It was May of 2009. Tom, my buddy from college, and I were eating at Buffalo Wild Wings when he tells me that in a few weeks he would be taking a 32 hour train ride from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Glacier National Park in Montana to do some backpacking and camping for a few weeks. That sounded awesome to me so I asked if he would like some company. He originally was going to go by himself, but said it was probably safer to go with someone else. So he said Yes, I could join him.
As June was approaching and school winding down, I only had a few weeks to prepare for the trip. I bought the few supplies I needed. We were carrying everything on our backs so it had to be minimal. Once school ended, off we went. Prior to our departure, I didn’t think much about the details of the trip. I assumed Tom had everything set as he had been planning this for a while now. So once we got on the train and I had some time to think, I started wondering about the trip in more detail. And one thing that came to my mind was how do we get from Point A to B without a car? I asked Tom about it and he laughed and said that we’ll just hitchhike everywhere. “Hmmmm….” I thought, and asked if he’d even done it before.
“Nope,” he said, “But how hard can it be?” I agreed. How hard could it be? It looks easy on television. All I knew is that it was going to be a fun adventure, and hitchhiking would make it even more exciting.
After 32 hours on a train, we were exhausted and ready for some sleep. Our first decision was how to travel the three miles to our campground so we could get the rest we both desired. Do we walk with our fifty pounds of gear, or do we hitch a ride? Time to try out the hitchhiking and see how it goes. It was much easier than we thought. As the train departed and the arrivals were cleaning out, an employee of the National Park service overhead us talking about how to get to our campground, and immediately asked us if we wanted a ride. We, of course, kindly accepted the offer. Aw, well, that hitched ride was waaaay too easy!
We got our first taste of our hitchhiking experience the next day. Glacier National Park is a not-so-small park, with thousands and thousands of acres and trails. The trail that Tom and I wanted to hike on our first day was about ten miles up the road. And in order to get there, we decided to stick out our thumbs and hitch a ride. We didn’t know how hard it would actually be. So we started walking up the road and every time we heard a vehicle approaching, we would edge out into the road a bit, stick out our thumbs and smile. Not sure if the first few cars even saw us, as they sped by at fifty miles per hour with about twelve inches of space between us. It was early in the morning, and there were not many cars on the road at the time. Every few minutes a car would pass without stopping, so we just continued walking.
Soon a car came by, slowed to a halt, pulled up next to us, and asked where we were headed. We said ten miles up the road to a trailhead, and he said to hop in. I’m not sure where he was from, but he was with his 14 year old son. He said he had taken each of his kids on a trip once they finished Middle School, right before the start of high school. He and his son were spending time in Glacier. He also said that we looked pretty harmless and decided to pick us up. We talked for the next fifteen minutes, arrived at our location, and departed company. Hitchhiking was not too bad and knew we would have no problem getting around the park.
Throughout the next two weeks, we hitchhiked pretty much every day. We got picked up by hippies, park rangers, even families. We rode in the back of trucks, Volkswagen vans, and overcrowded cars. Most people said that even though we had beards and were a little crusty, we looked like safe guys to pick up.
We met some pretty interesting people, heard fascinating stories, and had some wonderful laughs. But we never felt threatened by anyone. Of course, we never traveled more than 20 miles at a time and it was in a National Park. But I must say that my hitchhiking experience was a good one. I’m not sure if I’d ever hitchhike across the country, but I do know it would be full of extraordinary stories to share in life.
Life is like that. Even if you never hitchhike in life, we do go through life meeting all kinds of people wherever we go. Whether it’s a waiter in a restaurant, an inmate in prison, a co-worker, or someone you talk to in a long line, everyone has a story. Everyone has something in their life that you could learn from or just share in the moment with them. God made a wide assortment of people and situations for us to get involved with. Look the person in the eye, smile at them, say a word or two, and they just may open up to you and you will experience another day that is not as monotonous as you thought it would be. Stories…..we all love to hear a good story. Listen to someone’s story and you’ll have something to share!