Monday, October 17, 2016

10/17/16: Day #1 - Jean and The Tin Man

In retrospect, the decision to hit the road Monday (10/17) felt a lot like the original choice to leave Chicago the week before: completely unprepared. When I woke up and sat down to write that morning, I had no idea where I'd be struggling to sleep in just a few hours!

 The day's big event was supposed to be a simple post office run. But, without making a conscious "decision", I  gathered the rest of my stuff and by 2:00 we had made my dropoff at a UPS Store (unable to fit everything in the one overpriced box ), and were on I-15 south heading out of the city to terra inc√≥gnita. My only pre-trip request: "when I leave, get me to a decent spot betond the city sprawl!"

I didn't have even a vague notion of where I was going, so direction didn't really matter. I suggested Hoover Dam, thinking hitching the road south toward Kingman would be a good way to break myself back in and that I could eventually go whatever direction I decided by the time I got to I-40.

Natali didn't want to drive that far, so it was essentially a decision between north and south on I-15. North almost surely meant Utah: The mythically infamous Hitchhiker Blackhole! So, since we are already on the south end of Vegas, I told her to just go south and make it easy. From there I relied on her knowledge of the area. She had a spot in mind, so I trusted her judgment.

The Rusty Tin Man Creaks Forth

Maybe 30-minutes later, Natali exited at Jean and dropped me off at Terrible's, a Shell station/small truck stop across from a rather large casino otherwise in the middle of Desert Nowhere.

The spot had everything I'd need to get my legs beneath me: a gas station for food, water, a Denny's across the road to get coffee and charging facilities, and truck parking. Also, an abundance of open space for stealth camping. We hugged, I snapped a pic, and suddenly I was hitchhiking again. For the first time since my short and family-aborted Texas to Colorado run in 2013.

The first emotion: youthful exhilaration. An excited sense of utter uncertainty psychologically framed as "adventure". I'd had this feeling several times before. This time though, it was tempered. "Been 'here' before..." Considering it had been so long, I was surprised that almost instantly I reverted to instinct, method and experience. I automatically surveyed the grounds, walked inside for water, some snacks, and cigarettes.

Yes. The cigarettes were back. I'd left Chicago with vaping gear planning to decrease my nicotine levels along the way and quitting a week or two later. Good plan. It had worked before. Except, the previous week my battery had gone to hell and I was forced to drop an unplanned $50 on a new one, tank, and coils. That was ridiculous and pissed me off. "Fifty bucks?!? Why not just fucking smoke? How the hell am I going to keep this battery charged?" I answered that silent question immediately. when my smokes and I were reunited. And yeah, it kinda felt good! Hitchhiking and smoking go together like cigarettes and booze; smokes and coffee. Trump & Putin. It's weird.

Why am I even explaining this? Don't judge, fuckers.

The second instant realization: a repeat of the week before. How moving from "abstraction to action" annihilates the internal "what if" anxieties. As soon as we were on the road, the "what ifs" turned to problem solving and forward motion. I was reminded more than once of the "molehills" in the lead up to my original departure in 2008. How everything I'd worried about for nearly 4-years was proven ridiculous. Almost immediately. Our minds are both our greatest assets and our biggest nemesis.



There was a shade tree set in a perfect spot between the parking lot and the road. An ideal place to be seen by the traffic coming and going. I plopped the pack down beneath it and exhaled. Almost immediately, I nearly got out of there. Had I been "saltier", I believe I would have.

A truck driver saw me and my setup, walked over, and said he could tell I wasn't a bum and asked what I was up to. I gave him the now-unfamiliar, unrefined, and poorly articulated "out to see people without electronic eyes" version and we spent 10-15 minutes chatting. He talked about how he'd given rides to people similar to me and how they'd stayed in touch. In retrosepct, it's obvious he had taken into account that I'd just been dropped off and was waiting for me to ask to come along. But, apparently I was waiting for an engraved golden invitation, not wanting to seem (feel?) like a transportational panhandler. Had I been a bit more tuned in, this trip would look vastly different. He went north. Presumably toward Salt Lake City or Reno.

Almost directly on the heels of my new trucker friend came Curt & Judy. They were in their late 50's or early 60's, had parked their RV at Terrible's, and were in the area to do some off-roading in their 4-wheelers. They struck up a conversation while walking from the RV to the canino's Denny's. They were quite curious about my base motivations and we hit it off immediately. We shared philosophical views about the existentially corrosive effects of chasing money and careerism, among other things. I told them about the inspiration I drew from Plato's Cave and gave them an Upper World Photo card with an invitation to contact me via my Facebook page. They invited me to let them know if I made it up to Seattle and I immediately warned them about such polite, off-handed invites! I tend to take folks up on them from time-to-time! Eh, Shawn? Kim? Jeff?

While I slightly hoped to find a ride Monday, there was no "real" effort. Any hope stemmed mostly from directional indecisiveness. I had no beacon whatsoever. I'd decided that I'd wait for my first "real" ride out of the desert and off I-15's north-south LA to Vegas/Utah asphalt funnel. Thus, despite my vast experience failing in such matters, I was targeting trucks. And had just let one go!

Yes, I was certainly rusty.

In reality, it was good to just sit with myself and just be. To slowly disconnect from the electronic eyes, embrace the old "Sit Down and Shut Up" idea, while simultaneously basking in the positive energy of the post-drop off day, and reconnect with the real, raw world.

The cynicism that I'd felt returning all weekend as I attempted to "pay attention" to the election and "current events" almost immediately evaporated and was replaced with positivity borne from real interaction with real people in the "real" world. I know of no better "therapy".

The previous week's ideas about Digital Detox were certainly top-of-mind Monday, and would be for the foreseeable future. Clearly, I'm no prospective Luddite! But, finding balance and a sense of intentional utility with technology is obviously key. I'd never tried hitchhiking with a full-on smartphone, and I was rightfully concerned about it before I even left. But, the usefulness is undeniable. On Day 1, I shot and edited video and found myself finishing and uploading my "October Surprise" post while stashed away behind the truck parking lot! And, yes, I also occasionally found myself habitually reaching for my device as I became bored. But, at least I was mindful of it. At the same time, I was mindful of Plato's "Return to the Cave".

Finding a spot to camp as the sun fell around six was a breeze. I laid the bivy/Thermarest out on the semi-rocky ground, flung the sleeping bag on top, and laid there unable to sleep. I was semi-productive with the writing and editing, but I couldn't shut down the brain.



Clearly, there was more to this trip than I was even aware of...