Wild Young Minds: Hitchhiking our way across west USA - part 1

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hitchhiking our way across west USA - part 1

We were young, wild, free and broke. And we wanted to cross the border. So why not go hitchhiking? It sounds simple and it actually was. When Lavinia and I heard that we had 1,5 week off for Thanksgiving, we decided pretty soon that we wanted to do a big trip. Since I had planned to go South in January, and the North would be too cold by that time anyway, we decided to go to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.
At first, we'd planned to rent a car for the roadtrip, but Big Sur and Yosemite had already taught us that renting a car in the US as an underaged (means under 25 for car rental companies) foreigner is pretty much impossible. The Greyhound and Amtrak were terribly expensive and I don't even want to talk about plane tickets. I'm not sure how and when I thought about hitchhiking, but all of a sudden the idea was there: let's just not book a ticket and try to make our way through three states and across the border.
I had always been fascinated by the idea of hitchhiking – for my loyal readers, you must know by now that everything that happens in On the Road, is romanticized by me – and after interviewing so many (female) hitchhikers for Humans on the Road, I knew it was still possible in today's dramatic world. Our fellow exchange students wished us good luck, but no, we were not scared. We'd bought pepperspray (and even smuggled it over the border, let's hope the government is not going to track this blog down!) and we knew what to do when a sketchy guy stopped and offered to take us in: just say ''No, thank you'' and walk away.

Fortunately, this never happened. We had 15 rides in total and none of them turned out to be a dangerous murderer or rapist. My mom and dad, and especially my aunt, if she reads this, would not be pleased by me talking so lightly about this subject, but hey, I'm alive and well! Anyway, my extremely artistic friend Yeji made an awesome sign for us, saying NORTH, PORTLAND. Throughout the trip, we received many compliments, but really, we gave all the credits to Yeji. The sign definitely rocked.
Before leaving, our biggest fear was that we wouldn't even make it out of San Francisco. It had been mentioned on the Internet that it was hard to hitchhike in the city, but there were some good places, for instance near the freeway entrance leading to the Golden Gate Bridge. So on Friday morning, around 12 pm (a bit late, due to the Thank God It's Thursday night before), we left our apartment and took the bus to the Bridge. Of course, we forgot the sign in the first shop we entered, even before getting on the bus, but thank god for the shop keeper that ran after us and made sure we'd never make that mistake again.
When we arrived at the entrance of the Golden Gate, we only had to wait for about 15 minutes when the first driver stopped. It was a guy of about 40 years old, in a good car (not that I know much about them) who could take us to Marin County, twenty minutes from the city. Not that far, but it was good to leave the city, we figured. He was on the phone for most of the ride, so we couldn't put the advice in practice our friend Blake had given us: talk to drivers, they're often as uncomfortable as you are. Our first driver dropped us off near the freeway and since the sign there said “Lucky Drive'' we figured we were fine. 
We were not. No one stopped for us in about thirty minutes and they all made weird signs with their hands. Moreover, they drove so fast that it seemed pretty hard for them to stop. We'd almost given up hope, when a police car stopped. Uh oh! What was wrong? Three policemen came over and told us that it's illegal to hitchhike near the freeway. ''Uhm, really? Ah, we didn't know...'' And in fact, we really didn't know, we hadn't prepared that well when it came to rules and regulations. ''If we see you doing this again, you're going to get a notification and if it happens three times, we'll arrest you''. Only one of the policemen, looking rather shy himself, was speaking and the rest stood next to him awkwardly staring at us. But it was the police in the US, after all, so we did as he said and walked to the highway.

And that turned out to be exactly the highway entrance we should have looked for - leading us to Highway 101! Immediately a car stopped and a friendly looking guy got out. Inside were two tiny, very ugly, dogs. The guy's name was Joe. Joe told us that he'd seen us hitchhiking near the freeway and he'd stopped, made a turn and followed us to where we were at that point. ''Have you never read Kerouac?'' he laughed. ''Uh, yes I have'', I answered, feeling offended. But Joe turned out to be pretty cool. He'd visited Burning Man for ten times already and he made his money doing all these small tasks, taking it easy and enjoying the Californian weather. Unfortunately Joe could only take us to Santa Rosa, where we stopped and were picked up quickly again by another guy, a heavy guy with a big car that took us for another twenty minutes.
All in all, we'd been lucky that Friday afternoon for having gotten three rides already, but none of them could bring us to a far destination. And we wanted to arrive in Portland the following day... In Santa Rosa, we waited for a long time but no one was willing to pick us two girls, who kept waving and smiling order to attract attention. We slowly began to lose faith in humanity... But then Lavi found an iPad on the side of the freeway entrance and a few minutes later there was José, an alternative looking girl with a beat looking car. ''Hop on in!'' she said and we knew the minute we met her, that we'd get along very well. José worked on a weed farm, trimming weed, just as almost every other young person in North-California and Oregon nowadays. In six weeks, she would earn up to 4000 to 6000 dollars, the only drawback being that she had to do the same boring and mindkilling movement for 10 hours every day.
José drove us along the wineries and redwoods. She took us for three hours north and we saw beautiful sunsets and talked about everything in life, from traveling to boy troubles. She dropped us off in Garberville, telling us that if we didn't get a ride that night, we might be able to sleep at her friend's place in Arcata. When we got out of the car, we first went to the supermarket and then looked for a good spot to continue our trip. Meanwhile, it'd gotten dark already (it gets dark around five now, yes, even in California...) and we had no luck catching a ride.
That's when we had our first encounter with the local patrol, a team of about 10 members, young and old, male and female, walking around Garberville and informing people about possibilities of weed trimming in the area. ''Do you girls know what you're doing??? Do you have any idea how dangerous this is? There are so many creeps in this country. Oh god, please don't do this'', is what they said. Imagine, 10 people around you nodding heads, with worried looks on their faces and repeating the advice ''Be safe!''. It was a very interesting situation. At a point, we agreed that it might not be a good idea to continue hitchhiking in the dark and so we started looking for a cheap motel. That turned out to be a naive illusion. I don't know about the other ghost towns in the US, for Garberville really is one, but they charged a $100 a night for a room. What. The. Fuck.
And so we entered a café to ask around for possibilities and then ran into three alternative looking guys who immediately recognized my Dutch accent (godverdomme) and invited us to a trimmers' ball in Redway. Though this invitation was tempting, Redway was only 5 minutes away from Garberville and it had only one motel. Not an option, thus. So after a beer we continued looking for motels and had almost decided to go for the $80 one, when we ran into the local patrol again. ''Whatever you do, don't book this motel! There are needles everywhere...'' As it turned out to be, Garberville was the hotspot for meth heads, who lived in the mountains and came to the village when they felt like harassing people. Where on earth had we ended up? One of the local patrol ladies called a motel for us to inform about prizes. A nice gesture, but all I could think was: why doesn't any of these people offer to host us? Apparently, I had become too used to Couchsurfing, since Lavi also said that it's kind of weird to offer your house to random hitchhikers on the street. 
True that, but now we ended up paying $60 each for a room in a motel in a sketchy town. I soon decided to get over my Dutch dislike of spending money and enjoy the warmness of the room (it was damn cold outside), the big beds and the television. We ended up watching Full House – Mary-Kate and Ashley, my big teenage idols! – and I fell asleep soon.
Only one day of hitchhiking behind us, and already so many stories to tell. Since I don't want to bother you with an unending page of adventures (after all, you might be busy with exams or work or just prefer watching shows rather than reading this, and hey, that's okay) I will divide the adventures into two, but probably three parts. So more interesting rides will follow, more cool Couchsurfing experiences and more awesome sightseeing and bar hopping in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. To be continued!


  1. So far so good, Also, why did not you ask the police patrol to drop you somewhere along the road :D as they wasted your time warning you, also I wish you could have taken the deal of weed trimming and earned some money to help you with --> "I soon decided to get over my Dutch dislike of spending money".

    This is "Abhijeet" whom you met at couchsurfing event at CS HQ in SF, I said you (Bente) looked like Daenerys Targaryen aka Khalisi

  2. Hee hallo, ik zat nog helemaal niet te wachten op het einde van de blog. Ik houd helemaal niet van 'To be continued', maar vooruit: ik zal wel weer de geduldige broer uithangen. Wel stoer, in aanraking komen met Police Men en Local Patrol en je daar dan eigenlijk helemaal niets van aantrekken. En dat je hoopte op een goedkoper alternatief dan een motel kan ik me goed voorstellen. Maar op dat moment toch wel fijn om een (groot) bed te hebben en een warme kamer. Benieuwd naar part II en III.

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