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.

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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.

psiouxdo patience

I was standing on the side of I-90, my faithful friend these past few weeks, by 8am. The sky was overcast, and the morning was windy. A welcome change from the eastern heat I’d been traveling into. Rapid City saw me standing there for nearly an hour, slowly losing the hitchhiking confidence I’d been building up since the commencement of this trip. In Europe it was longer, but I think in the US about half an hour is the point where your hopefulness drops from Full like a balloon with a slow leak. Or maybe an air mattress – even more depressing. Anyways, I retired my thumb and made a sign for Sioux Falls, my destination on the other side of the state. A blue semi pulled over nearing my hour mark, and my spirits returned instantaneously. “I have to pick up my load, but I’m headed for Sioux Falls,” the driver said, when I climbed up and peered into the window. I hesitated. It was only about a four-and-a-half hour journey. How long could picking up a load actually take? I figured maybe an hour. And hey, new experiences. Probably largely because I was sick of this particular section of highway (and because certainty is enticing), I grabbed my bags and hopped in. A decision I would regret for the duration of the day.

What my lift had failed to mention was that his load was back in the opposite direction, in Spearfish, SD. Which added about an extra three hours of driving to our journey. Upon arriving at the lumberyard, we found out the man who was to load our truck had just left for his lunch. He didn’t return for at least forty-five minutes. And then he had to load thousands of pounds of lumber onto the truck. And then it needed to be strapped down. And then we had to weigh it, to make sure we weren’t overweight. And then came the tarping process, for which I was recruited. All in all, it was almost three more hours. My nice, easy, four-and-change hour journey turned into a thirteen hour ordeal. I was not making it to the barbecue my CS host in Sioux Falls was hosting.lumberWe passed alternating endless fields of corn, wheat, sunflowers, soy, and something neither of us recognized. I have to say, since I was with him so long, I didn’t feel bad about taking time to read. I don’t usually get much reading time when I travel, but I’m about a fourth of the way through Cloud Atlas. It was nice, reading and not having to put effort into interacting (for twelve hours.) We didn’t stop even once after leaving Spearfish. Not for food, not for the bathroom. He booked it to Sioux Falls, and even forged his records so we could make it that night. Travis, the truck driver, dropped me at the edge of Sioux Falls, and Travis, the CS host ducked out of his barbecue to acquire me. We arrived back to a circle of people in the parking lot of his downtown apartment. There was a ton of food waiting and I partook with feeling. We had a rather late night, and I felt drowsy long before we turned in. But I was glad to have arrived.sunflowersTravis happened to have off on my full day in Sioux Falls. He’s an outdoorsy fellow, so we headed for the water. He had a kayak, to which he tied an inflatable raft. I had it pretty easy, because he did all of the paddling and I just kicked back and got a summer’s worth of sun. We were on the Missouri river, and we were positioned loosely between South Dakota and its dastardly neighbor Nebraska. The current tried its best to get us closer to the latter, but we had no intention of crossing the watery state line. For hours we had warm sun and cool water, but quite suddenly grey started overtaking the sky. Travis started the against-the-current paddle back towards shore. Not so far along, the life jacket fell off my raft and beyond my reach. I shouted a quick ‘hold up’ before sliding off to retrieve it. Travis hadn’t heard me, and was paddling further away. My first instinct was to whistle, but between giggling about being left behind, and trying to swim after my departing vessel, I couldn’t form the sound. So I switched to shouting. Alas, my voice couldn’t carry over the distance and the speakers playing the usually perfect sounds of The Tallest Man on Earth. I couldn’t stop giggling in order to swim effectively, and so I eventually donned the life jacket and hung out until he noticed I was missing. It took awhile. He was nearly back to shore when I could see the small figure of his kayak turning back. Reunited, I relayed what had happened, and he shared the utter fear he had felt at the realization that he had quite possibly just drowned his couchsurfer*. He had to rest for a bit before we could continue, and in the meantime a squall kicked up. He had his work cut out to get us back, and powerless to help on my little raft, I curled into the smallest ball against the cold and rain.

After warm showers and sushi, we strolled through downtown Sioux Falls, to its namesake. The falls were nicer than I expected. Wide, multi-leveled, sprawling waterways formed a beautiful location for sunset. But we didn’t stay long, instead we retired early for a classic film, The Thin Man, and then I slept superbly after an active day of sun and water.

In the morning Travis drove me to my hitching location, and hopefully a day of better decision making than the previous portion of my travels.

*come to find out, this wasn’t his first almost-drowning-of-a-couchsurfer. I had encountered a serial drowner, if you will. siouxfalls

two hour sandwiches

I didn’t spend a lot of time in downtown Bozeman. Despite it easily being one of the most fondly favored cities in America. But I rather enjoyed my days nestled into a cabin in Bear Canyon. Pam works on the trails in the area, and I just happened to request her couch (presence) on her off week. This was her first couchsurfing experience, which I was excited about because I wanted to do my damnedest to make it stellar. However, in this Pam was prepared to beat me profusely (by being a more superb host than I was a guest).

Upon dropping my stuff at the house she and her friend Richard took me for another outing of pizza and beer. Immediately producing pizza for a guest is pretty much the best possible situation. We sat outside on a balcony with a beautiful view of the Bridger mountains and spent a few hours getting excited about each others respective lives. Pam was already prepared with ideas for how to spend her days off, my visit in Bozeman, and our time together. Our first stop was the S.L.A.M. festival, which was the free option of the two music festivals happening in Bozeman at the same time. There is no television in the cabin, so we spent our just-before-bed hours listening to music and enjoying the presence of the people we were with. It’s so nice to actually be entirely where you are. No distractions in time or space, just a steady here-ness.

Pam, Richard, and I went out for breakfast and a stroll through downtown the following morning. After which we took her dog, Obi-Wan, to the most beautiful dog park I’ve ever seen. We spent a lot of time discussing plans for the evening, and ultimately narrowed it down to hot springs, or the neighbor’s hot tub (if there were no airbnb guests). The latter won, and we spent the evening watching the sun set behind the mountains, the stars slowly appear, and bats fill the air around us. I had only requested to stay with Pam for two nights, but I ended up staying another, which was fine by me. We had a giant homemade breakfast and a not-especially-successful berry foraging outing (I did get my fresh Montana huckleberries). The remainder of the day was spent slowly making ceviche and chatting. Pam is one of those people that I pretty instantly wanted to be good friends with upon meeting. You know how you just get excited about some people? Pam is like that, she is one of those humans I am proud of, just for existing. Despite only knowing her for three days.IMG_4900I usually try to start hitchhiking at 8am, or 9am at the latest. Both because I think there’s better traffic earlier in the day, and because the weather is nicer. I awoke at 7:45 and had everything packed and ready to walk out the door by 8. Pam offered to make breakfast sandwiches and I agreed to yet more of her generous hospitality. Pam’s heritage is Mexican, and you can see it in the time she takes to prepare and eat meals. It is an enjoyed process, rather than an activity to be gotten through. And in the way that talking becomes more important than doing. We stopped halfway through to enjoy a coffee and a tea. I think a few years ago I would have started getting anxious about not leaving when I had planned to. But I’ve learned a decent amount of calm in the past several years, and I’ve also made people my priority. I gave my time and attention to our morning’s conversation, and it was full and rich and intimate and irreplaceable.

Pam dropped me at the edge of the interstate, closer to Bozeman. I was situated on a slight hill, and the land all around was flat. I could see for miles. It took me an hour to get a lift, which I at first felt a little rustled about, but then I realized how short of a wait that is in the vast world of hitchhiking. I’ve gotten spoiled in the past week. Finally, a bright blue car pulled up headed for Livingston. Upon settling in, I was offered a twinkie, and politely declined. My lift hailed from Pennsylvania originally, and when I asked why he had relocated to Montana his response was ‘crime.’ I thought he was trying to make a funny joke about how he came to escape or pursue a life of crime. But actually he had been a police officer. Apparently he had specialized in cross dressing to catch purse snatchers. Which I didn’t know was a thing, but I guess it is. After he dropped me in Livingston I had barely stuck my thumb out before a black truck pulled over and took me as far as Billings. The man was an electrical engineer working on a new school in North Dakota. He also had a degree in aeronautical/astronautical engineering and had done that for awhile. No big deal. My final ride of the day was my first semi of the trip. A couple. Debbie moved to the back so I could sit in the front. They were from Missouri, and their accents proved it. The ride was filled with sugar and cigarettes as we cycled through conversation and comedy sketches. We passed a university in Lame Deer called Chief Dull Knife College, which we all found amusing (and you can bet there was a volley of ‘not the sharpest tool in the shed’ jokes.) We hit a black sky and heavy wind and rain before the most vibrant, full rainbow I’ve ever witnessed appeared. Debbie and I nerded out over it and took a billion pictures. Five hours later, they let me off at my exit and I felt like I had lost a bit of short-term family. So it goes…rainbowIII

1903

I had researched hostels in Riga before leaving London. But upon arriving via my budget airline at one in the morning, I promptly decided not to deal with checking into a hostel tonight. I would sleep at the airport until the buses started running and deal with it then. Upon finding a long bench in a dark corner, I somehow further decided not to sleep at all. My sleep schedule has been nonexistent for weeks anyways. So what is one extra night of no sleep?

Riga greeted me with a cool 10°c. Crisp enough to see my breath! My 7am bus journey boasted a fiery pink sky morning. Riga is an attractive city. I had been told this a few times in the past few days, by probably the only people in my life I’ve ever met who have been to Latvia (as well as some of the few who didn’t immediately query me ‘where’s Latvia?’) Still, I was surprised by it. I was first caught by the elegantly sculpted, softly colored buildings in long clean rows. These stretching down wide streets and wide sidewalks (a novelty compared to the cramped sidewalk space I had begrudgingly grown accustomed to in Asia). In general everything seemed tidy and well kept. Perhaps it was the early hour, but even the people about Riga seemed to go orderly about their business. It feels different here than other places in Europe. Maybe this is the Myanmar of the EU?

The hostel I had bookmarked wasn’t stirring yet at this hour of the morning. I sat on some benches across the street and people watched. Kids going to school; teenage boys on bikes, all of whom refrained from ever touching their handlebars; clusters of silent people waiting for buses; and older women smoking at the street corners. Finally I sought out tea. I’m always a little nervous in new countries about just spewing English at people. I don’t want to be presumptuous about other people knowing my language. But then Latvian wasn’t really a language option in school. My perusings on couchsurfing more than hinted that the residents here had a more than firm grasp of English. Anyways. The quintessential young, attractive barista greeted me in Latvian and following my timid request for tea switched fluidly to a beautifully accented English. Why can’t America be more concerned about learning other languages?

Just past eleven I finally checked into the hostel. I was informed that I had thirty-eight minutes to make it to the old city for a free walking tour. So off I went. A small, quiet voiced local was our guide. You could tell she was proud of her city. She took us, among other places, to the central market, the Daugava River, and the building known as Stalin’s birthday cake. It was a decent tour, and I was glad to have caught it the first day. However, afterwards I returned to the hostel. After over twenty-four hours of no sleep, I needed rest.

For dinner I found something called ‘cold soup’, which tastes like borscht with tzatziki mixed into it. In other words, incredible. I ate this in a nearby park as the sun set. Afterwards I strolled through the darkening city as slowly the windows and streetlights lit the city. Despite my nap earlier in the day, I retired early. My hostel room has a big window with a wide ledge. I made myself a cup of tea, pulled out the stroopwafels I had found in Rimi, and perched six stories over the city.  

veidt

sleeping IIIKastrup airport is a quiet place at night. The silence is so thick in fact, that I felt the need to check whether it was open all night. It was. So, reassured, I found a group of benches already pushed together and claimed it as my bed for the night. It stayed quiet well into the morning. Kastrup smells infuriatingly of cinnamon rolls in the morning. Delicious (I suppose) and unjustifiably expensive from an American’s standpoint. I did buy a [delicious] sandwich (Copenhagen wins best airport food) for my breakfast.

The contrast of Copenhagen to my previous environment was apparent in more ways than one. For starters the brown bag sandwich that cost six meals worth of southeast Asia fare. Another was how…clean everybody was. I felt horribly under dressed and unkempt compared to the slim clothing lines and tidy haircuts of my fellow airport humans. I also realized I was the only one in the entire airport occupying the floor. No more Thais sleeping on bamboo mats on floors of trains, no more Vietnamese squatting on their stoops. Nope, everything clean and orderly and first class. I was out of place. I hadn’t been, at this same airport, at the beginning of this trip. But time and experiences change you. In ways you don’t understand while you are experiencing them. I really do believe it takes going back, to realize the ways in which you have shifted.

Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.”

I believe the veracity of that. It holds as true for traveling as for anything else. You spend all this time having these great adventures and meeting interesting people and seeing these incredible sights and trying new foods. Inevitably the end of your trip arrives and you return to whatever your normalcy is. But…the journey you’ve completed hasn’t actually ended. You collect all of these experiences in your being. And you are transformed. The things you have witnessed, the people with whom you have shared time and exchanged ideas, and even the foods that have passed through your body are not trapped in some past moment. They are a permanent part of your self.

Sometimes these endless manifestations take tangible form. Like adapting your cooking and eating habits; such as beans on toast becoming a comfort food, having noodle soups for breakfast, or developing an addiction for Crabbie’s. Or maybe you’ve been captured by the market or the motorbike culture, and you incorporate that into your life back home.

a + b = c

Sometimes though, in forms less tangible. In ways which entwine themselves irrevocably into your thinking, and in manners that will ever dictate your actions. There are scars of permanence that cannot be traced, they merely exist.

? + ? = c

Nothing ever ends.sunsetThe whole process of flying back continent by country by city was mind numbing and tiresome. Blessedly uneventful, though. I arrived back safely in my home state of Washington to a near perfect Pacific Northwest sunset and the beautiful sight of these two faces.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA