Archive for January, 2009

Up North Part 9 – Riding with Ray

January 19, 2009 Leave a comment

There was a nice long ramp with a guard rail for sitting on the 75 South on-ramp. It was an easy curve so traffic was moving by quicker than I liked and yet not as quick as well. I was uneasy hanging out where pedestrians don’t really go with a big bag pack in sight of the bridge. Bomb threats and all, a newly uncertain world. Not wholly new but far more intense. I did not feel confident under the steely gaze of the guys in white pickups with Bridge Authority emblazoned on the door when they drove by.

Before I  have even filled in all the letters on the Grayling Please sign a big rig pulls to the side and hits his breaks and stops about 20 feet  behind me. There is a giant cross done in blue lights across the grill of the rig, there are 8 or 10 extra lights across the top, and it is flying too many flags to count. As I stash the sign (another hiker might find it useful) grab my pack and hoof it towards the door. I was taking in all of the WWJDs, including How Would Jesus Drive?, Praise The Lord and all manner of similar such things. I did not have time to take them all in. I knew what I was likely getting myself into and was grateful nonetheless.

I also took in the driver, an older red headed guy in a mesh cap. He was grinning and moving shit out of the passenger seat. The lanes were narrow and there was a lot of traffic and the threat of terrorism response coming down kept me hurrying. I opened the door, stepped up on the first step and poked my head in. “Here pass that in and I’ll stow it in back” and I handed him my pack and he tossed it in the sleeper.

I stood awkwardly on the step as the driver finished clearing off the last of his gear. It seems he was using it as more of an office but eventually I sat down and he pulled out on to the ramp. He said, “Ray” and I said “Michael” as we shook hands between him grabbing gears. Ray asked me where I was heading and to cover my bases in case he was going down 27 or 75, I said “Lansing or Monroe.”

“Well which is it?” Ray responded. As I thought about the best way to respond Ray said, “Well, I’m heading to Chicago out 10 so I can get you to Claire.

“Sounds great. I’d rather go to Lansing anyway. That’s where I live.” I started to warm up in the heat of the cab and started to unzip my jacket until i realized i had picked up a powerful odor and decided to leave it on. Ray then turned up the volume of the previously inaudible cassette player in his rig and I heard Carman of all people. The cheesiest, Las Vegas lounge lizard turned crooner for Christ that I’d ever heard. It was one I hadn’t heard, a patriotic number with God Bless America swelling in the background and Carman is doing some kind of stilted spoken word number about patriotism and such. “We need to stop handing out condoms in schools and start handing out Bibles.”

When Ray first turned up the tape he just looked at me and grinned. I didn’t noticeably wince, I don’t think, and tried to put on a face of bemused appreciation, although it was more for starting to ride down the Mackinac Bridge and at worst get preached at a little instead of sitting in fear waiting to get shook down as a potential terrorist. Carman could be OK if you can appreciate the utter ridiculousness of it. He could on occasion at least be clever in his word play.

Ray then turned down the music and opened up a conversation about how beautiful it all is. We talked about what it must have been like for the Indians crossing the straights by canoe. We talked about where we were from and Ray told me about his job a bit. He then said, “Let me show you this,” and pulled out a vinyl cassette holder with a capacity of twelve or so. Every cassette is Carman. “I’ve got them all” Ray grinned proudly. He went on with a disclaimer, a couple that were missing or only out on CD and he went on to tell me about his efforts to track down Carman cassettes.

I casually mentioned that I saw Carman in concert once and that I had a lot of respect for the fact that he does his shows for free. Ray was blown away and I could see an innocent jealousy slide across his face. “He has a powerful message for the young,” Ray told me.

I nodded and smiled and remembered my falling out with Carman. I had actually been a pretty big fan in my teen years. I had a keen appreciation for fundamentalist novelty music and Carman walked tall in that little niche. As I grew up though I came to challenge the ethnocentrism of my native fundamentalism and ultimately had embraced a larger view of  truth. I had seen Carman as a penniless high schooler and gotten on a mailing list and had sent him a few bucks on occasion. Until I read in one his flyers that “nine out of ten missing children end up sacrificed on a ‘satanic altar’. My brother is a cop so I know.”

This ridiculous hyperbole, this incredible bald faced lie, so offended my sense of truth I had severed my relationship and never played his stuff. I didn’t even think about sharing this with Ray under anything but a direct question because hitchhikers are agreeable by nature and practice.

Then of course it came. “So since you’re a Carman fan I assume you’re born again?”

I told him “yes” more because I didn’t want to fend off Ray’s clumsy attempts to win me to The Lord though the actual answer to that question really requires more than a one word answer. I had in fact made that long walk to the altar on the seventh verse of a five verse song and asked Jesus to forgive my sins at the Monroe First Church of the Nazarene back in 1981. I still believe that “except one become like a little child one shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven”, I just think it may mean something more. So I took the easy way out and did not elaborate my conflictions on the term, besides in the moment I was kind of feeling it pretty heavy too. It had been a long week of thoughtful wonder in the wilderness and the unknown guarded over by wonder and naive enthusiasm.

Ray of course was delighted with yes.  “I knew it all along. You see the Lord told me to pick you up. You may not believe it but I have been driving over the road for seven years and you’re the third hitchhiker I’ve ever picked up. Every one of them a Christian. I’m not supposed to have passengers in the rig, but my boss is a Christian too and he’d have to understand. When God tells me to do something I listen.”

I nodded agreeably wondering if I was going to get the follow up questions. “So where do you go to church ?” or try to pin you down on doctrine “so you must believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven?” Instead Ray just started talking and told me his story, his testimony if you will.

It was the sixties and Ray was in high school and he had a sweetheart. This was all in Oxford Ohio and Ray was hoping to get a job at Miami University like his father and his grandfather before him. He wanted to marry his sweetheart but she wanted to wait until he was settled with the University. Before Ray got settled he got drafted.

He reported to his physical but failed the exam. It seemed that Ray’s mom had been doing his homework for a good long time. Safe with his classification of “too dumb to fight” he got his dream job driving truck for Miami U. and plans for the wedding move forward. Than this bucolic scene was rudely interrupted when Ray was drafted anyway.

Ray was classified as infantry material and shipped off to Germany where he was assigned to a tank battalion. Ray struggled through his tank training and was two instructional hours away from testing for tanker status he was reassigned to Vietnam.

Ray halted his narrative and pulled off at an exit to stop at his favorite truck stop. He bought us coffee and chatted up the woman at the counter. He looked at lights and bought two based more on his budget than what he wanted, which was all of them. I just followed, orbiting his energy and intensity and waiting to get back in the truck and hear the rest of the story, which he did, picking it up without a pause.

While home on leave he tried to marry his sweetheart but there was not enough time. They decided to marry after Ray returned from Vietnam. He was shipped to Vietnam and faithfully wrote, daily. After six months the letters from his sweetheart stopped. His mother then wrote that she had married another guy.

Ray took this badly and so became a machine gunner volunteering for every dangerous mission. “Whoo I kept my guardian angel busy Michael. When I arrive at the pearly gates my guardian angel is going to say, ‘boy you kept me busy’, yes sir.” Miraculously Ray made it back to civilian life, was pursued by a friend’s wife and married unhappily, but maintained it for the sake of the children, in spite of her infidelity.

Eight years later Ray ran into his sweetheart, divorced for four years now. Ray quickly followed suit and at last was with the only true love of his life. Four years later he lost her to cancer. “She’s with the Lord now dancing on streets of gold.”

It was really a sweet story and I didn’t add much beyond taking it all in as the miles flew by on our journey south. As we drove Ray pointed to a squirrel, dead on the side of the road. “Can I tell you a secret Mike? If I could ask the Lord for one gift it would be to raise those poor critters from the dead. They don’t know any better. They can’t read or nothing. Isn’t that foolish?”

“I don’t think that’s foolish at all Ray. Jesus himself tells us that ‘the Lord knows when even a sparrow falls’. I can’t help but think that he feels the loss. It’s refreshing really. Not enough Christians care about the critters and the rest of the natural world. Have you ever read Psalms 104 Ray?”

“Well I can’t say that I have off the top of my head.”

“Some call it the environmental psalm Ray. Its really cool and you should check it out. It says there” that the mountains belong to the wild goats”. We like to think it was all given to us to use as we please but that is not so. God made all of the species we are driving to extinction and the wild places that hold them for a reason and we are thoughtlessly and methodically killing off God’s creation for a profit.”

Ray perked up when I started rolling, giving my mini-sermon. I realized I hadn’t said more than a handful of words on our hours long journey and we had bonded in the telling of Ray’s story but I was a tabula rosa that Ray for the first time realized could talk. Ray asked again for the name of the psalm and he wrote it in his little steno pad he kept in his shirt pocket.

Ray then gave me a really searching look, paused, and said, “It says in the Good Book you never know when you ‘may be hosting angels unaware’”. He looked at me conspiratorially and I just nodded.

“Angel is just the Greek word for messenger Ray”.  All too soon we were at the fork in the road where Ray went to Chicago and I continued south towards Lansing. Ray let me out on the side of the road ahead of where he was splitting off on 10. As Ray pulled away I walked away from the highway into the grass and sat down. It was another abrupt shift in environment and I wasn’t quite ready to deal. I sat in the grass and smoked a cigarette.

My thoughts turned to when I was in junior high and Cindy Ball who was the mother of a couple of my church buddies and would frequently give me a ride picked up a vagrant. She left us in the car while they had pie and coffee in a diner late one night, perhaps after church. She had quoted the same verse and was convinced of a miraculous encounter. I believed what I had said to Ray, anyone can carry a message. I tried to write a bit of verse as I stowed my stuff for walking to bolster my trepidation about being stranded on the junction of two highways and having to walk some up the interstate:

If you wanna be an angel

You don’t tell them your last name

That we’re all the same

Lost and confused

You give a few tricks for the game

Tell them they’re not to blame

When they’ve been abused

You listen more than you talk

Then show you’ve walked the walk

And have something to say

This bit came easy as I shouldered my pack and began making the difficult trek along the slope of the ditch, not yet wanting to dare the interstate.

Winter Gardening

January 18, 2009 Leave a comment

After sub-zero temperatures sunny and in the 30s seems like a pretty good day. I celebrated it with taking my brush pile and christmas tree to the mulch site. I ran into my buddy Scout scavenging for firewood. We pulled on a good sized branch but never did break it lose from the pile. I did learn i had ripped out the seat of my corduroys, not on the seam at least, but as Scout pointed out i can’t wear them to work anymore. Serves me right for playing in my school clothes, a lifelong habit i’m afraid.

I’ve also been raking and may finish off my second pass since Fall tomorrow. Early in the winter i put in a second compost bin and so am trying to get my first one to finish, hopefully in March, but i would even be happy with May. I had prepped my initial bin for winter by breaking the consistently brown/green mix at 50/50 and topped it off with all the leaves i could stuff in so i would have a place to stick kitchen waste all winter. Also after leaf fall i had to get rid of leaves and had started a leaf pile under the bush honeysuckle. Then i found a half off bin at Westlakes after season and wish i’d kept the really nice mix i had going. Plus i buried the compost so deep i couldn’t really shovel some in to help get the second one going. Even now it is really a bin of leaves with some garbage mixed in then a rea compost pile.

Last weekend i finished putting in a cold frame i think its called. I put four wire hoops up and stretched across plastic held down with rocks and brick. I planted spinach and leaf lettuce. I also planted more tulips and some irises alongside the neighbors giant privacy fence that i got for a dollar. The gardening lady who writes a column for the Tribune had said she had planted some she had gotten on sale and thought it was worth a shot. She was also right in saying even if nothing comes of it its nice to get your hands in the dirt in winter.

Categories: gardening

Up North part 8 – East on 2

January 10, 2009 Leave a comment

Day 5

After getting about eight hours sleep in about twelve hours I woke up cold but pretty refreshed. I polished off the Count Chocula which seemed to validate the weather report which had prompted me to set out towards home today. I packed up camp and packed my stuff the two miles up Rt. 2 to the dried fish/liquor store and got a cup of coffee and a paper.

“Two More Anthrax Deaths” was the headline as I copped a squat by my pack and I read the news and smoked a cigarette. I was more thoughtful on the fact that I very well might have to walk all the way to St. Ignace. The cars fly down Rte. 2 with no time to consider the fact that we all need to pull together and they should help a brother out. I figured it would take three or four days at a comfortable pace and was comforted by the fact there was nice camping along the way.

As I thought and smoked and drank and read a couple of guys had stopped at the store for coffee also one of them asked if I was hitching or hiking? I said “a little of both”, and they offered me a ride.  They were both dressed in camo and flannel and were in their early 40s. The driver, Sammy I later find out, laid a plastic bag over the pool of blood in the back of the truck and I threw my pack in and we were off.

Sammy and the rider Davey were hilarious. They were just starting a week long deer hunt and they had both scored does yesterday and they were pretty happy with themselves, in spite of having to break in on the hunt to drive to St. Ignace to bail Sammy’s son out of jail. It seems that the son was on his way to the big hunt and got stopped for speeding only they found his little sack of marijuana-reefer-grass. Apparently the courts were asking for $1,500 in bail, which Sammy thought was ridiculous, but he at least wanted to pick up the car and save it from impound. Sammy was hoping to talk to the judge and explain the fecklessness of youth and plead for a reduction.

During the drive Sammy’s wife called. He explained his plan which she interrupted with the news that his ex-wife has the cash and wants to wire it up. Sammy looked displeased at the news and said, “Your breaking up honey, I’ll call you back after I try to talk to the judge.” After a conspiratorial wink and a nod we talked about the errors of youth and going to jail. Davey said, “at least it wasn’t in Detroit.”

I nod knowingly, pleased he had named one of the three jails I had been in, and I added, “I’ve been there and it wasn’t pretty. I just tried to sleep.”

“Well you better pay your child support cuz that’s where they send you if you don’t”, Davey responded.

“Good”, I replied earning a couple of comically menacing stares. I’d already told them I was a social worker during introductions and I talked about how hard it is on the kids when Mom is struggling and Dad’s not paying support.

Davey was unconvinced, “If the bitch doesn’t want to worry about money she shouldn’t try to be in charge.” Sammy nodded his emphatic approval and I looked to change the subject, hitchhikers are agreeable remember and I was not going to get any movement on the misogyny front. They were reveling in it, the great white hunters.

Instead we talked of other things, the road mostly. I asked the hitchhiking question and learned Sammy had hitched some and Davey spent several years on the road hitching all over. We talked of problems in Ohio with Davey topping my story of the 50 mile day, with one about being stuck in Wapokoneta for three days waiting for a ride with the Ohio State Police watching him in shifts so if he went to sleep they could arrest him for vagrancy.

We also talked about the beautiful people you meet who offer you a chance to start a new life. Sammy talked wistfully about a summer painting steeples across the South with one ride. I don’t get to tell a story because we arrived in St. Ignace and it was time to wish these characters good luck in court and say goodbye.

I found a bathroom, a candy store/gas station, and tried to go to the Father Marquette Museum. I had read a bit about the man and was eager to check it out but it was closed for the season. I did scrounge up a piece of cardboard out of their dumpster, because I was back on the Interstate, with Route 2 behind me, and I hadn’t even put out my thumb.

Categories: hitchhiking, travel

Up North Part 7 –

 Day 3

After sleeping fitfully I was fully awake at 3:00. I had to piss so bad I could taste it but I could not force myself out of the sleeping bag because it was so fucking cold. I lay there miserable for a long time before I promised myself a cigarette if I got up. I pulled on my jacket and boots, pissed, smoked half a cigarette and crawled back in the bag. I was freezing the whole night in spite of sleeping in everything short of jacket and boots and I vowed to put on my second pair of long-johns before tomorrow night.

When I started to get out of the tent in the morning I realized I had not zippered the inside, and the fly over the vestibule was the only thing keeping my heat in and the cold out. I replaced my vow from long-johns to diligence and double checking and started my day. It had rained during the night and it was cold and wet so I skipped pulling together a fire and had a bowl of Count Chocula. Since it was both cold and wet I had another.

I walked West along the lake shore and the waves on Lake Michigan were crashing hard, like the ocean. I was moved by the pristine beauty and saw only  my tracks behind me and the tracks of gulls and a coyote or a dog, too small to be a wolf. There had been a display at the DNR office in Naubinway confirming that last drivers account about them being in the area. I had never seen wolves. I watched terns and the gulls making an honest living plucking critters out of the smooth sands behind the receding waves.

I walked out to Mr. “C”’s Pub and Eatery but it wasn’t open yet. I walked back to camp and made a big fire. I found a whole stack of firewood and a grate in another campsite. The grill fit nicely across the fire pit. I made broccoli and rice with extra veggies and had an instant cappuccino. I attended to the fact that my knee had been hurting bad all day. I was scared thinking of packing out of here in not too long. I couldn’t really figure out the cause of the pain but I feared I had torn some cartilage.

I walked the other way down the beach and watched the waves crash. I finished Circle of Stones and later left it in the john for a future camper. I watched the sunset into the lake. Beautiful but fast, like the ocean. I decided not to stay up to see the stars as I was exhausted from being active in the cold all day and knew I would sleep well, but I knew it was a long time until sunrise.

Day 4

I was up at 2:00 having to piss. I didn’t fight it I just got up and went, had a smoke and back to bed. I zipped up both layers of the tent and I was half-way toasty that night. I could’ve gotten up and started my day if there was anything to do in the cold night. I lay there and toyed with my regrets, hopes, fears, all of that stuff and drifted back to sleep. I woke up in the real morning awake and warm and refreshed so I only had one bowl of Count Chocula.

I walked East on Route 2 about a mile and half to a liquor/smoked fish store. I scored a cup of real coffee and a pack of smokes, no newspaper though. The store guy said the paper guy doesn’t come until 10:30-11:00 on Sundays. The guy did give me an update on the news: “They haven’t blown up the bridge yet. Did shut it down for half an hour with a bomb threat” and the weather, chance of rain tomorrow and the next snow was coming by the weekend, just in time for hunting season.

I lingered waiting for the paper and finished my coffee and smoked a cigarette. I decided to skip it and walked home via the beach. I collected shells on the way and sang a new little piece of song I was trying to work on:

Shells upon shells upon shells upon shells

We’re building up a world of shells

Out of the pretty ones we make a home

A place of safety we can call our own

We’re building up a world of shells

With several false starts a second verse did not come and so I continued towards camp after deciding not to write the words in the sand where the waves would wash it away. I saw an oily looking stain running toward the lake and traced it back to see it was likely oil and such from parking lot run off. Sad. I wrote about it and the rusty pump I’d been getting my water from on the comment section when I registered for the site for that night. I only registered for one night in case it rains and I get wet. My knee was still hurting but I had figured out I had bruised it busting up firewood on the first night’s fire. I vowed not to do that again.

I sat down and read the three scraps of narrative I had written on the road. It looked pretty shitty. I decided to scrap all those openings and I turned to the next full page even though there were only two lines and a word  on page 5 and wrote: “10/21/01 Day one On Thursday morning I had Amee drop me off on what I thought was 27 North, just north of the I-69 loop.” I wrote for a bit ending with “…and praying the world would be gentle to him.” I was pleased with what I’d written because it told more of a story.

I walked to Mr. “C”’s for eggplant Parmesan and a Pepsi. I watched the second quarter of a Lions game. The Lions were actually winning and I was heartened, but not heartened enough to spend my daylight watching commercials to see how the gamed ended, so I walked back to camp and putzed around writing on the narrative and reading Meditation and Kabbalah while I sat on the rocks and watched the lake. The sun again set beautifully into the lake, perhaps more than yesterday. It was much cloudier and the clouds were streaked with soft oranges, pinks, and a robust purple and blue. I felt “ Sunset is the best time of the day”.

Categories: hitchhiking, poetry, travel

Up North part 6: terminal ride

My next ride came quickly, before I was really settled in at the newest on-ramp, and I immediately knew it was the terminal ride when the driver said he was going to Manistee. He seemed reluctant to tell me when I asked where he was headed, but he had asked me first. He was older, a retiree, and a little gruff, and maybe having some buyers remorse about such a long ride with a stranger. His mood totally lifted though, when he asked me what I did when I wasn’t hitching Up North to get some space in a troubled marriage, and I told him I was a social worker by trade but between jobs right now. I told him about my last job in case management with adults and children with developmental disabilities and a job I had applied for working with adolescent refugees from Africa who were settling in Lansing.

“Oh, my son sees one”, he said, quickly adding: “Of course he’s adopted you know.” He was frustrated that it is so hard to get an appointment and then they just end up cancelling at the last minute. I told him one of the reasons I had quit was my caseload was too big and I didn’t have any time to help anyone like they really needed.

After opening up about his son he revealed he was going to Manistee to fix up his third home which he was hoping to sell. He knew the route well and mentioned several likely places to camp and suggested getting supplies in Naubinway. I broke out the steno pad and wrote on the last page:

Lake Michigan Campground

Brevort Lake

Hog Island State Forest


Black River State Forest



We were already across the bridge and driving west on Route 2 when I started taking notes. I started dreading my hitch out as we sped along Route 2, me thinking how similar it seemed to Old 72 I had walked 9 miles down, without getting so much of a hint of a ride. The now friendly driver suggested I go on with him all the way to Manistee and detailed its virtues. He said he had seen wolves, heard them howl, he knew the difference between them and coyotes he told me. I nodded agreeably but turned down the ride to Manistee. I could tell he just wanted the company and Naubinway is where I wanted to be. Miles and miles closer to the interstate in case I had to walk the whole way out because of the new fear.

He let me out in Naubinway which is really just a wide spot in the road with a post office and a half a dozen shops mostly selling smoked fish. I left my Up North Please sign in his van. I didn’t need it anymore. I was here.

I walked over to the post office and leaned my pack against the wall on the side, out of the way, as it was the middle of the “town” and I wanted to do all the shopping I could before heading into the wilderness. I walked down to the pay phone to let folks know I was safe and where I was. It was dead. I walked into the dried fish and hunting supplies shop, but they didn’t have any fire starters. The fish lined up behind the glass stared at me with their dead eyes, and I left without buying anything. I walked into the next shop with more than a little unease. It was a gift shop and I was hoping to get some postcards, especially as the phone was out, so someone would eventually know where I was at. A stiff older woman quickly greeted me with an icy “can I help you?” It felt more like she’d said ‘what do you think your doing here dirtball”.

Her postcards stank so I quickly left and went for post card stamps at the post office. “That your pack out there?”, the postal worker asked when I entered.


“Better move it before someone calls the State Police and your in a heap of trouble. I’ve already gotten a call about it,” he added, though I’d been in Naubinway for probably less than six minutes.

“Sorry”, I said. “I forgot times have changed. I just wanted to pick up a couple of things and didn’t want to lug it all over town. Well I’d better get my post card stamps and get my gear moved.”

After the stamps I lugged my pack up to the grocery/smoked fish/gas station to stock up on some groceries. Count Chocula was on salel and I picked up a box. Comfort food for a world of fear and distrust, and they even had soy milk.

I  lugged my pack and the groceries to the gas station and picked up some smokes. I lugged my pack and the two bags of groceries to the DNR office at the end of town and confirmed that Hog Island State Forest Campground is still open.

I started walking the five miles or so back east to Hog Island down the side of Route 2, with my pack and a bag of groceries in each hand. No one stops. For some reason a blue beater caught my eye speeding along west and I noticed the passenger looked like Moses or some kind of Mountain Man. I prayed that a car would not cut over a lane and strike me dead as I watched cars pass at 70+ miles per hour. Everyone was driving so fast, passing where no sane person would pass.

I got off the road a couple of miles east of Naubinway at a quaint old rest area. I drank crystal clear water that was pouring out of an old stone fountain. I felt refreshed both body and soul of the bad energy of the speeding traffic and small town paranoia that had left me a little shaken.

I started back walking until one of the grocery bags ripped. I consolidated to one bag stuffing the excess into my already full back pack. I started walking again with my left thumb out, in case walking in the middle of nowhere with heavy packages is not enough indication that I would appreciate a ride. The blue beater I had seen earlier heading the other way pulled up in front of me. As the old man in the passenger seat made room for my bag and it and I started to get in, the driver made me promise I was not wanted and that he wouldn’t be reading about me in tomorrow’s paper.

I started to tell him his reverse lights were out as we accelerate, but at around 45 mph the car started shuddering and it was obvious it wasn’t going faster, and I decided to bite my tongue. The driver asked me what I was doing and I explained I hitched here to camp at Hog Island and escape the talk of war. The driver asked how old I was and after he guessed 26, I told him I was “33 but doing stupid shit keeps me young.”

The driver said, “it hasn’t helped me any”.

The old man agreed saying he was 58, and he looked about 70. As we pull into the campground the old man became emotional and apologized for trying to talk the driver out of picking me up. “I was scared”, he said. “The terrorists did a good job”. He told me he was frightened for me and hoped I at least had a bottle.

I told him “nope” and he gave me the last Busch out of the 12 pack, and I was alone. I had no time to sit back and drink the beer and enjoy it though. I had to get cracking to make camp before dark. Hog Island is in fact a peninsula and most of the sites are right on Lake Michigan. Terribly beautiful, truly sublime, but windy, so I took site 3, located squarely in the woods. I of course had the entire campground to choose from.  I laid down my Mylar coated tarp, I had trash picked a couple of years previously, and pitched my tent on top it.

I walked down to the lake shore and looked at the lake. I thought about watching the sun set into the lake but decided to make a fire and cook instead. I picked some wood out of some of the other sites and made a fire. I cooked some food, ate, and took my weary ass to bed in spite of it being quite early. I was tired and dishes could wait until morning. I looked up to see so many stars.

Categories: hitchhiking, travel

up north part 5: talking ’bout 9/11

After being dropped in Grayling I again found myself on a pretty desolate exit. I again kept to the top of the onramp and took the opportunity to try to do some writing during the wait. I pulled out the red steno pad and started writing on the last blank line of page two:

“Narrative interrupted on on (sic) account of a ride. I’m gonna have to start writing more its brought me good luck. 3 rides in an hour and a half. The good news is I’ve made it to I-75. People are going where I want to go. The bad news is I’m at an exit in the middle of nowhere. Not even a gas station. I kind of wish I would have had breakfast when I had the chance. I’ve got a couple of apples though so I won’t starve. Better for me than fast food too.

Good folks picked me up. A nice couple on their way to Camp Grayling to take out the government garbage. I about jumped out of my skin when their dog came out of nowhere barking ferociously as only an enraged Daschund can. I was right to be cautious though. Daisy is a biter. They have to keep moving to save Daisy from execution for finger biting. When she calmed down I gave her my hand to sniff my fingers tucked away safely of course. The driver said he wished he”…

Once again my narrative was quickly interrupted on account of a ride. A nice silver haired gentleman in a big newish pickup truck picked me up and asked me what I was up too. I told him I was hitchhiking to get a feel for what people are thinking about the whole 9/11 thing. He told me he was glad the country had pulled together but it was a shame it took such a terrible tragedy to do so. We both agreed we were glad Bush was in charge. I told him I thought Gore (note the name) would have hit Afghanistan hard, without a plan, to prove he wasn’t weak and Bush had less to prove. He replied: “Gore’s a pussy who would’ve used sanctions, what’s sanctions going to do to a country that’s already ruined?”

I wanted to tell him that that proved my point. Gore would have been forced to act precipitously because of people like him and their impression of Gore as weak.  I did not tell him this because hitchhikers are always agreeable, out of both self interest and gratitude. I instead said I read in the paper yesterday that we gave Saddam Hussein his Anthrax strains in the 1970s. The driver was not surprised to hear this and his tone shifted to where he was almost misty as he talked about how we had made an alliance with death when we export weapons. I told him we gave Afghanistan their Stinger Missiles and that the U.S. is the largest arms exporter in the world.

There was then an intimacy as we drove along talking of these things, somewhat similar to therapy. He was really beginning to be moved as he talked about how the Taliban treat “their women”. “Like property”, I said. I liked this guy though, he was not afraid to feel deeply. All too quickly we arrived in Gaylord and he was gone.

I broke for lunch (sub & chips) and did some shopping at a large strip mall complex anchored by a Normans, a discount sporting goods store. I picked up some thinner gloves, as my thinsulate ones were in my pocket because they made my hands too hot. I also bought a pair of orange wicking socks because they like the gloves were only a dollar. I also looked for fire starter sticks to use in my zip stove (a forced air chamber that burns sticks and runs on 2 double a batteries) but they didn’t have any.

Categories: hitchhiking, politics, travel

Up North Part 4 – riding and writing

I woke up early, showered (didn’t much need one but didn’t know when I might get another), ate an apple and walked to the highway. You have to maximize your daylight when hitching and early morning is the best time of day to catch rides. No one thinks they are going to get robbed at 7 am. I drew jack-o-lanterns on my sign for luck. A nice older gent who was only going to the next exit to a used tractor sale stopped and picked me up shortly. We barely had time to learn that and to remark on the cold before the ride is done.

I settled my pack made a few smiles and showed the sign. It’s a slow exit though, a lot of dead time, so I  pulled the red steno pad out of my back left pocket where I had jotted down the plate number yesterday. On the first page I wrote: “10/19/01

“Waiting. I am standing next to the sign that says Motor Vehicles Only. My pack is propped jauntily against it. Silent testimony that I’d be walking if it wasn’t illegal. I am in Harrison Michigan, home of Michigan’s first road side attraction. A grizzled old bear baiter whose picture is hanging at the local Burger King. It closed in 1970 and only the ruins remain. My sign reads Up North Please, the please is important. More than once a ride has told me

Two guys in a pickup truck pulled over in front of me, shuffled some stuff and squeezed together to make me room as I tucked away the steno pad and threw my pack in the back. They were enjoying their day off and were on their way to pick up a snow machine. They both remarked on the cold. I told them as long as it doesn’t rain on me I’m fine with the cold. “It thins out the crowds.”  

It was another short ride and I was again dropped in the middle of nowhere so I pulled back out the steno pad and wrote: “Narrative interrupted on account of a ride. A beautiful thing as I was growing tired of Harrison. It was getting hard to smile. Smiling is even more important than saying please. Hitching is like fishing and you bait your hook with your smile, your sign, and your overall appearance. Mostly its only the truly desperate who hitch anymore. Poor guys going to work, looking for work, and the mentally ill.

I wrote slowly stopping to look up and smile at the occasional passing car. I was pleasantly surprised when a brown van pulled over before I could write a paragraph. I walked up to the front and opened the passenger door and was met with furious barking and gnashing of small bright teeth. “Watch out, she’s a biter”, the driver said as he pulled back the ferocious little pudgy daschund. I slipped my bag in the back and we were off.

The driver was a chubby guy in his 50s and his wife had shuffled in the back when the y picked me up. After we introduced ourselves the driver said he wished he had one to burn with me. I concurred and added it’s too risky to carry in these troubled times when you have an ambiguous relationship with the law. He discussed the finer points of probable cause to which I could only agree but I added “Your in jail nonetheless.”

Moving on he asked me where I was heading. I told him I planned to hitch Up North to get away from everything and camp away from “all this” I added at a loss for words. He told me: “Solitude is the essence of sanity.”



Categories: hitchhiking, travel