North America Travel

Rides and Candy

Kenzi hitchhiking and holding Death Valley sign

As seasoned hitchhikers, you might think we stick out our thumb, armed with a shield of patience and motivation, ready to brave the seemingly endless minutes of uncertainty and roller coasters of emotions going from hope to deception with each car that rides past you. We never really got used to it. Each minute standing there in that uncomfortable stretched-arm position seems eternal. Your best fake smile you put up becomes stiff, your shoulder starts to hurt and no matter how hard you try to keep it fun, monotony will always be the winner of the game.

An early start is one of the main keys to success when hitchhiking, so early we left. We had the whole day ahead of us to cover the 130 miles to today’s destination. Until Aurélie dragged us down to yet another espresso bar. It seems like she’s determined to try out every onion ring, sour gummy worm and cappuccino of America, sometimes at the expense of the resolution of leaving early.

It was well past noon when we finally hopped on the bus that would take us to what we had evaluated to be the best place to start hitchhiking. Aurélie carefully wrote down “Organ Pipe” on the piece of carton we took from a store, we gave the clock a worried glance, the bus arrived at its last stop, we crossed the street – because you know, it is better to hike in the right direction – and started walking towards what would be our hitchhike spot for the next who knows how many coming hours.

We had barely started to walk towards “da spot”, cardboard still facing the asphalt, when a grey car slowed down to Aurélie’s side. Surprised, she looked at the car, curious about why someone would drive so close to the sidewalk. Thinking it might be someone who would offer a ride didn’t cross her mind for a second.
The window rolling down, she heard a woman’s voice asking if we needed help, or even better, a ride.
We got into Candy’s car still not completely realizing what and how this had happened. Becoming friends with her felt like the easiest thing to do in the world. Even little Ben with his cute puffy cheeks and blond tousled hair decided that, after giving a long glaze at Aurélie with his big beautiful blue eyes, they could be friends.

Candy wasn’t supposed to bring us all the way to the Organ Pipe National Monument. She’d taken little Ben on a ride around town, trying to make him forget that his teeth were trying to say hello to the world, and was on the way home. But one conversation led to another, talking about our trip, her trips, her life, our life, and 2 and a half hours later we were at our destination already!

Aurélie, Little Ben and Kenzi sharing a great moment.
We hugged each other goodbye, to little Ben’s relief who was sick of sitting in his babychair and wanted to head back home to go and crawl around on the floor.

Back to camping it was – it was a bit of adjusting after almost one long week of sleeping in comfy beds – but we were back on our sleeping mats at 7PM, ready to fight the cold night.

The Organ Pipe National Monument as they call it had a couple of trails but nothing really challenging for us, big hikers that we have become. After evaluating the available trails we decided to go with the visitors center’s event of the day which was a 3 hour hike around the desert.
First we met our ranger, a 30-something fit, cool guy. And then we met our co-walkers.
50. 60. 70. 80? That’s how old the others were. And that’s when we knew we were gonna have a great and tiring hike today.

The park in itself was gorgeous. One of the prettiest places we had seen until now in Arizona. Life had taken over the reins in the dry deserts with spring coming. A carpet of yellow wildflowers had made its way through the thick layers of dry and sandy soil, speckled with sometimes purple, sometimes pink shy cactus flowers. The hike, on the other hand, was long. And slow.

Our plans were to go to the Joshua Tree National Park, then to the Mojave deserts. And most importantly for Aurélie, avoid Vegas.
But plans aren’t much fun if you stick to them. As Rafiki would say:

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

Many had praised the rare wildflower superbloom in Death Valley. We couldn’t make a decision, so why not letting the others decide? After asking our faithful fans on Facebook, the greater majority, 2 answers, told us to go to Death Valley, so Death Valley it was, about 8 hours from where we were located.

Our 495 mile hitchhiking race had just started. With the help of 2 rides we covered about 150 miles and stranded on the parking of a McDonald’s(heh) in the small town of Wickenburg in the afternoon. Never heard of Wickenburg? Well, we can kind of understand why. Just a couple thousand inhabitants, one or two McDonald’s, 5 gas stations and that’s about it.

Suddenly, a dark, black, fast-moving cloud of wings covered the crisp blue skies. The ravens were flying to safety. Another cloud was arriving, it was different, more grey-ish. One of rain. The first rain in a month and a half.

We stand again by the road with our beautiful Las Vegas sign, which we had to go through to reach our final destination. We stranded next to one big field full of RV’s, horses and veal. As not one car pulled over to offer us a ride, Kenzi went to look for the manager to ask for permission to plant our tiny tent between those 500,000$ RV’s. In less than 5 minutes, two cars stopped by Aurélie, trying to catch a ride by herself.

“Need a ride?”
“Yeah! Are you going to Vegas? Do you have space for two?”

To which the men in the cars said they didn’t, even though their cars weren’t full. They obviously had other plans than just offering a ride.

Our cowboy neighbor in the RV next to our tent informed us that a big international roping tournament was going on and we had to chance to see the American cowboy culture at its finest. Cowboys mounting beautiful horses trying to catch a veal crossing the roping arena with a lasso. The winner of the tournament would go home with 100,000$. Yeah, and we were enjoying our 1$ Knorr pasta right there. Hah.

Seeing these poor animals suffering was enough after a while, so we went trying to get a ride to Vegas again and we get almost arrested by some butthurt cop.

“You can’t pass the white line, it’s dangerous for traffic. And you shouldn’t hitchhike here.”
“Of course, sorry. Is it okay if we hitchhike while standing behind the white line?”
“If you want me to arrest you, go ahead.”

We carried our heavy bags again for another 2 miles, trying to get out of the city boundaries, and after a long hour of thinking where we’d camp that night, Jason saved us. He was driving back to Vegas and we were welcome to join him for the 6 hour journey.

After a long drive, full of interesting conversations and wrong ways, we see the mesmerizing lights of Vegas appearing on the horizon.
We didn’t plan to stay in the city, but as Jason dropped us off late at night we stayed and gave Vegas a chance.

When it is hard hitching a ride, as hard as we try battling against them, the sighs and complains always start flowing through our mouths. We ask ourselves why we don’t simply pay for a bus. But it is often only afterwards that we realize it was all worth the stiff, forced smile and hurting shoulder. We like to think life is like a domino of events. And maybe, just maybe, the difficult hitchhiking from Organ Pipe National Park to Death Valley was leading us to our encounter with Brandy and Kim. But that story is for next week.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Stella @ Travelerette
    March 24, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    I’m very impressed that you are able to get around the country hitchhiking like that! I’ve taken rides from people occasionally, but never such a long distance. (And I completely agree about avoiding Vegas.)

    • Reply
      Tako Yacki
      March 24, 2016 at 11:26 pm

      Yeah, it’s crazy how easy it is. And our stay in Vegas was pretty amazing actually, you’ll see what happened in the next post!

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