Table of Contents
In 1962, I graduated from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, with a B.S. in Mathematics.
I was ready to hit the road. I had a bad case of wanderlust.
The previous year, my roommate had taken off from school and had hitch-hiked to Colorado, where he worked in a mine and had some other adventures. He arrived back safely during my senior year and graduated in 1963. I wanted to take a similar trip. My father convinced me to stay in school until I got my degree, and then do my wandering.
During my senior year, I applied to several graduate schools to enroll in a Master’s Degree program. They were all located far away from Maine; the farthest was the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.
My grades at Bates had slipped during the second semester of my junior year, because I had become inattentive, so I was surprised and pleased when I was accepted at the University of Alaska, and even received a teaching assistantship. It may have helped that the chairman of the Math Department was a Maine native like me.
I had made several short hitch-hiking trips within New England, so I decided that I would get to Fairbanks by hitch-hiking across the country and up through Canada on the Alaska Highway. This might satisfy my wanderlust.
I did manage to hitch-hike across the USA, visit much of the West, including California, go up the Alaska Highway in western Canada, and arrive in Fairbanks. I kept a journal, and during the 1962-1963 school year, I used the typewriter in the University of Alaska Math Department to write a series of letters back home, giving details of my trip. My mother saved those letters and proudly showed the resulting manuscript to her friends.
In 2011, my brother found that manuscript and sent it to me. I keyed it into modern digital form and my words from 1962, lightly edited for grammar and ambiguity, are what follow, starting with Chapter 1.
In some places, I have inserted commentary, in italics, to explain and augment the text.
Both my parents probably feared that their firstborn son might have to be rescued from somewhere out on the road. But they also thought that since I was now over 21 and had just graduated from college, I should be treated as an adult. My mother didn't cry when I left the house, but I found out later that she did cry after I'd gone.
I now realize how difficult it must have been for my parents. I was very callow and innocent in those days. But, while I did some foolish things, I think I handled myself capably and honorably on the whole. I was young, white, male, healthy, and over 6 feet tall.
The descriptions of places I visited in 1962 are now out of date. The Alaska Highway is no longer the gravel road I describe; it is nearly all paved now and the communities near it are now larger and less frontier-like.
For all the people I met, I have used only first names, or invented names.
The 1962 prices I mention are almost funny in today’s post-inflation context.
A note on food: I repeatedly mention eating “French bread.” This means either a baguette or an oval crusty white loaf. I had sold a lot of both kinds to French-speaking people from Quebec when I drove a bakery truck at Old Orchard Beach, Maine during the summers when I was in college. This type of bread is best when fresh out of the oven; it is usually the last product a bakery makes each morning.
I started, according to my log, at 7:30 a.m. EDT on my 22nd birthday, June 7, 1962 at the South Portland exit of the Maine Turnpike to which I had been delivered by my father.
I had left the house carrying all my belongings, my clothes, cooking utensils, sleeping bag, a plastic sheet which mother insisted I take in addition to my poncho. I had about $380 in cash and Travelers Checks, plus numerous other things such as a slide rule, which I regarded as being essential to my welfare while out on the road.
I remember being advised to buy a bottle of mosquito repellent for sleeping out, or I would pay the consequences. I declined, being eager to be on my way, and was told that I would forget it and indeed suffer. I said that I’d buy some in Massachusetts.
My father shook my hand warmly after I had dragged my back pack and small duffle bag out of the car. He parked some distance away to watch.
I set up a sign for ALBANY which kept blowing away and was actually completely useless. I’d decided that DENVER or even CHICAGO would be too ambitious, since both were more than a day’s journey away.
I began showing my thumb toward what few cars passed. No one stopped and eventually, father headed off to work, blowing his horn and waving me goodbye.
So there I sat, wondering if his half-joking remark about being doomed to send my first post card from Kittery, Maine might become truth.
I need not have worried, for very soon my first ride arrived. He was younger than I, a sophomore in college. He came from nearby Cape Elizabeth, and was going of all places to Cornell in Ithaca, NY to pick up his brother, whose car he was driving. It was a Pontiac Cutlass with 4-speed stick shift and a mighty engine.
We had a flat tire about 20 miles out of South Portland. We dealt with it, but had trouble using his new-fangled jack. I got him confused at the turn-off for Mass. Route 128, but things went fine for the rest of the trip. We blazed across the Massachusetts Turnpike and crossed the Hudson River Bridge into New York State.
I felt a little remorse for leaving everybody behind who’d been so good to me and had helped me along. Now I was heading out into a long stretch of strangers. But this funk soon evaporated as my driver boomed along Route 20, which he had decided to take in preference to the New York Thruway. Our roads diverged at Cazenovia, NY. I got out. He wished me luck on my journey, and drove off.
I mailed my first postcard from Cazenovia, shouldered my pack and waited by the side of the road.
Shortly, I was picked up by a man in the business of making metal parts on lathes, who explained that business and the stock market to me as we went over the hills and dales to Auburn, NY. I hiked through Auburn; it was a quiet, pleasant city. I was impressed with this part of New York State; there is beautiful country there. It is less rolling than Maine, I thought, but otherwise similar.
A few more rides put me at Seneca Falls. I was tired and it was about 7 or 8 p.m., so I put down my stuff in a field next to a shopping center and went over to look at the stores before they closed.
It was there that I bought a spray-can of bug repellent. I watched the sunset and then sacked out. The bugs in that field were quite thick, but I sprayed all over my bag and my face with the bug repellent and fell asleep, after watching the stars come out and the mosquitoes buzz around my face in frustration.
I got up early next morning amidst the grasses wet with dew, and went over to a nearby gas station to wash off the bug repellent. I walked down a ways before I decided to try out the battery-powered razor my father had given me. I shaved under the cover of a truck which was revving up next to a rooming house. It worked just fine; I felt real giddy using it there, but none took notice.
After several rides that day, I passed through the Finger Lakes region, having seen Lakes Geneva and Canandaigua and stopped off at a cafe near one of the places where I’d been dropped. After letting my stomach get a start on a tuna fish sandwich, I got out on the road again. I was picked up by the first of the very few truck trailers which ever so obliged me, and was given a roaring ride by a talkative driver, to the outskirts of Buffalo.
From there, I got a ride to a thruway exit from a man who discussed his adventurous life and advised me to keep independent. I gave up after about 15 minutes at the thruway entrance showing a CHICAGO sign, and tried over half an hour at the US 20 intersection before I got a ride.
Later, I was dropped near Lake Erie, and was so intrigued by the fresh, moist swell and the cool breeze that I hiked a mile or so into the town and headed down to the lake shore. This was Silver Creek, NY. I washed my feet in Erie’s surprisingly murky and mossy waters, and rested there. This was my first experience with a Great Lake or any body of fresh water so big that I couldn’t see the other side.
I got on the road again after drinking a bottle of pop at a gas station. I got a ride with a gruff old businessman, which took me across the line to the outskirts of Erie, PA. He told me about the country and the Great Lakes. He had lived in the region most of his life.
As he drove, he had an interesting habit of switching on the radio if there was a lull of as much as thirty seconds in our conversation, and turning it right back off again when I asked another question.
Of course, many of the people who gave me rides were playing their car radio.
I remember hearing the same song again and again. It was sweeping the nation that summer, and was very unusual for being sung entirely in Japanese. Much later, I learned that the Japanese title “Ue o muite arukoo” translates as “I look up when I walk.” The words turn out to be rather sappy, about holding up one’s face so the tears don’t fall. Western DJs simplified the title to“Sukiyaki.” The tune was very catchy, even though I didn’t understand any of the words. I’ve heard that tune again recently; in fact, it is now possible to get Sukiyaki as a cell phone ring-tone.
I’ll never forget it. Sukiyaki was a major theme song of my trip.
Here is a fragment in transliterated Japanese from a modern website. Each line is followed by (in parentheses) what it sounded like to me when sung:
Namida ga kobore nai yoo ni (NAHmeeda gah, koboRAY nah-ee YOO-hoo-hoo nee) Omoidasu haru no hi (Oh-mo-ee-daSOO haru NOH-ghee)
Listen to it sung on YouTube
For more details about the song and the singer, see
My ride turned off into Erie and left me on the highway overpass. I crossed over to the other side and set up my CHICAGO sign, since it was a main road there. Very soon zoom...screetch there was my ride. He looked vaguely oriental and said with a slight unidentifiable accent: “You’re in luck. I’m going to Chicago.” And off we went in his compact Chevvy station wagon.
He turned out to be of German extraction, and was an art professor at Cornell specializing in Calligraphy. He was very interesting and we talked about many subjects. Among other things, he mentioned that, for his honeymoon, he had taken a bicycle trip from Boston to Providence. During that trip, his brakes jammed and he took a bad sprawl. He had to be hospitalized and lost several teeth.
We quickly passed through the lakeshore corner of Pennsylvania containing Erie, and when I saw the sign saying WELCOME TO OHIO I really began to feel I’d come a large distance. We went down across Ohio and almost got lost trying to find the Ohio Turnpike, but we succeeded, and went rolling on into the sunset.
The country began to flatten out then. I remember passing outside Toledo at night, and seeing its lights like those of a great ship offshore in the darkness, because the flat land between was almost completely dark.
We stopped at a Howard Johnson’s for something to eat.
There my driver took time to mail a post card with a picture of the highway on it, to his father. It was something he always delighted in doing, he said, especially when he could find a card portraying some utterly banal scene.
The crossing into Indiana was marked mostly by the change of turnpikes.
The country looked much the same in the dark. We then decided, since we were both tired and it was raining, to sack out in the back of the wagon for a while at the next Howard Johnson’s. So we did, or at least he did. He snored so loudly that groggy as I was I couldn’t sleep. After a while I gave up, went into the restaurant lobby and dozed in a chair.
He wandered in after perhaps twenty minutes - no more - and we were off into the rainy night. I don’t remember much beyond there, because I kept falling asleep. I think we got off the road to look for a gas station when something wasn’t right with the car. I remember it having something to do with the starter. The people at the gas station couldn’t do much and it gave no more trouble. So we went through a complex of roads, dripping wires, traffic lights, and murk, and entered the outskirts of the great city of Chicago.
At last I asked to be let off, since I couldn’t tell where we were going at all. He turned back onto the thruway, hoping to find lodging with some friends of his on the north side where he could stay until he gave his speech somewhere in a few days.
I staggered over to a thruway overpass, noting that the sun was beginning to make brightness in the sky. The overpass afforded some shelter from the drizzle, so I spread my sleeping bag out on top of some round rocks whose average size was about that of my fist. The rocks didn’t bother me much. I slept there for about a half-hour amidst the roar of trucks, the flash of lights and the stink of factories. This was Gary, Indiana.
It must have been about 5:00 a.m. CDT when I stirred off my bed of stones. I couldn’t read my watch too well. The sun was in the process of rising into the clouds and haze. Everywhere were factories and their smokestacks interspersed among the railroad tracks. I rolled up my sleeping bag and strapped it on top of my pack. I then walked down to the road which was marked with the US 20 sign. Hopefully this led toward the center of things so that I could pick up the highway going west. This was still Gary, Indiana and not Chicago, Illinois; I had to find a state line somewhere in this tangle. So I walked.
I finally came to a gas station that had just opened for the day and made use of their rest room and coke machine. I was trying to convince myself and the rest of the world that I was wide awake and full of enthusiasm.
I kept on going toward what looked like the center of town until I found an all-night restaurant which was just changing shifts. I walked in and ate a cheeseburger. I flustered the young waitress who served me when I proclaimed myself a stranger and asked for directions to get myself on a bus route that would take me across Chicago, assuming this could be done. She abdicated responsibility, however, in favor of the boss, a fat woman of indeterminate age who needed a shave worse than I ever do. She didn’t speak English too well or wasn’t too bright, or both, but finally I was able to understand her directions to the railroad station and the bus terminal which were both nearby.
I found the railroad station quickly, dumped my bag outside and waited to talk to someone at the ticket window. I explained my problems to the person there, but he couldn’t help me get onto a main route out of town. He was from Michigan City, Indiana, he said, and didn’t know his way around where we were too well. I accepted that and went over to the bus station in the rain, which had then recommenced. There, a big friendly Negro cop found me a bus and told me the first of a long list of stories I have heard about what the local and/or state gendarmes are currently doing to hitch-hikers. The bus driver let me off where a main route headed out of the city, but still within Gary. I started walking.
It was drying out by then and the streets were not too crowded, it being Saturday. I had not thumbed for as long as I thought I would probably have to, when I got a ride out of town, with a stop to eat again. After that, the hitching became very poor and I walked and thumbed fruitlessly for almost two hours. By then the lack of sleep during the night before began to tell severely and I began to think about checking into a hotel where I could get a decent night’s sleep and get cleaned up too.
After another ride put me in the middle of a residential district, I must have chosen a wrong turn and was no longer on the main road. I am sure I stood there for over two hours. Finally a kind man in a pickup turned all around and said “Hey, you’re not goin’ to get any rides standing there. Where are you going, anyway?” I had decided to make for at least Joliet, Illinois that day, and when I told him that, he took me through a maze of side streets to the main road. That put me just over the state line; I’d been very close to it but didn’t know. I wonder what I might have done if he hadn’t come along, because I was very exhausted. I wearily walked along the road there, which was very narrow-shouldered, poor for hitching, and then stopped at an intersection, when I could walk no more.
I tried to look deserving while the cars passed, but none stopped until an hour or so later. This one, after confusing me about the road by his driving and his explanations, eventually dropped me at an intersection in the small town of Harvey, Illinois.
I stood there for a while, until I noticed a sign MOTEL with an arrow down to a driveway and another similar sign across the street pointing to what actually looked like a motel. The one with the driveway looked cheaper, so I went there and rang at the back door of a barn-like structure until the landlady came. She had one room left for $3.50 which was $.50 over what I regarded as my maximum, but I accepted it. She cashed the first of my Traveler’s Checks for that, plus a state tax, naturally, and gave me a receipt. She signed herself “Mrs. Emil Stufflebeam” -- she had the figure for it. I asked her what time I should clear out by the next day, and she said don’t hurry.
Mrs. Stufflebeam was a very nice lady. I suspect that she thought I had a mother somewhere and I needed to be taken care of.
So I went to the room and aired it out and tried to sleep, but it was too hot and muggy. So I got up and unloaded my junk, put my razor on the stand to charge, and took a shower, but that didn’t help either. So after at least resting for a while, I went out and had a real good meal at a small restaurant. I got such nice service from a pretty waitress that I even left a tip. I’d like to find that place again some time.
I wandered around the area some, marveling at how flat is the land there. Later on in the evening I even had a beer. It was some time though, before the weather had cooled enough and I had run down enough so that I could sleep, but I finally did sleep, until late the next morning.
I quote from my diary at this point. “More luck. The going was exceedingly slow from Harvey. I got on Interstate 80 and got a ride after about an hour to its end at Ottawa, Illinois."
Then I encountered a real America First type who spewed anti-Catholic propaganda and got so wrapped up in it that he took me a few miles beyond where he was going. He was very interesting; he didn’t waste much time on preliminaries, but plunged right into his ideas. I went along with him to keep him going and hear all his ideas. As near as I could understand, he thought that the Catholic clerical hierarchy together with the size of the whole church membership, was too powerful, and was actively engaged in an attempt to put all the world under its temporal as well as spiritual government. He spent more time on this topic than on anti-Communism, which he also favored, even to the extent of having spoken on a short radio program several times, and after having shaken my hand warmly as I disembarked, even recommended a book to me. He certainly had the voice and the style for a good speaker and/or rabble-rouser.
After a small lunch, I was picked up by a city-type fellow who was only two or three years older than me and was starting out in the feed brokerage business. Briefly, this means he is one who tries to line up buyers with sellers for a particular price on some lot of feed. He said that he wasn’t really the Good Samaritan type, but needed the company. It seemed that he was on a much detested trip into the boondocks of Iowa to drum up business for his Chicago office. I learned quite a bit about feeds and the brokering thereof, and ended up accepting his offer to sneak me and my sleeping bag into his expense account motel room if I would keep him company and read the map as we traveled about his territory. So I ended up seeing quite a bit of the farming country of SE Iowa, even to the Missouri line at Keokuk.
We had entered Iowa at Burlington, Illinois by crossing the Mississippi there. The river wasn’t very large, but certainly muddy. I left him, discouraged at his poor prospects, at Albia, Iowa. That section of Iowa was not very flat at all; it was almost as hilly as Maine, but the soil was far richer -- even I could see that. I never walked in such black mud as I found in that state. Everywhere there was farming. Corn and soybeans were in the great majority. There were abundant dairy cattle. Milk was cheap -- 21 cents a quart in one store.
I found the going slow and jerky from there on, however, and at Lucas, Iowa, a whistlestop where John L. Lewis was born, I stopped for lunch of one quart of milk with sardines on Ritz crackers.
What must have been the village idiot stopped and hunkered down to watch me as I ate, offering conversation in short bursts. After he wandered off, I checked the map and decided to head north to Des Moines to see if the road to Omaha from there might have a bit more traffic on it. I made it there in two rides. I found out that I’d just missed a tornado in Indianola the day before.
Two homeward-bound roofers in a pickup, apparently amused by my appearance, picked me up a nd I got a grand tour through the city of Des Moines. It is a very pretty city, and indeed the only real metropolitan area I ever encountered in Iowa besides Council Bluffs. got dumped on the main road at near dusk, and decided to get out of the city a bit before I tried to sack out.
My next ride was with a middle-aged man and two pretty young girls who were going out to open up a Bible camp for the summer. I got to sit in the front seat where I couldn’t watch the girls and discussed religion with the man. When he turned off he said he hoped that I was a good Christian because the time was coming when men were going to be judged. I told him I hadn’t made up my mind. He said his group was the “Church of Jesus Christ.”
At the end of the day, I camped out on a hill near the road and lay there a while looking at the stars before I went to sleep. There was a slight wind, so the bugs weren’t too thick. I I till hadn’t quite got used to diesel trailer trucks going by in the night, about 25 feet from my head.
I woke up the next morning to a sunny day and a daddy-long-legs spider sitting on the bag in front of my face. The spider and I watched each other for a while until I got up courage to get out of the bag and face the day. Then I blew him off and started to pack my stuff.
From there I got easy rides to Council Bluffs. I had to walk into the city through the hot day, so when I saw a friendly beer parlor in a shady area I stopped in for a drink.
The dialect of western Iowa was interesting -- a real slow drawl, but with strong R’s. I bought some peaches in a market and headed for the bridge. I got a much appreciated ride across the Missouri River, and into Omaha, Nebraska. I rested under some trees in a park for a while, then pinned a sign DENVER to my back and trudged up the hills to the city limits. The sign got me a ride to near the edge of town, and I kept going.
Several of my other rides in that part of the country were also Bible-Belt types.
They were all very nice people. None of them tried very hard to proselytize me.
But I did once get propositioned by a gay guy. Out on the highway west of Omaha, several
cars were parked along the roadside. A guy came over from one of the cars to where I was
standing and offered to give me a ride all the way to North Platte if I would have sex with him.
I declined. I think that highway roadside stop might have been a regular gathering place.
I actually had very few problems with gay guys while out on the road.
I was a good looking young man, and there were several times when I got the
idea that my driver might be about to proposition me.
But I didn’t give any of them any encouragement, and I usually did not accept any offers to share a motel room.
I got rides with friendly people as far as Columbus, Nebraska, and there I encountered a nice cop. I had walked to the edge of town and was trying for just one more ride that day, when a police car pulled over. The officer wanted to see my identification, and when he saw that I was all right, offered to take me to the nearest cheap hotel. I accepted, since I was tired and fed up with hitching that day anyway.
After a good bath, I started out fresh the next morning. During that next day, I was stopped again by a cop, who drove off when I told him I’d already been checked the night before.
I then got picked up for another very interesting long ride with another college professor. He had been teaching in the music department of a small Polish Catholic college in Pennsylvania and was headed home as he did every year, to California. He gave me quite a lecture on the mathematics of music, since he’d just finished his doctorate. He was very enjoyable company. He had a gastric ulcer and so there were several stops for Tastee Freez to keep it occupied, and there was some for me too. I am glad that I have taken my degree in a liberal arts school, because my training is broad and I am able to converse with and learn from all these people, in areas beyond my major field of study.
We went through the flat plains of central Nebraska. We passed several alfalfa processing plants. From the smell, I thought they were making popcorn -- until told differently.
The country slowly got more open and less vegetated, except for grass. After a while the trees petered out almost completely and we were in the rangelands, coming into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. There were several groups of cattle to be seen feeding on the grassy slopes.
I drove the car for a while, to give my driver a break. I was doing fine until I encountered my first tumbleweed. A round, leafless bush which had become detached from the ground and was roaming the prairie, the tumbleweed suddenly came rolling across the road in front of me. I ran right into it and heard the dry branches crunch under the car. No damage was done to the car, but my driver sure got a laugh from watching me.
I got more wide-eyed the farther west we went. The amazing thing about that country is its openness. There is no roadside growth except the short grass, and the hills are all low, so the effect is of a much larger sky that I am used to. We watched a thundershower pass far off and that was about as great and majestic a sight as I had seen up till then; the cloud got bigger and bigger until it blocked off the whole forward half of the sky, and then receded to the north of us.
Somewhere out there in western Nebraska we began to see oil wells. These were not the tall derrick types. The wells had been drilled long ago, and now there was only a shed with a rocker-arm pump sucking at the ground beside it, like pictures I have seen of an anteater. The pumps were driven by an arm from the engine in the shed. In some cases the engine was running on natural gas from the well itself. The power stroke comes when a big counterweight falls, on the opposite end of the rocker-arm from the pump rod.
We came to a sign that said WELCOME TO WYOMING and as far as I was concerned I was in the West. We arrived in Cheyenne; my driver went to a motel and I started walking.
I found a phone booth and, as my parents and I had agreed, made a collect phone call back to Maine. Mom and Dad were delighted to hear from me. It was already dark in Maine; I told them that where I was, the sun had not yet set.
The outskirts of Cheyenne gave me the impression of being temporary. There were many trailers and barrack style homes, and the way they were laid out in the middle of the open prairie made me think of a company town soon to be dissolved and dispersed when the project was complete.
Downtown Cheyenne was another matter. This was all set up for the tourist trade. Everything was “western.” Stetsons and boots abounded, and there was a big sign with a tough-looking, cigarette-chomping cowboy holding a huge branding iron. The legend proclaimed that Conoco gas was the “hottest brand going.” I saw this motif elsewhere in my travels as well. This gas brand is rather common in the West.
There were threatening clouds on the southern horizon, so I dropped my pack in a corner of a bus station and looked around for something to eat. Prices were discouraging: I have noted in my log that cheeseburgers were $.50 and hot dogs $.30. I bought a hot dog in the bus station since they wanted $.35 across the street.
Then I decided to chance the rain shower and hit the road in the dusk. I wanted to camp somewhere outside the city, because Cheyenne was obviously too rich for my blood if I wanted a room. As usual, I had no luck hitching in the evening, so I pulled up at an abandoned store where I could drop my pack in a sheltered place in case it should rain.
I then wandered into the lobby of a sort of nightclub where a group of western-style singers were tuning up for the night’s work. I listened there for a while without going in, and talked with a waiter who turned out to be a Maine native who’d become attached to Cheyenne while he was in the service. I watched the lightning play about the prairie at one end of my view, and a beautiful sunset at the other end. I was so impressed with that great open sky. The cowboy songs do not romanticize a bit when they sing of the wide open spaces. That’s the way all the West is until you get to the West Coast.
I tried a Coors beer, popular very widely in the West, and didn’t much care for it. I then decided that there wasn’t going to be any storm, retrieved my pack and took off down the road south. I walked for a long way, it seemed, stopping once at an A&W stand, noted many Mexican-looking names on the RFD boxes. I’d also noted quite a few dark-skinned people who were either Mexican or Indian or both, at various places in town.
After a while I found a field that suited me and set up my stuff. I went to bed immediately since it was pitch dark, and slept quite soundly until about midnight. What woke me up then was the pitter-patter of raindrops on my upturned face. I looked at the sky and decided it was only temporary and rolled over, but it kept up and got stronger. So I cursed the weather and its eccentricities quite thoroughly and packed my stuff together so I could make off for a gas station awning across the street. I stood there for a while, fuming, and finally the rain, which had never amounted to much more than a sprinkle, desisted, and I returned to my suite in the field.
Morning came then without further incident, and I decided to try out my Sterno stove with some cans of soup I’d bought in a supermarket in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The stove surpassed my expectations, and the soup, eaten while seated on my pack in the middle of that field of scraggly grass in the cool morning, was the best tasting meal I’d had so far. I used the washroom in the gas station to wash my dishes, and then got going.
I walked for some distance just because walking felt good, making no attempt to hail cars. But when I commenced to hitch, I was swiftly rewarded with a ride straight to Denver with an engineer from Washington State who was enroute to a new job on a missile contract in Alabama. He told me about U of Washington, where he’d gone, and said they had a great Math department. Then he discoursed for the rest of the trip about the history surrounding the Custer battlefield in northwest Wyoming which he’d visited the day before. He was unusually well-informed, and I was totally ignorant on the subject so I enjoyed the conversation. General Custer turned out to be bit less glamorous than I’d previously made him out to be. My engineer left me at a freeway exit outside Denver and continued on to Dixie. It was still before noon.
I thought I might stay in Denver for a while and get some employment. Denver is a typical big city except that in spite of its bigness it looks clean and well-kept. I arrived through the grubbier part of town, but even that part didn’t look as slummy as it might have in another city. I bought some food and a newspaper in a store, and set off to find a room where I could store my equipment. My pack had become heavier and harder to handle. The last straps had broken off my small duffle bag and I’d had to transfer it into the pack. That way, the pack weighed about 45 pounds but felt like more than that as I staggered around Denver.
I went into several places to inquire about room rates. For one, I had to ascend to the second floor to find the lobby, which seemed to consist only of a bell which summoned the proprietor. I pushed the button, and after a bit of a wait in the silence, one of the room doors to my left opened and a sleepy woman still in her grubby nightgown appeared, and asked what I wanted in a singularly unpleasing voice. I told her, and she thought for a moment and then said that all her $1.50 rooms were filled -- could I afford a $2.00 one? By that point I had decided that I didn’t want a room in the place no matter what the price. I’d seen enough odd-looking types wandering around the nearby streets. So I said no, and she went back to bed.
I ended up at the Lewiston Hotel. I liked the name because that was the city in Maine where I had gone to college. I think the reference here might have been to Lewiston, Idaho.
The employment ads in the paper were discouraging, and so were the people in an employment office I went into. I checked out a few ads in the paper for cars to be driven various places for the cost of transportation. The second place I went to had a Chevrolet II Nova going to Redondo Beach, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, for a five-dollar gas allowance. I decided that I would take it, since I was tired of hitching, and was attracted by the chance to drive a new car, in spite of the higher expense I would run into regardless of the paltry gas allowance. They questioned me some when they heard my age, but after they had heard that I was a college graduate and heading on for more schooling, and particularly fter I showed them my letter of recommendation from Cushman Bakery, where I had worked summers, they gave me the papers to sign. I am pretty sure that the letter was what did it. The contract was rather long and I took some time before I understood all the terms, but decided that it was all right, and signed.
Then I had myself a short tour of Denver. It is a beautiful city and I enjoyed walking through its parks. The weather was quite hot, but because of the altitude the humidity is quite low, so one does not suffer from it. I drank like a fish, of water and soft drinks. The West is certainly dry. I even tried the experiment of deliberately walking under a long line of lawn sprinklers until I got quite wet, then just wandering around in the hot sun and drying breezes until very shortly I was perfectly dry again.
I passed the Denver Mint and the State Capitol building; they certainly give one the impression of the Roman Forum, with all the marble. The city post office is a sight to behold in itself. It looks like some huge block of pure white stone, with the line of columns running along only the front.
Denver is also a city of bums. I have never seen such a collection of drunks in so concentrated an area at any time. I didn’t get panhandled by any of them because I suppose I didn’t look so prosperous myself. I was annoyed by two boys, one selling a sports magazine and the other selling tickets to some kind of drill team exhibition. I didn’t understand what the drill team was about because the boy recited his piece too fast. I walked by several other beautiful buildings with which Denver abounds, and then went back to my stuffy room.
I got up the next morning and got my stuff together for the trek over to the car office. Trek it was! I had thought of digging out my map of Denver to find my way over there, but I thought I could find it anyway without going to the trouble of getting everything untied, and I got lost. By the time I finally ended up at the car office, having at last dragged out the map, I was quite tired and footsore. The car was all ready for me when I got to the desk with my contract. I piled my gear into the back seat, wished the people at the office all goodbye, and they me good fortune, and set off to the gas station around the corner for fuel and to find out how to get out of the city, since the street map had only confused me. The attendant told me to follow Kalamanth to the end and then take the parkway out. I had to ask for a spelling of the street name before I was sure I could find it, and then proceeded without incident out of the city south toward Pueblo, Colorado. The car had only seven miles on it when I got it, so I drove it easy both to break it in and to conserve gas. I hoped to do the trip as cheaply as I could, and still see as much as I could while going through New Mexico and Arizona. I fussed much along the way at the expense, but now I’m glad I took the car, since it would have been very hard going across the desert areas in the Southwest on foot.
Up to that time, as of the night before, I had averaged $3.01 per day for eight days out, including everything.
It was a relief to be behind a steering wheel instead of beside it or waiting out on the highway. The road south from Denver was very good and I hummed along about fifty. The car rode very well, being as new as it was. The Rockies were visible to the west and presented quite a sight, as they rise from almost no foothills up to beyond forest and into the white snows. Most of the mountains of the West were like that, and very rugged, sharp things. I can see why they have the name they do, since unlike the New Hampshire mountains, they are visibly rock -- solid most of it -- that rears up at odd angles into the sky. These are no gently folded hills worn down by the glacier. I recall one point in the Canadian Rockies up in British Columbia where I was able to see directly that a huge chunk of land had been uplifted and canted over on its side. It sometimes seemed odd to me that the trees were oriented toward the vertical rather than perpendicular to the tilted plane of the land.
As I drove further south, through Pueblo, Colorado, I began to notice the prairie drying out. There was little of the prairie grass, and the spaces between the abundant sagebrush bushes began to get more noticeable. I did not have much of an idea where I was headed except to follow the route numbers I had picked out -- no idea of which road was shorter or more scenic, but I had very good luck.
Reluctantly I pulled into a gas station in Raton, New Mexico in a howling windstorm, rare for the region I was told, and paid the long price for a full tank. I had only gotten 17 or 18 mpg at that point, but later it began to improve.
The whole area was gently rolling with brown craggy mountains always visible in the distance. I had not descended much from Denver’s elevation, but then began to climb again for the continental divide. The dust blew across the way and mostly in my face, impeding gas mileage. I was feasting on canteen water and a loaf of French bread bought somewhere in Colorado, so I suffered little, but I wouldn’t have cared to have been hanging out my thumb on that brown hot plain. I am far too used to well-watered country in New England.
At some point I got on some road that led a twisting way up into the mountains. The country there was that same beautiful orange-brown, but there would be signs of water and there were many trees. I stopped at a place along the road where there was a pipe which gave forth spring water. I was quite dry, but after the hard water of the Midwest I was a bit suspicious of the quality and taste of any water I ran into. So I tasted it carefully, and it was unquestionably the best water I’d had so far on the trip. I drank it by the quart and filled my canteen and then drank some more. I really hated to leave that place, but I wanted to get on. The road got narrower and more tortuous, and soon I found myself climbing up a pass over which rocks hung. The trees became fewer and sparser.
I would save fuel by turning off the engine on long down-slopes. Finally, I came out over the first real lake I had seen in the Southwest. It was like a big puddle sitting in the valley with a small number of guest camps along its banks. I assume that the bathing facilities were not particularly good, and indeed I never did notice any beach. I paralleled this lake for a bit and then headed through some more red-brown mountains, darker now as the afternoon wore on.
The road led down through some country roads into the artists’ colony of Taos, New Mexico, a place of red-brown brick walls and dusty streets, and some fifty-odd or more tourists. I drove through slowly and even stopped on the outskirts, mostly to rest my sore behind! From there I could look off over some more desert land which all glowed with that same deep brown that seems to be characteristic of the whole Southwest.
Santa Fe came along after a while, and in spite of being the state capitol, it has been kept in an old-world state for the benefit of the tourists. t was dry and dusty and very quiet. People of Indian or Mexican cast were easy to find, and all the houses seemed to be of the low, flat type which makes me think of pueblos, though I saw but few of these anywhere. I found a cheap station and gassed up, and then proceeded to get lost in the maze of back streets trying to find the highway to Albuquerque. I saw much of the reason for the popularity of Santa Fe as an artists’ center. There were many Mexican-style cafes and somehow an air of being foreign soil.
I finally made it out of the city into the gathering dusk. The sunset was beautiful, and I watched it as it faded.
Then it got dark and there was nothing to be seen but shadows and the headlights of cars. I wanted to make it to Albuquerque nonetheless, and kept on going. I suspect that the mountain road I had enjoyed so much was not the main one I should have taken, but I was glad I had taken it. The road I was on now was a fine superhighway.
I arrived in Albuquerque.
Albuquerque has most of the population of the state and is its biggest city, with a population of about 270,000.
It has grown some more: population 448,607 in the 2000 census.
I went down the main street amidst all the city lights. It did look some different from the red desert countryside that I had been passing through all day long. In some ways, all cities are alike, I think, and this was just another main street with its neon lights and collection of restaurants, hotels, bars, etc., and cars everywhere. I kept going through and climbed a hill out beyond the city limits back into the desert. Somewhere in there I should have crossed the Rio Grande, but I didn’t notice it. I was tired of driving at this point and wanted a place to sleep, so I pulled off at a convenient side road intersection and prepared to make use of my sleeping bag.
Albuquerque gleamed brightly back down the rise and from here it looked to me more out of place than it had seemed on first entering it. The desert seemed to have a sort of glow even at night. The sky was clear.
I didn’t rest so easy at first. Indeed this was the only place in my wanderings that I can remember being at all scared of the place I was camped at. I didn’t know the area, and even though it was right along side of the main highway, it was weird. Somewhere there was a dump off the side road, and there were lumps of wood that I thought might turn out to be the shacks of some Indians or whatever, who might get curious about the car parked there, while I was thoroughly sacked out and defenseless. In the ditch there was a bit of cloth that looked like a squaw blanket and was humped in such a way that I thought there might be a squaw under it alive or dead.
I was so spooked that I got back in the car and drove on in the darkness hoping to find a better place.
I had thought that I was in a pretty much certified desert area at that time, and that as I approached the Continental Divide I might get into some more alpine country and out of that dry country, but the signs along the road which, unlighted, flitted by like ghosts as they caught part of my headlight beams, were most discouraging. Dimly I made out such admonitions as DESERT AHEAD and WATERBAGS AVAILABLE at suchandso’s. or GET YOUR WATERBAGS ICED at ----, and yet more of the forbidding DESERT AHEAD. It didn’t look much better from what I could see, so I thought I had better stop before I got into trouble and go on when I could see better.
This time when I stopped the area was either less desolate or I was just more tired. I got to sleep and didn’t wake up until the sun was well up in the sky.
The wind was blowing again the next day, but not as bad as it had been coming out of Colorado. I found the wind little bother until I stopped at a picnic area and tried to light my Sterno stove for a rousing breakfast of beef soup and canteen water. I got the stove going in the shelter of the pack and while it was heating the pot, I looked around for a water faucet. There wasn’t any. So after eating my repast I had to use my precious canteen water from the mountain spring to wash out my pot. This cleaning was none too effective, but I thought I would clean it better some other time when I got a chance.
Back on the road, I soon climbed over a knoll and was informed by a sign that I had passed the Continental Divide, elevation over 7000 feet. And on I went. I crossed the Divide twice more before I was done and a few other divides to boot. I passed through the town of Grants, New Mexico. Then I soon encountered the Arizona border.
One of the differences again between the New England and the Southwestern states, is that they hold their state borders about as sacred as those of nations. To be sure there was no customs bar at the line, but not a few miles past the border there were signs requiring all vehicles to pull over and pass through a police inspection station.
Most tourists and locals went through without discussion, but for people like me who have dealer plates they have a little word. I was ushered into an office where an officer had me fill out a short form concerning my purpose on the hallowed soil of Arizona, and then he filled out a big red paper and had me put it on my window with the Colorado dealer paper, then quietly said “five dollars please.” I fussed at this, wondering why Colorado plates weren’t good in Arizona, being as how it was the same country, but I was told that Arizona imposes this fee on new vehicles in transit. This needn’t have disturbed me, for as I found out when I delivered the car, all such expenses are reimbursed with presentation of the receipts. I was thus denied the spirited argument I was all ready for when I walked into the dealer’s office. I should have encountered the same thing in New Mexico, but managed to avoid it somehow; I could have been arrested and had the car impounded.
The rest of the way in Arizona the country kept getting drier and more rocky and quite uninteresting.
I bought another French bread to eat and filled my canteen again. My gas mileage had improved to about 22 mpg by the last gas stop, and I kept trying to coast down all the hills and stay under fifty-five or so to get it even better.
I came to a large canyon. The road was built along the edge and descended to the bottom, twisting as it went. I had several long coasts there and probably annoyed the drivers behind me when I tried to keep up enough speed on a downgrade to coast over a small rise. The canyon itself was beautiful and as far as I was concerned replaced seeing the Grand Canyon.
I was confused. From the map, it looks like I may have actually crossed the upper part of the Grand Canyon.
At the bottom the road crossed over a little bridge over the ridiculously small river that had made the whole thing. Up on the other rim of the canyon, I pulled over at a viewpoint and stood looking at the scenery for some time. Probably the colors weren’t as good as those of the Grand Canyon, but there was about everything else; the towers and pinnacles which the river had washed around and the many exposed layers of rock, here a more white color than in New Mexico. The way the road wandered after that made me think that this scenic view might have been off the beaten path by accident as well as the New Mexico mountains before, but I am still not sure. My diary entry covering this was all written later in California.
After the canyon, the road began to descend off the mountain plateau and then things began to dry up in earnest. Somewhere before I got to Phoenix I stopped for a look at the desert scenery. I walked among several varieties of cactus, from small ones with balloon-like leaves and those with large, spiny disks, to the big barrel cactus with long rows of spines running up and down its sides and thick skin so tough that I couldn’t pierce it with one of my keys. Several of these barrel cacti were much taller than I am. The whole place was brilliant with sunlight, which reflected off the white ground and spread through the clear, dry air. It was very hot, but not a sweat-bringing type of heat. The wind was so drying that I had to drive with the windows closed but that was too hot. I went on after leaving some moisture I didn’t need, and soon began to see signs of Phoenix.
Many people retire to Phoenix. Everywhere there were ads for developments for senior citizens who wanted to live where they wouldn’t have to worry about snow, or whether they needed an umbrella when they went out. When I arrived, there was nothing but blue sky and a few cumulus clouds which did very little to block the sun. I stopped for a root beer at an A&W and then stopped for another later on because it was so hot. I filled my canteen with the chemical-tasting water of the city of Phoenix. They had a rock garden with a few desert plants there but not much of interest beyond the continuous ballyhoo for the developments for retired people. I filled up my tank again at a cheap station and continued on across the state.
It was late afternoon by the time I got out of Phoenix. On my way to the city’s outskirts I recall getting a good view of the Superstition Mountains. These were like all the rest of the mountains of that country: bare and sharp-peaked, but also there was a deep purple color to them which made them look almost as if they had been projected there only a few miles from the road onto a big screen, with purple light. I saw a sign which probably gave their history in detail, but I did not stop. I wonder what it would be like to climb one of these spectral mountains, for there would be no timberline and no mountain brooks, no snowy peaks. I suppose one could get used to living in such bare country, but I think it would be hard to give up the abundance of water so taken for granted in the East.
It became ever dryer and desolate the more miles I went westward. The land was now flatter, but it was always easy to see the mountains somewhere. Arizona did not have the red-brown color which I associate with New Mexico; this was more a parched white, which became gray as the twilight came on. I drove for a very long time over land where there was no human habitation to be seen at all, even in the distance.
After a while, I found a roadside restroom set-up, no water as usual, but there were tables and toilets. I watched the sunset, expecting to sleep there for the night. The beautiful sunsets really made up for the desolation of the scenery. I sat and watched until it became dark, and tried to set out my sleeping bag, but I wasn’t yet sleepy enough to sleep soundly on rocky ground, so I drove off again. The road was straight as an arrow until it came to another set of bare, dry, rocky hills. I knew I was getting near the California border and wanted to get off a postcard from Arizona, so I was looking for the next town, a place with the dry, rocky name of Quartzite, but I must have missed it in the dark. I stopped in a cafe where someone took my card to mail it later. I recall there a significant sign on the post next to the gas pump where the water bucket was: “Use sparingly. We have to haul our water.”
The car sped farther into the dark mountains and I began to look for signs of the California border. It took me longer than I expected to reach it, and the road was steep and tortuous. Eventually I came down a long hill and saw the glitter of water in a small river and the road crossing it on a fairly large bridge. It looked like a pretty poor excuse for a river, but it was the only one I had seen for a long time. This was the Colorado River, the one that had carved the Grand Canyon, and here marked the state line.
I had entered California, and it looked at first as if I had by mistake hit the Mexican border, for here was what looked like a customs house. I got ready to be assessed for another license sticker fee, but all the friendly people there wanted to know was whether I was carrying any fresh produce which had not been inspected for bugs which might damage California crops. I had two soup cans only, so they let me go without further comment, although I found out later that my tail lights had quit at this point.
So I headed into the light of Blythe, California, and on into the desert. The California desert was drier than that of Arizona, and sand was abundant. I finally stopped near a large hill with some navigation light on its peak, and spread my bag out on some rocks -- and I mean rocks -- and slept quite well until dawn.
That was Sunday. I drove along, expecting to notice the change from desert to forest as I approached the seacoast, but it just got drier.
I encountered “Hubcap Willie,” who was pushing his cart along the other side of the highway, picking up hubcaps and bottles. I had read an article in LIFE about Willie. He lived on revenue from cashing in his finds. I thought that was a great idea, and began collecting bottles every time I stopped.
Somewhere along in there I began to get onto the freeway system of Los Angeles and finally encountered green vegetation. As I left the area around San Bernardino and Riverside, the road was like a regular turnpike, although it was not as crowded as I had heard it usually was, because of the day and the hour. I stopped twice for gas, trying to conserve and save my last nickel out of the deal, and then began to hit the L.A. suburbs. All the way to Redondo Beach from there was a whizzing tangle of overpasses and turnoffs and signs to watch for. I got on the Long Beach Freeway and rolled along until I came to a designated avenue, and turned off the freeway.
I had only a little difficulty finding the place where the car was supposed to be delivered. A crew there took it out of my hands, to clean it up and prepare it for sale. They were amused when I unloaded all the bottles I had collected. I went into the office and collected my reimbursement check.
Then I hoisted my pack on my back and began walking north. I climbed a hill and looked out over the Pacific Ocean, deeply breathing that long-absent moist sea air.
The place almost reminded me of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, but with palm trees. Most of the palms you see in pictures have been trimmed to give the look of a few big leaves waving on the end on a long stalk-like trunk. The untended trees I saw retain their old leaves as they grew and got a long beard which can sometimes cover the whole tree down to the ground. These bearded palms were abundant, but not dominant. The other thing that caught my eye was the oil well I saw in someone’s back yard on the hill, yet still quite near the water. It was madly pumping away just like those of western Nebraska. There were several others like it elsewhere in the area. The whole area around Redondo Beach is rich resort land, and I looked rather odd carrying my pack up the street there.
I finally got tired of hearing remarks about my bottle collection, and got rid of all of them.
I walked all day in spurts, passing through a tunnel at one point under the Los Angeles airport. I watched several jets take off. I was trying to find the outskirts of the big city, but they were far away in that megalopolis, so I kept going, sporadically hitching.
Finally I got a ride with a student who was attending Loyola College in the area. He was driving to his home in Oxnard, California. He showed me sights along the way, including the famous Malibu Beach. I saw several islands off the coast, one of which was Santa Catalina. In the distance I could see the Point Mugu missile tracking station.
My ride ended up inviting me to eat at his house in the place of a friend who didn’t show up, and I got one of the best meals of my entire trip. I even got to stay the night. His father was a doctor and there were something like seven or eight children of which my benefactor was the eldest. The house was very well-appointed and showed the result of much work by the father, who really had a compulsion to do things. His father showed me some movies of his trip of a few years ago to Alaska, flying in his plane. He had added (and very well-done I thought) his own voice as commentary, plus background music -- and this was in 1962, before all the consumer media gadgets. He had an electronic organ which he had almost built from a kit, several motorbikes and a well-stocked fallout shelter. The father was really talented, although I rather thought he was driving himself too hard, as he did not look that healthy.
The next morning, the son took me out onto the road on his way to work. They were such nice people; I just wish they could relax a little more.
I got a ride with a couple of Mexicans, only one of whom spoke English. From where they let me off, I walked into Ventura. I looked over the beach there, but decided there were too many people for me to stay unmolested, so I kept going up the highway, looking for the next town. I got no rides, and kept on until I was standing near one of the many places on the road where the mountains slope down almost directly to the sea. I found a deserted section of beach which turned out to be part of a state park, and there, I decided, was going to be my home for a few days, while I wrote home and figured out where I was going to go next. So I became a beachcomber. .
The beach looked familiar, not unlike an Atlantic Ocean beach. There was seaweed, sand, rocks and various sorts of detritus washed in from the west. The shoreline had a gentle curve to it such that it and the large-scale curve of the southern half of California combined to place the setting of the sun not over the ocean, but just off a headland to my right, as I faced the water. The beach where I was, or more correctly the area farther up the shore, was reserved as a state park and there were people staying in trailers and tents in a field prepared for that purpose.
My beach was separated from the road by a railroad track, and I also found easy access by a culvert which ran under the tracks for drainage of the high hills that lay immediately on the opposite side of the road. There were sounds and sights of house building activity in those hills all during my stay there. I expected to sleep on the beach and run for the shelter of the large culvert if it rained hard. I could at least stand there above the ditch where the water would flow -- the whole thing was easily large enough for that.
But rain never became a problem, since it seems that, during the summer, the California coast is not often visited by showers and storms, but rather by fog, a thick, cold fog which never entirely disappears.
That day had been rather cool, and there had been a bit of mist all the time as I wandered around Ventura. It was there on the previous day when I was in Los Angeles. As evening came, the fog rolled in with the sea breeze and settled solidly on the shore while it tried to climb the hills. This was unpleasantly cold for me, and I was wearing two shirts and my hunting jacket as I sat there. I had taken off my shoes and socks and given my overworked feet a rest, and now I dug them in to the sand to keep them warm. I was wondering whether with this all-pervading wind-driven mist I was going to sleep at all, but when I finally turned in at darkness, the water-repellent cover of the bag proved its worth once again and I was very comfortably warm. The bag was the only thing I had that really stood up against that sea mist.
Some years later, I read “The Sea Fogs,” by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The night passed uneventfully with the exception of two trains which passed by late, just over my head, it seemed, flashing their headlamps and roaring their diesels, but they became such a common occurrence that I got used to them. I had no idea how long I would stay there, since I had made no plans about going anywhere else for the moment. I thought some about getting a job, but I might have realized by now that there was naught to be had for the short duration such as I would need. I think that one thing was the major miscalculation of my trip, since with all my contingent planning, I had made no provisions for where I would go or what to undertake if I found nothing to detain me in the West.
So when I got up, I took account of the supplies I had, with a view to walking back into town for more. I figured out about what I would need for a week’s food and how much I was going to spend if I were going to get my average down from the four dollars per day at which I had finished up the car trip. I had made use of a Laundromat near Los Angeles when I was there, so I was well-provided with clean clothes, so there would be no expenses from that quarter. I hid my stuff under some rocks against the unlikely possibility of theft on that usually deserted section of beach and started off. I tried to stay off the road and see how far I could get along the water, but a rocky point soon cut me off and I went up over the railroad tracks and paralleled them for a while until I came to a bridge over a swampy stream estuary. The sign on the bridge warned against the passage of any traffic that didn’t belong to the railroad, I considered crossing the railroad bridge anyway, but I remembered all the trains that passed very frequently along that line and noted that the bridge was a rather long one. I might have tried it yet if it hadn’t been for the sight of the fly-ridden body of a small dog draped across the first tie. So I followed the edge of the swamp through some pretty flowers and sweet-smelling grasses to a point where the ground became solid enough to get across the stream, and then went through some more forest until I came out onto a field where a bridge construction company had set up camp.
I circled around this and went into town. It was still early, and so I washed up and combed my grubby long hair in a gas station where I asked for directions to the Post Office. To get there, I had to pass the Mission of San Buenaventura, for which the city was named. This was a pink stucco building, rather small, and with many flower boxes, which I gather is mainly used as a museum for the tourists. The post office was in the same style and had the usual boldly worked mural of sweaty, muscled workers toiling, in this case if I remember rightly, in a fruit processing plant similar to the one I had seen on the other side of the city, which had handled lemons, and the mural was all filled with the glory of the working class. I inquired about the receipt of general delivery letters and wrote my first letter home, announcing my intentions of staying put for a while. On the way out I passed a large tree with spreading branches and large roots which had been imported from India, according to a sign. I bought some soup and some beans and a carton of orange juice in a grocery store and headed back, pausing only to fill my canteen at another gas station.
I made a few other trips into town later on while I stayed in Ventura, and got my check cashed, after much fuss, by a local Chevrolet firm which had to check the existence of the firm to which I had delivered the car.
Earlier, I had tried cashing the check at a bank, but they refused me, probably because I looked like a bum.
People in California I found to be very busy living too fast, much unlike country New England people. It seemed that the whole state was like a single city. I should not be surprised to find a high incidence of neurosis and nervous breakdown per capita in that state, although I do not know whether this is actually the case. California is pretty and beautiful as one goes north along the coast, but I wouldn’t care to make my home there.
Author's note: Today, I live in Berkeley.
Although I stayed a few days there on the beach, there is not much to tell of interest, for there was nothing to do. The water was too cold for swimming and the sea mist made it too chilly to sit still for long in the afternoon. I read a few chapters in a book I had brought and was partially occupied with this and watching the sea.
The water looked the same as that of the Atlantic Ocean, but there was only low surf at that place. The tide was remarkable to me, since it seems to have a much smaller range of variation than on the Atlantic coast.
I had decided to stay until I got a letter from home, and then continue up the coast to San Francisco, and there check on the possibility of getting on a boat somehow for Hawaii with all the time I had. But the sitting still began to get under my skin and I was tired of looking at the same place all the time and wanted to see what the rest of California looked like. So I decided to have my letter forwarded to Santa Cruz, California, which I thought far enough away, and re-packed my sack full of my goods and set off.
I was well-pleased to be back on the road. All summer long, I was most content when I was moving and seeing new things, rather than sitting and waiting. I was the most content when I was moving and seeing new things rather than itting and waiting. I got a bunch of interesting rides that day. One of them was with a fellow in an MG sports car which took me away from the cool and foggy seacoast into the glaring heat of the valleys. We stopped for a while in a small tourist village, called Solvang, which was a Danish settlement.
After that, I rode with a teacher of high school history who took me all the way to Monterey, where I spent the night in another field. I walked through the city the next morning intending to get back on the coast. That whole area is a vast tourist trap -- full of fancy and expensive lodgings and very pretty scenery. I cooked some beans for breakfast in a pine grove which reminded me much of Maine and New Hampshire. I got a ride with a professional scrubwoman who was on her rounds, out into the fog and down the road to Big Sur. She was looking for an excuse to take a break and took me out quite a ways. She was quite a talker, but not too hard to take.
This put me right on the edge of the sea. It was like all I had thus far seen in California. The road (Calif.Rt.1) runs along the edge of a cliff which slopes down sharply into the surf and up into the coastal hills. The ever-present fog and the season had brought the wild flowers into riotous bloom. The whole place was like a strange garden, a hanging garden made by nature alone. The slope was fissured often with places where there had been an earth slide back into the sea. At several points one could find the wire fence which lined the sea side of the road, just hanging in midair over one of these slide areas. I often wondered what kept the road there at all, not to mention things like fences and telephone posts.
The vertical didn’t seem to bother the cows much. I heard a moo above me and found several cows placidly grazing on a knoll in the hillside upon the rich vegetation there. It seems that there are several ranches and farms back in the hills; these were apparently the only residents, for I saw no other houses.
I suspect that the area has been kind of a private preserve beyond the limits of Monterey and Carmel, for I saw a small stream that had been fenced off nd posted with NO TRESPASSING signs, property of some fishing club.
I had heard of Big Sur, but on this trip, I never made it to the actual place. I found the narrow, tourist-ridden road too hard to hitch, let alone walk, so I turned back toward Monterey.
It was at this point that I almost got a ride on a Vespa motor scooter that stopped, but we both fell off before the thing got up enough momentum to carry the bulky load that I was, and I ended up thanking the fellow anyway, and continued to hitch and nurse a bruised wrist.
I finally got a ride into the little village of Carmel. This is a place for the rich tourist. It is very pretty. There were Gift Shops galore and many very nice looking summer residences. I provisioned up in a supermarket and had a lunch of French bread and milk while sitting beside a back road.
The pack was now quite heavy, but I still toted it along, trying to find my way back into Monterey. I was looking for someplace where there were lodgings of more reasonable rates than in Carmel, so I could get cleaned up from all that walking in the sun. But I couldn’t get a ride. I rested for a while in another pine grove, watching the sons of the rich splash around in a motel swimming pool across the way.
After a while I got up the energy to trudge on into Monterey and was able to get cleaned up at a well-appointed gas station rest room free of charge.
I then turned toward the outskirts of Monterey and made for route 101 to San Francisco. I recall sleeping the night in a clump of grass near the road on the outskirts of Monterey.
I stopped at a supermarket for a bunch of carrots to balance my diet and visited a nearby stand serving a Mexican delight known as a Taco (TALK-oh) which is a piece of corn bread wrapped around much hot stuff and lettuce and which I liked very much.
A taco was new thing for me. In 1962, Taco Bell had not yet made it to Maine.
This sort of thing and a carton of orange juice joined another delicious loaf of French bread to make my food for the day.
I passed through Salinas and Watsonville and eventually arrived in Santa Cruz.
I was expecting to get mail in Santa Cruz, so I waited around, reading a science fiction book and munching French bread until the post office opened and I found out that I still had no General Delivery mail. I then adjourned to the steps of a deserted house to read and munch some more and just rest for a while. I hiked out into the country near the RR tracks that night to sleep. There was no more mail the next day either, so I tried to find my way out of the city northward, and after wearing out much shoe leather trying to do this unsuccessfully, I ended up on the right road according to the signs, and immediately stopped for some beef soup in a field under a billboard.
The ride that I got very soon after setting out again was one more real good one. The driver was a naturalized Filipino whose English was somewhat erratic and who kept telling me how his wife would have a fit if she knew he was picking people up. He took me all the way into San Francisco and I heard the story of his life -- how he had spent some time in Hawaii, had gotten a good position in the cafeteria of some hospital in California and then lost it when jealousies began to crop up among his fellow-countrymen who were not doing as good work as he was, he said. At the present time, he was doing farm labor, and that day was going to visit somebody for a while in the City. He also gave me a running travelogue as we came in sight of some more coastal islands, passed several beaches, went through some residential complexes with tremendous ocean views, and finally swung around in toward the center of San Francisco. He let me off near where he was going and I began to walk toward the tall buildings hoping to hit the docks.
A small, plump man who said he worked for the income tax people was intrigued by my pack and drove me to the docks, past the famous cable cars. He said he almost went to Alaska once, but felt his mother couldn’t get along without him, so he didn’t.
I never did get a ride on the cable car.
I walked along the docks wondering if I might possibly get on a boat to Hawaii. I found several new cars on a dock with tags indicating that they were bound for Honolulu. There were signs for Far East shipping companies. I talked with a man I saw working there. He told me that the union has a tight hold on the docks and it is difficult to work one’s passage as a potato-peeler, so I didn’t go. But the broad Pacific with all those strange and far-flung islands is still in my mind and maybe I will make it out there some day.
The job situation according to a San Francisco paper I bought was not encouraging, so I started out of the City via Oakland. I got a ride across the Bay Bridge with a pair of arty types taking a summer course somewhere and whose Volkswagen stalled twice on the bridge going over. After they dropped me off I bought some old doughnuts in a day-old bakery shop and began to walk, munching. I called home for the second time at this point, and there being no rides forthcoming, finally ended up climbing a great steep hill in back of another nice residential area. I set out my sleeping bag in a rather lumpy hollow which afforded a spectacular view of the whole of San Francisco Bay, and lay down for the night.
The next day was a Sunday, and I was hard put to find stores open to get something to eat, but after I had put together something from a small grocery, I retired to a place which was sheltered from the cold wind, to eat and read some more from a book I bought in Santa Cruz.
Then I just kept going. I came out of the bay region through a series of small towns. I got several short rides, and finally ended up in Crockett, California, where I found a hotel with rates cheap enough to suit me and got a room for the night. I recall also there, that after I had gotten cleaned up I went out and blew about a dollar -- big money on my budget -- on two stubbies of Olympia Beer and a taco at a local bar which was open that Sunday. The hotel was across from the railroad station, and that night as I heard the whistles of the passing freights, I thought some of hopping one for parts unknown, but rejected the idea as not worth the risk in view of my lack of clear destination. I slept very well that night after all my walking of the previous two days.
I did get into some trouble after that in spite of not trying the freights. The road at that point turned into a thruway and crossed the Sacramento River on a large new bridge. At the end of the brdge was a sign forbidding passage of any pedestrians and announcing that it was a toll bridge. It was the only bridge in sight, and the map gave no promise of another anywhere near, so I just crossed it on foot, hoping to get hold of a ride before I hit the toll gates. This did not happen, however, and I was held at the gates to wait for a highway patrol officer. I had an interesting conversation with the gate keeper, who informed me that there was work harvesting nearby if I wanted to check into it at the local employment office or I could ask the patrol officer.
The officer took some time to arrive. I’m sure that the prosecution of such a petty criminal was low priority. When he did arrive, and after he found out who I was and where I was going etc., he became quite friendly, although since he had been called, he would have to write me a ticket. He told me of his troubles with his son, a boy with little academic interest, since he had never learned to read at the proper grade level.
He told me that the ticket would not cost me anything if I wrote a letter to the judge before the case came up, telling him my story. This I did from Montana. After I arrived in Alaska, I received a notice of dismissal of the case, forwarded to the Math Department.
That was all the real trouble I had with the law on the whole trip. The Highway Patrol officer gave me a ride to Vallejo, and let me off at a convenient place for hitch-hiking.
I think the primary motivation of the police officers I
encountered wasn’t to make trouble for me,
but just to get me moved out of their patrol area, so that if I did get in any trouble,
I would be somebody else’s problem.
I then got a ride with an immigrant from the Azores Islands. In broken English, he told me quite a few stories of his adventures and taught me a bit about the Portuguese language -- he pronounced the name of his home islands “ aSORSH.”
Where he dropped me I got one more ride into Sacramento, the beautiful capital of California. I walked through the streets looking at the beautiful white buildings and stopped in a shady park to eat some French bread I had bought and to drink some Borden’s milk. I will always remember that as part of the nice things about California -- the Capitol, the French bread, and that rich milk. I counted that day a very adventurous and pleasant one.
As usual, I didn’t want to stay in any one place for long, so although I was much impressed with Sacramento, I started for the outskirts. On the way I saw one of the very few Maine license plates I ever saw that summer.
Where the highway began again, I got several short rides, then was picked up for a long ride by a pair of sailors, and found that they already had another hitch-hiker aboard. He was an old man and a professional tramp if I am any judge. And did he tell the stories! He spoke of conning the church groups and Salvation Army people across the country, of having his shoes stolen while sleeping on the catwalk of a poster panel, and of the many run-ins he had had with the law and how he fared. He seemed to be quite pleased with this form of life and cared little for work of a steady nature. I wish I could have heard his whole story and found out how he got started tramping, but the ride came to an end and we were both put on the road. I recall one thing he said of interest -- he had mentioned that he had used an electric coffee percolator plugged into bulb sockets of poster panels, and hot plates for full meals, and I mentioned my method of the Sterno stove, inquiring if he had ever tried it, and he said “Oh no, I’d drink it!”
I hiked quite a way trying to get ahead of the old man so he wouldn’t be a drag on me, but he could hike along almost as fast as I could, and he was carrying a suitcase.
I finally got a ride in a convertible and the breeze felt good, as we were climbing up into the hot hills. That driver told me how sorry he was that he had not gotten more education -- he had a degree in Civil Engineering I believe -- and inquired of my opinions of genius in math and science! He was on his way to a construction site near Lake Tahoe and so much liked having someone to talk with that he went past his turnoff. I decided to ride down to the lake with him and head toward Reno later.
The Lake Tahoe resort community was about what I had come to expect of such tourist places. There was a gas station made to look Alpine, and several stores in the same style and of course many, many motels, cottages and cabins for the tourist trade. I found the prices were appropriately high when I got a cheeseburger for lunch, but it tasted good, and after I topped it off with a quart of milk, the second for the day, I was more than comfortably full.
After a while I began to move on down the road around the lake which, according to my map, led to the Nevada side and the turnoff for Carson City and Reno. This looked like a good chance to walk across a state line on my own. The road climbed some bluffs, giving several good views of the lake, which is unusually round in shape. I got the impression that it was one huge pool filling up a hole in the mountains.
I passed several road signs which were made so that they could be swung around and displayed or made invisible by being held parallel to the road. One sign read: DANGEROUS TO PROCEED BEYOND THIS POINT UNLESS EQUIPPED WITH CHAINS, and was not being displayed on that warm summer day. Later I read about how bad that area could get during snow season. I got a ride later that day with a man who had been on alternate duty at a ski lift at a resort high in the nearby mountains, and he spoke with knowledge of what the winters were like there at Tahoe and beyond in the Donner Pass. But this was warm, sweet summertime, when nature stays friendly, and only the grade of the hills slowed my progress along the lake shore.
From my previous experience with these Western states, I was looking for a big marker indicating the location of the state line between California and Nevada. I never saw one, but I knew without a doubt when I was about to cross. There were bright lights up ahead and the sounds of crowds of people. When I rounded a corner I saw what it was. Perched very close to the state line, on what was clearly the Nevada side, and doing a booming business, were at least two casinos, glowing with light and roaring with the rattle of hundreds of slot machines. I stayed there until it began to get too dark, watching the tourists gamble their money away. I went into one of the casinos, leaving my pack outside, and watched the card players and roulette wheel enthusiasts go at it. There was entertainment: I heard a few songs from Mary Lou Something and her Ranch Gals. Mary Lou was noticeable for her skin-tight gold-spangled outfit, built vaguely like bluejeans with generous help from the way Mary Lou was built. She was singing something about “ridin’ alawng” to somewhere and bouncing up and down as she strummed her guitar. But then, at popular request, she began to murder “Home on the Range,” and I left. I did play one nickel at a slot machine to see what would happen. I lost it. Up the road beyond the casinos I found a deserted area where I set out my bag for the night and went to sleep, listening to the waves on the lake.
I got up rather late the next morning and stood looking for a while at the mountains rising up sharply from the far lake shore. I decided to hold off on breakfast until later on, hoping to get to somewhere that sold cheap food, rather than dip into my dwindling store of canned goods. I got a ride quickly with a man who was going into Reno for some supplies for his plumbing business, and he was most entertaining, full of stories about the area as we passed through.
We climbed over a mountain and got away from Lake Tahoe. The road was quite narrow. Trucks, and even some cars were having hard going around the sharp climbing bends. On the other side, we had a vista of another, smaller lake in the valley below.
The road then began to descend and level out for the flatter, drier land of central Nevada.
I didn’t stay for long in Reno. There were casinos, like those on the lake, only bigger. I looked in at Harold’s Club, much advertised in that region, and some of the other casinos, to watch more suckers play the slot machines. I kept my nickels.
I had lunch in a cafe on the outskirts of the city. I was worried about crossing the desert ahead. I stopped in a gas station for some more maps, to get a better idea of where the roads went in Nevada.
In Sparks, a major rail center just east of Reno, I stopped in a supermarket to restock my supplies of food for the presumed hard road ahead. But it did not turn out as bad as I had expected. In fact, I began a most interesting adventure.
I hadn’t gotten very far from the center of Sparks, when I was picked up by a man in a green Buick. Bob was headed across the desert regions into Idaho and then to his home in Montana. When he heard that I was going in the same general direction -- I had told him Salt Lake City -- he welcomed the company for the journey. He was a native of Montana, but had his permanent residence, as his license plate indicated, in California, near Sacramento. He was going to his mother’s place in Montana, where he was in the process of developing a trailer court to get some extra income for himself and his mother.
Bob had had an interesting history. He had worked in CCC camps during the Depression and since then on construction jobs in various parts of the country and outside. Several years ago he had been in a very serious auto accident and had been crippled for life -- or so he had been told at the time -- and was just beginning to get back on his feet again. He still had trouble with his hands, as was noticeable in the way in which he gripped the steering wheel. There was a bone which had not healed properly and he was not able to totally close his hand. As a result he tended to hold things like coffee cups with his finger tips in a manner which reminded me of a proper Englishman at tea. He had been a big and active fellow all his life and it had been hard on him to be laid up for so long. He told me that he presently was holding down two jobs in California: one as a police radio dispatcher, and another as the first taxi driver the small town he lived in had ever had. He was just getting along, but that was all he required, he said, so long as he always had something to do. His wife, who I gathered had been good about standing by him in all his troubles, had learned the dispatcher’s job too. She worked part-time and held Bob’s post when he was gone on business, as he was then. They had raised a daughter who had recently presented them with a grandchild. This trailer court project of his was all in addition to his regular work.
We liked each other. We talked on many other subjects as we rolled through the dry and desolate country of interior Nevada, and I was as glad as Bob for the company through such empty land.
What wasn’t desert outright was rocky and covered with patches of sagebrush and occasional yucca weed. As we went deeper into the land we saw plumes of steam rising from the ground at places several hundred feet from the highway; these marked hot springs. Also to be found were patches of white on the generally yellow desert floor which were the sign of salt or alkali flats. From what I was able to gather from maps, books and talking to other people later, this “basin and range” country extends from the edge of the Sierras to near the western shore of the Great Salt Lake.
People lived there. Every now and then we would come to a small oasis where ranchers would congregate and there would be a few cafes for the truckers. Being in Nevada, every one of these establishments had some slot machines. The larger cafes offered a Blackjack table.
We stopped in a few of these places for food, and Bob would play Blackjack after we had finished our meals. He was a very good player. Twice in a row he won more than the price of both our bills. He always gambled with silver dollars, very common in that part of the country, and thus when he made money, made it big, and he always stopped playing when ahead.
I was impressed with Bob. He seemed the sort of person who can get the most out of life. He had a strong work ethic, and would take on big jobs.
We rolled past a place where Bob said there had recently been a big flood. It was one of the flash floods that come down suddenly from the mountains in that hard surfaced country. He pointed out a railroad bridge. During the flood, it acted as a dam to hold the water back in the valley so that the flood was destroying more homes. The homeowners either chopped the bridge down or blew it up to let the water through. The railroad then sued those people. Bob said that the lawsuit still had not been decided.
This was comparatively lush country, but soon we were back into the sand and sagebrush, and this became ever more the dominant type of scenery.
We left Nevada at a place called Jackpot -- I sent a postcard home from there -- which consisted of several casinos and supporting businesses, such as gas stations and motels, and utterly nothing else, with the desert all around and the Idaho border just a few miles up the road.
Almost immediately the sagebrush began to fade and the green hills and farmland of Idaho took its place. We penetrated a long ways into the state before the coming of night forced us to stop. I declined with thanks Bob’s offer to set me up in a motel room, and took to a field from which he picked me up the following morning.
Bob had by this time offered me temporary work at his trailer camp, but said that it would be quite a while before he would need me. He dropped me off at Pocatello, Idaho and continued north while I continued eastward, expecting possibly to visit a college friend who was taking a summer course in field geology in Wyoming. So after a trucker’s breakfast, and with no rides out of Pocatello forthcoming immediately, I began to walk, glad again for the free and independent feeling of being on the open road, and all the more for having an eventual destination and something to do for a while.
The road across Idaho was hot and the rides hard to come by. Finally, after one short hop with an old farmer, I got picked up by a young couple who were returning home after visiting some relatives. They were rather young indeed; I think the girl was 18 and the boy was 17, and the baby less than a year old. He was currently out of work, having been laid off his factory job, and they were subsisting off their capital and relatives. I suspect that this fellow was tough, having run off at fourteen and bummed around for a while. Right then he did not seem to have much of a secure future in store for him. The car was his own, and until recently had been one of two they had owned, the second being a wedding gift from the girl’s mother. The recap began to tear off the back tire as we roared along, but since there was no spare in any good condition, it was decided to slow down and go along as far as the thing would hold together. I got off where they ceased to be going my way -- and heaved a sigh of relief.
After a ride with an IBM cash register repair man, and lunch out of a Safeway market, I started to hoof it again out in the heat. Eventually I got in with another traveling couple, and they too were out of work and seeking temporary lodgings in western Wyoming where there was a possibility of being hired at a new project in the hills. Their finances were a bit pinched at the time and this was a move of near desperation. I rode with them for some time, entering the state of Wyoming for the second time in my travels.
The transition was about as sudden as that from Nevada into Idaho. As I went along, the farms became fewer until finally, after crossing a bridge over a feeble little stream, all that was before me was open range land. There were many dry valleys and gullies up in the hills. I was told that herds of wild horses still lived up there. I saw a few cows grazing on whatever they could find, and the long lines of fences to keep them off the highways and other ranchers’ land.
There was an interesting way they were able to fence off the highway itself when there were no roadside fences. A ditch was dug across the road, covered by a grate of metal rods which allowed cars to cross it. The cows would be scared by the grate, since it would easily accommodate a hoof; they would not cross it.
I left the job-hunting couple in Kemmerer, Wyoming, and turned south, having decided on the basis of closer study that my friend’s geology camp was farther than I wanted to go out of my way. In addition to this, the bare openness of the land began to get to me. I wanted to go somewhere where there were trees and watered places and signs of habitation. That part of Wyoming is so open that I recall coming on a dead calf lying in an excavation long ago abandoned, stinking so that it was most unpleasant. On closer inspection it was full of maggots. No one, however, had seen fit to do anything about it, since it likely was not bothering anyone way out there.
My next rides were fast. I was picked up by a construction foreman who was working at a new power station. He took me well into Utah. I was planning to spend the night on the road and try to make Salt Lake City the next day, but one more ride took me down the valley through which the Mormon pioneers had come, right to the edge of the city. It was as beautiful a place as I had ever seen, there in the gathering night. There was the glow of car headlights and homes and big buildings. Way off in the distance there was a silver shining place down in the valley where the plain began again, and this was my first sight of the Great Salt Lake. I was a bit worn down at this point, but the prospect of something new to see kept me going. I had a pot of soup and a can of vegetables for a meal, promising myself a better feed when I entered the city in the morning. Then I found myself a place in the weeds on a hill overlooking the city but screened from the road, and there spread out my bag for the night.
I was thinking of walking into the center of the city, but from my map, my destination, the Post Office, was a bit too distant, so I started looking around for signs of a transit system. In the process of this I discovered a brand new Laundromat and decided to wash some clothes. While the wash was in progress I was able to clean myself to some extent in the washroom out back. That definitely felt good after the hot weather of the previous day. After the clothes were washed, I encountered a barber shop and decided to go whole-hog for the big city! The barber gave me a lecture on the intrinsic hatefulness of the Mormons, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Negroes etc. etc. and a pretty fair haircut. This xenophobic attitude amazed me.
After being subjected to such diatribes,
I wondered what the person thought my background was.
Maybe because I didn’t strongly react, positively or negatively, the person thought I agreed with him.
Or maybe the diatribe was kind of a joke, and didn’t really represent the true views of the person
speaking, but was only intended to provoke me into expressing some prejudices of my own.
I do not put down people just because of their racial or national origin,
but I did not express such liberal views to anyone subjecting me to one of these diatribes.
Since I was feeling so good and the air of Salt Lake City was warm and dry, I ended up walking into town anyway. I tried to take a shortcut, but got my directions mixed up twice and had to retrace my steps to the main street which I had been following. All the streets in the city are numbered from the center at the Mormon Temple grounds and indexed further by directions. For example, West 24th Street is the 24th street west of the Temple and running north and south.
The hike to the Post Office was a bit longer than I had bargained for, but I eventually got there and was discouraged to find that my expected letter that had been chasing me around California had not yet arrived. I decided to try again the next day, and took off to wander about the city. Salt Lake City is a clean place and apparently thriving. On my way in, I had paused for a while in a park which was filled with people enjoying the sunshine, having lunch on the grass, resting against trees, or touring the Utah Pioneer Museum. I drank my fill of water from a public fountain to make up for all I had lost while crossing Wyoming, and finished off a loaf of French bread that I had bought at a local Safeway. I was impressed that in such an obviously dry country the city could be so free with its water. There were permanent nozzles at various points on public lawns, and private as well, which sprayed water as needed. Apparently the people who ran the water department are very good planners and have been for some time. On the way into the city, down the canyon, I had the major reservoir for the city pointed out to me in addition to several other water supply installations. The big one was a true lake and well-filled. Most of the water for Utah seems to come from the tapping of many sources in the mountains and collecting the water into reservoirs.
After much aimless wandering, I came upon the Temple grounds. The whole place is enclosed within a tall brick wall with a few gates along the street. Immediately visible was the Temple itself, which was built somewhat in the style of the Gothic French cathedrals. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_Lake_Temple
I found the whole Temple area very attractive, and I spent most of that day there. There were regular free guided tours around the place and I joined one of them for a while. I learned that the Mormons are more formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Church members refer to themselves as “LDS” rather than “Mormon.” The Temple itself was off-limits to the public and only the priests who were leaders in the LDS Church were allowed inside.
I was told that an LDS Church member enters the Temple, either that one at Salt Lake City, or another located in his local area, only three times in his life: when he is born, when he is married and when he dies. The whole inner court is reserved to the “Temple patrons” whom I saw arriving regularly through the gate by car.
I went through the museum. I saw the seagull monument, which commemorates when a flock of seagulls came to consume the locusts that were eating the crops of the early Mormon settlers. I heard informal lectures on Mormonism, collected several pamphlets. I even listened to a practice session of the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir in the Tabernacle itself, which is a separate structure from the Temple and which has more public access.
As afternoon came to an end, I suddenly remembered that I likely would not be allowed to sleep on the grass of the Temple grounds, so I had better hightail it out of the main part of the city in search of some place to lay out my bag. So I picked up my pack from one of the Tabernacle entrances where I had dropped it, and started off. I tried to head toward the lake in hopes of sleeping next to it, but I could not get a ride before it became dark. So I headed down a side street and walked until I was very tired before I found a suitable place next to the RR tracks and sacked out. There might have been a bit of rain during the night, but not enough to bother me, and I slept well. The next morning I took breakfast in a cafe and then wandered around for quite a while, still in hopes of reaching the lake.
Then I decided to go back into the city again, on foot all the way. I stopped again at the Temple grounds as I passed through. There was still no mail at the Post Office and I pointed myself the way the map said led to Idaho and points north.
I got a ride with an informative person who told me some interesting things about the Great Salt Lake as we passed close to it. Among other things, I learned that it was steadily receding; the average depth of the lake was less than over my head. The salt in the lake had so permeated the ground it had once covered that it was necessary to leach it heavily by soaking it with fresh water before it would bear crops.
In 1963 the Great Salt Lake reached its lowest recorded level at 950 square miles,
but in 1987 the surface area was at an historic high of 3,300 square miles.
I had a very interesting series of rides that day. One was with an ex-Mainer who gave me a big bagful of cherries. They were good! Since then, I have always enjoyed eating cherries in season. Another ride was a couple returning from Germany. The man was Americanized and had been studying theology at several places in Germany, and his wife was a refugee from East Germany some time ago. She spoke no English and thus was left out of most of the conversation except when I tried out my limited German on her. They weren’t going quite the way I intended to go, but I was having so much fun I didn’t care about it particularly.
Another few rides after that put me on an expressway going up through Idaho into Montana near Yellowstone Park’s west entrance. I got stranded that night, ninety miles from nowhere and there had my first serious trouble with the weather. I had sacked out near an overpass in a field which bordered the road at that point, and had gone to sleep very quickly on the soft grass. About midnight, I was awakened by the pitter-patter of little thundershower drops with background noise of thunder and wind. I poked one sleepy eye out from under the covers and scanned the sky looking for signs of a near miss instead of a full storm, but unfortunately this did not appear to be the case. So I hastily packed my belongings and made off in the dark for the shelter of the highway overpass. I made it, but had to stand there for over half an hour while the storm ran its course. Then I sacked out a bit nearer the overpass and spent the rest of the night asleep without trouble.
The next day, my first ride took me up to near Twin Falls, Idaho. The next ride followed swiftly; the driver pointed to a herd of antelope grazing on the open meadow off in the distance. Immediately before us at this point the Rockies reared up their ragged timber-spattered slopes and we began to gain altitude. We kept on climbing and getting into ever more alpine country, until at last we topped a ridge where a roadside marker informed me that I had for the second time in my travels crossed the Continental Divide.
And on we went, my driver telling me something he had read in a book about the last fight of an Indian tribe which took place in that area. The chieftain’s name was Chief Joseph. I read up on the details much later on.
The ride came to an end at the small, tourist-oriented town of West Yellowstone, Montana. I started walking and looking around for likely places to stay for the night. But I got one last ride. Two women picked me up. They were following their construction worker husbands to their next job. They said that they’d had express instructions from their husbands against picking up hitch-hikers. The driver told me that if I tried anything I might consider first the gun she had in the glove compartment, besides a pistol. After this, they became quite friendly and bought me my second beer for the day -- Olympia, and very good.
The women dropped me off where the road turned off to go down to where Bob had told me was his trailer court project. I wandered around, passed the house once, and finally got re-directed enough to go right to it. There I was welcomed by Bob and his mother, and his brother and wife. They fed me a good supper, and put me up in the small shack they had out back. Here I was to stay for a while.
Since there had been the usual sort of delay which happens with construction projects, there was at that time no work to speak of on the projected trailer court. Indeed, the court was nothing more than a partially cleared space of ground in the middle of the forest not far from the house and separated from it by a stretch of thick underbrush.
Eventually a man from the Montana State Highway Department came along and scraped down the cleared field with his big “motor patrol,” one of those tractors with a blade which can turn every which way and looks like a spider with a diesel engine on its back. At one point, I got a chance to ride along and watch him operate it, and learned that it is necessary on some models of diesel equipment to first start an auxiliary motor which runs on regular gas and spark plugs in order to start the main diesel by getting up speed and heat.
I and a young friend of the family (of whose exact relation to everyone I was never too sure) were sent out to break up the dam of a large beaver pond. This was quite a job and took several sessions of repeated digging at the tangle of roots and logs over a few days. I kept getting lost wandering around in the brush trying to find the beaver dam place each time we went to it, since the brush was exceedingly thick.
We were fed very well by Bob’s mother, and I am sure that I gained weight over that period. I stayed there over the week-end of July 4, did some reading, eating and watched the fireworks. They were legal for private ownership in Montana; I had almost forgotten all the different kinds there were. The next day, two of the family dogs killed a chicken. I and a fellow from Mississippi compared dialects to the amusement of the Montana locals. Most of us young men got caught getting an extra hunk of pie and suchlike goodies, and we all ate watermelon.
It was four or five days altogether that I stayed there, and it ended at my request, since there was little work that I could do. I was unskilled in the building arts. There was an abundant supply of family and local labor which I did not want to displace. In total, I made just fifteen dollars in money plus the value of much more in rent and good eating, and I counted myself well-paid indeed as I set off down the road from Bozeman where Bob left me off.
I thought some, then, of going to Seattle and seeing the World’s Fair, but then changed my mind and headed eastward to see what might be seen in the Dakotas and the Northern Central states. I was on the road to see country, not all the tourist traps, I said to myself, as Bozeman fell behind me and I began to enter the open country again. What I need is the fresh air of the open road, I thought. I got that. I had a quick ride from a family going up to Great Falls, and got left where they turned off.
I liked the big sky country. In the distance there was always visible a small cluster of ranch buildings, and a dirt road which led out of it, but all else was open prairie covered with short grass and occasional bushes. There were effectively no trees at all. I stopped for a while after I had done some walking, since the traffic was thin, and lay on my back looking up at the sky, watching clouds. The weather was quite warm by midday, and I enjoyed it. I got a few strange looks from people driving trucks down the dirt road. I tried to read some of my books, but the sun was too bright on the pages for comfort, so I gave it up and rested some more. After a while, I got up and tried for another ride. After quite a while I got picked up by a salesman heading back home to Denver who needed company. He drove me through a lot of open, desolate country, and dropped me off in a small town outside of Billings. I picked up some food there and bought some more reading matter.
I expected to spend the night there, but I got an unexpected ride into Billings, which let off in the middle of the city. I had a long, weary hike to get out of there, and had to satisfy the official and personal curiosity of yet another state cop.
I was so tired that I had little difficulty sleeping, and woke late the next day.
Then I had an even longer walk in the hot sun, without any rides appearing. I don’t know how many miles I trudged that time, but I could tell from the road map that I had come a sizable distance away from Billings and everything else for that matter, when I finally found some shade and paused a while to read my TIME magazine. I had used up all my water in preparing some soup earlier, and was very dry. I expected to get a quick ride to somewhere where there was habitation. I was thinking of how good a cool beer would taste about then and wondering whether I was going to have to spend the night again right there. But I finally got a ride, and such a great ride it was!
The driver was a pilot for Alaska Airlines, home on vacation to his native Montana and headed for the east side of the state. He was based in Anchorage and as part of his work, spent quite a bit of time in Fairbanks, which he called a “dirty little town.”
But his most interesting feature was his fondness for beer, which he was then consuming from a six-pack on the floor. He offered me some. Jubilation! There is nothing quite like a cold beer on a hot dry stomach! He was so fond of the stuff that he insisted on stopping at two bars, getting filled up on beer and local gossip and then buying more beer to take out. He kept filling me, but I could never keep up with him. By the time he left me off in Miles City, I was visibly full of much more than information about Alaska! I think I read somewhere that Alaskans have the highest per capita drinking rate of the entire country, and I am prepared to believe it. I wondered how I was ever going to find my bearings in that condition, so I decided to take some time out for washing out my equipment at a gas station and splashing my face with water for what effect it might have.
I then walked up the road a little and sat down on top of my stuff to write a postcard.
I got a bit of a start when two fellows in what looked like state troopers’ uniforms pulled over and asked me where I was going. I said Minneapolis, Minnesota, since I had pretty much decided on at least going through there, and they said get in. I found out then, getting over my surprise, that I wasn’t being arrested, but was on my way to Minneapolis, for that was where they were going. They said they were firearms wardens of the State of Minnesota, and were just returning from a vacation in Yellowstone Park.
One guy was small and the other big and fat, with his big Stetson hat looking much like Wild Bill Hickock’s pal Jingles on TV. They were very easy to get along with, and provided quite a few stories of Yellowstone. They drove all night, stopping in the dark to fix a flat in the Dakotas. At that point, one of them tried out a pistol he had from some old relative back in the days of yore, and the other lit off a skyrocket which made a beautiful sight in the pitch darkness of the night.
These guys were really firearms wardens?
During the night, we passed through a 24-hour construction project and nearly got run over by a huge tractor which was one of many heavy vehicles madly darting around trying to keep up with a contract, I suppose. Things got a bit vague thereafter, as I had a tendency to sleep, but somewhere along the line, we got into Minnesota and started to head into the outskirts of the Twin Cities.
The prairie vastness of the Dakotas was gone, and instead I saw green farmlands and trees. The country became slightly more rolling, and there were occasionally a few bodies of water to be seen. This began to look pretty nice, since I was more than tired of the dry prairie of the West. I didn’t get to look at the new country scenery for long. We were soon in the middle of Minneapolis, and I was out of the car. I thanked my hosts for the long ride and wished them luck, then set out to find a place to stay.
I was a bit worried about the kind of place I would end up in, recalling some of my experiences in Denver, the last big city where I’d stayed in a hotel. But Minneapolis is much different from Denver. First of all there is its location among the lakes of Minnesota, and just plain being farther north helps quite a bit too. Apparently the area goes big for the YMCA, for this was the first building of interest that I ran into, and it was a big one -- all twelve floors of it, with posters about other centers elsewhere in the area. This building was marked as the main offices. Such an imposing place must have imposing rates, I thought, but inquired anyway. The price for a night was $2.50, within my range of approval, and so I set my pack down in a small but cheerful room on the tenth floor of the building, with access to a large, clean shower room. It was the nicest place I had stayed in during the trip, and all the better for the price.
During the year that my college room-mate had done his wandering, I had taken a room at the YMCA in Auburn, Maine.
I got cleaned up and took off to see what was to be seen in the city below. I found a place selling cheap hamburgers and bought one for supper. I got some chocolate chunks at another store which I ate while perusing the newspaper back in the room. I didn’t know where any of the places were and since it was a Saturday night, I decided to wait. I was thinking, in view of the cheap weekly rates they were offering, and the low state of my current finances, of staying right there for a week or two and trying perhaps to get a job.
I lived on hamburgers and chocolates mostly, with an assist from milk. I bought Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” which I finally finished in Alaska. Most of the time, I spent just sitting on my tail and resting my feet, reading, and stuffing my gut. I decided to stay over through Sunday night.
I also bought Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” I didn’t like it. Before I was half-way through the book, I gave up in disgust. I don’t recall what specifically put me off. Maybe Kerouac’s road was too different from my road.
On Monday morning I did a laundry. I noticed a sign for a dishwasher in one of the restaurants which I passed, and as soon as it opened after my laundry was in progress, I applied, but the job had already been taken. Ah well, I probably would not have enjoyed being tied down to a job in the big city. I think it may have been interesting to stay in Minneapolis for a while longer, but then perhaps the enjoyable things that happened to me later would not have come to pass.
So I set pack to back, and checked out of the Y. I hadn’t the faintest idea which way was anywhere and just traveled east by the sun. This eventually got me across the upper Mississippi which divides Minneapolis from St. Paul and with the help of a gas station map, one route sign and a helpful merchant who noticed me going past his store, soon found myself on the highway heading out of the city.
I got one ride quickly, but then there were no more rides. The day was hot and I had not eaten breakfast before I left, and I tired easier after my resting up. At least there were trees and grass. Still, I was thirsty, and was worried because I couldn’t make it to the next town to buy food. But I kept on, and soon rounded a curve onto a fairly straight stretch. About a mile down the road, I could see some sort of commercial center. I expected it to be some disappointing thing like a complex of feed mills and grain stores, and walked along still hoping for a ride, but it turned out to be a supermarket complex with much milk for sale, and cheaply. I bought a half-gallon for 35 cents and drank nearly all of it with some French bread (which wasn’t so cheap). But the combination of all this food, eaten too quickly, and the hot sun, overloaded my digestive system. I got the trots, and needed to use a nearby gas station to relieve myself.
According to my diary notes, at that time I planned to “head west across Canada and dip into Idaho for Spokane to Seattle and then north to Alaska.” But I was still in the US, and heading east.
I needed to find a good place to cross into Canada.
I ended up in Cameron, Wisconsin after several entertaining rides which included a courtesy trip out of a town by a couple state cops. In Cameron, I had two beers and a chat about gambling with the bartender. I then walked to the edge of town and slept in a field for the night -- most of the night, anyway.
It was too warm to sleep in the bag where I was protected from the mosquitoes. The roaring of the vehicles on the road kept me awake well after sunset. So I decided to go back on the road in the dark. I walked quite a ways from the crossroads and onto a level where the stars were easier to see through the occasional clouds, and finally got myself so tired that I just pulled off a little ways and slept until late morning.
My notes are not too clear on the next day; I recall it as rather uneventful. I got a few rides and ended up in a picnic area for the night. I do remember talking for a long time with a soil analyst at a place where he had stopped for lunch; he told me quite a bit about the geology and topography of the Great Lakes region. Two traveling families with Yukon Territory plates stopped there while we were talking.
During the next day I spent a while in the town library at Ladysmith, Wisconsin, reading science fiction books. There also I drank milk at 21 cents a quart which tasted terrible, and got another French bread, this time directly out of the oven at a local bakery. I really did like that country.
The rides from there on came steadily if slowly. During one of my rides, the driver told me about his work among Indians and how he and his wife had adopted a young girl who had been left in support of a whole family of younger kids as a result of her father’s abandonment and her mother’s suicide.
I made it across Wisconsin and Upper Michigan all the way to Sault Sainte-Marie. This is the waterway with locks connecting Lake Huron with Lake Superior. The area is known colloquially as “the Soo.” My last ride dropped me off at Saint Ignace, Michigan where I got a good look at the huge bridge then being built across the Straits of Mackinac connecting Lower Michigan to Upper Michigan. This was at night when it was all lit up.
This bridge opened for traffic in October 1962.
At one point, I was picked up by a car full of local teenagers. They were amused when I tried to pronounce the name of their town in what I thought was the French way – Sahn Ig-NAHSS. I was quickly corrected to Saint IGG-naece.
Maybe the French were long gone. I’m told that “sault” means rapids in a river.
St. Ignace is Saint Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuit order. Most of the French missionary
priests were Jesuits. I later read that in the 1700s the area was occupied by the French, and
was a major center for the fur trade. In 1783 the village became part of the United States.
The Americans and British-Canadians operated a large trading center on both sides of the border,
until the decline of the fur trade in the 1830s.
I ran into a swarm of some kind of insect. They were so thick that when they splattered themselves over the windshield, my driver could barely see out and had to stop at a gas station.
I slept that night in some bushes on the far side of town, not far from the shore of what at that point would have been Lake Huron. The next morning, one ride took me to the Soo.
I got dropped off right at the locks and watched two big ships go through. They have a big control board with many lights, which runs the operation. There are workers who zip around on electric scooters. Across the river could be seen the Canadian locks and the city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. It was there I wanted to go.
The crossing of the river at that time was by car ferry. The fare was only 15 cents for a one-way crossing, so I paid it cheerfully and got on. It was something like a Casco Bay ferry, except smaller, and this ferry had to deal with a current. There were two boats working.
Soon we docked and I was in Canada for the first time on my trip.
I only got as far as a building labeled CANADA CUSTOMS AND IMMIGRATION where I had a talk with a very British-sounding gentleman with a moustache. He was very nice. He told me the he felt I wasn’t the usual kind of hitch-hiker that comes across, but I still couldn’t go on into Canada. He suggested trying the West Coast and then up the “Can-Alaska Highway” as he put it. I gave him quite a long discussion, but to no avail and I was shipped back across the river, free, courtesy of the Canadian government. I was a bit disgruntled at this rebuff from our friendly northern neighbor, but I decided to go west and try again.
I got so fed up that when I finally found the road out, I just kept walking without hitching until I was several miles away from that place. One small ride put me farther out and then I got a series of rides. The first was with a serviceman stationed at the local SAC base who picked me up just as a thunderstorm broke. Then I got a ride with a big family heading into St. Ignace. Then I was again picked up by the first fellow. This time he had aboard a clutch of girls who were chums of his girlfriend at nursing school. He was carrying some of the girls to the bus terminal. The group got interested in my adventures and they drove me around the town for a while until dusk.
They left me at the other end of the place where I had encountered the insects. The swarm was still there. This time I got a close look at them. They were the ugliest things I have ever seen. They showed none of the personal interest of flies and mosquitoes, but they were present in such quantities that it was quite unpleasant. I walked for a long while trying to get out of the swarm, but couldn’t, so I finally turned off the road into a small grove where the insects were much less thick. I wished I could call in those seagulls that saved the Mormons.
I had a beautiful view of the broad expanse of Lake Michigan below me. I could see, at the bottom of the hill I was on, a small village church and one or two houses far from the highway. I would like to return to that country later on and with better traveling equipment. I slept the rest of the night quietly and comfortably.
I got no rides at all the next day. I didn’t try particularly hard, and was certainly in no hurry to go anywhere, since I was not sure where my next destination was. I just walked for a while that day, once stopping to eat at a picnic area.
I then found a nice long stretch of deserted beach along the shore of the lake. This decided me to play beachcomber once again. I put down my pack and rolled out the bag, took the large plastic sheet I was carrying out and set it up with rocks as a windbreak, and then lay down to rest and read for the balance of the day. When I was tired of reading, I explored the outer edges of the beach. I found a quiet shallow place.
The next day, I went in swimming at the shallow place. I soon found that Lake Michigan water is very cold away from the shore. I did not stay in too long, but still enjoyed the swim.
While I was camped there on the lake shore, I satisfied myself on a question which had been bothering me for some time, namely: are there any tides at all in the Great Lakes? I placed a stick in the sand at exactly the water’s edge and kept checking on it to see if the level had changed any. My conclusion was that there were no tides of the usual sort, but the water did vary a couple of inches in level, fairly often and at irregular intervals. I think this is caused by a pressure wave. Water shifts with the distribution of air pressure over the vast area of the lake. I bet that even small lakes would show something of this effect if one were to look for it.
I ended my lakeside sojourn late the second day. My first ride got me to an ice cream stand which I patronized.
After quite a bit more hiking, I got another ride. This one was a good one. The fellow was driving a new convertible and was heading home to Madison, Wisconsin after work at a project where he operated heavy construction machinery. He said that he had been gone from his young wife for a year, while he was trying to accumulate enough money to buy a house. He was a great big boy and talkative. We had two rather one-sided discussions on heavy construction and on basic and advanced mathematics. He was just aching for company, and finally convinced me that I didn’t want to go directly across Wisconsin and then west, but visit Madison first. This may sound foolish, but I didn’t care particularly where I went just then, and after what happened later, I’m glad I did it. We got into Madison in late evening, and he took me around to the side of the city where I would want to stand for rides heading west. I found a field to sleep in easily enough
The next day I rode with an insurance salesman who had some kind of muscle twitch which made me wonder if he was going to be able to keep the car on the road. He dumped me off at a tourist center called Wisconsin Dells, a river playground. I bought a quart of orange juice at a store and was consuming it as I crossed the intersection to take up my position on the other side.
A car with Massachusetts plates pulled over and the driver waved at me to come along. This was the beginning of one of the oddest parts of the whole summer adventure. Harry, the driver, was a native of the state of Wisconsin who had been living for a time in Massachusetts, and was coming to Wisconsin for a visit and to check up on his property.
Harry was a retired farmer, an old bachelor, probably just over 65. He talked on and on about farming matters, which I poorly understood, then gave me a small dinner at a cafe. Apparently I, and what I was doing, impressed him. He kept nodding his head in agreement with what I said. After riding with him for quite a while across the state, Harry suddenly suggested that I stay for a while at his old farm and rest up while he showed me what the country looked like where he came from. I didn’t know quite how to take him, but as I hesitated, he kept urging me to stay. He would certainly enjoy the company, said he. So I did.
Harry’s farm had been established by his father, who had come over from Denmark. It was quite primitive; there was no running water or sewage system. I got a room upstairs which was very comfortable, and I read by kerosene lantern that first night. The weather turned bad the next day and it stayed that way the day after. Harry insisted I stay while it rained. We made several small shopping trips and rode around the area. The nearest town was St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, right on the Minnesota border.
Harry certainly kept me well-fed on sausage and milk. He found some crisp rye crackers which had been sitting around for a long time. The Danish name for it is “knækbrød.” Harry said it keeps very well. I liked the crisp bread, which I still buy when I see it in a store.
He insisted on taking me through the local state park on the gorge of the St. Croix River, which was beautiful. We visited his brother’s place where they also fed well. I got a tour through the inside of a feed mill, which was very interesting; I had never been in contact with such things.
Harry related all the statistical data on who owned which 40 acres, and who had owned it, and what the selling price on it had been, how the area fared during the Depression and on and on. I got a bit tired of it after a while.
We visited several of his friends. I got to chauffeur Harry around in his new Rambler with push-button transmission. He showed me off as something of a curiosity.
I’m sure Harry realized that I was a little suspicious that he
might have sexual designs on me. He tried to make it clear that he would
leave me alone in the room he had given me. Yes, I was a little nervous,
but there were no problems. I’m sure some of his friends wondered what was going on,
but none of them made any remarks to me.
Harry and his friends might have thought of me as kind of temporarily Harry’s son.
I found some books in Danish and tried to read them, with no success. Harry and I talked on and on. Harry was a hardy fellow. He had suffered some sort of accident some time ago, which required him to still go to the doctor from time to time, but he had just been working in Massachusetts at gathering pulpwood with a chain saw back in the woods somewhere, which was quite a bit for man of his age to take on. I learned much of his history. He was the youngest boy of his family and had inherited the old farmstead and cared for the old folks until they died.
He had spent some time living with a German family not far away and had picked up some of that language along with his Danish, most of which he had now forgotten. I never heard him use either language. His schooling was rather limited -- he never cared for it much, but he had kept busy and worked hard. I guess he was a bit eccentric, but he had a right to be.
When I finally departed from the farm, Harry drove me to the highway toward Duluth. He was really unhappy to see me go. I sent Harry a card from Alaska when Christmas came.
Most of the way to Duluth I rode with a trailer truck driver who had an empty truck. Only my pack was in the whole big van. Previous to this, I had the unusual luck of finding a full, capped bottle of Grain Belt beer lying in a ditch. At Duluth I did not stop for long, but located Route 2 and began to head west.
From Duluth, I got two rides through the open, swampy country of northern Minnesota as far as the town of New York Mills, where the mosquitoes were about as bad as I ever saw them.
I picked out a field for sleep, but the mosquitoes spread the word to their kinfolk faster than I could set down my pack, and I had quite a battle with them, trying to get into the sleeping bag without having mosquito company. Finally I got in and pulled the water-shedding cover around so it was on top of me and slept comfortably through the cool night.
I had wanted to follow Route 2 but had gotten off it, so the next day I took a cross-over route and rode with a recent B.A. in Philosophy up to Wabun, Minnesota. There I stopped to get over a slight stomach queasiness and eventually got a meal at the local market.
The country was open and flat there, and nicely green. I rather liked it. I saw a rain shower coming over the plains; I just waited it out, for the short time it lasted. Another ride took me to the intersection with Route 2. There a fellow stopped, intrigued by my pack and drove me to the other side of the town. I waited there for a long time -- Route 2 is poorly traveled -- and almost had another ice cream, but decided to keep the money.
I filled up on more water from a gas station. Then I got a ride with some people returning from a visit to East Grand Forks, Minnesota, just over the Red River from Grand Forks, North Dakota. I expected to walk across the town and try to hitch again on the North Dakota side of the river.
But that time, I did not get to hitch in the state of North Dakota.
A car with Wisconsin plates pulled over, up the road a bit, and when I got up beside them, the driver offered me a ride west if I was going that way. This turned out to be another spectacularly good ride.
It developed that these two men were both Catholic priests from Wisconsin, who were going out to Glacier Park in Montana for a vacation.
They both were very interesting to talk to. The driver and obvious leader was a parochial school principal and had been to Alaska. From his complexion and excitable manner, I thought he might be Italian, but his name sounded German. I’ll call him Father Bruno. The other man was a regular parish priest who had done some teaching in the school where Father Bruno was principal. He looked more the priest type, with rimless glasses, rather pale. I’ll call him Father Luke. He just sat there for most of the time until the talk turned to philosophy. Father Bruno then dropped out of the conversation for a while. Father Luke was clearly the intellectual one of the pair. He and I had a long and spirited argument about the uncaused-cause and related topics all the way into North Dakota as far as Minot.
There we gassed up and Father Bruno talked me out of my idea of getting off there and taking the highway up into Saskatchewan. He thought I should stay with them into Montana, where I wouldn’t have such a long traverse through Canada to Alaska. I resisted only for a while, since he also offered to get me my own room in a motel along with them when they stopped for the night. I thought he was going overboard on charity or whatever, but eventually I agreed to stay with them and on we went into a beautiful sunset over the big sky country.
We ate supper in Williston, North Dakota, not far from the Montana border.
It was getting late. The priests realized that they needed to read in their Breviary. Catholic priests are obliged to read some fixed amount each day in this book of psalms and homilies. So I took the wheel for 20 minutes or so while both priests did their duty.
We got all the way into Montana before we stopped for the night, at Wolf Point. I sat in the car while Father Bruno made arrangements in a motel he had been to before. Then I went to my room and slept very well on the soft bed.
The next day being Sunday the two priests went off to say Mass where they had made arrangements to do so nearby. I cooked a can of soup on the gas stove in the room and drank the beer I had found in Minnesota below Duluth; by the taste, it had been out in the sun too long.
We drove on. I asked to be let off at Shelby, Montana in order to head up into Alberta, and go on farther west if I could not make it into Canada there. They gave me the last of a bunch of fruit the nuns at a local convent had given them, and some candy, and even offered me some money if I were low, which I declined. I got an address where mail would get to either one, and later wrote them from Alaska. They dropped me off near a Laundromat and continued on their way. They were such nice guys.
I washed my clothes and then made my way through the streets of that cattle town, full of cowboys coming and going. I found a phone booth and made another telephone call home.
I might have slept anywhere since nearly all of that part of Montana is rolling open grassland. If the region got just a few less inches of rain a year it would become a desert; yet here they raise cattle.
The place I chose for sleep was most convenient. It was open, far from the road, the ground was not too hard, and it was right next to a drive-in movie theater, near enough so that I could make out the sound track from all the car speakers. I enjoyed the first movie which was Sandra Dee and John Gavin in “Tammy Tell Me True,” but fell asleep during the second one, whatever it was.
I awoke with the sun well up. The ground seemed harder than when I lay down the night before, and the drive-in was completely deserted. The day promised to be warm and clear, and I got going quickly in order to make some progress before the main heat of the day came.
My map showed just a short bit of road connecting Shelby with the Canadian border, and only a few small towns, but it turned out to be a bit of a way to walk. After about a mile, I got a ride with an old resident of the area who told me about the problems the ranchers had trying to grow crops in the dry climate, and to find enough pasture fit to keep a cow in food. He dropped me off somewhere between towns. I saw a sign that said Sunburst so many miles. This was one of the small towns along the way, which keep themselves going by supplying ranch commodities, and doing a great deal to feed, clothe and supply the oil industry.
This was another large oil field, and I saw several more like it elsewhere in Montana. It looked to me like the business was good, for there were again the long-nosed anteater-like pumps steadily sucking up the oil into reservoir tanks. One place had a central power station with a large crude-looking engine, running off natural gas, which coughed and spluttered while it turned a huge wheel in the next room. From the wheel, push-pull rods led out of the building through pipes connected to the pumps, some of which were as much as 500 feet away. The station I looked at was running ten or more of the pumps, with no human attendant present. Impressive.
The day was getting warmer, so I tore myself away from the oil station and got on the road once more. It wasn’t long before I was picked up by a man in uniform, which gave me forebodings. He had a big gut, bluff manners and he was a U.S. Customs official at the border station in Sweetgrass. I told him what I planned to do, and he predicted that I would be refused. He was right.
I got off at the American customs and walked over to the Canadian building diagonally opposite and across the stone-post-marked border. I stood there in Alberta until someone with a clipboard come over to me to hear my story, and promptly referred me to the head man inside. He had a moustache, just like the same official at Sault Ste. Marie and he was just as pleasantly obstructive.
I had a story about how I was going to be picked up by some friends who were coming up from Wyoming. I would meet them in Lethbridge or possibly north of there. The Canadian official was sympathetic, telling me that he had ridden the rails all over Canada during the Depression, but there was an agreement between the two sets of customs officials not to let American hitch-hikers into Canada, or vice-versa.
He told me how much it cost for bus transportation from there to the Alaska border, and said that this was the only way I could be let in. I had to be able to get out of Canada before they would consider letting me in. I argued futilely for a while, but had to give it up and march back into Montana.
I dropped my pack and went into a nearby bar for a nice cold beer to perk up my spirits, then went over to the main road with my stuff, hoping vaguely to catch a ride from some passing Alaska-bound traveler. I had lost my marking pencil and so my sign was not very effective, and I got no rides. I did see several cars which looked like they were going far, including one brand-new school bus with Alaska plates on it, obviously in transit to some northern school system.
After a long, hot wait in this manner, I went into the local grocery store and bought myself some milk. I consumed this and some of the food the two priests had left me, and sat around some more, planning what I would try next. I couldn’t seem to come up with any better story to tell than the one I had already told, and there didn’t seem any prospect of snagging a trans-Canada ride right there. So, the only solution was to try some other border crossing with another, better story. I resolved at that point, from then on not to tell any border official that I intended to go to Alaska, and just worry about getting into Canada.
So I took up my burden and followed the road back south; there were no other roads at that lonely spot. All there was to be seen was a few buildings on a hill in the middle of the open range land. Away from the customs stations, the land looked the same on both sides of the border -- the same brown rolling country with its scraggly tufts of grass. Only a rancher’s wire fence separated a Montana cowman from the next rancher in Alberta.
I thought some of just climbing over the fence, but decided that I was very likely to be seen in that open country. I started walking steadily ahead.
It was just after noon then and the sun was hot. I had forgotten how long and desolate that road was when I came the other way in the cool of the morning. There were few cars heading south, and very soon I became exhausted from the walking and the heat, and sought shade, of which there was utterly none on that road. I kept on and finally came to a place where the road cut through a gully, and there was some shade there. I rested and contemplated the blue sky. In the distance there was the next town, but the way to it looked hot and hard.
I was in luck, however, for as soon as I got back on the road again, I got picked up by an old fellow in a panel truck. He was only going into the town I had looked at, but that was far enough for me. I hit the local bar, and when I found out a glass of beer was only ten cents there, I had two instead of one. Beer is certainly the best beverage for hot dry days. I began to wonder if I was getting all my vitamins, though, and went into the grocery store to see what they had that was vitamin-rich, tasty and cheap. After deciding that their bread was of inferior quality and high priced, I bought a packet of carrots, and went off down the road chomping on them. Two more rides got me back into Shelby, and there I bought some more milk. All this was too much for my digestion to take, and I had to seek relief at a nearby restroom. I was at least no longer thirsty, but night was coming on, and I wanted to get out of the town area. I eyed the local rail yards with thoughts of hopping a freight westward, and might have at least looked into the possibility of doing so, but I caught a ride at that time to the next town. I was tired then, and I had to walk to the other side of the town to find somewhere to sleep. So I followed the main street until I saw it beginning to be a highway once more up ahead.
At that place I received the crowning indignity of the entire frustrating day: I was stopped by a US Border Patrol officer who thought I was sneaking in from Canada! I told him that I wished very much that I had been a Canadian. I even thought that I might tell him that I was Canadian, hoping that he would toss me into Canada, but my identification would not fit that story.
So I went on. I passed a sign informing me that I was in a Blackfoot Indian reservation, and stopped at a gas station for a coke. Nobody there looked very Indian, and I moved on. Finally I found an open place to sack out, if I were careful that I didn’t set the bag in some cow dung.
The following morning I walked and walked, hoping to meet up with a ride. Nobody stopped, but a fellow on a tractor said hello. I was too far away from any town at that point to walk there easily, and I had no easily edible food in my sack, so I sat and starved.
Several cars zoomed by -- mostly tourists or local families. I tried to thumb down a single driver, but he zoomed on, and I was about to sit back down on my pack when I heard an engine.
The car had stopped and was backing up to give me a ride. The driver, who I’ll call Mickey, was a grubby, lank individual with a straw hat, and he was not too clear where he was going or very talkative at all. This turned out to be a very interesting ride, however.
I began to see what the situation was when Mickey suddenly reached across the seat and pulled a bottle of whiskey from the glove compartment and took a couple of pulls out of it, while driving, then replaced it. This nibbling, or rather gulping, at the bottle, continued all the way to the Glacier Park area.
Mickey said he was the owner of a large fishing boat which operated in the waters of the West Coast and Alaska. He had lived for some time in Alaska and had worked out of Seldovia, Alaska, near Anchorage and Seward. After he had gotten warmed up, he told me several stories about his life, and illustrated his descriptions of the country he had been to by comparing it with the country through which we were then passing. This was around the outskirts of Glacier National Park and the scenery was beautifully alpine once more. I do not know how much truth there was in his tales, but they certainly made the trip interesting.
Mickey told me that he had been a fairly good pianist until he had an accident to his arm. He was familiar with much music. I gathered that he had been a bit of a fair-haired boy in his youth, but for some reason he did not mention, had slipped into his present muddy drunkenness. Just recently, he had been between fishing seasons, and was now going back to Oregon to pick up his boat for more fishing in the Columbia River.
We ran into trouble west of the park, where Mickey stopped for a while in a bar. He drank continuously of brandy and played craps with the barkeep for drinks, until the barkeep’s wife took over to stop him from having too much liquor. Mickey kept right on, however, and I soon wondered whether we were going to be able to keep going. But he got vague control of himself and we continued. He had bought me several beers, and so I was no candidate for WCTU membership either.
Thinking back on this episode, I can’t quite make up my mind whether Mickey was trying to foul me up or get rid of me. Maybe he didn’t know himself. Somewhere near Hungry Horse, Montana he announced that that he had spent all his ready cash and needed to gas up, but couldn’t cash one of his checks there.
I suppose I should have gotten off at that place, but instead I offered to loan him his gas money until he could cash a check at a relative’s place in Spokane, Washington. I knew as I did it that I was probably making a mistake, but did it anyway. Mickey felt impelled to reward me for this, perhaps, or wanted to foul me up some more. He gave me the addresses, in Seattle, of several people and companies I might check out for working ship passage to Alaska. In the end, he offered to take me to Seattle after he had stayed in Spokane overnight, and get me aboard a boat to Alaska himself. I wondered about this, but thought that it might have all been worth the gamble. So we drove for a long way and I was tired out and ready to sack out when we came to Spokane. He gave me the address of the local YMCA and went on to his relative’s place, saying that he would pick me up in the morning.
My accommodations at the rather old Y in Spokane were fairly good. I got cleaned up and did some reading until the heat of the day abated enough so that I could get to sleep.
The next day, I decided to wait until noon for Mickey to show, and then take off to see what I could do for hitching. I had hopes that one of Mickey’s contacts in Seattle would turn out good, even if Mickey himself seemed unreliable.
After a breakfast at a small restaurant, I got my stuff together, and when noon came and no Mickey appeared, I turned in my key to the Y and started looking for the route leading out of the city westward. I found it, and started climbing up a hill in the noon heat. At the top of the hill, later, I found a sprayer set up by the park service to water a lawn, and drank my fill of the good water that came out of there, spraying myself plenty in the process. Then I set myself up at an intersection and tried for a ride toward Seattle.
The ride I got after standing at the intersection in the shade of the overpass for a while took me all the way to Seattle. The fellow was going to the race track there and was planning to spend quite a bit of time at this pursuit -- a matter of several days. He had been in the service and had learned electronics quite well to hear him tell it; He was married, had a family and had been successful financially. I’ll call him Ted.
Ted was very much a race track fan. He was very good at betting on the horses. He called himself a professional handicapper. He told me that for some years he had earned his living doing mostly that; his winnings even covered the plane fare to and from where he went to bet. This was a bit hard for me to believe, but Ted was very convincing, and we discussed the subject at some length.
This kept us going as the countryside flattened out to the open, rather bare land which seems to be all there is in central Washington. The temperature had passed the 100 degree mark when we stopped to eat somewhere in the middle of the yellow waste, in a restaurant which was air-conditioned. The heat was intense enough that it made me feel faint just walking out of the car and inside the building. The car seat under me was like a frying pan when I got back in later.
The hot dry country soon gave way to more fertile and greener land as the road sloped up into the mountains. Soon we were passing lakes and river valleys. I saw the Columbia River; the road followed it for a while, carrying us from the pale yellow of the plains down into a gorge. The mountains were part of the Cascade Range, and continued right up to the seacoast, as is the case for virtually all of the West Coast of North America.
Like the Rockies, the Cascades rose sharply and divided the land into deep, narrow valleys. The rocks all seemed bigger, and the peaks higher, and everything far more rugged and precipitous than I had ever seen in the mountains of New England. This was all new country, geologically speaking, and had not settled down to the rolling, time-scarred hills of the Northeast.
We came down out of the mountains and took a side road so that we might go directly to the race track instead of passing through Seattle, for Ted was now determined to show me what kind of horse player he was by taking me to the races to see him in action.
He told about the time an Internal Revenue agent once nailed him at the track to get some tax money out of him, for it seems that there are some provisions in the income tax laws for collecting tax on handicapper winnings, which are not subject to withholding.
Ted told me about his women, and how he was expecting to pay a visit to a woman whose company he enjoyed much and was amenable to a bit of fun. This was before his wife and his friend from Spokane arrived the next day at Tacoma. Ted lived a bit of a wild life.
We arrived at the track late for the first race, which had just finished by the time we got inside.
Ted went into a state of ecstasy or agony or both as he began rapid deliberations on the second race. He got a bet in on time by a few seconds, but said that he was doubtful that in the short time he had, he had made a good choice, and indeed the combination he had placed lost him a net thirty dollars and I began to have doubts about his stories.
But he bought me a beer in a wax cup and went into seclusion with the newspaper, the program and his muse, to handicap the third race. This time he made money.
Ted did not lose any net money on all the rest of the races. After the last race had been officially tabulated, he had made a total net of no less than four hundred dollars. We went to a bar afterwards, drank a beer, and then Ted decided that he ought to show me Seattle, paid for by the horses at the racetrack. First, however, he cut through several side streets to check on whether his girlfriend was at home, and when she turned out not to be, we drove up a hill and beheld the lights of Seattle before us.
I was impressed. The harbor was visible, and the city lights outlined all the streets as they sloped down from the hills surrounding the city. In the center of the view was a tall, thin spire, which seemed to be made of arcs of light, with a shining saucer at its peak, and rising up from an especially bright and lively-looking section of the city. From the top of the saucer there rose a tall, waving flame of burning natural gas. Regularly along the sides of the spire there rose small points of light from the ground, up into the saucer. This was the Space Needle of the Seattle World’s Fair.
I got a tour of the city; we even visited a night club where a Negro woman pianist had a act, which involved banter, Tom Lehrer type songs, and simple skits with her straight man, a fellow who otherwise strummed a bass fiddle. Another thing interesting about the place was the altitude of the prices, and the tendency of the waitresses to sneak up on a customer and ask him what he wanted to drink before he quite realized that he had just finished his last one. That is to be expected of such places, I suppose.
Ted took off somewhere in the middle of the show to check on his girlfriend again and this time he returned with her in tow. He had rented hotel rooms, including one for me.
Ted was a bit nervous about my getting in trouble from being a bit green to that sort of life and the area, and kept checking on whether I was doing all right and was I sure I could find my way back through the city to the hotel.
The next day Ted had to get his wife and buddy in Tacoma, after which he would attend the races again. He gave me quick directions to the street where I might find companies that shipped to Alaska, saw to it that my pack was stowed in a Greyhound terminal, and left. I thanked him much for the good time and wished him luck -- as if he needed much of that at all!
I intended that day to explore Seattle and attempt to secure passage on a boat to Alaska , either for a very cheap fare, or to work my way, using the information provided by my booze-loving friend Mickey. Seattle was a busy and interesting city. I passed the monorail for the World’s Fair several times as it whisshed along over the street traffic, but decided that I didn’t want to pay the fare for riding it. The Fair itself had an admissions charge so I contented myself with looking in from various points nearby.
The Fair was quite a sight, with its multi-colored display pavilions, the lacy arches of the science display, and the big spire of the Space Needle rising over all. The Space Needle provided my landmark anywhere in the city, for it never was out of sight for long. I often stopped and watched the little bullet-shaped elevator cars carry people to and from the rotating restaurant at the top, one car rising on one side while the other went down on the opposite track.
Seattle has a large waterfront area off Puget Sound. I walked past many shipping companies, looking for any of the addresses in my notebook.
I bought bread and milk at a store run by one of the many Japanese living in the city, and returned the way I came, having determined that the place I was seeking was at the other end of the long road. I finally found it, rather enjoying walking without my pack to hinder me. I watched a ship load up. One of the workers told me that its destination was Sitka, Alaska.
I couldn't hitch-hike from Sitka to Fairbanks, so I began to climb over the hill of the main section of the city to the other side where there were more docks on the Sound itself. I was beginning to get excited about the prospect of going to Alaska by boat. I saw all the Alaskan place names on the cargo that was being shipped, and all the various Alaska-type companies listed in the phone book. The docks on this side of Seattle reminded me strongly of Portland harbor in Maine, with the long piers stretching out from the shore roadway.
There were little tourist traps of stores, all vigorously pushing any connection they might have to the Fair. In one section, there was a boardwalk, which gave the impression of pictures of Hong Kong I have seen. The day was bright and many visitors to the city were crowding the place. I walked for some more miles, unsuccessfully trying to locate another address. Finally I looked in a phone book and found out that all the rest of the places were not listed, not under the names my buddy Mickey gave anyway. So I decided not to try any more of his leads and gave up the idea of going north by freight boat for the moment. I went then to the lobby of a tourist boat line that went as far as Vancouver Island and gave a good tour of the Sound.
I bought a newspaper to check for possibilities of taking a car to Fairbanks as I had done to Los Angeles. I sat in the observation platform of the tourist boat terminal, read the paper for a while and tried one call to a car agency. No one answered. Later I tried again and the man in charge told me that he expected arrival of cars for Alaska on the next day. He suggested I might come over now to talk about the deal. I followed his directions and promptly got lost, and when I found out where I was supposed to go, it was time for his office to close, so I returned to sit around the bus station where my pack had been stored.
While sitting in the bus terminal, I got the idea of crossing into Canada by bus, instead of as a hitch-hiker.
There was a very reasonable fare from Seattle to New Westminster, British Columbia on the Seattle to Vancouver bus. So after much debate with myself over the relative merits of hitching it, busing it or waiting for the next day to get a car, I decided that I had to try the bus now or I never would, and anyhow the car would probably be too expensive a way of traveling.
I tried to sound somewhat Canadian as I asked about the departure time for the next bus to New Westminster, B.C. I bought a one-way ticket and sat down to wait out the hour before the bus departed. I took my pack out of the locker to get it ready, and soon carried it out to the bus. I had to wait some more because that first bus was an express to Vancouver and bypassed New Westminster, but later the local that I wanted came along and I got on.
It felt so good to be sitting watching the country go by instead f standing on the roadside waiting for a ride. I had no idea of how long this bus trip would take. I settled back and relaxed until the bus arrived at Bellingham, Washington, and stopped there for a while.
Night began to fall.
Somewhere beyond Bellingham we changed buses and took on a Canadian driver. This started me working on concocting a story to tell the border officials. I was going to visit my brother John who was a Canadian citizen (naturalized) living in New Westminster. I would stay with him for a while before we both went back to Maine in his car. Never a word was to be said about Alaska if I could help it.
Soon the bus driver’s voice came over the loudspeaker warning of the approach to Canada Customs. I didn’t panic. I was quite convinced of what I was going to say, I really believed my story, and it was not entirely unbelievable. My plan was to arrive along with a bunch of people, have a fairly credible story, and make it look like any delay because of me would inconvenience my fellow passengers.
The bus came to a halt, and there were the light blue uniforms and the round hats of the border officials. As far as I could tell the place was quite isolated, every place except the customs station building was dark. We passengers filed off the bus one by one and were questioned by a waiting official with a clipboard about our destination and nationality. I was last, and he decided that I wasn’t a particularly clear-cut case, so he scribbled a short note and told me to take it over to the head office. I did this, trying to feel confident, and was ushered into the office of the man who ran the place. He wanted to know how long my brother John had been in Canada, and what he was doing, and various other particulars, which I answered as best I could, telling them that I was supposed to sort of repatriate my brother to the family. John was a writer, I said, and had not been in very good touch with my parents. I said that I thought he had entered at Montreal and had lived in Toronto for a while, and I pretended to be not too sure how my memory was serving me on all points on which I was shaky.
I was beginning to have qualms while he took all this down. It was late, so I hoped he wouldn’t try to phone John. But my story worked; he finally looked up and said that I was all right and might go on my way. I was full of kind words and excitement at getting through to see my brother and made sure that I didn’t need any papers for the time I was intending to stay.
I proceeded back to the bus to have my baggage checked. “Is this the one with the sack?” someone asked, and I stood by while the customs officer, who didn’t seem to trust me particularly, searched through my pack, but found nothing but some grubby laundry and a few cans of soup mixed in with the maps and other junk. Then he let me go and I re-boarded the bus.
We rolled forth. Route signs bearing British Columbia markings loomed up, and Canadian advertisements showed brightly in the glare of the bus headlamps.
“Yo Canada!” shouted a woman tourist. Exactly my sentiments! There I was. I had made it at last and was on my way to Alaska! The bus rolled on through the night, and I exulted within myself over my victory, and began to get impatient for the bus destination to be reached. Soon we made a turnoff, proceeded for a few miles, then came over a hill down onto a bridge leading into a brightly-lighted city. This was New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada!
I had a quick drink of water at the bus terminal, deserted at that hour, and quickly moved off into the dark residential streets. I had tried to memorize the way the bus had come into the city in order to follow it back and turn north instead of south where the bus had made its turnoff. I was in mortal dread of getting caught by some local cop and tossed back into the U.S. I went past quiet Canadian houses and avoided the few people I saw returning from late entertainment. My big pack which made me so conspicuous was tiring me out. The night was cool. I rested in a park for a while, and drank from a fountain. A car passed -- not a policeman. I started walking again and found myself on the road leading to the bridge again. The only way to get across it was to just walk and keep going, which I did. The bridge and its approaches were brightly lit, but only two boys saw me, and didn’t seem much interested. Below me in the middle of the large bridge was the Fraser River, which I would follow for quite a ways north in the following days. To my right lay the broad channel leading to the ocean; I saw boats anchored there.
I kept going, but was getting pretty well run down. I hoped that I would be able to find a place to sleep fairly soon and get going again the next morning. Near a drive-in theater entrance there was a sign which was set in some weeds back a bit from the road. This looked like a good sleeping place, since it was sheltered from passers-by. I laid out my bag in some brush and crawled in. I wasn’t nervous enough to stay awake long. I felt rather satisfied, in fact. All that lay before me was the Alaska Highway. I slept.
I suppose I could easily have been picked up by a Canadian cop. I had US identification and no Canadian money. At least twice, on the US side, I had been investigated by the US border patrol. But once I got across the border, I must have looked just like any Canadian. Nobody bothered me.
My story did have some elements of truth.
I do actually have a brother named John, but at the time, he was living in Boston.
I woke up the next day fairly early, judging by the flow of traffic on the main road. I then started to walk until I had gotten out of the built-up area, and I got a short ride as far as the turnoff for the U.S. border. I quickly walked past it.
Then I got a quick series of three rides which ended me up about noon in Hope, B.C., just on the edge of the mountains. I liked that place. It was in a deep valley with the usual sharply-rising mountains all around. The sky was clear and the air sweet-smelling.
From this point on until I arrived in Fairbanks I was away from major population centers and that was fine with me.
I stopped in at a local Bank of Montreal to cash a Traveler’s Cheque since I had at that point only about two dollars American in my pocket. I enjoyed being able to buy myself a lunch at a local store just on the “extra” money that came because of the favorable exchange rate.
I stayed there for about an hour, sitting under a tree, eating bread and drinking milk, all cheaper than the same in Seattle. I entered the Post Office and bought a book of Canadian stamps out of a machine, and sent a post card.
Then I got back on the road and got no rides at all. I crossed the Fraser again on a high bridge over rolling rapids as the Fraser came around a bend into the valley. The hiking was all uphill then, and hard. I was getting up a good sweat and suffering from the heat when I came upon a small lake of cool water where there were facilities for swimming. I climbed down from the road and sloshed myself with water and rinsed my T-shirt in it. Thus cooled, I kept on, but still got no rides -- likely because of the narrow houlders of that mountain road. I stopped to eat again later that day by a cold brook; I had one of the sausages Harry had given me.
I sat there for quite a while reading since it was cool and not very buggy, but then decided I should keep on and get to another town before dark. I eventually got a long ride with a fellow in a light truck. The road wound along the edge of the Fraser River through many tunnels and passed high above each little village on the banks. He insisted on driving so fast that I was afraid we’d fly off the road into the valley.
Eventually we ended up in Lytton. I bought some chocolate milk in a store and hiked out to the edge of town past the shacks of many Indians who lived there, recognizable by their darker tan than the rest of the population. It was quiet, small and isolated like most of the villages along the Fraser. I found a level spot just where the road from the town climbed up the long slope to intersect the main highway. I could see the last of the sun setting behind a mountain, and the river far below hurrying along down to the ocean at Vancouver. I must have begun getting the beginnings of the long arctic days at that point, since I was able to spend quite a long time reading before it became too dark.
The next day, I hiked some more without a ride, then got picked up by a woman Red Cross worker who was part of a caravan going up to Prince George and then to a small town in the area and on to Prince Rupert on the coast, for some clinic and blood bank work. She wanted some company although she said her companion driver would disapprove if she were seen picking up hitch-hikers and perhaps complain to the boss, so I rode until we got to where the road turned off to Kamloops, where I had to get out of the way while she rendezvoused with the other driver. Then she picked me up again to ride along until we came in sight of the other vehicle again and I got out.
I was glad for the ride and she was glad for the company and I hope I made some impression for hitch-hikers in general.
I heard that so many times from people who gave me rides:
that they had been warned against picking up hitch-hikers.
But they picked me up. I must have charmed them.
I then got a ride in the back of a small pickup to Williams Lake, which was fun -- sitting there with the wind blowing at me and watching the scenery fall behind. I bought food, hiked some more, got two more rides, and then settled down at dark in an open place in the woods beside the road and near one of the many deep and clear lakes of the area, listening to the sounds of the forest. Having seen both the forest and the desert, and the seacoast and the mountains, I am sure I like the mountain forests best of all.
The morning came. I got a long ride all the way to Prince George. It was Sunday and so I couldn’t get much from the stores and had to settle for a coke at a filling station. I wandered around the town, which was located in a less alpine region and was the only thing like a center of population for the whole of central British Columbia. I got lost once. I started to look for a place to sleep, expecting to get no farther that day, but I got picked up by a fellow who was driving all the way from Vancouver back to a highway crew base camp where the pavement ended.
The road from Prince George to Dawson Creek was not paved all the way, but turned to gravel on the other side of a bridge about 100 miles beyond Prince George. I wondered if the rattletrap car was going to make it, with all the alarming noises it was making, but all that happened was that we ran out of gas once and had to fill up out of a spare can in the trunk.
I made myself some soup near the bridge at the end of the pavement, and climbed down to wash my utensils in the broad and shallow mountain stream under the bridge. Somewhere, perhaps right at Prince George, I had parted company with the mighty Fraser and this was some other, more minor stream.
When I started up again, I found the going a bit more difficult because of the gravel and the dust in the air, but I got a quick ride with two young couples returning together from a vacation, to Grand Prairie, Alberta. That lasted over many a dusty mile. We stopped to look at a beautiful tall cataract coming off a cliff near the roadside. Finally they stopped in a little bush town called Chetwynd to visit some friends, and I got out. I bought some food in a small store there and was amazed to find that there and even farther up the Alaska Highway, I could get a good five-cent ice cream such as are available from a steadily diminishing number of Dari-Joys in the States. At that time, in general, food prices in Canada were lower than those in the U.S.
I was grubby, tired, and covered with road dust, but a couple and their young daughter picked me up and stuffed me into the back seat of their little Volkswagen and took me to Dawson Creek. For part of the way, I watched as the girl tried her hand at driving the car under her father’s care. They were very friendly, and told me about the winter weather in Dawson Creek, where they lived.
The family carefully deposited me in the hotel district of the surprisingly sizable town. There I was, now, at one of the major way-points of my journey: Dawson Creek, British Columbia, the beginning of the Alaska Highway.
It was dark when I got there. After a long day riding, I was more interested in finding a place to sleep than anything else. But I went through the downtown square until I found the well-known marker for mile zero, and stood there savoring the moment.
Then I walked out of the residential section to where the highway headed back southwest and slept there in the dewy grass.
In the morning, I got up with the idea of staying a day or so right there, since I had so much time to kill before I was due in Fairbanks. So I hid my pack in a field and went touring. At Dawson Creek, the road branches either to lower B.C. where I had come from, or off into the Peace River Country of Alberta. The provincial border was nearby on a good well-paved highway which brings the traffic from Edmonton, the way I would have come to Dawson Creek if I had made it across the border in Montana. The place is no metropolis, surely, but it seemed to be even larger than Prince George, and boasted a Canadian Army camp.
I bought supplies in the stores, wandered into a branch of the Hudson’s Bay Company there to ogle wistfully a white Stetson hat which I thought better about buying, although it was cheap. I got a haircut there, and managed to catch the fresh French bread coming out of the oven at a local bakery. It felt nice to wander around without the pack for a day, and I had a good time.
I ran across some reminders of the closeness of the arctic in the form of board sidewalks, necessary since the winter quickly crumbles the concrete type. Most of the minor roads in Dawson Creek were dirt, and the only really pretty places are stores catering to tourists. The location was out of the mountains and up on the plain of northern Alberta. According to some conversation I heard in the barbershop, there is quite a bit of muskeg trouble outside of town, since the winter temperatures are so low.
Muskeg is wet bog land in a cold climate. Construction in areas with muskeg sometimes requires the complete removal of the soil and filling with gravel. If the muskeg is not completely cleared to bedrock, its high water content will cause buckling and distortion from winter freezing.
Dawson Creek lives largely off the tourists and the trucking industry which use the highway. I saw several Yukon and Alaska plates on parked trucks there. Also there is a railroad which serves the farming community. I stayed there until the next day, when I decided I had seen it all, and wanted to get on my way north.
The road north of Dawson Creek is deceptive in that it is paved and the vast majority of the Alaska Highway is not. But this illusion is shattered as soon as one passes Fort St. John.
It was most uncomfortably hot and I was not able to make much in the way of fast progress, since I had to stop to recoup my energies before walking a mile. After a while I got my first ride. A fellow in an old Canadian Army truck pulled over and took me aboard. He roared along at no more than thirty miles per hour. He was from Alberta, was retired, and had decided to take a trip. He had that old truck all packed full of grub and other supplies, enough to last for several weeks.
We swapped opinions on how one should conduct oneself on the road and he told me how much good luck he had been having with his old truck since he made it a point never to drive over thirty. I had to give him his point on that, for the truck seemed to be holding its own in spite of its apparent age and ill use, but I really wondered whether it actually could make it over thirty unless it was heading straight down a hill.
We stopped outside Fort St. John to pick up some water for my canteen and then later for lunch just below where the pavement ended. I rather think I surprised him with how fast I could get together my dinner. He was just getting ready to eat when I was finishing up my dishes. He then decided to turn back and not subject his poor old truck to the rigors of the gravel road to come, and I continued north with pack on back.
I got another ride almost immediately with a man working for some petroleum exploration project in the surrounding area. He took me as far as the settlement of Blueberry at Mile 101, and would have taken me farther but I wanted to stay near some habitation for a while that day.
So I had another meal in a restaurant there -- a fairly short one, but one that included good fresh milk at high price. I wandered around Blueberry for a bit, and there wasn’t much to see. It seemed to be a center for the local lumbering industry and a stop for Alaska Highway travelers. Then I almost started out again, but held off when I saw storm clouds gathering on the horizon directly ahead of me. I stopped to wait out the deluge in an abandoned shed on the edge of town.
It thundered several times but never actually came across with rain, so I finally decided to get moving. I had rain equipment enough to hold off a shower, anyway. It never did shower, and I ended up bedding down at the roadside a few miles out of town.
While I waited around for the sun to go down some more, I had a good opportunity to look well at the road surface, since the traffic was by no means heavy. That part of the highway was not true gravel. The road crews had poured some sort of chemical mix on top of the gravel base and then wet it down. When this dries, it forms a smooth, hard surface. While not as permanent as tar or concrete, this surface is more economical in view of the fact that the road gets such a pounding.
The area there, as well as farther north is largely muskeg, and this is very difficult to build anything permanent on. The roads that lead off to the exploration camps set up by the oil and communications people in the bush, are completely impassable in the warm months, but are hard and smooth and very satisfactory when the freeze-up comes.
The more I saw of the highway, the more I wondered how they managed to keep the road there at all. But they do, by working on it full time. The whole thing is maintained out of several central camps by the Canadian Army, using either their own men or contractors. Whatever, it was a full-time big operation repairing that highway.
At this point, since my watch was out of commission, I only knew that it was late enough for the sun to be up when I woke and got on my way. The road was nearly deserted that day. I got no rides because there were none to be had. The traffic was limited to a bare trickle and that mostly of overloaded travelers who were just about making headway and had no time or room for me.
The bugs were rather numerous and not confined to the expected mosquitoes and black flies. There was a new bug that looked like a small yellow jacket bee. This insect had a most unnerving habit of hovering just in front of one’s face and trying to stare one down. I didn’t take too kindly to these creatures, nor to the more elusive and more pestiferous horseflies which were forever buzzing around my head, and I became quite proficient at killing them off.
The mosquitoes were vulnerable whenever I could feel them drilling in. I would simply reach around swiftly and smash them down a bit more solidly.
The bees I would give the eyeball to while they hung there, and then suddenly lash out with my copy of the Canadian issue of TIME, and whack them hard enough to stun them, and while they were staggering around on the ground I ‘d stomp them with my big foot.
The horseflies were more of a challenge, since they would always try to stay behind me and out of easy reach of the TIME, though I did get a few of them with that technique. The best method was to wait until I thought I heard one settle on the back of my head for a rest or whatever he was looking for, then sweep up with not one but both hands, thus foiling the creature’s getaway scheme, which was to head off sideways in the opposite direction from the approaching hand. Sometimes they still got away because of their super fast reflexes, but quite often I would crush them or maul them enough so they fell to the ground and got the foot. I spent much of my time that day doing this sort of insect control.
I stopped to air out the sleeping bag which definitely needed it. I had to watch my step in the muddy roadside -- everywhere there was the muddy muskeg and the forest. There is very little habitation bordering towns on the highway. There is not much of any population -- there is only the road.
It was getting quite late in the day, when finally a couple from Montana who were on vacation stopped and picked me up. I took leave of them at a place called Trutch located at mile 201, and pulled into a store for something to eat. My pack attracted some attention there, and one fellow told me that I was taking my chances and that there was a long road ahead of me, but I was light hearted and thought I could take on twice as long a road. Having made it as far as I had, I was confident I could handle anything I encountered up the road.
When I was done eating, I went out of the area and spread out my bag for the night. I read for a while before the light became too poor. I curled up with the canvas part of the bag over my head to keep out the bugs, and went to sleep quickly on the soft forest floor. The muskeg was behind me for a while now, and I was heading up into the mountains.
From Dawson Creek to Fairbanks, the highway was 1523 miles long. I was at 200 miles. I thought I was already beyond the point of no return, and the next stop was Fairbanks.
The next morning, I woke up with a stiff neck, which together with the usual bug ensemble plagued me for most of the day. But I had good luck with rides, mostly from construction workers. I ended up at mile 301 for the day. This was a place, not just a roadside marker. Fort Nelson, B.C. had a highway maintenance depot and I suppose a bit of lumbering and other exploratory activities. I fed from a supermarket there -- a fairly large one and the only one -- and went up the highway to the other end of town. I slept in a field under my plastic sheet because of a small rain shower when I bedded down.
I had to walk some the next day, then got a ride with a fellow in a small German car called a Prinz, which groaned under my added weight. It was not long before I asked to get off, even although he was headed for Alaska. While I rode with him, he was explaining to me why it was a good idea to get out all the German people from the country and have more British types. He told me all about the brutality that is a racial trait of Germans and how they were the largest and most powerful ethnic group in the U.S. and probably Canada too. I had quite an argument with him, and I think he was glad to get rid of me when I got out at a small restaurant up in the mountains again.
Here I had a hamburger and then walked along looking at the beautiful, clear streams that flowed along the roadside. Nearby was Summit Lake, and this was the highest altitude the road reaches all along its length.
I read later that Summit Lake is on the divide between the Pacific and Arctic drainages.
This continental divide, at only 2329 feet, is one of the lowest locations in North America.
I got picked up by some road workers in a truck and then got several other short rides. At the end of that day I had reached mile 423.
I remember marking one of the mileposts near this place. It might have been 423; I’ve lost the note I made. Maybe my graffiti is still there.
I thought I would come out about right if I kept on at this rate or even slower. The whole of the next day I had no rides, mostly because I did not try particularly hard to get them.
I spent most of the day in a big valley by the side of the muddy river which flowed through it, and drank water out of the clear and cold mountain brook which entered the main stream there. I ate a can of SPAM, and that was plenty. I sat around reading.
As I sat there, I heard a rumbling, and beheld a big, black thunder cloud approaching from the end of the valley. It extended over the mountains and looked like it had to hit right where I was. It took its time. I broke out my poncho and plastic sheet and hauled all my gear up onto a big rock from which the water would drain down and never accumulate, and then spread the sheet over it and anchored all the edges solidly with many rocks. Then I put on the poncho and waited for the rain to come.
The shower was heavy and of moderate length, and I survived it nicely. I was fed up with waiting for it to pass by more than anything else. My stuff was all dry after it had stopped raining and I decided to continue on down the road in spite of the still rainy look of the weather.
I got caught again by the rain later on, however, but I put my poncho on over me and the pack and trudged on hoping to make it the two or three miles to the next station on the map where there might be food and shelter. It was a mile and a half farther than the map said it was, so I was a pretty tired fellow when I got there. It was a place called Toad River Lodge.
I bought some food and a sack of candy to eat while I sat on the sheltered porch reading and waiting for the weather to clear up. My vagabond appearance intrigued a few people, including two small boys who tried to get their grandfather to take me along, but they were going to stay there for the night. Eventually I wandered off and found a place to sleep, and sacked out, with my rain gear nearby,
During the night, the hard walking and too much candy caught up with me and I was sick. I had to deal with it out in the woods. I was all right after a while. I went back to the Lodge before going on the next day, and got more or less cleaned up at the restroom in their gas station.
Then I set off into the sunny weather, looking for a ride. I expected to eventually make Whitehorse and stay there for a while perhaps, and then continue sooner or later, depending of what sort of place it turned out to be.
But I was luckier than that.
A car with Alabama plates pulled over and a fellow of about my own age opened the door and took me aboard. I almost fell over the pile of almonds he had all over the floor of the car as I put my pack on the back seat. The guy’s name was John and he had just gotten out of the Air Force and was headed up to join his parents at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. We got on very well, and compared our different origins (he was from Tuscaloosa, Alabama) and our dialects.
John was a slow-speaking, friendly southerner, and very easy to talk to. He was going to see if he could get a job barbering on base while he got up enough money to go into business as a flight instructor.
He told me that I might ride all the way to Fairbanks with him if I liked. I did! We rode all that day up the long dusty road, often having trouble passing a truck just because of the thick dust cloud it threw up, obscuring the view ahead.
We camped in a public camping area near a lake and shared our food supplies for supper. We made it into Whitehorse early the next day, and stopped for a while to look around. It was a tourist town, and largely ran off the White Pass and Yukon Railroad which came up from Skagway, following the Gold Rush route.
I sent a postcard showing a shopping area near the end of which was a place called the “Kee-Bird” Clothing Store with a big poster showing the bird.
This was a joke between me and my father. One of his friends had served during WWII in Thule Greenland.
Soldiers there described the cry of the Kee-Bird as “Kee Kee Kee KeeRYST it’s cold up here."
It must have been just as cold in Yukon.
We then moved on out of the city and off the pavement, back into the wilds.
It was somewhere in here that we had an experience with a bear.
We rounded a curve and there was a black bear getting free sandwiches from a couple in a station wagon. They had stopped and were watching from a distance. John took a wild idea into his head to get a picture of the bear, and began to sneak up on bruin as he ate.
John’s approach made the bear nervous, and I thought the bear might run off before John could get in close enough for a portrait. But instead, the bear jumped up and charged! John backed off and the bear slid to a stop, only to start after him again when he saw that John was afraid of him. I had the car door open and John came tumbling in. The bear stood there and pawed uncertainly at the car window. He jumped back when the engine started. John gave the bear a good snoot full of exhaust and gravel as we left, leaving the perplexed black bear to ponder the ways of men by himself, since the people with the sandwiches had also left.
We were getting close to the border with Alaska. At some wide place in the road we came to Canadian Customs. The officer asked us politely where we were from etc., checked John’s gun to make sure it was sealed, and waved us on, telling us that the actual border was 25 miles down the road and that American Customs were even farther from there at Tok Junction. I recall the mildly amused look I got from John as we passed a sign reading WELCOME TO ALASKA. I let out a loud hooray! That was it, and after stopping at Tok, the way was open to Fairbanks.
The road was paved on the US side, but poorly, so that we were still not able to go much faster. We stopped at Delta Junction and stood gazing at the mountains of the Alaska Range, which would become very familiar to me in Fairbanks.
The night was coming on us quickly, but never quite got to where it was dark night. The sun slipped along the horizon and just barely and reluctantly dipped below it. Always there was twilight. Buildings began to be more common and the road improved as we neared Fairbanks.
The bars were the most common commercial establishment to be seen, and hit a high density on the Fairbanks side of Eielson Air Force Base. Eielson is 20 some odd miles from the center of Fairbanks, but it took no great long time to get there. John stopped and brushed his teeth to get the cigarette smell out of his breath so his mother wouldn’t know he smoked. I thought he wouldn’t have much trouble covering it up, since he had been without a bath longer than I. We had been regularly driving with the windows open!
Then we were there! A sign directed us to various places, including the University of Alaska.
John wandered around for a while trying to locate the place where his parents were, and we finally found it. Everywhere, there were people doing things in the glow of the midnight sun amid the clouds.
I still had a while to wait before I began my work here, but I had made it beyond a doubt. I’d had a great adventure and had hitch-hiked all the way from Maine to Alaska.
I was about a month early for the beginning of the academic year at the University of Alaska, and I spent it preparing for the work ahead and getting some reading done which I had never had time for before. John’s family gave me bed and board for that first night, and then drove me out to the University campus, where I contacted the head of the Mathematics Department.
The man running the motel where I was staying gave me some employment for rent credit for a while, but we didn’t get on too well because I wasn’t very handy -- so that lasted about a week.
I soon moved into a dormitory room on campus and began my studies. I bought a bike and toured the area around Fairbanks, and got a card for the University library.
It was good for me to see all that country and meet so many different people.