Hitchhiking to California
We stood near the on-ramp of I-70 West flying a sign that said, “West.” The vehicles whizzed by the roundabout right before rush hour traffic around 2:30 PM. Most people laughed, threw peace signs, thumbs up or ignored us. After plodding back and forth for about an hour we decided to get closer to the on-ramp and throw a sign. A V8 pickup truck flashed his turn signal and pulled off onto the shoulder, rocks and dust popping up as we ran to open the door.
The man, a carpenter from Buena Vista, headed to Copper Mountain, gave us a hitch. Being our first time hitchhiking we didn’t think to ask how far west he was headed. Here to find out just six miles into an area nearly impossible to hitch hike out of we learned at that moment to only accept long distance rides to high traffic volume areas. Luckily, we walked to the on-ramp outside of Copper Mountain and after shaking there in the cold, windy weather, sign flapping in the wind, we ended up hitching a ride from a woman headed to Vantage Condos in Vail. She boarded, worked in finance with a major in international business and just moved out to Colorado from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Backcountry skiing out there kicks ass and she highly recommended me heading out there for next winter. The ride only lasted a half hour, but we made progress, mile by mile.
We tramped down the road walking parallel to I-70 West. I visited Vail a few years back and remembered my way around town. Every five minutes I glanced around looking over my shoulder for spots to sleep in town. The cold weather, wind and potential rain made it hard to find any suitable areas. However, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a man on the opposite side of the road who turned around and pulled off into the parking lot next to us. He rolled down his rickety window and asked where we planned on going. California bound, but far from our destination. He gave us two options. Wait for him to finish an errand and he’d hitch us to Edwards or wait and he’d give us a place to sleep for the night. I found that rather creepy and declined the offer, but took him up on the hitch to the next town.
Marien and I sat down on the curb of a small mall complex, scarfing down on some snacks while we waited for the scruffy, brown bearded man to pick us up.
After a half hour he pulled out of the parking lot and told us to hop in and throw our packs in the back. His old, beat up truck, creaky and full of trash, seemed like the only viable option at the time. So we jumped in and the truck rattled while he drove to Edwards. Another short distance hitch, but worth it since we decreased in elevation. He stopped at a local gas station to fill up letting us go on our journey. He planned on rubber tramping around America next year and writing a series of stories called, “The Bum Chronicles.” Based on the stories of bums, tramps, crusties, punks, etc. and how they separated from society to live a free lifestyle outside the norm. “Maybe we’d meet again,” I thought, as we lingered around the gas station, looking for a spot to fly a sign.
We walked to the roundabout near I-70 West and within a half hour an older woman from Alaska picked us up. An activist, who in March of 2013 set out to walk across America to support a cause for The Wild Foundation, gave us a ride to Eagle. She couldn’t take us any further, but gave me her card in case I make it out to Homer, Alaska.
She pulled off on the side of the roundabout near a Burger King and we parted ways. At this point, only an hour of daylight remained, we threw a sign with no luck of a ride. We ventured on down a back-country road. A river rapidly flowing to the right of us, and yellow-brown blended sandstone mountains soaring to the horizon. To our left, a mountain covered in brush and trees with rocks tumbling down a steep slope.
I glanced around for no trespassing signs and could not find any in sight so we decided to climb up the slope to find a spot to camp. Slipping and sliding around while rocks clunked and rolled down the hill we finally reached the top where flat ground lay. Immediately we found a great camping spot beneath a tree. Minor problem being the dog who reluctantly and viciously barked at us from the neighboring lawn. We couldn’t sleep here. We trekked across until he stopped yelping and howling only to encounter another mangy mut.
I paced myself and slid down the hill grabbing onto trees to brace my falls. We reached flat, rocky ground with rabbit droppings and pebbles. The dogs stopped barking at this point. A small section of land appeared to be camp worthy, but we needed to position our bodies appropriately for it to work out. I laid feet sloped upwards nearly sliding down the mountain while Marien lay in the opposite direction feet sloped downwards with his pack on a rock. The rocks beneath us, uncomfortable, braced us from rolling down the steep grade. They became a nuisance as the night sky loomed over us and the cold dragged in through the trees.
We barely slept at all that night due to our bodies being weirdly positioned. I remember fading in and out until finally drifting off into a peaceful sleep. Only to wake up hours later to nearly sliding headfirst down the slope.
I re-positioned my body the same direction as Marien’s and drifted back off to sleep right before sunrise.
With maybe two to three hours of sleep we both looked like zombies. The sun rose shining vibrant, bright rays of light into our bloodshot, craggy eyes. We drug our feet down the road with our heavy packs on and yearned for the Burger King to open to grab some breakfast.
First, we decided to throw a sign to get out of Eagle. A trucker passed and motioned that he would pull off on the shoulder, but never did. Five minutes later a punk chick pulled up and rolled down the window. Her lip rings, nose ring, and jet black hair presented a hardcore aura, but her nice gesture offering us a ride to Grand Junction was enough for us to hop in and stash our packs in the trunk.
We talked for maybe five minutes and the rest of the ride consisted of a lot of dead silence. A fluent conversation with this girl seemed to be impossible, but nonetheless we learned she moved four times over the past year and had two kids. When she stepped out of the vehicle to grab a coffee at Starbucks I realized how beastly this woman was, standing at 6’4″ and at least a good 225+ lbs. my jaw dropped in amazement. She offered to buy us something, but we declined.
The ride to Grand Junction took us through Glenwood Canyon, which I traveled through before a few years back when I visited the hot springs. The canyon really portrays a variety of colors throughout the different rock formations, which is how the state got its name, “Colorful Colorado.”
She dropped us off near the on-ramp in Clifton, which made an unsuccessful attempt for hitchhiking. Vehicles whizzed by at speeds of 70 MPH and the lack of a shoulder made it impossible to stop. We stood outside in the chilly, misty weather, raindrops casually landing on our heads every few minutes. The intermittent showers made us seek shelter until the sun popped its head out a few hours later.
We munched on some food at Subway and trekked down the road for about six miles until we entered Grand Junction. This town sucked for hitchhiking. No one acknowledged us or even thought about giving us a hitch. After four hours in the scorching heat, my arms singed a dark reddish brown, nose peeling, I gave up and plopped my ass at the nearest stoplight hoping a kind soul would give us a lift to the next town. I threw rocks at the ground while Marien flew a sign.
Hearing a voice off in the distance I heard a woman yell out, “What direction are ya headed?”
“West,” I said.
She asked if we wanted a ride to the next town over, Fruita. We nodded our heads, with only one condition, we needed to sit in the bed of her truck.
We hopped over the tailgate and unstrapped our packs. As soon as this woman tapped the gas of her V8 pickup truck I could tell we were in for a bumpy, speeding frenzy. She sped through town burning yellow lights, passing cars over double lines all through the back roads of Route 340.
We sat in the back our asses thumping against the bed of the truck as we hit the rigid cracks in the roadway. Then a light shower sprayed down on us, my hair soaked and parted across my head from the wind flying over the front of the truck. The winding roads filled with mountainous ridges and radiant cliffs off in the distance. Huge mansions filled the land. Our faces spread smiles of joy and amazement from the beautiful views bestowed upon us.
Within minutes we arrived in Fruita hopping out at the Loco truck stop and gas station. She offered to buy us food or beer, but we declined.
We could not find a proper spot to fly a sign so we tested out the sidewalk near the on-ramp. After several hours of standing and soaking in the burning sun we managed to make $20 without panhandling, but merely holding a sign that said, “West.”
A long four hours of standing made this seem like an endless pit going nowhere. We walked over to the truck stop to see if any truckers could give us a lift and found out that only independent contractors had that capability due to insurance restrictions with other company vehicles.
After much lost hope and mental anguish we saw a fellow traveler hop out of a truck with a dog. So not all hope vanished.
The scruffy man with noticeable teeth damage walked over in our direction. His name, Whitewolf, and partner in crime, Jack, gave us some pointers on road life.
The best times to hitch are early in the morning during work traffic or between 3 to 4 PM when people are coming off from work. You might also get lucky with the occasional truck driver. He also mentioned a place to sleep off in the distance by the Colorado River.
We decided to take his advice and call it a night. He sketched me out a bit so we found another spot to sleep off Route 6 West next to the True Value in a bushy area. I actually fell asleep for a few more hours than the night before. The snoring, and gargling sounds expelling from Marien’s mouth woke me up ever so often, but I just smacked him so I could nod off.
The stars lit up the sky that night and the cold, frigid air, dropped the temperature into the low 40’s making my bones chill.
I awoke super early at 4:30 AM and hustled to pack my gear to see if any truckers headed westbound on I-70 would pick us up.
We stood outside the Loco truck stop flying our sign as each trucker passed with zero acknowledgement. Distraught, we lost faith in them and decided to hang by the on-ramp. Only this time we sat in front of the no pedestrians on the highway sign. We walked back and forth down the sidewalk between the gas station and city market multiple times. Not a soul would pick us up. Most of these rich, pricks just laughed or ignored us.
We decided to move towards the roundabout inside of the city limits and still came out unsuccessful. Lunch whirled around and we hit the gas station for food where we saw Whitewolf again.
He advised us not to fly a sign inside city limits since we could get arrested for soliciting. He also pointed out we could panhandle outside of Loco without getting in trouble since the workers did not care.
He kept mentioning his brother Blue being right outside of town. They wanted to meet up in Fruita and head to Moab. His brother, an ex gang banger, made hitchhiking a profession much like Whitewolf. He perfected the skills of scoring rides and money in a time efficient manor.
Noon hit and we decided to give the on-ramp another whirl only this time we ventured onto the highway for a bit. When that proved futile we moved to the on-ramp only this time we sat closer to the city limits so more people could see us from the light.
A pickup truck pulled over acting like he wanted to pick us up. By the time we ran down the on-ramp the man scurried off the shoulder and onto the road. We got shafted once again. At this point I lost my composure and gave up all hope. We might be stuck here for a while.
Then a yellow Subaru made a wide turn and pulled off on the shoulder picking us up. The woman, a young 29 year old, brunette with a short black mini skirt and small body frame just finished mountain biking with her dog, Paige, in Fruita. On her way to Zion National Park she asked where we were headed. “As far west as you’re going,” we said.
We held a long conversation with this girl. Her outgoing personality and thirst for adventure made it a very cool ride. She boarded, mountain biked, and rock climbed among many other activities. She worked for Zion National Park and we talked about the most random things that I can’t recall what topics we covered, but it made the three to four hour trip seem like a half hour.
Between the conversations that took place and the breathtaking, diverse scenery, Utah by far exceeded my expectations. Never in my life did I set my eyes on such intricate, colorful mountainsides, with huge bright canyons, and smaller slopes covered in green trees and pastures.
I scrunched myself in the back seat and most of the trip my feet lost feeling and toes numb. I moved my ass ever so often to keep it from getting sore. So much backpacking gear and equipment filled her backseat and her dog kept snuggling up next to me so I felt squished between her stuff and the window. She apologized, but I didn’t mind since I appreciated the hitch through most of Utah.
It being Easter and about to rain we decided to use some of the money we made towards a Hotel for the night. We stayed at the Days Inn in Cedar City where the young, pretty girl dropped us off before heading to Toquersville. After camping outside for a few days a good night’s rest definitely suited us.
We showered, ate food and passed out into a deep sleep while watching television. I don’t recall falling asleep. I remember waking up around 10 AM to check out and put in a day of work on the roadway trying to hitch out to the next town.
We flew multiple signs hoping to skip St. George and land in Vegas or California, but all we got out of it was $10 measly dollars and no ride. Hours passed and I felt like we sat back in Fruita, with no hope of leaving.
The main issue we encountered being the illegality of hitchhiking in this state. Most officers don’t enforce the law, but people displayed paranoia as they drove by us. We saw many gestures, one of which, a forefinger pinched close towards the thumb. At first I thought everyone was making fun of our dicks with a deprecating comment about the length, but then realized they meant we were close. We both chuckled over that one for a while.
After flying a sign for hours that day in Cedar City we almost gave up hope. An Indian woman flagging for construction going on near the on-ramp waved us over. She noticed us standing outside holding our sign and offered to give us a ride to the nearest homeless shelter after her shift. They would pay for our bus ticket to Vegas. It didn’t take much thinking on our part. Within a few seconds we looked at each other, nodded and declined the offer. We’d test our luck on the road since the cops didn’t pester us yet.
Another hour passed and an older woman with two dogs, headed to St. George, stopped to give us a hitch. She worked on designing many of the homes in the area and gave us her card. An excellent tour guide pointing out the canyons of Zion National Park and the other ridges in the area, Black Ridge and Red Ridge. She gave us a brief overview of her hometown, Old Harmony, which consisted of Mormons who came from Harmony, Pennsylvania. Many believed in abstaining from addiction substances like tobacco, alcohol and caffeine, and took their religion very seriously despite having a polygamous lifestyle.
Dana needed to make a stop home first to grab eggs for St. George before dropping us off there to get us one step closer to Vegas.
We pulled into her driveway and helped her unload the soil and fertilizer from her trunk. Her yard looked almost self-sustainable for a vegetarian. Vegetables, flowers, and chickens occupied the yard with a clean, blissful view of the mountains in the distance. She propped up frames of trampolines to make greenhouses in her front yard and just finished an addition to her back yard making her home a bit more spacious.
She cruised along pointing out every little attraction and historic area between Cedar City and St. George. The incredible view of diverse scenery amazed both of us. Mountains of red, brown, orange and green illuminated the sky of clear blue. She pulled into the Sinclair gas station and dropped us off in the middle of town. The massive traffic volume in the area complemented all the industries, stores and university.
We walked around, grabbed some grub and hit the on-ramp for a few hours flying our “Vegas” sign. A few drove by and giggled, laughed, threw their hands up like they didn’t know where they were headed and in the end we stood there ride-less. I waved at all the hot women looking our direction and they acknowledged me and reciprocated, but 7 PM came and we needed to find a place to sleep.
We walked into town looking for desolate buildings or bushy areas to camp. Trudging along up the hill a beige vehicle stopped near the sidewalk next to where we walked. A younger man, in his thirties, with gauges and a bull ring in his nose, told us he lived in Vegas and departed tomorrow around 5 PM if we wanted to hitch a ride. We told him to meet us near the on-ramp.
We looked down over town and to our right sighted a bouldering park: Pioneer Park. Many people climbed and walked around following the path before darkness hit. We moseyed around climbing to the very top of the park waiting for people to leave. I noticed an uninhabited area by a billboard across from where we sat.
The perfect place to camp for the night. The sun slowly faded off into the sky as darkness staggered in upon us. All of the artificial lighting made it near impossible to sleep. The sky lingered in a light phase until about midnight. We pulled our mummy bags over our heads and dozed off into a deep slumber atop the highest point in the park overlooking every bright yellow speck of light in the city.
We awoke to the sounds of cars putter pattering across the blacktop from down below and the screeching noise of tires sliding against the roadway. The sun peeked its head out over the mountains and the wind roared like we were in Kansas.
Certain our ride would pull through we decided to walk to the nearest grocery store, 3 miles away. Halfway into the walk we saw Zack in his beige car. He yelled down the street at us, “HOP IN.”
He dropped us off at the grocery store before work and mentioned he’d be around the exit at 5 PM to hitch us to Vegas. We didn’t think to exchange numbers, but figured we’d meet him later in the day by the on-ramp.
After hitting the store, and scarfing down a huge piece of bread along with fruit slices, we made our way back up to the Vegas on-ramp. Holding our sign in the windy, drizzling weather made it rough to get a ride. No one acknowledged us, and we banked on Zack pulling through. After an hour a police officer rolled up to the shoulder and asked the usual bullshit questions cops do. He demonstrated politeness, as did we, but some of his questions came off as irrelevant. He requested to see our IDs to see if any warrants existed for either of us. I scurried around in my wallet and could not find my Breckenridge ID. He ended up searching on my voided DE license. After questioning us, he let us go with a warning and told us not to solicit on the corner anymore or he’d have to charge us.
Hitchhiking is illegal in Utah and Nevada, which we knew, but we ended up here so we took our chances.
We decided to hit up Pioneer Park and boulder for a few hours before our ride to Vegas. We plopped our bags down in the sandy valleys of rocks and began free climbing. I did not have my climbing shoes, but bouldered anyway.
Dangling between the crevices of rocks physically exhausted us making our forearms sore and tingling. We sat down and rested for a bit before grabbing food and waiting for Zack to arrive.
We loitered around Sinclair gas station after speaking with the manager and patiently waited in lounge chairs until 4:30 PM.
A hippie from Breckenridge with long black hair and a stoned look on his face pulled up asking us for drugs. I laughed and didn’t take him seriously. He proceeded to list the drugs he wanted. I laughed again saying sorry man. We get hassled by cops, you really think I want to get searched with drugs on me?
He threw a peace sign as they left for Colorado. We walked back and forth down the road next to the on-ramp waiting for Zack. Ten minutes went by, then twenty, then thirty and an hour. We gave up hope. He shafted us, and remained to be our last hope.
Since we did not want trouble with the police and hitchhiking appeared to be useless we tramped to the nearest shuttle, 5 miles away.
Ended up paying 30 bucks to take a shuttle to Vegas. I felt ashamed and didn’t look out the window since our hitch failed. Ended up fading in and out of sleep from the bumpy motion until we ended up on the Vegas strip.
We trudged along the strip looking for a cheap motel. The Hard Rock, our cheapest route, located 3 miles away seemed like our best choice.
The heels of my feet started to feel like every step I took landed barefoot across sharp, pointy rocks. The pain worsened the further we traveled, but I wanted to gamble, drink and see some titties. After a long drawn out trek away from the strip we ended up at the casino hotel, which claimed $29 rooms for the night.
When we arrived the front desk personnel told us the cheapest room available, $95. So we decided to check in our bags and walk around the casino.
I tried gambling until approached by security asking for my license. Then I realized I left it in Cedar City. I tried explaining it to them and showing my voided license from DE, but these people have the brains of peas.
I verbally abused them since they did not follow my explanation or do anything to help my situation. Between the black man and Native American neither one offered a resolution. They nearly forcefully removed me from the casino.
At this point, gambling, titties and drinking became impossible. We pondered hitchhiking, but after seeing another traveler get arrested and harassed by cops we decided to look up the Greyhound station schedule and head to Salt Lake City.
We walked about 10 miles through the hood of Vegas in the wee hours of the morning. It took us about two to two and a half hours until we finally reached the station. The street covered in filth. Abandoned buildings decayed on every street we walked down. Bums slept behind dumpsters, on the sidewalks and even upright on benches just covering their bodies in tarps. The station filled with all different kinds of odd people from pimps, home bums, broken down snow bunnies, crack heads, strippers, and a few normal looking individuals. We booked a ticket for SLC that left early in the morning. We used this time to sleep since we stayed up most of the day and walked about 15 miles in total.
Marien texted me and eventually nudged my shoulder. I awoke from what felt like a drunken stupor. My eyes in a clouded daze from lack of sleep. I looked over towards my right to see a scruffy, gray-bearded home bum trying to steal my ticket from Vegas to SLC. After confronting him about it he exclaimed he was holding it for me. The man, embarrassed, walked away and left the building. Luck, on his side, because if he tried reaching into my other pocket I may have accidentally stabbed him with my knife.
The next few hours our heads bobbed up and down like we were bobbing for apples. We sat in our chairs slumped over, tired, waiting for the bus to pick us up. When that moment finally came it felt like heaven. Never in my life, would I enjoy the simple pleasure of just sitting on a bus, squished next to some random person, until that night due to lack of sleep.
We arrived in SLC and spent much of the day walking around checking out the town. This city, covered in bums, homeless people, and gangs, caught me off guard. I expected to see a bunch of Mormons and religious people trying to bless me and keep my spirits from going to the depths of hell. We roamed around the city for miles and eventually took a city bus, UTA, to Ogden where we grabbed some food and noticed a considerable amount of skin heads in the area. I really regret not taking the plunge and walking 8 miles in-land to see the Great Salt Lake, but after trekking considerable distances the other days we took better judgment against it.
We ate a few meals at some small diners and grabbed gas station food for the rest of our time in SLC. We explored the outskirts of the city limits to find a place to sleep. Once we stumbled upon a park with a considerably steep hill we scoped it out for potential spots to sleep and relaxed until dark watching the sun set before our eyes and peep its way under the hill. We set up camp on a small flat section in the middle of the hill. This way we could get to the above highway if we needed to, but also, any footsteps approaching us from below would awaken us from falling rock. I nestled into my sleeping bag as I watched the trains pass by below and eventually dozed off into the night.
The next day we awoke relatively early to the epic rays of the sun rise beating down our bags. My bones no longer chilled, but immersed in sweat from wearing too many layers the night before. I quickly began to remove clothing and proceeded to wake up Marien whom I thought got the best sleep of his life because he didn’t budge from his bag at all until I nudged him.
We packed up our gear and headed back down the road taking a hiking path towards the gas station. A guy popped out of the bushes and approached me, holding out his hands, like I was his savior. As he got closer to me, I realized an 8-inch dagger lay across all ten of his fingers. I nearly ran, but refrained from freaking out and yelling at him. I clasped my pocket knife in my right hand and out of no where he murmurs, “Nice pack, do you want to buy this dagger off me for your travels?”
I then realized this harmless guy just wanted some money for food. He probably stole that off someone and wanted to get rid of it. I shook my head and politely said, “No, but thanked him for the offer.” He scurried back behind the bushes and it appeared to me he spent the night there as all his belongings appeared to be scattered on the ground. We continued on and tried to find something to occupy our minds. The abandoned building next to us, locked tight, and boarded up at every entrance and window, did not seem like a plausible exploration spot. I tried gaining access through the second story window, with no luck and decided to tramp on down the road towards the mall.