How I Almost Died Leaving Wyoming on a Greyhound Bus and Wound Up Sleeping In an RV with a Murderous Ex-Con
Stoke Factor: 2
Miserableness Factor: 9
Snot Rockets Blown: 0
Avg Speed: 6.8mph
As I sat on the bus, I was wondering if I was doing the right thing. Naturally I was way behind the predicted time table for my skate and that was okay, but I wondered if the story would have been better if I fought through the harsh Wyoming challenge in front of me. I thought about how I wanted to set a world speed record- that dream faded almost as quickly as I started. The thing about cross country skateboarding records is that they are practically impossible to keep. It just isn’t like cycling. Cyclists have the Race Across America, with a profound route defined for them. Cross country adventure skaters don’t have anything like that. The number of us in the history of the world to have done have all used different means. Jack Smith did it relay style 4 times with friends. Robert Thomson set a distance skated Guiness record. Danielius Narauskas did it east to west. Where they started, the support given, and the adventure ensued are all deaerving of their own books, but other than hitting one side of the country to the other, few similarities exist. My initial goal was to set a world speed record, as the first person to try and do it for a speed record. I quickly learned that the adventure was a much better experience to have. I learned that in general, no record could be worth more than the friendships I made, the challenges I overcame, and the new things I saw with my own eyes. I slowly started taking more time to enjoy a good view, or laid in bed a little longer to absorb some warmth. Attempting a speed record was one thing, but doing it in the winter was another. No other distance skater has ever attempted a ride like this at the start of fall like I did. I went into the ride having never camped alone, off of a sprained ankle, and with minimal planning. Not to mention how for the last year I enjoyed the hot southern california heat, never seeing a day below 60 degrees. Though to me it sounded like excuses, it was all negligible. End of the day, I was skateboarding across the country and having one fucking hell of a journey.
The bus was quiet through the first two hours. I played around on my phone, unable to find a comfortable sleeping position. The bus driver was falling asleep at the wheel and swerving all over the road. The passengers were unable to sleep as well. They said he had been falling asleep since Boise, and had to fear for their lives as they watched him. We pulled into our first stop, and the driver announced an 11 minute break. The passengers told me not to get off because he had been threatening to leave people behind the whole ride since Portland. I had to take my chances- I ran into the gas station, bought water and a snack, and ran back. The driver watched me like a hawk. I didn’t dare ask him to open the storage so I could get a few things. One girl also got off the bus to smoke. She said she didn’t care if she got left behind, because she had just lost a baby in a miscarriage, and left her husband. She said she was “gypsying” around the country on a Greyhound with no idea where she was going to end up. I tried to tell her that Wyoming was not a place to end up. She shrugged. She told me she was too scared to kill herself and had no skills, no education, and no goals. She wasn’t conventionally attractive either. Easily 250lbs or over with wide spaced eyes, a fierce overbite, and half a head of hair at the age of 29, she was just one person who felt that having a baby would give her inspiration and meaning in life.
I had an ex girlfriend who was the same way. I sympathized, but I couldnt think of anything more selfish than bringing a life into a world that so obviously failed her. She had nothing to offer a child and nothing to offer the world as far as she could see. I tried to suggest maybe figuring herself out before putting the burden of living on another soul, and she said I was rude. I had to agree to disagree with her- she wanted a baby.
Another kid, a real uppity black guy with a gold handgun in in his untied boot, asked me to help him take his fake contacts out of his eyes. He was a strange guy. His appearance was villainous. His fake contacts were ghost white, and he said he used a lighter to burn it onto his cornea. I didn’t have a single clue where he got that idea, but it was without a doubt the dumbest thing I ever heard someone do. Apparently he was in his bus seat holdjng a lighter to his open eyes and burning them on. As someone who wears contacts, the irritability of them after just a day of keeping them in was enough to drive me mad. I did not help him. I told him he should seek professional help. He literally dug with his long fingernails into his right eye and ripped one contact off. “How do I look?” he said. He looked like a fucking dumbass idiot. His eye was bloodshot as all hell and the other eye, being white, made him look like he took a set of underwater goggles, filled them with cyanide, and put them on his face. He had a set of fake gold grills on his teeth and talked with an ugly lisp, sucking spit in between sentences back into his mouth. The man truly disgusted me. I wasn’t sure if he was obsessed with appearances trying to emulate some kind of rapper, or just loved the idea of making himself different. I had no advice to offer him and nothing to learn from him.
The bus went on and the driver only became worse. We rode on the cat tracks for a solid half mile before the guy woke up. He pulled over and took a pee not even 10 miles down the road, rubbing his face and mumbling to himself. I couldn’t imagine choosing to have a job like that and going into work with such a horrible attitude. It bothered me that he didn’t come back after the rest stop with a cup of coffee. We pushed on again, and I tried to dig my head deep into the seat of front of me to rest. The kid in that seat fought with me, pushing back at the slightest bit of pressure. I swelled up in such a cramped space. I wanted to remove my shoes but I knew the smell would literally sting the nostrils of every passenger.
Coming into Rawlins, WY we had another short rest stop. The driver announced only 5 minutes to break. I didn’t leave my seat, but the kid with the contacts ran off the bus into the bathroom. After 5 minutes, the driver came back and shut the doors. He said, “Does anyone know why that piece of shit was washing his hair?” He said the kid was using bathroom hand soap and scrubbing his hair. Why you needed to wash your hair on a 7am bus failed to dawn on me. The driver gave him an extra few minutes to come out, but slammed the doors closed a second time and drove off. He was looking for praise for the fact that we left him behind, yet received none. Regardless of what he was doing, the bus was already 7 hours late, and he could have gone in after him to get him. All of his belongings were on the bus including his phone. No matter how nasty or misguided he was, he did nothing to deserve being left behind in the dead center of Wyoming. I felt terrible for him. I envisioned the moment he would walk out of the gas station only to find that his money, phone, clothes, and personal affects were on the way to Denver, Colorado while he was trapped there.
The next pit stop got rowdy. We had enough time to get food, but the station had none. It was just a lowly convenience store. The other stops had Subway stores but we never had time to get a meal or we would have been left behind. I bought some flaming hot Cheetos and a water. As I came out of the place, the driver had a guy in a headlock and was saying, “SURRENDER! SURRENDER!” Everyone was watching. 8am and the guy we literally trusted with our lives was fighting someone. After he threw the guy to the ground. He jumped back up and pleaded with the driver. The story was that the driver didn’t recognize him, and asked to see his ticket, neglecting to remember that he had collected all of tickets. Instead of giving him a chance to show him the confirmation on his smart phone, the driver told him if he tried to get on the bus he would kick his ass. I suppose some choice words were thrown around after that and a fight ensued. The guy who got beat up was just a skinny guy who had no business in a fight. I was sure, just like the rest of us, he only wanted to get to his destination safely. The driver drove off without him, and his friend on the bus had to throw his personal affects out the window to him. When everybody on the bus protested leaving him behind, the driver tried to stick up for himself and nobody was having it. He opened the door and the guy he beat up came running and pleaded to apologize to him. Without a word he slammed the doors and we drove off.
Still with such a long way to go, the sun began to rise. The guy in the seat next to me lost cell phone service and took to having a conversation with me. It turned out he was a good guy, just trying to get to Kentucky so he could drive himself to Grand Rapids. We talked over my route extensively. He was a worldly man, on the larger side, and middle aged. He told me he wouldn’t have expected a 26 year old white kid to hold a conversation with a black guy like him. That thought didn’t dawn on me. From there we spoke about how I didn’t think a black person would be having the same experience as me out on the road. Racism had been a small, almost invisible fact that was rooted all through the west. In fact, before that bus ride, I hadn’t seen a single black person along my travels. If I had to guess, including the bus driver, about 70% of the group on the bus was black. I brought up my own status as a minority- a transgender person. We didn’t ignore the fact that my outer being benefitted from male privilege as I saw fit. Though I struggled all along the way with my own gender, the small town people of the west saw what they saw and it never became a topic. My status as a minority was nothing compared to that of a black person, and that was inarguable.
After Laramie, the whole front of the bus became involved with listening to my tales from the road. People praised me. Nobody had anything negative to say and one kid said I was inspiring to him. I appreciated that. I stressed the fact that I just want to wade through a world where you don’t have to be afraid to be who you are. One woman clapped for me as I said it. My stop came up and when I got off, I handed out business cards like candy. Everyone wanted to read my story. I felt great, but the windy city of Cheyenne bit at me. No longer was I going to be sitting on the bus. Even though it was a terrible ride, it was infinitely better than having nowhere to be. If I wanted to, I could have rode into Denver with everyone else and found a new adventure. I didn’t. Even though I became comfortable taveling at 60mph across an entire state, I had a mission to accomplish. Cheyenne was my stop.
I pushed away as everyone watched me go. The winds were in my favor at 30mph. I didnt even have to put a foot down and I coasted into Subway to get food for camping and to charge my devices. I tried to stay incognito, but the fact that I stuck out like a sore thumb as always had the staff asking questions. I just wanted to sleep. My sub was less than ideal- even though I dreamed about it all day long on the bus, I couldn’t finish it. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I suppose just feeling genuinely apathetic about not being as far as I would have liked to be by then grinded me down. I didn’t have time to waste. My elevation profile for the day said I was almost entirely downhill for about 60 miles, with winds in my favor. That could be either good or bad. Good because it wouldn’t expend a lot of energy, but bad because it would wear my already worn shoes down to nothinflg if I had to foot brake a lot. Regardless, at my latest departure yet, I hit the road at 12:15pm with a half charged phone and dead backups. My plan was to get to the border and camp underneath it at a nearby reservoir.
Of course, before you go down you must go up. There was a beautiful bike path I followed all the way to the interstate. Though I technically was breaking the law by being on the freeway, there was no shoulder and I had to walk anyways. I walked maybe 3 miles up a huge hill that never ended. At the very top, I overlooked Cheyenne. A white pickup truck came and plunged into the side of the road. “HEY THERE YOUNG FELLA YOU LOOK LIKE YOU NEED A RIDE!”
And that’s how I met Sir Patrick Badger O’Boyle The Third, Esquire. Otherwise affectionately known as Alphonso Mysterioso. I put my belongings in the back of his truck, and jumped in the front seat. “Where ya going?” he asked me. I told him Nebraska, and his eyes went wide. “How about I get you down and off the interstate?” It was only about 5 miles up the road. I okayed his gesture, and told him I was skateboarding across the country. “How about a shower, a beer, and a steak dinner first?”
“Fuck it,” I said. “Why not?” Badger then drove forward and pulled into a tiny RV camp off the interstate. He had a firm handshake. On the way there he told me about his experience with the military, and I said I looked like a true “road dawg.” He made sure to tell me it was “dawg,” with a W. I brought my things inside and he cracked a beer for me. We got to talking and talking, exchanging stories. Badger had a nonstop mind. He could interject any story of mine with a story of his and talk about it for 30 minutes without taking a breath. He was a 69 year old man, 5 years free from prison after 29 year sentence for second degree murder, serving 18 long years from 1994 to 2012. He didn’t strike me as the murdering type- his was wildly friendly and more than accommodating. I got comfortable as we talked about anything and everything from the Civil War to the cost of a plane ticket. He asked about my nose ring and said it was flamboyant. I told him about how I believed anyone should feel comfortable as they are, however and whoever they are. He told me after 18 years in a maximum security prison, he had a lot to learn. I told him about how I specifically aimed my purpose at the LGBT community- he had no idea what the acronym meant.
After drinking and talking for so long and getting along famously, he asked if I had a way for him to get in touch with me. I gave him a business card and he said, “That’s really you? But that’s…a GIRL!” I went on to explain what transgender was and gave him the whole information session. For the first time, he didn’t have a story to talk over me with. He said he loved learning and he fully supported me even if he couldn’t fully understand. I appreciated his willingness not to shut me out. With his overuse of the N word, I wasn’t sure if our friendship was going to work out, but after explaining to him that no matter what he thought of black people he had no right to use the word, he listened. He was a man willing to move beyond the 69 years of experience he had. I liked that.
He gave me a towel and let me use his shower. It felt amazing. I didn’t want to leave. While I was gone, he obviously broke out the liquor as he was much more drunk. He asked me to show him more pictures of myself being more feminine. I showed him some of my favorites. He constantly told me I was pretty. For the first time in 21 days someone referred to me as a girl and said I was pretty. It felt amazing. I felt very comfortable with him to share that part of me. Furthermore, he started prying about the parts in my pants and my breasts. I showed him a topless photo of myself as a point of saying, “Yup, all girl here.” And he was bewildered. Our conversation moved on to hormones, and then onto the opioid epidemic straining the USA. We moved past transgender and just got to enjoy each other’s company. We both drank until norhing was left.
Badger was a man who listened to NPR and spent every day alone. He told me it was 27 years since his last encounter with a female intimately. He was always alone. He liked to fish and he liked to hike. He had a knee replacement a year prior to me meeting him and he had trouble standing when sitting for too long. But the one thing that was consistent all the way through meeting him was that he never complained. We left his RV and headed to Wal-Mart and the liquor store to get more booze to replace what we already drank. Badger was hammered. He was driving all over the road. Every interaction we had with another human was like the first time he ever saw people. He was clever, funny, and charming to everyone we saw.
I hadn’t eaten in a long time. At Wal-Mart we got microwave pizza and a huge Southwestern salad. Back at the RV after many, many ridiculous conversations with people just trying to do their jobs, we ate like royalty. We put some music on the speaker system- we listened to Gordon Lightfoot and other similar artists. Badger loved to sing along and tried to get me to sing the same tunes. I didnt know the words, but I was just drunk enough to hum along. We made an absolute mess of the RV as we danced around and laughed our asses off.
Badger was good company. Eventually I passed out on the couch and he tucked me in. The wind howled through the creases of the RV and the heating system whirred over the sound of rain and snow pouring down. Since I had made such a good friend, I figured it couldn’t hurt to stay another day. I turned off my alarm and settled in to a safe space. Though I wanted to be over the border and into Nebraska already, in lieu of travel I sought friendship for just one more day. There was no doubt that we were the two loneliest souls in Wyoming, and we were blessed to have our paths intersect. Even though it was only one day of hanging out, I knew I had a friend for life.
This story is part of a series of entirely true accounts of Calleigh Little skateboarding across the country solo in October of 2017, starting in Oregon. You can read them in their original state at Skate Cross Country and purchase the photobook and journal anthology on Kickstarter.