I ran into my nameless trucker friend from Kentucky almost immediately. He was still hanging out, waiting to hear when he could drop his load and move on. We did not discuss a ride, or much of anything beyond the usual pleasantries.
I also ran into Richard the Racist again. We chatted for a bit, and he offered me another pack of smokes and handed me $5 unexpectedly. My spending habits had changed drastically since the US-30 ‘Come to Jesus’. I had spent money on nothing but coffee since Saturday. Richard’s $5 had more than replaced that, and again I was struck by the generosity. He was getting ready to head to Soda Springs, and then Rexburg and I revived my efforts to convince him that a ride would be a wise career move. No luck there! With a handshake, he was off.
I lingered at the table for a couple of hours updating the journal, drinking coffee, and in the end finally decided to replace the atlas that had been lost in Cambria, CA. They had the 2008 Atlas on clearance for $4, and with the money Richard had just given me, it seemed like a wise investment considering I’d paid $5 for only an Idaho map a few days before.
Shortly after noon, I’d had enough of the table. I’d not gotten anywhere with the potential ride with "Kentucky", and thought it was time to try the road. I had by now come to terms with returning to Denver. There was motivation in the fact that I may be able to work and put some money away for a week or two while sitting on the cash I still had, thereby preparing for August in a way that would leave no chance of reliving recent monetary dramas! Plus, it was becoming apparent that I needed time to process everything, not to mention (as I mention) the memory card in the camera getting full and the online journal needed a massive update. An opportunity to "pull things together." The self- expectations had waned with the shift in perspective back to that of a "passenger".
I found some cardboard and made a couple of signs, one saying “Cokeville, I-80, Cheyenne” then hunkered down in the sun at the Flying J entrance not sure what to expect. People drove by, came then went, and I sat there with a serene calm that had been missing for a few days. I had missed that!
At about 2:00, I heard a voice behind me trying to get my attention asking where I was trying to get. The voice belonged to an apparently gregarious, outgoing driver--who, because of my headphones, seemingly came out of nowhere. I told him I was trying to get toward Denver and asked where he was going. He said toward I-80, then all the way to West Virginia and that I could ride with him if I liked.
Ken looked at me as though he was taken aback by my joy as I said the first of a few hundred thank yous. I stowed my pack, and made a quick trip inside to use the restroom, say goodbye to my new cashier friend and to let her know I’d finally found a way out of there.
Ciel had never made it back and I realized, to my lasting disappointment, that I had not gotten a picture of her or thanked her properly for her conversation. Sometimes the seemingly most insignificant things can have an incredible effect other people, and we will have no clue. I am sure she had no idea what that little talk meant to me.
Then Ken and I were on the road: east on US-30 toward Wyoming. I was finally seeing the places I had noticed on the map. Lava Hot Springs, Soda Springs, and eventually the Wyoming state line, and Cokeville: the next Flying J I had set as an intermittent goal if I ever got a lift out of McCammon. I also finally got a chance to see the terrain changing as we moved east. I had considered walking out of McCammon eventually and could now see that it would not have been that bad… yet.
Ken and I got along very well. We didn’t struggle to keep conversation going at all. He was one of the surprisingly small numbers of black truckers that I had seen come through and he made the same observation I had: Idaho is quite white bread. He said he was from Tampa, Florida and had a 20-year-old son back home, which surprised me because he looked closer to my age than he really was. We’re both blessed with looking a lot younger than we really are!
This ride began to remind me of my ride out of Wyoming with Cesar back in May. As we crossed from Idaho into Wyoming, I breathed a sigh of relief and felt a sense of accomplishment. I had gotten out of Idaho and was now back in Wyoming. I cannot say that there was any previous longing to return, and since we had not discussed how far I was going with him, I had visions of hitching through Rawlins again soon! Looking at the terrain of western Wyoming however made me thank Ken again. Nothing but the kind of desert that reminded me of Nevada and Utah. No settlements. No water. No anything! Not the kind of place you want to find yourself stranded.
After a few hours, there was I-80 again. From here it was a straight shot east to Cheyenne. Somewhere along the way, Ken asked me how far I wanted to go. I had left that open to him, and figured I would go as far as he was comfortable. I answered something to that effect, and said I would probably go all the way to Indianapolis if he’d let me! To my utter shock, he indicated that he would.
This triggered a flood of scenario building in my head. I’d not even considered it a remote possibility that I’d be getting that far east that quickly. I began to think about where exactly I’d go if I got to Indiana. Laina's trip home was still 2 ½ weeks away. As I considered the developments, the irony was not lost on me that I had gone from vagabond pauper to hitting the Hitchhiker Lotto in a day.
Soon, things started looking familiar. We passed the exit where Doug and I had joined I-80 back in May, and Ken was planning to stop in Rawlins to get us showers. That made me laugh! No matter what, it was going to be Rawlins! Unfortunately, there were no showers in Rawlins so he continued toward Laramie passing the T/A I’d visited before. In retrospect, I was feeling nostalgic. Isn’t it funny how things that seem to be obstacles today trigger the most emotion and the best stories later? File that one away.
He was at the end of his allotted drive time for the day, so had to stop for the night. He knew where the Flying J was located in Cheyenne, just south of I-80 on I-25; the road to Denver. There were no showers here, so Ken decided that we’d stop in Nebraska the next morning to clean up; crashing in Cheyenne for the night.
As cool as it would be, I’d begun to seriously question the wisdom of continuing on to Indiana. I had no idea where I would stay for 2 weeks, or if I even wanted to. It would make getting from west to east infinitely easier, but maybe too easy.
I decided to call Laina and Friar Chris to discuss it. Chris divulged that he and Angela were going to New York City the third week of August and suddenly I had a possible destination if I were to continue east. I could just meet up with them, then continue to Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, then reverse course and go down the Atlantic Coast from there.
From Cheyenne it’s a quick 90-mile stretch to Denver through Ft. Collins. From Denver, I could go back to Santa Fe, see Laina and thereby eliminate Michigan all together if I chose to. And…I could find a way to stash some money. This plan came together with almost no effort, which is usually an indication that it is a good plan!
I felt kind of bad turning down Ken’s offer, but I simply was not prepared for it. What I was prepared for, however, was hiking up to the I-25 ramp to find a ride that night, figuring Ken had done enough and I should let him have his space. To my shock, he grabbed the atlas and concluded that it would be just as easy for him to get to West Virginia via I-70—from Denver—as it would be via I-80. He said he would be happy to drop me in Denver in the morning and that I could have the other bunk in his cab. Really? Really.
McCammon to Denver: ONE ride.
Another driver that I’d become good friends with.
Idaho suddenly made a lot more metaphysical sense.
We got to bed rather quickly and, after sleeping on the ground and on trains for the past week, the bunk felt like a fluffy little cloud! I passed out, and slept like a stone. Obviously, my early optimism for the day was well founded, and this leg of the trip was about to end. I knew I needed time to process it all, and my reaction to re-entering ‘society’ would surprise even me.