Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hitch Hiking from Moscow Idaho to Gunnison Colorado

I’m back in Gunnison. I hitch hiked roughly 1,202 miles in 4 days from Moscow Idaho, to Jackson Wyoming, and back to Gunnison. I figured I would share some thoughts on the ideals and process of hitch hiking. I don’t claim to know it all but hope that my information will be enlightening and interesting.

There are of course the basic ideas of hitch hiking such as giving yourself the best chance, reading people, making friends, and taking opportunities. I think that there are 2 main types of hitch hikers out there. There is of course the 2nd type that often gives the 1st type (me) a bad reputation. Generally these people are not voluntary hitch hikers. They must hitch as they are more often than not drifters, tramps, homeless, etc. Often associated with these individuals is mental health, or lack thereof and therefore high risk and danger. As this essay is not on mental health or the homeless, we will shift our attention to the 1st type of hitch hiker. They voluntarily hitch for a myriad of reasons a few including: seeing the country, minimalizing or saving money, meeting new individuals, the challenge and experience.

As a hitch hiker you must realize this and try and look the part of a 1st class hitcher. This means you want to look non-threatening. People are scared of hitch hikers. I’ve had giant 300 lb men drive by and give me the most terrifying look possible. Wow they are scared of me? To look the part I try and wear colorful clothes (this also helps draw the eye to you). I generally wear a hat to keep the sun off me and potentially mat the hair, yet will not wear sunglasses. You want to be personal and real and sunglasses can hide your eyes and face. Often I get rides from people saying that they normally don’t pick up hitch hikers but that I looked ok. To continue the tips and info on hitchin’ I will discuss my most recent trip from Idaho to Colorado:

I started in Moscow Idaho, early in the morning. Time must be your friend when hitchin’. If you are in a hurry, generally you should not be hitchin’. I stood at the fringe of town with room for vehicles to pull over. I had my back pack which was clean and showed that I was probably a hiker and had a destination. This technique works particularly well in mountain towns. I soon had my 2nd ride of the day. A young guy of 32 named Rio picked me up in his truck. Rio proved a great ride. He took me 335 miles from Lewiston ID to Salmon ID. Rio is a world traveler and professional river guide who has kayaked on 6 continents and been to 42 countries. He was down to earth and real, had a desire for truth and knowledge, and loved sharing life. Thanks Rio, You always have a place to crash at in Gunnison.

Upon receiving a ride there will be the general questions asked and offered. It is pivotal that you read the person, or people, giving you the ride within the first 30 seconds. Often if they pull up and don’t instantly offer a ride but roll down the window and ask where you are headed then it is time to act. I normally say the next town up the road, generally about 30 miles or so. This instantly gives them a reason to drop you off if they don’t like you. It makes you, the hitcher, appear less threatening. Then it is your job to be friendly without overbearing so if they are going further it will be a joy to take you. In the rare case of being picked up by a girl the hitcher’s job of portraying a non-threatening easy going individual is pivotal. On my trip going to Moscow I received just such a ride. I got in and instantly introduced myself, stripping away any threatening mystery. On the ride I asked a few questions concerning logistics and directions. Granted I already know the answers but this shows the girl that I don’t know it all and strips away more of the unknown threat.
My second day of hitchin’ down from Salmon proved slow. Although it is generally best to hitch from the edge of a town you must still be proactive. If rides aren’t coming you may want to change your style, route, or just start walking.

Opportunity strikes: A trucker pulled into the gas station. He saw me off 100 feet away hitchin’. 10 minutes later as he was leaving he asked if I wanted a ride but told me it would only be 10 miles. This was opportunity knocking. 10 miles is not much and sometimes turning down such an offer is essential, but in this case it would prove to worth much more. 10 miles, later at his destination, he dropped me off, right at the edge of a one lane road construction. A minute later I was in the lead pace car… after all it would be dangerous for me to walk through the road construction. At the other side of the construction was a pull off perfect for cars to stop. It was prime territory. Cars lined up, going slow, and individuals could safely assume I was not a threat; in that I was surrounded by road crew personnel. The 3d car to pass picked me up. 90 miles later he dropped me off at a gas station in the pouring rain. Now the detrimental weather can help in your travels and give you sympathy points but no one wants to pick up someone soaked to the bone and I did not want to get that wet either so I waited in the gas station for half an hour. Once it was only sprinkling I went back out. Within 1 minute I had a ride from a trucker thanks to those sympathy points.

That night I slept in Jackson Wyoming.

…I just woke up. I could feel the humidity outside. I looked and sure enough it was raining. I was in my nice cozy warm bed inside and laughed. I got up packed, and left the half constructed roof covered office building. I wanted to be out prior to any construction workers showed up. This is probably seen as pure minimalist. I was just trying to save $150 for a local motel. I went next door to Albertsons to freshen up. I washed up and made sure to shave. Got to look presentable. In the store was a coffee shop where I changed my cell. 2 days on the open road, foot loose and almost fancy free. By no means am I a bum. I’m a college educated individual who maintains cleanliness and a job while engaged in learning, climbing hiking, running, and other activities. I enjoy being on the open road telling others of the freedom that I have.

Vagrant, in the land of the free?
I left Jackson and slowly made my way south. On the boarder of a small Wyoming town a cop stopped me and gave me a written warning not to hitch?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! This is America is it not? What about the American dream: Live free or die! Besides this was also Wyoming?!?!?!?!?! I thought maybe I could let him throw me in jail for some free food and a nice cot but… I wanted to show respect and love. He told me to leave town; so I did and started hitching on the 2 lain highway; a much more dangerous proposition than the edge of town. I found out that 2 hitch hikers where killed last year on that same dangerous stretch of highway because the cop had told them to leave town.

The mistake: I got several short rides down to Rock Springs in southern-western Wyoming. While walking across Rock Springs I came to a ravine. My options were either to walk 3 miles out of my way to cross the ravine over a bridge and then I could hitch, or to cross the ravine. I choose the ravine, which ended up being a mistake. Now and then while hitch hiking you will make mistakes; it is inevitable and we are human. It is what you do with that mistake; how you react.

I took off my socks and shoes to cross the 15 foot wide stream. It was only a foot deep with water but two steps into it and I found out that I was sinking into the soft muddy bottom. I got back out took off my pants to keep them from getting muddy and then carefully tried again. I sank in slowly as the muddy quicksand pulled me down. I slowly countered maintaining strict focus, to trip and fall in there would mean I would need a hotel room to clean up. Every laborious step would slowly sink from 1 foot under to 3 feet down. The water came up to mid-thigh. I finally got through covered in an oily black quagmire from my knees down. I spent the next 15 minutes carefully rubbing dirt on the muck and then using my drinking water to clean up. Finally, I was clean again. I should have avoided the hindering chasm, but, after crawling out of the mire I had learned, cleaned myself up, and was ready for some more hitchin'.

15 miles later in the middle of nowhere ... night was coming on I used juniper berries and branches to make a nice box spring on the surrounding wet muddy sand, my ground pad on this gave me a wonderful night sleep with a lush juniper aroma, and prevented the mud from coming into contact with me.
The next day proved grand as I quickly got a break from Rod an awesome gent who drove me 300+ miles to Montrose.

I waited on the edge of town; all I needed was one ride more, back home to Gunnison. I was giddy. 10 minutes later and I saw Gifford, who owns Triple Cross Towing. I know Gifford from college and church. If you are ever in need of a tow give him a call at (970) 641-5111. He gave me the final leg of the journey.

While on the road you are faced with many questions while hitching and if done properly you will answer them in a wholesome quick manner optimizing your chances of a pickup. Patience, yet knowing when to act… fine line. When out on the open road don’t tour… Travel, learn, make the most of it, and enjoy the ride as well as the silent serenity from solitude.

Travel well!

1 comment:

  1. Tim - Just found your website. Thanks for the hitchin' tips. I used to hitch a ton in Europe, where it seems a little more accepted than in the US these days. Anyway, those road-trips back in the 90s were some of the best times I ever had, and offered an amazing sense of freedom. Glad to hear it can still be done safely here in the US.

    Keep up the good work with your running, writing and adventures. Hope to see you at some local races in the near future.