Home > feelings, hitchhiking, travel > Up North Part 10: nearly home

Up North Part 10: nearly home

I started walking up the ditch to get up to the next exit, wary of the interstate. It was tough going with the slope and the weight of my pack. I walked up the slope and started walking down the shoulder but felt very uneasy, especially when a state trooper cruised by. I walked back down the slope and made my way in the bottom of the ditch. Eventually I came to a ravine and walked back up the slope but stayed on the safe side of the guardrail. As I walked along a passing truck caught a gust of wind and got pushed over to the berm right where I would have been had I been still walking on the shoulder. On the other side I hit the ditch again and followed a deer trail, pushing my way through the knee high grass.

After a couple of miles of this I was beat. Before I got to the exit I spied a hotel that looked cheap. It was only 4:00 but I hadn’t eaten since my bowl of Count Chocula in what seemed another universe ages ago. Besides I was tapped. I clambered over the barb wire fence and checked in exhausted. I found myself again at “The Gateway to the North” and would likely be home tomorrow.

It was not until I got in the shower that I fully realized just how truly grimy I had grown. Days of hiking sweat and unchanged clothes had not only left me not only smelling ripe but I had to literally sluice the funk off my poor body. After putting on some clean clothes I walked down to a Ponderosa to put a serious dent in their salad bar and spent the rest of the evening channel flipping through the anthrax coverage.

When I flipped off the tube and started to drift off to slumberland I heard the rain let loose. Rain coming down on a solid roof is one of the most beautiful sounds you can hear after being houseless for a while.

 I woke and was up and out for coffee early. I noted that the gas station closest to the on-ramp was also a Greyhound Station. I decided if the rain kept up I would finish up my journey on the big silver dog. I stayed in the hotel until check out trying to wait out the rain. It had let up to a light drizzle but I was pretty wet just walking to the gas station. I had used up my pen writing so I bought another one and a second cup of coffee and learned the greyhound leaves at 12:30. As I sat under the overhang at the gas station drinking coffee and writing Lansing Please on my cardboard I decided I would give it about an hour before catching the bus.

I stood by the on ramp trying to look happy and content in the drizzle and I hadn’t even finished my first smoke when I looked back down the on ramp and saw a large newish gray pick up pulled over. I started to fuss with my pack while I waited for reverse lights. When they came on I started to trot down the on ramp. I opened the passenger door and said, “thank’s for stopping”.

“You can throw your stuff in the back seat, throw back in anything that falls out,” the driver said. He was a blocky looking working man kind of guy who looked like he was doing alright for himself. I threw my pack on top of the suit cases, jackets, and boxes of shotgun shells piled haphazardly in the back seat. “Where are you headed?” he asked as we pulled out and merged with highway traffic.


“I can get you to East Lansing.”

“Sounds good. I can take a city bus from there. Thought I was going to have to take a greyhound, my least favorite way to travel”, I said as the rain started coming down hard. “I would’ve quit right about now. So, are you coming back from a hunting trip?”

“No, no. I live up in Petoskey. I’m coming down to see my cousin, his boy is missing. Might have fallen in a river. I’m coming down to help look for him,” he said heavy with emotion. He went on to tell me that his cousin’s boy had gone down to Michigan State to watch the football game or maybe just to party and had gone missing. Witnesses had reported that same night seeing a young white man in the river but couldn’t get to him before he was swept away. The family was expecting the worst.

I offered my condolences and we talked at length about grief and loss and the healing power of time. The driver was a contractor, mostly sewer and pipe work, and periodically took business calls on the drive. He had never hitched before but picked up hikers frequently for the company. “My friends say I’m crazy picking up hitchhikers.”

“I don’t think so. No desperado is going to go hitchhiking to find victims. They go to convenience stores.” I could tell the contractor wanted to talk. Wanted distraction from this drive he so much did not want to make. So we talked of many things but would inevitably come back to what he was facing.

“Most cousins you’re not really close to. You grow up, lose touch, and grow apart. But he always came up to go snowmobiling, hunting, fishing, whatever. We’re close. And he always brought the boy.”

“If there’s anything I can do to help, I’d be glad to.”

“No, no. They don’t even want me to come down. But I had to be there.”

“It has got to be really hard not knowing.”

“Yeah, you expect the worse, but still….”

We went on to talk about trips out West, problems with his previous pick up, the economy (business was still good), and development and sprawl. We both agreed Traverse City was growing into a nightmare. He reported Petoskey controls growth really well with strict building codes. And we talked about our wives. The contractor had married for the first time this summer in spite of being in his 40s. Took him awhile to find a partner who could put up with his schedule and his hunting and fishing. We both agreed partners need their own interests to be healthy and he never questioned my solo vacation.

We arrived in East Lansing with barely a break in the conversation. The contractors grim expression returned before he was finished wishing me good luck and goodbye. “I’ll pray for you, and your family,” I told him.

“Thanks,” he said and he looked like he meant it.

Categories: feelings, hitchhiking, travel
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