Train hopping Binghamton
“Happy Birthday Marien! I hope exploring Castle on the Hill, your first skydive and train hopping Binghamton made your birthday one to remember buddy.”
After spending a few months backpacking around Europe with his girlfriend, my friend booked a ticket back to the USA and took a bus to Rochester, where we picked him up. Arriving Sunday with the intentions of making his first skydive, he waited patiently with anxious urges to jump only to get it pushed back by the sunset. I felt responsible in some way, but I held to my promise and tried to make this the best birthday of his life. Out of all my friends back home in Delaware he was the only one who took the plunge to visit me at WNY Skydiving and with that the story unfolds, a three day escapade filled with adventure, adrenaline, a little doggy and my wife.
With a small trek through the landing area on the drop zone, following the perimeter of the corn, we roamed through the brush. Thistles and corn stalks scratched our legs with the starry night sky illuminating our path as we walked deeper into the woods filled with dry pine needles, neatly stacked wood and dead fallen trees. We propped our tents staking them between the tall trees, their tops swaying from the faint whistle of the wind, as we set up our camps. With four logs positioned in a square I began to add tinder to the fire, kindling it with paper plates and toilet paper. Its flame lit the night sky with an orange blaze, sizzling, crackling and popping bits of charcoal. We scorched marshmallows over it for a midnight snack before dozing off to sleep, its heat fading away into the brisk night, as we drowned in peaceful bliss.
Morning, we awoke to a light drizzle and gloomy sky, with the work-day cancelled we set out for Castle on the Hill, in Dansville, NY. The drive took us through the rural countryside filled with green pastures, endless wheat hills and desolate small towns along back-country roadways. My friend never explored an abandoned building before so I felt excited for him and his first urban exploration experience. We parked the car at the local park and walked half a mile towards the castle on the hill. Decaying since 1971, it stood tall crumbling to the decadent force of nature, which took over a majority of the complex.
Dansville: Castle on the Hill
History takes us back to 1798 when Nathaniel Bingham stumbled upon a water source of rich minerals and opened a spa in Dansville called the Dansville Water Cure facility. He practiced Water Cure or hydrotherapy as he believed the water from “Breakout Creek” contained therapeutic properties bringing his theory to life in the year 1854. It flopped without much success and the property was sold.
Caleb Jackson purchased the complex in 1870 naming it Our Home on the Hillside. Both men believed in hydrotherapy, but with his discovery of Granola and his persistent efforts, Our Home on the Hillside became especially popular. It drew legendary icons including Susan B. Anthony and Clara Barton among others such as, Frederick Douglass.
But the building took a turn for the worst with a fire and even after the Jackson Family fireproofed the building, bringing it to a larger scale and spending $200,000 on construction, modern treatments and advancements in medicine and pharmacology surpassed any popular efforts of the water cure philosophy causing the institute to go bankrupt in 1914.
The building continued exchanging hands without prospering until 1929 when Bernarr Mcfadden purchased the sanatorium. The witty yet eccentric business man renamed it the Physical Culture Hotel as his involvement in body building structured the ideal of the resort. The hotel took on roles of a hospital for the ill while maintaining a popular buzz among the wealthy. Celebrities who stayed at the thriving resort indulged in tennis, swimming and starlit views from the roof with dancing and sunbathing.
Marien looking down at the rubble from Castle on the Hill
After McFadden’s death the building was reacquired but steadily dwindled to its death in 1971 and now stands there to this day, slowly decaying, brick-by-brick until it will eventually collapse, sliding down the hill spreading its debris across Route 256.
The iron staircase of this 5-story building told a tale of its heyday symbolizing the prestige and wealth of those occupying this hotel. We walked through the dust, and rubble, floor-by-floor peering out windows and creaky doors that dropped off into oblivion. Sections of flooring gave way to decay, and complete rooms crumbled to the ground leaving an empty space full of rusted piping, and brick rubble where parts of the roof fell to its demise. We walked cautiously through the main hallways, distraught about entering any rooms for fear of falling to our demise. Graffiti lined the walls with tags, and evidence of teenage love along with political banter scribbled on the roof, “Feel the Bern” and cryptic messages, “Did you bring the salt?” near the elevator shaft. I did not feel spirits here like I did in the JN Adam Memorial Hospital but our exploration was limited due to the sad state of structural support in the Castle on the Hill.
We stood in plain sight on the roof as we followed the main I-beam across what remained tiptoeing over concrete and brick avoiding any holes or soft spots with serious caution. The view of Dansville cast out below with its stormy sky, a pastel of gray clouds blended with the greenery below making it feel like a picturesque haunted film with us in the center of it. Droplets of tears shed from the clouds touching our skin faintly and we raced out of the building, exiting at a different location to avoid citations. The state of decay made our exploration limited, but we managed to escape the downpour by seconds following a long drive home in rain.
We camped that night like all the other nights, deep in the woods, behind the corn stalks, between the tall pine trees glistening from the fire. It took a bit more effort this time to start a fire, but we kept at it and persistence brought us warmth. The night ended with crackling embers and a cool breeze sending us off into a deep sleep, a sleep only felt in the outdoors.
Marien making his first skydive at WNY Skydiving
With sleepy eyes and the sun poking its light through the pine trees we both woke from a deep slumber, taking several minutes to finally adjust to getting in motion. So what did we do after our trek back to the hangar? We made a skydive! My friend made his first jump and surprisingly did not shit his pants due to his strong fear of heights. My boss yelled, “Welcome to the Jungle Baby…You’re gonna DIE,” as I laughed, with my foot on the step of the Cessna 182. Marien looked shocked with an exasperated look on his face. He turned slightly pale, “Oh Fuck…I’m not gonna die?”
We all situated ourselves in the plane as we flew to altitude and to my surprise my buddy remained calm despite his dreadful fear of heights. My skydive felt like any other jump, but the true joy came from the fear, pure adrenaline and feeling of accomplishment when we hit 10,000 feet. I felt proud of him as I opened the door with a smirk on my face, the relative wind swaying my hair every which way as I pounced off the step into a front flip. I felt proud that he faced his fear and all the feelings he felt would go from fear to a happy sense of accomplish upon the chute opening, which it did from his loud remarks of joy. His freefall, like many others, including myself, involved opening his mouth and yelling profanity.
The experience is like none other. The pure adrenaline upon putting your foot out on the tiny metal step of the C-182 while the wind chills your body sending goosebumps up your legs and arms making your hair stand on its end is incomparable. But then you jump, plunging out into flips and shit, until you get stable in a belly-to-earth position, while the Tandem Instructor pulls the drogue out and the wind rushes all around you, flapping your cheeks at 120 mph. Your eyes tear up under the goggles; your throat dries out from the wind; your heart pounds from the adrenaline and you spend more time trying to look down as you fall to your death than enjoying the experience around you. Then, “POOFFFF,” the chute opens and you scream profane words of joy and excitement. But that’s not where the adventure ends. You still have a canopy ride down to earth and with swift toggle turns and 360’s you find yourself on the roller coaster ride, which you thought you would experience in freefall. Then you land and you cannot believe what you just did…You jumped out of a fucking plane and survived and your life will never be the same. It’s like chasing the feeling you get after your first bump of cocaine. You stand up on your two feet and kiss the earth. This is what it’s like to live. This is living, but there’s more to this adventure. It does not end here.
An iron stairwell…
After our skydive, the work-day ended and we found ourselves on the road again with a short trip to Letchworth State Park to check out the immaculate views of the three waterfalls along with the old trestle bridge built in 1875 with hopes of train hopping lingering in the back of my mind. My wife and I grabbed the Empire Pass and drove down to the Upper Falls. Marien and I carried our backpacks with the intention of catching out on a train. I generally knew trains rolled through there on a daily basis later in the evening between 3 PM and 10 PM, but did not know specific times. So we enjoyed the view of the falls with the backdrop of the trestle bridge and active cranes moving about behind it. The mist of the waterfalls splashed against our faces as they continued working on the new bridge. Kelly read a book as we soaked in the precious views waiting for the work-day to end. We paced back and forth with our packs strapped over our shoulders, waiting and wondering when and if a train would slow down around the curve of the bridge. If it would slow down just enough to catch on the fly. Most of train hopping is safety, with knowing which units are rideable and at what speeds you should hop on when catching on the fly, but a lot of it is patience as we found out.
Exploring the roof and trying not to fall through…
Kelly left us in the park as she hit the road for the drop zone around 5:30 PM. My original assumption of the train arriving around 5 to 6 PM was incorrect. Marien and I waited along the steep, muddy hill by the tracks. A group of construction workers roamed through the woods surveying the area for trees to trim back, scaring us, as we lay on the hill with an incognito presence. The patience killed us, but it came with every train hopping experience I could think of, so we waited. The workers eventually left as their 8-hour shift came to an end so we wandered around down the tracks, south of the Genesee River. We killed the time by starting a small campfire and eating some beans we packed for our train hopping adventure. Food eaten on the road tasted better, I do not know why, but it just did.
The clock dwindled onward as 6 PM turned into 7 PM and then we started wandering back to the bridge. I looked for monikers and marks of other train hoppers and found one scribbled under the trestle bridge by Tomato back in March of 2013. I knew this spot was hoppable, just when and where was the question. We plopped our asses on the concrete foundation underneath the trestle bridge as it creaked, whistled, and made faint noises, from what we did not know. I sat there perplexed and wary of the lack of daylight. I did not want to catch on the fly in the dark. With a completely bummed look on my face I threw in the towel after 5.5 hours of waiting without any results. We roamed back down the stairs we climbed initially to reach the tracks, and followed a footpath to the Genesee River. A look of disdain crossed both our faces, but a night of wild camping in one of the country’s best parks would not be so bad, so we made the best of it. We skedaddled down the slippery slopes of slate and walked along the banks of the river looking for a spot to camp, free from people and animals, particularly snakes.
9 PM approached and the last bit of sunlight peeked out over the horizon for one last final farewell. Then we heard it! We both looked at each other with a look of excitement as adrenaline pumped our blood. Jumping, jiving and hustling up the embankment by the river we saw a train putting over the trestle bridge with grainers, boxcars and gondolas attached to it. I huffed and puffed with my pack on my back and water jug in hand, running up the steep path towards the railroad tracks. The rustic stone stairwell meandered back and forth, zigzagging to the section of Park Drive which remained under construction as the new bridge was being built. A look of hopelessness pummeled both of us as we sat there huffing and puffing, with our hands on our knees, bent down, and sweaty. We kept at it, but when I looked up the train already passed. “Only 15 cars,” I thought? Normally the freight rolling through there is miles long. Sweat poured off my brow forming puddles beneath my feet. The night sky laughed at us for our futile efforts and now we needed to find a camping spot in the dark. But all hope was not lost, we continued to stake out the bridge, maybe luck was on our side or maybe it was not.
We camped out on the hill and I grabbed his flashlight as my vision adjusted to the darkness unfolding around us. We sat and waited, debating whether we would catch on the fly in the dark, or if we would just camp on the hill and suddenly our choice slowly came to fruition with the loud bellow of a train horn coming from the north of the Genesee River. A look of terror crowded Marien’s face, but he held firm to following my actions.
Train Hopping Binghamton without realizing it…
After a few minutes the train gradually chugged by with it’s bright light shimmering off the main unit. We scrambled down the hill, running towards the tracks and waited. I turned on the flashlight once the conductor approached the bend as to not giveaway our position. The bolts spun too fast on the wheels. So we stood there and waited as a mile of the train passed us by, waiting for that split second decision to hop on a safe, rideable unit. Would it come? We both stood their anxious, stupefied, mesmerized by the sheer size of the freight train slowly gliding by us, its wheels screeching around the bends of the tracks and suddenly our opportunity presented itself. I locked onto an Intermodal Doublestack 53′ T-Well unit traveling a few miles per hour and caught on the fly, climbing the ladder with ease as Marien followed. We set foot on a hotshot ride to freedom as we moseyed over the Genesee River on the old trestle bridge, headed south to the unknown.
That feeling of riding freight came back to me and nothing beat train hopping. I looked over at my friend and a huge smile cast out across his face. I knew he felt the same feeling in that moment. The feeling of adventure, the unknown, and riding into the night without a worry in the world, looking up at the starry sky, appreciating the finer aspects of life around us as we rode through nature on our freight train ride to freedom. I wished time did not matter in that moment, but I knew the adventure was short-lived with my work schedule limiting my adventures and his schedule limited as well. We enjoyed the night sky, the wind hitting our hair, swaying it every direction and the stars smiling down at us, their bright faces illuminating the countryside around us as we made a clear shot to Binghamton in just 4-hours.
Train Hopping Binghamton
The first chance we got we hopped off in Johnson City before entering the train yard in Binghamton. I hung off the ladder and steadily ran out over ballast as to not fall and fuck myself up, he did the same as I shined our only source of light, making sure no signage existed ahead. We walked through the night in a dead city, with no one on the streets and the only sign of life from hip-hop blaring out windows. The train yard always existed downtown in the ghetto, which meant two important pieces of information, walking at night became a bit more dangerous, but at least the Greyhound existed nearby. We huddled up that night by the tracks, shimmying into our bivysacks under a cozy, spacious bush by the abandoned part of town, soaking in a few hours of sleep before a bus-ride back to Rochester. That was how I sent my friend off to Boston on the epic birthday of a lifetime, exploring Dansville: Castle on the Hill, making his first skydive and train hopping Binghamton on his first experience ridin’ the rails.
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.
Throwin’ a Sign
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.
Hitch Hiking through Eagle, CO. We spent the night on a hill in the woods.
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.”
We started hitch hiking to California yesterday and made it to Grand Junction, CO.
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.
Hitch Hiking through Fruita, CO. Don’t stop here guys…it took us forever to get out!
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.
Another hot day in Fruita flying a sign 🙁
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.
We made it to Cedar City, Utah today baby despite hitch hiking being illegal in Utah!
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.
Flyin’ a sign to get the hell out of Cedar City, UT.
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.
A nice woman invited me into her home in New Harmony, UT while hitch hiking to California!
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.
Pioneer Park – We did some bouldering and ended up sleeping on the highest cliff there.
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.
Marien free climbing some cliffs in Pioneer Park.
Pioneer Park – St. George, UT
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.
Sunset on a hill in SLC