Oregon and northern California are filled with hitchhikers. Young ones and old, some with dreadlocks and some without, with luggage running from backpacks to suitcases to (seriously!) a pack tied onto a stick. Everyone seems to do it, along local roads and highways, in the city and out in the middle of nowhere.
Occasionally, a half-hearted sign warns drivers not to pick them up.
After seeing such spectacles for several hundred miles, we had to get in on the action.
Right on the outskirts of beautiful, slightly hippy-dippy Mendocino, California (dubbed Spendocino, apparently, so we tried not to stay too long), we saw the perfect hitchhiker for us.
"Stop, Daniel, it's a pregnant girl with a cat!!", I shouted, waking up Lulu.
"Oh my God, we've got to pick her up!", he responded, looking vainly for an appropriate turnaround.
We drove all the way back into the town, before performing a rather elaborate U-turn.
A hundred yards before we could collect her, a small red car covered in left-wing bumper stickers cut us off, scooping up the girl and her cat before she could even see us.
Spirits broken, we were now determined to have a Hitchhiker Experience ("Claire is brutal, she only wanted it for the blog", Daniel would later tell a friend).
So we picked up the next guy. Dreadlocked, bearded and patchouli scented, he was a pretty good bet.
I moved to the back seat between the girls, so he could sit with Daniel up front.
We grilled him.
He told us of his upbringing near Sacramento, his travels around Hawaii, Central America and Asia and of the party he had been to the night before to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a hippy commune. "All talk and no action", he said of the hippies.
Eight miles later, he said we had reached his drop-off point.
Claire – On maternity leave from career as editor of monthly finance trade magazines, and occasionally a freelance translator. Half-American/half-English, raised in the suburbs of New York, has lived in London for almost nine years.
Daniel – Furniture designer/maker based on London’s Columbia Road flower market, for ten years, also an aspiring painter and DIY supremo. On one-year career break to reconsider options. English by birth, but mother is half-American and spent part of her childhood in Bronxville, New York.
Sophia – 3.5-year old spitfire who loves school, singing, swimming and being a big sister
Lulu – Born May 8 of this year, a model baby who eats, sleeps and gurgles.
Special guests – American, British and international friends and family who drop in along our trip to see whatever part of the country they fancy. They’re welcome to travel in the car with us and sleep in an adjoining tent.