Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Joe Omundson

Hitchhiking from Chelan to Portland

Wow, what a day.

I wrote the previous post in the morning at my new friends' house. I said goodbye to two of them who were at home, then walked a few blocks to the cafe to say goodbye to the one who was working there. Then I walked to the highway heading west out of Chelan.

I waited about 20 minutes for my first ride. An older man picked me up, and he said he used to drive the Stehekin ferry for 5 years. He'd just gotten back from a trip to Alaska. Living in Costa Rica for 8 years was a highlight of his life. He never enjoyed staying put for too long so he traveled often.

He went a bit out of his way, west of Wenatchee, to put me on the right highway where I could hitch toward Seattle. I stood here for about an hour; it was hot, dry, and smoky from the fire near Leavenworth.

I got picked up, for the first time, by a mom with two kids in the back seat, 7 and 5. They saw me hitching when they stopped to have a picnic, and I was still standing there when they left, so they decided to give me a ride. They were great, I really liked her parenting style and the kids were pretty funny sometimes. She was involved in biochem research at UW. They had camped in Chelan. We stopped at Snoqualmie Pass for a bathroom break and I went and chatted with a few of the PCT hikers who were hanging out there.

I got off at hwy 18, where I thought I'd make a left turn and avoid going into downtown Seattle. I felt a bit tired. I went into the woods next to the shoulder for a while - instant invisibility. I relaxed there and probably ate some food, and looked at my route options for hitching from there.

Back at the highway, I held out my thumb and within 2 minutes someone pulled over. He was a construction worker, a Latino guy living in Kent, who has 4 kids. He told me a couple stories of times his car broke down and he needed rides from strangers. So he didn't understand why people would think hitching was somehow wrong. What was cool was that we fully accepted each other's choices though our lives were so different.

I asked to be dropped off in Covington, and this turned out to be a bad move on my part because hitchhiking was prohibited on the onramp (for good reason, as there was not enough room for it to be safe). I tried to get a ride next to the right-turn-lane leading to the onramp, in front of a gas station, for the better part of an hour with no luck. I put a ride-wanted ad on Craigslist -- $5 for a 20 minute ride to I-5. The few responses I got were too little, too late. I decided on a different plan: I'd walk about 2 miles to a different onramp, and since it was getting late, I'd camp in the nearby forest before hitching in the morning. I wasn't in an absolute rush to get to Portland.

I went into the convenience store to see if I could find some chips. I was looking to spend no more than $3.50 and also acquire a large bag of chips that I liked, but I did not find this combination so I left.

Now I needed to cross the busy intersection to start my walk to the next onramp. I'd watched this light cycle a couple dozen times already so I was familiar with the pattern. As I waited for the walk signal, I had one more round of oncoming cars, so I stuck out my thumb just for the hell of it. I was in an even worse location to get picked up than before. But then this guy who was waiting for the light called me over! He asked where I was going and eventually offered to take me there, even though he had only been planning to drive across the street to his home. He shoveled a pile of random junk from the passenger seat into the back seat. Basically, as soon as I stopped giving a fuck about getting a ride, I got a ride.

So off we went. He wanted to talk a lot about music, asked me what I listen to, and was then super excited about showing me an artist he likes. I was pretty sure I'd seen a Bible in that pile of stuff so I braced myself for some Christian emo-core or something equally offputting, but actually what he played wasn't bad at all. It reminded me of Dream Theater without vocals so I recommended that band to him. He wanted to learn to play 6 or 7 different instruments. I liked his exuberance about his musical life. Most people I meet are only casual consumers of music but for some of us it means everything.

I told him what kind of onramp I was looking for and he decided to take me to Federal Way. It was a good idea. The onramp was adequate and there were areas where I could stealth camp nearby if I didn't get a ride before dark. But before dropping me off he wanted to smoke some weed with me, so he drove a few blocks over to a park area and we had a couple hits. I got his email address. Then he took me to the onramp and I was on my own again.

Something about the sudden turn of events, from the defeated feeling of being at the bad onramp to suddenly being exactly where I needed to be on I-5, encountering this kind of silly and helpful guy, and being a bit stoned, put me in a more carefree mood for this hitch. I was laughing at the possibilities; it felt like something epic was about to happen. What if Rock Ocean and Kimchi showed up in Stanley the VW right then? How crazy would that be. That's how it was on the trail sometimes though. So why not again? The sun went down behind the buildings, and I surveyed my sleep spot options from where I stood.

[...honk honk!]
Hmm still just hitching, yep I hope someone pulls over soon.
[Honk, honk!]
Wait, what?

I turned around, and halfway down the onramp was a car that had stopped for me, trying to get my attention. Nice! I grabbed my pack and hobbled over there.

It was a gal in her early 20s who, I found out within a few minutes, had also attended Beloved festival earlier this month -- the 2nd person from there to pick me up! It was the first time she'd picked up a hitchhiker while driving alone but she could tell I was safe I guess. We talked about the festival, and what our lives were like, as she drove me to Olympia. She had to turn around and go home to get some sleep before work the next morning, so I looked up a good spot and she took the exit and pulled into a Chevron.

Immediately after getting out of the car, a guy parked nearby asked us if we had a lug wrench. He needed to tighten his wheels. So she found the wrench in the back of her car and he tightened all the lug bolts on his front wheels which were, indeed, extremely loose. As he was thanking her, she asked where he was going, and he said Hillsboro. Hmm... and I was going to Portland. She made faces at him like "you should give this guy a ride" and once he understood the situation he invited me to ride with him.

So I got dropped off there and after a quick stop at the convenience store I was cruising down I-5 again, all the way to Portland. This guy was 26 and had taken the Greyhound to Seattle where he bought the car. They'd done some work on the CV joints and forgotten to tighten the lug nuts, so when the ride got really rattly he pulled over at that Chevron. Tightening the lugs helped immensely. It was funny because I did the same thing in my car not too long ago, though I only made it a few blocks before having to stop. He was pretty stoked to have a car again, having been through a really rough year, losing some friends and being homeless for a while. I appreciated that he shared his story with me. It was his first time giving a hitchhiker a ride too, and his first time up to Seattle.

He dropped me off in downtown Portland near 405 and I looked up the bus route to my friend's house in Oregon City. Luck was still with me. I walked hastily to the bus stop and just caught the bus I needed to make my connection. It was a bit of a wait for the next bus, but it came early - or so I thought. It was actually an earlier bus running late, and soon received orders to skip a bunch of stops to catch up to its schedule. So I got to Oregon City faster than anticipated.

10 minutes of walking and one hill climb later, and I was at my friend's house, where a basement room was waiting for me. It was around midnight. I smiled in relief at having finished a successful hitch and finding a peaceful haven for the night.

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