Hitchhiking - The Highway to Ohio

The Highway to Ohio

By Charles Moffat - January 2008.

I have a long history of hitchhiking and there is always an edge of excitement whenever I do it. It is a bit like skydiving and roller coasters because it is both frightening and exhilarating.

To me the biggest disappointment is waiting for the cars. I have very little patience so I usually start walking backwards with my arm out. Walking alongside a dirty freezing American super-highway in the dead of March is not something I want to ever do again.

Let alone carrying a bag weighing 80 lbs on my back. It was my second time hitchhiking and I quickly learned that I should have packed a lot less books for the trip.

I had started out on my parents' farm in Ontario and walked down to the highway at the corner. A neighbor spotted me and gave a ride into town. Walking south of town I caught another ride that took me most of the way to London, Ontario. The driver was a pilot heading south-east to Toronto to pilot a plane and I was heading for the American border which was south-west. We made really good time because he was running late and speeding 20 to 40 km/h above the speed limit.

I hope he got there in time.

The next guy to pick me up was a delivery man going across the border, but due to company rules he couldn't take me across the border himself. I had to call a taxi.

I told the border guards I was a pall bearer at a funeral in Flint, Michigan (total lie, I was visiting a female friend near Columbus Ohio). I was 18 at the time and didn't feel very comfortable discussing my love life with American border security. Security in 1997 wasn't very tight and they practically waved me through at the Port Huron border.

It had only been about 2 hours since I had left my parents' farm.

I ended up walking through all of Port Huron. Lots of suburbia. It took about 4 hours. I got very tired of looking at substandard American housing. Eventually walked through some nicer newer sections and then on the outskirts of Port Huron, new construction.

Finding another highway I finally caught a ride with another delivery truck, this one delivering a smashed up sports car on a flatbed to Pontiac on the outskirts of Detroit. (The story behind the smashed sports car was that it had belonged to a rich young man who had gone speeding down a hill and ran into the corner of a Mack truck, causing the car to somersault in the air and land on its side. The one side of the car looked perfectly fine but the other side was demolished and crumpled inwards.) He dropped me off near a highway and it wasn't even a minute when another car stopped and picked me up.

It was an older man, mid-fifties, and a lawyer. He jokingly told me at one point that if he could find a woman that could tell when he was lying that he'd marry her. Again he dropped me off near a highway and it wasn't long before I was picked up.

This time it was a truck driver heading to Chicago. Pay dirt! He dropped me off on Highway #23 south of Flint. From here I could catch a truck or something going all the way

Or not. I walked for hours and it was getting late.

To pass the time I sang 100 bottles of beer on the wall, talked to god, threatened god, kicked pop cans on the side of road. It was cold and snowing a bit and there was no one even slowing down. Actually that is not true. One bunch of idiots swerved at me and tried to hit me.

That gave me something to complain about and I did so loudly until I came across a derelict old Ford big rig rotting in a field. It looked like it had been built in the 1960s and hadn't moved since the 1970s. I hopped the fence and checked to see if the door would open. It was clean and relatively warm inside compared to the cold outside.

So I slept the night in a rusting Ford, sleeping fitfully due to the cold. I awoke to sunlight and feeling horrible. I brushed my hair, ate a snack I was carrying and headed out.

I was a bit confused because it had been dark last night and I wanted to make sure I was actually on the right highway. Walking through a small town I spotted a police cruiser and asked directions. He gave me the directions but then stopped me.

He decided to call in to dispatch and report a "suspicious character" (confirmation that I looked horrible in addition to feeling it). He looked at my ID and eventually I went on my way. I stopped at a McDonald's in the same town and decided to get some breakfast (and shaved in the bathroom).

Heading south of town I got picked up a young mother (she couldn't have been much older than I was) with two kids, ages 1 and 3. The oldest was a boy and I sat in the back with him while he counted trucks out the back window.

"One truck. Two truck. Two truck. Two truck."

Apparently he understood plural but hadn't yet grasped the concept of three.

She dropped me off near the southern edge of Michigan and I caught a truck driver going south to Charleston, West Virginia (which meant he was going through Columbus, Ohio on the way). Finally!

Ohio went by in a blur. It wasn't even noon yet and I arrived at my destination. The relationship ended badly anyway, but the process of getting there had been a exhilarating, sometimes scary, adventure.

The female friend and I didn't get along very well. I was an artist and she was an art critic. It was doomed from the beginning. I was young, foolish and didn't care though. I look back at that as a defining moment in my life and what I believe in.

I found a girlfriend who was closer to home and also an artist. I still don't drive. I got my driver's license but it expired when I decided to travel overseas. These days I rely upon subways and taxis.

I took taxis almost every day when I lived in Jeonju, South Korea. Taxis there are really cheap and for less than a subway ride in Toronto ($2) I could get almost anywhere in Jeonju I wanted to go.

Don't get me wrong, I love cars and I'm the editor of the Automotive eZine, but I just don't see the point in owning my own car right now. Call me a goddam hippie if you want to, but I'm waiting for hydrogen cars to come out.

One last thing: With the exception of the mother and the neighbor, every person who picked me up is a former hitchhiker themselves. It is almost like belonging to a club. So when hydrogen cars do come out you can guarantee I will be picking up my share of hitchhikers in the future.

The real question will be how many people actually hitchhike by 2012?

Hitchhiker's Guide to getting a Ride

By Suzanne MacNevin - January 2008.

Once part of the American dream of movement and adventure, hitchhiking has dwindled as a social phenomenon in America. In ages past American soldiers, workers, students and hippies hitchhiked to and from home, work and far destinations.

The act of sticking out your thumb and catching a ride with a stranger is both dubious and dangerous these days. America has become a country rife with crime, serial killers and is a far cry from the era when people supported their soldiers and hippies picked up other hippies.

But there are those courageous few who still hitchhike.


Smile: The driver should be able to tell the person he or she plans on picking up looks happy and relaxed. When you're offered a ride, you can stop smiling. You don't want to creep them out.

Look presentable: Chances are, a guy wearing a potato sack over his head and hefting a machete will have a tough time thumbing a ride. Put on the nice sports jacket you just won from that drunken businessman in a game of five-card stud, comb your unwashed hair and try not to look homicidal.

Show some Leg: Some female hitchhikers believe that showing some leg will get you more rides, but it also increases the risk of sexual assault and rape. This technique is not recommended.

Signage: Some hitchhikers prefer to hold a sign with the name of the city or place they're heading to. It can help but isn't necessary.

Travel Light: Don't bring unnecessary items and store them in something you can put on your lap comfortably and won't be a nuisance to get in and out of cars (ie. A guitar is a bad idea.)


Be polite: Don't mess with their radio, get your damn feet off the dashboard and remember to say please, thank you, etc. at least twice. Be grateful and appreciative.

Strike up a conversation: People who pick up hitchhikers are often ex-hitchhikers themselves (or knew someone who hitchhiked) and enjoy conversation. Talk about the weather, what is on the radio, the make of the car, etc. Avoid conversations about politics or religion.

Europe: When travelling in Europe (and assuming you are Canadian) it is recommended you wear a Canadian pin or badge or items you carry. If you're American get rid of anything that identifies you as an American. Canadians have a great reputation abroad whereas overly patriotic flag-waving Americans are rather disliked.

Famous Hitchhikers

Jack Kerouac: The face of the Beat Generation, Kerouac perfected his signature writing style while hitchhiking across America. He used his road experiences as the basis for his seminal work "On the Road."

Aileen Wuornos: Hooker-turned-serial killer, Wuornos stalked the highways of central Florida, racking up a total of (at least) six murders in one year. Before she was executed, she found religion and said she would return to Earth in a "mothership." If she were still alive today, Tom Cruise would probably try to convert her to Scientology. It is people like Wuornos who gave hitchhikers a bad name.

Devon Smith was listed in Guinness Book of World Records for most cumulative miles hitchhiked (1973 to 1985), over 468,300 km. He also held the record for hitchhiking all 48 continuous U.S. states in 33 days during 1957.

Website Design + SEO by ~ Owned + Edited by Suzanne MacNevin