but I always assumed that there was that “travel gestation period,” as Rolf Potts calls it. That point where you have to go home and do some crap you don´t like in order to have the stuff you DO like.

But Jeff didn´t do any of that. He never went “home,” exactly, and he could get by on so little that busking (which he would have done anyway) was all he needed to sustain himself through years of travel. For him, there was no distinction that travelers often make between their “home” life and their “real” life. In the 20 minutes we spent with him, I learned more about sustaining yourself abroad than I had in all of my travel beforehand.

Cuntface McKinley:  Somewhere on Hitchwiki it says that Las Vegas is a bitch to thumb out of. It’s big and hot, and there’s nothing for miles around. Most people fly in and out, and drivers there are, well… kind of pricks. I gritted my teeth in anticipation of our departure. I was also gritting them to keep from throwing up all over the inside of Dan´s car, since our day in Vegas had consisted of free whiskey gingers at the Roulette table, and little more than a couple of hardened chicken lumps from Panda Express (food = more expensive than booze).  Moreover, during our day of drunken shenanigans, we’d managed to misplace Seba’s rucksack, with his moneybelt, camera, and stack of fresh-out-of-the-ATM USD inside (and didn’t even realize it until the next morning, like real pros). Thankfully, everyone in LV is too busy getting robbed by the casinos to do any robbing themselves, so when we skidded in the next morning, wild-eyed and blanketed in anxiety, casino security dropped the pouch, cash and all, into our outstretched arms and went on to pay attention to people who actually had money worth noticing.

This said, we jumped onto an exit point to the city far later than we’d anticipated, when the sun was already high in the sky, and traffic was zooming. We had a frustrating 30 minutes of standing at a piss-poor spot, trying to huddle under the anorexic shadow of a speed limit sign, so when a car finally stopped, we eagerly clambered in, even though the driver gave us both the willies. He was an Indiana transplant who had moved to Oregon to hunt, and in the next few minutes, our gracious host managed to offend the both of us on nearly every level while simultaneously making an attempt on the life of an elderly bicyclist. After all, if there’s one thing he wanted us to know about him, it was that he hated “n*ggers ‘n’ f*gs,” that San Francisco was “nothin’ but a bunch ‘o’ f*gs,” and that Michael Jackson is just a “good n*gger now” (i.e., “the only good n*gger is a dead n*gger”). We hopped out less than a mile uproad, assuring him that this, yes, was our final destination — thanks for stopping! — and miserably exclaimed to each other that that was just about the most awful person either of us had ever met.

Guy on Highway 1 out of Long Beach – So, nearly every shitty story I have about hitching starts off with a disclaimer that I was tired of waiting and just wanted to be on my way already. L.A. is not an easy place to thumb out of. It’s like a vortex for hitchhikers. Just when you think you’re out, you realize that you really haven’t moved at all, you never WILL move, and you will likely die on the street while some plucky entrepreneur tries to fashion a headress out of your contorted limbs. Highway 1 in Southern California is not like Highway 1 in Northern California. NorCal´s curvaceous roads with dramatic cliffs and ocean views turns into a commercial avenue with Sunglass Huts and Wet Seals lining both sides as you head south of Santa Barbara. The 1 is literally crowded with people and buses and gas stations and banks… there´s nowhere to thumb a ride.

So, after waiting on the wrong side of the road for 15 minutes, and the right side of the road for another hour, the maroon sedan with a busted window and thumping bass that pulled up for us seemed like a pretty good idea. And even now, I´m not sure it was a bad one.

We never got the name of our golden-toothed benefactor, but we spent the next 20 minutes or so with guy who was somehow wearing two T-shirts simultaneously without seeming to cover any of his torso. He picked us up, ran a red light, and asked us if we had any pot within our first half-minute in the car. I shook my head politely and motioned to Sebastian to put on his seatbelt. After a minute of silence, he asked if we happened to have a jet printer on us. Again, no. “I could really use a jet printer,” he wistfully sighed.

To this day, I am still not sure where exactly he was headed. We whipped and careened around the neighborhoods of Long Beach, flying through reds, chasing down pedestrians (“Naw, I´m just playin´ with him a little bit!”), heading in the opposite direction at some points, and making lanes for ourselves where Caltrans had not thought to designate any. At our departure point, we staggered and swayed out of the car, waving goodbye to our driver as he merrily gunned it down a residential street, and kissed each other with the kind of passion that befits a bonding experience.

 —–

So, I can´t post about everyone we met on our trip here. There´s no room for the retired blackjack dealer who gave us all the ins and outs of Vegas while dropping free passes and tickets into our incredulous laps, or the three Dutch girls who were roadtripping across the US with the intention of picking up every hitchhiker they saw along the way (they were hitchers themselves), or the seemingly stereotypical “redneck” who saw us on his way to the liquor store and took us all the way to the next town because he worried that we wouldn´t get a ride where we were (while filling our ears with mouthwatering stories about Texas BBQ — MmmmMM!).

It feels strange to rate my own country, but overall, I found Americans to be a bit more varied, a bit more nuts, and as a whole, a bit more wiling to try something new just for the chance to stuff a cool new story into their utility belts. Yeah, there were some douchewads who gave us the obnoxious thumb while they sped by us, but there were a lot of people — families, frat boys on holiday, Mormon schoolteachers — who just saw an opportunity to help someone out and jumped out of their comfort zones to do it.

Anyway, we´re in Honduras again, Copan Ruinas hasn´t changed one bit since the last time I was here, and we´re getting ready to settle in for a couple of weeks of language school. There are more posts forthcoming, and I´m quite excited to get this little blog back into the swing of things. Here is a cool video of me being all capable and shit:

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/samonella/14538648024

——————

“People say you have to travel to see the world. Sometimes I think that if you just stay in one place and keep your eyes open, you´re going to see just about all that you can handle.” — Paul Auster, Smoke

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