A story from the road. Very rough and incomplete at this point, and it will probably remain that way for a while because I rarely have time to write anything while I'm on the road. That sucks because this is a really good story that I'd like to share with people. I decided to write this here instead of on my blog (http://www.blog.aimlessmovie.com) because many of the people who read my blog fail to appreciate how much crap I put myself through to entertain them.
[This is a very incomplete, rough draft. I hope I'll be able to finish and refine it ASAP.]
The following events occurred on August 29 and August 30, 2009.
Holding onto a shiny new citation for "Solicitation on Right Away," which I'd received from an illiterate police officer shortly after she found me sitting on a guardrail, I walked a few miles back toward Atlanta on Saturday night just to get the hell out of DeKalb County. Having done nothing remotely illegal in DeKalb County, I had no interest in being targeted again by either the same dirty cop or any other dirty cops.
After sleeping only a few feet from Exit 86 on I-85 Saturday night, I packed up my gear on Sunday morning and headed straight for the northbound on-ramp so I could try to get a little closer to Greenville, South Carolina or Asheville, North Carolina. With reasonably heavy ramp traffic and plenty of room for someone to pull over to offer me a ride, my prospects looked pretty good. However, that morning a combination of several unique factors convinced me to head up onto the freeway instead of hanging out on the ramp.
Factor 1: The Fulton/DeKalb county line is only about a quarter of a mile beyond the end of the on-ramp. With this kind of setup, I had to assume there would not be much of a police presence on that section of freeway, if any, because law enforcement officers from each county likely turn around at the last exit before the county line to avoid venturing into the next county.
Factor 2: That stretch of highway has seven lanes of traffic, as well as the traffic entering from the on-ramp.
Factor 3: There's a ton of room on the shoulder of the interstate at that spot; a lot more than a full lane's width. This was good for two reasons: 1) It gave me a safe zone in which I didn't have to worry about straying drivers; and 2) It provided plenty of room for a friendly stranger to pull over and offer me a ride.
Factor 4: Northbound drivers had a clear view of me and my gear for at least half a mile before reaching my position. That gave them plenty of time to think about whether they might want to stop and pick up a temporary companion. And if someone spotted me but was unable to get over in time to stop for me, the next exit was close enough for them to turn around and come back for me without wasting much time or gas. (If you've never hitchhiked, it may seem unlikely that anyone would pass me by and come back, but a lot of people have told me they've done just that before picking me up.)
Factor 5: (I can't remember Factor 5 right now. Give me a minute.)
All right, so it looked like I was in a pretty decent spot to get a ride. My only worry was that someone would end up dropping me off in DeKalb County, where I might have to worry about being spotted again by the cop who cited me the previous day.
An hour passed; no ride. Thousands of cars had gone by already, but none of the drivers gave me any kind of impression that they had even thought about stopping. I started thinking maybe Atlanta is just one of those cities, but I wasn't too worried because it almost always takes considerably longer than an hour to get a ride from an on-ramp. Hitchhiking usually requires a lot of patience.
Soon it began to rain lightly. This wasn't a big deal, though, because the previous day I used part of my REI dividend to get myself a waterproof backpack cover. Now in position to use it, I grabbed the bright orange cover and secured it snugly around the bulk of my 50-pound Gregory backpack. I also put on my thin rain jacket.
As the precipitation became a steady rain rather than just sprinkles, I zipped on the legs of my convertible pants and tucked my laptop case under the backpack cover. Pulling my jacket's hood cord tight around my face, the rain continued to come down harder and steadier, and I turned my back to the interstate so the crooked rain would hit me from behind.
Now possessing adequate rain protection for both my body and my gear, I wasn't too worried about things I used to worry about whenever I'd get stuck in the rain. I knew my pack cover would keep my gear dry and I knew my raincoat would keep my upper body dry. But the rain just kept coming down harder and harder until water was pooling a few inches on the interstate and traffic was moving at 30 MPH or less.
In the midst of the downpour, beneath my jacket, my arms and upper body seemed dry to the touch, yet I felt like I was soaked, and it sucked. I'd never really had to think about this before, but my jacket was not designed to keep me warm; its job is merely to keep me dry, which it did. But rainwater is cold and I wasn't wearing any thermal protection beneath the jacket, so I was cold and getting colder. I needed to put on my fleece top beneath the raincoat.
I'd already figured this out a while earlier, but I was waiting for a break in the rain to retrieve my fleece from the backpack. I knew if I tried to get out the fleece while the rain continued to pour down on me, both me and my stuff would end up drenched. So as my legs became wet and cold, and as my upper body continue to feel wet and cold, I waited for that break in the rain.
It never came.
I was nearly in tears before long, wondering when someone would find enough of a heart to stop and help me out of my unenviable position. Actually I already had some tears forming; the tears just hadn't accumulated enough mass to drop from my eyes.
[I'm still working on this. I'm not even close to finished. Check back later if I've caught your interest...]