Sunday, October 21, 2012

10 August 2012

Prologue: Life is good, blog posts are few. This summer, after completing my ten weeks of research, I drove southwest until I reached Champaign, Illinois. I was so disenchanted that I turned around and drove back, but not before helping my brother move into his new condo on the shore of the great corn sea. Once back in Grand Rapids, I parked my car, caught the bus to the north out of town, and started walking northward. I was destined to live and work on a farm in Northern Michigan among hippies and llamas. To get there I would walk; my steps took me on the famed North Country Trail, but also along roads, railroad tracks, and through apple orchards. What follows is my raw journal entry from one of the days of that pedestrian journey.

False advertising--my campsite on the first night of my journey, at the margin of a cornfield just south of Sparta, Michigan. This photo does, however, capture all my worldly possessions that I bore on my back.

Slowly becoming conscious this morning was unpleasant—highly unpleasant. My sleeping bag was soaked. My tarp had pools of rain water collected in it. Drops of water dripped out of the trees constantly. I felt relatively dry in my cave, but it was a disgusting, sticky sensation. I was frustrated. And wanted to give up.

Which explains why I’m here in Baldwin already, at a laundromat, drying myself and my possessions out (I wish I could crawl into a dryer!)

My gear was so soaked—and my feet so wet—that I concluded I needed to get off the trail. I was camped right along 8 mile, and after looking at my map I realized it was only a few miles to the 37. There wasn’t much of a town there—Brohman—but, I figured skin sloughing off my feet constituted an emergency, so I decided to hitchhike.

Four or five cars passed me on Pierce—I stuck my thumb out, but I figured I would do my serious hitchhiking on the main road. Got to Brohman, and, after being passed by ten cars, got discouraged and decided I needed the fortification and warmth only coffee could lend. There was a gas station there—a BP—and I set my sights for that, but then at the last minute I changed course and went for a charismatic-looking little (and I mean LITTLE) restaurant called Abner’s (it had a picture of one of those black and white mini-bulldog thingees on the front). Anyway, I walked in there, and charismatic it was indeed! Only one table was taken—a bunch of old guys, probably locals—and the walls were plastered with all sorts of bumper stickers, about dogs and whatever. I was quite nearly incoherent in my sodden and chilled misery, but I managed to ask for a :small coffee to go. Conversation at the local table came to a standstill. Very, very awkward. Got my coffee, and as I was walking out, one of the guys said, “Nasty day for a walk, huh?”

I shrugged as I went out the door and said, “Eh, could be worse, there could be lightning!”

Got back on the road, sticking my thumb out whenever a vehicle came up behind me. The coffee had emboldened me, but still, I felt very forlorn as car after car passed me. I had almost resolved that I would have to walk all the way to Baldwin when a maroon pickup that passed me pulled over and started backing up! I picked up my pace, quickly looked in the window—two oldish looking guys—threw my backpack in the truck bed, and hopped in. The guy in the passenger seat scooted over to make room for me on the bench.

“Don’t see people hitchin’ much anymore,” remarked the driver.

“Yeah…desperation..” and I rambled and babbled about being out in the rain for the last two nights and days.

“Where you headed? North?” said the driver.

“Yep…Baldwin.” I replied.

“We can handle that…we’re going to Wolf Lake to get some parts at a junk yard, then out…[somewhere] to get a number on some machinery for sale…”

Exceptional luck, I couldn’t help but think. Two nice guys and they were going straight through Baldwin! Out of the corner of my eye, I inspected my benefactors. Old, both of them, at least in their sixties. A couple packages of chew rested in the corner of the dash. Jeans, flannel—looked like classic northern Michiganders. Spoke like it, too, with a slightly backwoods accent, complete with “Oooohhh yeaahs.” Turns out they were loggers (!) from White Cloud. When they weren’t interrogating me, they were talking about cedar and telephone poles and saws.

Eventually they remembered me…”So, what do you do, young blood?”

“I’m a student at Calvin College in Grand Rapids,” I said, or something to that extent.

They chuckled a bit. The driver jovially said, “My friend here, he’s got a PhD in the School of Hard Knocks, and me, I’ve got a master’s in “Get It Done.”

They talked more about logging and excavating and then, after asking what I wanted to be, advised me to go into logging. “Whaddya say, Wayne, we make him into a logger?” From there, they started joking about retirement, so I asked, “Is it true that you can never retire?”

They laughed a bit, and then the driver said, “Oooohh yeaah, I was in excavating for years, retired, then started working at a retirement home, for ten years! Fun job—never wanted to get too close to them, I only was ever friends with about half a dozen of them…otherwise, it gets to ya quick! Then I started logging.”

Let’s see, what else did they say…when I mentioned I was from California, the driver said, “Woah, you must be thinking you’re in the middle of hell!” To this I had to respond with the whole growing-up-in-Detroit part of my life story, to which he responded, “Sounds like ya went from bad to worse!”

Eventually we got to Baldwin. They joked about dropping me off at the slammer—“…90% blacks in that tank…don’t know how they’d take to a little white boy…”

So yeah, I survived my first hitchhiking experience, and it was awesome.

I didn’t really know what to do with myself, then, since Baldwin was my target destination for the day, and it was only 9AM. I wandered into Dollar General, realized I wasn’t ready to go shopping yet, bought a package of mini-oreos, and walked out munching on them. THEY WERE SO GOOD. My debit card hadn’t been working, so the cashier put it in a plastic shopping bag and swiped it. Voila! “You learn things working at Dollar General…”

Now, to get dry…a laundromat was what I needed. I poked my head into the door of a weird tourist-trapping little shop and asked, “Is there a laundromat in town?” The cashier, a northern Michigan stereotypical guy with a paintbrush moustache, simply pointed south and said, “Three blocks, on the left.”

It was very tempting to strip off all my clothes and plunge into the dryer naked, but I resisted…I did, however, throw my sleeping bag, mosquito net, shoes, extra clothing, tarp, hat, and plastic bags into the dryers. I got the strangest looks as I sorted through my scattered possessions with bare feet, filthy, and probably smelling terrible.

Epilogue: My dryness that day was fleetingly temporarily. Within fifteen minutes of being back on the trail (I had gotten a ride back to the trail with a kind lady from the laundromat, but that's another story in itself), I was already soaked through again. In the end, I survived, hiking perhaps 120 miles in all.