ELAINE AND I HITCHHIKE WEST
Trip Start Mar 10, 2004
50Trip End May 10, 2005
When I left England in April to come home to the United States, I was coming home to a wonderful girl: Elaine Bianchi, dark-haired and Italian-blooded.
I worked in a restaurant for about a month, then Elaine and I were ready to leave boring Grand Rapids, Michigan. Elaine had never hitchhiked before. But, she loves Jack Kerouac. And she'd always wanted to see Montana. So, she lied to her parents and told them she was going to take a bus out West.
In central Michigan, on June 2nd, with our tent and clothes in bags and backpacks, we began hitchhiking with a sign that read, "UP NORTH."
Elaine is such a cool girl. She's a caring, friendly communist. She wants to work at conserving the environment. She's a vegetarian who loves all animals except for llamas, because one tried to spit on her at the zoo when she was little.
She's 5'6", thin, and gentle. Her voice is wispy and sensual; if you took the softest voice you know and threw a bunch of pillow-feathers on top, you would get Elaine's voice.
When she's in a good mood, her fluid brown eyes reflect gobs of light like dinner plates. Cream-colored cheeks bulge out like a watermelon on her beautiful kid's smile. A silver ring pierces the side of her plump, hot bottom lip.
And her quick, barking wit is a delight. She loves laughter as if it raised her, and it's common for both of us to fall to the ground in joy if something is really funny.
I was a bit nervous at first, to have Elaine hitchhiking with me. But, Elaine was merrily excited, not nervous at all.
Unfortunately, the guy who first stopped for us was one of the worst rides I've ever gotten.
He was young, small, dark-complexioned, and in a sleeveless shirt. An eerie silence characterized our ride in his snug car, and a scared tension fell over Elaine and me.
Elaine and I introduced ourselves, but the driver didn't offer his name. When I asked if he lived in the area, he said, "Well, why do you ask?" "Making conversation," I said. He responded with silence.
After a few minutes, he said, "Have you ever been to Farwell?" "Is it around here?" Elaine said. The creepy driver said, "Is it?" Weird.
Suddenly, he stopped on the interstate. He pointed to a lane of merging traffic and said, "Montana's that way" - which made no sense.
We happily left the guy's car, and I told Elaine most rides weren't like that one. Immediately, a beaten-up, sand-colored truck pulled over for us. A banner on the back of the truck read, "Caution: Driver Doesn't Give a F@#k - 69 Rules!" Another sticker said, "No Crybabies."
Larry, the driver, was a typical small-town Michigander. He smoked pot, he wore facial hair and a baseball cap, he liked loud music, he hated police, and he didn't give a f@#k.
He'd aspired to own his own roofing company. With the money from that, he principally liked to drive his truck while smoking pot. He drove the truck on small highways, he drove the truck off-road, he drove the truck through mud bogs, he even drove the truck out a ways into the Great Lakes. He said things like, "I just like to enjoy having a good time."
We got along well with Larry. He happily drove us four hours out of his way, past green- and autumn-colored trees, up the tranquil shoreline of great blue Lake Huron. Larry gave us his e-mail address before dropping us off in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Elaine and I felt a rush as we camped out on a forested point overlooking Lake Michigan. Elaine had survived her first day of hitchhiking. (whew!)
Michigan's Upper Peninsula is a beautiful spot in this world. Virtually no houses lined the Lake Michigan shoreline: only bunched-up grass mounds, orange sand dunes, and pine forest.
Young Scott offered Elaine and me a ride, in the U-haul he drove for his Uncle Fritz. Scott came from a suburb of Detroit and had just finished college. Elaine thought "Uncle Fritz" was the funniest name ever.
Scott cut across the Upper Peninsula to the country of water called Lake Superior. Stopping at the Pictured Rocks Nat'l Lakeshore, we walked cozy trails full of purple, yellow, and white wildflowers and little, chittering chipmunks. Sharp rock, shaded Tang-orange, clay-white, or dark-mud, dropped forty feet below us to gorgeous water. The lake, itself, shimmered translucent green in spots, tea brown in others, and immaculate blue once it got deep.
When Scott eventually dropped us off, we were quickly chariot-ed away again by a young schoolteacher named Beth. Hardly any cars had passed Elaine and me in Michigan, which seemed to be one of the kindest places to hitchhikers ever. I felt proud of my state.
Elaine and I spent the next four nights visiting friends in Minnesota. After that, our next scheduled stop was in South Dakota's Black Hills.
The Black Hills began leap-frogging out of flat pastureland, near South Dakota's border with Wyoming. Thick, bushy forest made the hills dark enough to house monsters. Exploring between the feet of the large, steep hills, we hiked through rows of pine tree aisles, up and over stumpy rock lookouts, and down to the grassy bank of a dry riverbed that felt peacefully totally isolated from everything. The only monsters we saw were skinny, aloof mountain goats who crawled precariously atop jutting rock.
The weather grew colder and rainier the further West we reached. Elaine - who gets shivering cold as quickly as anyone - was having a rough time trying to sleep whenever we camped out in our tent. My dad had popularized the phrase, "Poor, little Elaine," and it was definitely fitting due to the weather.
But, our great adventure "pressed on!" past purple, snow-topped mountains in Wyoming. After ten days and twenty-four rides, Elaine could be denied Montana no longer.
David and Rhonda, a couple with long-ish hair in their forties, was our coolest ride yet. They traveled the country perpetually. They now had a small truck, and they supported themselves by cleaning the insides and outsides of semi-trucks at truck stops.
Just a year or two ago, they had been hitchhiking everywhere like us. Smart David gave us tons of great advice on building fires, cooking meals, seeing national parks, and camping out. He said sleeping on cardboard keeps you warm because "it's coriagated."
"A-ow, a-ow!" Woohoo! Yes! Youthful-smiled Elaine and I celebrated upon entering Montana.
David and Rhonda dropped us off in the Billings airport. Elaine and I kissed then found my brother's car, which he'd left for us.
We drove - ourselves, this time! - to a restaurant. Elaine ordered herself a hot tea. (Elaine considers hot tea the greatest invention ever, and she drinks several cups a day.) I remarked that shiny-eyed Elaine must've been so happy: she was in Montana, a cup of tea clasped between her white hands. She wasn't "poor, little Elaine" no more!
Elaine kept repeating, "It's coriagated," making fun of how many times David had told us why exactly cardboard keeps you so warm. David must've really thought that was a fancy, smart word, "coriagated," because he just kept saying it over and over.
We finished supper and left Billings. We drove down a small highway in the night. We turned off and found ourselves in the driveway of someone's multi-acre property. Because the grass on the driveway was overgrown, I presumed the land's owner was probably nowhere around.
It was a risky place to park the car and camp. I asked Elaine if this spot was too unsettling for her. "Whatever you think is best," she responded. We set up our tent in the dark, and Elaine went to bed totally relaxed. Man, she's a cool, adventurous girl.
- Modern Oddyseus
Thanks - anyway - to the unknown creepy guy; to Larry; Scott; Beth; Jennette & Asialy; Will; Greg; Karen; Tony; Arturo; Ray; David; Nathalie; Jeremy; Gale; Josh; Max; David; "no thanks" to a thief named Jason; thanks to Dan + one; Rusty; Paul; Gwyn; Michelle & George; and David & Rhonda for the rides!
Much thanks to Brandy & Matt Erholtz; and "Johnny", Kelsey, and Mr. & Mrs. Anderson for the places to visit!