Monday, March 30, 2009

On the road again, a quick post from Stina

We spent a delightful day at the beach yesterday with Ca, Melina, Tai, and Kira. Pictures will follow in a day or two, but I haven't had a chance to upload them yet. My face and arms and neck were protected with sunscreen and an already established light tan, but my poor white legs have turned a bright shade of pink. They itch.

Melina and Ca dropped us off at our couchsurfer's home in San Luis Obispo. We got to play Settlers of Catan! I won. This is the second time in a row I have won Settlers of Catan, and this makes me very happy. We are about to set out hitchhiking to San Ramon, where we will stay with my aunt and uncle. We're getting a bit of a late start, but hopefully we'll have good luck on the road today. We've decided to take 101 rather than 1 because it will be faster. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Now in Tulare, update of the past few days

Our time in San Diego flew by fast with many brief visits with various family. My cousin Matthew was there the day we arrived but left the next day, so we squeezed in game playing and picture watching with him. Aunt Karen came by twice to say hi, Benjamin and Aunt Martha came by once and Caleb did too but we weren’t home when he did. I missed out on seeing my Uncles Bobbi and Rudy, and my cousins Caleb and Joshua. But Grandma Katy took us to see my Great-Uncle-Albert and my Great-Aunt-Stina, and we happened to see my first cousin once-removed when she was visiting Stina. We spent time with Uncle Karl and Grandma Katy at home, and when she took us out to dinner.

Grandma Katy's cat, Sadie

We got lost in Balboa Park one day but found our way back to South Park from downtown another day. Balboa Park is huge and beautiful. We saw many different types of gardens and hummingbirds followed us everywhere.

A hummingbird

Hitching away from San Diego proved fairly easy. Uncle Karl dropped us off by an I-5 north entrance that was also the entrance to a less major highway heading north. Two people stopped within the first 15 minutes, but neither was getting on I-5, so we passed up those rides. Then a couple our age stopped and they were getting on I-5 so we hopped in.

This was one of our most informative rides, at least about one particular topic: traveling kids and their societal counterparts. One of our drivers had traveled extensively by many means. She had hitchhiked, train-hopped, driven around in a van and crossed the country several times over before she turned 16. She didn’t consider us true travelers because we have money to support ourselves. Therefore, we will never really be “traveling kids.” Traveling kids are young people who just have an itch to travel and when they hear a train whistle blowing, they want to hop on that train. They don’t think about how they’re going to get by, they just go. What I am writing is not necessarily my opinion, but what I understood from what she was telling us.

Regarding how she decides whether or not to pick up hitchhikers, she said she is much more likely to pick up two people traveling together. Amongst traveling kids, the term for your travel companion is “road dog.” She is also more likely to pick people up if they look basically put-together. That is, if they have bags, and their stuff seems compact and packed away and isn’t too raggy looking. But mostly she goes by intuition when deciding whether or not to pick someone up.

She warned us a lot to think of all the potential bad situations we could get into while hitchhiking, so that we would have a plan in place in case something happened. She gave us several possible scenarios of things that could go wrong pretty quickly and easily. She didn’t tell us any horror stories, but from her indications I gathered she had many. She told us we looked pretty fresh, or something like that. She said her nickname on the road is Mama, because that is the role she tends to take.

I take her advice to heart. I want to be prepared for the worst, just in case. Having a plan in place for how Brendan and I will get in touch with each other or find each other in case we get separated is a good idea, and it isn’t something we’ve talked much about. But I also think that because of the way we look, we get treated differently than traveling kids. Several people who have picked us up told us that the only reason they did is because we looked normal, or because we looked like them (read, clean and white). The peace corps volunteers even thought we looked like European travelers and that helped determine their decision to stop. I’m just guessing on this, but I think our encounters with police have been more positve than most traveling kids’ encounters with police for this same reason. Our driver said a lot of young people who are traveling are wanted in some way back in their home states. That would automatically make them incredibly wary of police. But when police stop to ask Brendan and me questions about why we’re hitchhiking, we come across as innocent because we don’t have anything on our records, so they just tell us to move or to be more surreptitious, or they drive us to another spot. We are travleing by hitchhiking because we want to legitimize hitchhiking for the masses. We are not doing it because it is our last resort or in order to gain any street cred.

The other member of the couple giving us the ride is a writer. Her girlfriend said she is a great person to talk to about publishing, and I’m hoping we can keep in contact with both of them in the future. They dropped us off at the exit before I-5 meets 405. We stood by the northbound entrance and made a sign that said “405” because people getting on could be doing one or the other. About 10 minutes later, a young man driving towards the southbound entrance across the street pulled over and yelled across four lanes of traffic, “Where are you going?” We said, “Huntington Beach,” and he motioned for us to come over. Turned out he was just off work and was almost home, but he saw us and wanted to help us out, so he drove us directly to the address we were trying to get to. It was so nice of him. We’ve encountered so many people who have gone out of their way to help us get where we’re going.

In Huntington Beach we stayed with my sister-in-law’s brother, Ben, and his wife Jill. We had contacted a couchsurfer in Huntington Beach before I was reminded that Ben and Jill lived there. The couchsurfer wasn’t able to host us, but thankfully Ben and Jill were willing to even with super short notice. We had a great time staying with them. They have three delightful pug dogs and we got to go on a trip to the beach with them all.

The beach
Kyoki (sp?) and Odin

Brendan and Emma

I hadn’t see Ben and Jill in a long time, and they made us feel right at home. They even offered to drive us to Tulare, and we happily took them up on it. It is about a three and half hour drive, and they took us on a detour through Hollywood.

So cool! The one sidewalk star we got a closeup on was “Spanky" McFarland. We thought that might be a porn star name, but it turns out he was one of the characters on “Our Gang.”

George "Spanky" McFarland

And now we are in Tulare! Staying here is like being royalty. We get all the free food and drink at La Piazza (fancy, delicious Italian food) we want and we get entertained by the ultimate jesters: a 6 year old niece and 8 year old nephew. What bliss.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Itinerary, more exact (now with an understanding of hitchhiking!)

March 21st leave San Diego
March 21st-22nd Huntington Beach
March 23rd-28th Tulare
March 28th-29th Los Gatos
March 29th-31st San Francisco
March 31st- April 1st Dale and Colette (near SF)
April 2nd-4th Arcata
April 5th-7th Portland
April 7th arrive Seattle

April 28th leave Seattle
April 28th-29th Leavenworth
April 29th-30th Spokane
April 30th-May 2nd Missoula, MT
May 2nd-3rd Bozeman, MT
May 3rd-6th Yellowstone National Park
May 6th or 7th-7th or 8th Billings, MT
May 8th-9th Glendive, MT
May 9th-10th Bismarck, ND
May 10th-11th Fergus Falls, MN
May 11th-13th Willmar, MN
May 13th-14th Eau Claire, WI
May 14th arrive Bur Oak Farm

May 25th leave Wisconsin
May 25th-27th Chicago, IL
May 27th-28th Gary, Indiana
May 28th-29th Kalamazoo, MI
May 29th-June 1st Detroit, MI
June 1st-2nd Toronto, Canada
June 2nd-3rd Kingston, Canada
June 3rd-10th Ottawa
June 10th-13th Montreal, Quebec, Canada
June 13th-14th Montpelier, Vermont
June 14th-16th Portland, ME
June 16th-18th Boston, MA
June 18th-19th Providence, RI
June 19th-20th Hartford, CT
June 20th arrive NYC
June 30th leave NYC (JFK)
July 1st Arrive Dusseldorf
Tour Germany
July 7th Arrive Scandinavia
July 20th Leave Scandinavia
July 25th Arrive Amsterdam
July 30th Leave Amsterdam
August 1st Arrive France
August 7th Arrive England
August 9th Arrive Scotland
August 13th arrive Wales
August 18th Arrive Ireland
August 30th Leave Ireland
September 5th Arrive France
September 9th Arrive Austria
September 24th Leave Austria
September 26th Arrive Hungary
September 29th Leave hungary
October 4th Arrive Greece
October 17th Arrive Italy
November 3rd Arrive Spain
November 12th Arrive Portugal
November 20th Arrive Spain
November 25th Arrive Morrocco
November 30th Arrive other parts of Africa
February 27th Leave Egypt
March 10th Arrive Asia
June 14th Leave Asia
July 6th Leave Seattle
July 18th Arrive WI
October 10th Get Married


Yesterday we went to Balboa Park. While there, I phoned John Johnson (aka Looney Dooney the Clown). John's ex-wife knew my father 29 years ago, and arranged for John to sleep on my dad's couch for 6 weeks when he first moved to Seattle. When my mom heard we would be in San Diego, she found him online and told him to look out for us.
He met us at Balboa park, and brought along his toys. He taught us how to make balloon animals and hats (and gave us some balloons), and he demonstrated his airbrush face-painting invention. Awesome! He really knows what he's doing, and he knows how to teach. In the few short hours we spent with him, we gained more potential busking skills than in the weeks we spent throwing balls at each other (though that was valuable and fulfilling, too). We managed to partially blow up a few balloons, and that was like realizing I could make people laugh for the first time. I couldn't stop grinning to do it again. That might be our future. At the very least, if we do YTN birthday parties again, we can offer balloons, too.
First self-created design: Squirrel with nut for Stina's mom.

Next, today we visited Stina's great-uncle Albert and great-aunt Stina (her namesake), then played in Balboa Park. We danced in the formal garden and crashed through the underbrush of a golf course. Altogether an active and delightful day. Tomorrow we're off to Huntington Beach for some beach sun and ocean, then hitching on up to Tulare. So far we've only had a couple rides in CA, and it's seemed a bit harder than other states... but first impressions are sometimes nothing. We'll see tomorrow.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It all works out for the best

Now, we're not believers in any particular greater power, but when you're hitchhiking you often start to see superstitions and patterns at work. I can only imagine that things happen as they were meant to be, and yes, we still think hitchhiking is incredible.

We spent Tuesday night in Yuma, Arizona, with Stina's first cousin once removed, Marcia, and her husband Dale and kids Brittany and Micah. We could have gotten a ride all the way to San Diego with a young couple on spring break from college, but we had these plans to stop in Yuma and figured we'd have no trouble getting from there to San Diego. So the couple dropped us off and we had a nice visit with family members Stina had never met before.
Stina's cousins' dog Malibu, a crazy licker.

Malibu on Brendan's arm

Dale, Stina and Marcia

The next day, Wednesday, we got ourselves dropped off at a Love's truck stop at 11:40 AM and walked about asking drivers if they could take us to San Diego. Most were either truly full with people and baggage or said they were going east. When we went through the convenience store, a friendly employee asked about our trip and wished me luck. We went out the back to where the truckers fueled up, asked one trucker, and while we were asking him, I heard the loudspeaker say "Soliciting rides from truckers is prohibited" or something like that. Stina didn't hear it, but I guided her away from that area and we went to the sidewalk with a sign.

A fellow who was late for work said he felt really bad about saying no to us earlier, and took us back to Yuma where we could wait at the Circle K gas station and the onramp from the city proper. We waited there for another hour or so until a young Marine took us 2 miles out of town. From this spot we watched white buses hauling port-a-potties carrying migrant workers back and forth and giant trucks filled with citrus trundle by. We turned down a ride from a man who said he was only going to the casinos and that our current spot was better than where he'd drop us off (why he stopped to tell us that, I don't know. Perhaps he thought we might just be hitching to the casino). We waited another hour. This was the view:

Finally, another older Marine (30-something) who'd served in operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom took us to that casino exit. He seemed to either have short term memory loss or PTSD or something because he told us 3 times each that he was an alcoholic gamblaholic, got $2500 a month for disability, and asked us twice if we had children.

We were a little relieved to get out since he also kept offering us Jaegermeister and asking us if we wanted to join him in the casino or if we had any cash. By this time, we'd gone 7 miles in 4 hours.

One car per minute passed us by, and we were on an intersection with a route to and from Mexico. This time I clasped my hands together and an RV stopped for us. Mark, his mom, Alice, and their neighbor, Dallas, saw us on their way back to Palm Springs from Mexico where they had dental work done. They'd be on the I-8 until El Centro. About 40 miles down the road, amongst the sand dunes, Mark, a hot springs enthusiast, spotted an oasis, complete with palm trees lining a pond and everything iconic you can imagine. We all stopped for a dip for about an hour. basking in the 106 degree hot springs and swimming in the cool pond. If not for our earlier terrible luck, we never would have gone.

They dropped us in El Centro. After being warned by a state trooper that the only ride we could expect at the onramp would be one to the county jail, we moved to the sidewalk 20 feet from where we'd been, safe on city property. After not nearly as long as our earlier waits had been, 2 public health students from Tucson on spring break (also former peace corps volunteers from Africa) stopped and asked us, "How do we know you're not murderers?" We answered as best we could, and rode with their enthusiasm all the way to San Diego. They knew about Couchsurfing and seemed interested and supportive of our idea of legitimizing hitchhiking. They seemed to enjoy the story we told them (about reaching the top of a mountain on the back of an ant), and were so excited to have hosted their first hitchhikers that they took our pictures and promised to befriend us on Facebook.
View from I-8 on the way to San Diego.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hitchhiking is incredible!!!

There's no reason not to be absolutely thrilled with the results we've had. Today we caught a single ride (from two college students on spring break) from Phoenix to Yuma. We could've taken that ride all the way to San Diego, but hitching has been so easy for us, we can be even more leisurely about our travel. Stina has second cousins in Yuma, so we stopped to meet them here and relax for the night. Our rides have come from the most diverse assortment of people: White, Black, Hispanic, Chicano, American Indian, Men, Women, Families, Couples, Individuals, Academics, Laborers, Artists, Petty Bourgeoisie, Over 65, Under 21, Between 21 and 65, Pick up hitchhikers all the time, Never picked up a hitchhiker before, Christian, Atheist, Right-Wing, Left-Wing, No-Wing, Ranchers, City-folk, Small Towns, Farmers...
People often ask us to describe the most common kind of person who picks us up. The answer is: there isn't one. I could go on at length about how each individual is unique and brings their own personal history to the table, and none of them is common. I could tell you about the couple who collects nutcrackers and travels to nutcracker conventions most years or the man who told us about his aversion to banks, because he's so far in debt, if he ever puts money in the bank, it gets seized, but the truth is, even without accounting for the nuances that make each of us different, the people who pick us up come from a broad cross section of humanity. The only thing that unites them is their ability to trust complete strangers, and that same quality unites them with us. You might be surprised what a defining quality that is. It leads to openness and comfort.
I've been thinking lately about what makes a person derive a philosophy from their actions. For the most part, I've been feeling a little cynical about it. But coming with glee upon this hitchhiking journey, I must confess, I want to espouse hitchhiking as a philosophy. Of course I want to do it safely, and of course I want others to, but neither Stina nor I have had any encounters that have felt the slightest bit unsafe because of the other person (absent seatbelts feel unsafe...). And so, I feel it is safe. I want it to be legal. I want it to be commonplace. I want it to be recognized as a legitimate form of travel and a legitimate way to make new friends.
Hooray for hitchhiking!!!!

Monday, March 16, 2009

In Phoenix, beautiful desert but being sick sucks

Our lack of sleep that night in the truck stop seems to have compromised our immune systems. We could have caught anything from anybody. We travel in so many different cars, use many various restrooms that have been visited by hundreds of various people, and hug kids that are recovering from or just coming down with some bug or another. The bugs in our bodies have declared:
I (Stina) am not doing too poorly. A bit of a snotty nose, a slightly sore throat, that's it. Brendan feels in pain all over and his head is all stuffed up. We still plan to leave Phoenix tomorrow but may delay our travels by a day if he's not feeling better in the morning.

On Friday late-morning we left Roswell after buying a few postcards. There's not really much to do in Roswell but visit the UFO museum. We didn't pay to see the whole thing, but we wandered through the gift shop. FYI, they have the cheapest postcards out of the few shops we checked ($0.35 each). The man who picked us up was really only going to the edge of town. He'd planned to pick up a friend and get drunk. He was in town because his father had just passed away, and he and his sisters were busy taking care of their mother, who has Alzheimer's and is showing signs of dementia. He ended up taking us all the way to Ruidoso, which is at least 30 miles down the road, because he said doing something kind for us was better than spending the afternoon drinking.

He also gave us $20. This is the second time in the past few days that someone has given us $20. The first was in Seminole. We'd just gotten dropped off by the trucker and were walking towards the edge of town, to find a good spot to hitch. An elderly man in a pickup truck pulled into the parking lot we were passing through and said "Y'all traveling? Here's a little something to help you out," and handed us a twenty dollar bill. I simply took it and said thank you. In the past, we've turned away offers of money, because we really don't need need it and feel bad about taking it. But I think I've gotten over feeling bad about it. If people want to be generous and help us out, why not take it? We don't go around asking people for food or money, but sometimes people just see that we're traveling and assume we need money. Maybe it's because we're hitchhiking, and we must seem poor to be doing that. But in the case of the elderly man, we didn't even have our thumbs out. We were just walking along, with big old packs on our backs.

As I type this I realize that my declaration that we don't ask people for money might seem at odds with the donation button we have on our website. With that, we hoped that people might be interested enough in the radio play we created to give us a few bucks. People who've donated have been much more generous than we ever thought possible, and even with that I feel a little bad taking large donations. But again, if people want to be so generous, why should we say no? It gets to be a matter of pride, I think. We don't want to seem like we're begging, and taking money kind of makes us feel like we are. When we deny people the chance to give us something, though, I think it just makes the giver feel bad more so than it makes us feel good. So while I'm not going to start asking people for money, I'm not going to say no when someone freely offers it.

In Ruidoso it was at least ten degrees cooler than it had been in Roswell, where the day had started off at about 41 degrees. There were snow flurries and it felt like Chicago all over again. We stood there stamping our feet and looking forlornly after every car that passed us by. Thankfully it only took about 15 minutes to get a ride. Our next driver turned out to be a couchsurfer from Tucson who was in town to learn to be a tattoo artist. He wasn't going too far, just to Mescalaro, but even that little bit put us in much warmer weather.

Our next ride was from a woman who says she never picks up hitchhikers, but something told her she should pick us up. We could barely fit our packs and ourselves in her car, but we managed, and she took us as far as Alamogordo. She seemed to be searching for things to talk to us about, and Brendan thought she was searching for an answer to why she felt driven to pick us up. I don't know if she found it, but maybe it was simply that she be reassured that hitchhikers aren't dangerous. The sky was beautiful in Alamogordo, but I'm having issues posting pictures right now, so that will have to wait.
I also just heard that dinner is in five minutes, so I should wrap up and see if I can help set the table. Next post will shortly follow, with more hitching stories and pictures of the really cool Saguaro Cacti.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

In Roswell, update of last couple days

This might be long. Hitchhiking long distances garners so many stories! Yesterday morning, after a night of nearly no sleep inside the Flying J, we headed out with Larry, the trucker we'd met the previous night. He treated us to a lovely breakfast, then we all went to the food corporation where he was dropping off his current load of cottage cheese. From what he knew, the place made frozen french fries, and he couldn't figure out why they needed cottage cheese.

While they were unloading, Larry called to find out about his next job, which was supposed to take him to Clovis. This would have been great because he could have dropped us off in Carlsbad on the way. Alas, the next load of cheese he was supposed to pick up wasn't ready, so they were sending him to Brownfield instead. Carlsbad is not on the way to Brownfield. But, since it was cold outside and kind of drizzly, and we were sitting in a nice warm truck and Brendan was already falling asleep on the bed in back (see below), we decided to stick with him as far as Seminole. Seminole to Carlsbad is about as far as Pecos to Carlsbad, but it was still early and we hoped we could catch a direct ride from Seminole.

Larry was an interesting fellow. He had a gigantic confederate flag hanging in the back of his truck, but we never talked about that. We found out he didn't like kids though he had some grown-up ones of his own, he'd been a trucker since 1972, he owns the #4 cutting horse in the state of Texas, and he'd previously had a bad experience with a hitchhiker. He'd met the guy in his hometown and was going to take him west on his next trip. He invited the hitchhiker to stay in his home until they left. When the hitchhiker was alone there, he tore the place up, apparently looking for money, and was gone by the time Larry got back. I hate it when hitchhikers give us a bad name! But it must not have jaded him too much, since he still agreed to give us a ride.

From Seminole we got a ride with a couple of guys who had started their own biker church in Seminole. One was from California, and the other from Florida, and they came to Seminole because of their wives, who have family there. The one from California has a nephew who lives in Tulare, CA, so we took down his name so we might be able to find him when we're there. They took as far as Hobbs, which is in New Mexico.

Our next ride was from an ex-hippie. He had actually been to Woodstock! He said he didn't remember much of it. He was headed to Artesia, and hadn't planned on going through Carlsbad, but gave us a ride there anyway. He was a really interesting fellow. He's traveled all around the world, was an artist, but then studied Economics so he could get a real job and support his family. I don't think he put it that way, exactly, but that's what I gathered. He seemed rather jaded regarding art. He said, "It's a business" and seemed unhappy that it's just all about getting a wealthy patron for support. It brought up the question again for me, what makes art art? But there hasn't really been time to dwell on that.

We did a little grocery shopping in Carlsbad because we were running low on food, then put out our thumbs, trying to get to the caverns. I haven't really mentioned in yet, but keep in mind that the weather had turned very cold. We stood there shivering as we waited, and then a wonderful woman picked us up. She wasn't headed to to the caverns, but she wanted to help us out, so she drove us there anyway. She was so nice. She was born in Las Cruces, but hasn't lived there since she was 11. She has only lived in Carlsbad for about six months and can't wait to leave. She lived in San Antonio before that, and wants to move back. She said she had a friend driving to Phoenix on Monday and that we could probably go with. We would have taken her up on it, but it turns out her friend leaves on Tuesday, and we don't want to wait that long.

She gave us her phone number, then dropped us off right in front of the visitors center, and we visited. We did not go through the caverns. In our quest to save money, we make funny choices like not spending money on caverns and yet occasionally splurging on a hotel room (that's where we are now). I'm sure not all caverns are the same, but we have been to caverns before, so visiting these ones just wasn't high on our priority list. But we did really want to go camping in the national park. So we got a free back-country camping pass, and found out where we needed to go to get to the Rattlesnake Canyon trail. Remember how we hardly slept at all Tuesday night? I'm really, really thankful neither one of us tripped and hurt ourselves hiking to where we camped. We made it there safely, though, and the lack of sleep from the night before helped us sleep really solidly even though we were on this rock:

We had a tent, don't worry!

It was so beautiful. This was one of the most rewarding experiences we've had on our trip. It feels so good to work hard to get somewhere and then get there and say goodnight to our own echoes and then sleep well and get up the next day to strange unidentifiable drum-sounding beats and sunshine.

Rattlesnake Canyon

Even in the cold, cold weather, our sleeping bags worked well and kept us warm. We slept soundly from about 8pm until 4am-ish, tossed and turned the next two hours, got up and stretched, and slept again for a couple more hours. Today we got a ride down the mountain from a man from New Jersey. He was really nice. He came to Texas to go to a wedding in Austin, but took some vacation time to come early and see Big Bend, and then also decided to see the Gaudalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns.

He dropped us off in town, and our next ride took us all the way to Roswell. It was from a young man who trains horses. He's lived in Artesia since January and has had a hard time meeting people. He was only going as far as Artesia, but offered to take us all the way to Roswell. He said it was the best conversation he's had in month and half. We really enjoyed talking to him, and told him about, and it sounded like he would actually check it out. In Roswell there was only one couchsurfer that had a "Yes" status for hosting, but he was not able to, so we decided to splurge on a hotel. I've never been so thankful for a hot shower and internet access. It's kind of pathetic, actually. I'm so used to these creature comforts that two days without them seems more like a week.

We've been passing out our business cards right and left, and I'm really curious to know if anyone who gives us a ride ever checks out our website. Since so many people subscribe to blogs through RSS feeds, it's hard for us to know how many people regularly read our blog. If you are reading this, would you be willing to post a comment? Just a simple "hi" would do. I'd just love to have an idea how many people are reading. Thanks, and goodnight for now.

From a few days ago

Awesome! Here we are in Pecos. We got a ride from a cowboy with two sons in the army who just wants them to come home (“’cause war is breaking other people’s things and killing them, and we’re being kind over there, so if it’s not war they should just come home” excuse my misquote, but I thought it was profound, and wanted to preserve what he said as best I could remember). He was very nice, and said he picks up hitchhikers a lot and he hitchhikes himself, too. In fact, he said he chewed out a 24-year-old woman who picked him up for picking up a man his age.

Mr. Crow dropped us off just about 15 miles down the road near a town called Mineral Wells. We asked around the Shell station there for a few minutes, then hiked out to the onramp to try our luck. Finding the traffic super-sparse, we stood in the grassy angle where the onramp meets the freeway and held our arms out like wings with thumbs.
After about an hour, during which Stina and I took turns standing and thumbing while the other sat on our packs and took notes, thought deep thoughts, or nodded off (Stina), “Call me Blade” picked us up. He drove a big rig hauling copper wire. He told us he had seen us as he passed on the freeway, and he got off at the next exit and came around to pick us up. Blade was the best ride we’ve ever had. He was always respectful, even when correcting our behavior. He gave us the most useful information we’ve ever been given, and was outgoing and complimentray as he pursued getting us a second ride from another trucker. Stina and I are seriously considering becoming truckers after this trip. Blade is going to send us information.

Here are some of his valuable tips:
Pilot (the truck stop chain) doesn’t tolerate hitchhikers. Be especially discreet there or they may call the cops. TA and Flying J are okay. He doesn’t know about Love’s.
If camping in the desert, beware rattlesnakes. When you wake up in the morning feel around in your sleeping bag with your feet. If you open your bag to the sunlight, a rattler will bite you, but they are less likely to bite something they can’t see.
The Flying J has a TV lounge. Tell a nice, soft-spoken lady that you’re getting a ride out in the morning, and ask if you can doze in the chairs in the TV lounge. (That’s where we are tonight!)
Sit back in the seats of a rig. The driver needs to be able to see all his mirrors all the time.
Men, take off your hat when you meet strangers. (While I’m aware of this mannerly principle, I don’t think it applies in most places nowadays, but in Texas, it seems to.)

Blade’s whole family consists of truckers, it seems: his father, his wife, he, his daughter, and his son-in-law are all truckers. He has a son, too, but I don’t know if he’s a trucker.
Blade took us 300-some miles. Now we’re just a few dozen miles south of Carlsbad. Blade found us a ride north that leaves in the morning (he described us as a nice, clean couple over the radio). We’re not entirely sure where it goes. I said the name of the town out loud to myself a couple times, and then said it to Stina, but we can’t find it on a map, and it’s not familiar enough to remember. I hope it’s right!

Monday, March 9, 2009

A pictures post of Waco and Plano good times

We're having a great time in Plano, Texas, visiting with my cousin Michael, his wife Danielle, and their two boys. Tomorrow we will leave Plano and start hitchhiking west. We're going to get as close to the Carlsbad Caverns as we can, but would be happy to get as far as Midland, Texas. We'll probably arrive to Carlsbad by Wednesday, camp there one night, and then spend Thursday in Roswell! Here are some pictures from the last few days:

Junior and Brendan

Piper and Stina

Cass, Stina, and Brendan

Kaleb and Brendan

Stina and Kaleb

Thursday, March 5, 2009

In Waco we broke into a house...

Yesterday we rode in the back of a police car. This was a first for both of us. Those things are kind of cramped! But any space feels cramped when my big pack is sitting on my lap. No, we were not arrested. Our couchsurfing host from San Antonio had dropped us off about 18 miles north of San Antonio after a full morning of the Alamo and the Riverwalk...

At the Alamo. I forgot that water bottle today in one of our rides.

Dancers we saw in San Antonio along the river.

We were right outside of a little town called Selma, and standing near a car dealership. It was not a great spot for catching a ride, or so we thought. Turns out it's a great spot to get moved along by the police. The cop that stopped said they've had some trouble recently with hitchhikers breaking into buildings, so they don't like hitchhikers to hitch in Selma. He seemed almost apologetic and said we didn't fit the description of the troublemakers, but he still needed to move us along. He drove us to a nearby rest stop and wished us luck on our journey.

We caught a ride next with a man who was born in Seattle, coincidentally. He said Austin is like what Seattle was about 30 years ago and that's one of the reasons he and his wife chose to live there. We enjoyed talking to him and he drove us right into the city, to 6th and Congress. We walked around a free contemporary arts center called Arthouse and then wandered towards the Capitol until it came time to call Gary, Brendan's uncle, to meet him.

We spent a delightful evening yesterday and afternoon today with Gary. He treated us to dinner at a Mexican restaurant last night (a very real treat indeed since we haven't eaten out in a restaurant in probably two months) and today we toured the Capitol. While Gary was in his conference in the morning, Brendan and I walked around the University of Texas campus. They have a Creative Writing MFA program, so I wanted to see if I liked the city and the campus. I do.

The Capitol building of Texas.

Inside the Capitol.

View of the Capitol and downtown from the campus of the University of Texas.

Oy. On to our hitchhiking ventures of today. We caught a short ride out of downtown with a delightful woman. This is the first time in our southern hitchhiking that we have been picked up by a solo woman, which I think is noteworthy. She was really nice and fun to talk to, and we exchanged contact information by the end of the ride. Our next ride was another short one, from a man and his pre-teenish daughter. Apparently she had been skeptical about picking us up, but he thought we looked okay and seemed impressed when we told him that we do street performance and hail from Seattle. They were also really nice. Can I just insert here that we have met so many super nice people while hitchhiking? It's the best of us that pick up hitchhikers.

A UT student who often picks up hitchhikers took us another twenty miles or so along I-35 north. He dropped us off outside a gas station and we approached a trucker who was parked there to see if he was headed north. He was on his way to Dallas and said he could take us to Waco, but he wasn't going to be leaving for another thirty minutes or so. We checked around with a few other people, and either they weren't going north or just didn't seem interested in giving us a ride, so we went back to the trucker. This was my first ride in a big rig! It was really fun. I got to sit on the bed in the back. He took us to Waco, where my good friend Cassondra picked us up.

I think I was born to be a trucker.

View from my seat.

Cassondra took us out for a delicious dinner at a local hole-in-the-wall type joint where they have "oriental fries." Oriental fries are all sorts of yummy veggies sliced very thinly, breaded, and fried. Yum. Then Cassondra drove us through the old downtown area and to the Baylor campus to see the bears. When we got back to Cass's place, she discovered her house keys were missing from her key ring. We looked around for them in the car, but they were nowhere to be found. We even drove back to the eatery to see if they fell out in the parking luck, but no luck.

We ultimately we went to Walgreen's and Cassondra bought some pliers so we could try and take the heavy-duty screen off of one of her windows and then climb in. Success! Brendan painstakingly unscrewed the hex-screws (I don't know what they're really called), and I climbed in and came around to open the door. And that is the story of how we broke into a house in Waco. Sorry it wasn't as exciting as it may have sounded from the title, but I'm tired.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

On the road, currently in San Antonio

We are now several days into very fruitful hitchhiking and couchsurfing ventures. We bid farewell to New Orleans on Monday morning, after a fun Sunday evening of one last game session, and playing with the color settings on the camera.

I don't think he knows I took this picture.

Our friend Aaron dropped us off at an I-10 west entrance and our wait there was our longest wait so far. After about an hour and twenty minutes we got picked up by a man going to Hammond, Louisiana. Hammond is north of New Orleans, but our ride said that lots of people headed towards Houston from the east will take the route that passes through Hammond in order to avoid the New Orleans city traffic. Along the way, he and Brendan got into a rousing politics discussion. Our ride said Brendan is the first left-wing nutjob he's ever met. I think he really enjoyed the conversation because he invited us to come over for barbeque when we are near New Orleans again.

At the gas station where he left us, a family traveling in a motor home was filling up. We approached the dad and asked if they were heading west, and if so, could we have a ride? He said he would check with his wife. We waited outside the station and when he came to pay, he told us sorry, but she didn't feel comfortable with it. We said thanks anyway, and gave him our card. We walked to the highway entrance, and a few minutes later, the motor home family stopped for us! I think we seemed a little more legit after giving them our card. We rode with them the rest of the way to Houston, and had a delightful time playing pictionary and hangman and telling stories to their kids. That is the first time we got to sit on a couch in a fairly comfortable living room while hitchhiking.

We stayed with the sweetest couchsurfing family ever in Houston. They picked us up where the motor home family dropped us, fed us dinner, gave us a private bedroom to sleep in and our own bathroom to use, provided towels and a trip the museum district and drove us around the city to see weird stuff like massive presidential busts, plus the Beatles.

They are everything I aspire to be in a couchsurfing host. They made us feel so welcome, just like we were part of the family. We stayed there two nights, and this morning our friend Mike and his visiting friend Mike picked us up. We drove around the Rice University campus and neighborhood and then went back to his apartment and learned how to play a fun game called Arkham or something like that.

After the game, Mike dropped us off near another I-10 west entrance and we started hitching for a ride outside of Reliant Stadium, where they were having a rodeo that we hypothesized was a disabled rodeo because so many people with cowboy hats on and with disabled tags on their cars kept pulling into the parking lot. But then we also figured that a lot of rodeo riders end up disabled, so that could explain it. We got a ride from a super nice man who went about 30 miles out of his way just to drop us off at a gas station rather than a shopping center. He also gave us his phone number so we could contact him whenever we do plan to go to Mexico, because he is from there.

Our next ride was short, just to the next exit, but it put us in the right place to get picked up by a man going all the way to San Antonio, and to see this:
They spelled it right!

I don't think I've even mentioned yet that we were headed to San Antonio to see the Alamo. Based on the advice from a wide cross-section of people, we decided that now is not the best time to visit northern Mexico, so we figured we should see some historical Texas stuff instead. The man who picked us up has a wife and kids in San Antonio, but works in Lafayette, Louisiana, so he drives back and forth a lot. He was very nice, and dropped us off outside a bank, where our next couchsurfing host picked us up.

Now we are in San Antonio! Our host is very kind and made dinner for us when we arrived, and we shared some Wisconsin cheese with her. Tomorrow she is going to give us a ride into downtown, as she lives about ten minutes or maybe more to the north of downtown. We will visit the Alamo and walk around downtown a bit, and then we're off to Austin! We found out Brendan's uncle is there on business until Friday, so we want to get there quick so we can see him. We're going to Waco after that, and then hopefully Plano (if you're reading this, Michael and Danielle, sorry we haven't called yet and I hope we can stay with you!).

Enjoy the funny looking ducks we saw at Hermann Park in Houston: