Yesterday, I did not pick up several hitchhikers.
Quite recently I told a friend the story of the last hitchhiker I ever picked up, about eighteen years ago, and how he was the last hitchhiker I would ever pick up. It’s a longish story, but the short version is that I spent the ride letting him believe increasingly elaborate lies, because he made me seriously nervous. I dropped him off and drove away feeling incredibly lucky that I hadn’t wound up a statistic, disappeared, probably dead.
Now I feel like I should tell the whole story — why I’d picked him up, what the lies were — but it would take too long and it’s not really relevant. The point is that I’ve picked up several hitchhikers in my life, but I was resolved never to do so again. And I’ve seen a lot of hitchhikers on my way south. Oregon, in particular, had quite a few, none of whom fazed me in the least to drive by. I suspect that your average unshaven guy in dirty khaki does not expect a solo woman to stop for him. Indeed, would be quite surprised if I did.
But the first hitchhiker I did not pick up yesterday was not your average unshaven guy in khaki. He did have a beard, but also a bicycle that he was walking. He was older, gray-haired, and from his gear, camping. Probably on a long bike trip, and I’m going to guess that something had gone wrong, maybe with his bike, because he was trudging along, head down. I actually drove by him twice, because I took a wrong turn and had to backtrack, and the second time, he, clearly impulsively, stuck out his thumb. I kept driving.
For the next several miles, I alternated between feeling guilty and scolding myself for feeling guilty. I felt guilty because I think he probably needed help and I think I probably could have helped him. On the other hand, he was only three or four miles away from a town, and although traffic was scarce, there were definitely other people who would drive by. It wasn’t the middle of the desert. And I certainly didn’t owe him a ride. Plus, I really don’t want to wind up playing a starring role in a cautionary tale about hitchhikers.
But eventually, I started thinking about fear. Rational fear, irrational fear. Fear that stops me, fear that I face.
When I was in Seattle, P described me as bad-ass to one of her friends. I demurred. Nope, not me. I am actually quite cowardly. I tell myself scary stories all the time. I worry about everything — flat tires, getting lost, coyotes, alligators, bears, corrupt policemen, propane explosions, the end of the world — seriously, everything. If it is possible to worry about something, I guarantee I have worried about it. Mice carrying hanta virus, stepping on HIV-infected needles, falling off a cliff… I have it covered.
That said, I am trying, really hard, to live a life where I don’t let those things stop me. Yesterday, driving south, I stopped at a scenic vista overlooking Mono Lake. I admired the view, then used the internet to post a blog post, check my email, read some news, and look for a place to spend the night. I was driving along 395 and there were plenty of places, but I didn’t know how far I wanted to go, where I wanted to stop, what I wanted to do. Eventually, I kept going. A couple hours later, I stopped again. Decisions, decisions.
There was this place: Fossil Falls. A Bureau of Land Management campground. It sounded interesting. But also, maybe, remote. Isolated. Potentially… well, scary. I decided that I would drive through it and check it out. See what it was like. And if I didn’t like it, I would just keep driving. Maybe spend the night in a Walmart parking lot in Barstow. It’s funny that parking lots have become not-scary — I still remember how freaked out I was my first night in a parking lot, back in West Virginia, but that was a long time ago.
So Fossil Falls. Well, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?
Definitely remote. Definitely isolated. Definitely, well, scary. At least if you’re me and not the kind of camper who loves remote wilderness and doesn’t worry about serial killers and rabid coyotes. I felt like I could see forever and not see any other human thing. Just mountains and desert. When the sun set, I couldn’t see a single light created by a human being except for the ones that I’d brought with me.
This morning, B decided he had to go out at 5AM. I complained bitterly, but I got up. It was still dark, but with a sliver of crescent moon and the morning star. It was chilly, but not cold, so I made myself some coffee — instant, because I didn’t want to turn the generator on to run the electric coffeemaker — and sat outside on the van’s step to watch the sunrise. When it got light enough, I took Zelda for a walk, and we went and saw the falls. Fossil Falls because the water is centuries gone, but once upon a time, a river flowed through the volcanic rock. When we got back, I set up my chair and worked on my screen door while the sun got higher in the sky and it started to get warm.
I am so glad that I didn’t let fear stop me from staying here.
Which doesn’t mean I’m going to start picking up random hitchhikers willy-nilly. It’s not irrational to be careful about letting strangers into my home. But I’m not going to let fear drive my decisions, either. “Once upon a time, something bad might have happened but didn’t,” should not become a hard-and-fast rule for how I live my life. Neither should, “I heard a scary story about something bad that happened to someone else.”
But now, onward! I’ve got more driving to do, and somewhere along the way today, it would be a lovely thing to find a place with a shower. But hey, it’s been a while since I posted one of these, but if you have any Amazon shopping to do, starting here might earn me an affiliate fee, which would be nice for me. If you’re already supporting a charity through your Amazon purchases, use your own link, though — I don’t want my pennies to take away from someone who needs them more!