I did some hitchhiking back in the 70s. It was easier then.
Walking feels good in the morning when I’m fresh. Sometimes I stick my thumb out. Sometimes I don’t. Early in the day I don’t NEED a ride, but I will take one if offered. Later in the day – after I’ve already walked 10 or 12 miles, the next town is still 30 miles down the road, and I’m not seeing anyplace to camp – I NEED a ride.
Watching hundreds of cars whiz by without stopping can be very disheartening. Why aren’t they stopping? I’m a nice enough looking guy; clean cut, nice clothes, obviously friendly and harmless. Then I start thinking about all the times that I whizzed by someone who needed a ride and I didn’t stop. I found myself making excuses for everyone who didn’t stop for me.
Woman alone in the car? No worries. I understand. Kids in the car? No worries. I understand. Don’t let your guard down. Stay safe.
18 wheeler? I understand. Not easy bringing that big rig to a stop, then starting up again. Driving a car with an 18 wheeler following too close behind you? I understand. You don’t want that big rig rear-ending you.
Company vehicle? I understand. There’s probably a policy against having passengers. Insurance reasons.
Two or more people in the car? I understand. You’re probably engaged in a deep meaningful conversation and don’t want to be interupted.
Older person in a nice car (Mercedes, BMW, Lincoln, Cadillac)? I understand. You’re probably concerned I will rob you or I might smell bad. Young person in a nice car? I understand. You’re probably moving drugs and can’t take a chance getting caught. I might be DEA working undercover as a hitchhiker.
Guy alone in a pickup? What are you afraid of? Lock your doors, crack your window and tell me I can ride in the back.
Long haired hippie-type guys? I see you looking out of the corner of your eye pretending you don’t notice me.
I have some catch-all excuses for everyone, too, including those last two categories: Road is too narrow and there isn’t a shoulder, so no place to pull over. You’re doing 65 and can’t slam on your brakes to stop for me. Too many cars behind you and you’re afraid stopping might cause an accident. I understand.
When thousands of cars pass without stopping, passing without stopping is the norm. So when one does stop, the driver is someone performing a rare act of kindness. Not only did they stop, many went above and beyond with their kindness, going out of their way to do more. Like Mark, coming out of Waycross Georgia, taking me a few extra miles to a spot he thought would be more convenient for catching my next ride, while apologizing profusely that he had to work that day or he would take me the remaining 60+ miles to Tifton.
Kyle, near Conroe Texas. David, north of Jacksonville Florida. Anthony, out of Orrville Alabama. Mitch, near Thomasville Alabama. And there was Jacob Black, a few miles south of Tuscaloosa. Jacob took me quite a few miles down the road, out of his way. He had an appointment, but was willing to take me as far as he could. He said he would have to turn around at 10:30 to get to his appointment on time. It was closer to 11:00 when he dropped me off.
And there was the guy in Georgia who gave me a ride in the back of his truck. We didn’t get a chance to talk and I don’t know his name, but when he dropped me off he wanted to give me $5.00 so I could get a good meal. I explained that I am not homeless and didn’t need money. I was just out on an adventure. But he insisted that he wanted to share his blessings, so I accepted the money and passed it on to someone I encountered who needed it much more than me.
People selling produce along the road offered free fruit and vegetables as I walked by. When the sun was beating down, people invited me to sit on their front porch or come into their shop. When it was cold, there was a cup of hot coffee or tea.
My wife and I have hosted a number of couch surfers, but hadn’t had much luck finding someone to host me until Justin Towers offered in Macon Georgia. Justin opened his home and then some. I stayed with him two nights. Both mornings he offered to drop me off where I wanted to be. When I mentioned in passing that I had left my water bottle in a hotel, Justin handed me an extra Camelback bottle he had in his cupboard. He didn’t just save me the cost of a new bottle; he saved me the extra walking I would have to do to go somewhere to buy a new bottle.
And there were all those people I met along the way, on the sidewalk and standing in line at coffee shops, who offered warm smiles, friendly conversation, words of encouragement and promises of prayers.
Little things? To me they seemed big because they were offered to me, a complete stranger, with no expectations of anything in return. The way the world ought to be. It is extremely unlikely that I will cross paths with these people in the future, but the encounters have added so much to this adventure.