The morning went by quickly and before we knew it there was a brand new silver Toyota Tundra with OR tags stopping right in front of us. I was literally shocked. The driver was a dark complected woman, maybe hispanic or native, in her mid to late 30's, and all by herself. This is peculiar for several reasons, namely, she was a solo female picking up two dude hitchhikers...strange.
We threw out gear into the bed and I jumped into the front seat with Chris behind me. We introduced ourselves, her name was Deanna. We asked where she was going: "I don't know".
Fair enough I thought, she doesn't want to commit to hauling a couple of guys she might not like for too many miles before getting rid of us. Completely understandable. But it got weirder.
Riding shotgun it was my job to make conversation with the driver. It's what you do when you hitchhike. You bull shit. But try as I might, even my best attempts at small talk elicited almost no response. So I broke out the only joke I know, and it's so bad it always at least gets a courtesy chuckle...nothing. She wouldn't even turn on the radio. We rode in complete silence.
Finally Chris had enough and after a little over an hour down the Road asked her to stop at the next exit so he could get out. I was in a hurry to make it to LA to see The California Girl so I was gonna take the ride as far South as I could.
"I can't stop" was all she said.
Chris began demanding to be let out, even raising his voice and dropping a few "F bombs".
"I can't stop" was her only response.
Chris slumped back in his seat in utter bewilderment. I was watching her. Watching how she picked at the seam of the console with one finger. Watched her alternate rubbing her palms against her jeans. Watched her rub her eyes. It became very clear to me that she was nervous as hell, maybe even scared. But why? It wasn't me and Chris, so what the hell was it? I asked what was the matter a few times and all I got was mumbling that trailed off into an incomprehensible whisper.
Something was seriously wrong here.
If it weren't for the calm and collected manor in which she was driving I probably would have been pretty damn nervous myself, but as it was I saw nothing beyond subtleties to cause any real concern. But to be honest, even when the shit hit the fan I wasn't altogether alarmed.
She navigated the freeway perfectly, using blinkers to change lanes, letting faster cars pass, not speeding, so when the truck drifted off the Road and into the middle of the median the first thing I did was look to see if she had dozed off. But she was wide awake. Both hands white knuckled around the steering wheel. I looked ahead of the truck to see it centered on a concrete pillar supporting an overpass, as she punched the gas and I felt us speed up to well over 70 MPH. Well this won't do, I thought to myself.
I reached over with my left hand and grabbed hold of the wheel while my right hand had a kung-fu he-man death grip on the oh shit bar above the door jam. I ripped the wheel to the right while she struggled to keep me from gaining control of the vehicle, but I still have the forearms of a fisherman, and she didn't stand a chance.
The truck spun out and turned sideways spraying dirt in a rooster tail behind us. I expected it to roll over as it fishtailed back onto the black top, but it didn't. I was braced waiting for an unseen semi to smear us all across the I-5 as we crossed the lanes to the left side of the Road. But it didn't.
Chris was screaming frantically for her to stop the truck, and I bellowed something to the same effect. I had control of the direction we were going in, but the speed was up to her. We coasted to a stop on the right hand shoulder and I pulled the key out of the ignition. Chris and myself left her in the cab to grab our gear. I tossed my pack into the ditch beside the Road and dialed 911 as I threw her keys back to her and shut the door. I didn't even watch her leave.
A California Highway Patrolman and a Sheriff's Deputy showed up a few minutes later. They were both outstanding examples of professional law enforcement. Their communities should be damn proud to have them in their service. I interacted with Deputy Ortiz primarily, and he explained that she had been stopped a ways down the Road, and that we had a choice: to press charges or not. If I pressed charges I would be needed to show up in court to testify when she went to court, which didn't have much appeal, but I had a moral obligation to make sure that not only she gets the help she obviously needs, but that she won't endanger anyone else. After a lengthy dialog with Deputy Ortiz I was assured she would be taken to a mental hospital for a 72 hour assessment of her mental health. So I let it go. The state clearly had it from here. The last thing she needed was heat from my end of things. Maybe she was off her meds? Or caught the love of her life banging her sister? Who knows.
After a series of hand shakes and much gratitude, Johnny Law dropped us off at the next town South called Firebaugh at an awesome little spot to catch a ride out in the morning.
Everyday is always different on the Road. From random adventure to solving mysteries to foiling murder/suicides. Everything always works out. And my theory that I can't be killed still stands. I'm stoked to be back on the Road to see The California Girl again.