Stuck Hitchhiking Van Horn, Texas
When I first stepped out of the police vehicle my wrists pained from the cuffs jamming into my bones. A red groove appeared under each cuff as the officer twisted the key, removing them as he pointed down the road.
“County line is here kid…this is as far as we can take ya…got a good walk ahead of ya to Van Horn, but shouldn’t be too bad.”
He paused and hocked up a wad, tobacco residue dribbled down his stubbly chin staining it brown. Ptui! His spit ricocheted off the ground just missing my leg as I held back scorn and disgust.
“Four miles down there there’s a gas station kid.”
He pointed, wiping the pool of saliva off his chin with his shirt cuff and proceeded to crack out his tin of dip, packing another horseshoe in his lip. I hoisted myself up in the back of the pickup and grabbed my pack, shucking it over the tailgate.
“Thanks for the lift sir,” I whispered as I nodded my head in an unenthusiastic manner.
Once cooled, I drifted outside to check out the lot, hoping to fly a sign for a ride out to Pecos. An old crusty hobo came into view crouched in the corner with his pack and dog. His back lay against the brick wall hiding in the only small shadow as the sun slowly stole more shade. His Veteran’s cap held back his greasy gray hair, as he poked the frame of his glasses to keep them from sliding down his face. Then the man broke out a smile of rotten, smashed in front teeth. Where I saw not a grueling yellow, but pitted black amongst the roots. He hunched over, reaching out with his proletarian hand, the crevices smeared with black grease and dirt crammed under his nails. He looked like an older version of me as I shook his hand.
“Name’s Douglass Brown, but ya can call me Doug…this hur is mah dog…her name’s Pam…she was kicked in the face by a Moose. We’re from North Pole, Alaska…lived there mah whole life.”
The morbid desert heat tackled my brain, delaying my thoughts, ever so slightly as I looked over at his dog, registering just how ridiculous she looked. Her fur gleaned a goldish-brown with slobber dripping out of her mouth as if she swallowed a tennis shoe with the laces dangling side-to-side. As my eyes scanned upwards they latched onto her black safety glasses held onto her head by an elastic band guided behind her ears.
I held back laughter at the sight of her shades.
“What’s with her glasses, Doug,” I snickered?
“I told YOU…she was kicked in the face by ah MOOSE…happened when she was just three years old…ever since…she’s been extra sensitive to light. You like them glasses? I made em myself.”
“Haha yeah I guess…they look interesting.”
I squinted; holding back sarcasm and giggles at his ludicrous story.
“Got this hur handy book o truck stops…from my understandin’ looks to be 19 miles north of hur. If it’s still there…this hur book is old…done me well though.”
“Aight, well I’m too tired to truck it up there in this heat…maybe tomorrow if we don’t get outta here. So what brings you to Van Horn, TX anyway?”
“We got stuck here comin’ from North Pole, Alaska…been hitchin’ our way down and across the country to get to the Carolinas to see my mah…she’s not doin’ too well…haven’t seen her in 10 years. Figured me an Pam would go see her before she’s gone…”
“Yeah I done that an last year Pam and I rode across the country from Massachusetts to Alaska raisin’ awareness for Veterans. I did 12 years in the air force as a helicopter pilot.”
“You served in Nam then?”
“Nah, not old enough to serve in Nam…only 55.”
“Oh, well your cap says Vietnam War Veteran…so I just assumed you served there.”
“Nah, I just do that when I’m flyin’ signs or spangin’ to get money. Been fightin’ with the government for years now tryin’ to get back the money they owe me from my medical discharge…that’s why muh teeth er all fucked up.”
“Shit man…that sucks…so you live in Alaska?”
He pulled out a thick wallet stashed with all kinds of ID’s and business cards and flashed me his Alaskan identification card.
“See there…NORTH POLE, AK…that’s where I’m from…born and raised…my dad built a six bedroom cabin thinkin’ he’d have other kids, but I’m the only one…I was also on Deadliest Catch Season 3…”
His extravagant line of stories continued as I listened to some truth mixed with utter bullshit echo from his foul-smelling mouth. The bike tour held true, so maybe he premiered on Deadliest Catch. I had no idea, but his dog gettin’ kicked in the face by a moose? Come on, no fuckin’ way I believed that.
He staggered onto the sidewalk drenched in perspiration holding a tiny backpack with only water, and a change of clothes. He stretched out along the ground, his holey jeans exposing his sun-burnt skin to the brisk whirs of wind. His eyes drooped from lack-of-sleep and persistent walking as sweat dribbled down his face meandering through the gray stubbles of hair sprouting out of his worn exhausted face. He looked rough even compared to Doug.
His heavy breathing dissipated after several minutes and he finally spoke.
“Fuck…I just walked from fuckin’ El Paso, TX to here…without one fuckin’ ride,” roared Todd with a disdain about his voice for Texans.
“Damn dude, why didn’t you try to hitchhike,” I exclaimed?
“I figured someone would just pick me up if they seen me walkin’ down the I-10…ya know? Seems like the decent thing to do, especially considerin’ my shit got jacked in El Paso. Went in to use the john and my ride drove off with all my clothes n’ shit. Paid em 300 dollahs to take me to Corpus Christi bro. 300 fuckin’ dollahs…the last of my money. I been livin’ off ketchup packets and sugar packets for days. Fuckin’ pricks…So how long you’s guys been here?”
“Two days for him, a day for me…doesn’t look like we’re gonna get outta here from this spot especially with three people now tryin’ to hitch all the same direction…I’m hittin’ up the next truck stop tomorrow to spread out a bit.”
I rolled and fidgeted in my sleeping bag for hours, aggravated from the noise spewing from Todd’s mouth, the idling of trucks and the loud conversation from the state troopers parked in front of us as we slept on the ground. I felt restless, and stuck. In no way could I withstand another day of Doug’s bullshit stories and compulsive lies, every word that poured out of his mouth made me irritated. I wanted to mute my ears, but instead I rolled up my gear, strapped it to my pack and started my early morning tramp down the I-10 for the next truck stop 19 miles away.
At 2 AM my chance of a ride was slim, but the moonlit sky made the presence of light much more bearable than that of the Texas sun, which stalked me each day, suffocating me of fluids, sanity and causing me to burn in my own skin. So I walked alone in the night. I walked away from Doug, and Pam, away from Todd, stepping further north towards Pecos. How many more days did Van Horn set aside for me until I met up with my train again?
So here we are in Hawaii. I guess my life changed when we went to NY, but nothing like here. We have been tent camping for about a month. The first week was hard, since then has kinda been a breeze. I am in the most beautiful place in the world. I hear the waves all day. The best part, being here with my husband. I wouldn’t trade it for your mansion.
I’ve been trying to hike more, preparing for the Haiku stairs. The fresh fruit is insane. We pick passion fruit and guava right off the vine. Husband jokes that I would hike anywhere if it involved food. He is right. 10 miles would be easy if there was a taco truck at the end.
Climbing a tree wall near Camp Erdman
My favorite hike though, was with Jungle. We walked this flood evacuation trail behind the YMCA here in Oahu. There was this amazing tree. A huge Banyan hugging the side of a the ledge of a mountain. My husband monkeyed up the side of it like it was no big deal. I knew a similar feat from me would most likely result in a broken femur.
Later along the path was a now defunct waterfall you could climb. Someone strategically placed ropes to ease the weekend adventurer into Indiana Jones. . I thought with my experience bouldering that this would be no problem. I was wrong …..problem. The nastiest habit I have picked up being a rock gym rat was definitely the ability to let go of the rope because of your harness.
Eating a fresh coconut straight off the tree
This had no harness there was no letting go unless a bee stung your ankle and you decided that you really enjoyed falling down the side of a waterfall. In hindsight I don’t recommend it much.
The view was well worth the scare however and only a minor scrape and cut were had, I don’t know we are ever close to finding the meaning of life but I tell you I feel closer on this trip. I think there is a good possibility the meaning of life is to take in all the beauty. We are all on borrowed time.
Camp Erdman Evacuation trail
My husband’s been working long days to make this trip happen, and squirrel away a little extra dough here and there. I have to say after seeing the world the way he does it I’ve never felt more loved. Bringing me along for the ride has made the ride more difficult for him. I’m not good at stealth camping and I’m only just learning how to hike. Everything I knew about budgeting, and thought I knew about finance kinda gets thrown out the window when you try to live like this. I’m sure I’ve given him more headaches than heartwarming moments. Being here eating this amazing fruit, swimming in the ocean with sea turtles. I feel like the luckiest person in the world.
I chased the rain, or it chased me, I was not sure at this point. I thought traveling through a state in a drought promised dry weather, but I spent the majority of my time seeking shelter. As I stood on the on-ramp for 215 North, I held out my thumb in desperation with a sign that read, “Palmdale.” This felt like the only corner free of homebums and junkies and promised a ride out of town to a less abandoned shit-hole. I stood there hopefully wishing each passing car to pull off and stop on the shoulder giving me a lift into the next town. Like Arizona, the heat in Southern California killed my spirits, and I almost succumbed to the shade, but just as the thought of surrendering loomed over me a Subaru pulled off on the shoulder and a window rolled down. Sweat dripped down my face splashing on the ground as I squinted looking in at the driver. I laid eyes upon a 50 year old surf bum decked out in shades and a baseball cap headed for the rural mountains of San Bernardino National Forest about 10 miles from Palmdale. I hopped in eager to get out of there and as we cruised he drove out of his way to drop me off at the nearest McDonald’s in Palmdale. I relaxed beneath a palm tree in a vacant lot by the highway, which was not uncommon for the area as I indulged in more sweet pastries from the morning. As much as I wanted to head north I loathed the heat and standing around hoping for a ride so I searched for a place to sleep and waited for nightfall. Vacant fields, and buildings existed all throughout the city between mall complexes, schools, and housing developments so finding refuge took little effort, but finding a decent ramp to hitch out of town took more walking, time and sweat, which I left for tomorrow.
A payphone in Palmdale…didn’t know they still had this shit. Pretty soon I’ll be hitchhiking Bakersfield and hopping trains.
I managed to dodge the rain and peacefully slept in a field of tumbleweeds on the arid desert floor. It lightly sprinkled as I faded away in the breezy darkness preparing for another adventurous day as my thoughts dissipated with the muffled sound of the wind. Morning presented itself with more walking as the temperature slightly increased with each passing minute. I sought out the next ramp, which made an unfavorable spot for hitchhiking. The ramp curved around to the highway with little space for vehicles to pull off or slow down making my efforts to catch a lift futile. A train kid who spanged near the intersection walked by with his Pitbull advising me to take a cheap Greyhound out of town. I quickly considered his suggestion as the police warned me for hitchhiking, politely asking me to leave. My feet fumbled beneath me as I staggered towards the Greyhound fighting to avoid potential rainfall. The rumble from above resonated distant thunder as a collective of darkness marched in as an army of clouds. I raced against the rain hiding out in the Greyhound terminal watching raindrops sputter against the ground in a violent downpour, which thankfully I managed to avoid. The clock ticked as I sprawled out along the floor waiting for my bus to arrive to take me to my next destination, Bakersfield. I knew Bakersfield sat north of Palmdale as the next big city along my journey to Northern California. That and it was a cheap fare that saved me from the vicious tears of mother nature.
In Palmdale hitchhiking Bakersfield along the horizon…
Many of my first days in California involved hide and seek, from both the bull and the rain, but they also presented me with the tranquility and beauty from long periods of freethinking and daydreaming. As I looked out the many windows of buses, passenger vehicles and boxcar doors, I felt ecstatic wandering between jobs. I always romanticized about riding trains in America like the hobos of the early 1900’s and as soon as I stepped off the bus in Bakersfield I tramped along towards the yard.
Hanging out in Bakersfield trying to avoid the rain.
The Greyhound always left me in the run-down part of town, near the low-income housing, which made for a clear-cut, short walk to the train yard. I continued my game with the weather watching a collage of grays and blacks shift in from the south spreading gloom above the train yard as it waited to strike with force. Little cover existed by the yard as I tiptoed in the shadows of ballast by the west, crawling my way through the hole in the fence, as a GM arrived, slowly screeching to a halt. It headed northbound to Fresno or Stockton, which marked my next destination. I sprinted to the east side of the yard, grabbing onto the only rideable unit, a gondola. As I climbed the ladder I peered into the unit and my nostalgic expression slowly evaporated seeing it half-full of metal debris, making it unsafe to ride. I hopped off the unit, grimacing, knowing the likelihood of catching out that quickly only happens once, and it already happened for me in Flagstaff on my ride to San Bernardino. My heavy eyes fluttered in exhaustion and with little cover near the yard, other than the adjacent bridge, I decided to roam east to find refuge. I slowly trotted through the city, passing homebums on sidewalks nestled in blankets and in front of businesses, watching bicycles pass, and shopping carts rattle as blank stares looked me over in confusion. I avoided confrontation, briefly saying, “hello” and disregarding obvious drug deals proceed in front of me. The only people up this early in the AM were either homeless, crazy or a combination of both. I was no different, so I blended in, melding with the misfit night-owls as I walked, searching for temporary shelter.
Where I slept the one night in Bakersfield…
When I walked by the library I noticed an overpass with a drainage ditch by the highway on a sloped hill. I searched the area for trash and setup shelter in the tall brush behind a few trees making me incognito from the road and adjacent homes.
Mount Raya Radio Tower Climbing
My legs trembled from lack of potassium and all of my limbs drooped like Jello. I slouched for a few hours before I refilled my 1.5 liter bottle with tap water and stomped along the shoulders of the windy roads, getting closer to Mount Raya. My feet, stiff as boards, finally calloused over in the holey orifices of my socks, along my toes and heels, as I continued hiking. Few vehicles drove these desolate roads and the 2-inch shoulder made hitchhiking nearly impossible, but that did not stop me from finding a ride. A young Malay man pulled off, parking his bike on the white line, signaling me to hop on with his hand. We cruised on the road spiraling around Mount Raya as the view of Langkawi below became a city model with the slow increase in elevation due to the steep grades. Smoke muddled the ozone clouding the air with a misty overlay of grey clouds from burning rubbish. He hugged each bend as we topped out at 20 KPH veering into the opposing lane. As we climbed the mountain the engine puttered like a weed wacker on the verge of an empty tank, but miraculously we made it. I waved as he coasted down Mount Raya in neutral, his smile exposing the pits in his mouth, but his scintillating character following behind him. I approached the hotel reading the small, wooden sign, “Look out tower highest point in Langkawi 900 m (ASL),” as my head tilted towards the sky, intrigued by all the radio towers within close proximity to me at MEASAT Satellite Control Center. A Chinese man scampered down the road as he exited the hotel looking at the construction progress on the abandoned building sitting next to the overpass adjacent D’Coconut Hill Resort. My bladder felt like a balloon waiting to explode as this man, the hotel owner, tried to sell me on purchasing a ticket to view the island from the dinky watchtower in the hotel. But I set my mind on a different tower as I waited for the perfect opportunity and time-frame to come to fruition. I scurried off up the hill trying to gain access to a public restroom, but hotel staff did not let me enter without paying the 10 RMB fee for the watchtower, which I refused. I pissed behind a maintenance building instead.
Four hours passed, as I lay down slumped out along a giant, granite formation, scoping the forested overgrowth below for hornbills, white-bellied sea eagles and monkeys, which I learned inhabited the tropical jungle of Mount Raya. I never saw any of these exotic beasts, but I enjoyed the splendor of Mother Nature and its panoramic view of the Andaman Sea. Young kids smoked joints, jamming out on guitars, outside of the barbed wire fence protecting the government building adjacent D’Coconut Hill Resort. The building looked abandoned from its peeled paint and empty vibe despite the abundant amount of security cameras mounted along the premises. A swarm of young teenagers pulled up in a beater, smoking cigarettes, and posing for the camera with the backdrop of Langkawi Island behind them. I bummed a cigarette off one of the kids, shooting the shit with him about Langkawi. Mount Raya attracted the high school crowd due to its 40 minute ride from local law enforcement making mischievous acts easier to get away with, like smoking weed and other drugs. He sat down, scuffing his worn Converse against the granite rock, taking intermittent drags of his cigarette while going off on a drug tangent. In fall, after a brief monsoon, he claimed the island became a bountiful land of magic mushrooms. He picked mushrooms along the side of the road, tripping on top of Mount Raya, listening to music with friends as the yawning-tingling sensation behind his ears triggered the start of the hallucination. I listened to his stories about routinely tripping on mushrooms until his friends pestered him about heading out. The car rolled off down the spiraling road after it back-fired a few times.
I squinted at one of the radio towers as a small black figure caught my eye. A man hung from the top as a belayer lowered him down the side of the lattice tower. At first I thought a kid climbed the tower, but as I walked over I later realized it was a worker dressed in casual attire. We struck up conversation and I learned about their work on the towers surrounding the MEASAT Satellite Control Center over the course of the next few days. They skedaddled as soon as his feet touched the ground, heading off to their homes, allowing me to plot my climb for tomorrow.
As I pondered, I found refuge under the overpass adjacent D’Coconut Hill Resort rolling out my sleeping bag between the run-off downspouts. I wiggled into my neon green, mummy bag, my face exposed to the element as the wind briskly scratched my nose, lolling off to the quaint sound of raindrops drizzling.
I hoped to catch the sunrise from the apex of a lattice tower, but I awoke too late, missing my opportunity. But, the deserted peak of Mount Raya still lacked hotel guests and workers as I scanned the perimeter of the MEASAT Satellite Control Center in the early morning, making tower climbing a possibility. I searched the base of each lattice tower looking for the one with the easiest entry. The barbed wire fence made climbing a little more difficult so I entered through a breach instead. First, I pushed my gear through the tiny opening hiding it behind the maintenance shed to keep it out of sight. Then I crawled on my hands and knees squeezing my body through the chain-link fence as the adrenaline started to pump through my veins, making my palms sweaty, and legs shaky, but setting my mind free. Looking over both shoulders, I proceeded to stalk the ladder at the base of the lattice radio tower until clinching my hands firmly over the first bar. The cold metal stuck to my skin as I gradually scaled the tower, wiping the perspiration off my hands as needed, so not to slip to my death. My flushed hands succumbed to the fierce wind so I took a break after reaching the first steel platform. I looked down below while maintaining two points of attachment, and through the scintillating rays of the sun, noticed two motorbikes parked inside the MEASAT Satellite Control Center. My gut told me to keep going upward for the view. At this point, if caught, I would end up with the same trespassing charges regardless, so I continued the climb to freedom. Fear engulfed my demeanor as seen in my obscure facial expressions as if I walked around as a social pariah with an “A” plastered across my chest. With each new platform, I estimated a gain in elevation of 10 meters, trumping any view seen anywhere on the island including the watchtower below. Through the humming sounds of the wind, the faint vibrations of each foot searching for the next step on the ladder and the tingling in my forearms, I heard my heartbeat pounding. My whole body pulsated in unison with my heart as I cracked out a smile from the majestic view of the Andaman Sea, Langkawi and Thailand. After four steel platforms I reached the final platform at the top of the lattice tower. I felt like a leaf blowing in the wind as it shook me side-to-side while I enjoyed the greatest 12 seconds of my life, better than sex, better than drugs, better than anything I ever experienced in life. Just immersing myself in the panoramic view of the island, absorbing its beauty, felt indescribable and I wanted to savor that moment for the rest of my life.
I scaled down the tower in about half the time it took to climb it, dreading reaching the bottom. I figured security in the control center reported me to local police and they stood down at the bottom waiting to arrest me. Lethargy spread through my forearms as I hastily climbed down the ladder, skipping up to three steps at a time, to reach the base of the tower. As I reached the first level I looked at the control center. The bikes leaned parallel to one another, held up by their kick stands. They did not appear to move nor did I notice any workers. I let out a sigh of relief, covertly sneaking over to my bag, shimmying through the fence like an earthworm wiggling on pavement.
The hotel owner yammered on about walking up 4000 steps the previous day to reach the top of Mount Raya, so I searched the roadway for an access point to take a different path down. After a futile effort of searching I stomped down the hill, smacking my feet against the ground, thudding with every step from the steep grade. It felt like a race against myself because at times I needed to focus my energy on slowing down to relieve the pressure in my knee joints, which seemed counterproductive. The harsh, spiraling, narrow roads drained my spirit as I poured the last drop of water into my mouth. I stood there, completely parched, as I walked in the shadows of the jungle. Restaurants fell right outside the base of the mountain, but this did not help my predicament. My muscles contracted while I perched on a rock several kilometers from civilization, my thumb on my chin, nodding off, and then it hit me. I remembered a stream corkscrewing around the mountain with a drainage pipe at the halfway point. When I reached the pipe a film of green algae spread over the opening like wildfire as my mouth watered in exasperation. My pack did not have water purification tablets, and it looked questionable, but I made the choice to fill my supply from the fast-flowing waterfall behind it. Water splashed against the rocks, spraying my sweaty shirt, sending a chilly sensation across my breasts, as I leaned inward to fill my bottle. I puckered my lips, fearing harmful bacteria, as I drank just enough to quench my thirst for the rest of the trek down. It tasted pure like spring water, but I sipped on it sparingly, to avoid dehydration and any painful stomach issues.
“This is yet another excerpt from my book. This is a very rough draft of my experiences in Chaah, Malaysia, where I stayed with a family for a few days. I learned about their python skinning business, illegal hotel, and the introduction of many famous Malaysian foods. I actually bumped into them again and hitched another ride from Chaah to Ipoh, but the story does not go into detail about that…”
I wiped the sweat off of my brow as the jungle sun shined its rays down upon me on a cloudless, summer day. Highway 1 continued all the way until Singapore as I walked along the shoulder of the road headed towards Yong Peng. The summer heat made the walk unbearable, but the shade from the palm trees kept me going. I wandered through Labis, Malaysia and took refuge at an abandoned bus shelter, catching some “zzzz” on a bench before throwing on my pack for more walking. A radio tower caught my eye and the hole in the barbed wire fence made it accessible for a nice climb above the city. The wind bellowed above the tree-line as my sweaty palms clenched the metal ladder and the adrenaline poured through my veins as I looked down, my body trembling. The treetops of palm leaves spread out for miles in every direction with a few bamboo huts standing out by the roadside of the highway.
Holding a baby python in Chaah, Malaysia!
I roamed along, my backpack digging into my shoulders, as I threw a thumb out to each passing car. My legs ached and toes blistered as the hours dwindled by, but I continued heading south, soaking in the views and the culture. A tractor-trailer flashed its blinkers and waved me down as I scampered by the passenger side door. The language barrier hindered our comprehension, but I pointed at my map to Yong Peng. He briefly paused, shook his head sideways and said, “Chaah.” I nodded with a huge burst of excitement as the air conditioner chilled my bones, making the pool of sweat on my shirt feel like an ice box. Secretly I laughed at the tattoo marking his shoulder blade, “BORND TO DIE,” but I sat there in appreciation as he drove me south closer to Yong Peng. The two Indians spoke Hindi as they tried to communicate with me, but we all laughed as every attempt remained futile. He dropped me off at the next stop where I continued my trek towards Chaah.
I drank the last droplets of water from my canteen. My parched mouth quenched liquid, from a faucet, bottle, or stream, it did not matter. Then a look of gratitude struck my face as I came upon a restaurant. I removed my shoes and hobbled in through the door. I plopped down in the closest seat to regain my composure. My legs shook in utter exhaustion and pain flowed through each of my temples. A little group of Chinese-Malay kids ran around playing while the rest watched television in the far corner sitting Indian style on the hard-tiled floor. They all looked at me with a set of shy eyes as if they had never before seen an American. I walked over to the fridge, grabbed two chilled bottles of water and placed my RMB on the counter. The owner strolled into the store and stared at me in a slightly confused manner. Just as I stood up about to leave he called me over to his table in broken English,
“Where you from?”
“America,” I said in a rapsy, dehydrated voice.
“You wan see somethin’ coo? I take you back room. Show you? You wan see?”
I stuttered as fear of the unknown circled through my thoughts. Was he going to lock me up in a dungeon out back? I did not know, but I took the risk after chatting with him for about an hour. He rose from his chair. His pudgy stomach jiggled under his collared shirt with each step as he waddled to the back lot. He reached down to unlock the hangar and a gold chain dangled from underneath his shirt. He pointed and smiled as he opened the door exposing the inside for my eyes to see. Bins full of giant turtles, and bags of frogs and pythons sprawled out across the floor by the hundreds in an underground skinning business. Untwisting a bag, his fingers clasped the head of a baby python, which he handed off to me. My eyes glazed over in fear and my hand twitched as I grabbed the snake and held it with my bare hands. The fear faded and a splash of joy erupted across my face. This is what adventure felt like. Now where would I sleep?
A python skin in Chaah, Malaysia!