Here’s more of the true story of when I was sixteen and ran away from home and hitchhiked over a thousand miles and all sorts of things happened.
Chapter 7: The Long and Winding Road that is also the Long and Freezing Road
The second day, Shadow decided we should change our route, head north, and take I-80 across the country. I have no memory of why, possibly a conversation with someone at the restaurant where we ate breakfast. I also don’t remember the route we had been planning on, but before the change he mentioned in the diary that he hoped we’d be in Kentucky by nightfall. It does seem to me that when hitchhiking across the country in the winter, it would make more sense to go south. But what did I know.
We ate breakfast at the same restaurant where we’d had dinner. I don’t remember much about it except that we didn’t eat our biscuits so the waitress put them in a paper bag for us, and I later left them in the back of a pickup truck.
We headed out to the 64 West; I guess that was the first of the series of roads we were going to take to hit the I-80? We didn’t have to wait long for a ride. The guy who picked us up was very kind and very worried about us — with good reason, obviously. I think he was a minister or something; it’s hard to remember. He drove us as far as Rainelle, West Virginia and bought us hot cocoa at the Dairy Queen there. We got a ride in the back of a pickup truck to the other side of town — I realized right after I jumped out that I’d left behind the greasy paper bag of biscuits that I’d brought from the restaurant in Lexington. It was a shame, because we were starting to get hungry and had just about run out of money already, somehow. I’m trying to figure out how that could be possible; Shadow had spent a lot on food, but even so. Maybe I was remembering wrong about how much we had to start with.
The pickup truck dropped us on the other side of town. We were on a mountain, and the 64 was about to be all downhill. It was snowing pretty hard. We were in front of a house that looked abandoned. We stood. And we stood. And we stood. It was terribly cold, and car after car was going by, and no one was stopping. We stood there for hours; I’m not sure how many. It felt like forever. We sang a lot and danced to keep warm. Shadow loved to sing all the time, and as I think I said before, it was probably the reason I was with him in spite of all those red flags. I don’t remember what we sang except for at one point when he sang all of Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler” to me. I think of it whenever I hear that song. As bad as that day was, that was a good moment.
A problem with hitchhiking that I’d never thought about is that when you stand on the side of the road for a few hours, you’re going to eventually need to pee, and where the hell are you supposed to pee? We were standing in front of a house we both thought was abandoned, and after worrying for a while, I couldn’t wait any longer so I went around the side of it till I was out of sight of the road. I’m almost certain the guy inside didn’t see me.
I think I managed to find the house on GoogleMaps. I’m like 85% this is it, based on my memory and where it is on the outskirts of town, but it was 30 years ago and very snowy, so I can’t be absolute.
I know there was a guy inside the house because after somewhere between three and six hours, he came out onto his front porch and yelled for us to come in before we froze to death. His name was Jim, according to what Shadow wrote in the diary.
It was so warm inside. He had a pot-bellied stove; it was that sort of place. It was like being in a log cabin, almost. He let us use his bathroom and he made us big bowls of oatmeal. (I know it sounds like a cliche but I can’t help it; it’s what happened. He also had a big beard and I’m almost certain he was wearing a flannel shirt.) He didn’t believe the story about me being twenty, and made me promise that in the next few days I’d call home and tell my parents I was okay. Before we went back out, he took a couple of garbage bags and cut arm and neck holes, and had us put them on over our shirts and under our sweaters. He said we’d be a lot warmer that way, and I think it worked.
We went back out on the road and were picked up in the next half hour or so. Jim had a CB radio in his cabin, and the guy who picked us up also had one, so I’ve always assumed that Jim radioed that we were good kids and someone should give us a ride.
The ride down the mountain was terrifying. It was a steep windy road anyway, and the snow made it treacherous. We slid down sideways for a lot of it. And of course we weren’t buckled up, since we were all crammed in the front seat. I’m pretty sure that ride was the reason I didn’t learn to drive until I was in my mid-20s and living in California; the idea of driving in snow still makes me feel faint.
Here’s that stretch of road out of Rainelle:
We got to the bottom of the mountain in one piece and were dropped off in Jackson. Someone else soon picked us up; a man who said about a thousand times how jealous he was of our trip. That happened a lot — we presented ourselves as young people in love, out on the open road searching for America, and people ate it up. Everyone wanted to be us. Especially this guy, who asked a billion enthusiastic questions about our adventures so far and told us he would like to let us stay the night at his house, but his mom and sister already thought he was crazy; he couldn’t imagine how they’d react if he brought us home. I kind of thought he should try it and find out, but no.
Not sure what time it was when he dropped us off — just that it was dark out. He dropped us by the highway, but I needed a bathroom again so we walked a couple blocks to a gas station. Right as we got there, a cop car pulled up and asked us to show ID.
This is how absolutely secure I was in the privilege I didn’t understand I had: I handed the cop my fake ID and while he was looking at it, I asked if it would be okay if I ran into the station’s bathroom real quick. And he let me! It’s baffling; anyone in their right mind would have thought I was going to flush drugs down the toilet. I’m pretty sure even Shadow suspected that was what I was doing, and he knew we didn’t have any drugs.
When I got back to the car, the cop told us that they had come because a lady saw us walking and thought that I must be super young and called 911 to report her suspicions. We all agreed she only thought that because I’m all short; after all, I had an ID with my sister’s picture on it that said I was 20. Shadow explained that we were having a hitchhiking adventure to find America, and the cop expressed his envy and left. It is truly confusing.
I think I must be wrong in my memories of Shadow being kind of coarse in a non-charming way. He must have been the best talker of all time.
We went into the gas station and the guy behind the counter was about our age, and thrilled when we told him what we were up to. He searched around the station for things we could use; what I specifically remember him giving us is rope to better tie up the sleeping bags and a flashlight, which we hadn’t thought to bring. There might have been more stuff but that’s what I remember. We hung out and talked to him for a while and he gave us free chips and soda. We hadn’t been around people our age for a couple days, and it was fun how much he admired us.
We walked back to the highway and I don’t think we stood by the road for very long before someone stopped for us. As usual, we both climbed into the front seat — this was when front bench seats were a lot more common. We had a rule that we’d both be in the front or both be in the back; the idea was that if we were separated it would be a lot easier for someone to kick Shadow out of the car and drive off with me. I don’t know if it made any sense — if someone had a gun and wanted to kidnap me it wouldn’t have been difficult — but that was our reasoning.
The guy driving the car was strange. I don’t know how to describe him, really. He was probably in his mid-40s, which made him ancient at the time. He lectured us a bunch; at one point he said “you know you ARE going to end up pregnant, and then what?” and I remember wondering, in an outraged sort of way, why he was assuming we were having sex. Which is hilarious. Also, I probably should have been more worried about that, condoms or no.
He gave us lots of advice that I wish I could remember, because what I do remember was that I thought it was bizarre that he was giving us advice that was so obviously bad. Like, not just bad to a sixteen-year-old; bad to anyone with the tiniest bit of sense. But I have no idea what it was.
Somehow the conversation turned to guns. Shadow had grown up hunting, and was happy to talk about guns, but things were getting increasingly weird. The guy kept shifting around like he was reaching under the seat, and every time he did Shadow would shift around too, reaching into his jacket. I was oblivious, but Shadow explained later that he’d been certain the guy was reaching under the seat for a gun, so he was pretending to have a gun in his jacket.
Even though I was unaware of the possibility the guy had a gun, he was definitely creepy as all hell. It was the first time I’d been scared of anyone who had picked us up. He didn’t end up doing anything, but it changed the tone of the trip for me. In the back of the diary, where Shadow had written people’s names (and, often, mailing addresses, with the idea that we’d send them a postcard someday) he wrote “dumbass” next to this guy’s name. I wish I could remember more of exactly what he said.
He drove us into Columbus, Ohio and agreed to take us to the bus station (bus stations are often a good place to spend the night) but ended up dropping us quite a ways away. Shadow said he was pretty sure this was on purpose, just to be mean. I don’t know. What I do remember is that walking through Columbus, Ohio at night was lovely. It was snowing, but just a little, and the streets were wide and well-lit. I don’t remember enough to remember why I liked it so much, just that I did.
We traveled roughly 330 miles that second day.
Below is the diary entries, kind of cobbled together because we didn’t turn to a new page for each new day. I’ve transcribed them as well, and posted maps of our route.
In the diary we mention trying to see if Shadow’s Dad will send us bus fare so we won’t have to hitchhike anymore — I was seriously over it. But more about that next week!
Day 2. Had breakfast at Restaurant. Starting off soon! Hopefully we will make it to KENTUCKY by nightfall!
Day 2 We slept in the woods. It was freezing! Shadow froze his ass off because he is a dumbfuck and didn’t want to wear his pants. The sleeping bag we had on top kept sliding off. Am trying not to think of my parents. I love Shadow so much. It’s nice to not have to say good-bye to him. I did not sleep much, but I am well rested. I hope we get a ride soon.
Decided to change course to 80 west. Started snowing bad in Rainelle West Virginia. Kept going Despite coldness. Met Jim while Hitchhiking. He invited us in & gave us plastic bags to wear under shirts
Almost Recked once because of poor road conditions. Made it through West Virginia to Jackson OHIO. From Jackson OHIO got a ride to Columbus OHIO. The guy was really strange but didn’t try anything.
Gave us odd lectures of advice on various subjects, such as pregnancy, how to live, what & how to do things to get to Washington. Now we sit in the Columbus Greyhound Station waiting to contact my dad so he can send us bus fare. (We hope he will!) Continued…
I love you too!
although I’m not sorry I came, I am scared to go on. That last guy scared me a lot, I wish we could go on the bus.