In mid July of 2003 my friend ben and I set off from the farm that we were interning on In Deadwood Oregon, to hitch hike south along the I-5 to MT. Shasta Ca. From there we would work to find a ride to a.m.f. Where we would meet up with our friends, build a camp, and maybe teach some skills. Now, in an attempt to set the mood, when I lived in Oregon, we hitch hiked pretty much everywhere that we went. It was a common practice that we never thought twice about. We lived nearly 30 miles from town, and had neither money nor a car. So, we had set out early in the morning with no real plan, time budget to speak of. Just a goal, and faith.
Our first ride came very quickly. A small blue pick up stopped Just passed where we stood on the freeway and as we hopped into his truck the gentleman driving began praising us for the simple act of being present. He had been driving all night and still had quite a ways to go. He spent fifteen minutes telling us how happy he was that we were there to keep him awake. Apparently his family was waiting for him at their new home in the Bay Area, he had just gotten hired at a large software company and they paid for his family to move. We drove and talked and he shared his story, we told him about the farm, and he told us about computers, we stopped to take a swim in a river, and he bought us lunch at a little deli. He dropped us of in southern Oregon near the California border, and it was HOT! We found a gas station and pillaged a piece of cardboard to write a sign with. We had found that sign flying was a very effective method of hitch hiking, as it let the driver know where you were headed so they knew if it was worth it to stop or not. We had employed this method many times and it had proven its worth, over and over again. We filled water bottles and hit an entrance ramp to the freeway. It was a little uncomfortable to say the least, between the sun, and the wind, and the dust. After only about ten or fifteen minutes a large white van type bus Chock full of church youth stopped, they told us about God and gave us some bag lunches and bottled water. It was a welcomed treat, and they wished us well as they continued on their way. Shortly there after a black Honda Pilot Skidded to a stop at our feet and this dready headed hippy chick offered us a ride to Mt. Shasta. She seemed pretty cool, and she was from Minneapolis, so we knew a few of the se people, which is always a welcomed surprise. After about 40 minutes or so she dropped us off at a little co-op in MT. Shasta, we exchanged information, promised to keep in touch.As we parted ways ben and I both realized that we were soooo close to our destination. We went into the co-op, talked the produce guy into giving us some bread and produce that they were gonna throw out, then with only a few minutes work we found a ride to the park where the festival was going to be held. At that point the festival was still nearly a week off, so the only people there would be set up crews. When we were dropped off at the ranger station it was late afternoon, we had water, we had food, and we were on our way! We had about 9 miles to hike through the high desert of Northern California, but we had no worries. The road looked long, but it felt manageable, we talked and ran, and trudgedWe joked and explored, it was an easy adventure. We came to a large cattle watering trough. The water was pretty scummy and we were almost there so we Chose not to refill Until we could get clean water at camp. We walked past giant Douglas fir and through sage and cactus. As night began to fall upon our journey the unspoken worry hung around us and clouded our attitudes and our minds, we both new we were lost, but neither of us was willing to say it. We found a large for tree to huddle under. We cleared away branches and pine needles, we filled in any holes. It was beyond dark, I knew that ben was there, but I certainly couldn’t see him. The ants began crawling around us on the tarp that we had laid out, and on our bodies, in our clothes, they pestered us most of the night. We ate all of the bag lunches and finished The meager amount of water that we had managed to save. When sleep finally did come I slept like a baby. In the morning, we silently prepared to move on, both knowing Full well that we were lost but neither wanting to be the one to give up. As we packed our bags, I decided that my cook set was too heavy so I left all but the 2 quart kettle behind. Packs strapped on we looked at each other and trudged eastward without a word. We hiked through the scrub and sage, we could still see the beauty in the landscape, until the sun blazing overhead, began to cook our spirits along with our bodies. With no food or water, our only reason to stop was rest. It was so hot that we both just eventually collapsed. Ben cut his pants into rudimentary shorts, I left my tent, feeling that a tarp would suffice And it wasn’t worth the extra weight.
As the day drug on our cache of supplies gradually dwindled to just the essentials as we each took turns attempting to lighten our load. The day grew hazily to a close And we simply slumped together under a Douglas fir and slept the sleep of the dead. I opened my eyes to a familiar sound, I saw that ben was awake and had obviously heard it too. We ran (as best as we could) in the direction of the passing car. Unfortunately in our weakened conditions the car was long gone by the time we reached the road. We had no idea how often cars would be passing by as we were literally in the middle of nowhere. So we wrote “water please” on the inside of an empty granola bar box, and hung empty water bottles from it. Ben held the sign while I laid beside the road.
At this point the fear was swirling up images of sun bleached bones and vultures cleaning the meat from our corpses. I wondered if anyone would miss me, or if my dad was proud. I laid there for what felt like weeks. Ben kicked my side, and said “dude get up” I nearly missed the hardly audible rasp. A small rusted and wind bleached coupe rolled to a stop beside us and the Equally worn out driver said “are you guys all right?” Ben held up the sign and the man driving the car motioned for us to get in. He drove us In near silence back to mt. Shasta and dropped us off at that very same co-op, and with a tip of his hat he muttered “you young men could use a shower.” And he sped away into the world.
We went inside and the produce guy gave us all of the water, all of it! He also gave us some old wilty kale and apples. While we were sitting outside eating and drinking, we took turns using the restroom to clean ourselves up a little, the dust and dirt in our hair and on our faces was only challenged by the smell of our bodies. When I came back out from my turn At the sink ben had found our friends from Oregon, who were telling us how worried everyone had been and how they had searched for us a little, but to no avail, they hadn’t even been certain that we left Oregon, none of us had cell phones back then.
When we told them our story, we became the celebrity heroes of the festival. We both took up residency at one of the festival kitchens, and helped build the festival, We set up movie screens and a veggie oil generator, we dug a latrine and built recycling stations, and a sanitation area, all from dead fall trees and twine. Within a day or 3 it was Nearly as if nothing had happened, the fear was gone, the exhaustion was fading, and now life could return to some sort of normal, except that I am left with the incredibly vivid memory and the lessons learned from an experience that most will never know. I’m forced to wonder how many could make it, and what they would take away.
I learned that constant vigilance and awareness of your self, your situation, and your surroundings is the number one key to staying alive. If I had simply admitted that we were in trouble, this would be an entirely different story.