Well, You Might be Just About Crazy as Me
"The driver was only too glad to give the traveler a lift, and with a 'Git up thar mules, dag gum yore hides,' we were on our way to greener woods and higher mountains."
Ed Ricketts, Vagabonding Through Dixie
"I find out of long experience that I admire all nations and hate all governments ... government can make you feel so small and mean that it takes some doing to build back a sense of self-importance."
Steinbeck, Travels With Charley
I woke early, eager to hitch out and get ahead of the large group of hikers that had trickled into the Dinsmore's. Just as day broke, while everyone else still slept, I made my way over to the Baring Store and put out my thumb. A pair of moose antlers hung above the entrance of the store. Two swallows sat perched atop the apex of each antler, working in unison to uphold the already existing symmetry. Only a few minutes passed before a massive pickup truck came to a halt. An ATV sat in its bed and behind that a large Uhaul trailer was attached to the hitch. I thanked the man for stopping.
"That's alright. I been in your situation plenty of times," he told me.
He was a Vietnam veteran and worked on a ranch in North Dakota. A cowboy hat lay upon his dashboard and between us rested a large hunting knife, sheathed and positioned in the center console. I felt uneasy at first but figured he was trusting me as much as I was trusting him. At least keeping it there between us, in a way, made it a level playing field. Behind us in the truck's extended cab lay a dog and as we pulled out onto the highway she rose up and rested her graying snout upon my shoulder. I reached back to pet her.
"Nope! Don't do that!" he shouted at me. "She's a service dog."
He scolded her and she retreated to her nest of blankets.
"You traveling?" he asked me. "Or do you work up at the Pass?"
"No," I answered, "I'm hiking a long distance trail that runs from Mexico to Canada." "Well, you might be just about crazy as me. Might even be crazier! When I was fifteen I rode a horse along the Nez Perce Trail from Oregon to Montana."
I asked the driver more about himself as we gained elevation, heading up towards Stevens Pass. Dylan and Dire Straits played low on the radio.
"You know, Montana raised its speed limit recently and the Feds threatened to take away all their highway money. The Montanans said, 'Well, the Feds ain't got no money, so there ain't nothing to take away - so we'll just do whatever the hell we want!' Yeah, I'm one of those guys that hates the federal government. I'm all about states' rights. We are, after all, states independent of the Federal government. I will say I love my country, but I don't love my government."
A large semi passed us and he picked up his CB radio.
"You on there, big truck?" he called out.
As we both waited in silence for the trucker to respond my water bottles let out a loud pop, pressurized and expanding from the change in elevation. He jumped in his seat, startled by the sudden noise. "Oh shit," I thought to myself, "Is he going to have a flashback?" then instantly regretted my directing towards a veteran that tired cliche of a joke.
He took me for a vagabond of sorts and told me about the oil boom in North Dakota. "You can go there and get a job that pays seventeen dollars an hour - cash. Then you can move on. Hell, you can get fifteen an hour at McDonalds. No wonder my hamburger is so damn expensive!"
The truck, weighed down by the ATV and trailer, slowly made its way up to the crest of Highway Two. When we arrived at the pass he asked me, "You got any munchies? I've got some Granny Smiths from my sister's yard."
I thanked him for the apple and the ride and we wished each other safe travels. I watched as he merged back onto the highway, moving on towards North Dakota.