Grand Marais, MN – June 23, 2012
Preachers, firemen, migrant workers, fishermen, moms, bikers, hippies, ex-hippies, managers, park workers, musicians, grandmothers, rugby players, retirees, and joy riders have all given me rides over the years. I’ve hopped in the beds of pickup trucks, climbed into big rigs, sat around a table in the back of an RV, and squeezed into tiny cars filled with luggage.
I almost fell in love with a brunette driving a stick-shift jeep through southern California. I caught a ride with a police officer in Wyoming where hitching is illegal. I even thumbed down a raft at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, twice.
But until today, I never turned down a ride.
I’m not sure what it was. Maybe the car stopped too quick, maybe it was something about the four guys inside, maybe it was the driver’s voice, but I felt suddenly eerie and pale and knew there was no way I would get into that car.
“I’m just gonna wait,” I said. “Try and find someone going all the way up the coast.”
They were just going “about 15 miles” so it seemed like a good excuse, an easy way to turn them down.
“Come on,” the driver said. “You gotta take what you can get, buddy.”
I shook my head.
I once caught a ride with two guys driving a van with nothing but a stained mattress in the back. I got in because something told me it was fine. Instinct, my gut, whatever you want to call the ten thousand pieces of information that float past your consciousness and into the pit of your stomach.
“Thanks for stopping though,” I said.
They sped away, wheels kicking up gravel, and I stood there wondering what it was that made me turn them down and why they’d been so angry about it. Then I stuck my thumb out again.
A few minutes later, a high school football player picked me up on his way back to Silver Bay. From there, a canoe outfitter stopped and asked why I was standing on the side of the road with only half a paddle.
“The other half’s in Grand Portage with my boat,” I said. “I brought this one for luck getting a ride.”
He smiled, laughed at me, and told me to throw my stuff in the back.
“We’re headed that way,” he said.
I threw my backpack in the truck and slid the paddle on top, lucky as ever.