Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hitching: Commies, Pizza Boxes and Kiwis

I have an extended winter break to play with this year, so I hitchhiked from Seattle to Bozeman, MT to do some ice climbing at Hyalite Canyon.

A friend dropped me off 10 miles outside of Seattle at a gas station (hitching out of large cities is heinous). I get picked up by a Prius-driving lady with a kid in the backseat within 20 min. 

She drops me off at a rest area (best place to get rides on I-90) in eastern WA. It's a chilly 25F and windy. An elderly woman walks up to me:
        "What book are you reading?" 
        "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
        "This is fate talking to me, get in the back girl."
Turns out she works at a mental institution in Moses Lake. How appropriate that I was reading a book about an insane ward. 

Hitching tips: set up your sign by your backpack outside. Make sure your sign is reinforced with cardboard on the back or else the wind will knock it down. Write on white paper instead of cardboard: you don't want to look homeless. Bright colors are encouraged (see below example). I'm a fan of using Crayola Markers.

 People are more afraid of picking up a hitchhiker than the other way around. Make yourself visible and appear friendly, encouraging and like you're having a good time. 

Notice the colors.
Reinforced sign. Using some old pizza boxes.
If it's chilly out, rest areas are great because you can warm up by darting inside and using the hand-dryers. If you'r blowing hot air down your shirt you may get some strange looks. Ignore them. 
Gas stations are another great place to get dropped off, but it's a bit sketchier to go inside with your backpack--you may be asked to leave. 

 It's evening. I'm ready to lock myself in the woman's family restroom, lay down a tarp, my pad and sleeping bag and settle in for the night at the Moses Lake Rest Area. I decide to give it 15 more min.
A man drives up in a subaru, gets out. He's wearing a Patagonia jacket, ski boots. He offers me a ride. He looks like Paul Newman.

His name is Paul (ironic huh?). He was a Russian Studies major at UNC. Now a lawyer in a small ski town in Idaho. Two kids, one went to Reed the other to Western W.  He skis 70 days/year, has a cabin by a lake, hitched across the US 4 times back in the 70's, was a communist sympathizer and even joined the American Socialist Youth Party back in the days when you really didn't want to be associated with the commies.

We're driving along, we talk Russian literature (this guy knows his Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Nabokov), it's getting to be late, he offers to let me crash for the night at his ski cabin because "I want to return the kindness other people showed me when I was hitchhiking".

I think about it, then agree. He makes me call a friend and tell them where I'm staying the night and gives me all of his contact information. I'm a good judge of character. Sleeping at a rest area would be less comfortable and more sketchy than accepting this guy's offer.

We go to a dive bar with live music in Sandpoint, ID, he buys me the most delicious spinach-feta salad for dinner, we drive to his cabin, he sets me up with a towel, shampoo, soap for a shower, my own room with a bed, brews me some tea, gives me "Travels in Siberia" by Ian Frazier to read and leaves me be.
Next morning, he cooks breakfast and drops me off at an on-ramp to get back to I-90. No questions asked.

This guy picks me up: a kiwi of course. We blast through all the way to Missoula, MT discussing Harleys, tattoos and car auctions.  He drops me off at the doorstep of my childhood friend's place 10 miles out of the way from where he was headed.

I crashed at the tennis team's house for the night. Pictured is the racket-stringing device and my backpack full of ice climbing and rock climbing gear.

I hitch out to Bozeman the next morning. Get a ride in 10 minutes with this guy and his dogs Buster and Bella.
 He's a wildland firefighter and a stretch limo driver on the side. A Nascar-watching, Bud-drinking, FOX news-watching redneck.
When you hitch, you have to morph and change your personality to fit the driver. They think Obama is a Muslim, devil-worshiper? Well you better nod your head in agreement and be prepared to answer when they ask "Am I right!?". This guy is giving you a ride, the least you can do is make him think he's the smartest, most clear-sighted person you've ever met.

He drops me off at an acquaintance's doorstep.
The girl I'm staying with in Bozeman with the dogs.

So hitching was easy, never waited more than 25 min. No crazies or pervs. Just people feeling sorry for my miserable, cold ass sitting on the side of the road. More on ice climbing later. 

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