Saturday, July 26, 2008


I'm supposed to go to a family reunion in Washington, then my brother volunteered to drive me back. But I'd already bought the plane tickets. Some friends are going to be in Powell for a couple of days at the end of the week, so I instantly put together the most practical plan to make it all happen. I'll fly up to the reunion, drive back with Brother, chill in Vegas for a couple of days, then, the obvious way to get to Powell from Vegas is hitchhiking. I looked at Greyhound, but they didn't have a legitimate stop at Bullfrog/Powell. I looked at the railroad lines, thinking maybe I could jump a train or something, but I couldn't be sure they would go in the right direction.

Hitchhiking it is.

I wanted to be as genuine a hitchhiker as possible. No cheating. My brother was going to give me a ride to Mesquite or St. George, but I told him just to drop me off at the edge of Vegas. I decided to do it the old fashioned way. The thing about the old fashioned way, is it really isn't old fashioned anymore. I had a debit card that I used to purchase refrigerated water. I had a cell-phone that I could use to call my brother while I was in Vegas, or on the road if I got into trouble. I'm not sure if old-fashioned exists anymore.

There is a lot of education that's involved with hitchhiking. As in the successful lemonade stand, one of the major keys to hitchhiking is "location, location, location." I tried the street corner first. I needed a place that people could see me and have room to pull over. I stayed on the corner for 45 minutes. Nothing. I walked up farther from the corner to where the actual on ramp was. And I realized there were only 1 or 2 cars every 15 minutes at this particular on ramp. No traffic=less potential rides.

I go back to the gas station. I started at 10:30am, on a typical July day in Vegas. Its now 12:00. Its bloody hot. I sit in the shade on the semi-truck side of the gas station, and have a sign sitting in front of me that says, "St. George, Cove Fort, Denver." A few truckers look at it as they go inside to pay. A couple smile. No one stops. I wait until 1pm. I've already drank a bottle and a half of water. I buy another liter, then as I sit to wait some more, a gas station attendant blitzes me with, "you can't do that here." and like an enigma, she's gone before I can argue or ask for suggestions.

So, I pick up my side bag, and start walking north. The exit was bad anyway. I call Las Vegas Metro P.D. to ask if I can hitchhike on the freeway. I wanted to clarify. I find out that you can't hitchhike legally in all of Clark County. My law-abiding self says, "just have your brother give you a ride to St. George." But luckily, the awesome side of myself says, "Don't make the call, pansy."

Its hot. I'm not going to try and impress you with geusstimations of how ridiculously hot it was. I would bet money is somewhere around the century mark. And I'm not a gambling man. Bloody hot. And I'm walking. The freeway goes in a north-easterly direction, but the road I'm walking on is heading east. I find a break in the fence of an empty lot that goes all the way to the freeway, and I go through it.

In a place where there are homeless people, if you think a place should have a break in the fence, there probably is one.

I walk through the barren lot, and come to a make-shift tent that looks like a mound of tarps, probably 10-12 feet in diameter. Water bottles are everywhere. Hydration is next to Godliness, was this guys mantra. This is how someone lives. In a scrap-book tent, water bottles everywhere, pissing in the trees behind his house when he needs to, coming and going as he pleases. What a life. I come to a fence, and don't see an opening, even though there should have been one.

And there was. Right behind the tree.

I make it to the next exit, and its much better for hitchhiking. Lots of traffic. Probably 2 cars a minute. Plenty of visibility. They can see me for about 100 yards in advance. And, under an elevated street-sign, there's a 3x3 patch of shade for me. My wildest dreams come true. Now its a waiting game.

I'm there for an hour, and a Mustang pulls over. When I first started hitchhiking, I had all these ideas of safety, and running if someone pulled over that I was nervous about. I actually bought a pocket knife that had a good feel in my hand- just in case I had to use it.

When the Mustang pulled over, I just felt so exhilarated and lucky, safety wasn't exactly the primary concern. I'd just spent 3 hours in 100 degree heat. I just wanted to get in before he drove away. I did shift the knife into a better position once I was in the car, just in case.

Saying I had a knife and had made contingency plans for using it, might make warning bells go off with some people. "Why would you put yourself in a position like that?" And if you think like that, then any explanation about me having a knife would probably just fall on deaf ears. I wanted to hitchhike. I didn't go out hoping to get in a knife fight. With hitchhiking, you're getting picked up by a stranger, or group of strangers. There are a lot of what-ifs. And so, I addressed the normal ones. What if he pulls off in the middle of nowhere? What if I get poked with a needle that has some date-rape drug? What if there isn't just the driver, but there are multiple people? How do I prepare for each different scenario depending on where I'm seated in relation to 1 or more people in the car?

I made the decision that if I got poked with a needle, or had a gun/knife pulled on me, I was going to go out swinging. Why put yourself in that position? Why not? is my question. I don't know of anyone that has lived an extraordinary life that did it working 9-5, and from the safety of their arm-chair. Now, hitchhiking isn't exactly extraordinary. Its actually one of the most boring and mundane things you could do. People talk about what they want to do, and what things would be like. I don't like to wonder what hitchhiking is like. I don't like to wonder about things. When possible, I try to get first hand experience. I'm not sure why I felt compelled to try hitchhiking. Maybe I just needed to get more material to blog about and hitchhiking was the cheapest way.

I never learned the first guy's name. He was a Vietnam Vet that served in a flight crew. He was shot down over Cambodia, on his way to deliver supplies to some Force Recon Marines. It was pretty hairy for a minute, as they ran from the Viet-cong, ran through the line of Force Recon guys just as the Marines engaged the Vietnamese that were pursuing him and his surviving crew members. They had to go back and get the plane, because we weren't supposed to be in Cambodia, even though everyone in the world knew we were, and knew the Vietnamese were using Cambodia for the Ho Chi Min trail. Political B.S. that has started precedents we still haven't learned and recovered from.

He gave me a ride to Hurricane, Utah. After a quick pit-stop, I started walking. I figured most people were like me, and if a person is walking rather than sitting, I'm more likely to help him.

I walked for 3 miles before the rain started. Just a sprinkle, but it was enough to get sympathy from a couple of fence builders on their way to a job. One was Caucasion, the other Mexican. (Senora). He kept on asking me about "weeeeeed." I tried to pay my way with jokes, got them laughing, and figured that was a good trade. They were only going a few miles up the road to Toquerville, aptly named for my newly-made Mexican marijuana lobbyist.

They dropped me off, and I started walking again. I hadn't gone 5 minutes when I got my 3rd ride. It was a sleek, black, BMW 330i. The guy in the car was a well-groomed, leg-shaving, fake-n-baking guy wearing Abercrombie nonsense and not wearing any shoes. I got in, fearing a bunch of patronizing nonsense, but after an hour he was pretty cool. He was going to Salt Lake, and I just needed a ride to Cove Fort, where I-70 med I-15.

We talked about his insurance business, which he started on his own in St. George. He has a wife and 5 boys, which was a relief. I though he might have had ulterior motives. He teaches his kids to meditate, to be still.

After a quick pit-stop at Cove Fort, and after successfully getting 3 rides and not getting raped even once, I started walking to I-70, which turned out to be another 2 miles. I got to the freeway just as the sun was setting, and this ride was the most critical of the day. Or so I thought.

As the light dwindled, a car stopped about 200 yards down the road, but didn't start backing up. A guy got out, made the motions of a man relieving himself in the bushes, then got back in. But, then it started to back up.

When they pulled up to me, my heart broke when I saw it was a latino family, and I was going to sit next to a 1 year old in a car seat. I wanted to thank them and then tell them to never do this again.

I had called Clayton, who I was supposed to meet at Powell by 7am the following morning. He said to take I-70 to a particular exit, that there weren't services, but I'd have reception. If I couldn't get a ride, I should call him and he'd come get me. I had no intention of calling, but it was good to know it was there.

The Latino's dropped me off at 11pm at exit 149 in the middle of desert on I-70. The left, and I turned my phone on.

No reception.

My battery was about dead. So, I turned it off, and put my thumb out for a passing car. In the first 45 minutes, 3 cars passed me, all coming from the I-70 west. They were going full speed when they saw me, and didn't even slow down. I decided to go up on the over-pass so they wouldn't be going as fast when they saw me, and just in case Clay or a Powell representative came, I could go back that way.

About 5 cars passed in the first 2 hours. It went down to about a car an hour all night.

It was muggy. There were gnats and mosquitos. It was at least 80 degrees until 2am. I didn't have repellant or pants, so I wrapped my Masai blanket around my legs, put on my hoody, and sat down, leaning against the concrete railing of the over-pass. I'd stand up whenever a car passed. Slowly, leaning became laying, and I dozed, jumping up whenever cars came, hoping my thumb would be a catalyst for a charitable act the person hadn't planned on in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.

My thumb had lost its magic, it seems. I dozed and woke all night, fighting off malicious mosquitos and tenacious gnats until the minute I left. At 8am, a mexican kid picked me up and gave me a ride 3 miles down the road. He had to feed the pheasants at a farm he worked at, but once he was done, if I paid for gas, he'd drive me all the way to Powell. He said he would be done in 2 hours, so if you get a ride, fine. If not, I'll take you..

I don't feel like writing anymore, so, to be continued....

OK, continued.

So, I'm standing there, overcast desert weather, muggy, gnats dive-bombing my eyes, little kamakazi SOB's. I still have my Masai blanket around my legs, still have my hoody on, still cursing the mosquitos. I wait for 45 minutes, about 5 cars pass, so the traffic is increasing, but no one stops. I think to myself, "why don't I help the mexican kid feed the pheasants, get it done faster, we'll leave sooner, and everyone's happier?"

I've seen the process of feeding poultry. It involves a bag or some quantity of food and some sort of hopper or receptical. Pretty cut and dry.

So, I walk to the farm, which was another mile and a half. Its located on a creek, and you get to it by following what used to be the old highway. Now their road to their farm is paved with red pavement.

I get there, but it turns out that his boss was there. I'd already put my bag back in his car, but then his boss saw me, and he was civil, but I definately got the feeling that this was a man that thought me hitchhiking wasn't an adventure or exciting or even amusing. He was about 68 going on 90. His family had farmed pheasants for over 70 years. He gave me mosquito repellant and a ride back to the road.

The car the Mexican kid was going to drive me in was a company car. He wasn't supposed to put strangers in it. I'd lost my ride.

He took me back to the road a different way, so I was now 2 miles further down the road. I had moved 5 miles in 10 hours. It was 9am.

And there I sat. The clouds began to get darker, then a drizzle started. It began to rain in earnest. My thumb was out, and no one cared. I tried reading and not looking at the cars passing. I tried reading and looking up. I tried standing up and looking them in the eye. I tried a smile like this was the happiest place I could be right now. I tried a somber look. I tried a pleading look. I'm not proud of that. But as 10 became 11, as I'd gotten rained on, I didn't care. I was a communist; my ends would justify my means. I even held up $20. No one stopped.

Now, I'd had plenty of water and some thing to snack on when I started, but I was down to my last half liter of water. I had a couple of pieces of jerky left. And I think a Southwest Airlines bag of peanuts. Green River was 20 miles north and east. Hanksville was 40 miles south. I could walk to Green River. Might take me 2 days. But I could do it. Bottom-line, all of a sudden, my fun little adventure had very real consequences. This was real.

At 1130, 13 hours after I'd been dropped off by the Latino family in the middle of nowhere in the dark, a PT Cruiser stopped and back up. After some seat shuffling, I was put in the front seat, a man driving, his wife and 20 year old son in the back. They were German tourists, on vacation for a month touring West's national parks. They listened to German pop music. We were going fast, and we began passing all the doosh-bags that hadn't pulled over.

Now, I'm not really mad that they didn't pull over. Most of the men driving were with their wives and kids. Some smiled at me and mouthed, "I can't." Some threw their hands up as if to say, "they're tied, dude." I don't blame them. It was just frustrating knowing who I am, knowing I'm as far from a threat as they will ever find, and not being perceived as anything than what I am.

I geuss they didn't gaze into my eyes. Or maybe I have too much gansta in my eyes; too much 1000 yard stare.

The Germans gave me a ride to Hanksville. There were a lot of people at the Gas station. My cell phone worked. I bought a Powerade. I washed my face, changed my clothes to Powell friendly stuff. But I was still a vagabond. There were all these beautiful girls and the guys they were with, and then there was me, overstuffed side-bag, a Gen-u-wine Johnny Appleseed vagabond. I could talk to them. What would I say? How would I say, "I'm actually a really normal dude that usually gets phone numbers from girls like you, but I also happened to feel like hitchhiking, just cuz. So, you come here often? Nice shoes..."

I walked to the next gas station, approached a likely candidate, explained I just needed a ride, I'd ride in the back of their truck if they wanted, I just didn't want to have to walk to Powell. They agreed. I drank another half liter of cold water. On the drive, I put my head into the wind like a happy dog with his tongue out. I had to squint to see. But I'd done it. It took me 26 hours, but I'd done it. And the last stage, as last stages seem to be, was the best. It was a panoramic triumph of desert landscape and my victory.

Okay, that all sounds pretty dramatic. Starting out, I didn't think I'd get hurt, but when you spend a night on an over-pass, all of a sudden getting there is a huge accomplishment. Because you've not accomplished your mission for much of your journey. I was giddy. I rolled into Powell as if I'd conquered the world.


I stuck my thumb out for a total of 6 hours. The rest of the 26 hours was walking, riding or sleeping. 6 hours of thumb in the air. Way to go.

I don't recommend hitchhiking, unless you have a lot of time on your hands. Girls should not hitchhike. Unless they're hot and I'm with them.