National Geographic : 2000 Jan
CASPER, WYOMING The West was starting to look western Hank paused. "There was no way of getting any perspective because it was dark. But this thing was gaining on us and moving away, gaining on us and moving away. Finally I said, 'The hell with this, I'm going to stop.' And as soon as I took my foot off the accelerator, it went whoom! back and shot out of sight, gone. Then we stopped the car-we were right at the back entrance to White Sands Missile Range, and within two minutes they scrambled I don't know how many jet planes and helicopters, one after the other. They scrambled the entire base in the direction we saw this thing go zooming off in. It was unbelievable." Iank dropped me off in Walnut Creek, a wealthy suburb in the Bay Area, half throttled by freeways. The Pacific was now almost with in sight, but it seemed that my only hope of reaching the West Coast from Walnut Creek without having to walk was to rent a car. In 1973 people hitched around the Bay Area as a form of commuting, but the only person I passed at the freeway entrance was a ragged man with a sign, "Purple Heart No Income Small Change Anything Will Do Please Help." I was so caught up in the tangle of highways and signs that it was a few moments before I realized that the patch of brilliant silver sun light on the horizon was the Pacific. It had taken me 11 days to cross America. In Oakland I took stock. IHitchhiking seemed to be agreeing with me. I was sleeping much better than usual. My asthma had van ished. I was drinking more juice, eating less comfort food, and digesting better. I had dis covered that, like many of us in America, I nor mally eat twice as much as I need. Above all I felt lighter of spirit, more curious and less afraid, as if by plunging into America I had plunged into life itself. Trophies pile up at Pearce Butchering in Casper, where, says Tomaszewski, "everyone I spoke to presented himself as a sportsman." Friendly bars like the Century Club (facing page) impressed Brookes. "In England you go into the wrong pub and you're stared at. Every bar here-western, urban, biker-I was amazed at the affable reception."