Every week seems to provide endless examples of the kindness of strangers but this week we really saw how strangers can become friends in no time at all, and unfortunately how you shouldn’t count your chickens before they’re hatched…
Week Eight marked the beginning of our trip down the West Coast – the ‘second quarter’ of our journey across the north, down the west, along the south and up the east back to Boston, and we had a pretty interesting (and amazing!) welcome…
Bus driver, oh bus driver, we don’t know your name but we thank you all the same for scooping us up off the side of the road and taking us on your route into central Seattle, much to the bemusement of other paying passengers.
Joe pulled into the lay-by where we stood and hollered ‘get in!’ out the window as I ran over to find out where he was headed. It was quite the experience flying along in his Japanese import Nissan Skyline as other drivers on the road took pictures and videos of the rare, speeding car.
Stoners…one was called Texas?
The smoke pouring out from the door of the beat up old minivan would’ve made our entrance quite magical had it not been a hot rush of clambering over luggage and people and a dog that didn’t want to get off the seat. We have to thank these guys because they stopped for us… but it wasn’t our favourite ride ever, given that we only went 5 miles before the radiator gave out due to a lost cap and we were stuck on the side of the highway. The three had met each other in Fort Worth Prison and we definitely wouldn’t pass a drugs test after being in their car. Poor dog 😦
Shane has daughters our age and was terrified at the idea of them doing something similar. We tried to reassure him, but not sure he was convinced. By this point it was later in the day than we’d like (given the break down on the highway…) so we were grateful for the ride to just outside Olympia that we got from Shane. He even took us to get lunch from a supermarket so we had a whole pack of Oreos for our trip! Winning.
We were so grateful to be picked up by Shad I can’t describe it. Over two hours of waiting in the burning heat on one small patch of pavement with only one creepy man having pulled over to tell us he was going to go get his other truck and collect us but he didn’t want his girlfriend to know about it… we finally got a lift from Shad. Shad transports vehicles for people along the same stretch of road every week so was happy for the company as he drove a van to its destination. I sat on a bag between the two front seats as Shad drove us all the way to our meeting point with Andy, just outside Battleground…
Andy & Mary Todd
Where do we even start with Andy and Mary?! We met Andy hitch hiking across Montana in Week Six and he told us to get in touch when we were heading down the west coast and stay with him and his wife, Mary. We gladly obliged! That evening we ate a delicious meal around the fire pit on the deck of their house which, being built on the side of a hill, stretches out into the woods like a beautiful tree house. We drank red wine, put the world to rights and I slept in a bed under a galaxy of tiny painted glow-in-the-dark stars. Perfection. What an amazing experience to feel so completely at home with new friends you met at a gas station. The next day Andy took us to explore the beautiful sights around Battleground, for amazing smoothies and onion rings, for a HUGE lunch, for delicious coffee and to a brilliant fish hatchery with the biggest fish I’ve ever seen. When the time came for Andy “The Todd Father” Todd to drop us in Portland, there were tears in all of our eyes.
The Portland House
When the Todd Father dropped us off, our plan was to head to the eco-village we’d heard about and ask if we could pitch a tent in return for helping out. Instead of community, we were greeted with “Have you got an appointment? There’s no one you can speak to if you haven’t got an appointment.” so found ourselves trying to come up with another option on the side of the street. Couchsurfing hadn’t provided a rejection, let alone an accept, and all the hostels in the area were fully booked so couldn’t give us a bed in return for work even if they wanted to…we were a little stuck. Behind us, some guys around our age were packing and unpacking things from a minivan, so we spoke to them to see if they knew of anywhere nearby that might provide somewhere to stay. Long story short – texts were sent, discussions were had and one of the housemates, Aaron, messaged to say that he would be away all weekend and we could have his room in the house! Jackpot. It was truly amazing to experience the unquestioning trust and generosity of the house – we could stay as long as we liked and we even were given cold pressed juice and had a breakfast of coffee and donuts and home made banana bread with the wonderful Gryff and Laura! Love love love. Ian, another housemate, gave us the name of a student co-op in Berkeley that he thought we should aim to stay at when we arrived in San Francisco. All we had to do, he said, was knock on the door and say that we were friends of people at the Campbell Club…
Spring of Life Church & Regal Cinema
Now neither Lilly nor I are Godly types, but we’re both game for a little sing along in the name of free things and new experiences. The Spring of Life church was definitely a new experience. After seeing a girl wearing a ‘Free Cupcakes’ t-shirt and answering her quiz in order to receive said cupcakes (“would you like to meet God?”, “What do you think you have to do to get into Heaven?”, “On a scale of 1-10, how good are you?”) we found out that she belonged to a church that was opening on Sunday and everyone in attendance got free cinema tickets. Win! So, that Sunday morning, we dutifully set off on the four and a half mile walk into central Portland at 8am and it was wonderfullll. Free Starbucks, free cake, chats with lovely friendly people, cinema tickets…even the sermon itself was very funny. Afterwards, we booked in to see Tarzan and ate Oreos from Shane and Trail Mix from Chris back in Buffalo from Week One. (After that, we snuck in to see Captain America too. Hurrah!)
Doing the 4.5 mile walk into Portland twice a day was making us pretty hungry with sparse resources, so we took a chance at asking some of the food vendors if they had any food they were likely to throw away at the end of the evening, or if anything had burnt. The very first truck we asked, the man took one look at us and loaded a takeaway box with salad and rice and even a Dolmade. When we said thank you and asked him why, he simply smiled and said “you’re human. Why not?”.
Julie picked us up soon after we left the Portland House in her car that had just been repaired after a car smashed into the back of it. Not only was she excited about our journey, but she’d actually heard of Rob Greenfield – one of the guys we’d been following since finding out about him earlier in our journey planning – and had lived in the same town. Julie took us to the far end of town to help us begin our journey to the coast and down the 101.
I say boys because it’s alliterative and sounds nice, but really these were late-middle aged men with scruffy beards and beer bellies. They were headed to a Bluegrass Festival and agreed to take us about halfway to seaside – not before trying to convince us it would be a great idea to come to the festival instead!
After the Blugrass Boys dropped us at a gas station, we were swiftly picked up by a man in a Hawaiian shirt who made radio shows. He was only driving home but that was at least a few miles away, and he “could drop us right on the road we need for Seaside”. Sounds great, we thought and jumped in. A few minutes later we were standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere with the gift of some jingle bells, wondering if we’d actually make it by dark at this point. Bells man had been nice, but the turn off to his town wasn’t exactly a hub of activity. Still, it was sunny and we had “Seaside” written on our signs, dancing around and eating homemade banana bread leftover from Portland…
Tom & Jimi
After a good couple of hours of not very much – “Pick us up you meanies! We’re ON the road to Seaside…we KNOW you’re going our way!” – our faces showed nothing but toothy grins (with gritted teeth). Finally, after driving past then doubling back, we were picked up by Tom and Jimi – an unlikely pair who had met whilst Jimi was homeless and drunk in a bar, and to whom Tom had then gifted his credit card for the weekend. It’s actually a little hard to write about Tom and Jimi, since our good impression of them on the first day, was later given a sour after-taste. Tom had started up a pot shop – the first in Washington after it was made legal – and been very successful. He told us, fairly humbly, how it had all begun and what a whirlwind it had since been, showing us pictures of him playing ping pong with Snoop Dogg and talking about the reality TV show he was involved with. Jimi had had a lot of struggles with drugs, alcohol and homelessness, but through Tom’s friendship and help had started to get things together. They were genuinely interested in our trip, and asked questions all about how we had planned it and why we were doing it, even questioning our choice to do just 48 states and not 50.
“Alaska requires going through Canada and is pretty isolated, and Hawaii is pretty hard to hitch hike to” we’d joked, expecting an agreement and a change in subject.
“Just fly there. I’ll buy you the tickets.” Tom replied, casually as you like.
Now, we’re not stupid and we know people say things without thinking of the actual logistics (or cost) so we laughed it off and said “yeah, sure”. But he wasn’t having it. Seriously, and with more and more intensity, he repeated that he wanted to buy us the tickets and it would be his pleasure and that money wasn’t an issue – he had done well with his shop and wanted to help us make all 50 states. It was only after 20 minutes of him talking like this – and phoning his secretary to look into flight availability from Las Vegas to Juneau to Hawaii then back to Las Vegas – that we started to believe him. Could this really be happening?? We stared at each other, waiting for the other person to give the sign that they were starting to believe too. Immediately we cracked, stumbling over ourselves to repeatedly say “Are you sure?”, “Really, you can change your mind, we understand” and “Oh my god…is this real?!”. After we arrived in Seaside, once Tom had treated us to dinner, crazy golf, and a ride on the dodgems where he bought the whole session so it could just be the four of us in cars, he booked us into a hotel that overlooked the beach. We still couldn’t believe our luck but every comment we made about it being okay to change his mind, or to look at costs then make a decision, were batted down with a laugh and a confirmation that this was real, this was happening. Lilly and I walked on the beach that night unsure how to process the day that lay behind us, finally – after hours and hours of pushing from Tom and Jimi – starting to believe that we would soon be in Hawaii and Alaska and able to say we had reached all 50 states.
Suffice to say we never heard from Tom again.
Christian Conference Girl
Christian Conference Girl doesn’t have a real name because for some reason neither of us – even if our lives depended on it – can remember it. Sorry. At any rate, she happily picked us up on her way to work and took us to Cannon Beach, telling us all about how she spent summers working at a Christian conference centre that was very strict about what they did and how they acted, but that she and her friends who had done it for a few summers managed to work a way round the system to drink and smoke.
Ben & Marcella
We’d been standing on the side of the 1 (the only ‘highway’ you’re allowed to really stand on and hitch hike from) thumbs out, sun kissed, living the hitch hiking, Jack Kerouac dream. That dream only grew as Ben and his girlfriend Marcella pulled over in his pickup and told us to sit in the back. So, wind in our hair and smiles on our faces, we sat in the back of the pickup and watched the road wind behind us and the sea reach out below the cliffs to our left. Heavenly. When Ben offered to have us stay the night at his instead of pitching our tent into sand, we jumped over ourselves to accept. Ben makes furniture, hunts and cans his own food in the outskirts of Manzanita, Oregon. That evening we raided his cupboards (“I don’t have much besides what I’ve canned myself, so it’s not going to make much of a dinner”) and made a meal of home caught and canned fish, mushrooms he had foraged and brown rice with a fried egg on top. We called it Korean inspired. He called it weird. It was delicious all the same. The next morning before we left, Ben gave us a jar of amber liquid and told us his neighbour – Dave Matthews of Dave Matthews Band fame – made moonshine and gave it to his friends every Christmas. Ben doesn’t drink any more, so thought we would appreciate it instead. Though it tasted like gasoline infused whisky, he was right.
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