Occurred: November, 2016
Ever seen a car commercial and thought, “Wow, where is that filmed?” Where is that coastal highway slicing through redwoods, that iconic bridge with waves frothing below…
That was probably filmed on California’s Route 1. Let’s hitchhike it!
OK. I’m in San Francisco visiting friends, but I need to get to LA. There’s a girl. She’s French.
Step 1: Escape the city. I hop on the metro to Daly City, just south of San Francisco. Outsiide the metro, I find an onramp. I position myself in front of the pullin to offer cars an easy place to stop. Hitchhiking 101. But after 45 minutes of cars racing by me, I realize I’ve picked a bad spot. For some reason – probably because the onramp narrowed quickly from two lanes to one – cars were accelerating where I needed them to be breaking for a closer view of the dirty hippie with the big backpack. I gave up and found a bus further south, to Pacifica.
Upon arriving in Pacifica, I walk to Route 1 and throw up the thumb. A scraggly bearded man approaches me on a bicicyle from the parking lot. The front of his bike has a cardboard sign: “NEED FOOD”, and the back of his bike says “NEED WEED.” As I would soon discover, the PCH is full of characters like this guy. Long-time transients who have hitched up and down the state countless times. This guy is particularly ignorant, however, and racist, and possibly delusional, i.e telling me he “shoots at Japs in the hills sometimes.” He was referencing the WWII gunnery forts that are built into the cliffs along the coastline, but still, I immediately realize that this guy is not as cool as his weed sign. Anytime a fellow wandering soul starts discussing murder with me within 5 minutes of us meeting, I prepare to bounce. It happens surprisingly often in the US.
Fortune was smiling upon me, because at just that moment a sedan pulled over and a guy asked me where I was going. I hopped in and said a quick bye to Need Weed who was still saying something to me about cops or the internet or something.
The ride was only about 20 miles, but in that time we picked up another hitchhiker – another scraggly guy in his mid-50s who said he had hitched across the US from coast to coast six times. Dayum! They dropped me off, I threw up my thumb, and minutes later I was picked up by a nice guy who offered to take me 20 minutes down the road. He also offered to buy me a snack.
It was late afternoon so I found a campsite on Google Maps and asked the guy to drop me in Half Moon Bay. From Route 1, it was a 15 minute walk to the beach campsite. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the price of a tentsite was 7$ because of the Hike and Bike discount which is given to anyone who doesnt show up with a vehicle. I settled in for the night and watched the sun set over the Pacific from my tent.
Rides – 2 , Distance driving: 22km, Distance walking: 4k, Other: 1 bus, 10km
I woke up early and had packed up and left the campground by about 9am. To get back to Route 1, I had to walk a kilometer down a residential street. I had only walked about 100 meters when I heard a car coming behind me. I threw my left thumb up lazily and dropped it, not bothering to turn around (usually people wont pick you up unless they can get a reasonable look at your face). To my surprise, the car stopped in front of me. I approached the passenger door and the driver asked where I was going. I said, “LA.” He said, “I’m going to Malibu by tomorrow morning.” To the uninitiated, Malibu is basically LA. Its 30 miles north of downtown.
I accepted the ride from Stefon, and 28 hours later he was dropping me off in Malibu. From there I took a bus to LA. Umm.. that was easy!
But here’s the story of riding with Stefon. Stefon was from Dallas, TX, and he was on his way to his friends wedding in Malibu. He had taken a weeks vacation from work, flown to Vancouver and rented a car to drive down the coast.
During the ride with Stefon, we picked up a trio of busker/hitchhikers who each had his own skateboard and musical instrument, and we squeezed them into the back of Stefons compact rental, and we dropped them in Santa Cruz, and Stefon and I continued south, and he wanted to check out the town of Monterrey, so we did, and we continued south, and we picked up another hitchhiker, a 30 year old violin maker who is now the only hippie I know from Pennsylvania coal country, and the three of us drove clear through Big Sur, stopping every 10 minutes to enjoy the incredible viewpoints, and that night we found a campground and split the (25$) three ways. Situated as we were only 100 meters from the ocean, that night was freezing cold. About 30 or 40 Fahrenheit with the windchill. I slept in my tent, Stefon in the car, and Violin Maker in a bivy sack.
Stats: Rides: 1, Distance driving: 258k (154 miles), Distance walking: 100 meters
At 6am we woke up to get an early start. Stefon and I had to make ground to get him to his friend’s wedding on time. Violin Maker was staying behind to enjoy Big Sur and hitchhike back in the direction we had just come. Amazingly, Stefon and I both froze our asses off that night to the point where we had trouble sleeping, but Violin Maker reported being comfortable in his bivy sack, which was on the ground. Score one point for the Army Surplus store where he got that. Stefon and I stopped for breakfast at a diner, and we took a detour to check out an open-air bookstore called Barts Books in Ojai (very cool spot). By noon we were in Malibu. Stefon dropped me near the bus stop and headed off to the wedding. I had a picnic on the beach and watched the surfers. Two 45-minute buses later and I was in West Hollywood at my friend’s doorstep.
Stats: Rides: 1, Distanec driving: 373k, Distance walking: 200m, Other transport: 2 buses, 47 k
The Stefon ride was definitely lucky. All those miles for free with good company and stopping to see sights and take pictures along the way. If youre wondering why I didnt stop to spend more time in Big Sur, the truth is I considered it. Big Sur is a beautiful oceanside National Park. But I had a reason to hurry to LA. The French woman. Le petit perl. Five days later, I would find myself renting a car with her in Cancun and setting off on a distinctly more luxurious road trip. That trip, coming soon…
Total Trip Stats-
Distance driving: 700km
Distance walking: 5km
Other: 3 buses, 57km