Travel Stories

“The Hitchhiker”

hitchhiker

"The Hitchhiker"

 

 

“I like chance meetings - life is full of them.
Every day, without realising it, I pass people whom I should know.”

 

Krzysztof Kieslowski

 

Our lives have rhythm. Right now, my family’s life is beating to a different rhythm than most. Our current rhythm is born from a desire to truly experience life with just the basics in tow, a desire to provide our daughter an education outside the classroom and our desire to grow and learn, both about ourselves and about the world around us. Just like a good melody, our days ebb and flow according to our own rhythm of highs and lows. Our rhythm hit a high note last night when we made a friend in the Kaibab National Forest just outside the south rim of the Grand Canyon. He is on a similar journey, living life according to his own rhythm and letting his song play out.

grand-canyon
Grand Canyon

 

After spending a few days feeling ever so humbled by the sheer beauty and magnitude of the Grand Canyon, we pulled Big Blue into the nearby National Forest looking forward to some rest and stargazing. As we scoped out the perfect spot, a hiker carrying a large pack and a jug of water emerged from the woods to read a flyer posted on a nearby billboard about fire safety. Curious, we struck up a conversation. First the basics. “Where are you heading?” “Are you walking?” “Where are you from?” “Are you sleeping in the Forest?” As our comfort grew and the conversation rolled on, we realized that although his methods were different, in many ways, he was like us.

national-forest
National Forest

 

As the campfire started to take shape and our friend rolled his cigarettes, we learned how he had worked a typical 9-5 job, was surrounded by “stuff”, including debt, and was living for his days off.  He would spend the weekends out in nature, feeling truly alive and truly himself. He finally made the decision to sell his possessions, clear his debt, leave his job and experience life for awhile from a very raw, simple perspective. He filled his pack with the best camping gear he could find, climbing gear and his tripod and camera. He became a hitchhiker and a hobo, and he set out to experience America, both the land and the people, through the lense of his camera. No vehicle. No tent. Just the basics.

cargo-trains
Cargo trains

 

After seeing dozens of trains pass through the desert, our appreciation for trains had grown during the past few weeks as we traveled through Arizona.  We had many questions regarding the railroad. Sitting around the campfire, our friend provided us with an education in riding the rails, boxcar graffiti, tagging and the railroad culture. Our eyes were opened.  As the temperature continued to dip, we talked about life, dreams, computers, National Parks and travel plans.

 

Road Rule #14: Get to know your hitchhiker.

 

By the time the night sky was filled with stars, our toes were numb and we had talked story for a few hours, we offered our new friend a ride the next morning to a location about 60 miles away. From there, he was headed south, and we were headed west. We bid good night, and he moved a few trees over to set up his bivy sack as we made ourselves as comfortable as possible in the van.

cold
COLD!!

It was a long night. I was cold. I was uncomfortable. My husband was cold. He was uncomfortable too. As temperatures dipped, I snuggled up with our daughter, Sam, to try and keep her warm. Honestly, I believe I was trying to keep myself warm.  Moonlight shone through the van as layers of frost accumulated on the windows. Daylight finally arrived. The temperature gage on the van read 22 degrees. As I walked into the woods to find a “tree”,  I noticed the rain puddles were mini ice rinks, the bikes were covered with frost and our friend’s bivy sack was now white.

our-frozen-friend
Our frozen friend

 

After cranking up the heat to warm our fingers, we all piled into Big Blue. Our friend sat on the floor of the van propped up against his pack, and we headed down the highway sipping our hot McDonald's coffee. A day prior, little did we expect to be giving a hitchhiker a ride. Likewise, I am sure our friend never expected to be traveling down the road in a mini van sitting next to a six-year-old and watching Little House on the Prairie. Living life on the road, you never know what a given day may bring.

sam-friend
Sam and her new friend

We parted ways on I-40, just outside the small town of Williams. Our friend buttoned up his collared shirt to hide his tattoos and pulled his long curly hair back. Our chance encounter in the National Forest had been mutually inspirational. Our rhythm was flowing, and our song was playing.  So was his.  As we pulled away and watched our new friend stand on the on-ramp with his hitchhiker's thumb in the air, Sam remarked from the backseat, “I enjoyed having a friend back here with me.” We informed her that it likely would never happen again.