Don’t Take My Word For It: Hikes, Hits and Highways Mary Zakheim August 26, 2016 Adventure Travel, Don't Take My Word For It “Wherever yer goin’, I’ll take yeh there.” The grizzled man leans over two empty seats in his battered white Chevy truck so that we can hear him over the roar of the Oregon highway. It’s Memorial Day and traffic is heavy. I look at my mom and sister, I can see my own desperation mirrored in their sunburnt faces: we need to drive three hours around Mount McLoughlin and Crater Lake to escape the unforeseen icy conditions on the trail ahead and get back on the clear section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Bypassing some snowy trails. #crazyorquirky #PCT A photo posted by Mary Zakheim (@marylouisezak) on May 26, 2015 at 7:42am PDT We’ve never hitchhiked before and it shows as I shrug my shoulders, shout, “Okay!” and send my backpack soaring into the bed of his truck. My mom and sister follow suit and we pile into the car. My mom is in the middle seat, her legs bent away from the gearshift as far as the tiny cab will allow. My sister is in the passenger seat, rather uncomfortable as I take my spot on her lap. My cheek is pressed against the coolness of the window and we collectively suck in, trying to buckle the seatbelt around both of us. “I’m Mary,” I say, offering my hand to the driver. “This is my mom, Angie, and my sister, Sara.” “The name’s Tiberius Shane McDermont Titus III,” He responds, vigorously shaking my outstretched hand. “But you can just call me Shane.” The smile I had just moments ago melts off of my face as I more closely examine my surroundings. A huge crack skates across the dirty windshield, our driver’s grin is wide and toothless, I’m sitting on my sister’s lap with my cheek pressed hard against the window, traffic speeds by in a Memorial Day rush, we have three hours of open road in front of us, the blisters on my feet from days of sweaty hiking pulsate in the hot truck. Hitchhiking is not the romantic thing I had imagined it to be just this morning. The engine kicks into gear and we scream onto the busy highway, honks and shouts in our wake as Shane cuts off two lanes of traffic, swerves into the opposite lane and settles back on the proper side of the road, though he’s straddling the dotted yellow line separating the lanes. “Shove off!” He yells out of his open window and, chuckling, he leans over to roll it up, the sounds of honks growing fainter as the window climbs higher. “So, uh, you girls smoke?” We shake our heads stiffly, realizing our hopefully-not-fatal mistake in accepting a ride from someone who was willing to drive us anywhere and everywhere — so long as we pay for gas. “You girls ain’t much for talkin’, eh?” We laugh nervously and he shrugs nonchalantly and cranks up the radio. Seventies rock hits blare from his outdated speakers and he joins in on the various drum, guitar and keyboard solos. We look like a motley crew. Shane is worn and weathered, his cheeks high, his eyes sunken, his skin leathery, his chin covered in two-day old stubble peppered with grey hair. He wears a white tee shirt and faded blue jeans that hang loosely from his skeletal frame. He’s missing one front tooth and two on the bottom. My mom, sister and I sit huddled together, clothed in hiking gear from REI, newly dirtied with our sweat and the trail’s dust. Found it! And tomorrow, we set out on the open trail. #PCT A photo posted by Mary Zakheim (@marylouisezak) on May 21, 2015 at 7:01pm PDT “And o’ yeh smoke weed?” Shane breaks the reflective silence. “Um,” I look nervously at my mom. “I have before…” He smiles. “Open that up,” He says, pointing to the glovebox. “That there thing in front o’ yeh.” “This?” I ask, my hand hesitating uncertainly in front of it. He nods. I wrestle it ajar and the box falls out completely. I see a jumbled mess: a Blistex tube, a box of cigarettes, a rubber band ball. “Reach in now,” He instructs. My sister is shaking beneath me, trying to hold in her stifled giggles and her suppressed horror. There’s no way around it. I reach in. I have no idea what I’m searching for and my hand grasps at the empty space behind the void of the glovebox. And then I feel it. Plastic. A plastic bag, to be exact. A gallon-sized plastic bag. A gallon-sized plastic bag stuffed to the brim with green pungent marijuana. “Oh my god,” I say. “What?” My mom asks urgently. “It’s… It’s…” “That grassy green goddess,” Shane finishes for me. “You don’t mean — ” And I pull out the bag. “Oh.” My mom says softly. “Here yeh are,” Shane hand me a rusty pipe and a lighter. “Can yeh start it fer me?” “Well, I would, but I don’t know if my mom will let me…” I trail off and look over to my mom who — shrugs her shoulders?! “Aha!” Shane exclaims. “I know I liked yeh girls!” Resigned, I take the pipe from Shane, pack the grinded leaves into the bowl, light a match and inhale. Coughing, I make to hand the pipe back to Shane, but he just says, “Smoke as much as yeh want!” So I take another hit. If you can’t beat ‘em… I think, inhaling again. Shane asks for the pipe and I give it to him hesitantly, his driving is already erratic — he’s been swerving between lanes, honking angrily at innocent drivers, tailing already speeding cars, mistaking strangers for relatives and uselessly waving at them. My sister gets out her iPhone and types in our destination. We’re two hours away. Shane finishes the bowl and packs another, this time not passing the burning pipe my way. He starts muttering incoherent phrases, whispering quietly to my mother beside him: “I seen some people die over there”, “Jesus has been tellin’ me what to do lately”, “This part of the highway has been covered in blood”. My mom, trying to keep her cool, responds with nods and quiet uh-huhs. My momma’s a badass. #PCT #AngeVsWild A photo posted by Mary Zakheim (@marylouisezak) on May 29, 2015 at 8:53pm PDT “Whoa!” Shane screeches the truck to a halt as cars swerve and fly past us. He throws the car into reverse and speeds backwards, settling on an abandoned side road. “What’s wrong?” My sister asks, looking desperately at the directions on her iPhone: we’re an hour and fifty minutes away. “There’s a deer, see?” He points to a deer, dead and bloodied in the middle of the highway. And with that, he gets out of the car, wanders into the road, take the animal by its legs and begins to haul the deer back to the truck. My sister and I can’t help it, we dissolve into a fit of giggles. My mom tries to stop us, but eventually joins in. “I can’t tell if he’s quirky,” My sister whispers between laughs, “Or crazy.” We sober up. I can’t tell if I should be laughing or crying. Then we hear a huge grunt and look behind us — Shane is attempting to heave the animal into the bed of his truck. After a few failed attempts, he gives it up as a bad job and climbs back into the cab. “Coulda bin dinner,” He laughs and we join in nervously, not knowing if he’s kidding or not. And with that, we’re back on the open road. The next two hours are filled with swearing, speeding, swerving, broken Spanish, wrong turns, hits of speed, mistaken identities, incoherent mumbles, stalling trucks, semis screeching to a halt, hearts pumping with adrenaline, thoughts of life and death, prayers to every god imaginable, songs warbling from the radio: riders on the stoooooorm and, eventually, one last screeching halt. We’re thirty miles from our final destination. This here is REAL. #PCT A photo posted by Mary Zakheim (@marylouisezak) on May 29, 2015 at 3:55pm PDT “Almost outta gas, girls, this is where the train ends.” Shane says, his left eye twitchy, his mouth sagging. We pile out, climb into the bed of his truck and grab our backpacks, lowering them down to the solid ground. I’ve never been so happy to see cracked pavement. “Hey yeh,” Shane motions me over, his hand reaching into the car. “Here yeh are.” He pushes a brown bag into my hands. It’s full of weed. “Thanks, Shane, this is really nice of you.” “Ah, it’s nothin’.” Then he looks at us seriously, his eyes wide and blue and clear. “I’m gonna miss yeh girls.” And he throws his arms around us, he’s crying and breathing heavily. “We’ll miss you too, Shane,” My mom says. “Love yeh girls.” He waves us goodbye and climbs into his car. The engine roars to life and the tires give one last screech into the highway, where he pulls a U-turn, stalls in the middle of the road and drives off into the sunset. It’s six o’clock and we still have thirty miles to go to reach the trail. So with our packs clipped and tightened, our boots relaced and our hair pulled back, we walk in a straight line, pounding out that familiar beat between the soles of our feet and the dust of the road. My heart is full and alive — stretched to capacity with an unfamiliar tangle of fear, adventure, hope, passion, anxiety, courage, determination. I extend my hand and stick my thumb out to the highway, the PCT, the world. Moral of the story? Don’t accept a ride from someone who offers to take you “anywhere and everywhere”. Even if you are with your mom. All images courtesy Mary Zakheim.