Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Joe Omundson

Hitchhiking from Moab to Portland: Day 3

I wanted to describe day 2 in more detail before I go on to the next part of the story.

So... I spent the night in that sleep spot I took a picture of. I had no problems there and I woke around 6:30 as it was getting light. I walked to the onramp and started hitching by 6:45.

Within 10 minutes the police showed up. Apparently this onramp was deemed too dangerous to hitch on. They checked my ID and let me go. So I stood in front of the gas station near the onramp instead. I waited here for 2 hours, 58 minutes, 58 seconds until a young Mormon guy, a recent high school graduate, picked me up on the way home from church. He drove me maybe 5-10 miles up the freeway before he had to turn back.

This was to be a theme for the rest of the day: short rides with long waits in between. I got picked up by a guy who loved fishing, a very positive ex-inmate, a guy who talked about music, an older woman who was super into Mormonism, a silly guy about my age in a jacked up truck with his young daughter, and a guy who works in a gold mine along with one of his interns. My shortest wait was probably 28 minutes and most of them took 1-2.5 hours.

My low point came waiting for hitch #5. The previous hitch moved me only 1 exit down the freeway and had taken a couple hours to get. Now I was waiting 2+ hours for the next ride, the weather was constantly alternating between thunderstorms and hot sunshine, and after holding out my thumb for that many cars and being ignored I really wanted to start holding out a certain other finger instead. Sometimes it would rain and I'd run over to the overpass and just sit with my head in my hands, trying to cope with the frustration and feelings of rejection. When so many people ignore your existence for no good reason it can start to get to you. Yet, you're more likely to get a ride if you look positive and happy, so it's a tricky thing.

So, eventually I made it to Snowville, 20 miles from the Idaho border, after 12 hours of hitching and 7 rides. The sun was getting low but I was hoping for 1 more ride that day. Wow, I definitely got it.

I'd been waiting for nearly an hour when this crazy looking bus got off at the exit. The driver leaned out and shouted across the road, "Where are you going?" "Portland," I yelled back; "what about you?" "Portland!"

They went to the truck stop and performed what I quickly realized was their typical routine: "jugging" for diesel and "spanging" for cash. They would take a 5 gallon jug around to the truck drivers who were filling up their tanks and ask if they could spare some diesel to help us get to Portland. I was amazed at how successful this was. Sometimes we'd get 15 gallons of diesel for free at a stop. It was at least quite honest, and they never pressured anyone who said no. But I didn't feel comfortable asking people for money or fuel personally.

My ride with these 7 travelers was full of cognitive dissonance. In a lot of ways I could relate to them and enjoyed their company. Yet their top priority once getting in to Portland was to find some meth and heroin, and in my opinion those are just kind of the wrong drugs. I had to sort out some of what I believed about people, substances, group dynamics, risk, and asking for help. It was good that I had that opportunity.

We rode through the night and made it the 658 miles to Portland in 22.5 hours. It felt more like 2-3 days. Constantly being at someone else's whim in terms of where we went and what we did was hard for me, it felt trapping. There was little opportunity for an introvert to get alone and recharge. But, we made it here super fast so I was willing to accept that.

Here's how I feel about hitching in general. The lows are very low and the highs are very high. It's quite fun to meet the people who are kind and generous enough to pick you up. Since I'm in a position of being a guest in their car, and I appreciate their willingness to stop for me so much, I feel like I basically have no place to criticize anything about them. It's a unique opportunity to practice radical acceptance and learn to see the beauty in all kinds of people, even ones who do things you don't like or are part of a social group you don't often think of positively. Picking up a hitcher requires a certain level of spontaneous openness and generosity. And it's not only one group of people who has it - it's liberals and conservatives, religious and atheist, old and young, hippies and pirates. Most people are too afraid or apathetic to pick up people who need a ride.

I've been seeing a couple friends here in town and tomorrow I will ride down to Beloved festival. So the journey continues and I'll update when I can.

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