Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Joe Omundson

Hitchhiking from Moab to Durango and back

I had been planning to hitchhike to Durango on Friday all week. I was going there to visit my friend Dan, and it just so happened that there was going to be a big party at the place where he'd been staying. When Friday came, I wasn't entirely sure if I wanted to hitchhike after all; I thought maybe I'd do something around Moab during the day and drive there in the evening instead of hitching. But driving would require me to spend my last $20 on diesel, and my car insurance had expired a couple days before, so it made more sense to leave my car at home. Late morning came and I halfheartedly put things into my backpack and decided to at least give hitching a try.

I walked to Main St. & 300 S and noticed a wide shoulder. I decided to hitch from there instead of walking to the edge of town. It was just after noon so I had maybe 6 hours of daylight to work with (I don't hitch at night). In theory, covering a 3-hour drive in 6 hours of hitchhiking is reasonable to expect, but it's always more stressful when there's pressure to get somewhere in a limited time.

I felt silly standing on the curb downtown, like I was being judged for soliciting a free ride. Even though nobody at all was obligated to help me, I felt like I was being a burden on anyone who saw me. In my mind, everyone was thinking "who is this guy to stand there and ask me for a ride? Why should I trust him? Entitled asshole!" This discouraged me, and after waiting 45 minutes I started to think maybe it made more sense to take my car after all. I didn't particularly feel like making it halfway there, missing the party, and camping in a cow pasture in 20 degree weather for no reason.

I thought: I'll give it another half hour, until 1:30. If I don't have a ride by then I'll walk back home.

With maybe 10 minutes to spare, an RV drove to the curb and stopped. I wasn't entirely sure if they were stopping for me or if they were just pulling over to let their dog out for a minute, but the middle aged woman who got out asked me where I was going, and when I told her Durango she said "Us too! You can hop in." So I did.

It was a Texas couple returning home from a summer trip across the western states. Their RV was modern and tidy, and it pulled an SUV. I sat down on the couch and we rolled south out of Moab, watching the snow-capped La Sal mountain range pass by. Within minutes I was served a plate of cold cuts, cheese, veggies, and crackers. A friendly poodle dog curled up against me. This was my first time getting picked up by an RV. Not bad!

It was amazing luck that they were going straight to my destination. We turned east at Monticello and drove into Colorado. Sometimes I chatted with the couple, sometimes they did their own thing and I relaxed on the couch. More snowy mountains passed by the windows of the RV. We drove through the self-proclaimed pinto bean capital of the world. After a few hours we got to Durango, and they went out of their way to take me straight to where my friend was staying. Door-to-door service.

I walked up the driveway and found Dan doing some chores outside. The property is on a hillside in a valley lined with cliffs. Various buildings were scattered around the property, and I got a quick tour of a verdant greenhouse. A woodburning contraption provided the greenhouse with warmth. I was shown a small shack with a bed where I was welcome to spend the night -- a pleasant surprise, as I had been planning to pitch a tent. On one side of the property was a big old house which was slated for destruction. This was the motivation for the party: one last get together to celebrate the old house being torn down and a new one being built in its place.

I spent some time catching up with Dan and helping get the house ready for the party. People didn't start arriving until after dark, but eventually there were about 100 guests on the property. Dan told me I should meet a friend of his named Chuck who was really into hitchhiking. In the back of the house a bonfire warmed some of the crowd, and inside a bluegrass/jam band set up their gear in a corner of the living room. Throughout the night, the band played a tight and seamless musical journey; people danced and painted on the walls, leaving sobriety and inhibition behind.

I'm eternally awkward in party situations, and I only knew one person in the entire crowd, so I didn't stay up late. The shack was warmer overnight than I expected. Another friend of Dan's slept on the floor.

In the morning I went back up to the house and hung out with some of the people who were around. The owner of the property cooked breakfast. I checked out the results of the demolition party; the walls were covered in paint, and some were smashed in. Finally at around noon, the guy who had slept on the floor next to me was heading back into Durango and I rode with him. Before I left, though -- this being Colorado -- I scored a couple handfuls of some grade B buds to take home.

I was dropped off on the highway just west of Durango. I got a ride in 10 minutes. I hadn't had a chance to meet Dan's friend Chuck at the party, but he was in the car that stopped to pick me up! He and his friend drove me about half an hour west to the town where they live. It was cool to have a chance to talk to another hitchhiker because there don't seem to be many of us.

From here I got two more rides back to Moab. The first guy who picked me up, after maybe an hour wait, was a middle aged mountain climbing guide who lives in Durango. When I got in his car and said "thanks so much for stopping to pick me up", he replied "thanks for hitchhiking! One less engine on the road." I'd say maybe 10% of the people who pick me up are on a similar wavelength in terms of personality, social views, and life interests. He was one of them. He took me to Cortez. Something funny we saw was a dispensary on top of a hill with an enormous green-cross flag, one of the biggest flags I've seen anywhere.

For my last ride on this trip I got picked up by a truck driver, another first. Just like with the RV, I wasn't entirely sure if he was stopping for me or not, so I was a bit nervous about climbing up and opening the door. Generally, drivers who are working for a bigger company aren't allowed to pick up hitchhikers, so the only ones who will give you a ride are people who own their own trucks. This guy was driving through Moab on his way to SLC. He was silent for the first 15 minutes or so and I started to think it would stay that way the whole time, but then he started talking: about his dysfunctional third marriage; his belief in aliens and UFOs; his story of getting the truck. It was so interesting because here is this guy whose interactions with his kids and wife (and women in general) were deeply saddening, and his logic about aliens raised my eyebrows quite a few times, and yet he's the one who was generous enough to stop and give me a ride and be vulnerable about his life. We humans are such a crazy mix of strengths and weaknesses, ugly and beautiful!

I said goodbye and jumped out of the truck when he was stopped at a light in Moab. Just 4 blocks to walk to get home. I laughed to myself, as I always do, about the magic of what had just happened. Without spending a single dime I got a fancy ride straight to my friend's house 3 hours away, was provided food, beer, weed, and a bed, saw a cool live music performance, and made it back home the next day. I wondered: how much would most people expect to pay for those experiences? How amazing is it that they can be found for free, if you're willing to be flexible and take a chance? Why don't more people try this?

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