Day 40: Crossing the North Cascade Mountains
After eating some breakfast we started on the long hike up the dirt road towards Cascade Pass. We had only gone a couple of miles when an old green Chevy passed us and went roaring up the road, leaving us enveloped in a cloud of dust. A few minutes later the same car came roaring back down the road. It skidded to a halt beside us and through the subsequent dust cloud the driver shouted at us, “Do you know where the hell you are?” Surprised, we answered in the affirmative. “Good!” he exclaimed. “Then where the hell am I?” We explained that at Marblemount, eastbound Route 20 makes a sharp left turn, but that this dead-end road continues straight ahead across the steel bridge. If he was looking for eastbound Route 20 he would have to back-track to the steel bridge and turn right. Once again we were left standing in a cloud of dust as the green car roared off down the road. We continued our hike up the road and after a while an elderly couple in a Cadillac passed us. We were not hitch- hiking at the time because of the general scarcity of cars on the road plus the fact that we did not consider this specific type of car and occupants to be a good prospect for getting a ride. Nonetheless, the car stopped just in front of us and the woman on the passenger side rolled down her window. She asked us if we would like a ride. They had seen us walking up the desolate road and felt they should offer us a ride since it was so far to the end. We thanked her and her husband and climbed into the back seat. They explained that they were traveling around the country and had now been to every one of the national parks (not counting national monuments, recreation areas, and other designated areas). They drove to where the road ended at the parking area for the Cascade Pass trailhead. There we bid goodbye to the kind couple.
The view of the mountains from this point was spectacular even though we were still well below tree-line. Even though it was the middle of July there was still some snow on the ground in the shaded areas among the spruce and fir trees. We planned to cross Cascade Pass at an altitude of 5392 feet above sea level and then hike down the other side to the town of Stehekin at the north end of Lake Chelan.
The lake occupies a glacially scoured valley and is about 50 miles long but only one or two miles wide. Stehekin is located at the northwest terminus of the lake and is accessible by only three means: by foot over the mountains; by boat up the lake; or by sea plane. Although there are no roads into Stehekin from the outside, there is a short dead-end road from Stehekin into the Cascade Mountains. The National Park Service operated a free shuttle bus along this ten mile road between Stehekin and the various (railheads and campgrounds in the Cascades.
Scott and I strapped on our backpacks and consulted our topographic map of the area. As the trail left the parking area we immediately began to climb up the mountain in a series of steep switch-backs through the forest. The higher we climbed me more snow there was in the shaded areas. Soon there was also snow in the sunny spots and the trail became buried beneath the snow as well. Even though the ground was snow covered, the air temperature was such that we were quite comfortable in our shirt sleeves.
We came to a place where the trail left the trees and continued unseen, buried under the snow, across a barren slope towards Cascade Pass. The slope slid away down the mountain several hundred feet to our right before disappearing over a rim into a high alpine valley. We knew that we would be in for a major accident if we were to slide down that slope and over the rim. We did not have any snow axes so we looked around an outcrop of rock that projected above the snow until we each had found two sharp, pointed rocks. With a rock in each hand we started across the snow field so that when (note that I say “when” here and not “if”) we slipped and fell we would be able to dig the sharp points of the rocks and the toes of our boots into the hard granular snow to arrest our slide.
Halfway across the snow field we encountered two female park rangers. One was teaching the other the proper way to use a snow axe to control and stop herself in a slide down the mountain side. We stopped and talked for a few minutes and questioned them about the trail conditions ahead. We found out that this stretch of trail across the snow field was the worst we would encounter. We also learned that there was a chance for rain during the night.
The north-facing mountains on the opposite side of the valley were much more rocky, steep and barren than the one we were hiking across. Occasionally we would hear a tremendous roar like prolonged and distant thunder. We would look across the valley and see the remaining wisps of snow blowing in the wind following an avalanche. Once in a while an avalanche would start while we were looking at the far mountain and we would see a huge block of snow (perhaps bigger than a large house) detach itself from some lofty crag and go tumbling down the mountain in an explosion of white powder. A minute or so later the sound of the roar would reach our ears. The sound of avalanches across the valley was a frequent companion on our hike across me pass.
When we reached the crest of Cascade Pass we took off our back packs and sat down on an outcrop of rock to rest. The crest of the pass was barren of trees and mostly snow-covered. The valley before us fell away from the pass and a forest of large evergreen tress began about a quarter of a mile below. There was no underbrush and the tall straight trunks of the trees rose up from the thick white blanket of snow. Some of the trees were several feet in diameter. Up the mountain to our left me slope had been swept bare of snow. We could see a faint trail climbing at an angle up the hill. We consulted our map and knew that the trail beyond the pass should be following the left side of the valley before us.
We started up the only trail we could see. After climbing for some minutes we realized that the trail we were on was a climber’s trail leading to the mountain peak. We rechecked the map and decided that the right trail must be in the trees below us. Rather than back-track to the pass, we dropped recklessly straight down the slope until we were on the hard crust of snow in the forest. We hunted for some time amongst the trees looking for a sign of the trail. With luck we found an old scar cut into the bark of a tree and then saw a mark on another tree a little farther away. By following these blaze marks on the trees we were able to locate the trail that otherwise would have disappeared in the woods and been impossible to follow because of all the snow.
We also discovered why there was apparently no underbrush below the canopy of evergreens. The heat radiated by the dark tree trunks had melted the snow around them. By looking down these holes surrounding the trees we estimated that in places the snow was 15 feet deep. The snow had completely buried all the low brush. We counted ourselves lucky that the ancient trail blazer had the foresight to mark the trees high enough to be above the snow cover.
After we followed the blaze marks for a ways, the trail turned sharply left over a low rise. Once over the crest of this divide we dropped rapidly into a densely forested valley. Very soon we were in verdant surroundings below the snow line. As we hiked down the valley a misty rain began to fall and we donned our ponchos, pulling them on over our heads and draping them over our backpacks. It was late afternoon when we found a promising campsite by the side of the trail.
Although the rain never fell very hard, it nonetheless had the effect of thoroughly soaking everything in the forest. There was no dry firewood anywhere to be found. Everywhere was the sound of water dripping from the tree branches. We were too wet and tired from the long hike to waste any effort on a futile attempt to make a hot supper so we proceeded to make arrangements to get as decent a night’s sleep as we could. We had deliberately not packed any tents in order to save weight in our backpacks. Instead we had planned to utilize our ponchos for shelter as needed. It certainly looked as if this night we would put that idea to the test.
By using strings and sticks together with our ponchos we were each able to make a small lean-to type shelter. In my inexperience I failed to tie closed the hood of my poncho. I put a plastic bag over my backpack and leaned it against a tree, then laid my ground mat and sleeping bag under my tightly stretched poncho. I then had a snug shelter rising from my feet to just over a foot above my head as I lay in my sleeping bag. Scott and I both settled down for a night’s sleep with our stomachs growling from hunger.
At sometime in the middle of the night the rain picked up in earnest. It came pouring down in torrents. I awoke to the sound of the rain hammering on the poncho over my head. I soon felt a weight pressing on my hips as the hood of my poncho turned inside out and filled with water. In another instant I was drenched about my midsection with cold water as the hood of my poncho opened up and discharged its contents onto my sleeping bag. I was wide awake and soaking wet in the middle of the night, miles from nowhere. There was not much that I could do about my discomfort except to roll over and try to keep to the dry side of my sleeping bag and away from the leak in my roof.
Day 41: A Free Boat Ride
By morning the rain had tapered off to a fine and intermittent mist. We crawled out of our sleeping bags and I found that Scott had fared much better than I during the night. He was starving and proceeded to eat some cold breakfast. I never did feel like eating very much until after I had been awake for a while and refused his offers of food. Scott said I was only one he knew who could go to bed hungry and wake up full.
We packed our wet gear and started off down the trail. Soon the rain stopped and the sun came out. The forest was visibly steaming from the moisture in the air. The terrain was fairly level and the trail opened into a wider track that became a dirt road with a grassy strip down the center. We had reached the road used by the Park Service to shuttle hikers into the mountains from Stehekin. After a while a passenger van came into view and we flagged it down to ride the last few miles to Stehekin.
Stehekin was not much of a town, having only a park ranger station and a few other buildings. At the ranger station we inquired about facilities to dry our sleeping bags, but in the end had to settle on airing them out on a picnic table in front of the ranger station. We also asked about the schedule and cost for the ferry that carried passengers down Lake Chelan. An older couple had been standing nearby and overheard our questions about the ferry. Later, when they saw us outside with our wet gear they came over to us. They asked if we would like to have their return trip tickets on the ferry for free. They explained that they had come in on the ferry but had found the five hour boat ride exceedingly boring. They were going to book passage out on the sea plane that made regular runs to Stehekin and was due to land on the lake soon. We were grateful for the offer and soon found ourselves relaxing in comfort on a pleasant cruise down the 50-mile length of Lake Chelan.
At the town of Chelan at the southeast end of the lake we looked at our maps to pick the best route back towards Spokane and Missoula. The shortest route was by way of Route 2, but by going a little farther south we could reach Interstate 90. We felt that we might have a better chance at catching a ride by hitch-hiking on the more heavily traveled interstate highway. We hitch-hiked as far as Wenatchee, Washington, on our way to the interstate before it started to get late.
In the town we discovered Wenatchee State College but found it deserted for the summer break. Drawing on our previous experience in Wichita we looked around the empty dormitories until we found a door left unlocked. Once inside we picked out a second floor dorm room that had a balcony. We also located a laundry room with coin-operated washing machines. Scott found a few coins in one machined coin return. We thought that was a good omen and decided to do some laundry. The washing machine worked fine, but the dryer failed to work at all. We were forced to take our wet laundry and hang it around the dorm room to dry over night.
We took the mattresses off the bed frames and placed them on the balcony. There we spent the night in the cool comfort of the fresh night air, but under cover of the balcony above us.
Day 42: Hitch-Hiking Back to Missoula
We awoke in the bright morning sunshine after a very restful night’s sleep. Our clothes were dry, but my soft leather boots were starting to get stiff as they continued to dry out from the soaking they got over the past two days. I was already starting to get blisters but I knew that if I didn’t wear the boots now, they would be too stiff to wear later. I figured the best that I could do to keep the leather supple was to put the boots on and let them dry out on my feet.
We made hitch-hiking signs for Spokane, but the driver of the first car that passed us yelled that we were going the wrong way. We knew that we were not going the most direct route but still felt that we would rather risk our luck on the interstate than possibly be stuck on a back country road with no traffic. Soon we got a ride to the interstate and another as far as the exit for Moses Lake. We had been here a few days earlier but were at that time going in the opposite direction.
We waited for a prolonged period of time without getting a ride. Scott suggested that we may be forced to separate since it might be easier for each of us to get a ride singly rather than as a duo, but we decided to try to get a ride together for a while longer. We were standing at the entrance to the on-ramp for the highway waiting for cars to come by when another hitch-hiker walked down the ramp past us to the interstate. He was an unkempt youth with a big dog. At the bottom of the ramp he instructed his dog to lie down out of sight in the bushes by the roadside. We figured we would have first shot at the cars coming on to the highway where they were going slow enough to look us over, while the other hitch-hiker was trying to attract the cars flying by on the open road below.
A man in a mini pickup truck stopped to offer us a ride. The truck was white and had a cap over the bed in back. There was not room in the cab for us both so we elected to ride together in the back of the truck with our packs. At the bottom of the ramp the man also stopped to pick up the other hitch-hiker but seemed somewhat surprised when me dog suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The youth put his dog in the back with us and got up front with the driver. The dog curled up in the corner to sleep and paid little attention to us. Through the front window we could see the driver and youth in conversation but could not hear anything. After a while they stopped talking and me youth went to sleep leaning on the door.
At Spokane the man stopped the truck to let us out. We were back at the same exit we had left from and walked to the Safeway supermarket where we had bought the materials to make our sign on the way to Seattle. The other hitch-hiker also got out and walked with his dog to the same store. No backpacks were allowed in the store. Scott and I took off our packs and took turns sitting with them outside while the other went inside to buy some food. The other youth left his pack outside with his dog. Scott and 1 were sitting outside after we both had had a chance to do our shopping. The next thing we knew the other youth was being detained by the store manager and the police were called. He had apparently been caught shoplifting. We hoped that the store manager did not assume that he was with us. In any event we had no trouble as a result of the incident and watched as the youth was taken away by the police.
After eating our food we changed our hitch-hiking signs from Spokane to Missoula. I then walked over to a gas station to use the rest room, but before I went Scott said he was going to start hitch-hiking and would meet me up on the highway unless he got a ride before I got there. A few minutes later I walked up the ramp to the Interstate, but Scott was not there. I figured he had already gotten a ride and that we would meet up again at Fred Sayer’s house in Missoula. I was a little disappointed that he left without me, but I recognized that it would be easier to get a ride alone and that maybe we’d get to Missoula faster this way.
Soon a young man in an orange Volkswagen Thing stopped to offer me a ride. The Thing was a miserable short-lived attempt by Volkswagen to produce a no-frills car for rugged use. As any kind of competition to the Jeep, it failed hands down. The Thing was an angular boxy car with a leaky convertible roof. The interior was spartan with bare metal floor and plastic seats. The doors were tinny and did not close tight. It had two wheel drive, and like all Volkswagens it was under powered. But the man driving it was going all the way to Missoula and that was what really counted.
Along the way we were talking and I mentioned that I was traveling with a companion but that we had gotten separated. Very shortly after that we came around a curve somewhere in Idaho and saw Scott hitch-hiking by the side of the road. I quickly mentioned to the driver that that was my companion in the hope that he would stop to pick Scott up. I made eye contact with Scott as we flew past but there was enough indecision on the part of the driver that we were around the bend and down the road before he could react to the sudden request. By then there was no practical way to stop and pick up Scott so we continued on our way. Some time later Scott waved to me from the window of a passing automobile. He beat me to Missoula by about half an hour and we met again at Fred’s.
It was late July and the wheat which had been ripening an average of seven mile farther north each day was now being harvested on the plains of eastern Montana. Scott saw an opportunity to make some much needed additional money before the start of the fall semester. I was still living at home and did not need to be as self supporting as Scott. I decided that I did not want to spend another few weeks working the wheat harvest that summer and was anxious to get back home. Having gained some confidence in my ability to hitch-hike cross country, I decided to part company with Scott and make my own way home. I made up a large hitch-hiking sign with white plastic contact paper and red reflecting tape that read “DETROIT.” Over this I put a layer of white with red letters that simply read “EAST,” figuring that when I got closer to Detroit I could remove the top layer.
Day 43: Alone Across Montana
Early in the morning Fred Sayer helped to supply me with food and supplies for the trip east. He was an avid hunter and had shot a black bear that season. The bear meat was so gamey and fatty it had to be mixed with a lot of spices and made into sausages. He gave me two of these sausages (each about six inches long and an inch in diameter) to take with me. I loaded up my pack (leaving some things for Scott to bring back later) and had Scott drop me off on the Interstate highway in Missoula.
The first ride I got was with a young man who was following his girl friend in another car. They were moving and were on the way to drop off one of the cars at the new location.
My second ride was with a little old lady school teacher. She was feeling pretty low and picked me up because she needed somebody to talk to. For the entire hour or so that I was with her she bent my ear with a tale of woe concerning her beloved pet dog. Apparently the darling little animal was let out of her yard when a rotten neighbor kid left the gate open. The dog catcher than caught the poor little pooch and hauled it away to the pound where it was held for ransom and she had to pay a lot of money to get her pet back. It was all the neighbor kid’s fault, etc., etc., etc….
The school teacher left me off at me main interchange on the west side of Butte, Montana. I stood by the roadside and held up my sign reading “EAST” in big red letters. The sun inched across the sky and my arm grew tired. I put the sign on the ground, propped against my backpack and continued to smile at the passing cars. Four hours passed with out an offer of a ride. If it wasn’t about 2,000 miles to Detroit I would have started walking. Finally a car stopped and the driver said he was only going across town but asked if that would help. I felt that any place was better than this spot and took him up on the offer. The ride was all of about 4 miles.
At the interchange on the east side of Butte I again started to smile at the passing cars hoping mat one would stop. After 4 more hours the smile on my face had become a frozen grimace. I was within 3 or 4 miles of the continental divide, but getting over the hump was proving to be difficult. I was beginning to despair of ever getting out of Butte. Eventually a bearded man in a white pick up truck stopped and asked me how far east I was going. I replied, “Detroit.” He said he was only going as far as Whitehall, and asked if mat would do me any good. I had no idea where Whitehall was but if it took me any where east of Butte I was willing to take the ride. As it turned out Whitehall was about 20 miles down the road.
He dropped me off at the exit to Whitehall. I could see only a Texaco gas station and convenience store at me foot of the ramp. A few roofs of me town were visible above some trees just beyond the gas station. At the time I had no idea that in 3 years, while attending geology field camp, I would be and back at this small town drinking beer on Saturday nights at the local dance hall.
It was late afternoon and I was getting hungry. I had some food with me and decided to eat the bear sausages first since they were the most likely to spoil. I was not looking forward to eating the sausages, but figured that I needed to eat and should make use of what I had before it went bad. (Although when talking about bear meat, “bad” is a relative term.) The sausages were greasy and very spicy, but I ate them anyway.
Soon a light rain began to fall. Several hundred yards up the road was an overpass. I began to walk that way so I could hitch-hike in the shelter of the bridge. Before I got to there, a dark blue station wagon stopped and two long-haired hippies offered me a ride. The only real difference in appearance between the man and the woman was the beard on the man’s face. I climbed into the back seat and we were off. Soon the girl pulled out a small bag of marijuana. She took an empty beer can and made a small dent in the side at the bottom end. She poked a few holes in the dent and put some of the dope over the holes in the dented side. She had made a serviceable pipe and began to smoke the pot. She offered it to the man and he smoked as well. When she turned around to offer some to me I politely refused. She shrugged and seemed not to be insulted and turned back to her friend to offer him some more. After a while the marijuana took affect and they were in a silly mood. Soon they had the munchies and stopped at a grocery store along the way to pick up some junk food. I bought some food too since I didn’t know how long it would be until I would have the chance to buy some more supplies.
We returned to the car and got back on the highway. About midnight we were crossing the Wyoming border. My two hosts were getting tired and were going to stop for the night at Sheridan, Wyoming. I asked them to let me off at the rest area indicated on me map just before their exit. There I could try to get a ride where people could see me and have time to think about giving me a lift. I could also make a judgment as to whether I wanted to accept an offered ride. I put my sign next to my pack and sat down on a picnic table to watch the people as they came and went.
Soon a red-neck looking man with a paunch came over and asked me how far east I was going. “Detroit,” T replied. He said he was not going quite that far but was headed to Illinois. He offered me a ride if I would talk to him and keep him awake. I agreed, but first he said an old friend who now lived in me area was coming to me rest stop to meet with him and that he would not be ready to leave until after he had visited for a short while. I sat back on the picnic table and waited. It was close to 3:00 am before he came back and said he was ready to go.
He had a full sized pick up truck with a camper mounted in me back (the kind with a bunk mat extends over the cab of the truck). He put my pack in a storage compartment under the camper. He said the rest of his family was sleeping in the back of me truck. With him in the cab was a large black dog that was a cross between an Australian hound and a dingo. It lay curled on the floor on the passenger side and I had to either straddle the sleeping dog with my feet or prop them up on the dash.
We talked about general things as he drove east on Interstate 90. He said he was a rancher from Washington State and was on his way to visit relatives in Illinois. Shortly before dawn he was getting tired and we pulled over by the side of the road to rest for about an hour. It had been a long day for me but I couldn’t sleep too well sitting in the cab of me truck.
Day 44: With a Family in a Camper
The sun rose in front of us out of South Dakota. We awoke in the brightening daylight and started driving again. Somewhere near the Wyoming – South Dakota state line we pulled into a rest area to let die others out of the camper in back and to eat breakfast. I was introduced to his traveling companions. His family consisted of his wife, his 12 year old nephew, his sister-in-law and her 6 month old baby with chicken pox, two foster Indian children who were 5 and 6 years old, and a small yapping dog called a toy poodle. They proceeded to break out some cold cereal, milk and juice. When I made an effort to get at my pack to get some of my food out they said not to bother since I could eat some of their cereal. They poured me a big paper-bowlful. When I finished eating there was still some milk left in me bottom of my bowl. The nephew was about to throw his away until he was loudly reprimanded for wasting milk. I quickly made sure that I drank the milk out of the bottom of my bowl, acting as if I planned to do so all along.
Early this day we drove up into the Black Hills of South Dakota and stopped at Mount Rushmore. There we all got out to wander through the visitor center and view the four presidents’ faces carved out of the granite cliff. This was my first visit to the park and I was very impressed with the size of the sculpture. After leaving me park and driving towards Rapid City, we chanced upon a roadside Indian Museum. We stopped and went in. My admission ticket was paid for by my hosts.
Just after leaving the museum, the truck blew out me left rear tire and we had to stop to change the fiat. Not wanting to drive without a spare, we stopped at a nearby service station to have the tire replaced. The truck wheel used a split-ring to hold the large heavy duty tire on the rim. This made it easier to get the old tire off and the new tire on to the wheel, but it also was a dangerous device if me ring were not properly positioned before the tire was inflated. The service mechanic refused to be responsible for inflating the tire for fear that the ring could fly off me rim with explosive force. The man told me mat it was not unusual for a gas station mechanic not used to working with split-rings to refuse to mount them because they were so dangerous. The man had to inflate the tire himself and did so with the side of me wheel with the ring propped against me wall. As he held the air hose to the nozzle between the wheel and the wall he explained that if the ring should explode off the rim, the wall would keep it from hurting anybody else, although he might get his hand broken. Once the tire was inflated and it was determined that the ring was properly set, we put the new tire on the truck and drove off.
During the daytime, the 12 year old nephew or the two Indian boys would ride in the cab of the truck with us. It was especially crowded when it was the turn for the two boys to ride up front since then we would have two adults and two boys sharing the seat with a large smelly dog on the floor. At one point when the two boys were in the cab the man asked me a question concerning the road map and referred to me as “Navigator.” The two boys thought he had called me an alligator and howled with laughter for several minutes. For a long time after that they would call me “Alligator” and laugh at their joke as if it were the funniest thing in the world. As is the way with small children they kept up the joke long after it had lost any humor it might have originally had.
Late in the afternoon we pulled into a picnic area to make some sandwiches for dinner. While the two women were fixing me food, the man held the sick baby and tired to keep an eye on the two young boys who were playing in a nearby shallow creek. The nephew was taking me large dog for a walk and I was standing around just trying to mind my own business and stay out of the way. Watching the boys in me creek gave the man an idea and he turned to the nephew and said, “Brett, I want you to take that dog down to the creek and wash it.” (Incidentally, this is the only time I can remember hearing the name of any of my host family. If they ever told me their names I don’t recall them, but I don’t think that we ever did exchange names.)
Brett took the end of the dog’s leash and waded into the creek. The stream at this point was about one foot deep and six feet wide with a gravel and sand bottom. He pulled on the leash to make the dog jump into the water, but me dog would have none of that. It went into the center of the creek in one leap and continued out the other side without stopping. Brett turned around to face the dog on me opposite bank and pulled on the leash again. This time the dog knew what was expected and was not about to get pulled into me creek again. It sat on its haunches and braced both front paws stiff-legged in front of it. The boy tugged and tugged on the leash but the dog would not budge. At last the boy gave a mighty pull and the dog could not hold out. It went splashing into die creek where the boy pounced on it to keep it from getting away. The boy splashed water on the dog as it jerked and squirmed to get out of the stream. Finally, the boy (who had been dunked several times himself in the process of giving the dog a bath) let go and the dog came racing out of the water to stand next to the man and me.
At this point I discovered that the only thing that smells worse than a large dirty dog is a large wet dirty dog. The man also came to this same conclusion and said. “Brett, when I said I wanted you to wash that dog, I meant with soap!”
Brett dejectedly took the dog and tried to lead it back to the water, but the man must have realized that the dog was too big for the boy to wrestle with and try to wash at die same time. The man turned to me suddenly and asked, “Have you ever had the Chicken Pox?”
Taken aback by this surprise question I responded, “I don’t know. I think so,”
“Here,” the man said as he handed me the baby. “I guess you’ll find out.”
I was stuck holding a small baby for the first time in my life. I had no idea how to hold a baby. How do you hold it? Do you bounce it? What do you say to it? I just bounced it gently and patted it on the back and hoped it wouldn’t scream bloody murder.
Meanwhile, the man went off to get some soap and came back quickly. He dragged the dog into the stream and held it between his legs as he shampooed the dog vigorously. The dog, who was no match for the man, sat meekly and endured the ordeal while the nephew went off to play with the two Indian boys.
After eating our picnic supper, we loaded all the passengers in the back of the camper and me man, large dog and I got back into the cab of the truck. As the evening wore into night, I began to understand that the man’s method of travel was to drive all night and visit the tourist sights during the day. In this way he could cut down on overnight expenses, keep the rest of the family amused on the long trip, and still make time traveling. If he had been doing this since leaving Washington state, then this was to be at least his third night in a row of all night driving. No wonder he wanted me along to keep him awake. It was my second night without sleep and I was already tired, but I didn’t want to doze off and not keep him company. We drove across eastern South Dakota and into Iowa. A few hours before dawn he was beginning to show his fatigue. He asked me if I knew how to drive a pickup. I knew he was dead tired after going without sleep for two nights. Even though I was very tired too, I immediately said yes thinking that if I didn’t he would not want to lose time by stopping. I did not want him to push himself any more than he already had. We traded places and he soon dropped off to sleep. After an hour or two of driving with no one to help me keep alert my head began to nod and jerk as I fought to stay awake. I reached the point where dreams and reality merged and I awoke with a start to the sound of the tires on the gravel shoulder. I yanked the steering wheel to the left and pulled me truck back onto the highway. The man had apparently not been disturbed by the sudden movement of the truck and continued to sleep, but my heart was beating a mile a minute. For a few minutes my adrenalin kept me very awake, but soon I decided that I had better stop so that I could rest too. The man then awoke and having gotten a few hours rest was able to resume driving.
Day 45: To Illinois
I awoke shortly before we stopped at a rest area for breakfast. I did not tell the man mat I had nearly fallen asleep at the wheel but was not sure if any of the others riding in the camper in back had noticed the truck swerve. I don’t know if they were all asleep at the time or, if they were not, if they even were aware of what had happened or who was driving. The episode had scared me pretty badly, but I didn’t want to have to admit to them that I could have killed us all. To my surprise and relief no one mentioned a thing about it.
As we approached the quad cities on the Mississippi River, I knew that the family was going to be turning south to their destination in central Illinois. I looked at a map and found that there was a rest area about 30 miles west of Davenport, Iowa. This was where I asked to be let off. I was sorry to leave the people who had given me a ride for about a thousand miles and taken such good care of me for two days and nights.
I took off the top layer of my hitch-hiking sign so that it now read “DETROIT.” I sat on a picnic table in front of the parking lot at the rest area with my back pack and sign next to me and smiled at all of the people as they walked past. I noticed one man walk past me more than once. Finally he came over to me and said that he was not going all the way to Detroit, but if he could fit my pack in his car he could at least give me a ride for a little way if I liked. I said that would be fine and walked with him to his car.
He had a six passenger sedan and I was surprised to find that he had his whole family in the car with him. Waiting in the car were his wife, two teen-aged daughters and his mother. He was concerned that even if he could squeeze me in, he might not have room for my big back pack. He opened the trunk and it looked full, but I showed him how he could rearrange his suitcases too make room for my pack and it fit perfectly. He had his mother get up front with his wife and him and I sat in the back seat with the two girls.
It turns out he was a Mennonite farmer named Stanley Gingrich from New Hamburg, Ontario, and was returning from a vacation in the U.S. He was very curious about life in the U.S. as compared to Canada and asked many questions. He dropped me off at a rest area west of Chicago. Illinois, about two hours later and left me with an offer to stop in on him if I was ever in New Hamburg.
It was getting late in the afternoon and I did not want to get stranded in the Chicago area at night, so I decided to quit for the day and spend the night at the rest area. I made a meal out of some food I had and relaxed in the park-like atmosphere of the rest area. In the evening, I found a spot near the air conditioner behind the visitor’s building at the rest area. It was completely surrounded by a cinder block wall about four feet high and kept me out of sight of the people coming and going in the parking lot. There was a flat area of loose pea gravel that was plenty big enough for me to lay out my sleeping bag. It was a beautiful starlit night and I was anxious for a good nights sleep.
Day 46: With Friends in Detroit
In the morning I awoke soaking wet. After becoming used to the dry air of the West, I had forgotten that there is often a heavy dew in the East and had not covered my sleeping bag with my poncho the night before. I opened my wet sleeping bag and spread it on a picnic table to dry out. I then went in the rest room and shaved and shampooed in the sink so that I would look presentable while trying to catch a ride mat day. After breakfast I packed up my still damp sleeping bag and sat where the travelers could see me and my sign. Soon a middle-aged man came along and offered me a ride. He was a traveling sales man and was on his way to visit his sister in southern Michigan.
I don’t remember how we got on the subject, but he began telling me stories about when he was a tank driver during World War II. At one time while in Europe an American infantry unit was pinned down by rifle fire coming from a sniper in a church steeple. He brought his tank into position and fired a shell into the steeple to silence the sniper. He later learned that the sniper was only a young teen-aged boy that the Germans had drafted. He felt bad that he had to kill him, but rationalized that it was either that or let more Americans get hit by the sniper fire. He went on to say that destroying a church was sacrilegious and he was glad he never blew up a church while in the war. But he did admit, as in this case, that he had to knock the steeples off a few.
While he was occupied by telling his stories, he missed his intended exit where Interstate 80 split off and joined the Indiana Turnpike. We continued ahead on Interstate 94. Although the two routes parallel each other he would have preferred to stay on 1-80 since it took him a little closer to where his sister lived. But once we were on 1-94 he decided to stay with that route. I was just as glad since 1-94 led directly to Detroit where I planned to drop in on my friends from the university there. About halfway across Michigan he reached his exit and dropped me off.
It was still fairly early in the day and I was looking forward to being able to relax with some friends in Detroit. As I stood by the road side an old blue station wagon pulled over to offer me a ride. There were two young men who looked like country red-necks in the front seat. Behind the seat in the back were some fishing poles, coolers and tackle boxes. The men were returning from a vacation fishing trip and were in a happy mood. I climbed into the back seat. It didn’t take me long to figure out that their good moods were partly the result of the liberal consumption of alcohol. In fact they were still in the process of drinking their beer. I didn’t accept their offer of a drink and debated the relative merits of asking to be let out or staying with them and hoping that they didn’t get too drunk to drive safely. In the end I stayed with them knowing that it was only a few more miles and I would be in Detroit. In a short while they let me out at the western edge of the Detroit metropolitan area.
It was about three o’clock when I called John Gminer, a friend of mine, from a public phone and told him where I was. He was a native of the Detroit area and I knew he would be around for the summer. He came to pick me up and took me to the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity house across the street from the University of Detroit campus. A few of the fraternity brothers that I knew from a couple of years earlier were there for the summer. I spent the rest of the day visiting with old friends and then spent the night at the fraternity house.
Day 47: On the Bus
In the morning I decided to take the bus the rest of the way home. I was anxious to get back and was a little more leery of the type of people I would meet while hitch-hiking on the busy eastern highways. I got Rick Grajewski to drive me down town to the Greyhound bus terminal. The bus ride from Detroit to Washington, D.C. was an uneventful 24 hour trip stopping at many small towns along the way.
Day 48: Home
I arrived home near the end of July after being gone for a little short of two months. Scott Christy would not return for another month after working me wheat harvest in Montana. Nonetheless, even without working me additional harvest in Montana with Scott, I was able to return home with more money than I had when I started. I had over $300 in my pocket when I got back. When I left home in June I had just over $200. I had earned enough money working in Kansas to buy a new down sleeping bag and other supplies, spend over a month traveling around and still return home with more money than I had when I left. It was a good summer.
The recollections recorded above are the fruits of an idea the originated several years ago. Within a few years after the summer of 1974,1 began to wish that I had kept a daily journal of that time because I realized that the trip that I took that summer as a carefree college student was filled with very unusual experiences mat were not likely to be repeated. I often thought about the possibility of writing down anecdotes of that summer, but the act of actually sitting down to do so was continuously put off until later. I simply lacked the inspiration and motivation to do so. Then in the mid to late 1980s, I conceived of the idea to record the events of that summer as a kind of experiment.
Having read several first-person accounts of the Civil War, some written as much as 20, 30, even 50 years later, I began to wonder how someone could recall such detail so long after the fact. I resolved to attempt to record the events of the summer of ‘74 with as much detail as possible to see if I could recall distant past events with the same clarity as the old Civil War veterans. Granted, the summer of 1974 was not as traumatic a time in my life as the Civil War was to the old soldiers, but I felt that it had made a big impression on me. Therefore I began to systematically reconstruct me trip Scott and I took that summer.
I began with a map of the U.S. and plotted the route that we took and the places that we stayed or visited. Then, intermittently over the next several years, I jotted down brief notes whenever I thought of a place or event from that summer. Finally, I took all the notes and put them in chronological order and began to consciously try to fill in the remaining gaps. Occasionally I consulted my old photographs to verify the accuracy of my memory, but I did not want to rely heavily on them since I still viewed this as an experiment in my ability (and by extension the Civil War veteran’s ability) to accurately recall detailed events many years later. Although the Civil War veteran would not have had a large collection of personal photographs, I am certain mat he would have been able to consult published sources of information on the War to anchor his personal recollections of daily events.
The results of my experiment are readily seen. I no longer question the ability to recall significant detail many years after the fact. Nonetheless, some minor errors are bound to occur. I have tried to avoid them and have made the Journal above as accurate as possible, but to the extent that there are errors, I do not recognize them now.
I have one final comment that I feel is important to stress. Although I enjoyed the experiences of the summer of 1974, and am glad to have the memories, I do not think that all that we did was safe or advisable. With the knowledge I have today about the dangers that we either ignored or did not understand, I would not do the same things again. And I certainly do not recommend that anyone else attempt them either.