Apart from a couple of short, cheap flights and bus rides, I covered all my miles in the US in cars, either hitchhiking or ridesharing through Craigslist (the US second-hand website, where you can find anything).
Very simply, hitchhiking/ridesharing is slow and cheap; but most importantly, it’s a very interesting way of doing things. Above all, I feel as alive as I think it’s possible to feel when I’m out there, thumb out and waiting for a ride, or jumping in a car and meeting new people. There’s nothing else other than you, your bag, and your intent to get the next ride. No choices to be made, no screens to distract you, nothing to shield you from the constant rejection of hundreds of cars passing right by you. This choice-less focus and full exposure is a beautiful thing, and one that forces you to stay present.
I definitely want to do more of it. Here’s what I managed in the US so far!
Journey 1: Craigslist rideshare from San Francisco to Portland (11 hours)
Get picked up in the morning by Lee, who I quickly discover speaks very little English indeed despite having lived in Canada and the US for 10 years (he’s Chinese). We get on very well anyway. It’s amazing how well you can communicate with people without using words. We can certainly both agree that the scenic hills of Northern California and Oregon are “beautiful”. 11 hours later, he drops me off at a bar in Portland. Success.
Journey 2: With a hostel friend from Seattle to Vancouver (3 hours)
Having met Zach at the hostel in Portland, where we realised that we were going the same way, I contact him in Seattle and arrange to go up to Vancouver with him (we didn’t ride together to Seattle because I already had my bus ticket). He picks me up from my door and drops me off at my host’s door in Vancouver after we ride around the city all day and take in most of the sights. Success.
Journey 3: Craigslist rideshare from Seattle to Salt Lake City (20 hours)
After getting a bus from Vancouver to Seattle, I hang out with my friend James at his work for a pint of IPA from the office keg whilst looking over the coast (yeah, his office is great). I wait around for Joe, a man with a conversion van who has rescheduled the leaving time to about 7 hours later than originally planned. This is a reminder of an unshakeable truth – on the road, especially if you’re doing it cheaply, you have to be flexible.
It turns out to be an outrageously cool road trip. The van is a 4-tonne monster with loads of room and a bed in the back. My companions are two Salt Lake City natives (who aren’t Mormons), one young man with a dog who has been living a homeless lifestyle for years (I mean the full train-hopping, rag-wearing, floor and forest-dwelling experience), and one young woman who is also travelling to Central America. We ride all night, listen to great music, talk and tell great stories…it feels like I’m in a film.
We even stop to admire a small canyon that a very friendly guy at the petrol station recommended to us, seeing that we were from out of town. Success.
Journey 4: Hitchhiking Salt Lake City to Yellowstone (10 hours)
Although I’ve barely eaten or slept in 30 hours, as soon as Journey 3 is done, I start looking for my next ride to Yellowstone – the 7-hour delay messed up my schedule and I now have only a few hours to get to my Couchsurfing host in West Yellowstone. This is my first time hitchhiking in the USA and still one of my first times ever, so I have no idea what to expect.
I have no luck asking truck drivers at a gas station and truck stop (increasingly, company policy forces them not to take people because other passengers are not insured) so I eventually just head to a freeway on-ramp heading north.
After less than an hour, I catch my first ride from Bryan, who tells me he can’t take me far. It turns out to be golden. Bryan invites me back to his house for a beer, which turns into two and three, which turns into his wife coming home with food and him making dinner for all of us, which turns into them making an 8-hour round trip (returning to their home at 4am) just to drop me off at my host’s door in West Yellowstone. It was one of the most touching and humbling experiences of the trip, and to this date I consider Bryan as my friend. Success.
Journey 5: Hitchhiking Yellowstone to Denver, via Bozeman (50 hours)
There are more direct routes to be taken, but my host convinces me that I’m likely to catch more rides going north first, then going east across Montana to Billings before going south to Denver. This trip involves waiting in the cold a lot.
I get picked up first by Tom, who drops me off an hour north. Then a very polite policeman informs me I am not allowed to hitchhike here, but tells me there is a free bus to Bozeman (correct direction) – we actually see this bus go past as he’s talking, and we chase the bus in the police car so that I can catch it. Cool guy!
In Bozeman, waiting for two hours in a blizzard pays off. First, a lady stops to wish me a Happy Easter and gives me three huge packaged ham steaks; I wouldn’t otherwise eat meat, but it doesn’t seem right to refuse this act of kindness. Then I finally get a ride west to Livingstone from an older man whose son does a lot of hitchhiking.
Next is a really chilled Native Indian who grows marijuana legally in Washington D.C., who goes out of his way 20 minutes to drop me off a bit before Billings on purpose because, according to him, there are a lot of drunk Native Indians around that area where I’d be hitchhiking, so it’s not a great place to be after sunset.
A family stop to offer me money (I refuse, of course, but once again I am touched) and a couple of people offer to take me only to Billings, but I finally accept the third offer for Billings. It’s night-time by this point and I have no real plans, so it’s a relief when shortly after picking me up, Dusty offers me a place to stay. We swing by a bar for a couple of beers and, when we arrive at his house, things get pretty ugly with his wife, who really did not want me to be there. A lot of screaming and drama goes on for a very long time while I wait downstairs…it’s really intense, and I tell him I don’t want to cause trouble, but he insists I stay. It’s also midnight and I don’t have too many options anyway. I stay.
The next day, we set off in the early morning. Dusty drops me off at a good freeway on-ramp and after about an hour and a half, another brave man picks me up and takes me 40 minutes down to Hardin after telling me about his time in Mexico and how he’d recently spent 10 years in jail for making and selling crystal meth.
It’s in Hardin that, after a couple of hours, I get the dream ride…all the way to Denver! I had begun to think that I wouldn’t be able to get there by Friday to meet my friend at that I’d have to swallow the bitter pill of defeat and take a bus. Not so thanks to Lance, a gun-toting, die-hard Republican and self-confessed sociopath from Texas (not my usual choice of company, I must say…then again, that’s the beauty of hitchhiking). Due to taking a wrong turn for two hours and his broken tail-light meaning we can’t drive after dark, we have to stop overnight in Casper (Wyoming), but Lance offered to pay just a little extra for an extra bed in the motel room since he had to get one anyway, in return for helping him with some heavy suitcases. It was a smoking room and smelt like it; but as they say, beggars can’t be choosers.
Finally, we arrive in Denver the next morning, just in time to meet my friend. Actually, just in time for my friend to swing by five minutes later with her Uber ride from the airport to the centre.
It seems to be a good time to ask myself a question I often repeat: How ridiculously lucky can I get?