This Way

After a big fiasco at customs that I’d better not discuss in detail just in case the government really is watching, I made it on the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles. I showed up at the terminal at 9am, planning to get on the 10:30 ferry, but they CBP agents so many questions for me that I missed the first boat and didn’t make it to the United States until about 5pm.

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I planned my trip carefully, timing it with a rain-free gap in the weather. I didn’t have a tent to bring with me— only an old tarp, full of holes, and my summer weight sleeping bag. Obviously I wanted to limit the number of nights I’d be spending outside before I arrived at my sanctuary on the farm in Williams, Oregon. According to google maps, my route would take 15 hours to drive, which I figured was about a 3 days worth of hitch hiking. With the 5 hours I lost at the border, though, I was feeling a little rushed.

I walked off the boat and got down to business. I stopped at a grocery store, bought myself a lumberjack sandwich and found a piece of cardboard for what is definitely the best hitch hiking sign I’ve ever made: THIS WAY. It would go on to get me rides from the middle of town, make people laugh, and I never had to change it once, the whole way there. I was going to keep it forever, but I forgot it in the very last car.

With only a couple hours of daylight to work with on that first day, I made it to a national recreation area campsite in the Hoh Rainforest, just south of Forks (the small town of Twilight fame). The person who brought me there even took the time to chauffer me around the sites and choose me a really pretty one that had some cut firewood lying around. I thanked him, but once he left, I didn’t stay there. Because I didn’t have a tent, I knew that if I slept out in the open, it would be dangerously obvious that I was a woman alone— an unconscious woman alone, next to a giant backpack full of things I wanted to keep, no less.

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I walked down to the river bed and found myself a grove of birch saplings to call home for the night. I put my stuff where I wanted to sleep, then walked in a big circle to make sure that I wouldn’t be seen from too far away. The sun went down before 8 o’clock, but I had nothing to do in the dark, so I tried to fall asleep. It was a very long night. I woke up for the first time at midnight, certain that it must be somewhere around 6. It didn’t rain, but the air was so moist that the cold came straight through every layer I had over me. I woke up soaked, but otherwise fine.

Finally, I was about to get up, but then I heard a commotion a short distance away. It sounded like a couple of guys putting a boat in the river. I really didn’t want them to know I was there, because if they did, they would be the only ones who knew I was there. I stayed perfectly still, waiting for them to leave, but then I heard footsteps heading straight for me.

I had no idea what to do. I figured the guy was probably just coming over to pee, since there was no way he could see me from where he was. Before I had a chance to decide on my next move, he was right next to me.

“Oh shit!” he said.

I sat up just a little bit.

“Oh my god, I am so glad you’re not just a body!”

I laughed. “Thanks, me too,” I said, so relieved that he was walking away again.

I packed up my shit and got back on the road. As is always the case with early morning roads, it was deserted— just the occasional truck of someone going to work. It took a long time, but when a camo-print sedan with a mountain bike on the back slowed down, I thought, “Of course!”

Sometimes you don’t get picked up for ages because there’s someone special coming along that the universe needs to make sure you meet. Patrick was about to take over some sort of manufacturing company that he’d worked at for years. A part of his deal was that before he took on the position with more responsibility, he could have a couple months to get out and explore the country. He’d originally intended to ride his bike a really long way, but had gotten injured and condemned to the road trip that I met him on. Pretty disappointing for him, obviously, but I had a great time riding with Patrick, all 200 miles of the way to Manzanita. We ate breakfast together at a classic American diner in Aberdeen, and we discussed movies, books, music, and philosophy without pause the whole drive. This stellar guy has even made me a google drive folder full of audiobooks and movies for me to listen to while I work.

On that day, I was apparently vibing very well, attracting some awesome people, because the very next ride I got from where Patrick left me was another awesome one. I don’t remember the guy’s name, but when he first picked me up, he was a landscaper with his young employee in tow. The pair laughed, swore, talked shit, and smoked the whole way to Rockaway Beach, where the young employee lived, and where I was originally told the ride was going. But then, after we dropped the kid off, the driver told me that he was actually going even further down the road to Tillamook and invited me along. The ride then continued to escalate, and suddenly I was on my way to the middle school to pick up his kids for his weekly visitation day. He thought that his two girls might enjoy a trip to Munson Falls, which was south of town and would be a great spot for me to catch my next ride.

As we pulled up to the school, he wondered aloud, “How am I going to explain you to the girls?”

Two dirty blonde balls of energy got up off the grass and came running towards us. I opened the door and they looked at me, unsure of what question to ask. “Your dad found me at a gas station,” I said, “and now we’re going on an adventure.”

We turned off the highway and drove down a long, narrow dirt road to a trailhead— the exact directions to most any place that I usually don’t get to see when I’m hitch hiking. For a trip that I was calling a “rush job”, I was getting to see some cool stuff after all. The whole way up the trail, in my opinion, the girls were doing a great job of being kids. They raced in and out of the bushes, climbed everything, and came out of the creek with soaked shoes.

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At the end of the trail, there was a fence, but there was more trail past it. A couple other people were there at the same time as us, but when they left, the dad said, “So… are we going all the way?” Nobody hesitated after that— we climbed over fallen trees all the way to the base of the waterfall.

After an impossibly long discussion of where they were going to eat dinner and an aggressive game of throwing frootloops at each other, they put me back down on the highway to catch my next ride. As my luck would have it, a truck pulled over in a few minutes. The man driving seemed normal enough from outside his window, but the first thing he said to me when we started moving was, “What’s a beautiful girl like you doing out here by yourself?”

Nervous, I told him, “You know, just got somewhere to be.”

He was quiet for a second, then followed up with, “You sure are beautiful.”

“I’d really rather you didn’t say that,” I said.

He got all defensive. “Why?”

I tried to explain how I’d really rather pretend as hard as I can that I’m not a sexual object while I’m putting my personal safety in the hands of strangers, but he really didn’t seem to get it.

“If you’re not cool with that, you can put me back on the side of the road,” I said.

“No, it’s all good,” he said, and I immediately busied myself with scanning the road ahead for a sign indicating somewhere interesting and hopefully populated that I could pretend was my destination.

It didn’t turn out to be a necessary strategy, though. No more than a minute later, he suddenly announced that he was actually going the exact opposite direction and that the RV park we’d arrived at was where he was leaving me.

It felt really, really good to get out of that car. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself, though. Just that morning, I had been saying to Patrick that I didn’t understand why the people who cat called me didn’t just pick me up and hit on me. Wouldn’t doing that give them a better chance at whatever slimy thing they wanted? There’s some irony.

Like everything does, though, it turned out to be a worthwhile. Each car you get in affects which car you’ll get in next. Good metaphor for life, huh? The next ride was of top notch quality: a modified truck, dirt bike in tow, driven by a classic 60’s hippie named Ted, and co-piloted by one of those dogs that looks like a bear named Alex.

We had a great time together. Ted had stories so good that I really shouldn’t share them, and a habit of slamming on the breaks to pull off the highway on roads that he just had a good feeling about. He had a damn good intuition when it came to random roads. At one point, just before sunset, he pulled one of his maneuvers and cruised past a sign that read RV’s NOT RECOMMENDED. 30 seconds later, I was here:

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The wind was blowing, the waves were crashing, and there were whales. Naturally, we stayed for a couple of beers before continuing.

Ted and Alex were stopping for the night at a campsite before continuing slowly on towards Slab City, California. He asked me if I wanted to stay with him for the night. Since we were getting along so well and I didn’t have anywhere better to go, I said yes. The previous night had been so long and boring without any company. This one turned out entirely different. We pooled our food supplies and had a luxurious(ish) camp dinner. We talked about all sorts of things, Ted played some songs on his acoustic guitar, and we flipped through an American road atlas together.

“I don’t want to be too optimistic,” I said, “but I think I might make it to Williams early the day after tomorrow.”

When it was time to go to sleep, Ted offered me half the double bed in the back of his truck. I was taken aback, both by the seemingly inappropriate and the generous nature of the gesture. It occurred to me right away that agreeing to share a bed with a strange old man you’ve just met is ranked very high on the “just don’t do it” list, but at the same time, I couldn’t believe that there was anything malicious about this man’s intentions. Besides, my sleeping bag was still wet and my tarp was still muddy from the night before. I accepted the offer.

Falling asleep felt like a trust fall that night. I completely surrendered myself to this stranger and he caught me. Once I drifted off, I didn’t wake up again until morning. Especially after the previous ride, the fact that I was completely fine really helped to remind me of the good in humanity. The road won’t ever let me forget that, try as the assholes might.

Ted was planning to spend the morning on a woodworking project, and I was still supposedly in a hurry, so we said goodbye and I walked out to the highway. It turns out that the universe bought in to that supposition, because I completely smashed my estimated travel time. I rode with a man who made me borrow his phone to let my mom know I was alive, a man who told me that the duffel bag I’d been resting my arm on for 2 hours had $100,000 in cash inside it, and a man headed for Weed, California who didn’t smoke weed. By 4 o’clock I was already in Grants Pass, the nearest place big enough to feature chain stores to where I was headed.

I stopped at the Walmart, mostly because I hate myself for my unethical consumer choices, but also to pick up some food to bring to the farm with me. I also took the time to give my farm family a whole approximately 45 minutes heads up about my arrival. After that, I walked through town with shopping bags in both my hands and hanging off the side of my back pack. It was somehow super hot and raining at the same time. Really not the best conditions for walking a long way, but I didn’t even make it to where the highways split  at a set of traffic lights before my THIS WAY sign scored me one last ride, right to the bottom of the road to the farm.

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I walked up the hill, smiling and sweating. When I arrived, I was greeted by people it was so good to see again and a cold beer. A lot of things were different from last year, but it still felt like coming home. That day was a month ago now, and I’m still here. I will be for the next 2 weeks.

After that, as many of you know, I’m heading to San Fransisco to catch my flight to Peru. But what only a select few of you know is that there has been a very exciting development in my travel plans. I was going to travel through Bolivia, then north through Peru and Ecuador to Colombia, but it turns out I’m going the exact opposite direction. After I land in mid-November, I’ll spend 6 weeks travelling through a little bit of Peru, Bolivia, and the top bit of Chile. Then, I’m going to meet up with a little crew of awesome hippies from every corner of the earth and spend 4 months sailing a 38’ boat named Otra Vida through the Patagonian channels to the very southern tip of South America. Is this even real life? I don’t know.

To all my people back home, I’m missing you more than you know. To everyone who has sent me messages, I owe my sanity to you. Please accept these stories and the ones to come as my gifts of thanks.

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