Thumbing a ride proves to be most difficult part of weekend adventure

Posted: Sunday, September 05, 2004

For anyone who has never tried it, hitchhiking requires a whole lot of creativity, spontaneity and an insatiable appetite for adventure. It's fun, cheaper than driving and is good for the environment.

Hitchhiking is relatively common in Canada, Europe, Australia and many other countries, but unfortunately the xenophobic nature of most Americans makes the United States one of the worst countries for hitchhiking in the world.

Luckily, with its thousands of miles of open highway, Alaska is one of the best states to get a ride in in America. Yet, even here it can take a while as I was recently reminded.

About a month ago, my wife and I had decided to hike the Primrose-Lost Lake trail from end to end. We had planned ahead by putting a car at the trail head on each end, so we wouldn't have to back track at all.

Much to our chagrin, once we had completed the hike and got to our truck at the north end, we determined we had left both sets of keys in the truck at the south end.

So, after some brief finger pointing and the realization that we had no ride, we knew what we had to do hitchhike to the other end.

I'll be honest, we were really disappointed. Not because we knew we had to hitch, since neither of us mind hitchhiking. What upset us more was that we had just wasted the gas money to drive two vehicles practically to Seward, and now it looked like it was all for nothing.

We weren't without hope though, since we knew it was the opening weekend for the Silver Salmon Derby in Seward. We thought we would have no trouble getting a ride.

We were wrong.

Once we had hiked the distance from the trail head to the Seward Highway, we were surprised to find two other hitchhikers already waiting for a ride.

The unwritten rules of hitchhiking etiquette require that if you're not the first one there, you must stand at least 20 yards behind the hitchhikers already there.

Even without this rule, most hitchhiking veterans can tell you that thumbing in groups is often an exercise in futility. The best hitchhiking combinations for safety and getting rides, in order, are a woman and a man, two women, a lone man and two men.

Anyway, we decided to hike further up the road since they had first dibs on that area. Unfortunately, there weren't many roadside stops or pullout for several miles.

It's difficult and dangerous for drivers to stop going 50 miles per hour, so the chances of getting a ride are reduced anywhere without a place where cars regularly stop or slow down.

Scores of cars and trucks went by, despite the fact that I tried to look as harmless and desperate as I could.

Most of the passing motorists looked like stereotypical weekend warriors based on all their fishing paraphernalia. You know the type, macho men heading down to the derby to go prove their bravery and the heroic skills they've retained from our days as hunters and gatherers.

Finally, though, after many miles of walking, a real man proved how brave he was by having the guts to stop and pick us up. He was what most people would describe as "just an old hippy," but I would describe him as warm, friendly and courteous. He did us a great favor that day.

It's been my experience that most rides come from a core group of regular stoppers, many of whom are former hitchhikers themselves, and that was the case with this fellow.

But for those of you reading this who have never tried picking someone up, maybe you should think about it sometime.

I'm not going to say that hitchhiking and picking up a hitchhiker aren't without risks. People do from time to time get robbed, raped or killed. No one should take or give rides trivially.

But, by in large, picking up hitchhikers is safe and has many redeemable aspects. It can be a cure for loneliness on the long drive to Anchorage, Seward or Homer. It can expand your mind as you engage in stimulating conversation with interesting people, sharing lots of different perspectives than the ones you may be used to in your usual circle of like-minded friends.

And perhaps most importantly, it reinforces the idea that humanity is generally good.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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