I felt so grounded yesterday, so sure I had made the right decision, so confident that I had grown in big and permanent ways. By the end of today, I felt catapulted back into uncertainty and self-doubt. Two steps forward, one step back?
I still believe I made the right decision getting off the trail to rest my knees. Where I went wrong- the first place I went wrong- was not completely thinking through what to do once I got off trail. Granted, I really wasn’t sure exactly where I was exiting, and I didn’t have cell service to either do any research of my own or call someone for advice, so I was kind of flying by the seat of my pants. But I could have taken more time once I reached Road’s End. I could have stayed the night there and waited for a ranger the next day.
Instead, I hitched a ride with just about the first person I saw. Jacob seemed pretty normal at first and even reminded me of some friends of ours back home. Misadventures start out simply as adventures, though.
Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I am fine. I wasn’t harmed or even threatened in any way. I’m sure this is one of those days I’ll laugh about in the future, but I’m not there yet.
When I woke up a little before 6:00, Jacob was awake and packing up. He had decided to leave the park and drive to Placerville to see a friend. I had planned to try to hitch to Fresno that morning, but from there I was considering taking a bus to South Lake Tahoe. Placerville is near South Lake Tahoe, and Jacob said I could just ride up there with him, so that’s what I decided to do. I don’t love hitchhiking, so sticking with a known entity seemed like a good plan, as opposed to finding a new ride with who knows who?
We started driving out of the park a little after 6:00 and all seemed fine. I had learned about Jacob the night before that he had been an overweight alcoholic only a couple of years before, and his nineteen year old son doesn’t want much to do with him. He has stopped drinking and started hiking and lost a hundred pounds and has his own business now. He gave me his business card. He seemed funny in a self-depreciating way- not my favorite form of humor, but something I understand.
The day was going okay. The van was a bit dirty. There was trash in the floorboard, but whatever. Beggars can’t be choosers, right?
As we were driving out of the park, Jacob kept pulling over here and there to show me things- overlooks, the river, giant sequoias. He talked a lot, but that didn’t necessarily seem unusual.
Just before leaving the park, I got service. My boss from Nashville, Paul, was in the area and would be driving toward where I was sometime in the next few days. I almost told Jacob just to drop me off where I was so I could wait for Paul, but, since I couldn’t get Paul on the phone and didn’t know exactly when he’d arrive, I stayed in the car.
I called Hunter to let him know that I was off trail and where I was heading. Instead of asking Jacob to please pull over so that I could get out and talk to H in private, I just called in the car while we were driving. As I was trying to explain things to H, Jacob kept talking to me. Having had a couple of days to mentally and emotionally process my situation, it didn’t occur to me what confusing news all of this would be to H, so in all of the chaos of the moment, I didn’t do a good job of communicating.
We drove on. Jacob talked on. The sun got higher and higher. Instead of taking the interstate, Jacob wanted to take the scenic route. Was I okay with that? What could I say? I was along for his ride. Beggars can’t be choosers, right? Would it really take that much longer?
We drove up California highway 49 most of the day, twisting and turning, gaining and losing elevation. The sun rose higher. It got hotter and hotter. Jacob said he doesn’t like to run the air conditioner because he doesn’t like to get used to it. What could I say? I sat there becoming hotter and more miserable.
As we drove along, Jacob would pull over here and there to look at things, to take a dip in a river, to make a phone call. As he talked and talked, I began to realize what a dark view he has of the world, understandable given what he’d told me, but it became more and more difficult to talk to him or to hear him talk. I felt compassion for him, but started to become more and more frustrated. I like to talk about the possible and he likes to talk about the impossible.
My patience with the situation waned. I was hot and tired. Staticky electronica droned from the car speakers. Jacob talked and talked, practically yelling over the wind whipping in through the windows. I had just made a very emotional decision to come off trail. I wasn’t completely sure of what to do next and desperately wanted some time and a quiet place to consider my options. I wanted to talk to Hunter. I felt trapped and powerless. I felt like a child.
As we neared Placerville, Jacob seemed to take more breaks. Our pace slowed. I grew quieter, he talked more. His driving became more erratic. I got the sense that he was trying to see how far he could take things before I would crack.
The four and a half hour drive stretched and stretch into five, six, seven hours. We started driving a little after 6:00 that morning. We reached Placerville around 5:00 that afternoon. Eleven hours after leaving our camp spot in King’s Canyon National Park, we arrived in Placerville. Jacob said he was heading up north of town to camp at a friend’s place and I was welcome to stay there. He would drive me to South Lake Tahoe in the morning. I told him to drop me off in the center of town. He did.
I walked as fast as I could to the brewery. If Hunter were here, this is where we would go. I understand breweries. I knew I’d be safe and would have some time to think there.
I ordered a beer called Hitchhiker’s Rye’d and a salad. I texted with Hunter. I talked to the man next to me about baseball. I looked at hotel rooms, bus schedules, flights, campgrounds, maps.
I was finishing up and about to ask for my check when a woman walked in to get a growler of beer. She stood next to me and we talked- about beer, the trail, the town. She was nice and seemed safe. I’m not sure how I must have seemed. I was rattled by the day. I was sticky with dried sweat and the dirt of half a week of hiking. I felt like I was vibrating with the need to be alone in a quiet room. She, Allison, took pity on me and offered me a ride to my motel. Thank you, Allison!
I’ve never been so happy to check into a crappy motel. As soon as I had my key, I called Hunter. He was, rightfully, upset with how the day had gone. Our communications had been brief and disjointed all day. I had broken at least three of my promises to him- not to hitchhike alone, not to hitchhike alone with a single man, not to put myself in dangerous situations in general. We had a strained conversation and both felt upset when we hung up.
I took a shower, letting the scalding water beat against my skin for over half an hour. I washed my hair four times. I still didn’t feel clean when I was done. Hunter and I talked again, made up, talked about my options. I desperately wanted to keep hiking the trail. I desperately hoped he’d beg me to get on a plane to Santa Fe. I researched my options. None of them were easy and none of them were cheap.
I fell asleep researching bus schedules, all cried out, feeling helpless, so angry with myself.
I’ve now had a week to think about this day and everything I did wrong. Why did I get in that car? Why did I stay in that car over and over again when I had so many opportunities to get out and find another way? What drew me to Jacob in the first place? What the hell is wrong with me?
I stayed because I was afraid of the unknown of finding a new hitch. I stayed because I was afraid of Jacob’s reaction if I left. I stayed because he seemed like he’d had a lot of rejection and I didn’t want to be another person rejecting him. I stayed because I didn’t think I could ask for better. None of these are good enough reasons for keeping myself in an uncomfortable situation!
I’ve been angry with myself. I’ve been angry with Jacob. I’ve been angry with my body.
A friend suggested that maybe Jacob needed the compassion I could offer that day. She suggested that maybe I needed to go through that experience to finally be shaken into standing up for myself. Surely, next time, I will speak up.
Beggars can’t be choosers? Oh, yes they bloody well can. Just because I am asking a stranger for a ride, doesn’t mean that I have to give that stranger power over me.
I’m still angry and upset about this day. I’m not sure how not to be angry at this point. I’ll keep working on it. I refuse to continue to let Jacob, a stranger, have so much control over me for much longer. I’m looking forward to being able to see the situation with the wisdom of time and distance. I’m not quite there yet, but I will be. Perhaps one day, I’ll even be able to laugh about it all. For now, I’ll be grateful that I got where I was going unharmed, intact.