Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hitchhiking talk

Well, sign us up for the talk show circuit. We spoke at our first public event last week in a workshop titled "Hitchhiking, couchsurfing, and scavenging" (And I would subtitle it - living efficiently in a wasteful civilization) for the Candlelight Collective.
A few minutes after the meeting, I was browsing the bookshelves and came across an anarchist cookbook (not THE anarchist cookbook, apparently there are several). It had a section on hitchhiking. The author said almost word for word what we said. So... go us! Hitchhikers agree: hitchhiking is awesome and very possible.
We spoke on how to prepare for a hitching trip, evaluate the rides you'll get, and get dropped off in a good space. We addressed safety, because everyone's always concerned (though not this group as much as most individuals are... or perhaps we made our case before they could get concerned).
We spoke briefly about scavenging and couchsurfing, but those weren't the focus of our talk, as our audience was already more familiar with those issues than hitchhiking.
The group left the meeting very enthusiastic, and, I think more well prepared than if they hadn't attended the talk, for what that's worth.

Hitchhiking, for us, is about getting from point A to B, adventure, and building a global community.

  • Know your route. Use a map (or online mapping service like Google maps) and know the names of cities between you and your destination.
  • Make a schedule. Leisurely travel can take you 300 miles and offers time enough for unforeseen adventures, and 12 hour days can get you 600+ miles if you get long semi-truck rides and don't accept off-route adventures.
  • Pack as lightly as possible, but be ready for inclement weather. If you go on any major trips, you'll probably spend nights on the road and get stuck in rain or snow. Don't forget food and water! Bonus: A big backpack makes you appear more trustworthy to some rides.
Picking your spot:
  • For long distances using a thumb or sign, find an interstate onramp close to a gas station.
  • Try approaching people at the gas station. Even if everyone says no and you move on to the onramp, sometimes the impression that you gave them there will take a little time to marinate and they'll pick you up at the onramp.
  • People are friendly and helpful. Use your own judgment, but you can ask for advice from the truck stop employees or patrons.
  • Find a spot with high visibility of cars approaching you for a long distance (500+ meters/yards) and room for them to pull over.
  • Stay on the legal side of no hitchhiking signs.
  • Rides will leave you in bad places. Do your best to avoid it, but if it happens, you may need to trudge to a better spot. Smile anyways. Always thank your ride. You are a hitchhiking ambassador.
  • Who knows?
  • No, seriously, sometimes signs are good, sometimes they seem like hindrances. Rides read them and think "I'm not going THERE" and don't stop. Sometimes they don't stop anyways. Who knows what the rides who don't stop are thinking. It's all a guessing game.
  • We heard making a sign with many place names helps. Drivers see one name and block out the rest and stop because they are going to that one place. Or so we heard from another Hhiker.
Getting someone to stop:
  • Smile.
  • Look like someone you think people you want to get a ride from would stop for. For us, that means (relatively) frequent showers, clean (ish) jeans, and plain t-shirts or sweatshirts. For others that might mean a suit and tie, military garb, or Anarchy patchwork. I think our garb is relatively innocuous and gets us a wide range of rides.
  • It's POSSIBLE that traveling in pairs leads to more consistent rides, but who has done a study on this? Not many research dollars funneled towards hitchhiking studies.
  • If you have a weapon (or weapon-like utensil like a knife) displayed, people may not feel comfortable stopping for you.
  • Smile. Or not. Who knows if it really works? But it makes you feel good. Make eye contact with drivers passing you, too.
  • Keep your cool. If you get frustrated, pray to the hitchhiking gods. Getting angry at passing cars will only hurt your chances of getting a ride, and might draw the attention of the cops.
Deciding whether to take the ride:
  • Look for signs of drugs or alcohol, and don't get in the car if you see or smell them. Just say "no thanks". Walk away if you have to (grab your bag as you go).
  • Check for seatbelts. There HAVE been studies done on the importance of seatbelts. Wear one.
  • Ask where they're going. If you don't know it, take a sec to check a map, or ask if there's another onramp near a truck stop along your route (usually the interstate) before they turn off it.
  • Trust your instincts. They might be wrong, but if you're nervous about hitchhiking anyways, always remind yourself that you have the power to turn down a ride. If your partner feels uncomfortable, listen to them. You're there for each other, so let your partner's feelings sway you.
Once you have the ride:
  • Tolerance. You'll have a lot more fun if you give up your responsibility while in the car to promote your point of view. You don't have to agree, just observe. This is one of the best places to get to know a whole 'nother world that you might otherwise never encounter.
  • Listen. It's conversation 101, but it bears repeating - to be a good conversationalist, ask a person questions about themselves and then just let them go.
  • If you get uncomfortable, ask them to stop and let you out. Keep your eyes open, and your wits about you. I have no advice for people in a bank during a robbery, but whatever that is, do that. Stay calm, probably. If you don't avoid going into banks because there might be a robbery, don't avoid hitchhiking because you might meet a crazy, but be as prepared.
  • If someone offers you something, it's up to you. We often accept a can of soda or a candy bar (sometimes a meal or a place to sleep, too) if they're offering, but turn down money or inedible gifts, because we don't want to seem like we're panhandling. Food and accommodations seem like hospitality, other stuff seems like charity, which we don't need and should go to someone more deserving. Maybe you! =)
  • Be POLITE! Always thank your ride. Even if it was the worst ride ever, thank them profusely. A stranger is trying to do you a kindness; thank them. Be nice.
And finally,
  • Be flexible. It's an adventure! Balance your journey between getting to your destination in your predetermined fashion, and finding a new route because person A IS going West, but first they're going to a hot springs. That's where the awesome is.
Hitchhike today for a better world tomorrow!

Resources: - group: hitchhikers

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Final Day-Seattle to West Bend

I left you all sitting on the edge of your seats--"Surprise thunderstorm?" you asked. "Did they make it out alive?" you further questioned, then reminded yourself, with relief, that they must have, because they are writing this.

It was just a gentle rainfall when it woke us up. We started to pull out the tarp to throw over the tent, then checked the watch and saw it was 6:15am, only fifteen minutes until we planned to wake up, anyway, so we just decided to pack up. We hurried as much as we could, but the rain just kept falling harder and harder and the lightning and thunder came closer and closer together. We had nearly everything put together when it really started to dump and we made a run for it. The parking lot was already covered in a light layer of water, so what the rain didn't wet, the splashes did.

We got as far as the pumps and stopped to catch our breath and put our stuff together the rest of the way. Then we went inside and I changed into my only other dry leg coverings, my shorts. Last time we took a big hitchhiking trip, my second pair of pants were nondescript black sweat-type pants. They were comfortable to sleep in, but also fine for day wear. It was good having them for times like this, when my jeans got drenched. However, on this trip my second pair of pants were just pajama bottoms, not something I feel comfortable hitchhiking in. Lesson learned for the next big trip.

We ate breakfast at the truck-stop diner (have I ever told you all how much I love diners?), then headed out to start asking truckers for rides. None of the truckers filling up could give us rides, and we started to head out to the freeway entrance. We noted a Jefferson line bus filling up, and decided not to ask the driver. As we walked past him, though, he said "Where ya headed?" and when we said east, Milwaukee, he said he was going to Minneapolis. That sounded like it was in the right direction, so we accepted the ride. But as we drove off with him, he told us he would get to Minneapolis at 4pm because he was making stops along the way to pick up and drop off paying passengers. Also, we looked at a map and realized Minneapolis wasn't right on the I-90 route, so ultimately it seemed like it would cost us time. We told the driver our concerns and asked if he could let us out. He said it was no problem and pointed which direction we needed to go to get back to the freeway entrance.

We were really kicking ourselves at this point. We should have taken the minute to figure that stuff out while we were still at the truck stop, in a good position to get a different ride. As it was, we had to walk all the way back to the truck stop, costing us about 45 minutes. We chalked it up to our exercise for the day, though, and picked a couple pretty flowers along the way.

When we got back we asked around again, then headed out to the freeway entrance. By this time it was nearly 10am. We got a ride just a few minutes later from a kindly older gentleman. He dropped us off at 10:52am near Worthington, MN. At 11:11am (chicken feet!), John picked us up. John is a heavy equipment operator who has been working on windmills for the past six years. He travels all around MN for his work and was on his way home for the weekend. He'd gotten off early that day because the thunderstorms prevented work on the windmills. Speaking of thunderstorms, the one that woke us up in the morning was moving east, but thankfully the frequency with which we got rides kept us ahead of it the rest of the day.

John dropped us off at 12:20pm near Blue Earth, MN. We walked over to a nearby gas station to use the restroom. Earlier, just before the kindly older gentleman picked us up, we noticed a couple of recreational trailers pass us by. Then, just before John picked us up, we saw the very same two trailers get back on the freeway. Now, as we were headed to the gas station, we saw them a third time! They were also using the restrooms, and they noted that we were keeping right up with them. We tried to use the conversation opportunity to show them we are good people and that they should give us a ride east, but they declined. Too bad, because they were going all the way to Chicago.

No matter. At 12:42pm we got a ride with Abdi Gani. He was a nice guy, but inclined to try and convert us to Islam. It was interesting how similar his attempts were to Christian conversion attempts. He asked us to look at the sky, the heavens, look at our own miraculous bodies--how can we not believe in a creator when we see such evidence? It's a weak argument, and when we continued to tell him that that doesn't make us believe in God, he gave us the names of some great Muslim debaters we should check out on Youtube.

Abdi Gani dropped us off at 1:10pm by the turnoff for Albert Lea, and at 1:15pm we got a short ride from Brad. Brad wasn't going far, just to the junction of 35, where he would head south to visit his mother. He wondered if he should have dropped us off at one exit he had already passed, because then he was at his exit and it wasn't really an off and on-again spot. It was really two highways meeting each other, and the spot where we ended up standing to get our next ride was kind of scary. It was a lane to get from 35 to 90, but cars were going fast and it wasn't really an exit, so it was probably illegal for us to stand there. Thankfully, we got a ride pretty quickly.

At 1:35pm Ginny and her college-age daughter, Mandy, picked us up. They were going all the way to Wisconsin and could drop us off near Tomah. They were headed to a wedding and we joked that it was really our wedding they were coming for. Ginny did say that we reminded her of her niece and soon-to-be nephew in-law who were getting married. We talked with Ginny and Mandy about politics and agreed that capitalism is not working. Ginny told us how she writes a lot of letter to her local representatives about how important it is to focus on environmental problems and that they always kind of blow off her concerns. She thinks they're worried about losing their monetary support from big businesses, but this infuriates her because (I'm paraphrasing) the economy is meaningless in the face of a dying planet.

They dropped us off at 3:51pm along I-94 and we crossed over from the west entrance to the east one. A few people stopped who were going to get onto I-90 west, but then Curtis stopped at 4:28pm and was headed towards Madison. Curtis was a super-nice and interesting guy. He's from Alaska, but lives in Madison now with his wife and six kids because he and his wife are both getting graduate degrees there. He is studying Psychology to become a counselor and wants to open his own counseling office someday. I felt really inspired by him. He was, by his own admission, not a great student. He wanted to quit high school and get right to working, and had only recently finished his undergrad degree. But he had the guts to apply to graduate school and he got in and now he's doing it, while raising six kids. I think that's amazing.

He dropped us off at 5:30pm where 94 meets 33, and at this point we got off the freeway so we could follow a more direct route to Brendan's parents' place. Our hope was to get all the way to their door. At 5:40pm we got a ride with a ranger from Devil Lake who took us to Portage. He dropped us off at 5:50pm and we got a ride immediately with Crystal, Dotty, and Princess Sasha Fuzzybutt (the latter is a dog). Crystal and Dotty are Wiccans who were preparing for the 13th Annual Pagan Pride Days in Madison. They were really nice and Dotty offered us each a bottle of Mountain Dew Code Red as a wedding present.

Crystal and Dotty dropped us off at 6:20pm by the intersection for 73, and at 6:30pm we had a ride with Christina and her four adorable children, who were on their way back from a day at Wisconsin Dells. She dropped us off at 6:37pm in Fox Lake, and at 6:52pm we got a ride from a teenage boy named Donovan, who took us to a Kwik Trip gas station in Beaver Dam. By this time it was starting to get dark, and we were pretty tired, so we called Brendan's parents and asked them to pick us up there (about a 45 mile drive from their house). We bought a bag of sale donuts and sat down to eat and wait and they picked us up there at about 8:30pm. Turns out there are a couple of Kwik Trips in Beaver Dam, so it took them a little longer to get to us, but it gave them a chance to buy their own bag of sale donuts.

4 days, 3 nights, 17 rides (counting my sister and Brendan's parents, and not counting the bus driver), 1973 miles. This trip, like all our others, has reminded me how wonderful and generous people are. I think everyone should hitchhike, just to be reminded of that, or perhaps to experience it for the first time.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day 3 - Seattle to West Bend

Our completely out in the open stealth camping at a campsite worked out problem-free. Brendan even got to take a shower because the men's restroom was unlocked. I used the restroom, but couldn't bring myself to strip and shower in case someone walked in. I settled for washing the top of my head in the sink.

We got up the next morning at 5:32am, much to my dismay and protests. Once I stood up, though, I felt a little more awake and ready to deal with the early-morning world. Plus, we wanted to get out of there before anyone woke up. We succeeded. We used the restrooms in the truck stop, then asked around to see if we could get a nice long ride with a trucker again. No go, so we made our way out to the I-90 east entrance and were standing there by 6:35am.

At 6:41am we got a ride with a nice guy named Dusty. He wasn't going far, but he could take us to the truck stop on the other side of Billings. Dusty was our age and was very interested in traveling. He got the bug when he was 18 years old and won a trip to Australia from a Powerade bottle. Now he is married and has a 17 month old son, so he thinks it will be more difficult. We told him about couchsurfing and about our friends who braved the seas to live in Germany with their two-year old daughter (okay, so they flew across the ocean). He seemed pretty interested, so I hope he follows through on traveling more.

It was about 7am when he dropped us off at the truck stop. We went into a McDonald's there so I could get a cup of coffee and while I was paying for it, Brendan was being offered a pair of nice hiking boots from a trucker. The tape on Brendan's shoes attracts a lot of attention. Brendan assured the trucker that he was happy with the shoes he had, and that he had more shoes at home.

There's a shoe under all that tape

We asked several truckers for a ride, but they were either going the wrong direction, or said they couldn't take us because of company policy. So, again, we made our way out to the I-90 east entrance and were standing there by 7:27am. The spot we were at seemed to be well-frequented by hitchhikers, and here's how we know:

It says "Husband + pregnant wife" in the corner

We borrowed this sign for a short while, then decided it was repetitious since we were standing at an I-90 east entrance

Can you spot ""?

At 8am, a big rig stopped for us. Success! Our ride was with Roy and Jeff and Asia. Roy and Jeff were the truckers, Asia was the adorable rottweiler puppy. Roy and Jeff were hauling vehicles and were going all the way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, before heading south. That's 717 miles! And they were willing to share their already crowded cab for that entire distance. This made an amazing third day for us. We enjoyed our ride with them. They were both nice guys and the only trouble was my voice got tired from talking over the noise of the truck. Jeff and his family are interested in moving to Seattle one day, so we told him to keep in touch so we can introduce him and his family to all our friends there.

Our long-distance Thursday ride

They dropped us off at a Love's truck stop around 10pm that night. Jeff told us there was a big field just on the other side of where a bunch of trucks were parked, so we headed over there after a halfhearted effort to get a nighttime ride. The field was great. There was lots of tall grass at the edge of it, plus all the big rigs parked up next to the edge of it, so we felt well-secluded. It was even pretty peaceful sounding with cicadas all around us, once we got used to the squealing and screeching pig noises coming from a nearby trailer. That is, it was great until the surprise thunderstorm the next morning, but that's another day and another blog post, my friends. Do come back.

P.S. I almost forgot to show you these pictures from the Love's. We considered asking for rides here because someone probably would have offered us one...but we didn't want to disturb.

He's got all the big rigs, in his hands

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day 2 - Seattle to West Bend

So it's 4AM and we're back at the free way entrance. Middle of the night, a couple cars every 15 minutes. There are 2 eastbound i-90 freeway entrances. One for people coming from the truck stop, one for people coming from other parts of Spokane. We chose a spot on the median between the two. Around 4:30, a cop pulls up and tells us to move to the sidewalk. So we did.
Around 5:15AM the clouds caught the first edge of sunlight, and by 5:45AM it was light enough to read by.
At 6:35AM we caught a ride with Frank about 30 miles to Post Falls, ID. He let us off at a rest stop where we freshened up and then started in earnest around 7:33AM. We asked a few truckers and moved on to the rest stop exit.
At 10:18 we got a ride from Steve. He's trucking with his Silkie Terrier, Shadow, to Billing, MT, a good 500 miles away.

Steve had some crazy stories to share. He's been a thousand different places and worked a dozen different jobs. Everything from Vietnam Sniper to Cowboy to Animal Rescue, Firefighter, Horse Trainer, etc, etc...

He let us out just before Billings, and we spent the night at the campgrounds near the truck stop. A sheriff stopped to talk to us, and suggested that we sneak into the campgrounds and leave before anybody else woke up.... silly law enforcers. So we did.

And that was day 2.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wedding Note, and Our Latest Hitchhiking Trip, Part I

See the kittens, hiding on my lap?

We are in Wisconsin now, at Brendan's parents' farm (there are kittens here!), and the day is drawing near. Soon this place will be decked out in who-knows-what (ribbon? pumpkins? fall leaves? your smiling faces?) and we will be gettin' hitched. And as we are preparing for the day, we've been talking more about what we want it to be like. So there's this thing we just decided, that you should know. Instead of simply having toasts at our reception and putting just a few people on-the-spot, we'd like to turn the traditional toasting time into an open mic session. If you want to toast, great, but you could also sing a song, play an instrument, read a poem, read something else, perform a comedy routine, whatever you like! It will be your chance to offer us a little gift of yourself, expressed however you like. It won't be mandatory, but please consider sharing something.

Now, to tell the story, or rather, many stories, of our latest hitchhiking journey. As many of you know, we were most recently in Everett and Seattle, catching up with family and friends there. But we needed to get back to Wisconsin to prepare for the wedding. In the past, we've taken the bus or the train to get to Wisconsin (we've never flown there, though, which I find kind of funny), but this time we wanted to save money, and we wanted to flex our hitchhiking muscles. So we thumbed it.

Our first ride of the day on Tuesday, September 7, was from my sister Amelie. She had the day off and offered to get us started, and we accepted. She took us to Vantage, WA, we ate lunch together, then she dropped us off at the I-90 east on ramp. It was pretty dead, so were worried we would get stuck there, but within just a few minutes a woman who was just coming off the freeway asked where we were headed. We said east and she said she could take us as far as Moses Lake. We said that would be great, then she asked if we could chip in some gas money. That kind of put us off. We hesitated, but then said yeah, we had just a couple bucks. We were worried about the spot, remember. She said okay, she was going to fill up and then be back to pick us up. As soon as she left we talked about how it made us uncomfortable that she'd asked us for money and that we'd agreed to pay her. It's not hitchhiking if money is involved, it's ridesharing. But still, it was only two bucks, and it would get us out of the bad spot. But it must not have been such a bad spot, because before she even came back, we had another ride, and this one was going all the way to Spokane.

Russ was a nice guy who told us all about his travels in Europe and in the US. He went on a trip east once and started out by bus in Montana. When he left it was 30 degrees, and when he arrived somewhere in North Dakota, it was 30 below, and this was where he started hitchhiking. He said he could see ice in the air, and at one point he slipped and fell back into a covey of quails. He thought he just kept on falling, then realized it was just that all the birds were flying up around him. He didn't say how long it took him to get a ride, but it must have been pretty quick because, well, he obviously didn't freeze to death. He dropped us off at a Flying J, where we were greeted by this:

Aww, thanks for the welcome!

We decided to ask the employees, anyway. Just because they have a sign like that doesn't mean the people on duty care much about it, right? So we approached the two guys behind the counter and said, "Excuse me, but we saw the sign about hitchhiking outside, and were wondering, is that very strictly enforced?" We try to be polite. And they politely said yes, we would have to step foot off the gas station grounds before we stuck out our thumbs. Well, it was dark by this time anyway, so we asked them if they knew of any place around where we might be able to set up our tent for the night. One of them said he thought there was kind of a field near some warehouses further up the road, so we headed that way.

We didn't find anything much, though, at least nothing that was free of big chain-link fences, so we kept walking. We came to a little residential area, and turned down a street with some homes. At one house that had a nice big front yard with plenty of room for our little bitty tent, we saw the home-dweller walking from his backyard to his driveway. We said to each other, "It doesn't hurt to ask" and approached him. We greeted him and he responded "Hello, WHAT?" as in, what do you want? So we asked if we could set up our tent in his yard. He responded "No frickin' way," but upon noting that we did not seem drug-crazed, he recommended we set up tent in the nearby schoolyard. If the police came, he reasoned, we had nothing to hide.

We followed his advice, even though this was a much more open spot than we normally feel comfortable with when we're trying to stealth-camp. It seemed to be the best we could find, though, so we just tried to find the most hidden spot possible, and we set our alarm for 5:30am so we could get out of there before anyone showed up for school the next day. But who needs an alarm when there's a built-in wake-up call right there in the field? Around 2:45am I woke up and thought I heard falling water, but then convinced myself it was wind. Wind that seemed to come and go in a regular pattern, but hey, how awake are you at 2:45am? I went back to sleep. About 3:15am, the "wind" had started up right by our tent, and was actually sprinklers. They rotated, at least, so we had some dry moments to get out of the tent and pull it to a dry spot. But that was it for sleep for the night, so we packed everything up and headed back to the freeway. That is the end of Installment I, folks. Installment II comes tomorrow.