4/01/2013

My Spring Break Adventure

I decided to depart on another adventure over Spring Break; I hadn't been on the road since last August/prior to setting up the tipi, and I really felt the need to get back out there.

I was hoping to head out from Clemson University early on the Friday morning (March 15th), to start hitchhiking, but I had to wait around until noon, for a Linear Algebra quiz. My father had offered to give me a lift up to Ashville, North Carolina though, and a ride's a ride, so I took him up on it.

My first real hitch came rather quickly. Jim, a bearded fifty something man heading home from a date in Ashville got me about 30 miles. But the spot Jim dropped me off at was an interchange, where a highway joins the interstate. It was a bit of a bummy spot.

Within an hour or so, a rather young police officer was giving me the blue light special. He got out of his cruiser, walked up, and asked, "What're you doing?"
"I'm on Spring Break!" I responded with a disarmingly jubilant smile.
And with that, I got my first ride in a police car. The officer gave me a lift ten miles down the road, to an exit with a truck stop.

The sun was already low in the sky, but after not too long at that exit, an eighteen wheeler helmed by an Asian trucker (we'll call him Penske, after his rental truck) pulled his big rig over for me. Penske was in his late twenties or early thirties, and he had immigrated from from Central Asia around a decade ago. He was headed back home to the suburbs of Chicago, to see his wife and three year old son.
I had originally planned to visit the Creation Museum in Kentucky, as part of my trip, and Penske was heading right by it, Cincinnati, KT.  But I was so antsy to make it to Bloomington, Indiana, that I asked him to take an alternate route that would take us through Columbus, Indiana (much closer to Bloomington) but that kind of made extinct all chances of me seeing Adam and Eve chilling with the dinosaurs.

At some time just after midnight, Penske dropped me off in Columbus, IN.
I had bought and brought: gloves, a scarf, and snow pants for the trip, but the weather was surprisingly pleasant. I set my tarp tent up in the woods behind a gas station and got some much needed shut eye.
In the morning, I awoke before the sun, packed up, and just started hiking. It was drizzling, but I was so hell bent on getting to my destination that I couldn't just stand still by the roadway. I probably walked four or five miles before I felt alright just standing still. But within twenty minutes of stopping though, I had a late thirties, father of two named Jared giving me a ride to her front door.

I was only there an hour, at most. I had traveled over 500 miles, at this point, not to see a lover but to talk to one lost. Sometimes things just need to be said and heard in person, face to face.

After our talk, I spent a while in a local coffee shop recollecting myself. I had expected it to take nearly a week to make it up there and see her, if I even made it at all, but I had hitchhiked there in under 24 hours... So what now?

All I could think was, "Get the hell out of Indiana! Get the hell back south!" So that's what I decided to do.
As I was walking east, out of Bloomington, a black guy with dreads, who was stopped at a light rolled down his window and shouted, "You need a ride?"

I was throwing my pack in the back seat and slamming the door behind me as the light turned green. The dreaded driver and his girlfriend offered me weed (which I graciously declined) and gave me a lift all the way back to the interstate.
From there, I got a lift from a kooky, retired English professor. He told me of his Chinese wife, with whom he's 25 years the senior and how he works at a factory as a bolt inspector. (Apparently, the factory mandates that employees work 7 days a week but he gets Saturday mornings off for Sabbath).

The nutty (ex) professor dropped be off in ho-bunk nowhere, albeit a gas station. He had mentioned that the next exit was pretty busy, so after a few minutes of thumbing it, I set to soliciting the petrol patrons for a mile ride.
Within my first loop of the station, I had a lift from a pregnant lady and her husband, and they also bought me lunch, at the next exit down.

That exit was indeed a busy one, and I soon sitting shotgun with a really mint hard rocker. He had gotten a cross tattooed on his left arm, the day before, but was now headed back to the tattoo shop for another. His wife was vacationing in Florida and had sent him a picture of her new tattoo, his name on her wedding ring finger. So, naturally, he felt the need to surprise her with her name on his left wedding ring finger.

At this point, I was only a mile from Louisville and the Kentucky boarder.
"Get the hell out of Indiana!" my mind was still shouting.
My next lift took a while and with my irrationally boisterous brain, ever moment felt like five.
Finally, a black teenager in a red Jeep Wrangler pulled over, to give me a ride to the south side of Louisville. He also offered me weed, and again, I graciously declined.

Again, I was dropped off at a spot a mile or so from a better, busier exit. So when this woman in bright pink pants pulled over and offered me a mile ride, I regrettably accepted.
Within fifteen seconds of climbing in, she informed me that: she had a warrant out for her arrest, she did not have insurance, and her plates/registration was expired.
But it was only a ride one exit down, "What could go wrong?" I thought...

I'd never been in a car that's run out of gas before, but it sounds just as I expected.
The coughing and choking of an engine, as it loses the ability to accelerate, then all together the capacity to maintain it's speed, finally, on the side of the road, it's pathetic attempts to gasp any fumes from a sank that has long since been sipped dry as it dies a rocky, knocking death.

So there I was, hitchhiking with the lady in bright pink pants, who herself had just picked up me, the hitchhiker. The fact that she had a gas can ready in the back seat was a sure sign that this was not the first time this had occurred in recent memory.
Within a minute, a man in two seater truck pulled over. They elected that I stay with the squalid, insuranceless, registrationless corpse of a vehicle.

Fuck that.

As soon as they pulled away, I stuck my thumb out and garnered a ride to the next exit, from man who's wife is dying of cancer.

"This exit better be damn good, after all of that." I thought, as the man dropped me off and I wished him, his wife, and his daughters the best.
And it was. It was an a wonderful exit, with great traffic and a huge shoulder. After about thirty minutes of hitching though, this cop stopped to talk to me. He didn't pull over or walk to me, he stopped, in the middle of the on-ramp, with traffic backing up behind him, and he proceeded to yell, "Geet of da on ramp! Hitchahikins illegal!"
I tried to stammer back that it actually wasn't, but I was cut off by, "I tole you, no mo hitchahikin! I see you out here agin an I'ma write you a ticket. Go dat truck stop or somethin. Geet of da on ramp!"

I could tell that this was a losing battle. Even though I was right, I would lose, so I picked up my bag and (somewhat spitefully) followed the pig's advice. The sun was getting low in the sky anyway, so I figured worse comes to worse, I'll just get back on the ramp in the morning, when that cop was off duty.

The gas station was busy with both passenger cars and trucks. I heard probably a half dozen "no"'s from both parties on my first pass through, and upon looping back, I saw a truck back in, to pick up a load.
I approached him, as he was hooking up the trailer and asked, "Would you happen to be heading south?" The trucker barely acknowledged me, but I continued. He tried to shut me down by telling me that he wasn't suppose to give out rides. I then explained about the jerk cop and that I just needed to get a few exits down, away from him. The trucker still didn't seem 100% sold. At that point, I happened to glance down and notice his owner operator sticker, and with that, I got him talking and soon had the 'ok' to hop in the cab.

Tim was a really interesting guy, he: listened to AC-DC and the like through crackly speakers so loud that my ears rang,  does not like the police, rolls his own cigarettes and smokes more than two packs of them a day, fancies himself as an exhibitionist, and loves gravy. He really, really loves gravy. At dinner, this man had gravy with some mash potatoes on top. This man loves his gravy.

I ended up sleeping in the cab with Tim. My few miles down the road turned into him agreeing to take me all the way to Birmingham, Alabama, the next day. It may seem a bit in the wrong direction, but it was closer to Atlanta, Georgia (my next destination) than Nashville, Tennessee is.

Tim dropped me off at around eleven, on the west side of Birmingham, and within ten minutes, I had a ride to the other side of the city, from one of the most dirty mouthed men I've ever met in my entire life.
That lift was followed up by a grandfather who was now raising his two grandchildren, ages 3 and 6, who's mother had run off to North Dakota, in order to escape the law.

Grandpa dropped me off in the middle of nowhere, and again, again I was only one exit down from a very busy interchange. But, I was in the middle of bumfuck nowhere.
I sat there, unsuccessful for over two hours. When, finally, this red Pontiac with a dragon painted on the front pulled up to me. Steam was pouring out from underneath the hood, like smoke from the winged serpent's jowls.

This hispanic twenty something something hopped out, and at my offing of assistance, explains that his radiator is shot. Upon closer inspection, I see that his use of blue painters tape and bubble gum was unsuccessful at damming the leaky hoses. He hands me an empty jug of Hawaiian Punch and asks me to go down to a house nearby and fill it up.

With a gallon of nothing but water in his still scorching radiator, he gets me the couple of miles down the road, and I'm back in action. My next lift was so quick that they literally saw me crossing the road to the on ramp.

In the car were two repo men, in their late twenties. They were brothers, and in the backseat with me was the driver's son. They got me pretty far down the road and to a really good exit, but it seemed my luck was waning. I stood, trying to hitchhike at that exit until the sun set me into shadows.

As I started to pick up my pack, another vagabond who had a puppy with him walked up to me. We talked about the spot and his dog, as we made our way towards the gas stations. I figured I'd give it one last shot soliciting rides face to face, before calling it a night.
The first pump I walked by, a minivan had just pulled up to, and three college age, hipster-esc kids jumped out, two guys and one girl.
"Would you happen to be heading east?" I asked. "Towards  Atlanta?" I added, clarifying.

"Well yeah," one of the guys said.

"We're going to Athens," the girl chimed in.

"Ah, do you go to UGA?"

"Yes, we do actually," she responded.

"Sweet. I go to Clemson, and I'm just on Spring Break too. I'm going to see my friend, Summer, at a physical rehabilitation clinic in Atlanta. She had this freak accident a few weeks back, and now she's technically paraplegic.  I'm wanting to go and see her." I said, kind of stumbling over my words. "So where all you headed back from?"

"South by South West... Hey guys, can we take this guy to see his friend in the hospital. He goes to Clemson... and he won't... you won't kill us, will you?"

At my reassurances and offer to show them my school ID and Facebook page (neither of which they actually took me up on, but I guess it's the idea of it) they agreed to let me in. I sat next to the other guy,  Eli, and he was really great. He had been wanting to hitchhike for a while and was excitedly asking me about all of the ins and outs of traveling as I do.

When they dropped me off in downtown Atlanta, it was well past dark. I was halfway to the Shepherd Center when I noticed I left my jacket in the minivan with Eli and the gang. This wasn't of too much consequence though. I was already thinking of going to Athens (it was only Sunday at this point, I had a week left of break) and Eli had given me his phone, email, and street address.

Twenty feet from the door of the rehab center, I had a cop pull up to me and go through the who song and dance. He even asked for and ran my ID. Once inside, the security guard informed me that visiting hours ended at 9:00 PM (it was now 9:50).
Visiting hours? Pshh! I finally convinced him to call up to Summer's room, and she was still up. Her mom came down to meet me and led me up to the room.

I was there for a couple of hours, catching up, and I made plans to come back during visiting hours the next day (4-9 PM). Before I walked out into the main lobby though, I had a realization. The rehab center was a walled garden, and I was currently within it. The worse that could happen is some mall cop like security guard asking me to leave (much nicer than near anything on the streets of Atlanta, I figured). So, I turned around and walked back up the stairs to find myself a nice place to (squat) sleep for the night.

The spot I found was quite wonderful. I slept in later than I had the entire trip, up until that point. I spent the afternoon loitering in the cafe and lobby, reading Atlas Shrugged, and walking two miles down to Barns & Noble to get Summer a gift  (a Moleskine journal and pen).

I visited her from four until just after seven. Then, I was back on the road tracks. The Amtrak from the Atlanta Terminal to Gainesville Station is only $15, and from Gainesville, GA it's a straight shot down to Athens. The train was slated to leave at 8:05 and only take 50 minutes to get there, but (oh, public transit in America) there was a two and a half hour delay. By the time I got to Gainesville, it was near midnight, and it was cold and rainy out. Thus, I elected to sleep in the station.

I awoke in the middle of the night to this boisterous woman from Boston talking loudly into her cellphone about her failed attempt to through hike the Appalachian Trail. She had only lasted a week and had to be pulled off and hospitalized. I almost felt sorry for her until, in the morning, I learned she had set out with only 20 lbs of gear and no previous, major hiking experience (her undoing was apparently hiking in a downpour, without rain gear). What fools the mortals be.

As I packed up, this girl in her mid-twenties asked me, "Are you on an adventure?"
We talked for a bit, she picked up her friend from the platform, and then I asked, "Would you happen to be heading south? Towards Athens?"
"I'm going to Athens," she replied with a smile.

And just like that, before the sun had even rise, I was on my way to Athens.
I spent most of my morning and early afternoon relaxing in a park, reading (I finally finished Atlas Shrugged) and watching a red tailed hawk. Eli got done with classes at two, and from that point on, him and I spent the rest of the day hanging out, cooking dinner, and talking about spirituality, namely his falling out with Mormonism.

In the morning, I was picked up by one of my old friends, Evan, who I hadn't seen in any meaningful way since the 8th grade. We got breakfast and it was quite odd. We are both so very different from our middle school selves, yet we are still so similar at present.

After the meal, he dropped me off on the highway. I was headed towards Savannah, Georgia.
I caught a ride with a 21 year old ginger who looked to be no more than 16. This fact was made even more beguiling upon discovering that he had a wife and three kids (one of which by a different mother) and that he's the store manager of a local Pizza Hut.

Almost as soon as he dropped me off, a really chill deputy sheriff pulled up and offered me a ride to the county line. He was quite enamored with my traveling and it made for good conversation.
The spot he dropped me off at though was less stellar. The road had no shoulder, so I just set out walking. I probably made it a mile or two before this man in a very large, lifted pickup offered me a ride to Macon/to the interstate. He was about to retire from the army, and on the way, he called all of his military pals, trying to score me a ride to Savannah.

The calls were sadly to no avail. I spent an hour at the exit he dropped me off at, and I took a one mile ride to another exit, hoping the hitchhiking would be better there... it wasn't. It was worse.
By the second hour at that spot (that's three hours total), I was getting antsy. By the fourth hour, nervous, and by the fifth, preying to the hitchhiking gods to get me the hell out of, "Makin' bacon, makin' bacon, put an 'M' on the front and now you're Macon, Bacon." (Sometimes, you get really bored by the roadside).

My saving grace was none other than a southern, black baptist minister in a Mercedes-Benz. He took me about an hour down the road and thankfully, he didn't preach to me the entire time or even ask, if I "have Jesus in my heart".
When he dropped me off, the sun was low in the sky, but my next ride came within five minutes of me sticking my thumb out. And what a ride it was. Chris was headed all the way to Savannah, and upon pulling over to drop me off, well past sunset, he stammered, like a teenage boy working up the courage to ask a girl out for the first time, "Would you like a place to just come over and stay for the night?" with, "I called my wife when we stopped to get gas, and she said it was 'ok'." added nervously.

So, of course, I stayed at Chris' for the night. On the way to his place, he informed me that he was packing, but that really didn't phase me. I met his wife, who teaches elementary schoolers online, and best of all, I had a comfy bed to sleep in. Chris is a bit of a fitness freak, he does triathlons and all, so he had me up and on the road before the sun was.

It took a couple of hours, but finally a car stopped. As I turned to run towards it, it started to drive again, so I stopped. Then, the car stopped, again, so I, again, started running towards it. Then, the car started to accelerate, again, so I stopped, again. And finally as I was about to just turn around, it veered over and made a complete stop.
I ran up to see four Asians in the car, half confused about exactly why they were stopping/what I was doing. I managed to convey that I was headed to down 95, and that a ride from them would be of use. They were packed in pretty tight, so I had to take the front seat, with my backpack in my lap.

They dropped my off on the exit to Bluffton, South Carolina. I was on my way to Hilton Head, to see my grandparents who were snow birding there, from Ohio. I hiked to what I thought was an alright spot, but the road lack any real shoulder to speak of, so I was pretty close to the road, as I thumbed it.

About a half hour in, a very cute South Carolina State Trooper pulled over. She tries to tell me that hitchhiking is illegal,  but upon conceding that she is actually incorrect on that fact (it's only unlawful to do so on the interstate) she opts to write me a ticket for "impeding traffic", and tells me that I can't stand anywhere on the road. Followed up by, "I'm not a taxi service." when I ask if she's headed toward Hilton Head.

A local cop, who was kind of a dill hole, also pulled up. He agreed to give me a ride down to the Wal-Mart, but he made me forfeit my knife for the car ride (nothing any of the other officers made me do), patted me down without asking or even a heads up before he started, had me put my pack in the trunk, and dropped me off at the backside of the shopping center, away from the road. (Really, guy? Really?)

Well, a ride's a ride, I suppose, and the spot that I walked to, out in of Wal-Mart, had a much nicer area to pull over. Within an hour of being there, I had a ride from Roberto, who's originally from Argentina. He brought me all the way to the front gate of my grandparent's place.

For the next few days, my adventure took on the pace of, well, a retirement community. Life revolves around three central tenants: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But, with my clothes freshly laundered, I was back out on the road by Saturday morning.
My friend, Cayla, came down on Friday to join me in God's Waiting Room and agreed to give me a lift to Charleston. It was my mom's 50th birthday that weekend, but she thought that I was still up in the Midwest, hitchhiking around. I conspired with my father to surprise her.

At her birthday dinner, Saturday evening, I rolled into Hank's (a very decadent seafood restaurant in Downtown Charleston) wearing a tuxedo, cummerbund and all.
After indulging in a four course meal, (thank goodness for those exceptions in my not so vegan, vegan diet) we went on a walk downtown and then ended up in a speakeasy. There are no signs, no lines to wait in. You walk up to the bouncer of another bar and let him know that you want in, and a dapper man in 1920's attire comes from upstairs and escorts you through two locked doors and into what feels like someones very comfortable living room.

The next day, Cayla was headed back up towards Clemson, so I snagged a ride with her again. A ride's a ride, and just like that I'd gone 1,906 mile in ten day, on one epic Spring Break adventure.

If you're looking to learn how to hitchhike, check out my book- The Hitchhiker's Guide to: Earth.

Source: Geology



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