Hitchhiking Stories

Hitching a Ride in a Police Car

The general consensus among the American public seems to be that hitchhiking is terrifyingly dangerous.  Truth be told, most of the time it tends to be pretty uneventful; however, there are exceptions, and I’ve experienced several.  I’ve written about one of my favorite hitches previously, and, inspired a bit belatedly by #CrimingWhileWhite (and even more so by #AliveWhileBlack), I decided I should recount the time I hitched a ride in a police car.

It would be difficult to have lived in the United States during the last several weeks and not know about the impassioned and thought-provoking discussion surrounding race and racism that has recently been pushed to the forefront of the media’s discourse.  This bleeding heart liberal will refrain from being too political at this juncture, except to say that I have often found myself on the receiving end of white privilege.  Not just that.  Perhaps “blonde privilege” is a more accurate description.

In the summer of 2013, on the hitchhiking trip Quiver and I took and that I linked above, we headed through my favorite region of New Hampshire to get to Franconia Ridge, where we hiked to meet a mutual trail friend of ours.  Now, the western edge of the White Mountain National Forest is sort of my old stomping ground, as I spent the summer of 2010 there, doing research at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (thanks to the National Science Foundation’s REU program).  And, it was this fact that I used as my “inch of truth” when I was confronted by a police officer on the side of I-93.

Police officers have a tendency to harass hitchhikers.  As wanders and vagrants, we are both relatively likely suspects for misdemeanors and relatively vulnerable to attacks from authority figures.  We don’t know people in the community — or in the police department — of whatever town, state, or country we find ourselves in, and the consequences of not politely complying with police officers can feel more significant to us.

I know all of this because Quiver, who has hitchhiked 45,000 miles in 47 states, has been harassed by police officers many times, and he’s told me the stories from his encounters.  As a poor, six-foot tall, bald man who likes to wear a sarong, Quiver stands out and has found himself questioned by the police numerous times, regardless of the fact that he had completely complied with the local laws.  Some police officers have just given him a hassle; others have ushered him out of their district; still others have brought him to the department for questioning.

When hitchhiking solo, I haven’t drawn the attention of police officers.  When I’ve hitchhiked with Quiver (which is my favorite and more frequent way of hitchhiking), I have had my ID run three times.  Twice, we were completely in the right:  Our IDs were run illegally.  The third time, we were actually hitchhiking where we shouldn’t have been.

You see, near Cannon Mountain and the Kinsmen, I-93 and US-3 merge to form the Franconia Notch Parkway.  Before the merger, there are a couple exits from I-93 onto US-3.  Quiver and I were in this area, hitchhiking up US-3 and not making fast progress; everyone on the road only seemed to be going a few miles.  So, at my suggestion and because I knew that the roads merged eventually, we walked up the exit ramp and hitchhiked on the side of I-93, off of the broad shoulder.

Only moments after we got there, a police officer pulled up in front of us.  Quiver figured this would end poorly and tensed up.  With years of blonde privilege fueling my confidence, I approached the police officer innocently and asked what was wrong and how we might get to Franconia Notch.  Instantly, he softened and explained that we needed to get to Lincoln; the next thing I knew, he was offering to drive us there.

With that, Quiver and I hopped in the back of the squad car.  Seeing my friend looking incredulous made it really difficult not to grin.  We rode six miles up the highway, chatting with the now-friendly and helpful police officer the whole way.  He dropped us off on the edge of Lincoln Center and wished us well on our journey.  We thanked him for the ride.

It would be a couple years before I’d catch another equally unusual ride — in a mail truck.  (Sissy Hankshaw would be proud!)

On Being Spontaneous, Part Three

Over the last couple Thursdays, I’ve recounted the beginning of a hitchhiking voyage across New England.  By being willing to change our plans and experience whatever came our way, my partner and I ended up at a commune in eastern Massachusetts before we resumed our northward journey.


Quiver and me atop Washington

Before setting out on our adventure, Quiver and I had decided that we wanted to spend some time in the White Mountains again, and the best time to make that happen was after leaving the commune.  Therefore, we pointed our thumbs toward Gorham, NH, and headed to Pinkham Notch and Mount Washington.

We ascended Mount Washington via Huntington Ravine, the infamous trail that I love too much.  On the way down the mountain, we saw a moose trailside — the first (and, thus far, only) moose I’d seen in my life!  If that wasn’t enough, as I was coming out of the restroom at the trailhead, I ran into Sunbeam, a woman who tends to spend as much time in these woods as I do.  Quiver and I had hiked near her for several days in 2012, and we’d all stayed at Kincora (arguably the best hostel on the trail) together.  It was so fun to see her again!

Sunbeam informed us that she was working in one of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s High Huts and that, in keeping with the theme of serendipity, none other than Gluten Puff, one of Quiver and my favorite 2012 thru-hikers, was working in Greenleaf Hut that summer.  And, with that and hugs goodbye, we headed to Franconia Notch.

The most direct route to Greenleaf Hut is the Old Bridle Path, a trail that climbs from the Franconia Notch Parkway (where US-3 and I-93 coexist).  In getting there, Quiver and I hitched a ride in a police car.  Seriously.  (But, that’s a story for another day.)


Gluten Puff, Quiver, and me at Greenleaf Hut

Walking into Greenleaf Hut and completely surprising Gluten Puff was a blast.  Quiver and I had had these grand hopes of hiking our beloved Franconia Ridge after a short chat with Gluten Puff, but the conversation was so enjoyable that neither of us wanted to leave.  Besides, one of the most important take-aways from all the traveling I’ve done is that (apart from the Old Man in the Mountain) beautiful places are much more stationary and long-lasting than people; while seeing beautiful places is exciting and worthwhile, it’s also important to take advantage of the time we have with friends and family.  And so, Quiver and I spent a gorgeous summer day inside a hut on the shoulder of Mount Lafayette, talking with a special trail friend until lengthening shadows forced us back down the mountain.

From Franconia Notch, we hitchhiked to Burlington, VT, where (after swimming/bathing in Lake Champlain) I caught up with and introduced Quiver to Monica, a friend of mine from college.  After a wonderful night near a vineyard somewhere south of Burlington, we headed down Route 7 to Williamstown, MA (where we’d been just a few weeks earlier to hike Greylock), and then back to central Massachusetts along the Mohawk Trail (a highway).

As dusk was fading on the night before the day of Quiver’s flight out of Portland, ME, we seemed to be stuck 12 miles or so from my car.  Just as we were on the verge of making camp, a petite Asian American woman pulled up beside us and, in broken English, invited us into her car.  While her home was on the way to mine, she decided to take us all the way back to my place, and we arrived home just as darkness fell in earnest.

(One year later, I had the opportunity to thank that final driver when her name appeared on a sign-in sheet/mailing list from a project another AmeriCorps member had hosted.  She seemed as astonished as I was at our reconnecting.  Talk about a small world!)

The next day’s drive to the airport was uneventful but bittersweet.  The weeks of intentional spontaneity, of mountains, of community, of old friends and new, had come to an end.  I worked to cherish the memories and not cry because it was over but, rather, smile because it had  happened.


Lake Champlain


On Being Spontaneous, Part Two

Last week, I explained how my friend and I embraced spontaneity and found ourselves in a car to an intentional community in eastern Massachusetts.

After a 90-minute drive filled with storytelling, contemplation, and laughter, U pulled into the community’s driveway.  As Quiver and I unloaded our packs, U’s mother rushed out to meet her daughter, informing her that a distant relative whom neither woman had met just died.  Instantly, U started sobbing.  As soon as I had a chance to reflect on the occasion, I was struck by the depth to which U grieved about someone she didn’t know among people she’d only just met; that sort of emotional response is certainly uncommon.

A priestess of a neo-Mayan form of Paganism, U immediately began an elaborate ritual intended to help the spirit of her relative cross over to the next realm.  She implored Quiver and me to join in, which we did — he without reservation and me self-consciously.  (Unitarian Universalists are called “God’s Frozen People” for a reason; it’s not exactly in my nature to chant and dance and make music without practice and with abandon, but I sure tried!)

After a half-hour beside the indoor altar, U gave Quiver and me incense and herbs and led us outside to a labyrinth.  There, we walked and twirled and meditated until, in the warm sunlight and amid the blowing grasses, I began to relax and mentally join in the rite.  We sat on the throne to Isis and Osiris and invoked gods and goddesses of numerous cultures and several millennia.  Then, we gathered at the fire pit in the center of the labyrinth.

We sat around the fire as U sang and prayed, and Quiver and I followed her instructions in adding the incense and herbs to the fire.  As the smoke from the fire encircled us and U continued singing, I began to feel odd.  U invited us to stand and look heavenward, and I did and promptly fainted.

When I came to, Quiver was holding my hand and U was gently massaging my shoulders and singing.  When she saw my eyes flutter open, U, who I usually describe as the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, explained that everything was all right and that she would now “massage [me] back to the world of the flesh.”  Quiver caught my eye and smiled a bit, with a “this is the stuff dreams are made of” look.

When I was strong enough to stand, U and Quiver supported me as we walked to the herb-infused hot tub, where, as instructed, we stripped and soaked in order to cleanse ourselves and complete the ritual.

After that, our stay at U’s intentional community was less dramatic but no less interesting.  Together, we traveled to Massachusetts’ North Shore, where we performed the Five Tibetan Rites on the sand and sang to “La Luna” as she rose over the sea.  We stargazed in happy companionship before vortexing our way back to the community.  There, Quiver and I slept in a brightly painted loft, not far from the “omniamorous” (because she is “in love with all Creation”) U and her partner.

Me, hitching a ride

Me, hitching a ride

The next morning, we breakfasted on food from the community’s garden, sat outside and discussed religion, spread out maps and (drawing on our extensive collective hitchhiking experienced) planned out our trip a bit, and toured the community before packing up and hitting the road.  The 26 hours that I’d spent in U’s community had been unlike any I’d experienced before, and I wanted to ensure that I didn’t forget anything about them.  However, while the sun shines, a hitchhiker is in constant motion, so, even as I worked to process and memorize the details of the previous day, I stuck out my thumb and headed to New Hampshire.

To be continued…

On Being Spontaneous, Part One

On December 31, 2013, my sister made a New Year’s Resolution.  Because she appreciated where my embrace-the-unexpected attitude had led me, she resolved to be more spontaneous.  I teased her that she didn’t quite seem to have fully grasped the concept when, on January 2, she spontaneously decided to have all four of her wisdom teeth pulled.

Spontaneity has led to some experiences that I will forever treasure, but I have never really thought of it as “spontaneity” at the time.  Except once.

In the summer of 2013, my hiking companion of 1000 miles, Quiver, found himself back on the Appalachian Trail.  (This is a common pattern for many of us thru-hikers.)   That year, a friend of his was doing her thru-hike, and he joined her for several hundred miles in the northeast.  At the time, I happened to live in New England, as I was spending the summer in central Massachusetts in a circa-1790 farmhouse (on 160+ acres) that I was working to transform into an intentional community.  (That’s one of those stories we’ll have to save for another day.)

In any case, when Quiver arrived in Massachusetts, he called me up, and we decided that we should spend a few days together.  A few days turned into a few weeks, and soon the question of what we should do with the time we had together was raised.

Me, hitching a ride

Me, hitching a ride

In response, I started talking about all of the things I liked most about New England that I thought Quiver would also like to see and experience.  Apart from his thru-hike, during which he’d not strayed far from the New England woods, Quiver hadn’t been to New England since he was in his early 20s and hadn’t formed a favorable opinion of it.  I saw this as a problem, and we decided that the best way to rectify this problem was to tour the region.  Being us, we didn’t want to just get in my station wagon and drive around.  No, the best way to see the region would be to stand on the side of the road, wait for New Englanders to allow us to ride in their cars, and then travel with them wherever they were going.  I mean, I knew that 1) we wanted to enjoy Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire again, 2) that I wanted to introduce him to Burlington, VT, and 3) that he had a ticket to a plane leaving from Portland.  Other than that, we had lots of room to be spontaneous.

So, we walked to the other side of the town I was living in, stuck out our thumbs, and began traveling. When we got to Route 2, we’d barely begun thumbing before an old car pulled over to the side of the road. As soon as the car had stopped, the driver got out, and Quiver and I knew this was going to be a fun ride. The driver was a willowy middle-aged woman wrapped in gauzy fabric, and she’d gotten out of the car in order to move her guitar to the trunk.

We ran up to the car and jumped in, and the driver, whom I’ll identify as “U” for the first letter of her name, immediately offered us some wheatgrass to drink. U told us that she’d been “vortexing” (read: driving in circles) all day and that our energy had pulled her to us. While we’d only been looking for a short ride, in order to get to a road that headed north to New Hampshire, U soon began telling us about her intentional community in eastern Massachusetts. Hearing of Quiver and my passion for communal living, she offered to drive us to the community for a visit.

Quiver and I exchanged a quick glance and, embracing spontaneity, enthusiastically agreed to head east.

To be continued…