RENO, NEVADA - July 28 -- 'What happened to walking?' commented an anonymous viewer recently.
It's been replaced. Replaced by something we've never tried before in our entire lives. It's called hitch hiking, and it's invigorating.
We've also been called out before for having a constantly fluid summer project. We wouldn't have it any other way. We're learning as much as we're telling along the way. Although the west has already been discovered, we're discovering it for ourselves for the first time, navigating throughout it thanks to kind strangers who feel like showing us around. If we were to walk throughout the deserts without a support vehicle, not only would we be risking our health and possibly our lives, we wouldn't see one damn person for 100 miles and would therefor not have any stories to tell aside from describing how bored we were. And also, being low on steam and money, we are wanting to reach the Pacific sooner rather than later.
'I could hitch rides across the U.S. too,' the viewer finished off the comment.
My advice. Do it! It's incredible. It's a perfect way to roll the dice at never knowing who you're going to meet and where you're going to end up. You can only do so much on foot - typically 20 monotonous miles a day. It's the lack of agenda and not having any more possessions other than what we can carry that allows us to blow like tumbleweeds across the vast country. We walked 600 miles out east and had many stories to tell. We've given our feet a rest out west, but the stories keep on coming, and that's what really matters. Oh, and it's nice to not have feet that look like someone took a cheese grater to them.
MOAB, UTAH - Amanda dropped us off at the Maverick gas station on the north end of main street. The rock climbing guide said this would be our best chance to catch a lift out of town. It wasn't more than five minutes after she drove off that a petite woman parked in front of our bags and asked us where we were headed.
'I can take you three hours west,' she said like it was no big deal.
Sarah was a white water rafting guide. It seemed like guides took to us well, maybe because they could relate to our kind. She had her boss' Mercedes for the week and there was plenty of room for a couple wanderers.
Instead of riding with her all the way to Richfield, we parted ways just 45 minutes away in Green River. We did so because this was the road that led north toward Salt Lake City, and Denny and I had decided that was the direction we wanted to go. It seemed silly that this was our mission since we could've ridden all the way there with Liz two days prior, but there's no sense in thinking about those things, and we wouldn't have gotten to experience Moab had we not done it this way.
GREEN RIVER, UTAH - The road sign said it all - 'Next service station - 106 miles.' It was official. We were in the middle of nowhere, aside from a pair of gas stations. One shared a building with an Arby's. The other with a Subway. We opted for the $5 footlongs and decided it was healthier crowd on that side of the road, so maybe they'd be happier and want to give a couple kids a lift. I'm not sure this theory makes much sense, but when Denny stated it, I nodded my head.
We waited six hours on our asses. After the first hour, we decided to split up. I took the Arby's crowd. One couple pulled up with a license plate that read 'IAHawkz.' I chatted with them about our Alma Mater, but they had no room in their car. It brightened my afternoon nonetheless.
Denny and I agreed to reserve phone calls only for good news. Text frivolous things, but only call when something good happens. I had switched posts and decided to sit by the on ramp, multiplying the number of passersby. One shirtless man stopped when he saw my Salt Lake City sign. He was prepared to take me, but when I said there was one more, he sped off before I could convince him to wait.
A few minutes later, I heard a pair of honks. A 55-year-old Navajo Indian couple had come to our aid. I promised them my friend was on his way but panicked on the inside when Denny didn't answer his phone after three calls. I was certain we were going to blow it. I asked questions about where they were coming from until Denny finally appeared. They didn't have the room for us, but they made it anyway. Howard and Beverly were carrying a 4,000-pound load of flour from their motherland in New Mexico up to their home in Salt Lake City. They had made this trip four times a year for the past 35 years.
'Have you ever picked up people before?' I asked.
'Oh yeah,' they said simultaneously, launching into a series of stories of helping folks on foot.
With the windows down and the cool mountain air blowing in, Denny couldn't hear a thing in the back seat, so I did most of the conversing over the course of the next three hours. I don't have too much in common with the Navajo tribe, but we related to each other that evening in spite of our contrasting backgrounds. Beverly handed us necklaces to protect us from ghosts and hugged us goodbye as we parted ways. She made us promise to call her to let her know we were safe.
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - We checked into a Motel 6 for the night - a luxury in our summer world. I went to fetch some McDonald's for dinner. The dollar menu is a close second to $5 footlongs when it comes to eating for cheap. A beggar asked me for some money on the way. I didn't have money to give, but I did buy extra double cheeseburgers for him for when I passed back by.
While in McDonald's, an NBA player whose name I don't know, was purchasing food for a homeless man. I knew he was in the NBA since a pair of kids hadn't stopped whispering about it in front of me in line. The man only ordered two things.
'You sure you don't want more?' the tall, well-groomed athlete said to the scruffy, smelly man next to him. I know he wanted more, but he didn't ask for more. I had goosebumps.
When I walked back to the hotel, the man who asked for change was gone. I ended up eating too much that night.
Denny and I grilled a pair of Mormon girls staying next to us with questions about their beliefs late into the night. I have so many questions for religious people, but I'm always afraid of offending them. We escaped without conflict.
Liz, who had given us a ride from El Paso to Moab, picked us up the next morning to take us to her favorite burrito joint. We got to share the backseat with her three beautiful girls ages 15 months to 9 years. Life always makes sense to me when kids are around.
It was funny to see someone we had grown close with a few days earlier just a few days later. Liz dropped us at a popular exit off of I-80.
'Mom, where are we going?' asked the 9-year-old.
It was a fair question. Maybe she'll understand what we were up to some day. Then again, maybe it will never make sense to some people.
I-80, UTAH - We switched posts several times, trying to form the best strategy. We were new at this. I don't think it would be nearly as exciting if it were easy, but you lose hope quickly when hundreds of drivers pass right by without even acknowledging your presence.
Denny was a quarter mile down the road when a truck stopped next to me at the Flying J. The woman in the passenger seat was wasted drunk, but her husband seemed just fine behind the wheel. Preparedness meets opportunity equal a ride west. And opportunities weren't showing their face too often that day, so I hopped in the truck bed.
'My friend's just down the road,' I explained through the back window.
Denny did a double take when he saw me stand up in the back of an unfamiliar pickup.
'He's trippin' out, isn't he?' laughed the intoxicated woman.
Denny hopped in as I explained we were destined for Nevada, just over the Utah border. This would get us a quarter of the way to Reno.
'You can have some Heinekens if you want,' the woman offered, pointing to the case next to us.
'Thanks,' I said as the truck began doing 80 on 80.
It wasn't the safest thing I've ever done, but boy was it liberating. Denny and I hardly spoke as the wind whipped at our bodies. The sky seemed bigger that day as we watched mountains and fluffy white clouds and salt fields pass by. After nearly 70 days in a row spent together, I think it's safe to say we knew what one another was thinking.
As we slowed down in the gambling mecca, Wendover - otherwise known as little Reno - we asked to take a photo of the woman.
'Want a photo of my boobs??' she asked.
We were thankful she was joking. She laughed hysterically at her own joke as we hopped out of the truck and thanked them.
WENDOVER, NEVADA - We found the on ramp to 80 west and sat for 10 minutes before getting restless, wondering if another entrance to the freeway would be more productive.
Denny and I walked a half hour roundtrip before we realized this was the only on ramp around for miles. We regained our ground and took a seat, holding up a pair of signs - 'Reno?' and 'Going west?'
We noticed a man across the road from us holding his own sign asking for money due to the fact that his car was broken down. After a few minutes, he began walking over to us. I'll admit I sighed when I saw this, thinking he was only trying to get something out of us.
The man who was missing his front teeth explained that he had been hitch hiking for 38 years and that it was obvious our odds would be increased if we walked 10 feet and sat on the other side of the on ramp.
I handed him $2 for his advice even though I had no idea of its value.
When he retook his seat on the other side of the street, I flashed him a peace sign.
'Happy travels,' he yelled, pointing to something going on behind me.
I was oblivious to the white van that had pulled over. Denny was already climbing in.
I stared back at our friend, who was smiling and waving goodbye. I'm sure he was proud of the advice he had given. He sure knew what he was talking about.
'Hurry up goddammit!' yelled the shirtless, shoeless man in the van. Denny and I were in a frenzy, trying to throw our bags in the trunk and take a seat. I wasn't sure why this man was in a hurry, or why this man who was in a hurry had bothered to stop for us, but I was sure we were destined to make it to Reno by sunset.
We warmed up to Mike immediately. The Detroit native had his degree in bio-psychology and was living in Sonoma county in California. He chain smoked and pounded iced coffee. He was on his way home from a roadtrip in Atlanta, where he was visiting a girlfriend. I found it very intriguing and relaxing that he didn't ask any questions about what we were up to or why.
I sat in the back, reading 'Love is a Mix Tape', and dozing off while Denny chatted it up with Mike, who drove at speeds reaching 100. We would cover the 400 miles to Reno in no time at all.
RENO, NEVADA - Scotty, one of my best friends in the world, laughed at the sight of us as we embraced in a powerful man hug. His girlfriend Taylor introduced us to their dog Betty.
'You guys sure look dirty,' Scotty commented. He promised us showers, clean clothes, and pizza. Plus, I knew the company was guaranteed to be good. What more could a couple hitch hikers ask for?