Trippin’: Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 28, July 1970
“I’m getting short of cash,” Russ complained during breakfast.
DJ said, “I gave blood yesterday and made twenty-five bucks.”
Russ’s eyes widened. “Twenty-five bucks sounds like easy money.”
“You can do it too. They’re always looking for donors.”
“Yeah. It only takes about forty minutes, and they pay in cash.”
“All right, some quick cash. Where is this place?”
“It’s easy to find. I’ll write out some directions.”
After eating, we drove to the blood bank. A nurse had us fill out papers and took our blood pressure. “Both of you have low blood pressure,” she said. “I see that a lot. It’s like a condition with people your age. Why don’t you take a brisk walk around the block, and we’ll test you again.”
As we walked, I asked Russ, “Could it be that the standard for blood pressure is determined by an uptight society? Maybe mellow should be the standard.”
“I hear that. I like my blood pressure just fine.”
When we returned, we both made the required minimum. Just uptight enough, I guess. As I lay on a bed waiting for the procedure to begin, I glanced at a large sign on the wall. It had a picture of a hypodermic needle with the words, “I DON’T MEAN TO NEEDLE YOU BUT GIVE BLOOD.”
Needles were never my thing, ever since watching my sister get vaccinated when I was little. The spike looked enormous—as big as the one on this sign. Remembering this, my head began to swim. I knew it was silly, and I was determined not to chicken out. After a few minutes, I recovered and succumbed to the grisly act. We left satisfied with our contribution and the cash in our pockets.
Russ dropped me off at the westbound on-ramp. “Later, man. Good luck hitching.”
“Thanks, buddy. Say hello to Kelly. Don't do anything you wouldn't eat.” He rolled his eyes and headed east.
I snagged a ride to Madison with a teenage driver who was nervous about dog hair, so Charlie rested at my feet. Three hours passed before catching another ride, which left me at a rural off-ramp outside of Rockville, Illinois. It was a desolate place, but I was relieved to have Chicago behind me.
My thumb remained out until dusk, but traffic was sparse. I finally gave up and walked a short distance to a pullover with a picnic table.
Charlie ate her food while I munched on an apple, a chocolate-chip cookie, and a strip of beef jerky. I gave the last bite of jerky to Charlie, then stretched out under a full moon in my sleeping bag, hidden by shrubs and a young oak tree.
I soon heard the sound of somebody digging with a shovel. It was difficult to determine how far away the noise came from, but I estimated maybe a hundred feet. The scraping sound of the blade slicing into the earth, followed by a load of dirt hitting the ground continued. Why would somebody be digging at night? Burying a body in the woods or behind a shed on a nearby farm? The digging went on for a long time.
I slept a little—until the sound of crickets stopped. Then, as if things weren't strange enough, I heard someone shooting what sounded like a 22-caliber weapon or maybe a high-powered pellet gun. Hearing the sound of bullets landing in the bushes around me, I pulled Charlie close, shielding her with my body, and remained still.
Adrenaline rushed through my bloodstream, and my heartbeat became audible. I was pretty well hidden, so I didn’t think anyone knew we were there but shots continued to pelt the foliage around us.
What the hell is going on?
The barrage of gunfire didn’t last long —less than a few minutes—but long enough to keep me alert and awake for some time. I was anxious to get a ride out of this screwy place.
We were up with the sun, back at the on-ramp with my thumb out. Not much traffic. I eyed a Wonder Bread bag on the ground. The bag contained four pocketknives: two small penknives, a larger standard pocketknife, and a huge, bone-handled variation of a Swiss Army knife that contained every tool imaginable.
A package full of knives—not a surprise for such a weird place. I imagined some sick hitchhiker tossing the bag when he saw a sheriff’s car approaching. I packed up my newfound treasures and continued to display my thumb to the few cars that passed.
An hour later, I caught a ride from an older guy from Iowa, who dropped me off on a lonely interchange only fifty miles from my destination. Standing on a traffic island, I watched cars scream by every ten minutes or so.
After three hours of boredom and frustration, I noticed someone had scrawled something on a nearby road sign. “I stood here for three days. T.B.” The “three” was scratched out and replaced above with “four.” The “four” was scratched out and replaced with a “five.” Damn!
I tried to keep my spirits up, but frustration was settling in. So close but so far! Another hour passed. Then another. I found myself at the extremes of desperation.
When a young couple drove by, I pressed my hands together in front of my chin in a begging gesture. “Please! ... Please! ... Please!” They took pity on my pathetic display and pulled over several hundred feet down the road. “Come on, Charlie.”
The couple dropped me off in Saint Paul, where I found a phone and called Rosie. “Hi, babe. Can you pick me up with my truck?”
I’d had enough hitching for a while—no doubt about that!
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