Unable to find a ride further west I spent a cold night in the nearby woodland. The numerous ‘NO TRESPASSING’ signs I encountered would throughout my journey continue to serve as a reminder of the strong sense of property rights in the United States .
In the morning after about an hour of waiting a state trooper pulled over. My first reaction was fear and annoyance; I knew hitchhiking was illegal in New Jersey. I wasn’t so much scared of legal repercussions but more so for the logistic hassle of not being allowed to hitchhike on. The cop however turned out to be very lenient and allowed me to continue hitchhiking, though he seemed very skeptical of my chances to get a ride. Not even ten minutes later Erik halted his truck next to me and invited me to join him in driving about 160 miles west.
The first ride of the day is always an important one for my mood, which picked up right away. I enjoyed Erik’s company, we talked spirituality and I had the possibility of heating up inside the comfortable truck. When he proposed I abandon my plans of hitching straight west but instead join him for a bit longer and head on the I-81 through Tennessee I didn’t need much convincing. Warm weather loomed! Just before the Maryland border I was on my own again.
Noon came and went. The weather unchanged; cold and windy. For three hours I stood at the on-ramp next to the truck stop. In that time multiple people stopped, all only going to the next town. I decided it wasn’t worth leaving my precious truck stop and kept hoping for that one long ride. A woman came up to me and gave me some change to ‘get myself a warm coffee’. I was baffled by this selfless gesture and couldn’t make sense of all the monetary help and food I’d received so far and would continue to be given during my entire hitch across, when there was such a reluctance to give me a ride. Later it dawned on me that the American culture seems to be one of fear and distrust of strangers. Giving money is a way of helping that does not require much personal risk, whereas giving a ride is. It made me admire the few free-thinking people that broke out of this paradigm and did invite me into their vehicles.
Finally a guy stopped and said he was heading to Hagarstown, Maryland, about 30 miles away. Though not ideal I was ready for a change of scenery and accepted. Kirk proceeded to initiate me in the concept of drive-through coffee at the local Dunkin’ Donuts. The 20 fl. oz. (600ml) coffee made my head feel like there were a dozen kids jumping on trampolines inside of it.
Fueled by this surge of energy I spent the next two hours enthusiastically flagging down cars. Though the spot was average I didn’t feel a care in the world and felt as free as ever, seeing possibilities not problems. The multitude of experiences this day and the day before lead to me being overcome by a total acceptance of whatever would be thrown at me. Whether through my enthusiasm or just sheer luck I don’t know, but suddenly a truck pulled over and I had gotten myself a ride to North Carolina with Johnny.
Johnny was a middle-aged trucker with eight kids. He owned his own transport company but liked driving trucks too much to give up on it. We joined ways for 270 miles. By now it was getting dark and I noticed my tiredness from a day out in the cold. Johnny offered me his bed in the back of the cabin, which I politely declined at first. He repeated his offer a few times and I felt he was genuine, so I laid myself to rest and had a few wonderful warm hours of sleep, waking up only from sudden speed changes or bumps in the road. It reminded me of the times I’d been crammed into a tiny bed of a night train joggling its way toward a faraway destination.
In the morning I had not expected at all to make it as far as the western tip of Virginia, but here I was. The only thing unchanged was the temperature; even colder than the night before. I snuck into the heated trucker lounge, best described as a mini-cinema with comfortable armchairs, bright ceiling lamps and a blaring wide-screen television that continued all throughout the night. The space was warm though, and of all things that’s what mattered most to me that night. After securing my backpack, putting a leg and an arm through the straps, it did not take me long to fall asleep.