By Foot and By thumb: Day 10

October 29, 2017

I did not rise until 8 am, a good half an hour after the sun.  I lifted my body and glanced towards the truck stop. To my surprise, I saw two men in neon vests heading towards the field where I sat. When they saw me rise, they stopped in their tracks and turned back around.

Peculiar. I wonder if they were coming to check on me? They probably thought I was dead. I found this amusing.

I packed my things and headed to the bathroom and removed my zillions of layers. I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and braided my hair.

While I was grooming, a lady asked me where I was headed. She wished me luck. It was a much better encounter than the one I had in the restroom the night before:

“You are not riding with truck drivers, are you?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because they are travelling long distances.”

“They are bad people. My friend was killed last week.”

I did not ask for details. She was erratic in her mannerisms. I did not trust her much.

Now, it is 9:21 am. I sit in the McDonalds sipping coffee, sign proclaiming “WEST” proudly, face up on the table.

Two people have engaged me. One, a truck-driver headed west–but only to Nebraska (roughly 40 miles)–to whom I kindly declined the offer. I would no longer be leaving safe places for short distances. The other driver was heading east. He was kind and curious. He just warned me to be safe. He said he did the same thing when he was young.

A part of me hoped that the driver from last night would still be here. He mentioned a 50/50 chance that he would be continuing west. I suppose hitching with new people is part of the adventure, but the back of my mind probes and wonders if I’m not playing with fire.

I watch as everyone prays over their McDonald’s.

The driver I rode with yesterday came in and bought some food.

“Did you find out where you were heading next?”

“Yes. Wisconsin.”

“Oh. North.”

I told him thank you. He wished me luck.

I sat. I drank coffee. Some people inquired of my situation; where I was headed.  It made me feel better when people engaged me, regardless of whether they were able to help.

It began to gently rain. I decided to make moves. I walked around the lot where all the semi-trucks were parked. I approached the vehicles that contained a driver, and stood in front of their window until they sensed my presence, and glanced in my direction. Then, I smiled and pointed down at my sign. Most everyone seemed to be heading east, or were obeying the contractual rule of not carrying passengers.

Some came up and handed me money. Others warned me to be safe. One man called over a speaker system that connected to all the other drivers. He asked if anyone was headed west. Then, he said “This is for good luck, not for you to spend. You put this on your wall when you get home safely.” He handed me a two-dollar bill. I thanked him kindly. I was touched.

Next I stopped by to ask drivers actively filling their fuel tanks. “I just came from California.”

Then I stood, back against the building, sign displayed, waiting for someone to come to me.

A kind, happy looking lady approached me.

“Are you alone?”

“Yes.”

“Are you allergic to dogs?”

“No.”

“We are headed to Salt-Lake City.”

“Salt Lake City! That would be fantastic!!”

Mary was driving with her husband Joe, and two dogs. They would switch shifts, so we would be making miles all through the night.

We stopped and ate overpriced buffet and made conversation. Then on we drove. Later, Mary and Joe switched driving. They offered to let me sleep in the back. “No thank you.” The pillow, however, I accepted.

I slept first on this side, then on that, rotating about every hour or so. I opened my eyes briefly to see a snow flurry in Wyoming. I closed my eyes, thankful for warmth.

 

 

By Foot and By Thumb: Day 9

October 28, 2017

The next morning I showered and Bryan and Mariah dropped me off on the side of the road,  just two miles shy of what they assured me was a really nice truck stop. They would take me all the way, they said, but they may be hassled for being unlicensed.

I was now in  Foristell, MO population 505.

I thanked them from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know where I would have been without them.

***

I stuck my thumb out as I began my two mile trek to the truck-stop. Only two vehicles passed me before a small car with an elderly couple and a scruffy little toy dog pulled over. The ride was short and sweet.  They were carrying on in another direction. I bid them farewell.

***

I was at the TA truck stop of Foristell, and it certainly was nice! There was even a restaurant with a salad bar! It was not long before I found a nice cozy booth and served myself plate after plate of greens and veggies and garbanzo beans. I was very pleased. After brunch, I moseyed over to an adjacent Taco Bell/Popeye’s to sit at a bar stool and sip coffee and charge my things. I had my sign visible.

A man walked by, glanced at my sign, and continued to fill his cup with sweet tea. “How far ya goin’?”

“I’m trying to get to California!”

“Oh. Well I’m not going that far. I’m headed to Kansas City.”

“How far is that?”

“200 miles.”

“OK! Are you leaving right now?”

I quickly gathered my things and followed him out.

He was nice. Somewhere in his 50’s with a mustache, and hair that trailed slightly down the nape of his neck. He was from Alabama.

He was curious as to why I was hitchhiking. He said that he had picked up hitchhikers before, but not too often. He said that you just get a feel for people. He said that most people want to help people. I liked hearing this very much; I thought so too.

We made small talk for a bit, seamlessly alternating between conversation and comfortable silence.

He suggested that after Kansas City, I continue west along I-80, as it will take me directly to Sacramento. Oh, Sacramento! How I long for you!

I agreed. I travelled with him through Kansas City, up to Shelby, Iowa.  We stopped at the Love’s Travel Shop.

It was supposed to drop below 30 degrees in the night. He had mentioned letting people crash in his cab at night. I said “I guess I should go, now.”  I trusted him, I felt comfortable with him, but I felt more comfortable sleeping alone.

***

In the end,  I wandered in to the remains of what appeared to be a harvested corn field.

I was wearing a t-shirt, a wool long sleeved shirt, a zip-up cotton hoodie, a fleece pullover, a down puffy, and a long heavy wool coat, wool socks, a scarf, and gloves. I tucked hand-warmers in to my gloves and in the arches of my feet and under my hat, then I tossed one in to my sleeping bag for good measure.

I gazed up. I was beneath the Iowan stars, and moon, and sky. I breathed deeply. The field was crunchy beneath me. Though the lights from the neighboring truck stop were still prominent, my body was hidden by thick bands of darkness and shadow.

I slept well, and warm.

 

 

 

 

By Foot and By Thumb: Day 8

October 27, 2017

I woke in between chairs on the ground of the truck-driver lounge at the Pilot Travel Center in East St. Louis, IL. I shimmied out of my sleeping bag and packed it away. The lights flickered on at about 6 am. I rested for a short while longer. When I did rise, I gave the man in a chair nearby quite the fright. I found this tremendously amusing, and giggled to myself.

I stepped out of the lounge  and in to the restroom. I washed up, and re-braided my hair. After determining that I was quite presentable enough, I returned to the adjacent Subway/Taco Bell where I had spent part of the previous night. I purchased coffee and sat myself in a corner booth, sign visible. I scoped out the patrons, trying to sense what sort of people they were.

A man in slacks, a pressed shirt, and a stance of authority walked over and inquired of my situation. He had some sort of pin on his collar. He was affiliated with the Pilot Transit Center. He suggested the Burger King across the street, as a good place to hitch a ride. He asked if I was good on coffee and food, then he left.

I went across the street to find the Burger King he spoke of.

What Burger King? I did see World Wide Technology Raceway. It was just like one big giant empty lot. There would be plenty of space for someone to pull over. There was also a clear shot to I-70.

I stood for a while. No luck.

Then, a well-groomed male around my age pulled up and offered me a lift. He said he could not take me far. Just over the Mississippi River, to the Missouri side of St. Louis. I was anxious to move. I accepted the ride.

He took me over McKinley Bridge and we parked at a BP gas station.

He turned off the engine and turned his body towards me. “Do you do favors?” he asked.”

“Nah man.”

“I could throw down some money.”

“No.”

“Be safe.” And he left.

***

The neighborhood felt rough and raw. After being declined any use of a public restroom in either of the proximal fuel stations, I found an abandoned lot filled with shopping carts and trash and clothing and needles, and relieved myself in the grass behind a tree.

I returned to the BP station, walked the sidewalk down to the on-ramp, and then back up again. I was trying to get my bearings, a feel for the potential rides, and where I should position myself.

A man filling up his car with gas recognized me from when I was posted up outside of the Pilot Transit Center. He told me that the last place I was at was much safer than the one I was in now.  That I was now “…in the ghetto.” He told me that people were killed there every day.

He suggested I move. He told me to walk straight until I can’t anymore, then to turn left and walk for a couple of blocks until I get to a truck stop. I would be better off there. He offered me money. I declined. I thanked him for the information and set off.

As I walked towards the next fuel station I considered what had happened. I should not have taken that last hitch. That man did not care about helping me out, he had his own agenda. It certainly would  not have hurt to have done some research on the most dangerous cities in the US.

I reached the Energy Express Travel Center, with a Phillips 66. The security guard at the door looked me up and down as I walked in and perused the aisles. Nothing I wanted anyway.

I walked over to where the semi-trucks were fueling up. The security guard then walked over, and told me that I needed to leave. I was not allowed there.

Discouraged, I headed across the street to another BP fuel station.  A hand reached out from a nearby car window, palm up, in presentation of a grape Now and Later.  I accepted. There were two people inside, a man and a woman. The woman was about my age, the man was much older.

“Where ya headed”

“West. The other gas station just kicked me out.”

“We can take you up the street a little further to Love’s.”

“Oh, thank you!”. I loaded myself into the backseat.

They drove me in to the back entrance of Love’s Travel Stop, where the truck drivers pull in and out. They told me that I should be fine if I stay there, out of sight of any employees. They told me that they don’t like white people and that this was why I was kicked out of the last place. People assumed I was a “Lot Lizard”, prostitutes that hang around truck stops. People assumed I was up to no good.

I thanked them. They gave me their cell-phone number. They said that they had some things to take care of, but that after that they were heading west. If I still needed a ride later, I could call them. With that, they drove off, further in to the truck-stop.

They returned shortly after, saying that they had found me a ride. I got back in the car and they drove me to where a red semi-truck was parked. I got in and spoke with the man.

He seemed like an alright guy. He was heading to Memphis, Tennessee. Though I wanted nothing more than to move, I did not want to head south along I-55, I wanted to catch I-70 west. I also did not want to repeat the same mistake. Would Memphis be just as rough as St. Louis? I told him that I needed to head west.  He suggested I try inside.

I went inside the travel stop from the back entrance. This was a mistake. Security told me to leave the property.

I resigned myself to the adjacent McDonald’s and brooded over a coffee and my notebook.

A man walked over, “are you workin’, girl?”

It took me a moment to process what he was asking.

“No.”

He walked off.

I felt uneasy. I pulled out the crumpled piece of paper that had the couples number. It was torn. I searched my bag for the missing piece and held it up. I could make out the number. I called, but there was no answer. I followed with a text and they called back. They said that they would be travelling about 100 miles west later that afternoon. They said I could ride around with them until then. They would pick me up in 15-20 minutes at the McDonald’s.

I waited. My mind began to run. I feel on edge. I want to get out of here. It has been 30 minutes. I hope they come through. It is still early. I just need to drink my coffee and chill. It’s rough out there. I am so fucking privileged and naive.

I reflected on the conversation I had just had with the driver heading to Memphis. He said that most guys that pick me up think I will “put out”. He said that often people will pick people up and rape them and drop them off on the side of the road. This was scary to hear from a truck-driver. Maybe I should be scared. Maybe it was the neighborhood. Maybe he was trying to get a rise out of me.

I decided that if I had not heard from them by 1 pm, I had to start looking for a ride.

A man walked over to the plastic booth were I waited.

“Are you alright? Have you eaten?”

“I’m fine. Thank you.”

“Are you sure.”

“Yes. Thanks.”

“Take this anyway” he said, presenting me with a wad of bills.

I thanked him and he returned to his seat.

Those seven crumpled dollar bills may as well have been a giant hug. I was such a bundle of mixed emotions. It had been over an hour.

I texted Mariah and Bryan. They sent a reply:

“We’re on our way we won’t leave you hun. We got stuck behind a accident baby girl I’m sorry.”

Maybe it was relief, but something in me made a heavy shift. I left my coffee at the table. I walked quickly to the restroom. I let the door shut behind me, and I cried. After nearly a minute of staring in the mirror, looking for answers to unknown questions, trying to mentally will myself in to a position of strength, I splashed water on my face. I slowly pressed cupped hands of paper towel against my cheeks, and my eyes, and my lips. I applied tender pressure. I would be alright. I would be one tough cookie when I am done with myself.

I returned to my coffee and soon Mariah and Bryan pulled up. I again loaded myself in to the backseat. They told me that they still had some things to do before they headed west. I did not ask questions. That was perfectly fine with me. I felt safe.

We drove to another gas station. Mariah and I waited in the car. Bryan spoke to people filling up their fuel tanks. He told them that he had just spent 22 years in prison, and that Mariah and I were his daughters, and that we just needed a little fuel to get home. This was how they put gas in their car. They often got a couple extra bucks as well.

After that, we pulled in to an alley. Bryan asked “do you get high?”

“I smoke marijuana.”

There was a pause.

They asked if I minded if they got high. I asked if they would still be able to operate a vehicle. They said yes. Mariah mumbled something about feeling guilty doing it in front of me. She fetched a water bottle from the trunk and returned to the passenger seat. They proceeded to do something with the water and the liquid and the needles. They took turns injecting one another.

Their demeanor did not change much. Maybe they seemed a bit heavier in their bodies, like their nerves were coated in molasses, but they were functional.

Then off we drove. ‘Round and ’round the neighborhood we went. Gas station to gas station. I learned that this is how they spotted me before. They had seen me, moving from gas station to gas station as well. They could tell I needed help, that I was not from around here. I learned that the area I had been dropped off in, the streets I had been walking up and down, were called “the stroll”. I had never heard this term before. It was a place where prostitutes solicit customers.

I learned that Bryan had in fact been in prison. He was sentenced to 20 years for murder. His partner on the streets had been shot and killed. He had avenged his partner. After being released, he took Mariah under his wing. She had been living with an abusive boyfriend who forced her to stand on the street corners barefoot to beg for money. Bryan had terminal cancer, and was planning to leave all he had to Mariah. Their hearts were beautiful. Heroine is heartbreaking.

They told me that most of the dealers around there were kids. Dad’s get caught and thrown in prison, kids have to step up to support mom.

In between their business of hustling money, making drug deals, and shooting up, we sang along to music, chain smoked cigarettes, and chewed on countless Now and Laters. They even took it upon themselves to call a buddy and procure a little marijuana for me.

I was dizzy on sugar and nicotine. Hours passed and night was falling and there was only now talk of heading west. We discussed where they might drop me off. It would certainly be cold in the night, below freezing. There were whispers in the front seat. Then they spoke up. After hours in a car together, they trusted me. They invited me back to stay with them, at Bryan’s mom’s house. I could have the couch. I was so thankful.

I was to be presented as Mariah’s cousin, just so that there were not any questions.

The home was very sweet. There was a large excitable dog. We all had a dinner together of veggies and bread and fried cabbage and potatoes. I slept safe and warm, on the couch.

 

 

 

By Foot and By Thumb: Day 7

October 26, 2017

In the early morning, I caught the high-speed Metra commuter rail into downtown Chicago. I visited Millennial Park to see the Cloud Gate, or as I often heard it referred to “The Bean”. I strolled through the city streets. I gazed at the buildings. Chicago had me charmed.

At around 4 pm I met my friend at a Whole Foods downtown. We had agreed that he would drop me off somewhere near Historic Route 66.

We settled on a gravel lot near a train yard just outside of the city.  I thanked him for all he had done for me. We hugged goodbye. And then he was gone.

***

I stood for a while, sign presented. People were surprised to see me. I could tell because they turned their necks in my direction to continue watching me as they  passed.

A middle-aged woman pulled over. She got out of her car, handed me $27 dollars, and told me to be careful.

I ran in to the middle of stopped traffic to negotiate a ride with two men with a van full of equipment. Turned out there was no space for me anyway.

I got into  a two-door with a man around my age. I was happy to be on the road, until I realized that there was a misunderstanding in where I was going. I was not heading back to the city. He let me off at the side of the road. I had to back-track a bit by foot.

Not long after resuming my position, I caught a ride with a man who was going my way. He only took me a short distance. He wanted to take me to his house, or out to dinner, or to hang out some time. I refused. He said that he would be coming back this way in a couple of hours and would pick me up If I was still there.  I smiled and thanked him.

He dropped me off smack dab in the center of the freeway meridian.

***

Just as he pulled away, a police officer pulled up.

“Give me that!” he snarled, reaching for my sign.

He looked at it, surprised. No story of hardship. No pleas for money.  Only the word “West”.

“What are you doing here!?”

“I just finished the Appalachian Trail, and I am trying to make it home to California.”

“What? Do your parents not love you or something?”

“My parents love me very much, and are concerned about me (thank-you!).”

“You know we just recovered a hitch-hikers body ’round here not long ago.”

I stared at him, blankly.

“Is that your boyfriend?” He asked, pointing to a seemingly aimless, unkempt man on the opposing end of the street.

“No, I am alone.”

“What! Are you crazy?!”

Silence.

“Well you can’t do this here.”

“Can I please have my sign back?”

He passed it my way  begrudgingly.

“Good luck” he managed, and off he drove.

I stood there for a moment. Such a rude encounter. What if my family had disowned me? Such statements from an officer would have certainly weighed on my heart.

I left the meridian for a piece of side-walk, and resumed my work. 

I began to get worried that I would not catch a ride before nightfall, or before my previous hitch made his return trip.

Finally, just as the sun was setting, I got a ride with a man that was able to take me about 20 miles.  Things were awkward at first, but then seemed to lighten up a tad. He warned me that this was dangerous for such a cute girl. That he has friends that he knows would have tried to take advantage of me.

I appreciated his concern, I suppose; but it had me wondering what he was thinking.

He told me that he was heading over to a job site in Romeoville, IL. There is a Speedway fuel station there he would drop me off at. It had decent access to Route 66/Interstate 55. He told me that he would come back this way when he was done with his work and give me another ride if I was there. I thanked him. I was dropped at the fuel station and he headed to his job site nearby.

***

After numerous failed attempts at catching a hitch from patrons pulling out of the station, I started to hope that the man just might come back. Most people I spoke to were heading back in to the city. I glanced at the field beside the station. I have slept in more challenging places.

The sun had now completely set. I had yet to catch a ride at night.

I decided to be more aggressive.

I moved to the section where the semi-trucks refueled. I walked in front of a truck, made eye contact with the driver, held up my sign and pointed. The man shook his head in refusal. I moved to the next truck. The man nodded his head in agreement.

He got out of his truck. I realized that he was the largest man I had ever seen. He was headed southwest along I-55 to Texas. He could drop me off in St. Louis. From there I could catch highway I-70 west.

I agreed.

I hopped in to the passenger side, he lifted the fuel nozzle and asked if I wanted anything from inside.  “No thank you” I replied. Then, he disappeared in to the mini-mart.

He returned, closed up the fuel tanks, and climbed in to the driver’s seat. He handed me a blue Powerade.

“Thank you.” I said, before taking the obligatory courtesy sip. I do not like  Powerade.

It was just after 7pm. We set off.

He offered me a cigarette. I do not smoke. I accepted. We shared silence behind puffs of smoke.

I am comfortable with silence. In a 5 hour car ride, silence should be expected. He broke the silence.

“Why you ain’t talkin’? Ya nervous? Ya think I’m gonna kill you? I got two guns.”

And suddenly. I was on-guard. I had to psychologically control the situation. I fingered the knife and pepper-spray in my pocket.

“No. Why do you have a gun? Do you ever carry things people would want to rob you for?”

This lead in to a conversation of what he was carrying now: Ice Cream. I also learned that he was a Texan native and a grandfather. He had been driving for 30 years and had recently lost his childhood sweetheart.

His life seemed a lonely one. He told me that a lady truck-driver sends him pornographic photos all the time. He showed me nude photos of women. I was unresponsive. This tactic seemed to work. The conversation slowly changed.

When we reached the Pilot Transit Center in East St. Louis, IL, he asked if I wanted to ride with him all the way to Texas.

“No. Thank you, though.”

“Did you want to take a shower? You can use my credits.”

“That’s alright. Thanks.”

“Be careful” he said.

“I will.” And I walked off.

***

I headed inside the truck- stop, took a look around, and was immediately drawn to the lounge. It was a dimly lit room with a large television and rows of cushioned movie-theater-like seating. There were also rounded tables and chairs along the rooms perimeter. It was certainly inviting.

I went to freshen up in the restroom, and upon my return, was addressed by a young female employee. “Are you driving?” she asked. I suppose my pack and sign gave me away.

“No.” I replied.

“You cannot stay here unless you are driving.”

“Ok. Thank you.”

I perused the snack aisles. I purchased canned corn and a banana. As my items were being rung up, the manager asked “Where are you sleeping tonight?”

“Not sure” I replied.

“Well if you cannot get a ride tonight, you are free to stay in the lounge. It is supposed to be below freezing tonight.”

“Oh. Thank you so very much!”

With a gigantic grin, I took my bag of goods next door to the 24 hour Subway/Taco Bell and positioned myself in a booth to write and eat. It was already well past midnight. I was not intending on hitching another ride tonight. I was thrilled at having a safe, semi-private place to sleep.

Two police officers entered and made conversation with me. I told them my story. They were kind and responsive. They bought me a subway salad and told me to be careful. I felt welcome.

It was not long before I returned to the lounge.

I spread out my mat and sleeping bag between two rows of seats.

Safe and warm, I fell asleep.

 

 

 

By Foot and By Thumb: Day 6

October 25, 2017

I started the day early, by dipping my toes into nearby Lake Michigan. It was beautiful.

I gathered some food from a neighborhood Whole Foods, and stopped off at a thrift-store to get myself some new travelling attire. It would surely be cold as I continued to venture through the mid-west. Among my purchases was a knit ear-warmer, a brown t-shirt that read Appalachian State in bright aqua lettering (to me the text was referring to my Appalachian State-of-mind post trail), a hooded navy/faded black sweater with a left-handed zipper, an earth tone scarf printed with butterflies and trimmed in tassels, and a black, heavy, over-sized wool pea-coat  to keep the heat in.

Tomorrow afternoon, I would be back on the road.

 

 

By Foot and By Thumb: Day 5

October 24, 2017

Today was a lazy one. I waited out the rain until the afternoon, moving from the couch to the laundry room to the bathroom and back ’round again in one big cleaning overhaul.  I was offered loner clothes in the form of stretch pants and a tee…both displaying matching (repetitive) images of Pixar’s ‘Despicable Me’.

When the rain had ceased and my clothes had dried, I decided to head out. I had been trusted with a set of keys to the apartment.

I took the dog for a walk.

After I returned we sipped a bit of whiskey on the couch and my friend video called his girlfriend. We spoke briefly, and she asked me not to kill her boyfriend.

I agreed.

Not long after, I was asleep on the couch once more.

 

By Foot and By Thumb: Day 4

October 23, 2017

We rose mid-morning and left quietly.

I had never before seen the Statue of Liberty, so we made a detour to Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan, before moving along to the Windy City.

I made sure to dip my toes into the Atlantic Ocean, before I bid the east farewell.

The drive was long.  It was ’round a quarter to midnight when we crossed the Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge.

The rain drove down in bullets. I was so thankful to be safe in a capsule of warm heat.

I slept well on the couch of my new friends apartment, that night.

 

 

 

 

By Foot and By Thumb: Day 3

October 22, 2017

I rose at the request of my sleeping companion, and we departed for a walk.

It was very early Sunday morning. Most of NYC had yet to rise. It was pleasant. When I returned. The crew was already at work.

I put on a hard-hat and high-visibility vest in order to join them.

I helped to unload heavy support beams, and roll out and flatten and weave thick rope through the limp material of the tent. The material was so heavy, that we all had to stand in a row along its edge (at least 10 of us) and, at the count of three, stoop down and push out on the roll of material in unison. Push by push we unrolled the entire tent, covering most of the empty space in the lot.

A lunch time approached, the pup was eager for attention. Off I went, leash in hand, to stroll through the city once more.

I tied the pup up for a brief moment outside of the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle and made myself lunch from their salad bar.

I then strolled into a small outdoor plaza to enjoy my meal. Not long after I had situated myself, dancer’s appeared. How fantastically charming!

When I returned to the circus, the tent erection was under-way.

I joined in by helping to deliver the poles to each section they were intended to support. I helped steady the beam as it was inserted in to the material above, and others secured it with rope and force.

After the perimeter was complete, a man on an automated machine brought in the center, or king pole that was used to raise the tent. It was incredible to watch the tent slowly rise, like it had taken its first breath of air and come to life. All of us were needed to assist in pushing and supporting the gigantic king pole as it rose.

After it was erected, a noise sounded from the perimeter. One of the poles was falling over, and was creating a domino effect. Everyone ran to stop it.

It was quite the thrill.

The poles were stabilized once more. The tent erection was complete!

Never had I considered how much work went in to the construction and erection of these tents.

After the excitement had settled, my new friend told me that he was planning to visit some friends in Brooklyn.  He had told them about me. They said that I was welcome to stay the night on the couch.

So then we were off to Brooklyn to be welcomed in to the home of a lovely couple; where we ordered-in Chinese food, and watched Stranger Things, and I fell asleep on the couch.

 

By Foot and By Thumb: Day 2

October 21, 2017

Joggers and pedestrians and dogs made their way along the paved walkway that met the grassy slope from which I rose. I tried to remain inconspicuous, unnoticed. I wriggled behind a tree before slipping out of my bag and packing up my things. I made my way to Highway 2, just past the parking lot of Minute Man National Historic Park.

Highway 2 was not the busiest highway to be on. I would try to make it back to 90. I stuck out my thumb, but not my sign. I wanted to catch any sort of ride to higher traffic — regardless if it was directly west or not.

“Where ya headed?” A man asked from his passenger window as he pulled up beside me.

“California, ultimately.”

He offered to get me to a nice plaza where there would be plenty of opportunities to catch a ride. First, we were to drive to his home in Concord to get his son. It was his son’s first day of work at his first place of employment — and we would be taking him.

While in their home, I was offered coffee. I enthusiastically accepted. I savored sips of dark roast as my eyes passed their forward gaze from room to room. Off-white, warm, unoriginal; welcoming, familiar. I smiled inside, as I watch his son move in hurried preparation.

We dropped the son in a grocery store parking lot at a nearby retail courtyard. Then , I was dropped at the Lexington Service Plaza — large and populated.I thanked the man and bid him farewell.

***

I walked inside the plaza, picked up some snacks from a mini-mart, and settled against a beige, textured partition that shielded the plastic dining booth in which I sat. I scribbled in a note book and snacked before deciding that it was due time I caught a ride.

I decided to try my luck with the truck-drivers this time.

I wandered over, still awkward in my newly forming confidence, and asked a friendly-enough-looking truck driver if he was heading west. No. This particular driver was heading home to see his family for the weekend. A tad discouraged, I stepped on to the grassy median that separated the two filling stations: one for the semi-trucks, and one for the other folks.

As I stood there, uncertain of my next move, sign visible at my side, a man with a large reddish beard and kind eyes walked over.

“Where ya headed?” He asked.

“California.” I replied.

He told me that he was headed to New York City for a coupe of nights, and then Chicago. From Chicago I could hop on I-90. I-90 runs all the way west to Seattle. I was welcome to join him.

I glanced over at his vehicle — a large white van. Metal bars partitioned the front seats from the windowless back.

Despite his concerning means of transportation, I felt comfortable around him. Everything felt genuine. I was especially made at ease when I climbed in to the passenger seat to receive greetings by a sweet yellow dog.

As it were, my new friend was part of the circus community. He was friends with some folks who are erecting the tents for Big Apple Circus in New York City. They could use a hand. So off we were.

The Big Apple Circus was stationed in Manhattan. We arrived at a large, gated lot. To the left, there was a large circus tent already erected. To the right of that tent was a large vacant space where the next tent would be.

As my new friend made his arrival known, there was a chorus of pleasant greetings and introductions…followed by bemusement.

“Wait…you what? You picked her up at a truck-stop?!”

I was invited in to their trailers and offered beer and weed, both of which I graciously accepted. The circus community seemed a close knit one. These people worked hard, lived on-site, travelled, and many were involved in the circus arts. I was impressed.

A handful of us left the trailer to sip whiskey and step inside the empty tent. It was fully erected and furnished. Never before had I stepped in to a circus tent devoid of any crowds, of their buzzing. The energy seemed palpable. I could envision the glittery bodies swinging from the idle trapeze. I stood in the center, where the ringleader might stand, and ever so slowly turned 360 degrees. The stage was set and eager for a spark. I had a newfound appreciation for circus tents. For the first time I recognized them as the magical containers they were.

Then was the decision of where to sleep. I was told that I was welcome to sleep in one of their trailers, but I was more comfortable with the idea of sleeping in the back of the van. I told this to my friend.

“Ok. There is just one thing. If I lock the door there will be no way to get out.”

If sleeping in the back, metal bars made it impossible to exit from the front seats. The back of the van opened via two swinging doors. Those doors can only be unlocked from the outside.

“I don’t want that!” I replied.

“Yeah. That is why I am telling you. You can sleep with my dog, and we can leave it unlocked. I don’t think anyone would bother you with her in there.”

That worked for me.

He gave me the keys to the van, and with a hint of jest, told me not to run off with it. He then rejoined his friends. He would sleep in one of their trailers tonight.

It was Saturday, about 5:30 pm. This was my first time in New York. I was off to explore Manhattan. I made a visit to Time Square. I was stunned by the crowds. I did not wander long.

I returned to the van, snuggled up with the pup, and feeling secure and happy and free, fell fast asleep.

Pacific Northwest Trail, 2019

On July 21, 2019 I will begin my solo, 1200 mile journey along what is often called “the wildest wilderness corridor of the lower 48”.

This crown to coast adventure starts at the Continental Divide in Montana, and ends at Cape Alava on the Washington Coast.

©Pacific Northwest Trail Association

Here I will be posting a daily record of my experiences: the exhalation, the challenge, the darkness and the light, the pure joy and freedom that comes from leaving everything behind to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.

Thank you for reading, and joining me on my journey!

♥giggles

By Foot and By Thumb: Day 1


Friday, October 20th, 2017; leaving Portland, ME

I had read somewhere that Friday afternoons were the best time to hitchhike. Something to do with morale and the end of the work-week and the buried sense of abandonment that stirs to rise when 48 hours buffer oneself and Monday.

On Thursday evening I had scouted out the nearby Back Cove Park as a potential place to sleep. It was not secluded enough for slumber, but it provided preferable access to that black tarry speedway I hoped to ride south to Boston. On Friday morning I left Deering Oaks Park in the direction of Back Cove. I collected some high-quality cardboard with pleasing dimensions from beneath an overpass. I scrawled “SOUTH” on one side with a fat-tipped black marker I found in the Appalachian wilderness. I turned to cross the intersection of Franklin St. and US HWY 1. It was early afternoon, I was ready.

As I moved along the crosswalk, a man with a grey shaggy beard, a pack, and a cardboard sign of his own called out to me. “You’re not gonna be able to hitchhike from there. No one will stop. If a cop sees you they’ll arrest you!”

“I’m gonna try anyway! Thanks, though!”, I called back.

I chose my position, held out my thumb, displayed my sign, and smiled.

Ten minutes passed. I began to question my personal placement.  I watched as a car swooped in to the near by lot and parked. The man behind the wheel was communicating loudly over his cellular device. He was alone in the car.

“Are you stopping for me?” I mouthed as I pointed to myself and moved towards the parked vehicle. He gestured in confirmation and I rushed aboard and buckled in.

And so it came to be that a union carpenter called Jay, provided my first hitch towards golden California.

He couldn’t take me far, just 20 miles or so to Biddeford. He dropped me at an ideal spot of asphalt convergence just shy of the Maine Turnpike.

“Thank you!” I cried, as I pulled on my pack . I headed towards a gravel driveway perpendicular to a strip of road behind a stop-light.

***

I was nearest the road’s turn-only lane. Every car in that lane would be headed for the turnpike. It was perfect. I stood, hopeful, sign proudly displayed, thumb erect.

Roughly fifteen minutes had lapsed when I heard a loud “HEY!” I looked to my right, to the SUV that fronted the line of vehicles in wait of green-lit permission to proceed. The passenger door of the SUV swung open. The head, neck, shoulders, and arms of a man appeared from within. He called towards me, waving his arms in gesture, as if turning an invisible wheel. “C’mon!”

I jolted. The back passenger door flew open.

I scanned the interior. Two men sat in the front seat, one in the back. The red stop-light shone with the pressure of impermanence. There was no time for hesitation. All my senses told me I was safe. I threw in my pack and followed quickly  behind it.

“Where ya headed?” I asked.

“South” One replied. “And you?”

“Well, I’m tryin’ to get to Boston.”

“Hey! We’re headed to Boston! It’s your lucky day!” A voice exclaimed from the front.

Brian the Ganja Man, John Lunar Richey, and Night Owl were a fine group of gentleman working in the farming industry. They were en route to Boston to partake in what they called Employee Appreciation Hour. Affiliates of Seal Rock Farms, a family owned farm specializing in Medical Marijuana, It was not long before the SUV filled with billowing clouds of sweet, pungent smoke, meaningful conversation, and laughter as we glided south along I-95.

I was elated. I could not believe my good fortune. I could not have asked for better company. As we neared Boston, it was time to decide where I would be dropped off. I was concerned that, interested as I was to see the city, it may be difficult to find my way out of a city center. I asked my new friends what they thought.

Upon realizing that I had never been to Boston, the group determined that I should most certainly come along. To quell my fears of city-centric inertia, they would drop me off somewhere outside of the city on their way back to Maine.

Oh my goodness, my life could not be more perfect!

We parked and made our way in to a bar. We sat in a row on bar-stools. I was introduced to the bartender and made to feel at home. Though I had mentioned a taste for whiskey, as I swiveled in the bar-stool and my mind whirled with the question of where I would sleep that night, I decided to stick to beer.

I sipped a cold draft IPA, a gift from my new friends. I welled with feelings of amazement and gratitude and confirmation; confirmation that my blind faith in humanity, well, it was certainly paying off thus far.

After much musing and a round or two, it was off for Mexican food. Again I was treated, this time to a burrito.

Then, it was time for my new friends to head back to Maine.

Though they roused that I should come join them on the farm (and though in an instance where I had not just begun a cross-country journey — I would have certainly considered it), it was now time to determine my next move in the venture at hand: where should I sleep?

In the end, I rested my head at Minute-Man National Park. It was a safe, quiet place just off of route 2. They had to drive a bit out of their way to get there, but they said it was worth it to deposit me somewhere that I would be safe for the night. I bid them farewell and watched the cars headlights illuminate their path from the gravel parking lot. 

***

I made my way from the dark parking lot to a paved trail. The trail ran between a large grass covered slope that reached Highway 2 , and a wire fence that guarded I know not what. I walked part way up the slope and positioned myself in the grass behind a tree. I finished my delicious burrito and snuggled inside of my sleeping bag, all vibrato with the thrill of trust, and synchronicity.