Trippin’: Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 25, June 1970
Before long, we were on the road with sandwiches in hand and arrived in Reno by 9 pm. We visited and shared a joint with Greg and Jeanette—but it was a work-night for them and they were ready to turn in. Energized, we decided to beat the Nevada heat by driving on through the night.
It felt good to be rolling again. We stopped in Sparks and tanked up on gas and coffee, then drank more coffee in Winnemucca and again in Elko. By the time we turned north at Wells, our troop was wired. As the sun peeked over the horizon, we were sleep-deprived, caffeinated, and running on nervous energy. At 8 am, we passed Twin Falls, Idaho.
Russ stopped for a heavyset, unshaven hitchhiker wearing a ragged gray cowboy hat and dirty overalls. Several miles down the road, Russ pulled over. Rosie and I stopped behind him and he walked back to my window.
“Hey man, this guy has a farm up the road where he says we can stay and grab some sleep.”
“Groovy. Lead the way.” I was so fried and fatigued that I didn’t know if I could doze—but I was sure ready to quit driving.
We followed Russ on a country road for a half-mile. He pointed out his window and said, “Take that drive to his farmhouse. I’ll be right back. I’m going to drop him off at the highway.”
We continued up the dirt entry to an aged farmhouse that was shrouded in peeling white paint. I parked and stepped out of my truck. All that driving had left my legs feeling both wobbly and stiff. “Shit, I can hardly walk.” Charlie sniffed around a ragged bush and left her mark.
Rosie said, “My nerves are raw from all that coffee.”
Russ returned after a few minutes. I asked him, “So that guy offered for us to stay at his place, and he’s going somewhere else?”
“Uh-huh. He said he was going to look for work. Let’s look inside.”
Russ pushed the door open and we stepped into a small dusty room with an old torn-up couch, a funky stuffed chair, an unpainted wooden chair missing a slat, a packed magazine rack, and a coffee table that held several more magazines and an empty Jim Beam bottle. A battered guitar with a broken string leaned against the wooden chair.
We stepped into the kitchen. One glance indicated that our host’s housecleaning skills needed refinement. Unwashed plates and pans and rotting food covered every available space. Rosie’s face scrunched up. “Oh God! Excuse me while I retch.”
It was so gross that we retreated back to the front room. Rosie and I settled on the couch. Russ sat in the stuffed chair and eyed the defective guitar across from him. Rosie reached over and picked up a copy of True Detective magazine. I picked up another that was called True Crime. The magazine rack was filled with more of the same.
Rosie started reading out loud. “‘As she checked her lipstick, the man stepped out of the shadows and silently crept up behind her. She caught a glimpse of his scarred face in the mirror and terror filled her chest. Before she could react, he grabbed her by the hair, lifting her high on her toes while he pressed the razor against the front of her neck. Her heart stopped and she began to scream but to no avail. In one swift motion, he pulled the razor across her throat, efficiently cutting her windpipe and extinguishing her shriek. Blood sprayed from the wound, leaving a crimson arched pattern on the mirror. He continued to hold the limp body, admiring his work. There was a cruel, wide-eyed expression on his pock-marked face.’”
Rosie’s eyes were wild as she threw the publication on the table. “What kind of magazines are these? That’s really creepy!”
I turned to a page in the publication I was holding. “Listen to this one: ‘Dressed in a black jacket, jeans, and a dark knit cap pulled low over his ears, the stranger peered from the bushes outside her window. Like the others, she was in her early twenties, wore her blonde hair long, and lived by herself. His disturbed mind savored the pain he was about to inflict. He had watched and waited, and by now he knew just how to get easy entry. His heart beat faster as he ran his thumb over the sharpened knife blade. Now, he just needed to wait until she stepped into the shower. The running water would mask his approach.’”
“Stop! Stop! I can’t take it anymore,” Rosie interrupted.
Russ agreed. “This is getting really weird.”
I put down the magazine. “Who is this guy? This place is freaking me out.” The caffeine and lack of sleep had worn me ragged.
Rosie lifted her arms towards the ceiling. “What if the guy is a serial killer who lured us here so he can add us to his victim list?”
I tried to calm her, but I had a disturbing feeling myself. “It is a bit spooky here. Maybe we should move down the road and find another place to sleep.”
Russ was about to say something when we heard footsteps. The door swung open with an eerie squeak, and the hitchhiker stepped into the room.
“Hey, guys. I wasn’t having any luck finding a ride, so I came back.”
Russ said, “Hi. Not much traffic this time of day?”
Surpassing a major freak-out, both Rosie and I managed to squeak out a feeble “Hi.”
“Nah, and I really wanted to make it to town today.” He picked up the guitar and sat in the rickety wooden chair. “I’ve been learning to play this thing—been working on this one song.”
He paused for a minute, rubbing his right hand up and down the three strings. Then he strummed the guitar once with a strong motion. A dreadful, tuneless noise discharged from the crippled instrument.
“Someday I’m gunna write,”
“the story of my life.”
“Someday I’m gunna write,”
“the story of my life.”
The one-chord, one-line song went on for far too long—playing on our frazzled nerves.
Finally, he put down the guitar. “You guys want anything to eat?”
The thought of ingesting anything this guy prepared in that god-awful garbage dump of a kitchen was enough to make me gag. “No thanks,” I said. “I just really need to get some sleep.”
Rosie followed my lead. “Yeah, me too. Thanks anyway.” We stood up and headed for the door.
Russ pulled himself out of his chair. “I’m bushed too. Thanks for everything.” We stepped out the door and climbed into my camper. I heard Russ open and slam the door of his Jeep.
Rosie whispered, “Let’s get out of here.”
“We can’t just leave Russ. Let’s rest for a bit, and then we can make an escape.” We were both freaked out. Part of me knew we were over-reacting because of our caffeinated, sleepless state, but it didn’t reduce the jitters. It wasn't a stretch for my imagination to consider Rosie's fears. The lair of a depraved killer?
We heard voices coming from the direction of the Jeep. Then the Jeep door opened and slammed as the vehicle came to life and rattled down the drive. I peeked out the front window. “Russ and that guy just drove off.”
Rosie sat up. “Where are they going?”
“I don’t know. We have to wait for Russ to see what’s up.”
“I just want to get out of here.”
I put my arm around her. “I know. But we can’t abandon Russ.”
We sat there silent for five minutes until I heard the Jeep returning. I scrambled to the window and saw that Russ was alone. I jumped out of the camper with Rosie at my heels. “What was that all about?”
“He decided he would try to hitch to town again. I guess we weren’t very good company. I took him back to the highway.”
“Let’s split. This place is a major bummer.”
Rosie’s voice was frantic, “Yeah let’s scram while we can, before he comes back again. Come on, guys. Go! Go!”
I wanted to comment on her poetic verse, but I held my tongue.
“I’m with ya,” Russ said, as he swung the Jeep around and headed for the gate. I closed up the camper while Rosie and Charlie climbed into the cab. I followed Russ, content on leaving that spine-chilling farm behind.
We rolled down the highway, still jittery but relieved. Rosie massaged her scalp with her fingertips. “Geez, we made it out of that hellhole in one piece. It’s feeling rather good to still have all our blood in our veins, don’t you think?”
“As tired as I am, I’m with putting some distance between Twin Falls and our delicate necks.”
“Where to now?”
“We’ll let Russ figure that out.”
We rolled towards Pocatello until Russ pulled over. He came back and spread a map across my hood. We decided to take a small road north. In less than an hour, we were parked high above the Snake River. The view of the rugged, winding canyon was stunning.
I said, “It’s “z” time, kids.” We slipped into our beds and fell into an exhausted sleep.
I woke up mid-afternoon, half-baked and soaked in sweat. Feeling funky, I stumbled out of the camper. Russ was sitting on a boulder, tending a frying pan on a Coleman stove.
He turned his head. “Looks like a postcard.”
“Beautiful. Think we can make it down there to take a bath? I’m feeling like shit.”
“I know. Me too.”
I surveyed the terrain. The steep canyon walls consisted of jagged boulders extending several hundred feet down to the river. We’d have to be careful, but it looked doable. Rosie climbed out of the camper looking pretty haggard. “I feel run over. Anybody get the license plate?”
I pointed down the canyon and said, “How about a nice cool swim in that river?”
She took a look. “Can we make it down there?”
“Sure. We just have to take it slow.”
“What about snakes? It’s the Snake River, after all.”
“I imagine they named it that because it snakes back and forth. Just look at it. It’s curvy as hell. Still, we should keep our eyes open for rattlers. This looks like a great habitat for them.”
She looked at the river, but her expression indicated she wasn’t convinced that snakes weren’t lurking under every rock.
We ate the scrambled eggs and potatoes that Russ had prepared. Then we grabbed towels and I led the way down the cliffs, adjusting our route as we moved along. Challenging terrain is like fine chocolate for me—I savor it.
We snaked our way down to the Snake, side-stepping boulders and brush before arriving at the bottom.
Rosie wiped sweat from her forehead. “So far so good. No snakes!”
The river of curves had carved a rugged masterpiece into the landscape. We hiked along the secluded stretch of water, amazed that we’d found a way to descend the treacherous cliffs.
I discovered a spot where there was a break in the dense stands of willow. Then we stripped down and waded into the river until it was deep enough to dive under. The cool water transformed me. Revived, refreshed, alive again! It was wonderful. We soaked for a long time before sitting on large rocks to dry.
After exploring the canyon upriver, we returned for another dip. Russ smoothed back his receding wet hair. “Let’s cook dinner and have a good night’s sleep. If we get up at first light, we can make it to Yellowstone tomorrow.”
“Okay with me. I should be back to normal by morning. I love this place. It’s like out of a Western movie.”
Rosie wrapped her towel around her head and said in a begrudging tone, “I don’t know if snakes are any better than serial killers.”
To be continued ...
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Trippin': Roads, Rails & Mountain Trails
In book 2 of his Hippie Adventurer Series, Rich takes us on another wild ride during the 1960s as he and his faithful canine companion, Charlie, hitchhike, hop freights, work in an Alaskan gold mining camp, and manage a Sacramento Valley cattle ranch.
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s were a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
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If you haven’t read the first book in the Hippie Adventurer Series, the award-winning Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes, you can find it on Amazon and Audible.
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns