Marathon hitchhiking: Southern Mexico to Michigan in 7 days over 3,400 mi - Page 3

Day 5

5:00 am. It was more silence as we rode through the rest of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. When he got a sext from his mistress in the early afternoon, the silence broke when he utilized me for the response. Afterwards we just start chatting like we never stopped.

It gets late and we stop at an exit near Tallahassee to crash in a hotel parking lot, but someone calls the police and they suggest that we go to a truck stop or rest stop a few miles up the road. The truck stop is too bright for Jose's tastes, so we go on until the rest stop. He lays down in the back seat, but I stay awake most of the night in the front seat watching the late night passersby hit the vending machines and go to relieve themselves, and the morbidly obese security patrolman waddling around eating potato chips.

Day 6

6:00 am. We hit the road early and at around 8am arrive at the junction of I-75 and I-10. I try to call my aunt all morning on Jose's cell, but there is no service on the phone (MetroPCS, or as he fondly calls it MetroPieceOfShit). Jose unceremoniously leaves me with a quick goodbye at a rest stop just south of the junction. I'm not one for emotional goodbyes, but it seems particularly abrupt for that fact that we have just spent every waking and sleeping moment around each other for the past two days. Not dwelling on it and relieved that I'm out of the slightly odorous car, I cross the freeway and start thumbing on the rest stop on-ramp. After an hour yields nothing, I go to the vending machines and get a danish. I try to call my aunt from a pay phone, but no answer. I suppose I'll just try to get to Atlanta today, four hours north, and try to contact her on the way.

Walking back to the on-ramp, I see a dumpster with a piece of cardboard with good structural integrity and just the right size for a sign. I brainstorm things to write with, but have nothing. It strikes me that I have medical tape in my bag, so I tear off some strips and make a sign that says "ATL". After a few minutes of flying the sign, a pick up from Georgia pulls over. The driver is creepy, so I strongly suggest that he leave me at the next busy exit, which he does.

In Lake City I hold the sign out for about fifteen minutes, and then get bored and start busting some moves with the sign to entertain myself. I pass it through my legs, pull a spin move, and then hold it out to approaching cars, which actually makes a lot of people laugh but not pull over. I strategically place myself in the line wedge between the freeway and the on-ramp so that people on the freeway can still see me, but if a cop decides to stop I can say I was on the on-ramp but not the freeway. After a few iterations of my hitching jig I just go back to standing there.

IMG_2891Fatmir!A few minutes later, the driver of a semi truck gives me the okay sign and pulls over. I look back and a pick up had actually stopped a bit closer, so I go to that truck first. Excited about the possibility of my first semi truck ride, I sort of brush off the pick up driver and go up to the semi. The door pops open and a heavily accented and bespectacled man says hop in. We start chatting, and I learn that Fatmir (aka Baggio) is an Albanian refugee who came over during the Kosovo conflict. I tell him that I'm headed toward Atlanta, and he says that's no problem. His final stop is Detroit, so he's taking I-75 all the way up. Detroit? Seriously? It can't be this easy. He says it would be no problem to ride all the way back to Detroit. I try calling my aunt again, but I still can't get a hold. I decide to cancel plans to stop in Atlanta.

Fatmir has worked in a whole variety of jobs since coming over, from dishwashing to construction to roofing. He eventually settled into trucking a few years ago since he used to drive trucks in Switzerland. I start asking him about life as a truck driver, and it sounds as if he drives like a maniac. He hardly ever sleeps, drinks minute amounts of coffee, and has a bungee cord attached above his head to do semi-pull ups while he drives to stay awake. He leans over to crank up the Albanian folk music, and the rapid-fire twangy notes are clearly all the stimulation he needs.

He would see his family everyone once in a while in Atlanta, and as we arrive there he pulls off the highway to make a visit. His wife comes to pick him up in the Walmart where he leaves the truck, and he throws me the keys and tells me to put in a DVD. I sit in the truck reading a bit and munching on one of the 20 some odd watermelons collected as a fringe benefit at last delivery pick up. He had to go directly to the farm, and when he asked the farmer if he could grab a few he said he could take whatever he wanted.

IMG_2897There's no way I wouldn't get a picture with my first semi hitchWe keep on going a few hours later, and he informs me that he plans to drive throughout the night and we'll arrive in Detroit by morning. He gets me thinking about possibly truck driving for a little while to earn money, and when he sees my interest he offers to train me over two weeks for $500 and let me use his truck for the exam. He'll even hook me up with a job at his company. I file it in the back of my head as "strong possibility of happening".

We stop for food and fuel and keep going throughout the night. It starts to pour, but it doesn't phase Mr. Aliu; swerving around cars like they are standing still, he tells me that he feels safer going at 80 mph in a semi than he ever would in a car. My hands grip the seat very tightly and flashes of a twisted semi I had seen in Guatemala flash through my mind. I eventually come to trust Fatmir's handling of the truck and drift off somehow. He nudges me some time later and says I should just lay down in the back. I am so tired I do not even remember laying down.


Day 7

6:00 am. A few hours later is daybreak, and I start recognizing familiar Michigan cities. Fatmir never stopped during the night. We arrive in Romulus at the drop off point, and Fatmir gets a call for his next assignment. With an incredible turn of luck (again), his next shipment is across the state and he will have to take I-94 W towards my beloved Ann Arbor. He has no problem giving me a lift. I call my parents on his cell to see if they can pick me up in Ann Arbor, and being Saturday they could get there in an hour. I say I will call them when I get there.

Fatmir leaves me at the Jackson Rd. exit, the same exit that I took my first hitchhiking trip from, after abruptly stopping on the side of the freeway just before the exit. I thank him for the great ride, and breathe in the sweet Ann Arbor post-rain air. As he pulls away, another car trying to exit (somehow) doesn't see him pulling out and swerves towards me to avoid the semi. I turn around as I hear the screeching tires. Slamming on the breaks, she collides with the guardrail about two feet behind me with some minor fascia damage. Clearly embarrassed, she quickly drives away after Fatmir crosses the exit. The terror-induced adrenaline tingle slowly fades as I walk down the exit, but my attentions shift as I need to figure out how to call my parents in Ann Arbor. I hadn't really put much thought into it beforehand, and decide the best odds would be to stop by my old cooperative and see if some friends were still around. After a twenty minute walk I arrive in the student ghetto and unintentially startle awake one of my old housemates, Anna, by knocking on the window around noon. She hands me her cell phone, and so ends end the 3,400 mi hitch from Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico to Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States.

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0 #1 peter 2012-10-04 18:04
Good story bro. Im currently hitching across the states. Made it from Holland Michigan to Seattle in about 5 days, Actually got robbed in spokane wa.
Im headed to chipas mexico for the rainbow gathering. everyone is saying dont hitchhike in mexico. I dont speak a lick of spanish so im not sure I will
0 #2 Nicole 2013-05-02 08:25
This is amazing. I'm so envious of your hitchhiking experiences. I've done some hitching in Eastern Europe, but nothing on this scale, and never alone. Based on your hitching experience, do you think a woman would be able to do something similar to what you did without being rapemurderkille d?

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Camping in Puerto Olbaldia along the Atlantic.JPG
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