Fairfax was nothing like i expected. We stayed out in the suburbs with a quintessentially American family, we had family meals, watched Monday night football and generally had a lovely time. We also visited the Patowmac River, a huge crevasse that cuts through the countryside, flowing 383 miles from West Virginia (a different state to Virginia, West Virginia split during the American Civil War because they didn't agree with slavery) all the way through Maryland, Virginia and Washington. We visited the Great Falls, a 76ft waterfall surrounded by towering natural rock formations creating an impressive gorge which, naturally, we decided to rappel off of...
The next leg of our journey was the hitch from Fairfax to Detroit, something the family we were staying with assured us would be much harder than we though. We'd given ourselves 2 days to make the 600mile trip, we'd found people to stay with when we arrived, we know the interstates we were going to take, we'd even begrudgingly acquired a Union Jack on the advice of our hosts to encourage people to pick us up. Everything was set, we were ready.
The first day went slower than expected, though it ended with a great lift from a short haul trucker named Jason. He wasn't supposed to pick up hitchers and so didn't even have a seat in his cab, so we squeezed in on the floor and got ready for a few hours of numbness. He left us at a mall in Haggerstown for an hour while he finished his day so no one asked questions about us and we spent the time roaming the mall with our backpacks in a trolley, alarming and bemusing the locals is equal measure. Haggerstown is a sleepy little place, it seems like nothing ever happens and that suits everyone just fine.
From here we got dropped off in Hanckock at the Truck Palace. Hopeful for more luck with truckers we spent some time asking people for lifts in between going into the truckstop and abusing the free coffee refills. The truckstop existed in a time bubble, not one wall had escaped woodden paneling, there were some ancient arcade machines in the corner and the whole place smelt of syrup, one of a truckers staple foods.
Failing at finding lifts and sensing a level of underlying racism from the mute responses to Rizwan's requests for rides we decided to walk to the other side of town to try and catch a ride at the entrance to the interstate. With night closing in we felt chances were dwindling as we set up on a traffic island in at attempt to capture the eyes of the optimum number of people. We were singing songs to keep our spirits up,
The pipes, the pipes are calling..."
I wish i knew the rest of the words. We got the highest frequency of stops we'd had all day at this rdiculous hour but no one was going our way, then in the darkness on the other side of the road we saw the hunched figure of another backpacker.
"Oi! heeelloo?" Was the only greeting we could manage at this distance but this seemed to work and he came over. I was unsure of him at first, he had a harsh East Coast accent and the first words from his mouth were "hey do you guys smoke? Can i get one?". Of course we obliged and got talking, he'd come from the way we were headed and was going the way we'd come, looking for work on fishing trawlers at Virginia Beach. He had been on the road for a long time and was rife with hitch knowledge, we decided to go camp together in the luxury campsite he'd scoped, a little patch of woodland no more than 10m across, hugged on both sides by the West and East bound lanes of the I70.
The morning came with one of the best surprises you could ask for after a fairly sleepless night. Jay, ever the urban survivalist, had gone into the Super 8 Motel across the highway and returned with a bushel of breakfast treats, coffee to doughnuts and fruit, all uncertainty i had about him was gone forever. With our brains and bellies full from the fruits of Jays labour and experience we headed out again with restored vigor and it wasn't long before we were stuffing our bags into strangers cars again.
In Breezewood, yet another little town full of gas stations and fast food palaces, we got our best lift so far; a 4 our ride from the northern edge of Maryland along the toll road to Cleveland Ohio. As we got in the car Jays warning to stay away from Cleveland entered my head, fuck it, the car had a big soundsystem and leather seats, it cant be as bad as all that...
So, it turns out that its illegal to hitch hike anywhere in the state of Ohio and on top of that the diligent citizens that live here have a special penchant for calling the cops on us for having the audacity to try and leave their town. Each cop that picked us up took sympathy on us upon realisingthat we were from the UK and so drove us to the edge of their jurisdiction. After a short ride to the tollway, being removed by the police there and maybe an hour spent trying to catch a ride as the sun goes down whilst looking around for bits of woodland to camp in we get pulled up by the cops again. This time there are no more new jurisdictions for us to be moved to so the cop drives us to a service stop on the interstate, on the way we ask what happens to American hitchers who cant use ignorance as an excuse and we're told that they would just get shouted at and thrown off the road, i think of Jay and am thankful for how easy we have it.
A brief spell of being sure that we were going to be stuck forever at this service stop, some dreaming about buying a car and a really great ride with a trucker called Gerry and his dog Sam we end up just outside Toledo, 49miles from Detroit and definately stuck this time. We find some woods to camp in and get pretty freaked out by piles of leaves and bits of rubbish that our over active imaginations turn into woodland shelters for scary people. We bed down anyway and reason out that we are just being stupid, wake up fine and dandy in the morning and walk to the nearest hotel to get some free breakfast that we dedicate to Jay.
Eventually we get a ride to Detroit with an ex-navy medic, semi-pro tennis player, kung fu fighter guy called Jim who speaks with a great Michigan drawl and used to beat up Micheal Moore's brother (or cousin) Bobby at school. It was impossible to tell how many of these stories were true, was he really taught Kung Fu by Bruce Lee's best friend? It didn't matter anyway, it made the last leg of the jorney fly by and after some impressively adaptive driving to leave on the right interstate exit he drove us right to the door of our host, which was great for us beacuse everyone we'd got a ride from for the last two and a half days had given us many warnings about the dangers of Detroit...