Though the adventure of picking up a stranger with thumb extended seems to have vanished in metropolitan regions, there continues to appear the occasional stranger seeking a ride from another stranger, and the adventure lives on.  The tradition of hitching a ride from a stranger continues to endure the passage of time.

   Back roads, State highways, and byways are more interesting. These lesser traveled roads with lower speeds, pass through forgotten towns that provide visual stimuli which is vanishing from our urban environments and rarely seen by the masses. Back roads provide visual and auditory stimuli that cannot be enjoyed when flying down the Interstate at 80 mph, disengaged from most things other than the traffic around of us.  On these back roads, hitchers continue to traverse the landscape. 

   With the high speeds of cars cruising down the Interstate highways, the probability of someone slowing down to pick up a hitchhiker is virtually nonexistent. Those flying down the Interstate have place to go, people to see, and are generally in a hurry; perhaps a car taking a hung-over groom to a wedding for which he is a half-hour late, with thirty-seven miles to go. Like most of us, I too have places to go and people to see, only I am often uncertain where exactly those places are and who the people are that I might have to see. Hence, I have no urgency to get there as fast as I can.  I might change my destination, perhaps stop in some small town and wander about. Oh yea, it is also illegal to thumb a ride on an Interstate because it is considerably dangerous for the hitcher, and stopping on an interstate is considered a hazard for motorists.

   On these smaller highways and byways, I can alter my destination on a whim, as my fancy strikes me. The name, Montezuma Creek on the highway sign has a nicer ring to it than Blanding, thus I turn off the State highway onto a smaller byway and check out Montezuma Creek rather than driving directly into Blanding. It may be a 50-mile detour, but a name like Montezuma Creek, stimulates my imagination. By next year Montezuma Creek may be abandoned, maybe destroyed by a sagebrush or forest fire.

   In my youth, I frequently pleaded to the driving public, my arm extended, thumb in the air, asking strangers pull over and give me a ride to wherever I needed to go. Usually the trips were short, three to twenty miles, but regardless the distance, it was usually a pleasure to ride with a stranger and chat about whatever and discuss topics often unexplored by me.  I was young and learning about life. The rides I hitched served as learning experiences and were usually quite enjoyable and most times, a true learning experience.

   Weather is a factor. People are more apt to offer a stranger a lift if it is excruciatingly hot outside, if it is raining, or if it is incredibly cold. In inclement weather, drivers show pity for the less fortunate, for those asking for a lift by standing roadside, arm extended, thumb in the air. Good weather brings fewer drivers to stop and pick up a hitcher, but those who do stop, inevitably engage in conversations about whatever topic may be of interest, even politics. Sometimes these conversations reach a level of intensity that stimulates the drivers to deviate from their planned route to take hitchhikers to their desired destination just to keep the conversation going longer. There have also been incidents where a driver pulls over, stopped the car, and insists the hitcher get out, regardless of where they might be.  These sorts of incidents are generally the result of politics becoming the primary topic of the conversation.  Keep it light and resist politics at all costs, a basic rule of hitching rides.

   When rolling down the road on your journey to wherever, I suggest allowing yourself extra time so you can avoid the Interstate highways and cruise down older highways, through small towns. Utah Highway 191 which rolls through town like Helper, Price, Bluff and Green River, Utah.  Along with savoring the beauty offered by these small communities, such back roads provide the opportunity of enjoying rural America prior to it vanishing completely.  

   Risk? I have not experienced adverse situations while hitching rides during my younger days, or when I have given a ride to a hitcher. But yes, risks do exist.  In the words of Thomas Jefferson and Ernest Hemingway, “There is no reward, without risk.” Take the risk, give the hitcher a ride and learn of things you may have never previously given thought or consideration. Back roads offer rewards that may never again be experienced in the not-too-distant future, perhaps by 2040. Like a fine wine, our back roads are there to be enjoyed before the last drop drips out of the bottle's neck, before the road is replaced by an Interstate. Ernest Hemingway and Edward Abbey borrowed Jefferson's words and declared: “What reward, without risk!” - It was not a question.  Enjoy your travels at a more leisurely pace and with much better scenery and with the opportunity to give a ride to a less fortunate soul who may introduce you to topics previously unknown to you.  


Copyright © 2018 Raymond Cannefax

   Rolling down country roads in the not-too-distant past, I would spot individuals, arm extended, thumb in the air, politely and silently standing at the side of the road, asking to be given a lift; a hitcher, hitching a ride to his/her destination.

  I postulate that our Interstate highways, or perhaps our nation’s economic improvements, are responsible for me not having seen a hitcher in years. I drive back roads whenever possible, roads where the pace is slower, the scenery is better, roads with fewer cars. Even on these back roads, the hitcher seems to have slowly melded into America’s past. Occasionally I encounter farm implements and my pace slows even more until it is safe to pass, while the slower pace allows me more time to enjoy the beauty of America's disregarded countryside. On these back roads, on rare occasions, I still encounter someone with arm extended, thumb in the air.  Almost always, I stop with the intent to provide assistance with their need for transportation and offer them a ride.