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I dropped my pack over the barbed wire fence, followed by my sign, and then the sandwich and iced tea my last ride had given me. Dusk had ended half an hour ago, and right now, a spot behind the only tree in sight looked like a good enough place to pitch my tent. The scraggly juniper wouldn’t hide me from any passing eyes, but at least the highway fence would separate me from the road—which, judging by the last ten minutes, wouldn’t have many passing eyes traveling on it anyway. And besides, I’d be gone at first light.

I knew I wouldn’t make it to my friend’s wedding. I had hoped to be in Oregon by now, but Thursday night found me in northern California, still fifty miles from the border—and five hundred and forty miles from Wenatchee, my end point. Nine and a half hours of drive time remained.

Hitchhiking at dusk, before I camped by the juniper tree for the night

Hitchhiking at dusk, before I camped by the juniper tree for the night

The optimistic part of me compared that to the whole day and a half left until the six-o’clock wedding on Saturday. But the rest of me knew better.

Viable hitchhiking time is not the same as viable driving time. Night hours are out. Early morning and late evening are long shots, too, since few drivers take to the roads then, and most that do avoid anyone hitchhiking at such a strange hour.

And I couldn’t expect to find ride after ride that would take me all the way to the wedding in one brisk procession. Hour-long waits would bloat my pace, and I knew I’d stumble into Wenatchee just in time to find an empty church and a long-completed ceremony.

I ate my sandwich inside my tent. Mosquitoes whined and perched on the mesh like vultures. Tomorrow, I would start hitchhiking at first light—even before sunrise—and I’d keep it up until total darkness. Then first light again, until Wenatchee or the six-o’clock cut-off. I don’t pray often, but I did that night.

*

Only half a dozen cars passed in the first half hour. Not because the road was never traveled, but because it was too damn early. I knew it, and I knew I didn’t have a way around it. Even if I gave up and bought a bus ticket—an idea that grew on me with each passing car—I’d still have to make it to a major city first. The only way to leave this highway junction in Remote, Northern California was by private vehicle. I smiled at an approaching minivan and knew my smile looked fake.

But the minivan pulled over.

A man a few years older than me rolled down the passenger window and waved me over. He was alone in the van, but the seats were filled with boxes, bins, and backpacks. He was moving.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“I’m going north.” Even to myself, I sounded hopeless.

He paused. “How far north?”

Inside the minivan

Inside the minivan

“All the way to Wenatchee, Washington.”

“No shit.” A smile, wry and a little suspicious, started and kept growing. “That’s where I’m going. You can keep me awake.”