Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hitch Hikers




I came around the corner at Crane Flat headed for San Jose and the two of them were standing there, thumbs out.  I was blowing out of Tuolumne Meadows a day early; I was sad to leave but ready to go.  It's weird to love a place so much, to spend all year wanting to be in that place more than anything, and then to leave early, anxious to move on but knowing that in a month I will be eager to go back.  

As I drove by the hitch hikers I gestured towards the back of my van shouting "I'm totally full up, I'm sorry!" and I drove on.

About a mile up the road I looked in the back and felt bad, knowing I could move some crap around and make room for two people to ride with me.  Maybe they'll give me some gas money, that would be helpful.  So at the first turnout I flipped the van around and drove back to get the couple that was headed westbound on Highway 120.

They were an interesting pair, him from Calgary with scraggly Johnny Depp-style facial hair and a keffiyeh around his neck.  Her from the UK, tall, beautiful and quiet.  She climbed into the back and him into the front.

"Where ya headed?" I asked them.

"Out of the Park I guess.  Nowhere really," he told me as we wound and barreled our way down highway 120 towards San Francisco.

They truly had no plans, I found out.  They were thinking about heading north on Highway 1, but didn’t know how they would get to Highway 1 or their ultimate destination.  In fact, they didn't really know what their destination was, only that they were headed somewhere on the North Coast.  I suggested they avoid the central valley like the plauge.

"It's hell, really.  Just farmland and the cities are kinda dangerous.  I think hitchhiking will be tough."

He looked at his California road map, contemplating, looking at San Jose and the central valley, thinking.  I suggested they ride with me all the way to San Jose then find their way to Santa Cruz, where they could pick up Highway 1 and head north more easily.  

He turned around and shouted into the back of the van, "He says we could go to Santa Cruz, on the coast, he says its a cool town.  Highway 1 goes right through town."

"Yeah, I heard," she yells forward.

"What do you think?"

She glances forward, "I don't care," then looks back out the window, smiling, and the conversation was over.

They were wandering and had been wandering all the way from Calgary to British Colombia, through Washington and Oregon.  "We got stalled out in Ashland that was a cool town, we liked it there!"  Then they had headed south to Sebastapol for a wedding, where they caught a ride with the groom’s parents to Yosemite, and here they were.  Roaming.  So I drove them to the bus station in downtown San Jose.  I wasn't really sure where they would spend the night, but they didn’t seem concerned.

I helped them get their stuff out of the van.  Carefully unloading around my precariously packed junk. I had told them when I picked them up that nothing was breakable except a stick and pinecone mobile carefully sitting on the back seat.

"So what did you guys steal?"

The girl laughs, swearing she didn't take anything.

"And you didn't break my mobile?"  I knew it would be a miracle if it made it through the drive home and that was before I picked up two more people.  But she promised me it was just fine.  
I wished them luck and, eager to get home for the night, I didn't hang around.  I fired the van up, waved, shouted another 'good luck!' and headed out.  I saw them as I drove away, stretching out their arms and legs, hug and a quick kiss.  They exchanged a few quick words and shot a smiling glance in my direction.

I hope they liked Santa Cruz.