When we began hitchhiking the States nearly a month ago, I quickly came to the conclusion that Americans were exactly what I had supposed from my Canadian upbringing: assholes. I was distraught that they seemingly matched the stereotypes I had been fed through the media and such, and wished to be proved wrong. The events and people that came into our lives in the past couple weeks have quickly shattered my opinions.
Alex and I caught a ride from a couchsurfer towards Zion National Park, and my first day of camping in Utah was less than desirable. I awoke cranky as hell, as I hadn’t slept a wink. Three sweaters, thermal pants, regular pyjama pants, wool socks, and a bunny hat were not sufficient inside my pathetic Wal-Mart sleeping bag. I was not a happy camper. We quickly drove through Zion, our couchsurfing ride not wanting to stop as she was in a rush to get here or there. She dropped us on the other side of Zion, at which time I had a breakdown, contemplating how in god’s name I was going to survive another night in this climate. We quickly popped on the couchsurfing website, but to our dismay there were few people in the area on the site, and even fewer that seemed to be active. Still, I gave it a go.
An hour later I got a message back from Chad, happily telling us to come on over. Hurray, we’re saved! …except he lived back in the park, a 45 minute drive away. It was starting to get dark by this time, and few people head into national parks in the evening. Plus, you know, stranger danger; it is very alive and well in this country. People did not want to give us a lift.
Chad, being the amazingly generous being that he is, told us if we didn’t get a lift by 9, he would come collect us.
This man was quite simply one of the most generous human beings I have ever had the pleasure to meet. He picked us up (along with his gorgeous dog), and before we even reached his home he told us we could borrow his car the next day to explore the national park. Seriously, who lends their car out to people they’ve known for half an hour? As he was a guide in the park, he swung by the shop he worked in and grabbed us some water boots so that we could enjoyably trek through the Narrows the following day.
The Narrows were the best hike I have ever done (though other bloggers may argue and say Angels Landing is the best hike of Zion – I will just have to find out next time around!) We waded through water, sometimes just above our shoes, other times going nearly up to our wastes. Steep canyon walls surrounded us, and each turn seemed to prove more beautiful than the last. We were simply in love with the place.
A couple days later we headed out, en route to the Grand Canyon. We didn’t make it far, though, because like I said: Stranger Danger. We found ourselves at a gas station just over the border of Utah on the Arizona side. Now this gas station was simply the most splendid gas station I have ever been to. I mean, usually one would not blog about a freakin’ gas station, but I promise, this one was special. The sign read, “Judd Auto – Lotto, Guns, Ammo, Beer”. Next to the gas pumps was a wild west type of building, with all sorts of random things look at. They even had tether ball.
The sun was beginning to go down, and the landscape was flat flat flat. Where on earth would we hide our tent away tonight? A car pulled in to the gas station, so I approached them. The older couple who emerged from the car were filled with smiles and jokes, and when I asked if they knew where we could camp around here, they replied that we could camp at the gas station. “But won’t someone kick us out?” I skeptically questioned.
“We own this place! No problem, you can camp here!”
What luck! We pitched our tent under the wooden tipi structure, and happily spent the night, knowing that if anyone came along to bother us, we had complete permission to be there.
The following morning, as we were eating our makeshift breakfast of juice boxes, pretzels, and a tomato, a man named Paul who we’d met the previous evening approached us. Alex had been chatting with him about film cameras, and when he realised we were headed towards the Grand Canyon, he said he’d take us all the way there!
The canyon was mind boggling and stunning, though we didn’t spend too much time there. Paul had offered to give us a lift back to town, and with the elevation at the Grand Canyon, and my pathetic sleeping bag, camping the night wasn’t really an option. At first he dropped us back off at that same wonderful gas station, as he ran to his house to give me his spare sleeping bag (and attempted to give Alex some film camera lenses, but sadly they didn’t fit his camera). He then offered us a ride to Kanab, a slightly bigger town on the Utah side, where we could actually buy food.
I didn’t want to go back to Kanab; we’d been there a couple days earlier and hitchhiking out was hell. I had no desire to backtrack. I had even made a sign there that read, “Are there any nice Americans?” as we struggled to hitchhike out of town. Alas, Alex was starving and there was no way out of returning.
Kanab is now my favorite town in America.
After getting some food in Alex’s belly, we sat outside Pizza Hut drying out our damp air mattress and sleeping bag. Suddenly a car pulled in and the woman started chatting with us; she worked at Pizza Hut, and I’d asked her for cardboard to make my rather rude sign the previous day. She told us we could come over and have a shower at her place if we liked, and that we could camp out in her backyard. Seriously, this was someone I’d had a couple of minutes of interaction with, and she welcomed us into her home and her life. Yeah, people were answering my sign without even knowing it.
We wound up spending a week in Kanab, mostly camping in Noelle’s backyard. One day I felt like a beer, and adventured off to the Doghouse Tavern without Alex, who didn’t want to spend any money. Before long I was getting drunk and having conversations about anything and everything with the locals. Hell, I was pretty much one of them. This bar was wonderfully unique, too, as they allowed dogs inside the bar. And they served vegan pizza. You see, Kanab is right next to Best Friends Wildlife Sanctuary – the largest wildlife sanctuary in the United States. But vegan cheese is usually repulsive, and I wouldn’t normally go near it. But when one of my new friends offered to buy a pizza for us all to split, and I was starving, I certainly didn’t say no. Oh my god, I don’t know how they did it, but it was one of the most amazing pizzas I have ever had. After a couple of hours Alex showed up at the pub with a man I hadn’t yet met. Alex explained to me that the man was Geoff, Noelle’s next door neighbor, and he had just randomly approached Alex and asked if he wanted a beer. Yep, we were both getting drunk and making new friends a block away from each other.
We very quickly became close with Geoff, and a couple days later he offered to take us to see Bryce Canyon. We had seen pictures of Bryce, and it was the last place around Kanab that we simply could not leave without seeing.
Along the way through the back roads to Bryce, Geoff stopped off somewhere where we could find pieces of old Native American pottery, and chips from the material they used to make arrowheads. Our next stop took us to the dilapidated old set of Gunsmoke and some other old Westerns. Finally we got to a campground where we would stay for the night, before checking out Bryce in the morning.
We set up camp as we had a few beers, and Geoff cooked us the most wonderful dinner of onions and potatoes smothered in cheese. We gobbled it up and chatted for hours around the fire, until Alex and I were just too exhausted to stay up. We headed for the tent while Geoff stayed up a while longer.
Suddenly we heard it. They howled into the night. They were all around us, and they were not far. Geoff figured they were only 150 feet or so away.
Oh sure, one or two coyotes wouldn’t have been frightening, but this was not one or two.
There were about twenty to thirty coyotes.
Surrounding our camp.
In the middle of nowhere.
With no one else around.
Hearing that many coyotes howl around you is a rather unsettling feeling.
Geoff, who was very used to the area, was chatting with us as we lay in our tent. I asked, “Should we be worried?” and he went silent. I asked again, and his reply still did not come.
I was pretty terrified. I was lying in my sleeping bag, trying to accept that I couldn’t really do anything about it, having trouble breathing and pondering whether it was how cold I was or how terrified I was that made my breathing so sharp and uneven. We fell asleep at last, and the coyotes didn’t bother us.
In the morning we headed to Bryce Canyon, and it only took one look at the place for it to blow my mind a million times more than the Grand Canyon. Don’t get me wrong, the Grand Canyon was cool, but Bryce was spectacular, with its very peculiar structures scattered everywhere. We hiked down into the canyon as we sipped on the leftover beers from the previous night.
Eventually we returned to Kanab, and the next morning was time to finally hitchhike out. Geoff gave us a lift back to the amazing gas station in Fredonia, as it was a more likely place to find a longer ride.
It had been a week and a half since we’d been at that gas station. When we were first there, I realised I had lost my 2L camelback – not good seeing as we were hitchhiking the desert and rides were scarce. We had looked around everywhere for it to no avail, and the people who worked there hadn’t seen it.
We sat in the old western part of the gas station, munching on pretzels as we worked up the energy to start hitchhiking, when suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, Alex saw something… It was our sign, the one that asked if there were any nice Americans. But something was underneath it…
A week and a half later, and there it was. It was as if the answer to my sign lay there before us: YES. I was ecstatic to have it back, and blown away by the kindness we had received from so many people.
We hit the road and got picked up by a man in a Jeep. He was headed for Jacob Lake, which was on our way to Flagstaff (we were trying to reach Flagstaff because we were at high elevation and would surely freeze if we camped out, whereas Flagstaff was a big enough place to be able to find couchsurfers to stay with). It was his birthday and we shared some beers and some laughs, having a wonderful time.
But when we got to Jacob Lake, our luck soon ran out. We couldn’t get out of there that night. There was one hotel in the area, and absolutely nothing else around; even if someone wanted to take us in, all of the employees lived at the hotel, and there was no town for there to be any locals.
The hotel was $100 a night.
We sat inside the lobby, keeping warm before braving another freezing cold night that would surely not bring any sleep. Our backpacks were piled neatly outside the front door, when I had a last ditch idea…
We found some cardboard and scrawled a sign that read: “Travelling America – got stuck. Can’t afford hotel, will freeze camping. Any help is appreciated – place to stay? See blue haired girl inside! J” Alex had made me add the part asking for a place to stay, as it wasn’t our intention to panhandle. Honestly, we would have been ecstatic to sleep on the floor of someone’s RV.
A little while later a woman approached us. “Are you two the travellers?” We started chatting and by the end of the conversation she had given us $15… a little while later we were approached and given $20. After sitting in that lobby for a couple of hours, just reading and keeping warm, minding our own business, people had given us $55. A woman who had been sitting at a chair across from us approached us, having heard us chat with others, and told us she would pay for our hotel room. I insisted that we use the $55 we already had towards it, and she kindly paid the rest.
After everything, my opinion of Americans has changed drastically: in general, they are very kind people, who are incredibly willing to lend a helping hand… They’re just absolutely terrified that hitchhikers are going to eat their brains (or something).
Oh, and one last note: You know how I was saying how spectacular Bryce Canyon was? Well it used to belong to some guy named Bryce, who had a cattle farm in the area. When he was asked about the canyon, he didn’t rave about the natural beauty or anything like that. He simply said…
“Hell of a place to lose a cow.”