Have you ever had a moment when you look back to your life and think, “How the hell did I do that?”
I have, plenty of times. The most unbelievable moment goes to my 2016 winter trip when I did a kinda impromptu road trip, from New York City to Seattle, up to some frozen cities in Alaska. Seven freezing weeks, 5,800 kilometers, 19 cities, 13 states, a little bit of money and a lot of courage. I did it with my friend, Ifa, who was as insane as I was. There was something wrong in that girl’s head, of course, otherwise she would’ve not said yes when I told her, “We’ll be hitchhiking, at least from Pennsylvania until Montana. You know, standing on the road and waving to every car and truck.”
She’d say yes, and this is our story. Not about what we experienced in every city – I picked some of the most interesting moments. Some fortunes and misfortunes that make me cherish the moments every single day.
My Favorites: CLEVELAND, MILWAUKEE & BOZEMAN
If I have to choose which cities impressed me the most, my picks would be Bozeman, Cleveland and Milwaukee in that particular order. Milwaukee, in the state of Wisconsin, has a beautiful lakeside. Well, maybe beautiful is an understatement. I loved its scenic walking track that gives a magnificent view to the sunset. And I’m not talking about ordinary boring orange sunset. That afternoon, the sky’d turn magenta. My phone camera couldn’t do ay justice to capture its beauty, but my mind did. Not only that, it had several weird-looking buildings standing dashingly on that very same spot.
Cleveland in Ohio left such a good impression, mostly because of the Clevelanders. They were super friendly, and I remember the food were extra tasty. I had brunch at a hip restaurant, ordered biscuits and gravy, and I still can taste them in my mouth. What I enjoyed most about Cleveland: Rock & Roll Wall of Fame, a huge museum featuring the history of American music. That day I’d see Elvis Presley’s original guitars, Taylor Swift’s music notebook, Beyoncé’s dresses and hundreds (or maybe thousands) of other historical musicians’ items. Cleveland Cemetery was also impressive. Yes, you read it correctly. Cemetery. It was the end of fall when I went there, and the falling leaves would make a cool golden brown & red color everywhere.
Bozeman was the awesomest. It had the prettiest view. The city was surrounded by mountains with snow on their tops. My writing skill isn’t sufficient to describe how magical that place is, so I’ll just tell you to go there one day. It’s located in the south of Montana, close to Wyoming and Idaho. I stayed at a local guy’s house I met on Couchsurfing, Taylor Drummond, who gave me my first gun shooting experience. Very America. We shot some cans of milk in his backyard. I hit none of them, of course.
Staying in a Crazy Lady’s House in CINCINNATI
Those who’ve been following my blogs since years ago know I’m an avid Couchsurfer. I love staying at local people’s houses when visiting their cities, including when I was in Cincinnati. A guy named Mark would host me and my friend, and he mentioned he had a housemate named Maggie. He’d say she was a bit of character, that was his exact word.
We’d arrive at his place around midnight and he introduced us to Maggie. She looked nice. She even cooked us delicious supper: mac & cheese, roasted chicken and assorted desserts knowing we were tired after a long day trip across the state of Ohio. They gave us their sofa in the living room to sleep for the next two nights, provided with many pillows and enough blankets to keep us warm. Before going to bed, she’d ask us, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” We said no, because she had given us more than what we needed. Our bellies were full, and our heads were more than ready to rest on the comfortable couches. However, she kept asking that very same question, probably until 15 times.
Yes, 15 fucking annoying times. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” she’d ask for the last time and my friend would increase her voice, “No, we’re good!”
In the morning, she’d treat us like royals. She made nice breakfast, both sweet and savory, and took all her cheese out of the fridge for us. She even offered to make us sandwiches for lunch, so we didn’t have to spend money for lunch when wandering in the city. That moment, I felt that woman was waayyy too hospitable. And I sensed there’s something terribly wrong with her. And I was right.
That night after cooking her and Mark an Indonesian food, she said she wanted to bake us brownies for dessert. She’d put the batter in the oven and sit with my friend Ifa in the living room, while I put my dirty clothes in the washing machine and had shower. Before I went to the bathroom I heard Ifa asked her, “So Maggie, which one’s your room?”
Thirty minutes later I went back to the living room and she’d talk to me in an emotional tone, “Ifa was being very polite to me, she asked me where my room was and we all know it’s a code to kick me back to my bedroom.”
I was like, “What?!”
She continued, “So you guys don’t like me hanging out with you in your ‘bedroom’. Do you want me to go back to my room upstairs, or watch your dirty laundry in the basement?!”
She turned all lights off and aborted the brownies. I was disappointed as the house smelled like chocolate already. We were shocked as she stomped her feet walking to her bedroom.
Hopping in to a Pothead’s Car in FARGO
It was -16°C when we were standing near a highway entrance in Fargo that morning. I was confident to find someone who’d stop for us, especially because it was pretty easy for us to hitchhike from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Fargo, North Dakota. We were picked up by three different people along the way: a college student named Aaron who was about to have an exam, a trucker with his gargantuan truck and a Native American on his way to do North Dakota Pipeline Protest – who thought we were also Native Americans heading to the same place.
I thought my chance in in Fargo would be better as it was snowy and people don’t usually let other people freeze to death. My feeling was correct. Only after 20 minutes, a sedan stopped for us. The car didn’t have rear doors, so we had to crawl from the front to get to the back seats. After a few meters drive, we’d smell something funny. It was weed. And little did we know; this man was drunk as shit. He suddenly told us, “I’m on my way to meet my son for the first time in ten years. My stupid ex-wife never let me see him cause I drink too much and smoke a lot of weed.”
He started to drive recklessly, and when we saw a cop cap he’d yell, “Hey cops, I have drugs in my car but don’t you dare to arrest me!”
We were terrified, but we had to maintain poker faces at all times. He’d constantly look at us through the rearview mirror. He asked us, “What are you doing out there in the cold?” When I started answering, he cut me, “I don’t care about your story. I care about this beautiful woman.”
That sentence made me terrified. I was afraid he’d kidnap my friend and do something terrible to her. And he, most likely, had a gun in the car, just like most Americans did. I carefully unlocked my phone, activated the tracking service and sent my location to a friend in Fargo. Unluckily we couldn’t just jump out of the car as there was no door in the back. The only way to get out was through the front door after he stops the car.
When we were about to arrive in our destination, I’d hold my friend’s jacket tightly and put my camera on. Just in case I fail to retain my friend when he drives away with her in the car, I’d be able to take a picture of his car’s license number. Thankfully none of those shits happened. We got out of his car and went to a Subway restaurant to calm our nerves down.
WYOMING & IDAHO Country Drive
It was definitely the most scenic drive in my life. We started very early from Bozeman, drove to the south to the state of Wyoming. We were aiming for Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National, two of the prettiest spots in the United States. They were not overrated at all. Both parks occupy three-quarter of Wyoming’s size. In those enormous places, I saw many things for the first time: huge natural hot springs, snow wolves, giant buffaloes and mountainous amount of snow.
We also drove across Gallatin National Forest in Idaho that looked a lot like the Wizarding World of Narnia. We made multiple stops just to take pictures.
First American Thanksgiving in MONTANA
A good faith brought me to Helena, the capital of Montana. A sixty-years-old-something couple I met on Couchsurfing hosted me and my friend during 2016 Thanksgiving weekend. They were very sweet. Jeff was a kind of outdoor man who brought us hike the highest mountain in town, and Vicky was a friendly lady with an amazing cooking talent.
They had three grown-up children. The first and last born were somewhere in Colorado and Oregon celebrating Thanksgiving with their in-laws, and the second one did an NGO work in Maputo, Mozambique. Basically they were home alone, and happy to host us during the holiday weekend. We’d start the day by preparing the meal. I helped Vicky season the turkey and make the stuffing, then baked the pies. Around 11 am, we lightly grilled oysters and ate them outside their beautiful house, just by the frozen river in their backyard.
My first Thanksgiving in America was so memorable. It was warm and friendly. I loved the turkey, the pies, the wine and the conversation. And of course, we ended the night by watching a football game.
Cleaning a Homeless Shelter in ALASKA
That December afternoon I landed in Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska. I came there to volunteer at a hostel owned by a 70 years-old-something man, John, that he turned into a homeless shelter during the state’s deadly winter. I could only imagine how miserable it was to be homeless in one of the coldest place on Earth. John was so generous to close his establishment for business and did such an amazing thing for the community.
I volunteered to be one of his elves. My main job was to clean up the hostel, from bedrooms, restrooms until public areas. Even though it was a homeless shelter, surprisingly it wasn’t dirty at all. A little messy, yes, but I could still tolerate that. The restrooms were clean. It turned out the homeless folks are more civilized that those rich people staying in the 5-star hotel I worked at in Sydney a few months prior.
The hostel owner was also very kind to me. He brought me and other volunteers on a hiking tour in Anchorage’s highest mountain, which was covered in thick-ass snow. It was one of the best view I’ve seen. Alaska itself is an unusual state.