Check out the video!
Hey everyone, it’s Loren from Digital Nomad Lifestyle here with a thrilling story from my past, a story about the most intense experience I ever had hitchhiking.
Table Of Contents
- How I Got Into Hitchhiking
- Details Of My Trip
- The First Days On The Road
- My Buddy Leaves Me In St. Louis
- Then He Picks Me Up
How I Got Into Hitchiking
Back when I was a college student in the U.S., funds were tight but the desire to explore the world was strong. Inspired by a documentary featuring artist Dave Cho and his hitchhiking adventures worldwide, my friend and I decided that hitchhiking was our ticket to seeing the world without breaking the bank.
A shot from Thumbs Up America – the show that got me into hitchiking 📸 – Davechoe.com
A shot of the trip
We planned a hitchhiking trip from the heart of the United States to New York, ~2,000 miles, or ~3,000 kilometers.
I was told by nearly everyone that it was a horrible idea, that I was going to get killed. I didn’t care and I didn’t listen to any of them.
I went to a liberal arts college, and I was (practically) brainwashed to believe that everyone is inherently good, if you give them a chance.
In response to the pleas to reconsider this trip, I would always reply
I still generally believe that, but the level of trust I had in complete strangers was incredibly high back then
And it wasn’t until this trip that I lost that blind faith…
The First Days On The Road
A shot of the tent we slept in, in the middle of cities 😆
Despite our excitement, the first couple of days were tough. We once had to wait for about eight to nine hours by the roadside before getting a ride. It was tedious, but we pushed through.
Our journey led us to St Louis, Missouri, halfway between our starting point Denver, Colorado, and our destination, New York. Our adventure was taking a toll on us by this point. We slept outdoors, ate food from trash cans or sneaked into hotels for the complimentary breakfast, and sometimes cooked up oatmeal and protein powder that we’d brought along.
As the novelty of the trip began to fade, we found ourselves in an exciting part of St Louis near the river. This area was bustling with cool cars, blaring rap music, and a crowd where we stood out as the only white people.
Up to this point in my life, the feeling of being different and out of place was quite uncomfortable.
My buddy Chaz, who had planned this trip, was exhausted and just wanted to find a place to sleep. But I was having a bit of a panic attack.
The idea of sleeping in an abandoned building in a part of town that didn’t feel safe was terrifying. I watch movies, I know what happens when you sleep in old abandoned buildings!
So we walk around trying to find some place to sleep, we’re in a more dangerous part of town, in the middle of the night with backpacks on.
We’re clearly not from there, and make great targets.
Finally after two or three hours of walking around we find the rooftop of an old garage to sleep on.
The garage behind an apartment building. We find a way to climb on top of this rooftop and I’m starting to feel okay.
We’re on top of this rooftop, it’s only one story high but we’re high enough that people walking by can’t see us, so we finally go to sleep.
Cruising on my longboard in between rides in St. Louis
We wake up in the morning and look at each other, we’re covered in black soot
Turns out that rooftop had been covered in black tar so we were covered from head to toe in this black soot.
We got maybe three or four hours of sleep, after all we had to leave early because someone in the apartment building next to us may see us.
We don’t have any money, we’re not staying in any hotels, so what’s the plan to wash off?
As we’re bathing, people come by to take our photos, I was just smiling and waving.
This is when it starting getting exciting for me.
A shot of Forest Park, where we bathed 📸 – peachythemagazine.com
Some Background About Me & Why I Was Enjoying This
If you’d like to hop to the next part of the story click here
For a long part of my life I I needed to find something to fight against, it was the only thing that drove me.
I tend to quit things when they get easy, and when I know I can achieve them.
When I’m in the middle of fighting for something that’s the last time that I want to quit.
It’s like we’re out here, we’re living it, we’re figuring things out, we’re problem solving, we’re having this crazy ass time
Hitchiking Alone – Chaz Goes Back Home my buddy Chaz was on the other uh I did not agree with this his mom was freaking out his moment hitchhiked when she was younger and she’s like you don’t know how evil people are out there.
Back To St. Louis – Chaz Is Having Second Thoughts
So we just got finished sleeping three to four hours on a rooftop covered in tar. We’re covered in black soot, my buddy used his shoe as a pillow that night. Now we’re bathing in a public pond to try to get clean.
Then we go in the morning for a little bit of a splurge. Right, so we’re splurging on some McDonald’s or Carl’s Jr, I can’t remember. So we’re sitting there at a very fancy fast restaurant, living the luxurious life, taking a break from being homeless.
Sitting there, my buddy’s mom calls him. She’s freaking out, still thinks that he’s gonna die. She was able to convince him to turn back around and go back and fly back to Denver. She bought him a ticket.
I remember him leaving the restaurant and my hand started shaking a little bit because I knew what was happening. I knew that his mom had talked him into turning back. I looked down on him for many years for turning back because in my mind, this is when the adventure begins, not when everything’s going smooth. It’s when things get hard that the real adventure starts.
So I’m sitting there, kind of shaking my hands because I’m freaked out. I’m about to hitchhike for another, like I said, I don’t know, maybe a thousand or 1500 kilometers by myself. He comes back, I already knew what he was going to say. I couldn’t even look him in the eyes.
“Oh man, I’m going to go back, but you know, my mom can buy you a ticket if you want, …”
As he was talking his voice fades out and I get this intense mental haze, like a the scene from a movie where someone is hearing a bad diagnosis.
This was followed by extreme determination, I didn’t feel feelings back then (and maybe I still don’t now) so I had no time to entertain the anxiety I felt, I need to channel that stimulation into motivation, and I did.
“No man, I made a decision to get to New York.”
I was left alone, feeling a mix of fear and determination. My younger sister had bet that I wouldn’t make it to New York, and I was driven to prove her wrong.
I wasn’t going to let my dream just fade away. I needed to manifest it.
‘You don’t think I can hitchhike across the U.S? Watch me! I’m going to sleep on rooftops, eat from trash cans, do whatever it takes.’
My friend left, but I was more determined than ever to get to New York.
A shot of me after I started hitchiking alone
My first solo ride dropped me off in East St. Louis, probably one of the worst places to be as an outsider, definitely one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in the United States.
Walking around there, it was obvious that it was a rough neighborhood. Streets with weeds growing half a meter tall, abandoned houses everywhere. I got picked up by a guy who ran a landscaping business. He had a full grill and told me, ‘East St. Louis is what you make of it.’ It was an interesting perspective.
Life is what you make of it.
As I continued my hitchhiking journey alone, I got picked up by some heroin addicts in Illinois. They were sketchy, but nothing happened.
Then a guy with clear PTSD from his time in the military picked me up. He started chanting off in a ravenous voice, some Navy chant, in the middle of a cornfield with a look of rage in his eyes.
Over time, I started to get more comfortable, more relaxed. I started to have faith in the world around me.
Then I got picked up by a trucker. He told me about Christianity, about a movie that made me a vegetarian for three years.
When I started hitchiking I was scared of truckers, but he this guy was great! Everything’s going great man, people are good.
A shot from West Virginia, right next to where this all went down
Then He Picks Me Up
The trucker dropped me off at White Sulphur Springs, Virginia
After about two or three hours, another guy picked me up. His car was full of trash. It took him a few minutes just to clear all the junk out of his front seat.
He spent maybe five minutes clearing all the trash out of his front seat so I can sit down.
I had these sort of canned responses that I used all the time to make me feel a little bit safer.
Then he starts asking me some more personal questions
- Do you have anybody who loves you
- Have you had any creepy dudes pick you up?
- Are you part of the LGBTQIA+ community?
I responded that I wasn’t gay, but he insisted
“If you’ve never been with a man, then how do I know you’re not gay?”
My response was “You wouldn’t go to a gay man and ask him if he hadn’t been with a woman how he knew he wasn’t straight.”
That seemed to checkmate him, so he changed the subject.
He started talking about how his wife just left him, and he had this beautiful cabin in the woods, but felt alone out there.
After, he revealed that he had driven past me before and turned back around to pick me up.
Keep in mind, this is in the middle of nowhere. He must’ve spent 15 – 20 minutes turning around to come back to get me.
He then told me he picked me up because he thought I was cute.
My response was “Thanks man”
Still no red flags man, the world’s a good place full of good people.
He then asked me if he could blow me, to which I declined. The mood changed. He stared me directly in the eyes and said
“If I give you 50 bucks, would you let me blow you?”
That freaked me out and all of a sudden the red flags were popping off.
I realized why he had been asking all those personal questions. I thought this dude’s going to kill me.
He started talking about his wife and how he’s living in his cabin by himself and he’s so lonely. He asked if I could join him in the cabin and I told him to drop the subject.
We sat there in silence, and he was trying to make small talk, as we were about a kilometer or two away from the exit.
As we get closer, my hand is slowly moving over to the center council.
Because in my mind, I’m not about to get raped and killed.
I’m not dying with the dick in my mouth and a gun to my head. If I’m gonna die, we’re both dying.
So he’s getting closer and closer to the exit, and as we get closer my hand is getting closer and closer to that ebrake.
Then he pulls over
he pulls on the side of the ramp, and lets me out, all the while apologizing.
“Oh man, I’m so sorry, dude.”
“I’m just really lonely, you know? My wife just left me and everything.”
And I couldn’t even look him in the eyes, I was freaking out.
All I could say was “I don’t care, man. Leave me alone. Don’t touch me.”
I did have some emergency money together, so that was one of the few nights I stayed in a hotel. I remember peeking through the blinds, freaking out, thinking that he’s following me.
I call my friend Brittany and I told her the whole story. And then Brittany, at the end of the story goes
At that point, I realized, wow, okay, so this is why women kind of freak out when we’re going out to clubs or hanging out, right?
Because if there’s some creepy-ass dude who’s really, really pushy, it’s scary.
And thank God I didn’t feel like this person could physically overpower me at any point. But if I were a small woman and there’s some huge dude who was twice my size, who was acting like that, that’d be terrifying.
That was an interesting little glimpse into what women have to deal with.
So, overall, do I think the world’s still a good place for good people?
Yes, but, you know, I was too naive, letting that dude go on and on before I put my foot down.
If I hadn’t been so forceful with that guy, I really don’t know what would have happened. I don’t know if he would have killed me. But the fact that he was asking if I had loved ones, or if I was just a “drifter” seems a bit weird.