Leather & Rubber Tramps
As a rubber tramp (a term that references my vehicle’s tires and the fact that I’m driving), it is not lost on me that I still enjoy quite a few modern luxuries and conveniences. For instance, I have this vehicle that propels me across the country, often at speeds up to 80 miles per hour. The vehicle is somewhat secure, can carry a lot of cargo, has air conditioning, and can provide me with a limited supply of electricity.
Compared to my old lifestyle and the lifestyle enjoyed by virtually everyone else I know, I’m living a rough life. I have no permanent address, no home, and no bed. Finding a safe place to sleep, finding water, and managing my electricity stores are all daily chores. I’m living out of a number of bags and totes, and I never know where I’m going end up at the end of each day.
But compared to the leather tramps (those who hoof it), I’m still pretty soft and sheltered. I have great admiration for folks like Zombie. To be able to be out in the heat we’ve been having – with daytime temperatures holding between 85°F and 95°F – lugging around what had to be a 100lb. rucksack, and not keeling over from heat stroke… It takes a certain toughness to survive that.
So it all depends upon which standards I choose to judge myself by. Compared to my old life, I’ve got nothing to hang my head about. Not just anyone is willing to abandon the creature comforts of modern life. But measured against my new friend, Zombie, and others like him, I do feel woefully inadequate. I still feel like a tourist and a poser. (Not that anyone has tried to make me feel that way.)
Although I’m a rubber tramp, I do feel my skin turning to leather (literally and metaphorically). In just this one week, I’ve noticed my energy levels changing. My appetite is way down. I eat twice daily – once in the morning when I wake up and once at night before bed. Meals that I once considered paltry are now filling and may even go partially uneaten. Where I draw the line between comfort and discomfort has moved significantly.
I’m more tolerant, more patient, and less concerned by trivial matters. I’ve all but stopped giving a shit about what’s going on in Washington, D.C. (though I still hope to return to civilization and discover Trump removed from office).
Finding a creek near my campsite was something that made me happy because it meant I could take a bath and wash some clothes. My skin is getting tougher and grittier in some areas. Callouses are beginning to form. I’m even gradually becoming more outgoing toward total strangers.
Day 8 began at Bridger National Forest. I proceeded toward Jackson via Alpine. In Jackson, I visited the National Elk Refuge before moving through Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park (where we got to watch Old Faithful erupt). Afterwards, we went to Black Horse Lake (allegedly haunted by a phantom hitchhiker), even though we didn’t see any hitchers – corporeal or ethereal – via Big Sky, Bozeman, Helena, and Great Falls. We then doubled-back past Great Falls toward Helena and crashed at a rest stop.
On Day 9, I continued on to Missoula where Remy took a swim in a campus dog park that borders a small lake. From there we went to Glacier National Park, and then slept in an alcove between the highway and railroad tracks in Flathead National Forest.
On Day 10, I crossed the U.S./Canada Border at Carway, then proceeded to Calgary. I decided to rent a motel room for some much needed rest and recovery. Although my spirits are pretty high, there’s been a slight toll on my body, and I needed a short break.
Loneliness on the Road
I’m pretty sure I spoke about this in my last blog entry. However, my memory sucks and on account of limited access to Wi-Fi and data signals, I find myself typing these blog posts while I’m offline, then quickly uploading them when I can find a signal. I don’t have the benefit of going back to check previous entries until I’ve already written these things.
I’m coping with solitude pretty well on this trip. I’ve always been a pretty solitary person, so this isn’t really much of a shock to my system. In fact, it’s pretty par for the course. But these are some unusual circumstances, and I am in unfamiliar surroundings, so I did expect to feel especially isolated on this trip. Happy to report that I’m not having a meltdown, nor do I feel one coming on anytime soon.
But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t regret having a travel companion. The highlights of this trip have been when I had a passenger. So far, that’s just been the couple of days Zombie and I have traveled together. I miss him, though we are connected on Facebook and have been keeping in touch.
I did find another hitchhiker before I reached Jackson. But our time together was much shorter. He was about a mile or two from the nearest town (if you could call it that) and just wanted a quick ride there so he could thumb another ride in the opposite direction of where I was heading. I think his name was Colton. We spoke briefly and got each other’s bios, but that was about all we had time for in our short time together.
Wal-Mart Parking Lots
One reason I might not be running into more hitchhikers is because I’m not hanging out in Wal-Mart parking lots. It makes sense. Hitchhikers face harassment and arrest if found by the police on a highway. But on Wal-Mart’s private property, they can’t do much of anything unless the store manager calls the police in. But most Wal-Marts are considered a safe-haven for RV-ers, truckers, and other nomads. Although I found Zombie on an interstate, at his request, I dropped him off twice in Wal-Mart parking lots and found him the second time at a Wal-Mart. And – apart from him and Colton – the only other two hitchers I saw were also in a Wal-Mart parking lot (but their destinations were in other directions).
Zombie called Wal-Mart a town’s hub (or something to that effect – I can’t remember his exact words). At first, I thought that was a strange statement. I for one am not a fan of Wal-Mart stores in general, so I’ve never felt inclined to hang out at them. Also, from my more traditional background, I view stores as places of commerce where you go to conduct whatever business you have (the purchase of goods) and then move on.
But as we waited in the parking lot in Evanston for the guy Zombie was going to meet, I noticed the strange pulse of the Wal-Mart parking lot. It occurred to me that Zombie was right – at least for certain communities, cultures, and individuals – Wal-Mart is more than just a retail store.
Picture in your mind a long-haired, tie-dye wearing, guitar-strumming, pot-smoking hippie. Now picture in your mind a gothic, dressed all in black, metal-head punk. Two entirely different aesthetics, certainly. The hippie is colorful and conveys thoughts of peace and love. The metalhead is dark and brooding and conjures ideas of violence and hatred. You wouldn’t often think that these two cultures have much in common, but they do.
Nomads, too. I didn’t include them in the first paragraph, because nomads come in diverse flavors. Some are hippies, others are punks, and others are their own thing. Each of these three cultures is defined by unique characteristics and you certainly wouldn’t make the mistake of thinking those three are interchangeable.
But when it comes to philosophies and world-views, I’ve detected a lot of similarities between these cultures. In their own way, they each reject and rebel against societal norms and expectations. They tend to be anti-authoritarian and not crazy about government and law enforcement. Most everyone I’ve met in one of these three cultures is open-minded and fiercely anti-bigot.
I guess it’s no longer a surprise to me that I’ve been drawn toward each of these cultures. They might not seem like it on the surface, but there’s a lot more that unites them than divides them.
I’m not sure which culture you’d lump me in with. I guess I’m least like a hippie, as my only two hippie credentials are being a stoner and having played Ultimate Frisbee in college. Certainly a nomad. Not quite a metalhead (I like metal, but that’s not my passion), but certainly a haunter-punk. At any rate, I’m proud of whatever loose associations I have with all three cultures.
I’m already beginning to dread the end of this trip – a notion that I already have to contend with given the breakneck speed with which I’m progressing through my formerly six month itinerary. Although I’m looking forward to a comfortable bed and running water, I expect waking up in the same place day after day to now be soul-crushingly dull. I think I will find myself experiencing wanderlust on levels never before conceived.
I must also confess that I’m not looking forward to reunions with friends or family. Not because I don’t miss them – I most certainly do. But I’m recoiling at the inevitable onslaught of “how was the trip?” questions.
How does one answer that question? Where does one begin? This wasn’t a weekend getaway to a beach resort in Montego Bay. This was a 13,000 (now going on 15,000) mile road trip. And I am getting so much more out of it than just seeing places. I’m growing as an individual, learning about other people, gaining new perspectives… How can I condense the essence of an experience like this into the five minute attention span of someone who works a 9 to 5 job?
I want to share my experiences, but I want to do so in a meaningful way. I don’t give a shit about seeing the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains. This trip was always meant to be about so much more than the destinations.
All around me, I see people miserable – working jobs they hate because they’re expected to live up to the American Dream. I want to show them that there are alternatives. I want to show them that other lifestyles are possible. If I can use my experiences as Exhibit A in the case that people can live happier and more fulfilling lives…
Whatever platform I have at my disposal, I think it’s also incumbent on me to try to change people’s minds about nomadic cultures (and hippies and punks, too!). People are too quick to judge and condemn people they don’t understand or perceive to be less than they are. Zombie tells me of all the criticism he hears from people – screaming at him to get a job or find a home. And I believe him because I’ve witnessed plenty of it myself.
Everyone has this perception that nomads are lazy degenerates, leeching off taxpayers, dangerous, violent, and uneducated. People often associate those stigmas with hippies and punks, too. On the contrary – the punks, hippies, and nomads I know tend to be the friendly, kind, intelligent, thoughtful, and generous. They also happen to be leading happier and freer lives than the buttoned-up suits earning fat corporate salaries.
I don’t know that people lash out at nomads out of a sense of jealousy – because that would require an understanding of why nomads are nomads. Rather, I think they lash out precisely out of ignorance and holier-than-thou attitudes. When a “normal” person sees a nomad – all they usually see is a taxpayer parasite. They never bother to get to know the person any deeper than that.
I dunno… I think I might write a book when this experience is over. There’s so much more to share than where I went and what I did. If I don’t share what I’ve learned and don’t at least make an attempt to change some minds, then I’ll have wasted this opportunity.