I’ve tramped roughly 40,000 miles in the last eighteen months, across ocean, sea, backroad, hwy and trail, and a respectable number of those miles were done by hoofing it first, hitchhiking from place to place before the day runs out and I make camp wherever I happen to end up. Though I have only thumbed it for 3 years, it is readily apparent of the dying tradition of the hitchhiker hobo. I’ve hitched out of desperation but also out of love for the lifestyle. Down raindy windy countryways in the North English shire, mud rut roads in rural New England, massive interstates in Seattle, and Oregon, the trans Canada, farmlands, coastal routes, desert, highlands, gravel, and even once a logging road when I became lost in the vast wilderness of Northern Canada. Of all these places, I find none more quaint than the road of the wanderer, it is the path less travelled in a metaphorical kind of way. Few are the times when I have actually seen other hitchhikers on the roads anymore, minding a few key spots on the
where it has become ingrained in the community, like the Rainbow Gathering routes, or from the picking fields to the Emerald Triangle.
The folks that pick me up all follow a pattern, besides the broken windows, dirty cars, and fondness of ganja, the vast majority of them have been in my place before. They don’t see me, a mid twenty something with antlers and combat boots on his pack, long hair and bearded, dirty and standing on the road with a grimace, they see themselves there. They see their younger days, when they were stuck for days in the rain, in the same spot on the hwy, hopelessly optimistic for the next pair of headlights at dusk to pull over and let them in. They see a reflection of themselves, because it speaks a deep truth about the last bastion of freedom there is to offer. For countries who are not already enslaved with fear, groveling for materialistic desire, and confined to schedule, there still remains these individuals who are keeping the tradition alive.
In Canada, and Europe it is far more common than the United States for instance, depending where you are, hitching the roads might get you shot, abducted, or you may make a companion for life, walk off with a couple grams of marijuana, hash, a couple beers, and working prospects like I experienced in British Columbia. With rideshares, and internet so available to arrange long distance trips ahead of time, who wants to stand on the road with the bugs and the flies, sleeping on rocks and roots, and shiver to death all night. I just finished a trek from Nova Scotia, through Cape Breton, into the highlands, and over the ferry to Newfoundland, then another 2 days driftin north. The whole journey took four days in total, of a thousand and a half km, a journey possible to finish in one and a half. Hitching in the
70’s and 80’s was never this hard, and would be fairly easy to cover long trips. Now, one must settle for a couple miles down the road at a time. I have been stranded for 3 days in cities, and overnights in their surroundings as thousands of vehicles pass by with a look of arrogance. Sometimes I sleep in the forest not knowing where I truly am, other times I seek out more curious
places of rest; a cemetary, a garden, caves, coves, cliffsides, farms, boats, bogs… I think there may not be any hitchhikers on the road in another generations time, who are compelled to wanderlust.
Another reason this has become even more a trial, is from the fear instilled into societies about anyone diverting from the norm. Of those who tramp the country with nothing but a backback to experience nature, and meet like minded folk, there is a generalised image imposed on them. The weed smoking, bandana wearing, hippie, without any money, looking to leech off the world. Sure, I have some of those things, and I am dirt poor most of the time, but I am self sufficient. I don’t beg, my clothes have the scent of the earth, I don’t keep vices, and I talk with an eloquent manner with those I meet on the road. When I take a long haul with a driver, it gives me a chance to tell me story, of where I have been, and thus hear of their own in return. There is a symbiotic relationship that is looked past so often as being one sided. I drift not out of necessity but because I recognize it is my role to do so, and keep old ways alive. I believe there are noble truths in the wandering teacher, and I look to cultivate
interesting relationships during my travels. For those who think a driver would stop out of regret, there are far mistaken from the whole sentiment behind the hitchhiker. They are but a carrier of a way less traversed, with a real urge to explore one’s own territory, we are the wilderness that we explore.