July 4, 2020

Thoughts on Hitchhiking

hitchhikeWe rented a cottage this week, and for the first time in quite a while were able to get our whole family together for a holiday. We have no Wifi and as a result monitoring of comments will be spotty, so play nice! We have been staying at Sauble Beach, a beautiful sandy beach, seven miles long, on the Canadian side of Lake Huron. My son Josh was only able to join us for three days, and so I offered to take the five hour return trip to drive him back to the town where he was working. The plan was that I would arrive back at the cottage at about midnight. Traffic was very light, and I was making good time. It was just after 11:00 p.m., and in the middle of nowhere, when my headlights illuminated a couple at the side of the road, their arms out stretched, and thumbs out. I had to make a split decision, and I decided to stop.

It might help to know a bit of back ground that went into my decision.

I can remember the first time I hitchhiked. I was fourteen years old and living in Africa. My parents had sent me away to camp for a week in the neighboring country. Now, who knows what goes on in teenage brains, but for some inexplicable reason a few of us decided to use our free time to swim the half mile across the lake. Once across, and having garnered wisdom from actually swimming half a mile, none of us wanted to swim back. The problem was that it was seven mile back to the camp, and so we decided to hitchhike. We walked and put out our thumbs, walked some more and put out our thumbs some more. It was almost two hours after we started, before a vehicle pulled over to give us a lift.

“You do know it is is illegal to hitchhike here, don’t you?”

We didn’t. But that did explain the long wait to get a ride.

When I was fifteen, our family moved back to Canada. At High School I became involved in a lot of clubs, and would often miss the last school bus home. We lived outside of the city, about three miles from the school, and so, on a very frequent basis I would stick out my thumb and catch a ride home. Often it would be neighbor, driving home from work, but just as often it would be a stranger who would give me a lift. It was the late seventies, and it was still quite common to see hitchhikers on a regular basis.

A couple of years later and I was off to University. It was a four hour trip from my home to the university I attended. Bus fair was expensive, and we didn’t have a lot of money. Plus, if going by car took four hours, the bus took over five, and I found I could hitchhike the distance in about six hours. My dad would drop me at the south end of the city, and usually within fifteen minutes I would have my first ride. I don’t think my parents worried to much about me, I had trained in the Armed Forces Reserves, and they thought I could take care of myself.

My parents moved half way through university and my six hour hike became a nine hour adventure. I didn’t do the trip as often, as the train became a viable, albeit costly, alternative.

I did however have hitchhiking down to a science. I dressed in a suit and a tie, and carried a sign with my destination in large letters. I knew which highway on ramps worked and which didn’t. I learned from experience that if you got stuck on the highway half way through Toronto that your best bet was to find public transit to the other end of town. I also learned that once darkness hit, you could forget it. No one would pick you up.

Most of my experiences were good. Some were a little comical. A little old lady once stopped and rolled down her window. “You aren’t going to beat me up are you?” she asked. “No, Ma’am”, I replied. “Okay, you can get it then.”

I did have three bad experiences. One pervert, one drunk, and one person who kept driving past my stop. In all three cases I asked them in no uncertain terms to stop the car and let me out, and in all three cases they did.

A brother of a family friend was not so lucky. Twelve year old Robbie Brown was walking home from the beach as he had a newspaper route to deliver. It is believed someone offered him a ride. He was never seen again. You can read about his story at couragetocope.org.

Now that I have a vehicle, I feel quite compassionate towards hitchhikers, and tend to pick up most hitchhikers. Most have no other transportation options. If they did, they wouldn’t be sticking out there thumbs. I don’t think I have ever felt unsafe when picking up a hitchhiker, though I am sure that there are stories out there. Probably my strangest experience was being propositioned by a pair of drag queens!

So, getting back to my story of the couple at the side of the road. I honked to let them know I was stopping, and then pulled off to the side of the road. They couple introduced themselves as Craig and Cindy. They had been hitchhiking for seven hours and had only made it about fifteen miles. They had another thirty miles to go. Craig was going to help his brother-in-law fix his car, and then together they were going to go on to visit his mother in another town. Where they were headed was only ten minutes out of my way, so I was happy to drop them at their destination.

People, including my wife, look askance at me when I say I pick up hitchhikers. To them it is like a game of Russian Roulette. You never know who you might pick up. I would agree, but to the hitchhiker it is a game of Russian Roulette as well, and by picking them up I am ensuring that at least one ride is safe.

I think however, that a lot of my motivation comes from the story of the Good Samaritan. In the story, the Good Samaritan is taking a real risk in stopping to help. It is known that there are bandits in the area. But stop he does. Like the Good Samaritan, I will also sometimes give money to help the hitchhiker along their way. Loving your neighbor means going beyond what is easy, or comfortable, or even safe. For me, among other things, it means picking up hitchhikers. What does it mean for you?


  1. It can also mean inviting your enemies to dinner (as Jesus told us to do).

    And visiting the prisoners in the jails. (as Jesus told us to do)

    And selling all that we have and giving the money to the poor (as Jesus told us to do)

    The list of what we ought be doing is much longer than the list of stuff we ought not be doing.

    If that doesn’t knock us off our high horses (that we are indeed living a life of obedience to Jesus’ demands to us)…than I don’t know what will.

    • Christiane says


      You wrote: ‘The list of what we ought be doing is much longer than the list of stuff we ought not be doing.’
      and I agree with you.

      the ‘negativity’ is much outweighed by acts of kindness in this world, from which people in distress are comforted

      for those who dwell in a ‘negative’ denomination (I call them the ‘hell’ people), I often think they haven’t themselves yet experienced enough kindness given to them by others to understand its value in the Kingdom of Our Lord

      one hope for better for them, that in time, they will be more comfortable moving in a positive direction and not looking back into the darkness so much

  2. Good points, though I must say it has been quite awhile since I have seen any hitchhikers in my neck of the woods.

    Oh, and by the way… always bring your towel. 😉

  3. Mule's Scary Story says

    It was a foggy Sunday morning in Central Florida in 1990, and I had just gotten off work on the midnight shift, and was heading home on I-4. I saw a woman with her thumb thrust out soliciting a ride. I reviewed the reasons for picking her up: It was threatening rain. There were a lot of “perverts” who would pick her up if I didn’t. She was very slight, no threat physically and not very attractive, so no threat morally, She would be out there a long time.

    The image of my recently born son flashed in my mind, and I sped past her. Watching her in my rear view mirror, I saw that the next car behind me pulled over and picked her up.

    I had just passed Aileen Wuornos.

    • Now THAT gave me chills.

    • Christiane says

      thank God for the spirit of discernment . . .

      BTW, it does make a great summer around-the-campfire story . . . no one would sleep after that one . . . wow!

    • Thanks, Mule. Now I will never, ever, ever, ever pick up a hitchhiker for the rest of my entire life. Which is almost a moot point since I never see any.

      • I have picked up the odd half-dozen hitchhikers since then, all men, all older, and nothing has happened. I am very glad I didn’t pick her up, though.

        • One in seven a serial killer, eh? Not the kind of odds I’m gonna play. If I see somebody in a suit and tie with a sign labeling their destination, as Mike has explained, I’d be much more open to considering it.

  4. I did some math. Craig and Cindy weren’t coming from Toronto, because their trip was only 45 miles. It could have started any where from northwest of Toronto all the way up to Barrie. But anyway, they started at 4 PM, because you picked them up at 11( and lucky for them, because as you say no one gets a ride after dark). So my point is that they made a really poor choice to start at 4, because they were always going to be pushing it to get some rides before dark. Perhaps they started after one of them got off work. But if that is true, and he was going to work on the car the next day before going on to his mother’s, it still would have been better to start the next morning. I hope they were both interested enough to know you would blog about them and read this.

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says

    I live near the center of an urban space now, so one never sees hitch-hikers [that would be suspicious in an area with public transit] and I’m only just over a mile from a prison so the police are very twitchy about hitch-hikers, you’d have to be crazy to try it.

    When I was younger I lived out in the wastelands. I picked up hitch-hikers pretty regularly; men, I never stopped to pick up women as I wasn’t willing to risk that kind of trouble. As much as I can recall they were all farm and/or migrant workers trying to get to a job. I can’t recall an exception. I never had a problem with anyone. One day on my way to my job at a truck stop I accumulated nearly a dozen hikers in the back of my pick-up, that was funny, there was one around every turn that day.

    My translation of that to my current environment is I just carry several transit cards with me. So when the, nearly inevitable, “Do you have $1.50? I need bus fare” comes, I just give them a pass. If they really need one, of if they are just trying to scam me for a $1.50…. I don’t now, that’s their issue.

  6. brianthedad says

    How times have changed. My dad enthralls his grandsons with his story of hitchhiking way back in 1964. He had just mustered out of the Navy in San Diego along with a high school buddy from a sister ship. They started there, near a sign that encouraged motorists to ‘give a serviceman a lift’ and proceeded to thumb their way back to central Illinois, much of it on old Route 66. No problems; all adventure. I cringe when I think about the grand ideas it was creating in my boys’ minds.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > I cringe when I think about the grand ideas it was creating in my boys’ minds.

      Meh, just encourage them. Violent crime is *very* rare in the United States [except in some very isolated and defined pockets]. Despite what the media venues choose to dwell on we live in one of the safest places on Earth, and possibly one of the safest places to have ever existed.

  7. Radagast says

    In the late seventies and early eighties I used to hitch hike a lot and I have more than one interesting story from that time period. I also picked up lots of folks in those days. That being said I haven’t picked up anyone in a long time, with the scams and litigation and all these days. My kids have been instructed never to hitchhike or pick anyone up – such is the world we live in.

    The last time we gave someone a ride they had come over to ask us for money so that they could get a bus out of town (claimed they had lost their wallet). We ended up giving them a ride to the bus station too (I suspect this was not really their intent as the name they gave us just happened to be the name of the local bar down the street). It made my wife feel good – I just chuckled inside – imagining that this guy would now have to find his way back out of the city to get back to the bar he was collecting money for….

  8. Hitchiking seemed to end as a common practice with the arrival of the 80s. I am the youngest of 6 boys and all my older brother hitchiked at one time or another – especially since my mom’s policy was if we missed the schoolbus to high school (20 miles away) she wasn’t driving. They had to hitch a ride.

    I did my share of hitching rides while walking from GA to ME along the Appalachian Trail in 1996. After walking 20 miles, the mile walk into town (to resupply) was not appealing. I had a 6 inch beard and long pony-tailed hair and smelled bad, but never had problems getting a ride. Probably because most people who lived in the area of the trail knew who hikers were and so it didn’t seem strange to see someone with a backpack sticking their thumb out.

    I learned that luxury cars and expensive SUVs don’t stop. Older model beaters and trucks driven by working people who have needed rides will stop. The one exception was a black preacher from TN who picked me up in his late model Lincoln.

    It’s also a matter of local culture — here in NH I still see (and pick up) hitch hikers. In WI, where I lived fro 7 years post trail, if I mentioned hitching rides I got the stinky eye from almost everyone. I was told it was against the law, but was never able to confirm it.

    If I am alone I will almost always stop. If with my family, I pass. It is usually people going to work, to a court date, etc. They need a ride and a little kindness. Small favors.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > I learned that luxury cars and expensive SUVs don’t stop. Older model beaters and
      > trucks driven by working people who have needed rides will stop.

      I have doubts about this correlation being causation. I suspect it is more that those with greater affluence tend to be more dialed into media channels which constantly tell them to-be-very-very-afraid-enemies-everywhere. I see the effects of that; people where I live just roll-their eyes or sneer at local reporting [all-crime-all-the-time, or the WOOD TV8 channel many people refer to as having a “pedophile of the week club” – they’ll find one no matter how hard or far they have to go to do it] while those who drive into the office from the “safe” suburbs not infrequently make comments about how dangerous or “ghetto” the neighborhood is [when the facts are violent crime rates are very low and have been steadily falling every year for a decade – to the point where somebody stealing a couple mopeds causes a “14% JUMP IN LARCENY!!!!”]. Several times more people died in motor vehicle accidents commuting to work than were murdered [and setting aside the other fact that most people are murdered or raped *not* by a stranger]. Argh, I despise journalists.

      • Sure. You are likely correct. I will stipulate your argument. Nevertheless, the end result is the same.

        I did have many people who picked me up mention that they did so because they had needed a ride in the past and were happy to “pay it forward”. Plus they found hikers to be generally pleasant and interesting people to meet and they enjoyed the conversation.

        I didn’t have much chance to interview the other population group. 😉

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        [all-crime-all-the-time, or the WOOD TV8 channel many people refer to as having a “pedophile of the week club” – they’ll find one no matter how hard or far they have to go to do it]

        Tell me about it. I’ve heard stories from animated cartoon fans about the hairy eyeball-looks they get when they’re the only unaccompanied adult in a theater. And local morning drive-time radio covered BronyCon (My Little Pony fan convention, East Coast) ending every paragraph of their report with a stage whisper of “Pedophiles…” (as in “Bla Bla Bla… (Pedophiles) Bla Bla Bla (Pedophiles)…”).

  9. Never been on either side of the hitchhiking equation personally—it just doesn’t feel safe to me.

    My dad hitchhiked to work in the late 70s/early 80s in Washington DC quite often though, as lots of commuters wanted to be able to use the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes to get into the city and avoid traffic. They’d pick up basically anyone in a suit and tie so that they ended up with 4 people in their car. He met a lot of people doing this (including my mother), and saved quite a bit on transit fees. It basically was a very informal carpool.

  10. I like your concluding motivations. As we begin to know for certain that every hair on our head is numbered, it changes us (not in a spirit of do-gooder slavery, but in freedom). I stood up during the share time at our church and announced 20 years of marriage to my wife. I shared that, in the end, what it has all boiled down to, is very similar to being a follower of Jesus … We attach our wagon to another. And when we do so without reservation or caveat, where it (He) takes us is for our good.

  11. Faulty O-Ring says

    Today’s topic: picking up hitchhikers.
    Tomorrow’s topic: going bareback

    • LOL.

      I write about what is on my mind. I tried not to spiritualize the topic too much, but did you know that in my hundreds of rides I got, only one person tried to share their faith me.

      By the way, the other topic on my mind was my daughter Amy’s gold medal win at her first international bicycle race. Le Tour de la relève internationale de Rimouski

      • Radagast says

        Of all the rides I had gotten, I never had someone share their faith… at that time of my life I probably would have told them to stop the car and let me out. Never had any perverts, though had some that caused me to be wary. Lots of girls picked me up… that was cool. A number were in the middle of smoking weed and at the time I was partaking so we had some bonding going on that way…. I once had an older guy lecture me on my long hair and army shirt…..

        Congrats on your daughter… ya gotta be proud!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Saw on online cartoon about a guy wearing an “ASK ME ABOUT JESUS!” T-shirt to get seating room on an airliner or bus:

        “I wear this and I get an entire seat row to myself.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      As in “bareback mountain”?

      • There’s room in there for a line about “low hanging fruit”, but I won’t go there….

  12. Need for a ride is what some would refer to as a “First world problem”. Granted that is not always the case but generally speaking I couldn’t compare it to the scenario of the Good Samaritan. My take on this is that when I was single I engaged in some wild and risky behaviors of all sorts but since I am married I owe it to my wife to be much more conservative. I use to pick up everyone. Now I pick up no one…..generally.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      I don’t see transportation as a first world problem, it seems like a very old almost original problem. Work is there, you are here. Healthcare is there, you are here. Even perhaps safety is there and you are here.

      But yeah, the comparison with the Good Samaritan may be a long reach. Picking up a hitch hiker generally doesn’t cost the driver much, unless he goes out of his way. It almost just seems like simple courtesty – I mean your going in a direction anyway. And that metaphor means everyone who doesn’t stop is one ‘of the non-neighbors’, when they may have really good reasons. The Samaritan was beaten and left on the side of the road – which is a situation, IMO, with a greater moral demand for attention. I guess depends on how tedious we want to be. 🙂

  13. Since the day I turned 16, I’ve always picked up hitchhikers. In college I started keeping a bible in my glovebox that I would gladly give to anyone who wanted it. For longer hitches, sometimes you can get a very interesting conversation going, and being able to offer a bible with my email written in the front if they ever needed anything, was fun…..

    Through college I used to go on long hikes that would often require re-supplying in towns miles from a trailhead, and hitchhiking became second nature. Out of the dozens of rides I’ve picked up over they years, I’ve realized there are 3 types of people that will pick you up: Christians, hippies, and girls (in my case) who think you are cute. I can only think of a single ride ever that was an exception to that rule.

    If someone doesn’t believe that Christians are good people; I’d encourage them to hitchhike around for a while. A disproportionally large number of the rides you get will be from followers of Jesus’ teachings.

  14. Between the ages of 13 and nearly 18, when I got my first car, I hitched the equivalent of approx once around the world (25,000 Mi). I’ve been picked by all types…from homosexuals looking for a score to drunks to an Aboriginal who tried to force me onto the Res to be a ‘sparring partner’ for his aspiring boxer brother…to an off duty RCMP officer…etc. (he gave me a 500 Mi ride, bought me meals, paid for an overnight stop, etc. perhaps the most memorable was the time I walked off a ferry, facing a 50 mile hitch to catch the next ferry, and by the time I got to where I could thumb, the ferry had emptied. A local couple in their 50’s stopped….and told me they were out for a Sunday drive…they drove me 50 miles out of their way to the next ferry. when I tried to thank them, they just said…”Pass it on” (long before the “pay it forward” mantra). I’ve often been reminded of them, when faced with the choice…stop or don’t stop, or when an ostensibly homeless person says they’re hungry….and though I don’t give cash, I remember that couple…and offer to buy breakfast or lunch. Of course, my hitchhiking was thought the 60’s, and I always dressed neatly (think hippie era), and carried a suitcase, not a backpack.

  15. Seneca Griggs says

    In my hitch-hiking days, I was going from L.A. to Seattle to see a girlfriend ( of course). Got picked up at midnight by these 4 young people in a Corvair (basically a 4 person vehicle). I accepted the ride, they told me they were headed from from a rock concert in Frisco and I quickly realized they were all stoned out of their mind. I was pretty sure we’d get stopped by the police and I’d end up in jail with them. Luckily that didn’t happen. We arrived at their destination, one of the guys gave me an old sleeping bag and I slept by a stream underneath a bridge. Never did make it to Seattle; the girl ended up marrying someone else.