"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky

"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

7/9/08: Fruitland-Twin Falls, ID-Jack

I got up early again, seemingly falling back into the routine of rising between 8:15 and 8:45. I packed up to the curiosity of the many onlookers who were passing through the driveway between the Shell station and I. Then it was off for the morning ritual of coffee, and to get a feel for where I was, and GOING, in Idaho. I knew next to nothing about the state; did not even realize how close I was to Boise.

A significant thing had happened between when I'd gone to bed and gotten up in the morning. I realized that I was now OUT of Oregon, which posed a slight problem. Remember Wyoming? Destinations? Just where the hell was I going anyhow?!?! Time to try to figure that out.

I sat down in the same booth as the night before, began drinking the coffee, borrowed the Rand McNally Atlas off the rack and began looking ahead. I saw two very foreboding sights: Wyoming and, in particular, Utah.

Let me be very clear: I hate Utah.

Utah is the place where thought goes to die. I’ve heard only horror stories about Utah from those who’ve tried to get thru it, either backpacking (desert) or hitching (cops & Mormons). They, to a man, have told me to go around it, rather than set even a foot inside Utah, thereby risking being kidnapped to 1850. You risk being harassed incessantly. There is even a law on the books in some town where it is illegal to speak ill of the Mormon Church! Really? In 2008? Let’s just say it would be an act of utter desperation for me to even consider navigating Utah’s theocracy.

With this in mind, I began considering different routes. To avoid Utah and Wyoming:

* South immediately into Nevada via highway 93 toward Vegas and Bullhead City
* North immediately via 93 toward the Bitterroots into Montana & I-90 or US-12.
* Continue up 84 to I-15 into Montana, OR
* Continue up 84 to Pocatello then pick up US-30 to I-80 thru Wyoming (ugh!)

I liked the idea of US-12 because it goes all the way to Michigan through my hometown of Jonesville. Laina is returning to Michigan at the end of July to see family, and I also noticed that it crosses both the Dakotas then Minnesota and Wisconsin, before turning south to Chicago. I had put Montana, and both Dakotas on my places to go, but after realizing how much I despise being cold, I wondered how wise it would be to cross the Bitterroots and the REAL Rocky Mountains. The road south appealed a bit because it would take me to through Winnemucca (Mac) to Vegas, then I could go toward Bullhead City and Lake Meade in Arizona and hop on I-40 toward Albuquerque & Santa Fe to see Laina, bypassing the Michigan portion and heading toward the east from there. So many options.

I went round and round for a couple of hours. Money, again, reared its ugly head. I began to picture going into Montana and having something come up leaving me broke and stranded up there with the wolves and cows. (Are there cows in Montana?) A common psychological theme that would haunt me the rest of my time in Idaho. Despite the fact that every time I had needed something it would pop up, as long as I put forth the effort, I was beginning to let fear take hold.

In the end, I decided that going through the Nevada desert was a bit foolhardy, and heading north into the Bitterroots, at least at that point, did not make a lot of sense either. I ultimately concluded I was going to Montana via Pocatello. I would continue the course I was on, and set Pocatello as my destination & point of no return. I could either pick up US-12 further east in Helena, off I-15, or go back to Denver (again!) to try to make some money. I should have just rolled the dice then...

This posed some troubling questions for me. I had now opened Denver as an option, and in the interest of being honest with myself, that could potentially be a cop out and lead me back to the safety and security of Santa Fe. There were times that I felt road weary, as though I could use a break.

The troubling notion also began to sink in that, since Olema, I had become The Happy Hitchhiker. I was no more sustainable than when I left, and had lost sight of much of the philosophy and adventurous aspect (save the train) behind this. Was this just reality setting in? I had been gone nearly a month, traveled in the neighborhood of 1500 miles, and had gained a sense of method, for lack of a better term. I missed the idea of hiking across the Marin Headlands, not knowing what was ahead of me. The idea of setting off down Highway 1-- just walking. I needed perspective. Time for some self- examination.

However, not today.

I got out of the gas station and up toward I-84 at about 10:00, and it was already HOT! Scorching. The coming 100-degree heat was all the rage with everyone, so I was prepared. I’d even decided to dig out the sun screen; something I despise. I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down on the ramp and threw the thumb up. I felt cautiously optimistic considering the luck I’d had the day before after not starting until 4:00! I had sat there in the sun listening to music for about 30 minutes when the theme for the day presented itself. Ride #1.

Chris too was 37 and sold gas detectors to chemical companies. He was on his way toward Nampa, near Boise, to drop something off and said I could ride along.
He seemed very intrigued not only in the physical aspect of my trip, but the "why". He is another in the string of people who said they wished they could do something like this, but had responsibilities. Chris has three kids and a wife, so gets his adventuring fix boating, camping, and drinking beer. He is a guy who has a distinct edge to him. We are disgusted by many of the same things; materialism etc.; but he doesn’t see what he can do about it.

He pointed out something I had not thought of or had many discussions about: being afraid to pick up a hitchhiker is somewhat ridiculous. The hiker is taking more of a risk than YOU are! For example, if he tried to rob you; all you have to do is punch the accelerator to about 90 mph. What’s he gonna do? Jump? That thought would fuel my disgust later on in the week...

Chris dropped me off at a gas station in Nampa, where I briefly walked around inside then set up on the ramp again. It was getting hotter, but I was sitting in the heat for less than 5 minutes when along came ride #2.

Inside were two black guys, I believe the ONLY two black guys in Idaho, so I felt privileged to meet them. Actually, when they pulled over I felt my upbringing kick in. Apprehension. The sounds of gangsta rap were coming from the car, and they seemed to fit every stereotype Whitey has been taught to fear about blacks. In addition, he wanted me to put the pack in the trunk, which even I know is a no no.

They asked where I was going and I asked if they could get me to the other side of Boise, and since both of my Couchsurf requests had come back negative, I wanted to get thru the city. The driver, who I had seen at the truck stop moments earlier, answered that it shouldn’t matter how far if they were offering a ride. He had a point. I decided to ignore the second thinking and hopped in the back seat-- keeping my pack on my lap.

I was immediately treated to a wonderful Gangsta Rap Sing Along. I will not lie and tell you I felt completely comfortable in that car, but they just left me alone as they just rapped along to the music. I understood none of what they were saying other than the frequently used “nigga” and either “tap dat ass” or “put a cap in dat ass”. Perhaps it was both? I was laughing quietly to myself thinking of the stereotypical display before me.

These were a couple of cool people. They had just stopped off to grab a 40oz bottle of Coors. In the end, I felt like the stereotype for feeling the twinges of judgment purely at the sight of these people. I was neither beaten nor robbed, and they even shook hands and wished me well when they dropped me off. Not my best moment.

I never got their names but they did indeed drop me off on the other side of Boise, at exit 52 or 53. I went into the truck stop to use the rest room and fill up the water bottle with ice to combat the heat.

Chris had warned me early in the day to get ALL THE WAY to Mountain Home from Boise because there was next to nothing in between. That was exactly my plan when I sat down on the ramp and waited for ride #3, which showed up 20 minutes later.

Corey reminded me a bit of my friend Joey. Very flamboyant. Gay. Personable. We exchanged stories, and I believe I caught him eyeballing my ‘nether regions’ a few times. Whatever. He was a perfect gentleman (never used that phrase pertaining to MY experience), and it was blazing hot in the high desert, so I was just happy to be in the A/C getting a ride to Mountain Home. Another perfectly enjoyable ride! Corey is also the one who warned me about eastern Idaho when I mentioned I was going toward Pocatello. He described it as having as high, if not higher, LDS concentration as Utah. Great. He predicted I would have trouble finding rides out that way. He dropped me off at yet another truck stop, continuing the theme that would stay with me the rest of the way.

It was here in Mountain Home that I ALMOST hit hitchhiking's mother lode. A cross country ride. I met a kid who was moving back to Canton, Ohio that day and had been looking for someone to ride along. He had no luck, so his mother flew out to Idaho to ride back with him. He was on the way to the airport to pick her up then. That was only slightly disappointing though, I was having a good day!

After again doing a non-spending tour of the truck stop, I went to the on-ramp again and through the familiar routine. This time I was there for about 30 minutes when ride #4 came along. One of the most interesting rides, and favorite people of the entire trip.

Jack picked me up at about 2:40, saying he was going to Twin Falls to pick up parts for his farm equipment and I
could ride along. He was a farmer from Grand View who looked to be 60-65, and was very soft spoken. Almost too soft! I could understand only about half of what he said at first, but he smiled when he said it, and had a great sense of humor. I settled in for what I figured would be a nice steady, albeit slow, ride to Twin Falls: he rarely topped 55 mph.

By now, we were in the true heat of the day. It was about 100, and the temperature would begin to have its effect. Not on me, but Jack’s truck began to overheat. He pulled off at a rest stop to check the water and
acknowledged that he had checked everything BUT the water before he left Grand View, and that there was NO coolant mixed with what water there was. The radiator was almost bone dry, so he filled it up and we let it cool for 20-30 minutes while we talked and watched a biplane crop duster fly overhead. I was struck by odd feelings of nostalgia; this reminded me of my childhood for some reason, and I was growing very fond of this old coot. He had such a calm demeanor and handled everything that came along the same way. He just dealt with it, I believe I was taking mental notes, and respected that about him. I would have been closer to Rich’s end of things than Jack’s!

When we got back on the highway, we discovered that our overheating ordeal was just beginning. It got to where the truck just refused to go any further and he had to pull off to the shoulder to let it cool. This happened a few times; the truck would eventually start, and then go MAYBE 100 yards before it would stall. I was just fine with this. I had gone somewhere between 125 and 175 miles thus far, and was happy to be in the company of someone I enjoyed.
At one point, when the truck died next to a small stream, I hopped over the barbed wire fence, climbed down and doused my head and bandana with the cool water. It felt incredible. There is nothing better than a well placed river on a hot day. I remembered Rich and I thinking how great it would have been to be able to jump in one of the many streams we saw from the train, so I felt like I was making up for missed opportunities.

This went on for quite awhile. Start-stop. Start-stop. Finally, we got to Jerome, which is a little town to the north of Twin Falls. Jack stopped at a gas station to let the truck cool, refill the radiator, and douse the engine block with water to assist the cooling. The sun was now much lower in the sky and we were finally getting some relief from the heat. About now happened one of the weirdest events of the trip, although I would not realize it at the time, at least not past the sense of a lost opportunity.

A minivan pulled in overheating. Inside were a mother and two kids, one of which looked to be 19 or 20. They seemed friendly, if a bit annoyed by their car’s issues. Through conversation, I had learned that they were going to Pocatello on their way back from Washington. The perfect chance to finish this stretch of Idaho in ONE day! However, I did not bother to ask for the ride. Why? They seemed friendly enough, had enough room . . .and I had Jack standing right there as a hitcher’s reference! I just could not do it. I don’t know why—to this day. I should have. I would be reminded, starkly, in just a few days.

Jack’s truck eventually cooled enough and he had decided to go to Walmart for coolant. I was quite happy with that since that meant I could grab some more cheap canned goods. I rode along, got my stuff, and we arranged where he would drop me off: a Flying J near the interstate and well north of the city.

Jack seemed sorry to end this little adventure, and I was too. He was a terrific man. He even seemed to feel bad that it had taken so long to get there, and wondered aloud what I would say about it in the journal. I told him I would say this: A genuinely nice man stopped, picked me up and we had a perfectly enjoyable afternoon getting to Twin Falls despite his truck overheating. It is telling about Jack that the afternoon was so enjoyable despite all of that; the comparison to Rich and his whining did not escape me! We finally got to the Flying J at something like 8:00, shook hands, and I again told him how much I had enjoyed the day. By now, I think the compliments were making him uncomfortable!

From the Jerome Flying J, I had visions of catching a truck, so I sat on a bench out back where the drivers fueled and went inside. No luck with the ride, but I did find out from an employee that there was a staffing service in Jerome, SOS Staffing that was desperate for english speaking temp help. That sounded appealing; the same way La Grande sounded appealing. I wrote down the directions and figured I would try to call them the next day. I also chatted up the restaurant manager discovering a place to sleep for the night, in a picnic area next to the building out in the open, much like the place in Fruitland.

Another event of note: the stupid looking sunglasses that I
had bought in Ft. Morgan finally died. They had been through a lot, so I gave them a decent ashtray burial.

With all that settled, I went inside and began a massive update in my written journal. I spent 3-4 hours in the café writing and drinking the free coffee refills while being forced to listen to Fox News. It occurred to me at that point, when I began to not-so-quietly tell Sean Hannity what I thought of him, that I had watched next to NO TV since I left, and that my tolerance was now zero for the fabricated, prepackaged selling of bullshit. I will mercifully spare you that rant. For now.

I headed out to my little nesting area, and on the way ran into the first fellow backpacker I had seen on the trip. I forget his name, but he was coming from the east, from the Rainbow Gathering at Medicine Bow in Wyoming. He told me a dramatic horror story about walking 25 miles through eastern Idaho completely unable to get ANYONE to stop, echoing what Corey had told me earlier. He had finally stumbled across a trucker at a rest area who had brought him, and his dog, to Twin Falls.

He told me to be sure that I got ALL THE WAY THROUGH TO AT LEAST POCATELLO! I heeded the warning and told him about the picnic area. He said he had gotten his second wind and wanted to keep going so we parted ways. I set up my humble little nest, put on some music and dozed off. I woke up in the middle of the night to "eliminate" excess coffee  and, to my surprise, saw him and Norma Jean curled up in his sleeping bag nearby. I guess he didn’t get out of there. I never did talk to him again; he was gone before I got up.