August 2, 2017

Lessons from Hitchhiking.

We’re all just walking each other home. ~ Ram Dass


Travel and adventure always tend to open new doors and give us a fresh perspective, simply by bringing us outside of our daily routines and away from our regular landscape.

The times that a cold, smashed veggie burrito from the far corners of your pack is the best thing you’ve ever tasted after a long, uphill journey.

The times where the only decisions in your immediate future are running through the mental trade-offs of what you need to pack, knowing that you’ll be hauling it for the better part of a day.

By far, my favorite part of travel is being present in a new and unfamiliar place and experiencing it to the fullest.

I’m an avid subscriber to the idiom “When in Rome…”

My most recent trip was not to Rome. It was to a tiny island off the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia. Even though it’s a spot just a few minutes from the mainland, Bowen Island manages to feel a world away.

Fueled by a thoroughly laid-back island culture where no one locks their car doors and most are quick to help with recommendations or directions, hitchhiking is accepted and encouraged there.

It’s a place where stiff-thumbed travelers can catch a ride from a kind stranger. It’s designated as travel at-your-own-risk, but generally safe—with no payment required or expected.

After a healthy dose of “type-two” fun hiking the challenging and steep Mount Gardner, I had already logged a good 10 miles that day once I completed the trail, yet was still a solid five miles from town.

Worn out from my adventure, I was sweaty, smelly, in need of both a hot shower and a good meal, so I couldn’t wait to embark on a practice that is considered a bit more sketchy in the United States.

Thumb out, I started walking, figuring I might as well be making progress in the general direction of town while I waited for a lift.

One car passed.

Then two.



Then, I stopped counting.

Soon enough, I could recognize by the speed of the approaching cars that I would already be passed over well before my sweaty and tired hiking pole-sporting silhouette would show up in their rearview mirror.

This must be what not being picked for a random recess scrimmage feels like. Except as an adult.

Thoughts passed through my head, just as fast as the cars…

Am I doing this right?

Probably not.

At least a mile and a half into my journey back to town, I heard an unfamiliar sound.

Loud and grumbling, it was the sound of a truck decelerating behind me. As I turned my head, I saw an older man in a dirty work truck, the wrinkles surrounding his eyes resonating with significance as our gaze met: we were both exhausted.

Whether the dust had rumbled up from the road or from within his truck cab, I wasn’t sure.

“You need a ride, dear?”

I smiled and accepted, opening the passenger door of his truck and happy to be given the courtesy.

I immediately noticed two things:

1. There was a full sandwich on the passenger side floor about where my feet needed to go.
2. I was not clear on how long it had been there.

Different strokes for different folks…

Now, this was not a of sandwich I would be happily inclined to eat, but that doesn’t mean his germ-o-meter wasn’t drastically different than mine—so I carefully navigated my entry into his vehicle with the thought in mind that he would be consuming it later today.

Or tomorrow.

Or whenever the type of person that stores a bare, unwrapped sandwich on the passenger-side floor of a vehicle decides to eat that sandwich.

We talked about life, careers, and travel. How we happened to come upon the island—me in the last year, him 30 years prior. I said I was visiting the island for a yoga event mostly, but was exploring in general.

He was genuinely surprised that someone might go on vacation to do yoga. You can add that to the list of our polarized preferences.

His truck was scattered with schedules, projects, meal remnants, and construction dust among other things. It smelled like hard work.

On the island for a week, I became that “one-mitten girl” people saw walking to or from town, with my hiking poles or pack in tow, ever so proudly wielding my thumb. I scored a few more rides that week, some that were even offered outright.

But my first go at hitchhiking held the most important lesson:

You are filthy and smelly. So am I.

It’s nice to meet you.



Author: Courtney Soule 
Image: Author’s own, avry/Flickr
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman

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Courtney Soule