Hitchhiking in Wyoming: don’t do it.
The Equality State is a perfect storm of hellish conditions. Beyond the fact that it’s only one of a few states where hitching is illegal, it also has a paucity of actual drivers, being the least-populated state in the Union. And too many of those drivers are insular pseudo-militia types who’d rather get pegged with a spiked dildo than pick up an out-of-stater.
Essentially, if you attempt to hitch in Wyoming, you’re going to spend most of your time wracked with paranoia, constantly on the watch for redneck cops and troopers, throwing out your thumb for people who look at you like you’re a child molester.
That alone wasn’t enough to make this the most painful part of my trip; it was capped off with a visit to the Inland Northwest, quite possibly the worst place in America. But enough of that, on with the pictures!
After a false start, Sven let me off on the northwest edge of Rapid City, where I got picked up in five minutes. It was pleasant enough getting out of South Dakota; nice views and good people.
Sundance, where the trouble began. I left my bag in a ditch by the on-ramp so I could mosey on over to the gas station and relieve myself; something I’ve done in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and other states without any problem. And what do I see when I leave the station?
A road crew attempting to repossess my stuff.
I had to run across the street waving my arms and yelling to get them to stop. Keep in mind that this was on a near-abandoned intersection; I saw maybe a dozen cars in two hours.
Whoa nelly! Williams, Iowa has some serious competition in the shithole department. Gillette is one of the most dismal places I’ve ever been, a grimy coal-mining town full of mouth-breathing meth addicts whose idea of a fun time is getting into bar fights over the local fat chick. It makes Scranton look classy and cultured. And I was stuck there for two days.
The only laugh I got all weekend.
Downtown Gillette. Take your pick of shitty redneck bars, and try not to get stabbed in the face by some degenerate with a short fuse and a severe fixation on white knighting the only halfway attractive woman within 300 miles.
The Rockpile Museum, the most amount of culture this pit has to offer. I’m not even going to bother making a joke here.
Getting out of Gillette was an ordeal because absolutely no one was interested in picking me up; I got a few friendly honks and that was it. The presence of constant police patrols also forced me to tuck it in whenever they passed me by. I swear at one point one of the city cruisers started spying on me.
After day two of getting absolutely nowhere, I finally decided to say “fuck it” and walked onto the Interstate, hoping to get lucky. My last attempt at highway hitching, back in Iowa, ended in disaster because I was too paranoid about getting hit by a car to concentrate. By this point though, I’d stopped caring. Five miles west, a guy pulled a U-turn specifically to pick me up; I didn’t even have to signal him.
Yes, that’s right: you can walk on the highway in Wyoming, you can pull U-turns on the highway if you’re driving, but you can’t hitchhike.
Moments of stupendously bad luck in my life seem to be followed with supernaturally good fortune. While I’d settled for getting to Buffalo, the next city over, the guy who picked me up was headed all the way to Bozeman, Montana: nearly 400 miles closer to Portland. My verdict: fuck Wyoming. It’s basically Montana’s fatter, skankier sister.
Wyoming has some gorgeous views, particularly nearing Yellowstone. They’re best experienced from the front seat of a car as you furiously scramble to get the hell out.
Ranchester, the last town of significance before the Montana border, and probably the only place I’d really like to have stopped; one of the restaurants there was advertising “Beefalo” burgers.
Welcome to Crow Country, where unemployment is at 80 percent and Jesus freaks rule the land.
Billings, another entry on the list of towns I didn’t care to spend any time in.
Moving into the Absaroka Range, winds suddenly picked up to the tune of 40-50 mph. They were so bad we were forced to take a detour into the town of Livingston (as we were hauling a trailer), where we saw an eighteen-wheeler that had been overturned merely by the wind.
Belgrade, yet another check mark on the “shithole highway town” list. Since it serves as a gateway to Yellowstone, there’s a good number of amenities; an Albertson’s, a few motels (with shockingly affordable rates), fast food restaurants, and a truck stop with free WiFi, all surrounded by gorgeous views of the Rockies. Belgrade was also where, completely unsolicited, a trucker pulled over on the on-ramp to give me twenty dollars, a cup of hot cocoa, and a bag full of food.
Three Forks, the next town down, where I got whisked to the following day. After a fruitless two hours trying to get out, I decided to pull a Gillette and started walking down the freeway. Not ten minutes later, a guy slammed his brakes specifically to pick me up; a guy who was going all the way to The Dalles, Oregon.
If there’s a God, he’s got one sick, twisted sense of humor.
Western weather is downright freaky from an outsider’s perspective. On the ride to Spokane, I saw conditions go from bright and sunny to a half-snowstorm (where snow was falling on the mountains but melting into rain by the time it got to us in the valley), to an outright blizzard in Idaho, to just plain overcast and gloomy in eastern Washington.
The only picture I have of Idaho, as it was getting dark out.
It should be illegal for a city this awful to be located in an area so beautiful. I could have conceivably made it all the way to Portland that night, but I took a detour specifically to meet Greg, one of my readers. I don’t want to say that stopping in Spokane was a mistake, seeing as I enjoyed talking to Greg (and he wrote a nice post about me), but let’s just say that the only way I’d voluntarily spend another ten minutes in the city is if I was going to cleanse it with nuclear fire.
Spokane is best described as having the architectural charm of a Rust Belt city and the atmosphere of a Deep South redneck town circa the Jim Crow era. I have never met people so distrustful, paranoid and unfriendly in my life. To make matters worse, Greg informed me that Spokane’s PD has one of the nastiest reps for abuse and intimidation in the nation; Googling “spokane police brutality” without quotes turns up a rap sheet a mile long. Despite the fact that hitching is legal in Washington, I spent the two days I was trapped in Spokane (yes, two days) constantly watching my back for coppers.
I’ll take a Gillette meth-head over any of Spokane’s average citizens any day of the week; at least the meth-head has an excuse for being an oxygen thief.
Guess what cities I won’t be visiting anytime soon?
I’m a big David Lynch fan, and Spokane is the city where he grew up, providing the inspiration for Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. Walking through town, I got a definite Blue Velvet vibe: a picture-esque rural town that’s hiding a dark secret. All the place needed was Dennis Hopper taking hits via an oxygen mask.
The outskirts of town, where after what seemed like weeks of trudging and trying not to pass out from exhaustion, I got a ride out.
Enjoy looking at those evergreen trees? Don’t get too attached, because they vanish once you get too far away from Spokane. Eastern Washington is basically a desert, North Dakota with fewer lakes.
Ritzville, yet another generic Interstate town. Still, I was so happy to get out of that wretched hellhole called Spokane that I didn’t care.
Crossing the Columbia River, where the flatlands finally give way to hills and mountains.
Entering the Cascades, the Pacific Northwest’s dividing line between the scumfucks and the actual human beings.
Next week: the epic, anticlimatic conclusion.