Throughout our travels, we’ve heard many a horror story about our hitch hiking kin out there on other roads. There’s the ones that end in “…nobody ever saw him again”, but those are a snooze. The ones that really get to us are the ones that go “he’d been waiting 23 hours for a ride” or “I walked 20 miles and people just drove by laughing.” In our happy little world, stuff like that doesn’t just happen. We’re used to cruising around, skipping the entry fees into National Parks, and calling 45 minute waits extremely long. We hitch dirt roads with confidence and make tentative plans based on what time we expect to arrive places, waiving the concerns of our drivers when they tell us our daily destination goals are a tad optimistic.
All the way through Washington, Montana, Wyoming and Utah, we’ve been betting on a solid 300-500 miles* per day, even when we don’t get started until noon or later. Therefore, we felt more than confident that we could hitch the 1500 miles from Durango, Colorado to the Electric Forest Music Festival in Michigan in 5 days. So confident, even, that we decided it was totally reasonable to squeeze in a 6 hour hike before getting started on the first day.
Although we never set foot in the hot springs that were apparently the point of the hike, it was pretty incredible. The secret campsite behind Rainbow Falls is a place I’m very glad to have seen.
That night, we didn’t make it to our goal of Denver, but we hit Colorado Springs, just 70 miles short. We were okay with that under the rationale that we’d be on the side of the road by 7am at the latest the next day. We planned to be out there all day so that we could get the cornfields out of sight and out of mind, leaving time for a leisurely hitch up wooded highways to get to the festival grounds.
We made it to roadside at 6:30 that next morning and finally got picked up sometime shortly after 8. That was just the first of the 7 short-distance long-wait time rides we’d get that day. Despite an exceptionally kind soul stopping to offer us ice cream, a friendly police officer and an awesome lady who had been a solo hitch hiker as a teenager driving us to Wyoming, it was a profoundly awful day. We didn’t pack it in until our shadows got long and the horizon was flashing warning signals of bright colour that our time was running out. By that point, we’d made it just shy of 200 miles.
Our last driver of the day had dropped us off at a place in Nebraska called Kimball, telling us that we’d get a ride from there in no time. We walked up to the highway and discovered orange roadwork pylons as far as the eye could see in both directions— no shoulders to speak of anywhere.
We weren’t deterred yet, though. It being a Saturday evening, there was no actual roadwork going on, so Adrian moved a couple of the pylons to make ourselves a pull-out. “If you build it, they will come!”
But they didn’t come. We spent the night on the side of the highway and were back at it by 6 the next morning.
The traffic was (without exaggeration) about 90% semi-trucks. From a 3-hour layover at a truck stop the day before— during which I had “How much?” yelled out a window at me by a particularly charming passing driver— we had learned pretty thoroughly that truckers didn’t pick up hitch hikers. Adrian talked to about a dozen truckers and they all told him that we wouldn’t have any luck with that strategy, so with nothing but trucks passing us by, we were more than a little discouraged.
We had finally hit that point where everything grinds to a halt and you start mistaking engine whines for orchestral music. We’d discovered the dark side of hitch hiking— the creeping insanity that comes from wondering if you’ll ever make it out of a small town in Nebraska.
When our ride came by, we didn’t even try to flag him down. He was just another trucker, after all. He just stopped, hopped out, and pointed to his truck. We weren’t even half convinced that he’d actually stopped for us, but at that point we’d been stuck in Kimball for 14 hours, so we grabbed our packs and jogged over to check it out.
“Yeah, I’ll take you guys,” said the driver. And suddenly we had a ride all the way across Nebraska to Lincoln with the company of a small dog named Bandit, 36000 onion rings in the trailer, and the driver himself who’d done everything from telling off the devil, to owning his own strip club, to falling in love. “I lost my marbles a couple times; I did! I did!” he said, “But I found ’em.” He was interesting to listen to, but hard to talk to. We never did convince him that the queen is not all-powerful in Canada and that we have a constitution. “I really wish that Hitler had taken out the Canadian monarchy before America stopped him so that Canada would have gotten a constitution,” were his final thoughts on that.
There was one thing he said that rang particularly true, though. “Travelling is a beautiful thing because you hear so many stories and it’s up to you to decipher what’s true and not.”
After he dropped us off, we ate carrots and hard boiled eggs at a truck stop picnic table with our “Chicago” sign optimistically propped up on a sweater. All of a sudden, we had a ride all the way there.
“When I saw your sign, I knew my husband was going to pick you guys up,” said the woman in the passenger seat, “I just knew it!” She promptly adopted us, bandaging Adrian’s blistering elbow burn and trying to feed us pizza. While her husband drove, she showed us her oldest son’s music videos, which consisted of a lot of people grinding on each other and some of the dirtiest hip hop lyrics I’ve ever heard. She seemed very proud of him, though she mentioned that she wasn’t thrilled that one of the videos had been filmed in her bed while she was in Turkey. Turkey being just one of the 63 countries that the two of them had visited together.
They told us that we wouldn’t be arriving in Chicago until about 4 or 5am and told us we were welcome to sleep on the bed we were using as a seat in the back of the cab. We actually felt comfortable enough in the situation to do that, so we did.
The next thing I knew, it was 3am and we were being told that the driver needed a nap and that we were at the World’s Largest Truck Stop. We were turned loose, agreeing to go find a place to pitch our tent and return at 6am to travel the rest of the way to Chicago. We never put our tent anywhere, though, because we were at THE WORLD’S LARGEST TRUCK STOP
We perused the gift shops and checked out the Super Truck Showroom, then wandered the parking lot for a while.
There were so many truckin’ trucks!
Eventually, we settled at a table with laptops and a thermos full of coffee, loaded with those super sweet creamers that are everywhere in America. To everyone who received a message from me during that time, I’m sorry and you’re welcome. That was a very weird headspace.
At 6am, we returned to the truck ended up waiting there for 3 hours. It didn’t feel like three hours, though. We’re getting stupidly good at killing time. During that drawn out moment, I felt that this was what hitch hiking really was. We’d been through long hours under the hot sun, crippling boredom, a 5 hour conversation with a person of questionable sanity, and we were watching the sun come up from the world’s largest truck stop. It was almost cliche.
We made it to Chicago, promptly did the most touristy thing possible (see above), then checked into Chateau Joe. Since then, we’ve been giving our bodies a break from the backpacks and laundering the filthy rags that we’ve been referring to as our clothing as of late. Many thanks to the lovely Joe Babiak for his outstanding hospitality in this very-Batman city. Next up, Electric Forest!
*We’re starting to speak in Imperial units. We can’t help it. Sorry!