My backpack was absolutely full of useless junk. I had no idea what I'd need for road travel at 18. I had writing projects I thought I'd sell as a roadside vendor, but they were jumbled and badly printed and out of order. I had a big black writing book. I had my black trenchcoat, rolled up in a ball. I had a stack of books taking up space (and weight) that could've been occupied by clothes, or maybe a tarp, or maybe something useful. The pack weighed at least 50lbs, and keep in mind I was only 130lbs myself.
A friend in Vancouver named Will (who's last name I've forgotten) gave me a copy of On the Road when he heard I'd be hitchhiking, and I was reading it on a public transit bus in the first major city that I went to - Salt Lake City, Utah. A girl on the same bus with an equally large backpack was reading the same book - turns out her name was J, and she and I ended up crashing in a kind stranger's backyard for a few days. We hit it off during that time, and she invited me to stay with her in... you guessed it... Lawrence, Kansas.
I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. Someone suggested I go somewhere and stay there for awhile, so I just said "yes."
I arrived here and we stayed in a nurse's spare room for awhile, then moved into a co-op for awhile. J started classes at Kansas University and I... kept trying to figure out what to do with myself. I "audited" a few of her classes (i.e. dropped in on them without the professor's permission) and poked around doing a bit of writing and wasn't quite sure what to do with myself. It didn't take long for things to go pretty damn weird.
Within a week of settling into the co-op there was some family drama and her parents... did... something? I'm still unclear on details, but it involved something like denying her permission to live on her own, and there was apparently a real risk of her getting arrested and being in deep legal poop. We both packed our hiking packs. We both went hitchhiking, but she also was fleeing the police.
We went as far as Florida, did a brief stint on a renovation crew (which has its own story), and she got herself into all kinds of trouble. I won't relate the specifics, I'll only relate the conclusions that I came to after the fact - she lied several times about being mugged or being the victim of random violence. She covered a heroin addiction by claiming her needles were related to diabetes. There was other bad stuff. It feels like the details of that leg of the trip are best left for another time, but the short version is that she eventually smoothed over the issues with her family and went back to Kansas. I stuck around in Florida to collect our last paycheck from the renovation crew and followed her back to Lawrence.
The wise move would've been to turn and walk away, leave town, strike out again by myself and hopefully meet someone less destructive or challenging. I was romantically involved by then, though. The idea of having some autonomy was kind of foreign, and leaving (or just leaving her) somehow never genuinely occurred to me. If learned helplessness is a term that doesn't immediately make sense to you, the reason I stayed (and actively returned to Lawrence) might not make a lot of sense.
But, I did go back to Lawrence. I went back to Lawrence to pursue a girl who I suspected was using heroin, who I suspected was lying to me, who I suspected was cheating on me. I went back because literally other possibilities didn't occur to me.
This is the rising action. In retrospect it isn't surprising that the crisis that eventually happened was one I never would have seen coming.