I just saw an image of this year’s Oglala Lakota Wacipi poster. It has been ages since I have attended that powwow. Back in the day it was called the Oglala Nation Fair and getting there was as much fun as the powwow itself. I lived in Durango Colorado. I was 17, and I did not have a ride. What I did have was a bit of spending cash and lots of free time and a thumb. That’s right, at my mother’s suggestion I hitchhiked from Durango to Pine Ridge, South Dakota when I was 17 years old. I did it again when I was 18. I have never been back and that is a tragedy. Oh I have been back to the reservation many times but never for the big powwow. Even now I am trying to think of a way to get up there this year. If I make it this year I am sure that my trip will not be as memorable as my first.
I fill a pack with some clothes, snacks, and a pup tent. I give myself 3 days and decide that I should head East out of Durango, on highway 160 over Wolf Creek, Alamosa, Walsenburg. Then I would head north on I25 into Wyoming and East on I90 into South Dakota. Mother dropped me off just outside of town in a turnout on Highway 160. My first mistake was to have a small cardboard sign that said “South Dakota” on it. I spent several hours waiting till an older gentleman picked me up and got to Pagosa Springs, at the foot of Wolf Creek Pass. No one stopped to help me out but my mother received several frantic calls from friends about seeing me running away from home.
OVER THE HILL!
My next ride was in a logging truck over Wolf Creek. I have no idea how many of my readers have driven over that pass. It is a hard thing to do in a car, much less a logging truck. Half way over it started to rain and made the trip all the more fun for me. That short 60 mile section is the only time I felt fear. Wolf Creek is about the nastiest bit of mountain highway in this nation. I caught a handful of more rides during the day and ended up at a truck stop in Fountain Colorado for the night. There is a large cottonwood tree in a grassy area and that is where I pitched my tent. The tree is still there 20 some odd years later. I will always remember that tree fondly. End of day one travels.
The next morning I purchased breakfast at the truck stop. Breakfast is the cheapest meal of the day. Once I finished wolfing my food I got back out on the entrance ramp to northbound I25. My next ride came quickly and it was a good one. I got a lift all the way to Cheyenne, Wy. I figured that I am more than half way there and things were going good. Usually that is when the wheels fall off and fall off they did. I stood there all afternoon waiting for someone to pick me up and it was not happening. I spent that night curled up in my sleeping bag under a building overhang. A security guard did wonder what I was doing there but he seemed cool about it after I explained where I was going. The next morning I checked on the possibility of getting a bus ticket to Rapid City but the cost would have eaten up all my cash. So I headed back to the I25 entrance ramp.
And was picked up rather quickly. The driver was going to Casper but he suggested that I get off in Douglas and take highway 59 up to Gillette and get I90. I figured that would be a good idea so I was dropped off in Douglas. It was no longer interstate so I started walking north. It was not long till a car full of oil field workers stopped and picked me up. They spent the time trying to convince me to become an oil rig worker, when we got to Gillete they all piled into a bar. I bought a round of rum and cokes for them as a thank you for the lift. It was not until the drinks arrived that anyone thought to ask how old I was. The shocked and panicked looks on their faces when I informed then that I was 17 was worth the price of 5 rum and cokes. I finished my drink, thanked them again and headed back out into the late July heat. This was not unusual people have been asking me what I wanted from the bar since I was 15.
The next ride came from a guy in a little two seat sports car. We tied my pack to the trunk hood. He then proceeded to ask how good my eyesight is. I told him the truth that I had slightly better vision than a bat. He said will just watch out for cops and proceeded to rocket down the frontage road of I90. He claimed that cops do not pay attention to the frontage road. I was thankful that his wisdom held till we reached Rapid City. I did not see any cops, not that it means there were none, but he was not pulled over.
Getting from Rapid City to Pine Ridge was easy. Just find a group or family of Indian people with powwow bumper stickers at the gas station and ask for a ride. It took about 10 minutes to find a ride to the powwow from Rapid City.
In my short hitchhiking career I discovered that even though everyone suggests trying to get rides from truckers, that rarely happens. Nearly everyone who picked me up was a veteran. In fact one of the powwow committee members found me a ride all the way back to Walsenburg with a Vietnam veterans group. Everyone who stopped had also hitchhiked when they were young. I never felt threatened in any way. I am not suggesting hitchhiking is a good way to get around but I am glad I did it and would do it all over again.