Back in the early ‘90s I was a booking agent for a music venue. The owners suggested I check out a band called The Waifs. “Nah,” I said in my most dismissive manner, “They’re a cover band. I’m not booking a cover band.” A dozen years later, I’m sitting in a tent at a music festival on the other side of the planet and The Waifs CD is being played loud and clear on the stage just behind me. London Still brings a tear to my eye as I recall my friends back home, though I have no idea where ‘home’ is geographically. I know it’s where the heart is, and my heart is here with me in Floyd right now for Floydfest.
It started as Floydquest. Twenty-four hours on the road attempting to cover less than 200 miles. Such is life when there’s no public transport at either end of your journey and hitchhiking is about as foreign to the locals as alien anal probes (not completely foreign, just highly improbable). My equanimity has been tested, my faith has been questioned, and I believe both have come out on top.
It took me five hours, five hours of walking with a reasonably sized backpack, before I got my first lift. I love Mapquest: it told me that part of the journey was 2.1 miles. It was closer to 10, probably more. First test. They don’t signpost here like they do in Australia – there’s very few signs indicating how far it is to the next destination – so all I had was two legs, two sore shoulders, and the understanding that however far it was, each step was one step closer. There were times I almost gave up, and still I persevered. Sitting here on this misty mountain, music and laughter surrounding me, I am thankful.
Three lifts in fairly quick succession gave me the impression I was on a roll. Arriving in Appomatox, home of the decisive battle of the Civil War and only 20 miles from Lynchburg – home of the closest Greyhound station south of Yogaville – I was filled with a newfound confidence. Now I could finally pick up from an average speed of about three miles per hour. Hah! Three hours I stood at the entrance ramp to the highway. For three hours my main entertainment was watching the faces of a folk who evidently still suffer from a deep suspicion of outsiders. Recalling the day’s lesson, ‘My holy vision sees all things as pure,’ made it as easy as possible for my tired legs to bear.
Finally, a guy named Corey in a truck with an asphalt roller on a trailer picked me up. He was headed to Lynchburg and just had to pick up another roller on the way. We made a good couple it turned out, as we were both having testing days. Corey was picking up the roller from a guy who had decided not to use Corey to pave his driveway after all. The roller he was picking up was decidedly bigger than the one he already had. He rolled it up the ramp and we headed off. For about a minute. It turned out the extra weight on the back was causing the wheel guard to rub on the tyres. So Corey stopped the truck to swap the rollers around. The big one came off fine, but the ramps turned out to be a bit wide apart for the smaller one and down it came, on a precarious angle perched between road and ramp. We finally got it off and got the big one on, but when it came to the small one, well, let’s just say the second stack was even more impressive than the first. With liquid gushing out the front we judiciously decided to leave it on the side of the road for now.
Finally, at 10pm, 13 hours after my adventure began, I made it the 50 miles to Lynchburg.
Smooth sailing. A bus picked me up an hour later and took me to Roanoke, about 50 miles north of here. All I had to do in Roanoke was wait four hours for the 5am bus to Christiansburg, which is easy to say, only I was very tired and there was nowhere I could find to rest. Even the park benches seemed cleverly designed to prevent this option. So I sat on a concrete floor outside the bus station and pretended to sleep.
Eventually the bus arrived. “Three dollars,” said the driver.
“I’ve only got a five,” I replied.
“You need exact change.”
“Can I wait until you get another passenger and change the money with them?”
“Nope. You’ve got five minutes, go and change it somewhere.” This was 5am in a regional city. I looked around and nothing was open and it would be 1.5 hours until the next bus. I was supposed to be at Floydfest by 6.30 the previous evening. I started back to the station with a muddle of messy suggestions for the driver and arrived just in time to meet the only other passenger getting on at the starting point with me.
“Have you got change for a five?” I asked hopefully.
“You bet. You need it on this bus.” And with that my morning angel pulled out a fat wad of dollar bills. I chose not to offer any of my suggestions to the driver.
Exhausted, I slept as best I could to the thought that I’d had enough tests. Still, something told me I had one more to go.
The stop at Christiansburg was four miles from the turnoff I needed. “You gotta walk down the interstate,” advised my morning angel. Walk down the interstate!? Of all the crazy ideas, that about topped the lot. Four miles of roadbound missiles racing past at up to 100 miles per hour, four miles of repeated roadside debris reminding me that these missiles bore their own random grenades. No thanks.
Still, after waiting in vain at the onramp for a while it came to me that this was my ultimate test of faith. Hesitantly, fearfully, I proceeded. It was the best move I could have made. A mile down the road a state trooper pulled over to advise me that no pedestrians are allowed on the interstate, and kindly drove me off it and on my way.
Four lifts and less than a couple of hours later and I’ve never known a damp tent to be so inviting. Sleep is beckoning and a festival awaits.