Hell Ride

Maybe one of you can help me? I’ve misplaced a location and can’t find it.

One of the stranger “frolicking detours” undertaken by my friend and me happened during a rainy journey to Vermont. We didn’t mean to be out hitchhiking in a driving rainstorm. In fact, on the afternoon we left Boston, it was a clear warm spring day.

I’d never been to Vermont, but we knew friends in Bennington and decided to descend upon them for the weekend; for us, this was nothing unusual. The trip started well. We got offered rides as far as the Massachusetts Turnpike. Now you do not hitch on the pike, so it was all local and state roads after that in a succession of rides, none of which you’d call decent. And the weather went from lovely to ugly.

It started to drizzle, then rain, and ultimately pour down. When it turned into driving rain, we had actively been looking for opportunities to shelter for an hour or two. In a tiny town, the police began to show an unhealthy interest in our shelter seeking. We were soaked but had no choice but to keep going.

We found an open diner in the next town with a distinctive carved stone elephant balanced on a stone ball in the little Town Green. For an hour or so, we drank coffee and dried off until officer Opie rolled in and gave us the fisheye. So it was out into the wet again. Not knowing which way to go, we wandered widdershins around the town green and then turned back the other way. We were truly lost.

A car pulled up and told us to get in about that time. Of course, if the devil had shown up and asked us to jump in, we’d have probably done it. The inside of Charlie’s car, Charlie was his name, was full of smoke and littered with empty bottles, cigarette butts, a bong, and discarded donut boxes. It was dry. He told us he was going to Burlington and could drop us off in Bennington. We decided to stay for the ride; there were cigarettes, weed, donuts, and it was dry. All that two wet Folkies could wish for on a rainy night.

Within the first ten minutes, it was clear that Charlie would not use regular roads. We were on every farmer’s track, logging road, and state conservation firebreak that existed. He insisted that he knew the way better than the scars on the back of his right hand. We saw the lights of small settlements as we roared over some high point and swung down into the next hollow. Finally, around five in the AM, we called a halt at an empty place in the woods occupied by a log and tarpaper house. This was our breakfast stop with his cousins. The cousins were already up, and getting ready for a day working in the woods. Breakfast was on; French toast, pancakes, bacon, and fried eggs.

After breakfast, it was fast and furious over ridges, hills, and stream beds. Finally, sunrise found us somewhere between our destinations with a clear dry day. We said goodbye to Charlie and backtracked to Bennington, still bewildered by what had happened in the night. The weekend with friends was lackluster compared to the ride up.

Actually, I remain bewildered to this day. I’ve looked at maps of the area, and unless there were significant distorted elements to the trip, It shouldn’t have happened.

Here’s the final thing perhaps you can help me with. I’ve never been able to find that town with the elephant on the ball; if I could see that, I might be able to unravel the rest of the mystery.

8 Replies to “Hell Ride”

  1. Nothing like that business in small towns where a simple cup of coffee gets you that look that tells you you aren’t where you belong!

    1. Yep, and New England isn’t the only place that happens. But the best parts of a trip are those that get you off the interstate. When I’m on long trips with a deadline to be somewhere by a certain date or time I really miss just seeing a sign and saying “hmmm, that seems interesting. I think I’ll check it out.”

      1. That’s the best way to travel! Living as I do in Nebraska, I am well aware of the general attitude that Nebraska is flat and a place to miss. Of course, the typical; travel through Nebraska in on I-80, which follows the flood plain of the Platte River! Oh well, it is a way to have a good laugh in this state (I live in the hilly part, the Sandhills and Pine Ridge are nearby.), leading the tourism people to put out this commercial: https://youtu.be/0mlC43X8ARg

      2. The big interstates were too well patrolled by state police looking to harass you, and the best rides were often with the farmer only going to the next town. I met some very wonderful people, and only a very few jerks.
        I liked the commercial, being a videographer and editor. I don’t know if it painted too quirky a picture of the state. If they ran it in front of focus groups I’d wonder if that would have been negative. But being an artsy type some of the people they showed would have been the folks I would have liked to meet.

      3. We are salted among the conservatives. Yes, I-80 is patrolled heavily since it’s a prime route for druggies transporting drugs from Mexico. The video featured a “rest stop” made out of hay bales, which was about two miles north of Alliance, and Carhenge, which is about three miles north of Alliance, where I live. The hay bale “rest stop” was removed because of vandalism, but Carhenge is managed by the city of Alliance so is kept in good shape. The former was made by a local farmer and Carhenge was made by a local family during their family reunion back the late 80s. I think the videos appeal to the Nebraskans quirk of hoping outsiders will find the place boring so do stay, thereby making the state more acceptable to those born here. There was a columnist for the Omaha World-Herald years ago who had a “Nebraska for Nebraskans” club (fictional) that celebrated any reference or comment by non-Nebraskans that disparaged the state and discouraged in-migration. It wasn’t entirely a running joke!

      4. There have been some of those local movements in New England too. Years ago I learned the term “summer complaints” from my inlaws their preferences were that summer people not be seen or heard of again after Labor Day, and for God’s sake never be allowed to move into the state.

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