Tuesday, August 30, 2011

First, farewell

This trip and this blog have become an obsession of mine in the last 10 days. There are a lot of other thoughts that I need to examine -- context, insights, motivations, etc. -- but it's time to let this blog rest as the record of what was basically a really nutty vacation idea that became a head-spinning and energizing adventure. I won't bore you with what's to follow -- the poking and prodding, the strengthening, the focusing, the detection of weaknesses and the repackaging into what I hope can be a magazine article. We'll see about that. Meanwhile, hop in and enjoy the ride, and feel free to e-mail me at code612@gmail.com

(Again, for best results, read from the bottom up.) 

Monday, August 29, 2011

HItchhiking signs: Art, science, or neither?

Before I left on this trip, I bought a big, thick, Sharpie and a large piece of foam board, which I cut into smaller rectangles to make signs. I came to believe those with specific locations worked best. But the question remained: How close and how significant should the location on the sign be?
Here's how I used them: 

West. I started with this one, in Minnesota. (It's in the early blog post with the picture of me getting on the commuter train out of town. See "Departing in 2 minutes" post. ) It got me a couple of short rides the first day (see "Day 1 adventures" post). After holding it for two fruitless hours at the on-ramp at Albany, Minn., the second day, I sat down and made

NoDak. John Berger, the rodeo guy hauling bucking bulls who picked me up and took me all the way to Mandan (see "Clean Cut Fellows" post), said he was impressed I knew the local term for "North Dakota." 

At Mandan, I distinctly remember making a sign that read Glendive on one side, which I hoped would get me into Montana that night, and Billings on the other, which would get me further down the line -- to where the mountains first appear. But I must have left that in the car with Dan (see "Montana fishing" post), who drove me all the way to Bozeman. There, under tree outside a convenience store, I made the sign for 

Missoula. And if I got that far, well, I might as well write Spokane on the back. I got to Three Forks, Mont., that night, and the next morning Dan the Beer Man took me straightaway (well, with a little weaving at 90 mph; See "Saved" post) right to Missoula, where he was going. He said the sign is one reason he turned around after passing me (the other being the voice of God). There I held the Spokane sign for two hours at a westbound on-ramp at the center of town, before wandering off under a tree for a short break. I guessed eight of 10 cars getting on the freeway there had had Idaho plates, so that's when I shortened my swing and made a different sign reading 

Idaho. Maybe the Idahoans didn't know Spokane is just beyond their state line. Maybe they thought I was a shameless social leech, or that sharing one's car space was an attack on rugged individualism, or was otherwise anti-Idaho. Who knows? Maybe the sign should have read "Famous Potatoes." Anyway, after three hours total I finally got the ride all the way through the Idaho panhandle to Spokane. (So there, Idaho! See "Saved!" post.) That's where I got off the interstate and began the final leg, 166 miles on two-lane roads through what I'd heard would be a desolate stretch of eastern Washington, though towns that were just dots on the map, to my ultimate destination, Twisp. The back of the Idaho sign was blank. But what to write on it? Where would people be going? Figuring people might be hauling boats to Roosevelt Lake at Grand Coulee Dam or taking the kids to see an engineering marvel, I wrote: 

Coulee Dam. It was a couple of hours before Dan Redfield (see "Police Escort No. 1" post) picked me up just outside Spokane and took me 80 miles right to Coulee Dam (the town). He'd seen my sign traveling the opposite direction into Spokane for a meeting, and damn if I wasn't still heading to the same place when he returned. In Coulee Dam, I checked the map and composed a double-decker sign with the names of the two towns 47 miles further where there would be junctions I needed: 

Pateros. Of the trickle of traffic up the hill on Hwy. 174 out of Coulee Dam, a remarkable number of cars turned off on the handful of side streets in the quiet town before they even  got to me. Then Duane McClung, the tribal corrections officer, picked me up and drove me about 40 miles to Bridgeport and Chief Joseph Dam. (See "Police Escort No. 2" post.) I wasn't quite to Brewster/Pateros, so I walked through Bridgeport with that sign. In my pack, I still had my trump card, which I'd made back in Coulee Dam: a sign with one small (but big) word: 

Twisp. I never used it. Cloud pulled over in the Audi and, after I told him I was actually going beyond Pateros to Twisp,  told me he was, too, and he'd take me all the way there. (See "The Best Came Last" and "Arriving in Style" posts.) I believe I left the Brewster/Pateros sign in his car, because I don't have it now, and the Twisp sign is on a small shelf in my pal Don's house, on the mountainside there. 

P.S. : For the trip to Seattle and the airport, I was out of white foam board and used a small piece of brown corrugated cardboard reading, "Seattle." I'm afraid it had sort of a transient, "homeless/broke" look to it, but Seattle's the only place on Hwy. 20 anyone is going, so maybe it didn't matter. (See "Twelve hours from Twisp" post.) I either left it in Jim Hunter's car or tossed it in a trash can; it was different from the others, and I hadn't grown attached to it. In any case, next time: Much more artful signs. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Twelve hours from Twisp (I'm back)

All it took was two rides, plus a plane ride and a Metro Transit bus, and here I am back in Minneapolis, quite a different place from Twisp, Wash. But my luck closing the loop on this odyssey was as good as ever.

Don gave me a lift the first 14 miles to Mazama, just north of where he lives, so I could catch traffic taking Washington Hwy. 20 through the mountains to Seattle -- really the only place anyone on that road would be going. Twenty minutes after we said "Next year!" a fellow in a sharp little Infiniti pulled over. Jim Hunter, from Twisp, who was going to, yes, Seattle, to see his sister.

As we rode through the spectacular snow-capped peaks around Washington Pass and wound on down Hwy. 20 (sunroof--required equpment for a drive through the mountains)  Hunter kept the stories coming. He's retired from about as many careers as a person can list: teacher, soldier, military trainer. He's a former semipro and college football player (Central Washington U). He's got permanent ringing in his ears from getting hit by a rocket while training troops in Iraq. He had a knee replacement two years ago. Doctors found four of his vertebrae had been shattered when he was younger, and grew back together. He's got some PTSD from his work in the Middle East, which cost him a romantic relationship.  He lived 20 years in Alaska and has traveled all over the world training parachute jumping and other high-end military skills. The blue thing hanging from his rearview mirror? An "evil eye" from a recent trip to Greece. He's a gentle-seeming and curious  guy who really loves driving his car, which he was happy to share with me for about five hours. . .Five hours, because he decided rather than wait in a long line to take a ferry to see his sister, he'd drive me all the way to the Seattle airport, then keep driving around the far south end of Puget Sound to his sister's place.

For me, it was a huge break. I wouldn't have to fight my way through the city down a crowded freeway to the airport, or find some public transportation. It saved me hours, probably. What was in it for him? We got to drive in the carpool lane through the heavy traffic on Interstate 5 in Seattle, he noted, and the conversation helped pass the time.

He gives hitchhikers a good once-over before picking them up, he said, adding that I looked OK. He hates it when a young woman is out there on the shoulder and he slows down, only to see the boyfriend and two dogs pop out of the ditch. And he's bugged by the same thing Dan from Idaho (Day 3, Ride 10) mentioned: hitchhikers asking him for money. I didn't. Then he offered me a sandwich.

Hunter was Ride 19 since last Saturday morning (not including Don's lift this morning). He dropped me at Sea-Tac  at 3:40 p.m. PDT and I said I hoped to see him, too, next year. Which I do.

I still had no ticket, but was on a Sun Country flight to Minneapolis at 5:30. It featured a "picnic in the sky" -- complimentary hot dogs. Who knew? It was just after 11 p.m. CDT when I got on the light rail heading for downtown Minneapolis. It featured the usual loud Friday night kids. Hennepin Avenue was a shock, only half a day from Don's mountainside -- crowded, loud, garishly lit, gamy. The No. 4 bus was the same on all counts. So you can imagine the relief to get off at my corner -- not that I was home (though I surprised even myself by doing the trip in less than a week), but that I could hear crickets.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Don, the Mountain Media Mogul

Don Nelson and I used to work together years ago at the Star Tribune. Apparently because people get crazier when they get older, he recently bought the weekly newspaper in Twisp, Wash., the Methow Valley News.

Here are a couple of glimpses of Don's executive lifestyle, starting with the view from his shower.

Police escort No. 1

Colville Confederated Tribes
police Sgt. Don redfield drove me 80 some miles, Spokane WA to Coulee Dam. Note the light strip, top of windshield. He wasn't on regular duty.
Sent from my iPhone

Police escort No. 2

Duane McClung, an officer with Colville Tribal Corrections,got me about 40 miles further, to Bridgeport, where he lives. He included several stops for photos and a lot of insights into his beautiful part of the world. This was at Grand Coulee Dam.

Sent from my iPhone

Arriving in style

Cloud (yes,as in the sky) was the 18th and final driver to pick me up, delivering me to pal's office door in Twisp. A ride in an Audi convertible up the
Methow Valley at dusk was truly a final, fortunate, fab flourish.
Sent from my iPhone