two zero one six

thirty-four things to do before I die:

1. hitchhiking across the United States, and all of the wonders therein.hitchhike2. seeing Thoth & Lila Angelique in person (after a decade of anticipation).thoth3. attending a mewithoutYou show, at very long last.mwy4. taking the exquisitely scenic train across Canada.canada5. visiting Australia (new country, new continent).australia

bonus items:

I. surprise trip to Florida to see some of my very favorite humans. (and The Top!!)gainesvilleII. revisiting the ever charming Astoria (and its seals!) with Jeremiah.
astoriaIII. roadtripping New England/visiting Vermont: land of Vil, with Sunita.vermont-ii
IV. spontaneous Port Townsend/couchsurfing-with-new-friends trip.ptii
V. taking on the northwestern northwest for Kate’s birthday adventures.nwnw
VI. attending the Pemberton music festival (as a VIP!) with Corey and Stazzie.pemberton
VII. finally making it to the Bahamas (new country) with Corey and Stazzie.bahamasVIII. eventually completing the Mosa Lina road trip via reuniting in long lost Boston.boston

I, for one, have had a stellar year.

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very well then

The A to B of getting to Melbourne from Toronto was objectively probably one of the worst travel experiences I’ve ever had. Unpleasantries arose during every leg of the journey. From sitting in that row of screaming kids (I get it, it happens, it can’t be helped), to New Zealand confiscating my deodorant for no good reason, to being in the middle seat on the twelve hour stretch overseas (and the widow seat passenger taking up half of my legroom in addition to his own). All around it was almost laughable how many frustrating scenarios popped up. But even so, I mostly kept my cool despite the circumstances. Giving in to feelings of frustration never made anyone any happier. Certainly not me.

I had been kind of nervous about dealing with customs in Australia. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to get a visa, but it’s the first time I’ve been on a non-strictly-holiday visa. And the approval process was way too easy. Disconcertingly so. What government approves your visa application the same day you submit it? (Australia’s, apparently.) Anyways, I’ve been shelving for months this slight fear that there was some sort of misunderstanding. And I wondered if I would be like detained and questioned and asked for ten thousand documents (which I had with me, ready to present, damn it). But I was barely at the immigration counter for thirty seconds before they dismissed me and I was magically a resident of Australia. I was acquired from the airport by the lovely Anna, whom Sunita and I were charmed by and enamored with pretty immediately upon meeting a few years ago when she couchsurfed with us in Olympia. She’s one of those people with whom I only spent a smattering of [much too short] days. But I knew with absolute certainty that Anna was someone that I trusted, and respected, and cared about, and would be thrilled to have more present in my life. She’s one of those women whom you hope to be shaped by. And so coming to Australia was exciting in itself, but getting to share a city with Anna was definitely as enticing as anything else this continent has to offer.

At Anna’s house we were greeted by her sister, Nelly, their housemate Liz, the dogs, Bear and Sophie (and the budgie, Caterpillar), and coverage of the American election in progress on tv. To my surprise and amusement, Nelly and Liz were sporting anti-Trump and pro-Hillary shirts, respectively. Liz was sprawled across the floor compiling a state by state chart of the progress. Hillary was currently in the lead. Various members of the household disappeared for a few hours, and I settled into the little sunroom bedroom nook Anna had created for me to reside in until the housing I would inhabit for the next few months was available. img_5405Liz returned with beer, and we ordered pizzas to finish the election evening. By now Trump was in the lead, and it was seeming pretty final. Nobody in this household was impressed by or excited about the results, and I was surprised to find over the next several days how invested Australians in general felt about the American election. Young Australians, especially, were just gutted by the outcome. Upon waking the following morning, I knew that as an American, arriving at this particular time, I would have a lot to answer for. This has proven true. Everyone I have conversed with for more than a few sentences is curious about my opinion on the matter. To be honest, I used to be shy about claiming to be a US citizen while in foreign lands. But I’ve found that most people I encounter in this world are willing to take me as an individual, who has certainly been shaped by, but is not defined by my country of origin. I am thankful for this. Particularly now. I don’t want to go on a political rant, but for the purpose of my situation and my story in this current place and time, some political delving is relevant. So I’ll say this: Donald Trump may have been elected as the president of my country of citizenship, but he does not represent me. And he is a poor representation, if that, for many of the people I am proud and glad to know, including, I’m quite sure, some people who voted for his presidency. I mean no disrespect to those who did vote for Trump, my point is I wouldn’t sit down to dinner with the man (that probably isn’t true…love and understanding and all that, but I wouldn’t like to), but I imagine I know quite a few who supported him whose dinner tables I have frequented. All of this to say: I’ve come to consider my traveling (and this, my residence in Australia) to be a subtle form of ambassadorship for my country. A means of connecting and knitting together the world, individual to individual from one country and culture to the next. I don’t fit the stereotype of An American Girl (I’m told this, by surprised foreigners, frequently), and I am far from the poster child of a resident of Donald Trump’s America. And so I hope that my interactions – with anyone who lacks an intimate knowledge the United States – portray a kind, caring, understanding, thoughtful, open minded, not-only-tolerant-but-embracive, passionate, engaged, diligent, calm, peaceful, globally conscious and concerned individual. That is to say, I hope I challenge the stereotype. I hope to show people that while there are people who fit into the American generalizations, there are others who certainly do not. We contradict ourselves; we quite literally contain multitudes. Donald Trump’s election to presidency, and most assuredly his actions throughout his term will promote a lot of conversations for me here. A lot of opportunity for discussing similarities and differences between the US and Australia and elsewhere. Discussing likes and dislikes and failures and potentials and hopes and fears. It’s certainly an interesting time to be living abroad.

Politics aside, my first weeks here have been comprised in part of just chilling and being still and enjoying not moving from one place to the next after three months of such. In part of getting stuff done. With some exploring and socializing thrown in as well. I was surprised by how delighted I was to have new clothing in my wardrobe after three months of wearing the same few outfits. And I’ll say, too, that my luck with finding second hand clothing (that both fits and I like) in Australia has been superior to my American experiences (lookin’ at you Olympia Goodwill). I’ve had some stellar, albeit expensive food. After multiple instances going to cafes with people who’ve said, in response to my not drinking coffee, ‘but will you at least try it?!’ I have, I’ve added coffee into my diet, after long, stubborn years of disinterest. Not that the coffee itself is superior, but I think I like the forms in which Australians drink their coffee better. That, and tea is weirdly more expensive than coffee here. I have been truly surprised by how smoothly all of the official things I’ve needed to accomplish have gone. My first order of business was acquiring a new SIM. I decided on a pay-as-you-go plan and had it delivered in the mail. This, I used the following day to get a library card (which…I’ve used extensively). The mail and library card I used in combination to open a bank account. I filed for my tax number and it arrived soon after. Australia is an easy country to exist in. Anna, Nelly, and Liz were all quite thorough in orienting me to the culture in which I am now immersed. From explaining the trains and buses, to the avocado toast culture, to classic Australian musicians, to their new favourite game of ‘we’ll give you an Australian term, and you have to guess what it means.’ I feel prepared to be a resident without embarrassing myself too much.IMG_5498.jpg

hitchmerica: in words

8/1 intuition
8/2 pink
8/3 forbearance
8/4 confirmation
8/5 transversal
8/6 ease
8/7 ken
8/8 acquiescence
8/9 appreciate
8/10 exceed
8/11 imprudent
8/12 squall
8/13 advances
8/14 familiarities
8/15 rest
8/16 sufficient
8/17 rummager
8/18 work
8/19 ordinary
8/20 rumination
8/21 firstovers
8/22 cycle
8/23 perseverance
8/24 happenstance
8/25 heritage
8/26 omission
8/27 review
8/28 suppress
8/29 restless
8/30 return
8/31 settle
9/1 recurrence
9/2 voice
9/3 queasy
9/4 queasier
9/5 sonmi
9/6 fig
9/7 ruin
9/8 milkblind
9/9 picturesque
9/10 care
9/11 between
9/12 re
9/13 elements
9/14 processes
9/15 heights
9/16 unready
9/17 quintessentials
9/18 qualms
9/19 fry
9/20 marvels
9/21 perusal
9/22 stages
9/23 staples
9/24 felicitous
9/25 saturated
9/26 reset
9/27 imprints
9/28 confetti
9/29 echoes
9/30 preemptive
10/1 deluge
10/2 focus
10/3 tantalize
10/4 perezidence
10/5 drive
10/6 frustrate
10/7 takeoff
10/8 omnifecta
10/9 drizzle
10/10 poignancy
10/11 double
10/12 poise
10/13 unbeknownst
10/14 episodes
10/15 walk
10/16 counteract
10/17 decongest
10/18 culmination
10/19 tender
10/20 bests
10/21 sequence
10/22 interruption
10/23 garlic
10/24 conclude
10/25 fancy
10/26 candle
10/27 forecast
10/28 recharge
10/29 in situ
10/30 enough
10/31 storytellers
11/1 accept
11/2 unnecessaries
11/3 northerly
11/4 westerly
11/5 symmetry
11/6 significance
11/7 sensitivity
11/8 didn’t happen (due to time travel)
11/9 bittersweet

#afterthisweregettingpizza

Boston was the failed city of the Mosa Lina road trip of 2013. It fell on our itinerary between New York City and Ohio. However, due to car issues leaving NYC, we just didn’t make it. We’ve been planning ever since to have a Mosa Lina reunion in Boston. However, whether for budget, timing, or whatever other usual excuses, we’ve not gotten around to it. Somehow though, the universe converged in October of 2016, and all four of us were able to make it to the elusive city of Boston.14560201_10154277013677034_5054336389961388308_oKristin and I were scheduled to fly out of Orlando late on the 7th. But Hurricane Matthew wrought literal havoc on those plans. Early morning on the 5th I received a call saying “for our convenience” our flight had been pushed back until the 9th “hope that’s okay.” Seeing as we had planned more than 24 hours in Boston, it wasn’t okay. After many phone calls back and forth amongst google sessions, we ended up canceling our tickets and rebooking flights out of the Tampa airport (the west coast of Florida was unaffected by the hurricane). Booking a flight less than two full days in advance wasn’t as awfully expensive as I would’ve expected. The really complicated part of this was that I had driven to Gainesville, and needed to get my brother’s truck back to Naples. Stazzie had a gig scheduled in Orlando, and I was going to catch a ride back with her. But her gig was also canceled due to the hurricane. And I had originally planned on hitchhiking back, but….it didn’t seem like the wisest decision considering the circumstances. I was having trouble finding a bus ticket back to Orlando, and finally realized (upon using Stazzie’s computer rather than my phone) that all bus service in Florida had been cancelled. Lovely. It turned out that Kristin’s area was going to have a curfew in effect, and so she ended up taking her cats and driving down to Naples. Which…got us back in the same city, but I can’t say was terribly convenient. I suppose it’s not a real trip back to the homeland if your plans aren’t thwarted by a natural disaster.

Anyways, all of this to say, the world was still trying to keep us from Boston. But we persevered. It wasn’t all bad though, because all of these complications did make it possible for me to see Andria [my kinda/sorta roommate for a few months in Gainesville a few years back] in Tampa for a few hours. Kristin and I were the first to set down in Boston. We arrived at 10 something pm, and were followed shortly by Christy. Cassie’s flight was even later, so the three of us got some much needed late night sushi. We met Cassie back at Kristin’s cousin’s apartment (aka our base for the weekend), and stayed up for hours talking, despite the communal fatigue.img_5208We had planned on taking the free walking tour the first day, but after our late night, all we wanted was just to sleep in. Which we did. Because we do what we want. Our slow morning led into a stroll to downtown with much appreciation of the gorgeous northeastern fall weather. The focus of this trip, other than just being together, was pizza. A proper pizza tour was on the agenda. We headed pretty quickly for the first stop, Galleria Umberto. Serendipitously it was the perfect introduction to Boston pizza. It was the simplest of the pizzas we ate, and it was perfection. Perfect dough, perfect sauce, perfect cheese. The hole-in-the-wall joint has no music, no frills, just exemplary food. Literally around the corner was Paul Revere’s house, which we stopped to see, but no one went in. Christy and I had been before, and Kristin and Cassie weren’t keen on waiting in the extensive line. So instead we went on a hunt for doughnuts, in which I didn’t partake. But Kristin loved hers and Christy was not impressed with hers. On our beeline for pizza we had passed a lovely park overlooking the harbor, and we looped back around to revisit, now with happy pizza filled stomachs. During the course of people watching and weather enjoying, we got it into our heads that we needed to find an Irish pub. So we gathered ourselves and found The Black Rose, whereby we got warming drinks and curry chips. Curry chips. Curry chips in the US. I had never thought it possible, but in almost no time we had fat, fried wedges of potato paired with a bowl of curry sauce. Boston was turning out to be all of my food dreams in one place.14566360_10207496805233904_8260471636219087934_o14595557_10157586373000581_6705806619136254950_nThere were a few things in Cambridge we wanted to see, so we headed that way, but got caught in a rain shower. We ducked into an MIT building and waited it out for awhile in a massive marble hallway. My stop in Cambridge was another graffiti alley, which was cool, but not the most extensive gathering of street art I’ve seen this trip. We pretty decisively decided we needed more pizza and set out for Regina Pizzeria, where we waited in line outside the building for probably half an hour before pizza was ours. We decided upon a veggie laden white sauce pizza, and a red sauce with fried eggplant. Both superb and satisfying. We took our leftovers, grabbed a bottle of wine, and took advantage of the rooftop of our building. Candlelit conversations overlooking Boston are a pretty phenomenal way to end a day.img_520914540617_603390793173697_109315554862432256_nWe had expected rain on Sunday, and it delivered. All day, without ceasing. We started the morning off with smoothies, you know, to balance out the pizza intake with something healthful. Our indoor activities all turned out to be tastings, but some of them didn’t work out as well as planned. You had to take a spendy tour of the Boston Tea Party Museum in order to partake in tastings of the teas that were dumped into the harbor. Which…we decided against. Harpoon Brewery’s next tour was at 4pm, and we had arrived at 1pm. So instead of waiting, Kristin and I decided to split a few flights. Christy got a phenomenal soft cinnamon sugar pretzel with peanut butter and pumpkin dipping sauces. We picked up more pizzas, these ones weren’t on the list of places I had researched, but I realized it was probably a better sampling to incorporate both researched and just-happen-to-be-nearby pizza places. From Babbo we got a goat cheese with pistachios, honey, and something truffle-y pizza, as well as a mushroom and smoked mozzarella pizza. We took these to GrandTen distillery and played games for the rest of the rainy evening.14516422_10154278600367034_1623596441525223506_n14650337_10207506080225773_449925922885469546_nMonday was our final day. We had tentatively re-scheduled our walking tour to today. Well, in our minds, anyways. I had forgotten this walking tour required reservations, and it was booked solid. So we walked the freedom trail on our own. First we were going to hit up the public library, except it wasn’t open, due to it being Columbus Day. Which…we don’t celebrate, but apparently other people do. I had awoken that morning with a fierce desire for a chai latte, and the others were pro-coffee, so we found a nearby coffee shop. It was a cold day, and the warmth was at least a slight boost on our walk through the Boston Common. We were stopped by two guys doing marketing research, and Christy and I participated in an interview involving financial questions, for which we received Starbucks gift cards. And then it was pizza time again. We decided upon another close by rather than widely known/highly rated place. Which turned out to be a great decision. It featured ginormous by the slice pizzas with the fluffiest crust you’ve ever seen. I think it properly prepared us for our historical stroll through Boston’s red-brick-lined freedom trail.14705088_1696403454011246_3492167200331005952_n14657275_10207512241819809_1833445255965218888_nChristy was flying out in the afternoon, so we headed back home and chilled for a bit. After we sent Christy off to the airport, Kristin, Cassie, and I headed to our airbnb. It was a private room in a shared residence, and we pretty much just got sushi and hung out in our room. Kristin left before Cassie and I awoke. And then Cassie and I parted ways when we reached the T station where I took my first public transport of the trip to get to South Station (we had been taking free Lyfts amongst our four accounts). I found a deli across the street and had a hearty omelette and home fries before my bus ride to New York City. It was a pretty nice ride, except for the nausea at some point in the middle. The trek from the bus station to Roosevelt Island and Sarah’s apartment was easy and familiar.

*most of the photos in this post are thieved from the other Mosas.

only in nightmares

I feel bad that I don’t have as much to say about hanging out with friends and family as I do about hanging out with strangers. But, what it comes down to is when I’m with people I already know, I am content to do absolutely nothing for days. Because I’m in the presence of people with whom I am already completely comfortable, and whose presence I adore. Sorry friends, it’s not that I don’t love you or am not impressed with you. Quite the contrary.

Actually though, my time in Geneva was pretty eventful. Cassiopeia took me to several of her favorite restaurants, and the girl has fine taste. We indulged in a chill pizza and cookie and movie night. We had breakfast with Todd and Hope, very dear friends from Naples. Whom I also spent my Sunday with, on my own private tour of lovely Wheaton. I got to see the Wheaton campus and their church. We went for a drive to admire the local, so charming architecture. And for lunch and a stroll around the lake. I got to see their home and hang out with their dogs. I love how many dog friends I’ve had on this trip. Also the diversity of the people I get to see. The last time I saw Todd and Hope was in Seattle a few years ago. Traveling by hitching has definitely allowed for a broader itinerary than I could have managed by plane, bus, or train.

Cassie and I also stopped in at her family’s house and biked from Batavia to Geneva. It was a really nice visit. But I miss living with all of my ex-roommates. I love that I have the opportunity to have these moments with people I care about, but it always makes me a little sad, too. 14054448_10157361749315581_6707912444237403548_oScreen Shot 2016-09-04 at 12.20.24 AMIMG_4950
It was a bit of a hassle, getting me to the interstate. Cassie lives an unfortunate distance from both the road I took to get to Geneva, and the road I needed to get out of Geneva. She had to bring her nanny kids and half her family (thanks to all!) to drop me off on I-88. It was a later start than usual, but I’m beyond getting anxious. Everything happens, and all. I got a ride with a posh guy in his thirties. He candidly informed me that he had no license, but it was okay, because he has good lawyers, and it’s not a big deal. Well, at least he wasn’t taking me very far. Interestingly he, too, had lived in Olympia for several years. He even had an Oly tattoo to prove it. I asked him to let me off at exit 136, just before our roads split. But he told me there was an exit for my turnoff. Even better. However, despite him having hitchhiked in his youth (at thirteen!), he didn’t know what he was talking about. The ‘exit’ was literally just a fork in the interstate. He dropped me off with 65mph traffic thwushing past. Lovely. I consulted google maps, and determined that the exit behind me was closer than the exit ahead of me. So I started walking, illegally, backwards. It ended up being a pretty inoptimal on-ramp. But, I didn’t really have much choice. A couple pulled over to make sure I was okay. They approached me as if I were a wild animal; I can’t shake the look of apprehension on their faces. I wonder if they thought I was on drugs, or out of my mind, or perhaps a criminal. Regardless, it made me feel disgusting. But I’m glad to have all these miles under my belt, from Washington until here. There’s some substance to your defense of hitchhiking when you’ve traversed almost the entire width of the country.

The couple left, but were replaced pretty quickly with flashing red and blue lights. I’ve had a fair amount of police pass while I’ve been hitchhiking, and it’s always a mixture of relief and satisfaction when they just keep driving. This one didn’t. I felt calm. No quickened pulse, no anxious thoughts. He rolled down his window and I approached with a smile.
 The officer was very friendly. But he told me that hitchhiking was illegal. Which, was news to me. I had researched the hitchhiking laws in each state before I embarked upon this trip. I said as much, in the least argumentative way possible. I asked him politely about the specific laws, and he said that yes, hitchhiking is illegal on all roads in Illinois and had been for some time. This didn’t sound right to me, but I wasn’t about to argue and escalate the situation. I wasn’t being treated like a criminal, and I responded in kind. A female officer had shown up in the meantime, and she more or less took over. She ended up driving me away from the highway to a nearby mall. She had to search me before I got into the car. I was curious about what passersby made of the situation, but I wasn’t bothered. This is my third time ‘hitchhiking’ with a police officer, but the first in this country. The officer, who wasn’t much older than me, was very curious about my trip and my life, and was extremely polite about the whole ordeal. She dropped me off, apologetically, and repeatedly made sure I was alrightIMG_4958I sat on the bench outside of Macy’s for quite some time, trying to determine my next move. My first thought was to try to find a rideshare on craigslist. But there was surprisingly not much happening in the Chicago area. I looked into buses to Indiana (after thoroughly re-checking the hitchhiking laws in both Indiana in Ohio). There was a $6 Greyhound bus from Chicago, IL to Gary, IN. I’ve heard only bad stories about Greyhound experiences, but, it seemed like a decent option. It was nearly noon, and I felt more than a little defeated. I was thinking of heading back to Geneva and starting again the next morning. That was my plan, until I realized that I am not so easily defeated. This is hitchhiking, this is traveling. Things happen and you figure them out and you keep going. Not that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with going backwards, in fact that was one of my favorite experiences with the Birthrighters, when we had one of two failed hitching days in Europe. We spent a bonus night with our CS host in Salzburg (whom we were all slightly in love with), and started fresh in the morning. And not that I would ever be opposed to spending more time with Cassiopeia. But I just felt like it was important, in this instance, for me to move forward. I’ve grown far too accustomed to my comfort zone in the past few years. I google maps-ed it, and found a bus headed towards Chicago leaving in less than five minutes. I took a bus and two trains to get to Gary, Indiana. It cost $11.

Gary, Indiana is probably the sketchiest place I’ve ever been. The eastbound on ramp adjacent to the metro station was closed. Of course. So, I shouldered my bags and walked a mile to the nearest entrance. The houses I passed looked abandoned, but I realized that they were not, in fact. Maybe people were just terrified of their neighbors. Yikes. The people were friendly enough. But back in Oak Brook I had considered sleeping here, and that was hopefully not going to happen. This was literally the worst hitchhiking location I’ve encountered. There were two separate on ramps and there was nowhere I could stand to catch traffic from both. Indiana actually has the most strict hitchhiking laws of any state I’ve been through, and I was not interested in being picked up by the police twice. In one day, no less. Also problematic was the depressingly infrequent traffic. Literally about two cars passed every ten minutes. But I had been through a lot today, and I refused to cave in to negativity. It was dusky, the weather was nice enough, and I was here. A car stopped, and the driver took me further than he needed to in order to leave me in a decent location (it’s really refreshing when people actually consider hitchability.) It was a truck stop that was closed except for truck parking. I considered spending the night here, and trying to get a lift in the morning. All of these trucks would be here for the duration of the night. But I decided instead to walk into town, get some tea and internet, and try my luck with the interstate entrance there. Portage was grand in comparison to Gary. I scanned the area for camping spaces as I walked. There were plenty of good options. This was going to be a fine night. Starbucks is not my favorite, but it suffices in a pinch. I was happy to spend a few hours there.

The sky was black when I finally left. I had scoped out a forested area just by the interstate, but upon exiting Starbucks, I noted a small grouping of trees to my right. I checked it out and decided it would do. After feeling the ground for dampness, and deeming it satisfactory, I curled up with my backpacks and laid there for awhile before falling asleep. The frogs, crickets, katydids, cicadas, and the like were in full swing. The noise from the interstate sounded quiet in comparison. I was pleasantly surprised to see the rhythmic glow of fireflies illuminating my personal forest ceiling. Finally assured that I wouldn’t be disturbed by local hooligans or animals, I pulled out my silk sheet, slathered on some bug balm, and got a pretty decent night of sleep, really. That said, I was awake by 4:30. So I headed to the interstate and camped out in the grass of the Holiday Inn. I’ve never been keen on hitchhiking in the dark, and I didn’t want to take any chances of someone calling the police on me. So I made a breakfast of the madras lentils I had been carrying with me since Olympia, and waited until sunrise. I had known before I started out that I would end up camping somewhere, and to be honest, I was excited about it. I could do this more often.

I had to wait an hour and a half, the longest wait of this trip. Not so much as a stop headed in the wrong direction. Was this how it was going to be, eastern US? I was offered forty bucks for a bus ticket, which I declined, obviously. Finally, I heard a shout from behind me. There was a man saying he would be headed east in a few minutes. I thanked God and grabbed my bags. Not only was he heading east, he was driving all the way to Mansfield, Ohio. Half an hour from my destination! I settled in for a five hour ride. He was pretty quiet, and conversation was sparse. Even though I consider myself a mostly quiet person, I pride myself on being able to elicit conversation from people, particularly strangers. Hitchhiking and couchsurfing will do that for you. I was bomb at getting anyone to engage when I first started at TJ’s. But this guy I could only get excited about his three cats back home. Oh well, I’ve never minded silence. He had been in the military, and now worked on railroad signals. It just so happened that the exit where his road and mine split was the exit for Strongsville, which rung a symphony of bells in my mind. He was going to drop me at a gas station, but on the way I saw a promising sight: Rockne’s. I was pretty sure my uncle owned a Rockne’s in Strongsville, and I called my mom to check. He did, and it was possible that someone in my family would be working. She immediately called my aunt who ended up coming to acquire me. It had taken a lot to get here, but Ohio, here I am.

never squirrels

Megan, my CS host, was working until late afternoon. Given I had only an hour’s distance to cover hitchhiking from Minnesota, I made it to Eau Claire before noon. She had left a key hidden for me, and there was also potentially going to be a CSer from New Zealand there when I arrived. He was. His name is Peter, and this was his first time in the States. His first time off of his continent, in fact. He had come all this way to attend the Eaux Claires music festival (and here I thought Sunita and I had make quite the trek from Washington last year). He was a pretty interesting guy, rather chill, mostly quiet. I didn’t mind. Megan arrived home early and made tacos for us. We had a mostly uneventful evening, which is my preference on hitching days.

Peter and Megan were gone before I awoke the next morning. I was excited about my day in Eau Claire. This is probably the most random stop on my trip. But Sunita and I didn’t get to explore much when we were here for the festival, and I’ve been wanting to come back ever since. I walked downtown to the farmer’s market, and then meandered through the streets. I happened into a record store and decided to buy my first ever record – I don’t even own a record player! But I guess I like the idea of owning my favorite albums in vinyl. Only albums that are perfect. This first one was the self-titled album by The xx. But now I have a record to lug across the US with me. Great decision making, always. After strolling, I ended up back at Megan’s before taking a bike ride. I partook in something she said everyone should have upon visiting Eau Claire: a hot and hammy. Which is a delectable dive bar sandwich. When in Wisconsin(?). I biked around until late afternoon, through parks and over bridges. I quite like Eau Claire. Megan was home when I got back, and we went to the Lazy Monk brewery to enjoy their patio overlooking the Chippewa River. I like these tame destinations. I especially enjoyed people watching here. Eau Claire feels like a bit of an anachronism to me. It’s the type of place where small gangs of kids bike the streets without their parents; it feels small, it feels safe.IMG_4945Megan dropped me the next morning at what I felt was a strange location, but eventually  I understood why. It was a road filled with businesses, and I tried to walk past them to an actual highway, but the road turned from normal business lined street to fast interstate with no warning. I walked several miles to get to the nearest on ramp, in hopes of calmer traffic. There was calmer traffic yes, but also noticeably less traffic. I finally acquired the first in a long and tedious series of rides. This was my hardest day thus far. I definitely had to work for my miles to Geneva. There was a lot of walking, a lot of being dropped off at in-optimal exits, and a lot of patience. It did feature two notably great rides. The first was two best friends who offered for several minutes to take me to Milwaukee so I could catch a bus. When I finally convinced them I wasn’t interested, the conversation shifted to other things.

Dale: Do you tell your parents where you are?
Me: Yes.
Dale: Did you tell your parents you’re in a van with two black men?
Me: No.
Dale: Do you associate with black people?
Me [laughing]: Yes
David: Of course she does man, she wouldn’t have gotten in the car with us if she didn’t.

Around this time David gets a call, and tells what is presumably his female that he picked up a girl hitchhiking. She apparently didn’t believe him and he hands the phone to me, “tell her who you are.” I went through a conversation with this woman, explaining just why I am hitchhiking across the country. Satisfied (after reprimanding me), she asks for David and I handed the phone back. He said she was jealous. They gave me their number in case I needed anything, ran into any trouble, or was ever back in the area. They also insisted I text them upon reaching Geneva, so they would know I made it safely.

The second cool ride of the day was my first solo female. She was twenty-three, and said I just looked non-threatening (I get that a lot.) Her boyfriend called, and she, too, informed him that she had picked up a hitchhiker. I listened, amused, to her side of the conversation. He was clearly concerned, and she was enjoying taunting him from her entirely safe situation. My favorite part was the line “She’s traveling from Washington to Florida, and I’m party of her journey!” that’s exactly the spirit I hope for.

There was a handful of other rides, but the final one I’ll detail was the last. I was dropped at Cassie’s exit on I-90. On my map, I could see she lived just off Randall Road, but what I didn’t realize was that it was fourteen miles away. Ugh. I was ready to be done for the day. I walked a bit down Randall, looking for a place where cars could conceivably pull off, but knowing I had no chance. Already defeated, I stuck my thumb out and tried to pretend like I was happy and hopeful. This lasted for about ten minutes before I gave up and trudged to the 7-eleven nearby. I bought a tall, cold tea and was ecstatic about consuming it. As I was exiting the store, a man coming in stopped me. “I saw you on the street…do you need a ride somewhere?” Astounding. “Uh, yeah, I just need to head down Randall for like fourteen miles.” He didn’t even get anything at 7-eleven, he just cleared out his passenger seat for me and drove me all the way to my destination. People are the best, sometimes.

death of a comedian

I’ve been constantly surprised by how little traffic graces the roads after exiting Washington. As a hitchhiker, it’s not a good sign to see a rarity of cars passing by. I started my morning by a Love’s, which would normally be hopeful because truck stops tend to perpetuate heavier traffic. Not so, in this instance. But fortunately, somehow, there hasn’t seemed to be the expected correlation between lack of actual vehicles on the road, and lack of willing lifts. In fact, hitchhiking in this country has surprisingly amazed me even more than hitchhiking in Europe. Which I wouldn’t have thought possible. But it’s somehow different when it’s your own country. It’s easy to attribute outstanding occurrences to differences in culture. But I’ve found that when it is my country, my own neighbors, my fellow citizens, it is astonishing to me that there are so many humans ready and willing to pick up a stranger on the side of the road. I don’t understand where they all come from. But I am grateful. And humbled. And proud.

My first ride showed up within two minutes. A semi, in which I was surprised to find a tiny dog staring me down. Dale and Cujo travel the US together. They were headed all the way to I-35, where I would finally branch off of my previous, straight course of I-90. Today – should I reach my destination – would be my halfway point across the US: 1,700 miles. I was pretty stoked about having a literal lapdog for this part of the journey. Cujo vacillated between using me as a bed, and curling up in Dale’s laundry under the actual bed. Dale was a pretty candid dude, and I learned a lot more about him than I would care to submit about my own personal life. He also shared his excitement for the Minnesota/Wisconsin specific gas station Kwik Trip. I’m not usually a doughnut fan, but his enthusiasm for the freshly made blueberry doughnuts definitely piqued my interest. I made a mental note to visit this Kwik Trip place. cujoMy second ride was also a semi, this time with no puppy friend. However, my lift did have an extra relish covered hot dog which he insisted on sharing. I declined, but he did not accept my declination (I didn’t know declination was an actual word!) I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I exclusively eat hot dogs from Ikea. Piotr was Russian, from a family of five brothers and four sisters. Despite living in Minnesota for nineteen years, his accent was still rich. He took me as far as Lakeville, just south of Minneapolis. I almost declined the final lift. John was driving a dump truck, and he was in the middle of his work day. He still needed to pick up his load before heading north of Minneapolis, where I was trying to go. This sounded sickeningly familiar; I had vowed after the Rapid City>Sioux Falls journey to never get in a truck that needed to pick up a load. However, John assured me this would be quick. He was right. We drove to the site, and a man in a dinosaur-shaped tractor shoveled dirt into the truck quite speedily. When John got out to handle the paperwork, I overheard the dinosaur-tractor-man ask him, indicating in my direction, ‘what are you doin’ picking up hitchhikers?’ He didn’t realize I was an actual hitchhiker, and John didn’t correct him. My heavily-Minnesota-accented lift ended up driving way off course to get me to Anoka. Whereby he very politely offered to take me to dinner while I was in town. John has by far been the youngest lift I’ve had, probably somewhere in his twenties. But, dates have never been my scene, and I declined as gracefully as I could muster. Besides, I had other plans for my time here. I was back among family.

Brian has been one of my closest friends since middle school, but we haven’t had extensive contact in several years, since we were both living in Gainesville. Now he’s married, lives in Minnesota, has a fancy real person job, and who knows what else has changed. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to spend a few days with both Brian and Jenn. It’s weird, living far away from your best friends. Especially when they start getting into serious relationships. Like, all of the sudden they have these very important people in their lives that you don’t even know. It makes me extremely sad that I probably won’t ever get to know some of my friend’s spouses very well. Which is especially why I was excited to have this time with Jenn, who I already knew was fantastic from just one meeting. Despite the movie-nerdiness amongst us, we forewent film and spent the evening catching up. This was the first familiarity I had encountered since Spokane, and it felt so good.

I joined them for church the next day. They are super adorable and attend the traditional service, rather than the contemporary service. I’m pretty sure we were the only people under the age of sixty in attendance, which made me smile. Afterwards, Jenn headed to a baseball game in Minneapolis, and Brian and I went to see Suicide Squad, as you do. It more or less met our expectations of being exceptionally mediocre. I think the rest of the day was spent having more philosophical and fantastical and personal conversations. And making and consuming pizza. Duh. In a toaster oven, at that. I had planned on exploring Minneapolis the next day. But decided instead to have a day of rest. Which was probably the wiser option. I savored my final evening with these precious people. Morning came so soon, and I took the train with them towards Saint Paul where I was met by my cousin Ben, his wife Tricia, and their new, lively small human Leo. He had just gotten back into town the night before, and I had plans with a couchsurfer that evening in Wisconsin, so I didn’t get to spend much time with them. We went for breakfast and caught up as much as possible in a few short hours. And then we were all off in different directions. Tricia dropped me, with hesitation, at the interstate for they day’s [presumably short] journey.

The first lift was one of the most interesting I’ve had. Nils owns a photography and set construction business. He had actually created a set for the Eau Claire music festival I attended last year with Sunita. He regaled me with tales of his hitchhiking years, his time living in Australia, and his rather fascinating business. But he wasn’t going very far, and we parted ways too soon for my liking. The next ride also wasn’t going very far, and left me at a pretty poor location, really. But, I got a semi that would be going so close to Eau Claire. Still, he dropped me four and change miles out of town, and I did not feel like walking in the midday sun. He did leave me at a Kwik Trip. I indulged in some of the recommended blueberry doughnuts (which were pretty great), and was in fact quite impressed with the place overall. Who knew you could have a favorite gas station? Following my sugar boost, I found a place with a decent pulloff, and held out my thumb, not expecting anyone on this non-interstate to stop for me. However, in a matter of minutes, a very kind man pulled over and drove me [out of his way] to the very street I needed. Eau Claire, je t’aime.