Overview/Highlights (2013 Hitchhiking Trip)

Being on the road has been one hell of an adventure, with every new moment bringing about a fresh mixture of difficult challenges and rewarding experiences. Below are a few highlights that come to mind:

  •  Nearly ten minutes after waiting on the side of the highway, getting my very first ride in a cop car with my hands cuffed behind my back and being taken to a gas station in the next town over…Then, watching confused bystanders stare at me in disbelief as the police officer uncuffed me, shook my hand, and wished me good luck while I put on my backpack and walked away.
  • Sneaking into a national park during the federal government shutdown and having the entire place to myself while I picked out a good campsite; subsequently waking up in a cold puddle of rainwater after a sloppy attempt to properly center the rainfly of my hammock/tent for the first time.
  • Listening to a war veteran discuss various government conspiracies on his way from a protest in Washington, D.C. while the government shutdown was still in effect.
  • Meeting a fellow hitchhiker for the first time just outside Raleigh, NC; reuniting with said hitchhiker several hours after we’d parted ways, and eventually winding up traveling with him to his hometown in Tulsa, OK.
  • Riding in the bed of a pickup truck with my newfound travel partner, hurtling down the interstate in the dark next to a few tanks of gasoline and a handful of chainsaws while four inebriated people rode up in the front.
  • Getting stuck in North Carolina and having fewer funds with each passing day. Going into a Subway restaurant for breakfast and choosing the highest-calorie cookie to split between ourselves; then, going to the grocery store and weighing single bananas to find one that was light enough for us to afford to split. Getting back onto the interstate with four cents between the two of us and a little bit of nourishment in our stomachs; later, collecting change off the side of the road for a grand total of fifteen cents–rejoicing over the small victory even though we were fully aware that we still wouldn’t be able to afford anything.
  • Experiencing genuine Southern Hospitality throughout the Bible Belt, ranging from a clothes charity, to various pastors offering up food and bandages, to a special collection for us during a Sunday Mass.
  • Being rescued by an amazing girl from the Navy after a five-day ordeal of walking down I-40 W.
  • Eating dinner at a soup kitchen in Memphis, TN, next to a severely intoxicated gentleman who continued to ramble on in a drunken stupor until he was dragged off by security, as he kept shouting “What I did, man? WHAT I DID??”
  • Being fed a mellow nightcap of a Cannabis indica/Everclear tincture out of a dropper bottle by a gypsy woman, after she had given us a ride just outside Little Rock, AK.
  • Talking my way out of a citation from a state trooper in Arkansas–with a mouthful of fried chicken.
  • Spending the last night with my travel companion at his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, where I caught some kind of bug from a guy who kept talking about how sick he felt all night.
  • Waking up to a wild animal chewing the bottom of my sleeping bag and kicking it in the darkness, only to find out it was a stray dog that was licking the moisture off my sleeping bag. Giving the poor fella some water, wrapping him up in a coat and carrying him a few miles up the interstate to a travel center in Oklahoma City, where I waited outside for several hours until someone came to take him home and get him cleaned up.
  • Getting a ride from an “Omaha Indian” who was drunk as a skunk, blasting tribal chants (which he told me was a war beat for hunting the white man) with the bass cranked all the way up to the point where the speakers blew out at with each drumbeat. He proceeded to hand me a 12-inch knife “for protection” and then kept asking a McDonald’s clerk what time it was whenever she tried explaining to him how much his order cost.
  • Being gifted a Samsung Galaxy SIII (my very first smartphone) by a super-chill truck driver who picked me up in the Texas panhandle just as the sun had gone down–where I otherwise would’ve been stranded at least 50 miles away from the nearest exit, with nothing but ranch houses in between.
  • Waking up in a livestock ranch outside Santa Rosa, NM at sunrise, with dozens of cattle surrounding me.
  • Spending a full week sleeping under the open sky–with nothing more than a mat and my sleeping bag–and staring into the night while I looked up in awe and saw more stars than I’d ever seen in my entire life.
  • Being rescued from the New Mexico desert by a friendly driver, whom I traveled all the way to southern Oregon with–stopping for a night in Salt Lake City, UT in between.
  • Firing a pistol for the first time, and packing a lip of Copenhagen for the first (and possibly last) time.
  • Meeting a fellow hitchhiker outside Ashland, OR, and traveling with her and her puppy into California.
  • Finally reaching the West Coast and being lulled to sleep by the waves of the ocean.
  • Staying a few nights at a hillbilly/hippie family’s farm near Mt. Shasta, CA, and spending my days alongside a bunch of dogs, cats, goats, horses, chickens, geese, and a huge iguana named Mr. Lizard.
  • Working inside a pungent curing shed, trimming buds from a cannabis stalk as thick as my arm–and taller than me–until my entire jacket was coated in a fine layer of THC crystals.
  • Discovering an abandoned lighthouse in Pacifica, CA, and setting up camp behind it just after the sun passed over the horizon. Marching up to the lighthouse the next morning, armed with a flashlight and a camera, to find a way inside the mysterious building and explore my way to the top.
  • Spending Halloween Day with three fellow backpackers in Santa Cruz, CA, drinking and passing around spliffs as we recited poetry and got caught up in various shenanigans. Joining the downtown Halloween parade, incognito, walking down the streets wearing our hitchhiker “costumes.” Losing the group of hitchhikers in the large crowd of people and spending the rest of Halloween night sleeping soundly in a forest by a cemetery.
  • Being kicked off Highway 1 and Highway 101 multiple times by California highway patrol, and traveling along alternate routes down parallel roadways until I was in a new jurisdiction to try my luck on the freeway.
  • Making a futile attempt to communicate through charades during a five-hour ride with two Mexican gentlemen who spoke virtually no English at all, and then giving up and dancing along with the mariachi music instead.
  • Aimlessly wandering around Salinas, CA for a place to sleep, and randomly being invited to stay overnight with some really chill people in a mobile home that I’d stumbled upon after getting lost.
  • Setting aside a day to go hiking–sans hitching–along a part of the Pacific Crest Trail in Whitewater, CA.
  • Getting picked up by a trucker who made it very clear from the beginning that he wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet through my skull if I did something he didn’t like, and later having a conversation with him about his experience doing odd-jobs as a hitman/loan shark for the Mexican Mafia.
  • Getting picked up by a couple where on their way into San Antonio, calling my aunt to let her know I was half an hour away from her house, and hearing her announce to the rest of the family that I would be there in thirty minutes. Emphasizing that I could only be sure about the distance, and as much as I wanted to see the family soon I couldn’t guarantee my arrival time–explaining that if I’d learned anything at all from being out on the road, it was that assumptions couldn’t be relied on. Hearing a loud POP only five minutes after hanging up with my aunt, and discovering that the rear tire had been ripped to shreds and there wasn’t a spare. If the lesson hadn’t sunk in for me by that point, my entire trip would’ve been all for nothing.
  • Spending two weeks with my family in San Antonio, TX, where I was in the company of people who weren’t complete strangers for the first time in nearly a month. Eating three square meals a day, having a roof over my head with a warm, dry place to sleep, taking a break from hauling my gear and wearing my boots, and having convenient access to drinking water, medicine, showers, and internet/electricity.
  • Observing coyotes, bighorn sheep, elk, antelope, deer, salamanders, treefrogs, toads, box turtles, lizards, snakes, armadillos, wild turkeys, and possibly a bigfoot or two along the way.
  • Eating an array of foods, from exquisite meals–such as a steak dinner with artichoke hearts and meringue pie–to meager rations–such as dry blocks of packaged ramen or spoonfuls of plain peanut butter. Stuffing my face with ripe strawberries, lettuce, broccoli, and fresh limes while passing through various orchards and plantations alongside the road. Introducing my taste buds to an In-N-Out burger with animal fries in downtown Los Angeles, CA, and trying a lengua (beef tongue) torta from a small-town restaurant in California where almost 99% of the people there only spoke Spanish. Having a taste of Cajun cooking in Houma, LA, where I sampled crawfish for the first time and feasted on gumbo, gator bites, fried oysters, duck strips, and bread pudding. Being invited to have a real, home-cooked Thanksgiving Day meal in Orlando, FL.
  • Having constant reminders that making expectations would be making mistakes.
  • Meeting countless sincere, authentic and kindhearted people–whom my life would not be complete without.
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