Category Archives: Hitchhiking

Frost Valley #14: Back to Bud

I don’t remember Seager or getting out of the car or what the beginning of the trail looked like. Nor do I remember crossing the headwaters of the Beaver Kill river. But I do remember snippets of a beautiful springtime path cutting its way through mountain meadows and hardwood forests, fresh in the bright green of new leaves.

I remember the path — just wide enough for a single pair of legs and largely obscured by the tall grasses and wildflowers crowding in on both sides.

And I remember a particular wide opening in the forest with dead timber and boggy ground where the gentle climb eased over a generous hump and began to descend.

I was not sure where the path was descending to. It was all a guess, taking off on this path having seen no map that showed it. But it seemed to be going in the right direction. And it was a path so it went somewhere. If it petered out I could always turn around.

It was a path with no footprints, so it could have been an animal path, but that never crossed my mind. The path had started at a road. It would come out somewhere and I could figure out where to go from there. It made no never mind to me where the path rejoined civilization.

In the meantime it was getting dark so I unrolled my cotton sleeping bag and ate a can of beans and crashed, glad it was the middle of May and not nearly as cold as the nights I had spent beside the roads in March and April.

The next day the little path continued to reveal itself — all running downhill. About noon I recognized the tree stump Bud and I had sat on chatting. I walked by the big old barn. Just past the barn I opened the door to their house and joined Stan and Lola for lunch.

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Frost Valley #12: Leaving Bud

When I stumbled into Frost Valley in the spring of 1969, I had been hunting out tiny roads generally heading north and east from where I had spent the winter outside of Princeton, New Jersey. When I left Frost Valley in May I kept my orientation, figuring Maine was as good a goal as any.

I suppose Stan gave me a ride to the end of the valley, where the road crossed the ridge of the Catskills and began its descent to Oliveria and Highway 28. With my heavy sleeping bag and box of paints and a little money saved while working on the estate with Stan, I was doing fine and back where I felt I should be — moving through the landscape. The unknown road to Maine was a shining promise glowing in the unseen horizon.

But my heart was a bungie cord. The further from Frost Valley I got the more I was drawn to Bud and Stan and the cluster of sheds that made up the estate’s main compound. The further I got the harder each step was. I wanted to fall into the glowing promise of the unknown road. But my heart was tied to Bud’s quiet tears.

to Pine Hill JPEG

I turned left when I got to Highway 28, headed north. My head looked forward to adventure but my feet felt no joy. Pride did not want me to go back, admitting some abstract concept of defeat, but my soul was aching. Walking on Highway 28, each step was torn by two desires.

After three miles I was passing the hamlet of Pine Hill. First thing, my eyes scanned a roadside gas & grub and found the outdoor pay phone. I did my best to pass it up.

From the moment I figured I’d call my feet were light and my heart joyful. Stan said, sure, he could keep me busy for the summer and to come on back if I wanted.

These forty-six years later I remember the joy I felt when I turned from the phone and walked across the gas & grub’s parking lot.

As soon as I got to the road, two gals stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. I took the long loop back to Frost Valley.

Frost Valley #11: Loving Bud

I first settled into the Frost Valley estate thanks to a bright-eyed boy.

It was getting late in the day as I walked the valley’s tiny mountain road when a big GMC Suburban passed. It passed half way through the meadow I had just come into when it stopped and a schoolboy jumped out and went running across the meadow into a cluster of buildings. Before I had time to cover fifty yards the boy was in a jalopy, pretty much just a car frame with a motor, and was headed my way. He drove right up and started chatting. His name was Bud. The Suburban was Frost Valley’s school bus. His Dad had been driving it. His Dad was caretaker of the estate where they lived. His Dad could use some help with spring cleaning.

Wintoon lodge

I decided to back track to just before the meadow began, found a wide enough spot to sleep between the road the the “No Trespassing” sign, and settled in for the night. The next morning a International Harvester Scout with a “Constable” sign in the window stopped and Stan, Bud’s Dad, got out. We hit it right off and he suggested I stop in for a hot breakfast (Well, yea!). Sure enough, the local guy who had been helping in the spring was off to school and Stan could use some help with spring clean-up.

Bud and I became good friends that summer. I was an exotic, traveling stranger with stories to tell. He was a spirited kid, probably thirteen or so, and rather isolated in the forest of the Catskill Mountains. We went for walks in the woods and played board games and pool on the family’s pool table and filled our time together with a comfortable enthusiasm for one another.

One day he said he wanted to learn to swim and his mother Lola suggested I teach him in the pond that ran behind the little barn I was sleeping in. It was early summer but mountain water is mountain water — the pond came to my crotch and my legs were freezing. But poor Bud was laid out immersed in the icy existence as I held him on the surface and tried to explain floating and swimming. The entire attempt did not go well and did not last long.

Another Bud & Dean fiasco was my fascination with the brand new invention called a Space Blanket. I was hitch hiking with a heavy woolen World War II Army surplus bed roll and the idea of carrying bedding that weighed an ounce was heaven to contemplate. We were landing on the moon that summer, 1969, so this miraculous material from the space age must live up to its hype, right? Its super-shinny surface reflected body heat so well, there was no need for bulk. The thing had the heft of shrink wrap.

What could go wrong? So, Bud and I set off for an overnight hike up 5,900-foot Slide Mountain with full confidence in my new, light-weight pack.

Well, folks, Space Blankets might make an adequate ground cover, but I assure you they do not keep you warm. Or even isolated from the wind. Unlike being immersed in a cold creek learning to swim with a warm house and dry towel close by, this time Bud and I were in a dark forest in May with a flimsy piece of plastic over us, bundled in our clothes and shivering next to one another to keep warm.

As spring gave way to summer, the chores around the estate settled down and it was time for me to get back on the road. I had gotten close to Stan and Lola and Bud and was sorry to be leaving, and I knew Bud would take it hard. I told him first, the both of us sitting on the ground beside the compound’s workshop. He began to cry and I wanted to. I put my arm around his shoulder and we sat there for a good long while.

That night at the dinner table I told Stan and Lola I thought it was time to move on. Again Bud quietly broke down. It was a very awkward moment for all of us until Stan mentioned the movie Hud and said it was about a relationship similar to Bud and I. That went a long way to ease the discomfort.

I did leave soon after and will be telling the story of my return, my spending the summer, and Bud getting over me enough so when autumn came and it was time to move on for good he was able to say goodby with a twinkling-eyed smile. A smile I carry in my heart to this day.

Cape Cod #6

It is amazing to me, but I remember only two tiny snippets of hitchhiking back from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to the Catskill Mountains of New York.

One snippet is Boston.

My main rule in hitchhiking was to avoid big towns and cities. I didn’t like trying to catch rides in traffic and for the most part had no interest in witnessing how one big city handled tying streets together versus how another did the same thing. But Boston was different. Boston is so tied to the history of the United States I wanted to get the feel of the town. And, having been a Unitarian Universalist since high school, I wanted to check out the first church (founded 1620) in the English American colonies. Yep. It’s Unitarian.First Church

How did I make it into and out of that city without remembering a ride or standing on a corner with my thumb out or any other detail of dealing with a world capitol? How did I spend two nights there without remembering one bed or couch or beer or bar? (The only way I know it was two nights is from reading it in a letter a friend saved.) All I remember is a view of the lawns and trees of Boston Commons rolling off to the north west, filled with students studying and chatting. And looking at First Church from the outside. I don’t even remember if I tried the door to see if it was openLeslie Williams public domain 2014 small

Having left Boston, I do remember it beginning to rain as I crossed the Hudson River from Massachusetts to New York. And raining harder as I got closer to Oliveria Road, the tiny mountain meander that passed over the Catskills and wound down Frost Valley. I don’t remember the ride (or was it rides?) over the mountains, but I remember the rain coming down harder. And when I got to the Frost Valley estate I had spent the summer on and let Stan the caretaker know I was back, he told me a hurricane had hit Cape Cod and the rains were headed our way.

For not remembering much about my return, I distinctly remember my disappointment at having missed the opportunity to go through a hurricane. Had I known Gerda was on the way I would have stayed on the Cape for the 5.6 inches of rain.

Hum. “Had I known.” — So THATS why people listen to the news !

Cape Cod #5

The big event snuck up on me.

It turns out I arrived at Provincetown, on the tipy tip of Cape Cod, on the Thursday of Labor Day weekend. The place was busy but, it turns out, it was just gearing up. By Saturday what had been crowds were mobs.

And then the Great Abandonment began.

Sunday lunch was as busy as Saturday had been. By six o’clock there was room on the sidewalks. I figured it must be dinner time so most folks would be off the streets.

The hustle and bustle Monday morning was half-hearted at best. Then, hour by hour, Provincetown became more lonely. By five o’clock many shops had put out Closed signs. By seven even the gay bar was empty.

A gay bar ? Empty ? Come on now …

Tuesday morning the grocery store was open. And the gas station. There were no cars in the street.

Closed signs had added For The Season. The bustling burg had pulled up the covers and closed its eyes. The winter nap was neigh.

I had never been in a resort town on closing weekend before. Wow.


Cape Cod #4

If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air

Quaint little villages here and there

You’re sure to fall in love with

Old Cape Cod

The song Old Cape Cod had me looking forward to an enchanting, tiny sand dune tucked into the lapping sea.

If only!

Once I got across Massachusetts I started up Cape Cod. For sixty miles I didn’t even see the sea!

Apparently there were quaint little villages here and there, but they were on the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Cod Bay, not along US Highway 6. Today a freeway for half the distance of the cape, in 1969 Hwy 6 was a two-lane affair running smack up the middle of the massive sandbar.

The only tiny things I noticed while hitch hiking Cap Cod were the short little rides I got from summer home owners heading back from whatever chores were keeping them in a scurry.

Yet I was rewarded—at the end of those sixty miles was Provincetown, the enchanted town Patti Page had promised.Entering Provincetown w

Provincetown, right at the very tippy tip of Cape Cod, was, indeed, a quaint little village. Yes, it was filled with good looking tourists in bright colors carrying every sort of beach paraphernalia one can imagine. It was busy. And it was quaint.

As busy as the town and the grocery and the shell shops were, they were roomy compared to the gay bar.

Which was perfect for me!

What can I say? I was young and tall and carrying a pack. Finding a place to crash was no problem at all. And, folks, after months of the agrarian beauty of living in an isolated Catskill Mountain retreat, I was ready to pursue some lust!

Before long I was invited to a most fun and accommodating crash pad. For three days I was out every day enjoying the sun and sea and dunes and salty air.

As for the nights? Well. My host was most accommodating. You’ll have to wait for the book …

Cape Cod #3

It was early to rise the morning after sleeping in an unknown military barracks somewhere in Connecticut or Rhode Island. The handsome guy who had offered me a bed gave me a ride back across the border to Massachusetts and a highway heading east. I stuck out my thumb.

Massachusetts is a long state, some 250 miles west to east, but I remember nothing about getting through it. No hunger pains. No particularly long waits. No particularly memorable rides (as long as you don’t count the three fast-driving, heavy drinking party jocks who pulled up in a convertible. I didn’t feel safe refusing a ride, so I joined the guy in the back seat, held on, and shut up. Fortunately I was too boring for them to put up with and they soon told me they were turning off the highway. I was glad to say thanks for the ride and once again be alone, terra firma solidly under my feet). Patti INT

The only reason I had lit out across Massachusetts was a Patti Page song. In 1957 Patti put Old Cape Cod to vinyl, an act which no broadcast system could resist. Radios treated us to it every hour while every TV variety show had its own black-and-white set of a seaside restaurant to feature their star crooning —

If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air

Quaint little villages here and there

You’re sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod

Patti continued —

If you like the taste of a lobster stew

Served by a window with an ocean view 

You’re sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod

The song put Cape Cod on tourists’ maps.

Twelve years after Patti first sang of quaint villages and salty air, the song was still stuck in my head. I followed it east, to the tip of a long, long state. A tip, it turned out, that was a long, long cape.

One wild ride and being impressed with how long Cape Cod is. Those are my recollections of hitch hiking Massachusetts.

Don’t take my word for Old Cape Cod getting stuck in one’s head. Check it out —

Cape Cod #2

I finished my last blog telling about coming upon the Rip Van Winkle Bridge across the Hudson River some 120 miles north of New York City. 2005 BLOG

Besides it being free to walk across a foot path on the right side of this mile-long toll bridge, I finished up commenting on being fascinated by how far above the river the bridge is, how wide the river is, and how green the Hudson River Valley is.

But mostly I was fascinated by the fact that the Hudson River was FLOWING THE WRONG WAY ! !

It was flowing NORTH !

Over and over I worked my understanding of geography in my mind.

Over a hundred miles to the south I had seen the Hudson River connect with the Atlantic Ocean at New York City. Yet here I was on the south side of the bridge and the river was flowing first under my side of the bridge and then under the roadway!

Surely the river does not flow from the Atlantic up to the St. Lawrence Seaway ? ? ? It just couldn’t be. I knew there were differences between the East and the West in this great land of ours, but I was pretty sure the side of the continent did not change the notion that water flows downhill!

Yet the Hudson River was right there, FLOWING UPSTREAM!

I thought perhaps it was some illusion caused by being so far above the water. But as I got to the far shore I checked and sure enough, there were grasses and branches along the shore that were being pushed by the current and they were being pushed UPSTREAM !

Alas, it was getting late and I needed to put that mystery on hold. At the time I needed to  got off the bridge, put out my thumb, and see what shelter may come along.

I immediately got a ride from a young military man who was friendly as could be and, I’ll admit, easy on the eyes.

After the initial pleasantries in his car I was waxing poetic about geography and rivers flowing up stream. He was from the area and explained, “It’s the tide.”

THE TIDE ? ? ? ! ! !

Wow. 120 miles from the ocean and the tide is pushing back the mighty Hudson River ? !  I’m from the mountains of Idaho and had no idea the tide could do that!

He explained that the river continues to flow under the tide and the sea comes rolling over it.

Wow. I’d always heard how mighty the movement of the tides is. Considering all the rivers and basins and bays in the world, that is a LOT of water and land sharing a twice-daily sloshing around with one another!

The power of it struck me just like that — the mighty mixing up of water, earth, heat, cold, light and dark that has brought a carbon-based organic celebration upon this watery rock we ride around the sun!

The handsome military man ended up providing me with a place to sleep in the barracks of his camp.

After being impressed with how effortless it was to get a hitchhiker to an empty bed on a military base I enjoyed a sound sleep of sloshing dreams.

Cape Cod #1

Summer was drawing to a close but in a few weeks there would be chores to do on the Catskill Mountain estate I had come across in 1969.

There was a little time to go exploring and for no reason except having heard Old Cape Cod several thousand times on juke boxes and radios during my life I decided to get out my thumb and head across Massachusetts.

Avoiding freeways and towns as best I could, and conscious of being in the Catskill Mountains, I followed the little black lines on a map to the town of Catskill, on the Hudson River. It must have been a pretty easy journey for I remember nothing of it!

Nor do I remember much of Catskill the town. In fact I probably skirted the town itself, coming in on New York State Highway 23A and approaching the  Rip Van Winkle Bridge on the east side of town.1993 BLOG

What an unexpected treat! Built in 1935, the Rip Van Winkle Bridge is an impressive structure. After miles of forests and fields this mighty steel cantilever bridge jumps the mighty Hudson River some 120 miles from the river’s mouth at New York City. The bridge has ship clearance of 145 feet, a full 14-story building, above the water. Of course, ship clearance is not as far above the water as the bridge is.

On seeing the bridge I found myself calculating how to get across it. I wanted to walk across to check out the Hudson River, but I’d been on many of these narrow cantilever bridges in my day. I couldn’t imagine getting over nearly a mile of such an enclosed structure while dodging cars by squeezing on the side of the decking.

Matters worsened when I got close enough to realize the bridge was a toll bridge, meaning booths with officials that would surely report a backpacker taking off on foot in front of traffic.

But then my heart sang. I got close enough to discover this mighty structure, built to let wheels roll over water, included a walkway — an isolated path all on its own, running on the outside of the superstructure that held the road.

My heart was even happier to discover the toll for walking was free!

I found myself fascinated with several things about crossing Hudson River on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge —

First was how far above the river the bridge is. It crosses from above the bluffs beside the river, not over the river itself.

Second is how big the Hudson River is! Wow.

And, third, how green the Hudson Rover Valley is. Rivers are green in the desert West, but only along a few feet of their banks. Here all was lush.

My greatest fascination while walking across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge I’ll get to in my next blog.


More about the Rip Van Winkle Bridge—

(information from Wikipedia)

• Built by the newly-formed New York Bridge Authority in 1935

• Carries NY Highway 23

• From Catskill on the west to Hudson on the east

• Original cost: $2.4 million (inflation adjusted, $41.3 million)

• ship clearance: 145 feet, a 14-story building

• 5,040 feet long

• Lead paint removed and repainted in 2009

• Includes a separated walkway on the downriver side, closed at night

• Bikes can use the traffic lanes or walkway

• 1935 toll for cars: 80¢ + 10¢ per person up to $1

• 1935 toll adjusted for inflation: car, $13.76 / person, $1.72 / max, $17.20

• Actual 2015 toll for cars: $1.50 / $1.25 with pass

• No toll for walkway

• Yes, it is named after Washington Irving’s short story