A pair of eyes pop wide open. A camera appears out of nowhere. A flash goes off. The girls giggle and point as they speed by in their little red Hyundai.
At first I’m perturbed by their enthusiasm, but as the next three cars pass by without so much as slowing down, I sarcastically mumble under my breath about at least picking me up after you snap my picture. Then a car full of cute little grannies passes me by and the pointing fingers and horrified looks on their faces send me in to a fit of laughter. It must be official then.
I am a tourist attraction.
This is confirmed a few minutes later when a recently retired couple stop to give me a ride. “You don’t really see hitchhikers around here anymore,” the wife tells me as I thank them for stoping. “We saw you walking past the restaurant a few miles up the road while we were eating lunch, and we were commenting on how heavy your bag looked!” She confesses this, almost apologizing for their conversation, but I just laugh. My bag is stupidly heavy.
This was my first time hitchhiking and I didn’t know what to expect. The only thing I knew was that hitchhiking, like the Canadian weather, was unpredictable. So I packed with the expectation that at least once, I would be stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no ride, and have to spend a night in a field in the middle of a thunderstorm. But what was the most unpredicted thing, was the awesomeness of people.
I have heard horror stories where people have stood on the side of roads for hours on end, in all weather. I have heard of people pretending to swerve at them, pretending they are going to hit them, or people yelling horrible things to them as they drive by. These hitchhikers are true road warriors, bravely soldiering on without losing hope. I wish I could claim to be one of them, but I’m not. The worst thing that happened to me, was one girl honking her horn and glaring at me. And the longest time I waited for a ride? A whopping ten minutes, in beautiful warm sunshine. Such a hardship…I know haha.
But in another way, I hope I have gained acceptance into this brave tight knit family. I might not have suffered harsh road conditions, but I did suffer a few panic attacks for one sole reason: I hitchhiked alone. And just in case you aren’t putting two and two together, I’m a girl.
I also wish I could tell you that I now have some solid tips and tools on how to be safe while hitching alone as a girl, such as fail safe ways to judge whether your ride is safe or not. Don’t hitch with green cars, those people hide chainsaws in their trunks. And never get in a car with a single young female with brown hair, she’s secretly a serial axe murderer. And look out for the grannies, they are the most dangerous of all!
It’s ridiculous to try and pin point what’s “safe” and what’s not. Many people will say, don’t get in a vehicle with a single male driver, but I did. Twice. And they both ended up being in the hospitality business and ended up being awesome tour guides to the best places to stay/eat/visit in the area. One of them even offered to contact their niece in the area to offer me a bed and a meal for the night. Many will also say, having a sign saying where you are going is helpful, and this one probably is helpful, but it is not essential. I did not have any signs. Just a huge backpack and a smile. Friendliness goes a long way.
One thing I always made a point of doing though, and this one I do recommend for safety sake, was to walk up to the passenger window and speak to the driver before I even thought of jumping in the car. It is here that I can’t tell you what to “look for”. All I can say, is trust your gut. Your instincts will tell you if something is off. If you are talking with them and something in your gut is screaming, “don’t do this!”… Listen to it. Thank them for stopping, but that you would like to wait for a different ride. YOU DO NOT have to accept the first ride that stops. I repeat… You do NOT have to get in just because they stopped. If something feels off, back away. Another ride will come.
I grew up with “stranger danger” pounded into my head and an older sister who saw axe murderers everywhere, (including the lady from down our street who was pushing a baby stroller, fyi: the stroller is where she hid her axe). I am also a nurse, and therefore see the darker sides of humanity when they come through the hospital doors. This has made me abnormally suspicious of strangers. Every person sitting alone in a car in a parking lot is a potential kidnapper, every guy who comes up to talk to you at the bar is a potential serial rapist, and the guy walking his dog in the park? He’s definitely a mugger. I know how ridiculous that is, but how do you break a thought pattern instilled over an entire childhood?
I was tired of always feeling suspicious, always feeling like I had to be on guard to protect those around me (just ask my friends, they call me momma bird). I was sick of always assuming the worst of those around me. For once, I wanted to learn to assume the best of people. I wanted trust in the good of humanity. So I made myself as vulnerable as I could and threw myself into their waiting hands.
And what would you know… People are awesome. Everywhere I went, people went out of their way to help me. Whether it was giving me a ride, connecting me with people going my way, giving me a place to stay or just in general helping me along my journey, total strangers became the best of friends, some of who I even crossed paths with multiple times as I zig zagged across the four eastern provinces.
Mission accomplished. Strangers are now potential friends rather than the stuff of nightmares, hitchhikers on the road are my new travel companions on long road trips. And in the next few posts, I’ll even share how strangers became my saving grace.
Images from the open road
Accomodations: Couchsurfing, tenting
Cost: a lot of courage, a lot of patience, and the cost of a good pair of walking shoes.
What rookie mistakes did you make the first time you hitchhiked/ backpacked? What are some of your roadside stories? did you have a great experience hitchhiking or a get caught in a rain storm? Do you have any tricks/ safety rituals you practice when hitchhiking?