The Unpredictability of Hitchhiking: Sleeping on the Floor of an Abandoned Daylight Donuts

by zaputo

Our Home Away From Home - The Abandoned Daylight Donuts in Buffalo, WY

Our Home Away From Home – The Abandoned Daylight Donuts in Buffalo, WY

Day 6: Mount Rushmore, SD to Buffalo, WY (205mi/329km)

Hitchhiking, like other forms of transport, has it’s own peculiarities when it comes to lodging. Driving requires parking, planes tie you to airports, and hitching means that you’re never sure exactly where you’ll be, and at what time. Lodging-wise, this means that you either a) have friends with flexible schedules in many places, b) check into hotels/motels the night of (assuming you can afford it), or c) sleep wherever. Out of financial considerations Agarina and I have opted to use a tent and camp out wherever (for free).

Tenting has a certain elegance to it: you can set up a (relatively) warm enclosure anywhere you please, and it gives you a wonderful (if totally absurd) sense of security, on the principle that if I can’t see you, you don’t exist. Sure, you have to get used to a somewhat harder sleep, but that’s the camping life. There is, however, one big problem with a tent: you need a place to pitch it. And when you don’t have such a place, you need to improvise, as we found out in Buffalo, WY (pop. 4585), a place you’d think had enough open land for such a thing (but no). Here’s what happened.

After two demoralizing hours of unsuccessfully trying to solicit a ride out of Buffalo the sun began sinking and we started looking for a place to camp. So far this had meant finding a secluded spot or asking somebody’s permission to squat on their land. We soon realized, however, that seclusion was not an option, as everything around that particular highway intersection was either a restaurant, a gas station, or a hotel; and, as Agarina put it, there was no better way of discovering new and exotic ways to go fuck ourselves than to ask the Marriott if we could camp on their lawn for free.

So we had to ask some private resident if we could pitch our tent on their property. Unfortunately, in this part of Buffalo, WY, all the fields seemed to belong to one house, which had no lights on. And indeed, after rapping on the door several times we received no answer. Squatting on the field without permission was not an option: it wasn’t ethical (especially if we might get caught), we risked waking up in a stampede (this was cattle country), and we didn’t want to piss any farmers off, gun ownership being what it is in rural America.

We were thus down to one option: the abandoned Daylight Donuts across the street from the gas station. Heretofore we had ruled out this particular shelter on account of not wanting to trespass (and have the cops called on us) and of it looking pretty creepy. But desperate times call for sleeping in dilapidated doughnut shops, so we furtively crossed the street and entered into the abandoned store around the back, via a doorless door-frame.

Inside we found an old computer tube-monitor, a gutted tower PC and an old printer, amid empty food wrappers, bottles, and torn-up ceiling tiles. All of the above were strewn across the floor, beneath a thick layer of dust. The ceiling was a checker-board of white tiles and black absences, with some tiles hanging precariously on an angle. So overall the place looked alright.

We quickly set up shop (tarp, foam mats, and sleeping bags) with my water-proof poncho on-hand: should it rain through the hollow door-frame we needed a plan B. We then entered our respective sleeping bags and tried to sleep, which was harder than usual, due to the laughter and the fear. Laughter because sometimes the absurdity of your own life is inescapable, and Agarina and I needed the comic relief. Fear, however, of the police discovering our trespass (the loud snickering coming from the abandoned building probably didn’t help). Still, it had been a long day, so sleep found me sooner rather than later.

Now I don’t want to turn people off of hitchhiking just because we slept in a doughnut shop. Rather, I wish to underline that the unpredictability of hitching spills over into other parts of your itinerary, like lodging. This is, in my books, a good thing: the reason people most poignantly narrate that part of their trip which did not go according to plan is because that’s where adventure and surprise (though not necessarily comfort or ease) finally found them.

This isn’t an endorsement for recklessness either: caution and backup plans are just as important hitchhiking as they are with any other mode of travel, if not more so. But I am saying that people should at least give adventure (and the unforgettable) a fighting chance. Fortunately, hitchhiking is, by definition, unpredictable: otherwise we wouldn’t have slept in Daylight Donuts. Which means that this is one dumb-ass adventure I will always remember.


All names herein are fake {PN} – pseudonyms. This post is {NC} – no contact with respondents. For more information, consult The Ethics Board – Notice of Compliance.


The above is based on Nemo’s Anonymized Fieldnotes – Day 6, part 2