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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Thursday, 30 June 2011

June 30th: Interstate 80, USA

On June 30th 1975 I was hitching west on Interstate 80.  It took me four days and three nights to get from Northern New Hampshire to Denver, over two thousand miles.  I wrote some notes on the journey when I got to Denver and what follows is adapted from them.

28/6:  Walking out from the campsite I got my first lift over the Kancamagus Pass from a couple in an MG1100.  Then Pete, who had offered me company on the campground the night before, spotted me and took me just past his home and put me on the Mass Turnpike at Palmer, over 200 miles south.  The next lift was to Springfield from a guy in a Pinto.  Then came the long wait.  There were several other hitchers trying to get to the Tanglewood Festival at Lenox and for some reason I was the last to be picked up.  I even tried a motel which I could see from the freeway but was turned down.  Finally I got a lift from an engineer who was working on a computerised submarine (possibly Trident) going to the Lee turning.  I got off at the service area before Lee, quite close to where I had started hitching on my way north to New Hampshire.   Just before dark I found a lift going to Buffalo in Eric and Mike's converted mail van.

29/6:  I got some sleep on the back shelf of the van but not a lot and the van went fairly slowly.  Some time in the night the battery went flat and we stopped once more.   I looked up and a catholic priest was looking in at me, recognising my accent as British (just about the only person in the US who did.)  He put his shoulder to the rear end of the van and helped us get going again somewhere near Rochester.  We had breakfast around dawn and they dropped me in full daylight near a toll booth.  Another lift took me to another service area where I waited until 11.  While I was there, a man got off a tour bus, put up a tripod and started taking photographs of me; he asked me to put out my thumb to make his pictures more realistic.   Finally I got a long lift to Chicago from a young woman, and her two dogs, on their way to Montana.  We passed along Lake Erie; I did a lot of the driving through Ohio and Indiana and it went well.  When she dropped me off in the late afternoon I had a long wait at a Howard Johnson Oasis; there I met a fellow hitch-hiker, Ernie the Jesus preacher, short and long-bearded, a professional bum.  Together we had a bowl of chilli, the recommended cheap food, and together we accepted a lift for a few miles from a high school teacher.  The entrance ramp was hopeless so we went up in the darkness to the highway itself, but the huge roaring trucks just drove past.

30/6:  Some time in the night we were joined by another hitch-hiker, a younger drifter and a long wait ensued.  I realised I'd made mistakes accepting a short ride and trying to hitch with someone else, so I determined to go solo.  The new drifter certainly made things more difficult: he would veer out in front of the trucks so that they had to swerve mildly to avoid him, and when he couldn't get a ride our way he started hitching in the other direction.  I walked on a bit to get by myself and then slept a little beside the highway.  Sometime after 4am I got a lift from an early morning worker going to Seneca, Illinois.  I stood by the freeway at dawn in rural Illinois, with fields of corn and little towns as far as the eye can see and the mind can imagine, waiting for the sun to bring a little warmth and clear the dew.  A flock of red-winged blackbirds went up from the edge of a pond I hadn't noticed and there hadn't been a car or a truck going either way for half an hour.  Finally a high school student on his way to camp rescued me.  Another lift from a motorcycle dealer who had been in Europe took me to Quad Cities.  Then Tom and Annie, his lift-share, picked me up and they were going to Denver.  We decided to take a motel in Des Moines, Iowa, and they chose the Holiday Inn.  We drank coke and brandy and I slept for six hours through the afternoon.  We had some food in McDonalds started driving after about 11pm.

1/7:  After 1 in the morning I did most of the driving.  In the early hours we stopped for coffee and a stack at a truck stop.  It got light when Nebraska was very unpopulated and it was very pretty with the Platte River on our left among trees; to the right were fields of cattle or wheat.  Tom slept and Annie kept me awake.  We turned off for another truck stop at North Platte, a frontier town, all truckers and cowboy hats.  On I drove into Colorado, massive plains of tumbleweed and black-eyed Suzies; it felt like Western Asia, the cultivation depending on water sprayers.  There was very little else until the magic moment when we could make out the hint of the huge mountains across the skyline in front,  and then Denver was close.  Annie asked me to crash at her place and Tom drove on to Vail.  We went to buy steak and broccoli and a bottle of wine; we ate and drank.  I fell asleep at 5.30 and slept undisturbed until 8.30 the next morning.

The next part of the journey is here.

Interstate 80 in Nebraska, 2008:  Picture by Spencer,  CC

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