Tuesday, March 19, 2013
So here's the skinny....
I went on a little UrbEx jaunt with a kind fellow here in Austin, to check out the view from a roof which presents a nice shot of the Austin skyline, as well as the river, downtown, etc. Amidst our discussion on serendipity and the idea of simply going with the flow of life, I jumped on Craigslist. Immediately I spotted an ad titled "Drive my car to Montana." Now, I happen to know that it is spring skiing season, and Montana is a great place to be, so I called. Sure enough, he'll reimburse for gas, and I'll drive a late-model VW Passat from Austin, TX to Missoula, MT. Once the details were flushed out, I started planning...
Quickly I found two others in need of a ride, as far as Denver. Exchanging texts and emails, we arranged to meet, eventually including a third who these two intrepid travelers had also met on Craigslist. Everything was working out.
Yesterday morning I set out from my friend's apartment, to meet up with my three riders at a coffee bar and to get a feeling for them. Along the way, I received a phone call from a Canadian gentlemen who had also responded to the original (drive-my-car) craigslist ad, and is interested in getting back to Victoria. He had been informed that the fuel was paid for, though was willing to chip in a bit for food etc. I informed him of my current situation, and that I would have to call him after meeting with the other folks whom I had approached first.
I met two of the three at the coffee shop, and we hit it off immediately. After a bit of food and drink, I proposed that we head down to a local swimming hole which was supposedly closed. Having just swam there a few days ago, I was certain that we would be able to. I phone the Canadian, but he was unable to head down there (not a good sign). Unhindered, we walked down to Barton Springs, and jumped in the water.
Soon enough, the third rider showed up, and a merry time was had by all. Along with another gentleman, who happened to swing by and drop off his guitar for safekeeping (completely randomly), we spent the day swimming, chatting, relaxing, and generally enjoying life. Post-swim, we hit up a small bar, enjoyed some beers, and continued chatting with some other friends (including the guitar-toting guy, who suggested the bar) and enjoying each other's company. I have now been tipped off as to a pretty awesome tour company running boats up and down the Lynn canal in Alaska, and will be applying with them for a summer job...Not exactly Europe, definitely not Honduras, but y'know what?
It sure sounds fun...
Sunday, March 17, 2013
The punks split up into groups to go jug (ask) for gas. Armed with gas cans and well-used signs, they stormed the various gas station in the area, occasionally returning to the weather-worn Winnebago to deposit their spoils into the hungry gas tank. One last quick stop at Taco Bell, and we were underway.
The sun had set, the music was blaring, and the air was thick and heavy with the haze of cigarette smoke. I was probably the only one in the vehicle without a lit cigarette in hand, a fact made somewhat tolerable by the broken right-side window, which howled as we rolled down the highway and circulated plenty of much-needed fresh air. Occasionally lurching and surges of power kept everyone on a slight edge, with only the driver and copilot mildly aware of what was happening with the gauges. The next day I would learn that the voltmeter was steadily dropping, and the engine thermometer was "freaking out" and trying to free itself of it's rotational bonds. We stopped twice to pick up more fuel (out came the gas cans), with our third attempt thwarted by a group of local, county, and state police vehicles parked across the street. I don't know what kind of records any of these folks had, and was just as glad to be away from the police out of concern that I might be grouped in with whatever misdemeanors they may have perpetrated.
Around midnight, we rolled into a WalMart parking lot, everyone spilling out to use a clean bathroom, refill water, and relax for the evening. A brief discussion was held on the state of the battery, with various options from having it checked to running a scam on WalMart all considered. I did not burden myself with the details, figuring that it would all be flushed out in the morning with clearer minds and daylight. Beds were pulled out, bodies were crushed together, and apparently everyone had a rough, squished night's sleep. Everyone, that is, but me. As the last one in, I was given a spot on the floor, where I unrolled my sleeping bag and fell fast asleep. I slept like a rock, perfectly content, and aside from occasionally stirring to ensure that nobody had fallen on me (one of the dogs curled up with me for a bit), I had a good night...
I awoke the earliest, estimating the time to be around 8AM. I looked around, and seeing everyone else sound asleep, I unlocked the door, wandered into the store, and bought myself some fruit and yoghurt for breakfast. After washing my face and combing my hair, I returned to the RV, only to find the door locked, and the dog who had so friendly curled up next to me the previous evening barking in alarm at my prescense. Deterred, I walked away, wondering how long it might take for the others to wake from their slumber.
An hour or so later, I was still wondering. I stretched, did some qi gong, walked around, and generally entertained myself inside of my own mind. Eventually the others woke, and the state of RV was discussed. The battery was removed and brought to the tire shop, where it was pronounced dead- too dead to even test, I was told by the girls who it had brought it over there. I reached a hand down to feel the alternator, and gave it a quick spin. A moment or two later, I realized that it should not, in fact, be free-spinning. Grabbing my headlamp, I shimmied under the front end, looking straight up at the engine block. Sure enough, the accessory belt was in two pieces, hanging off some tubing caught in the engine compartment. I extracated the belt, slid out from underneath the vehicle, and showed it to the others. Suddenly the battery problems, the overheating, and the erratic behavior of the vehicle from the night before all became quite clear. A passing mechanic quickly showed us where to loosen the alternator to set the tension on the belt after it was installed. Discovering that there was an auto parts store only four miles down the road, we switched to the back-up "house" battery and drove over. A new belt was purchased, and the two boys cursed, sweat, and grunted as they installed the new belt. I investigated the old belt, not desiring to voice my concerns over the apparent lack of wear on it (compared to everything else in the vehicle). I have a sneaking suspicion that the problem is deeper than just a belt, but I was hopeful that the vehicle would at least make it to Austin, where the punks had mentioned a mechanic friend who would overhaul the vehicle properly. No sense worrying anyone in the meantime.
Once again, we were underway, a mere twenty miles from Texas. I indulged in a small treat given to me upon my exit from New Orleans, content to sit back and relax as we rolled down the road, the omnipresent mixture of wind, smoke, pounding hip-hop and girls working on craft projects surrounding me.
Traffic on I-10 was hell, and it was starting to get quite hot out. Naturally the RV did not like this, and performance started to suffer. With traffic unmoving, we pulled into a crowded gas station to relax and let the engine cool off a bit, hoping that the snarl would die down. A half hour later, it was unchanged, and we endeavored to make our way across this last stretch of Louisiana. Slowly but surely we entered Texas, making our way to our eventual destination of Austin and the SXSW festival.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
The ramp was clear and wide, with a great pullover lane and a healthy but not overwhelming volume of traffic. I had stood for perhaps five minutes when a large pickup pulled over, the driver signaling for me to hop in. We were speeding away by the time I got to the "where are you heading?" question, by which time it was too late.
"That's a terrible spot to hitch," he told me, "the cops are bound to pick you up and harass you right there. I'll drop you somewhere better..." Those words are always a heavy gamble, even from former hitch-hikers themselves...I never know if they will drop me in a killer location, or a location to be killed. When he pulled over on the last ramp out of Kenner, on the last place before the bridge out of the island-ish swap of lower Louisiana, I thought I was in trouble. Nonetheless, I stood my ground, held my sign, smiled, and generally tried to ignore the slum-like conditions surrounding me.
Perhaps 45 minutes later, a minivan with two roofers pulled over. They told me to hop in, and informed me that they were headed to Baton Rouge. With food and drink, we cruised along nearly seventy miles to the city of Baton Rouge.
Unfortunately, they were not actually going *in* to Baton Rouge, but departing the interstate just before the city. I looked at my map, and was horrified to discover that there did not appear to be any sort of pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi River...and the next bridge to the north was four miles from downtown, nearly a mile across, and another four miles back south to the interstate. I found a bus stop with a bus headed for downtown, and waited for the bus. And waited. And waited. Eventually I caught a bus to LSU, thinking that this may be a decent place to hitch-hike a lift at the very least across the river. Boy was I wrong! In a final act of frustration, I decided to simply walk across the bridge, facing traffic, assuming that the odds of A) getting arrested B) falling off the bridge and C) getting run over would be fairly low during afternoon rush-hour traffic. I asked a few locals as I passed, and they seemed to confirm my suspicions, although I am not entirely sure that they were speaking a dialect of English with which I am familiar.
That was one big sucker bridge. The one-foot concrete ledge, with three eight-inch steel pipes stretching up at high as my waist, did not exactly inspire significant confidence in the safety of my endeavor. Undeterred, I ventured out, slowly meandering my way across the mighty Mississippi. With one hand on the tallest pipe, the other tucked into the right side of my body as tight as I could, I strode across this impressive span, leaving the East behind me and eventually descending into the West.
West Baton Rouge is not a real town, in the way one normally thinks of a town. There are a number of shipping and trucking facilities, as well as a few gas depots and a mini-mart. Perhaps if I had explored more, I would ahve discovered something more significant to the town. Instead, I continued on my journey, walking right down the side of I-10, thumb out, smile in my hand, simply happy to be able to continue my journey in relative safety. I knew from my research that there would be a series of truck stops at the second exit after the bridge, a simple four mile walk from where I had touched back on solid ground. Over an hour without finding a ride, fast-food dining options and truck stops in sight, I strode into the modern-day way-station for travelers heading west...
My journey was not quite yet complete. In an effort to save myself walking an extra two hundred feet or so, I spotted a large hole in a fence, on the other side of a small muddy brook. It appeared to be only a foot or so wide, and so with a mighty leap, I gapped the divide. Well, my right foot did. Upon landing, my left food, lagging slightly behind my right, sank down to the ankle in mud. This was the last straw. With the sun setting, my foot muddy and wet, my back sore and my body tired, I decided to grab a quick bite to eat and camp out of the night, trying out my fortunes the next day. Shrugging off my pack, I picked out a fresh pair of socks, attempted to scrape the mud off of my shoe the best I could, and relaxed. No sooner was I barefoot then an RV pulled up, with two dudes in the front seats, looking very much like a pair of traveling punks. "You hitchhiking?" they inquired. A twisted smile crossed my face. They pulled over, and four beautiful women, two dogs, and two crusty punks all piled out of the vehicle.
Gotta love that karmic fate thing...
(Part 2: Vanarchy to come later)
Monday, March 11, 2013
Saturday, March 9, 2013
last night was a lot of fun. I started by completely missing a free NOLA Brewery tour with some Couchsurfers, wandered in to Handome Willy's (A pub), and the very same surfers were sitting there. I am not inclined to try crawfish (at least not yet), but I had a fair bit of fun watching three people educate somewhat squeamish guy as to how to eat boiled crawfish. I kept to the hot dogs and grilled cheese (free, at the bar), along with some good beers and cider.
A car somewhat magically appeared for me outside of the bar around 7, and I was wisked away to a pretty cool theatre performance in the company of a new friend. The play was a lot of fun, about three college friends going through life, and helped to remind me of what I am NOT missing by wandering the world.
The rest of the evening consisted of music, food, dancing and drinks, topped off with some intense and intelligent conversation around healthcare, technology, the state of the city of New Orleans, and much more. I wandered home around 3AM, to find my friend sleeping on the couch I had been crashing on. My sleeping pad has never felt quite so comfy.
Friday, March 8, 2013
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
A few miles down the road we stopped for fuel, shortly after entering Alabama. While Hammer fueled and wiped down his windows, I strolled around the back, inspecting his cargo. A massive natural-gas motor was strapped down to a flat cargo trailer, complete with a rear blower fan and mounted dynamo. It was one impressive piece of machinery. Upon returning to the cab, Hammer,presented me with a selection of snacks, apparently rescued on their way to the garbage. A group of wrapped burritos was being thrown out because someone had decided that they did not want them, but they had already been cooked. I ate one gladly.
We rolled clear through the night, after some confusion about which highway was to be taken west of Montgomery. By the time the sun had set, we were rolling down highway 80, a two lane, non-access-restricted road running west into Missisippi. First i was to be dropped off in the middle of Alabama...though I quickly changed my mind as was that he was returning to the interstate shortly across the Mississippi border. I was finally dropped around one AM in Jackson, MS, at the highway intersection at the southwest end of town. Venturing into a truck stop, I was ushered away by an overzealous attendant, telling me that I was only allowed inside if I had a CDL. I apologized, poked a bit of fun at him, and left, setting up camp in the woods. It had been a long day, starting at 6AM in Tennessee, ending in Jackson, MS. Without even bothering to inflate my sleeping pad I dropped my tarp and laid down on the ground, barely taking the time to set up my rain fly.
Welcome to Mississippi.
Monday, March 4, 2013
so I have been hanging out in Chattanooga for the past few days, catching up with my buddy while relaxing and shrugging off the cold of the road thus far. I have certainly had a few little adventures, from a rough time hitching all the way down the 75 corridor to a nasty bout of food poisoning, with some lucky breaks build in (grabbing a motel room due to weather hours before said food poisoning gripped me). I certainly cannot complain about any of the trip, but it is not what I expected setting out.
at the moment, I am relaxing at a Starbucks, waiting for a bus from Chattanooga to Atlanta, from where I will hitch down south to new Orleans. I don't know how long it will take, nor do I know how long I will stay...all I really know is that I am still moving forward.
some memorable events from the past week:
going shooting with my friend
adventures through the hill of Kentucky on my longest ride in a while
getting stared at for wearing my tie dye shirt into a pub in northern key
catching a lift on a side road from college kids
a five mile lift in a semi.
and, of course, walking twelve miles out of Toledo, to end up in a great spot to hitch back to NYC...but not south. kept in walking.
with everything that has transpired, I will keep on hitching, smiling, and laughing. I am unstoppable.