This summer while on vacation, my wife and I were driving towards the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I’d once hitchhiked along those same roads.
That realization opened a flood of long-forgotten hitchhiking memories.
I recalled the time I thumbed a series of rides to Ohio to surprise my girlfriend. Neither she nor her family were impressed that I’d traveled so far—all alone—using such an unpredictable form of transportation. (Sometimes I’m still amazed that she eventually agreed to marry me!)
Then there was the time my buddy Steve and I hitchhiked overnight to Florida. The most memorable part of that trip came after we unfolded our sleeping bags and tried to sleep in the tall grass along the shoulder of southbound Interstate 75. Believe me, it’s impossible to rest while 18-wheelers thunder by at 80 miles an hour only a few feet from your head.
And how could I forget the adventure when my brother Gary and I nearly froze in the open bed of a pickup truck? Although it was summer in Colorado, we crossed the Continental Divide after midnight in the high altitude of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Brrrr!
Back in the day, I logged around 3,000 miles by begging for rides from strangers who might take pity on a poor, long-haired college kid standing alongside the road. Granted, it was a different time and thumbing for a ride was more popular then. Besides, I was young and didn’t think much about danger, perhaps because my mom did all the worrying for me.
On various trips I met a diverse assortment of people. There was the drummer for a popular rock band. I once was picked up by an aspiring ball player who hoped to someday play for the Cincinnati Reds. And then there was the old black man who was so tired he just wanted to sleep while I drove his car across Kentucky.
With the exception of some rednecks in Southern Georgia, the people I met were very nice. For example, I remain grateful for the Orlando policeman who—after reminding me that hitchhiking was illegal—reluctantly gave me a ride to my destination.
The end of the year provides an ideal opportunity to reflect on life and the roads we’ve traveled, both literally and figuratively.
In many ways, life is like hitchhiking. We often head towards unseen destinations, traveling along roads we’ve never been on, and will likely never traverse again. Along the way, we briefly meet some incredibly interesting people, and then abruptly we go our separate ways, never to cross paths again. Yet we remain grateful for those strangers who helped us reach our destination.
During the coming year, I resolve to continue exploring new horizons, though I’ve long-since forsaken hitchhiking. I also commit to creating memories along the virtual highways I’ll travel. I will savor the relationships that develop, and I will always give thanks for the beautiful, kind-hearted people I meet along the highways of life’s meandering journey.