from Fearless Puppy on American Road by Doug "Ten" Rose Return to Chapter List
There’s a process to hitchhiking—and most of what holds true for the hitchhiking process holds true for the rest of life as well.
First, you’ve got to decide that you want to get somewhere other than where you are. Then you have to raise the determination to actually leave your present location. All trips start with a determination that’s serious enough to get you off your butt and moving. You may have a specific destination in mind. It could just be a direction that you want to head in. Either way, you’ll always have to conquer stagnation and lethargy, and sometimes have to risk stability to get there.
After that, you have to pack what you’ll need. It’s always best to reach a balance in packing. Certain things are essential, such as flashlight, towel, toothbrush/toothpaste, lightweight emergency food, and water. But then again, you may be walking a lot in rough weather from a place you get stuck in. The difference between a thirty pound pack and an eighty pound pack could end up being the difference between comfort or exhaustion/heat stroke/frostbite and even death. But so could a half-pound sweater that you thought unnecessary and left behind. Pack wisely.
You’ll also want a map. Other folks have been to the places you want to get to and have traveled in the directions you want to go. Maps exist for nearly every piece of road in the world. They all use universal symbols. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what language you speak. Everyone knows that a bigger dot means a bigger city and that a thicker line connotes a major highway. You can travel uninformed in unfamiliar territory if you like. You can even make your own trail or road through wilderness. Folks used to do it all the time in the olden days. Folks used to suffer greater hardships and die younger back then too. Luckily, many of those people made maps of the roads they built or discovered. Reading them can save us modern folk a lot of time, energy, and disaster. It can help you to live longer and more comfortably than people did in the olden days.
It is best to start a long hitchhiking trip from the on-ramp of a major highway. Don’t stand right out on the highway itself. There are good reasons why this is illegal. It is dangerous for the highway traffic as well as the hitchhiker. The chance of getting crushed into eternity by a seventy mile per hour vehicle paying strict attention to its own process is a lot greater on the highway itself than on the entrance ramp. A car entering a ramp at twenty-five miles per hour is going to be immediately aware that you are safely on the shoulder looking for a ride. It will have a much greater ability to pull over without killing you, its own passengers, or those in other vehicles than a seventy mile per hour highway car would.
Get to the highway or main road as quickly and easily as possible. Standing on a barely traveled road in a rural area where the drivers are unfamiliar with you can last long enough for you to become vulture food. Hitching on a main city street is usually unproductive and can be dangerous as well. The highway or main road is probably close enough to where you wake up so that you can get a ride from a friend, take a local bus, or even walk to it.
Once you are wisely packed and on an entrance ramp, you’re going to need patience. You can put yourself on a main road, be properly packed and intelligently discriminating about which cars you get into. That’s brilliant. It does not change the fact that sometimes you’ll get passed by hundreds of cars and have to wait several hours before someone stops for you. It won’t change the fact that a driver who initially seems like fun may turn into a downer, or worse, after a half hour’s acquaintance.
Most of the time good luck will favor you. It usually takes a good person to pull their car over to help a stranger, in the first place. You still have to be vigilant, discriminating, and patient—full time. That way you’re prepared for anything.
Prepared does not mean paranoid or even afraid. It means aware. Have fun. Travel should be a joyful process. If you think every car that pulls over for you will have an axe-murderer driving it, you should take the bus. (Unfortunately, your odds of meeting that axe-murderer may not drop much on the bus.)
If you live through many years of hitchhiking, you’ll eventually get what is called “a feel for the road.” You’ll have a better instinct for the best times to be on which roads, what equipment to carry, whose car to not get into, and so on. Rides will seem to come more easily. This is still no time to let your positive attitude, awareness, or vigilance fall asleep.
Novice or adept, neither the road, its vehicles, nor its human participants owe you anything—nor are any of these under your direct control. Neither driver nor divine force owes you a ride. Be pleasant and grateful to the person that finally stops for you. It is not your benevolent host’s fault if you’ve been standing in freezing rain for two hours.
At its best, hitchhiking is a joint venture where you and your hosts can benefit each other. In such instances, taking the ride can be a joy. If you’re not grateful, if you are arrogant, or if you’re not aware of each situation you get into—it can certainly be otherwise.
I hope it is obvious to you that this process can apply to any number of life’s procedures besides hitchhiking.
Pick a place you want to get to.
Read a map.
Hit the road with your eyes open.