Hitchhiking is my favorite way of getting around. Maybe after you read this article, this too may become an option in your selection of transportation.
1955 to 1958
My hitchhiking days started when I was 17 and in the Army. This was a time when almost anyone would pick up a service person. I hitchhiked from Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and Fort Benning, Georgia to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I never waited over a half an hour to pick up a ride. Over this year and a half period, I became complacent, and overconfident. Leaving Fort Bragg, on my way to Pittsburgh, on a 10-day furlough, I got into a car about 10 p.m., and immediately fell asleep. I was awakened by the driver who was going through my pockets and when I resisted, he pulled a gun on me. Instead of handing over my month salary, I grabbed the door handle and flung myself out of the car. I still remember running down the road with my hands on the back of my head so to protect my head from being blown off! How stupid we are when we are 17 years old.
After I got out of the Army, I did not hitchhike again until I was about 35. At this time, I was working as an elementary school teacher, going through a divorce, and wanting to go to Europe. I explained my situation to a hippie colleague of mine after school. She said, “I don’t see why I couldn’t go to Europe for the summer”. I told her I did not have near enough money to go to Europe for two months. She then told me about youth hostels. My response to this proposal was that I was 35 years old and no longer a kid. She said that age made no difference, and I would only have to get a hostel sheet, and a hostel card. She went on to explain that youth hostels cost about one quarter the amount one would have to pay for a cheap hotel. I then said that I heard transportation in Europe was very expensive. Her reply was, “Hitchhike.” Again, I said I was 35 years old and could not imagine me sticking out my thumb to solicit a ride. She went on to say that, many people in my situation hitchhike in Europe because they don’t have the money to own their own cars. “What about restaurants?” I said, “Aren’t they expensive?”
“Go to street vendors or buy your food from supermarkets”, she said. “You can even buy a small gas cooker to take with you on your travels.”
Well, she convinced me of the possibility of a two-month trip in Europe. When I landed in London, I immediately went to the local youth hostel. I checked in with no problems, had a good night sleep, and went down stairs to cook my breakfast. There was a bulletin board on the wall next to the kitchen with all kinds of ads from selling things to needing things. One item caught my attention. There was a man looking for four or five other riders to share the gas money for a trip to Greece. He had a large van. Hell, I never thought of going to Greece, but why not? Three girls from Newfoundland, and me applied. These girls were all on holiday from college and were very attractive. I was so excited. Like all my experiences in life, the initial excitement had nothing to do with the reality. The driver was of Greek descent and spoke four languages fluently: English, French, Italian, and of course Greek. I will not go into all the details of our trip to Greece except to point out some of the exceptional difficulties. On the upside, our driver was a most amicable person and with his wealth of languages made our trip very easy. He took us too many of the tourist spots throughout Europe and used his communication skills to our advantage. On the downside, the three girls were a pain in the ass. To give you an example of their inappropriate behavior I must tell you about a couple episodes we had with these young “ladies”. When we were in Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the girls shouted to me at the top of her lungs. “Joseph, come look at this!” I was embarrassed to tears. Another incident took place in the mountains near Switzerland. The girls were complaining that they hadn’t had a shower in three days and asked if we could stop near one of the small waterfalls on the side of the road. We thought that they were just going to wash their hands and faces and maybe their hair, but they stripped down to their underwear and immerse themselves completely under the cascading water. Other drivers, especially men, nearly drove off the mountainside. On another occasion, one girl came back to the van and about 3 a.m. and said that she was raped. She was very drunk. We questioned her about where this had taken place and a description of the man. She said she couldn’t remember where she was and that maybe it was consensual. I was so happy when we got to Greece and got rid of these three weird girls. I had a great time in Greece especially Crete, but that’s another story.
When I got back to America, I took another teaching job in Corona, California. I liked the job very much, but now I was hooked on traveling, and decided to quit after one year so that I could travel again. On my way to London again, I was approached by a French-speaking woman who asked me if I could do her a favor when we got to London to call her hotel and asked them if they had her reservation. No problem I said. I got on the phone and asked the person on the other end if they had a reservation for—–. His reply was completely incomprehensible to me. His Cockney accent was so strong that I had no idea what he was saying–so much for an English-speaking country. When I got to France, I was hitchhiking near Chartres when a young boy picked me up. We had a nice long conversation, and I told him all about myself. His English was pretty good, and he said that he had to pick up his father but his father didn’t like hitchhikers so he’d have to drop me off. A little time after he dropped me off, I saw him again pulled over on the side of the road and he beckoned me to come over. He said he talked to his father about me and since I was a teacher, his father wanted to help me out. They said they were going on holiday to their place outside of Chartres, and I was welcomed to go with them. One thing about traveling alone and with no agenda is that you can take people up on their offers. After a wonderful lunch, in which they paid for, we were off to their summer place. I could hardly believe it when we got there. It was in word: a castle! They apologized stating that they only use three rooms in the castle because of the expense of the upkeep. What did I care, because I was going to stay in the castle for the first time in my life. The next morning, they made breakfast, but the eggs were overcooked and a toast burnt. I thought all French people were wonderful cooks but not these two. The next day, I did the cooking. They were so impressed with my cooking that they offered me to stay there as long as I wanted after they left. I stayed there with them for four days and left with a happy heart. See what hitchhiking can bring you.
This may or may not be a hitchhiking story. I was hitchhiking from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh, PA, but I was not having much luck. A man came up to me, and said that I should try hopping a freight train that was nearby. Hopping freight was not something I ever tried, because I heard so many horror stories of railroad cops beating up vagrants, but it sounded exciting so I took up the man’s suggestion and got on an empty freight car. My backpack was full of the necessities and comforts of home: a sleeping pad, a small butane cook stove, food, water, flashlight, and a compass to keep me in the right direction. A day later I found myself in Missouri. During that trip, I found railway workers most helpful by supplying me with water. I never ran into a railway security person. I got out in Missouri, because of the conflicting information I was given to reach my destination in Pittsburgh. What a wonderful way of traveling. I had a whole boxcar to myself, a wonderful view of the passing countryside and if I got bored, I had several novels to keep me occupied.
I decided to hitchhike from Los Angeles to Alaska in search of a teaching position. One of my rides was from a woman, somewhere in Oregon, who offered to sleep with me. This may sound great to some people, but she was not a lady that inspired passion. First of all, she was drunk. I normally would not get into a car with somebody who had been drinking, but I didn’t smell it on her until we were on our way. The second thing was she was only about 5’4’’ and weighed easily over 300 pounds. I stayed in Vancouver, British Columbia, for about a week visiting with friends. These were friends that I met in Crete, Greece. After a few rides, I found myself passing through Fort St. John, British Columbia. A man by the name of Thompson picked me up. We had a long conversation about his life and mine. He asked where I was going, and why I was going to Alaska, He cautioned me saying it could be snowing at any time even though it was at the end of August. This was hard for me to believe, I’ve never been so far north before in my life. Mr. Thompson asked me if I would be willing to work for his son. He went on to say that it wasn’t very hard work. He said basically, I would only be with his son as a companion and my only duties would be to cook one or two meals for him per day. The reason his son needed a companion was he was working in the bush 100 miles from Fort St. John and if he had an accident or some kind of emergency there would be no one to get information back to his family (remember this was before cell phones). The son, Ron Thompson, was clearing hundreds of acres with D8 Caterpillar. This is very dangerous work for a single person alone in the bush. I end up staying in B.C. for the next eight years. Eventually I took an elementary teaching position at the Upper Halfway not far from where I worked for Ron. This was a one-room- school-house without electricity or running water and 100 miles from Fort St. John on a dirt road. One may ask how I could get a job in Canada without being a citizen. Well, Mr. Thompson said they were having a special immigration policy to get all the Vietnam illegal immigrants from America to register as landed immigrants in Canada. There were two caveats: (1) One had to be in Canada for at least one year. (2) There could be no felonies on your record. I had only been in Canada for a couple weeks, but Mr. Thompson said he would say that I worked for him for the past two years. Even though I was not a draft dodger, they gave me a landed immigrant status within the month that I applied. After working at Upper Halfway Elementary School for two years, This school was in a beautiful location with rivers and mountains and not far from where Ron and I worked. I taught grades one through eight. There was no electricity or running water. After working there for two years, I decided to go on an extended world tour for the next two years.
Lesley (a girl I was living with at the school and eventually my wife) and I drove to Seattle in my old pick up truck, where we bought our supplies for the trip. With two new large backpacks filled with everything we needed for the trip, we drove to Cabool Missouri and camped out during the summer on land we bought 6 months before. We sold the pickup and hitched to New York City, because they had the cheapest flights to Luxembourg. Although we had many experiences during these two years, I will only relate our hitchhiking experiences, because otherwise this would turn into a book. Lesley asked me if I spoke any other languages and I told her a little Spanish. She said she spoke a little French so we should get by pretty well. As it turned out, her French was excellent, and my Spanish was poor to useless. We started to hitchhike in France to Spain. In Spain, we were picked up by a van with a dentist and his girlfriend. They said they were going to Morocco, and we were welcomed to go with them. I never thought of going to Morocco but why not. They seemed like a nice enough couple until we were in Morocco for a few days and the dentist began drinking a lot. When he was drunk, he was so obnoxious. He would begin criticizing Lesley and me about our taking advantage of people like him and not paying our fair share. I agreed with him, but told him that we offered to help them pay for our share of the food but he refused. The next time he went shopping we said we’d pay for half of the food. Our only problem with this was he would not bargain and would pay at least double for his purchases. We brought this up with the girlfriend, who seemed to like both of us, and she suggested that we pay anything he wanted and she would pay us back. We slept in our tent while they slept in the van. We parted company with them in Fez. What an amazing city! Two weeks later we hitched to Zagora at the northern edge of the Sahara desert. We stayed there for a long time because everywhere else was too cold. We thought of going to Timbuktu just to say we did it but in the end crossed it off our list. On our way out of Morocco, we hitched to small place near the border of Algeria and ran into an Arab festival. It looked like we were transported back to the 18th century with Arabs on horses or camels, in full 18th century costumes. The Arabs invited us into their massive tents for food and drink. They were fascinated by our tiny tent and asked many questions about our life style. Lesley & I were now thinking of going back to Spain and to head East through Europe and on to Asia. We got a ride from a young couple who were going to Italy via Algeria to Tunisia, and a ferry to Sicily, Italy. They asked us to help with the gas and repairs for the car. We agreed. Up to this point we were doing well on $8 per day for the two of us but the gas, break-downs, used tires, and general maintenance nearly doubled our expenses. I would have left them once we arrived in Sicily but they were such a wonderful couple. In Sicily, we picked up a nurse who was hitching. She invited us to dinner at a recommended restaurant by a patient. She had a note from this patient, who happened to be a princess, stating that this nurse was to be provided with a meal for her and friends. We arrived late at the restaurant. The restaurant owner seemed to rush his current customers out of the restaurant and closed it soon after our arrival. He introduced us to the salad bar and suggested that we take very little. We just thought he was being cheap but as the meal went on we could see why he only wanted us to take small portions because there were so many delicate wonderful dishes that followed. The wine and drinks were nonstop. I was quite high a few hours later and could see that the owner and the waiters were trying to make out with the ladies. We left the restaurant quite satiated and felt that a good time was had by all. We went up through Italy, down through Yugoslavia to Greece. In Greece, we parted company, and stayed in that country for a few weeks. Our next stop was Turkey. We decided to cut down on our load by selling our tent, and Lesley’s heavy-duty boots. Leslie was not too happy with selling the boots. My thinking at this point was that Asia was much cheaper than Europe, and it was getting warmer. This was a mistake. Western Turkey was even more expensive than Greece. In Istanbul we spent our first night on a roof top. The next night, we stayed at a campsite outside of Istanbul and met a lovely couple of Turks, who insisted on paying for our campsite and giving us a ride the next day. We then got picked up by a Turk, who told us that we were welcomed to stay at his place. When we got to his home, he said he didn’t have room in his house for us, but we were welcome to stay at his beach cottage. What an abode this was! It was a room, mounted on a large truck axle about three meters above the ground. The room itself was glass on all sides. In the middle of the room was a large round table that was used to turn the room around in any direction. I still have dreams today of duplicating that structure. Unfortunately, the owner was a pain in the ass. Daily, he would take us to his relatives and friends to show off his new found foreigners. We only stayed a couple days. Western Turkey was a wonderful place for hitchhiking, because almost everyone was willing to pick you up. When we got to Eastern Turkey, the situation changed drastically. Our first ride in Eastern Turkey was in the back of a pickup where the driver asked us for a small fee. This was a usual thing that happened throughout Eastern Turkey. Iran wasn’t much better. There we got our first taste of prejudice concerning Western women. In a train station in Tehran, a Muslim man reached over the banister and grabbed Lesley’s breasts. I took after the man and grabbed him on the steps. A policeman was on the scene immediately and asked me what happened in English. I told him what happened and he just slapped the man and told him to get out of there. Our next ride was from some German boys in a van and they took us into Afghanistan. The Germans wanted to go into the mountains, but we heard some very disturbing news of foreigners disappearing in those mountains. We decided to go on our own. We bused from Heart and Kandahar, to Kabul, Afghanistan. I loved the Afghan people. They are such a proud people and tend to look you right in the eye. We left Afghanistan, a few weeks before the Russian invasion. We again bused through Pakistan in 3 days. Lesley’s ankles swelled up so badly that she could hardly walk. We missed hitchhiking. We decided to spend a lot of time in India. Transportation was so cheap in India that we decided not to hitchhike anymore. We did a little more hitchhiking in Sri Lanka. Our trip ended in Thailand and we flew back to America.
Today I am living in Thailand, and still hitchhiking at age 79!