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Monday, 11 March 2013

Summer and Day Camps

Camp Friendship in Palmyra offers outdoor adventures, sports and horseback riding.
Photo courtesy Camp Friendship
A sampling of camps in and around Virginia
* = Day camp or day-camp option offered

*4 Star Summer CampsAcademic and sports programs held at the University of Virginia. Rising 7th- to 12th-graders. Charlottesville, (800) 334-7827

4-H Junior Summer Camp
 A weeklong residential camp for ages 9-18 at the Jamestown 4-H Educational Center. Contact your local extension office or visit

*Brilliant Summer at St. Catherine’s Coed offerings include academic courses, athletic and dance camps, a music academy, and a creative-arts day camp. Ages 3 through rising 12th-graders. 6001 Grove Ave., 288-2804, ext. 3396, or

*Camp Blue Sky Camp Programs cater to three development levels between ages 5 and
13 through activities that include arts and crafts, music and drama, culinary crafts, technology, science, and more. Multiple locations throughout the Richmond region, 747-5900

Camp Friendship
 Coed residential camp for ages 7-16. Optional adventure trips, sports clinics and equestrian program. Palmyra,  (800) 873-3223 or

*Camp Ganim Day camp for ages 2-5. Swimming lessons, socialization skills. 5403 Monument Ave., 285-6500 or

Camp Hidden Meadows
 Coed camps of varying lengths for ages 7-16, plus weeklong equestrian (ages 9-14) and rock-climbing camps (ages 12-16). Bartow, W.Va., (800) 600-4752 or

Camp Horizons A coed residential camp for ages 6-17; equestrian option. Harrisonburg,
(540) 896-7600 or

Camp Roanoke
 Residential coed summer camp for ages 5-17, operated by Roanoke County. Salem, (540) 387-6114 or

Camp Strawderman
 All-girls overnight camp with an equestrian focus. Ages 6-17. Edinburg, (301)

868-1905 (winter), (540) 984-4738 (summer) or

Camp Virginia
 A residential camp for boys featuring athletic programs, camping, horseback riding and fly fishing. Goshen, (540) 997-5518 (summer), Richmond, 282-2339 (winter)

*Chesterfield County Parks and Recreation A variety of summer camps. 748-1623

*Collegiate Summer Quest More than 100 camps, from sports to academic enrichment, for 3-year-olds to adults. 103 N. Mooreland Road, 741-9714 or

*Episcopal High School Overnight and day programs in leadership, athletics, writing, science and photography for grades 7-10. Alexandria, (703) 933-4199

Ferrum College Summer Enrichment Camp Coed, grades 4 to 7. Activities include Hogwarts Academy, chess, cooking and more. Ferrum, (888) 508-7822 or

*Great Summer Escape Day camps for children ages 6-12 are offered at Richmond’s community centers. 646-5733 or

*Hanover County Parks and Recreation Youth Summer Programs Day camps for elementary- and middle-school-age children. 365-7150 or

*Henrico County Recreation and Parks Various programs, including performing-arts, history, nature and sports camps. 501-7275 or

Henricus Historical Park Day Camps A variety of programs cater to ages 6 and older with activities that include history, nature, arts and crafts, and outdoor exploration. Henricus Historical Park, 318-8797 or

Randolph-Macon Academy Middle School Academic Camp A residential camp for students entering grades 6-8 featuring schoolwork, field trips and other activities. Front Royal, (800)272-1172 or

*St. Christopher’s School Summer Ventures Coed sports and academic-enrichment camps for ages 3-16. 711 St. Christopher’s Road, 282-3185, ext. 5327, or

*Saint Gertrude High School Summer programs and camps for middle- and high-school girls in the performing arts, fitness and athletics. 3215 Stuart Ave. and 490 Scott Road., 358-9114

*St. Joseph’s Villa Programs for 2- to 5-year-olds and school-age children, Early Autism
Services, a full-day camp for children with special needs, and a therapeutic day-treatment summer program. 8000 Brook Road, 553-3200 or

*The Steward Summer Experience A selection of camps for all ages, including sports, arts, chess and video-game creation. 11600 Gayton Road, 740-3394, ext. 6529,

*Trinity Episcopal School’s Summer Discovery Program Basketball, music, lacrosse, field-hockey and football camps for all ages. 3850 Pittaway Drive, 272-5864 or

*University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies Children’s technology workshops; cooking, golf, arts, science and drama camps; summer reading programs, SAT prep, babysitter training and more for K-12 students. 28 Westham Way, 289-8133

*Weinstein JCC Coed day camps for students entering grades K-8. Sports, art, dance and more. 5403 Monument Ave., 285-6500 or

*YMCA of Greater Richmond Featuring 18 branch locations, including Camp Thunderbird, offering day, specialty and sports camps for ages 2 1/2-18. 649-9622


Camp Alkulana Outdoors adventures and activities while exploring Christian values. Millboro Springs, 329-1701 or

Camp Blue Ridge A traditional coed residential camp affiliated with the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Montebello, (888) 746-4227, (540) 377-2413 or

*Camp Hanover Day and overnight summer sessions with traditional activities, as well as bouldering, for students entering grades 2-12. Christian focus. 3163 Parsleys Mill Road, Mechanicsville, 779-2811 or

*Camp Hilbert Day camps on Lake Rosalie for children entering grades K-9. 2240 Maidens Road, Maidens, 545-8631 or

Camp Maxwelton (boys), Camp Lachlan (girls)
  Residential Christian summer camps for boys ages 9-15 and girls 8-15. Rockbridge Baths, (540) 348-5706 or

*Camp Piankatank Baptist overnight camp with loads of water activities, horseback riding and rock climbing. Ages 10-17; weekend mini-camp for ages 7-9, day camps for ages 6-9. Hartfield, (804) 776-9552 or

Camp Willow Run An interdenominational Christian camp located on Lake Gaston,
for students entering grades 3-12. Littleton, N.C., (252) 586-4665 or

*Chinmaya Mission Summer Camp Day camp focusing on Hindu faith and culture. Ages 5-13. 11537 Nuckols Road, 364-1396 or

*Christian Youth Theater Day camps in musical theater for ages 6-13; offers a separate program for ages 14-18. 285-2987 or

Kaleidoscope Camp Christian (Mennonite) camp with lots of activities for ages 7-16. Williamsburg Christian Retreat Center, Toano, (866) 566-9272 or

Makemie Woods Presbyterian overnight camp offering canoeing, archery, ziplines and trails, plus Camp Jordan for diabetic children. Grades 1-12 (Makemie Woods); grades 3-10 (Camp Jordan). Barhamsville, (800) 566-1496 or

Oak Hill Christian Service Camp Service projects and recreation for kindergartners through 12th-graders, plus music-and-drama week for ages 13 and up. 8451 Oak Hill Camp Road, Mechanicsville, 779-3050 or

St. Sebastian’s Sports Camp Multiple sports for boys and girls ages 9 to 14. Orkney Springs, 540-856-2141 or

*Triple R Ranch Christian overnight and day camps, including horsemanship, archery and more, for ages 7-14 and a special training camp for ages 15-17. Chesapeake, (757) 421-4177

Westview on the James Methodist overnight summer camps for ages 6-15 and Adventure Trek programs for ages 13-17. 1231 Westview Road, Goochland, 457-4210

Special Interests

*ArtHaus Kids Summer Camps Ages 3-17. Explore clay, paint, mixed media, photography,
textiles and more. 1811 Huguenot Road, Suite 304, Midlothian, 897-4278

*ArtVenture Classes offered by the Visual Arts Center of Richmond for ages 3 to teens.
1812 W. Main St., 353-0094 or

Bon Secours Virginia Health System’s Nursing Explorers Camp Rising 6th- to 8th-graders interested in the medical field experience life inside the hospital, meet health care professionals, conduct experiments and more. Seven Bon Secours hospital locations in the Richmond region, 559-0647 or

Camp Motorsport Coed residential race-car and kart-driving camp for ages 8-16. Clover, (434) 822-2999 (camp); (855) 508-9382 (registration) or

Camp Sea Gull (boys), Camp Seafarer (girls) Camps for ages 6-16 in eastern North Carolina,
featuring seamanship and traditional camp activities. Arapahoe, N.C., (252) 249-1111 (Sea Gull); (252) 249-1212 (Seafarer) or

Cheerio Adventures Outdoor adventure camps featuring backpacking, canoeing, climbing, caving and more for ages 10-17. Mouth of Wilson, (276) 579-6731 or

*Children’s and Teen Studios at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Cross-cultural learning, studio projects and more for 5-year-olds to 12th-graders. July 8-Aug. 30. 200 N. Boulevard,
340-1405 or

*ComedySportz Improv Camp for Kidz Half-day camps focusing on short-form improv and creative thinking for ages 8-14. 8906 W. Broad St., 266-9377

*Discovery@VCU Offers a variety of in-depth experiences in physical, life and health
sciences, engineering and the arts for rising 6th- to 8th-graders. 828-8829

*Green Adventures Summer Camps Campers learn about the plant kingdom and their connection to it through crafts, field studies and more. Preschoolers to 7th-graders. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, 1800 Lakeside Ave. 262-9887, ext. 322, or

Henricus Historical Park Day Camps A variety of programs cater to ages 6 and older with activities that include history, nature, arts and crafts, and outdoor exploration. Henricus Historical Park, 318-8797 or

*iD Tech Summer Computer Camps Coed residential and day camps at the College of William & Mary. Ages 7-17. Williamsburg, (888) 709-TECH or

*Latin Ballet of Virginia Two-week course in ballet, Latin jazz, modern, hip-hop and multicultural dance styles. Ages 5-18. Cultural Arts Center, Glen Allen; Richmond CenterStage, 356-3876 or

Lobs & Lessons Offers full-day, weeklong camps at the Mary and Frances Youth Center for rising 1st- to 8th-graders. Camps focus on tennis, but also include daily activities and nutrition lessons. 828-9276 or

*Mad Science Full- and half-day camps in robotics, fort building, space and forensics for grades 1-6 at locations throughout metro Richmond. 359-1500 or

*Maymont Summer Camps Outdoor adventures and hands-on activities for ages 18 months to rising ninth-graders. 2201 Shields Lake Drive, 358-7166, ext. 324 or 333, or

Nature Camp
 A coed summer camp specializing in natural-history and environmental-science education, for students in grades 5-12. Vesuvius, (540) 377-2491 (camp phone), (540) 460-7897 (inquiries) or

Randolph-Macon Academy Flight Camp Students entering grades 9-12 learn to fly a plane
and even solo in a Cessna 172. Front Royal, (800) 272-1172 or

Southern Mystique Film Camp One-week summer filmmaking camp for ages 14-24. 1 New Millennium Drive, Petersburg, 898-2496 or

Space Flight Adventure Camp Coed residential summer camps for students aged 11-15 interested in learning about rockets and space flight. Wallops Island, (757) 824-3800

SPARC (School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community) SummerStarz Touring Ensemble (ages 10-16), BRAVO (rising 5th- to 8th-graders), SPARClers (rising 2nd- to 4th-graders) and SPARClers Jr. (rising K-1 students). 2106-A N. Hamilton St. 353-3393

Summer Rock Camps Programs for budding rock stars ages 7-17. Short Pump School of
Rock, 4300 Pouncey Tract Road, 212-3900 or

Summer Science Explorers
 Hands-on experiments and activities for 4-year-olds to seventh-graders. 2500 W. Broad St., 864-1407 or

Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing Outdoor adventure and discovery camps for ages 8-17. New Castle, (800) 782-0779 or

YMCA Camp Silver Beach Residential Chesapeake Bay adventure camp on Virginia’s eastern shore. Sail, kayak, fish, water-ski and more. Ages 8 to 16. Jamesville, (757) 442-4634

Special Needs

Brainy Camps Residential camps for children of various ages living with health and behavioral disorders. Harrisonburg, (202) 476-3181, (202) 476-5142 or

Camp Abilities Maryland
 A sports and recreation camp for children who are blind or

visually impaired. Lusby, Md., (240) 737-517, or

*Camp Baker Overnight summer camp sessions (day options available) for children and adults with mental retardation ages 6 and up. 7600 Beach Road, Chesterfield, 748-4789

Camp Easter Seals UCP Residential summer camps for children and adults with disabilities ages 6 and up. New Castle, (540) 777-7325 or

Camp Fantastic Residental camp for children ages 7-17 who have received cancer-specific treatment. Front Royal, (540) 667-3774 or

*Camp Gonnawannagoagin Weeklong day camp sessions for children with a primary diagnosis of autism ages 4-18. Virginia Beach, (757) 422-2040

Camp Holiday Trails Residential summer camp sessions for children with special health needs aged 5-17. Charlottesville, (434) 977-3781 or

*Camp Jordan Residential camps for rising 3rd- through 10th-graders with diabetes.
Barhamsville, (757) 566-1496 or

Comfort Zone Camp Free, year-round bereavement camps for children ages 7-17. Mechanicsville and Goochland, 377-3430 or (866) 488-5679 or

*Gallaudet University Summer Programs Residential camps for hearing-impaired high-school students ages 14-18. Washington, D.C., (202) 448-7272 or

*Starfish Savers An outdoor-adventure day camp for children, teens and young adults (ages 9-26) with high-functioning autism, Asperger’s Syndrome or ADHD. Centreville, (703) 631-9557 or

*Surfers Healing VB A one-day camp at the beach, free to registered participants, for children with autism and their families, complete with surfing sessions. Virginia Beach, (757) 544-3224 or

*Voices Together For children with autism: coed day camps for ages 5-12, and an adventure day camp for high school students. 5403 Monument Ave., 545-8658 or


6 Points Sports Academy Softball, baseball, basketball, swimming, tennis and other sports for rising 4th- to 11th-graders. Affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. Greensboro, N.C., (561) 208-1650 or

Adidas Tennis Camp
 One-week program, all ability levels. Day and overnight options. Fredericksburg, (800) 944-7112 or

*Bogey’s Sports Park Junior golf camps (age 15 and under)every summer. 1675 Ashland Road, 784-1544 or

*Camp Carysbrook Residential and day camps for girls ages 6-16, or an  equestrian camp for girls ages 10-16. Riner, (540) 382-1670 (summer), (703) 836-7548 (winter)

*i-SportsCamps A residential or day golf camp at Birdwood Golf Course for players ages 10-17. Charlottesville, (434) 972-6083 or

*Passages Adventure Camp Day and overnight camps include rock-climbing, kayaking, Fat Tire Camp (new) and a mountain bike camp. Ages 5-17. 11421 Polo Circle, Midlothian, 897-8283, ext. 310, or

*Richmond Ice Zone Figure-skating camps and hockey camps. 636 Johnston-Willis Drive, 378-7465 or

*Richmond Indoor Sports Experience Ages 5-13. 2300 Oak Lake Blvd., Midlothian, 744-4600 or

*Richmond Kickers Soccer Camps Ages 2-16. 644-5425 or

*SkateNation Plus Basic Skating lessons, hockey and figure-skating. 4350 Pouncey Tract Road,
364-1477 or

*Shaka Smart Basketball Camps Day camps conducted by VCU’s coaching staff for all levels of players, with an emphasis on teamwork and sportsmanship skills. Sessions are June 24-28, July 15-19 and Aug. 5-9. Stuart C. Siegel Center, 1200 W. Broad St., 828-1278

*Sports Center of Richmond All-sports and soccer camps for ages 3-17. 1385 Overbrook Road,
257-7267 or

*Stone Bridge Farm Full- or half-day horseback riding camps for riders of all levels, ages 8-17; sleepover camp for ages 10-17; Horse Show Camp for intermediate and advanced riders ages 8-17. Natural Bridge, (540) 291-1000 or

*Tall Cedars Farm Equestrian day camps for all levels of experience. 11353 Rocky Ridge Road, Glen Allen, 883-3003, (804) 357-4231 or

*University of Richmond Spiders Sports Camps A wide range of sports camps, including baseball, football and tennis.

*VCU Sports Camps Basketball, soccer, field-hockey, baseball and volleyball camps. 1200 W. Broad St., 828-4000 or

*Virginia Fishing Adventures Day and overnight fishing camps for boys and girls ages 6-16. 687-1869 or

*Virginia Outside Mountain-biking camps for boys and girls ages 8-13. 687-1869

Tales of a 60-year-old hitchhiker

Tales of a 60-year-old hitchhiker
(Credit: Photo of the author)
I knew they could see me. Families on their way to the lake, truckers hauling loads on deadlines, couples heading for church or breakfast – they all would have found me directly in their line of sight as they screamed into the westbound curve at 70 miles per hour. I imagined that for those 10, maybe 15 seconds, they thought: Is that a person on the shoulder? Where’s his car? What’s he doing? Looking for a ride? Really? Then, whoosh, they were past.
They were coming at the rate of about one vehicle every four seconds. That would be more than 15 per minute. More than 1,000 per hour. Times two, for the time I’d been there. I knew it wasn’t personal, but from where I stood, it was still a lot of rejection. The sun rose higher, its glare and warmth intensifying.
All I’d have to do, I thought, was hop across the median and turn my back on all of this – head east, back to the Twin Cities and home, and never tell anyone I was ever serious about hitchhiking 1,700 miles to visit a friend in Twisp, Wash., a small town in the mountains east of Seattle. I could be home in two hours, and spend my week’s vacation fishing.
It was early on Day Two on the summer road trip I’d been thinking about for several years – an appealing Western road trip, sure, but also an examination of whether the American road even resembled the one I thought I once knew. For beatniks in the ’50s and baby boomers after them, the highway was a cultural Main Street, combining adventure and community, and hitchhiking was a way to join the parade. If you had the time and curiosity, it was as good a way as any to walk off and look for America. But it had been more than 30 years since I’d been out there, and in that time hitchhiking had simply vanished, like phone booths and penny candy. Now seemed like the time to find out where everybody had gone – whether the Me Decades or a generation of ramped-up fear had made that highway commons a different place, and made us a different people – suspicious, driving solo, insulated by our custom music and podcasts.
Also, I had just turned 60. In another year I could be having a hip transplant, or worse. I realized I was in a rare position, as lives go: no elderly parents, no wife, no girlfriend, not even a dog. No disabilities. My two grown daughters seemed to turn pale when I mentioned the trip (the urge to wander being a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease), but they weren’t about to say no. Suddenly, thumbing halfway across the country – farther than I ever had before – had become something I knew I had to do now, before it would be impossible or certainly just crazier. It was something I knew I would deeply regret not doing.
But what was I thinking? Even when thumbing was commonplace, hitchhikers were an object of suspicion, and old ones even more so. Now I could easily be taken for a guy fresh off a 40-year hitch in the penitentiary. A crazy. A deadbeat. And that was even if people understood the meaning of the little sign I was holding, with its one, handwritten word: “West.” So after two hours on the shoulder that morning (and one hour the evening before), I was beginning to have my own doubts. If I’d wanted to celebrate my seniority, why hadn’t I just gone on a cruise or cut back on salt? Twenty-four hours after leaving my Minneapolis home, I was stuck in Albany, Minn., only four rides and 100 miles up the road, and the first 40 had been on a commuter train out of town. Turning back east, to what was close and familiar, suddenly seemed to make sense.
That’s when the big red pickup hauling the enormous horse trailer slowed to a long halt on the entrance ramp shoulder. The driver opened his door and waved to me.
“Where you going?” I asked.
“Bismarck,” he said.
And I was in.
I began hitchhiking to get to high school, as my brother had before me. We lived on a busy street near a traffic signal, so we could simply walk the line of idling cars, books under our arms, asking for rides. We were clean cut and always got to school, which of course got me thinking this was a pretty reliable way to get from place to place.
In time, my hitchhiking horizons broadened. There were trips on college weekends to see my sweetie, or relatives in Chicago, or friends in Sioux City or Saugatuck. Trips to big-city concerts, and once 1,000 miles to an antiwar protest in Washington, D.C. That trip featured a night in jail for my young wife and me in Henry County, Ill. (for walking on the interstate shoulder, though insurrection was implied).
Hitchhikers were a common sight in those days. In fact, there were so many that on busy highways we often had to negotiate who got to stand where, or ask drivers to drop us off farther up the road, where there wasn’t so much competition for the next ride. If a rusty old van came limping over the hill you could often count on it pulling over to absorb everyone into the river of road-trippers. But all kinds of rides were possible. Businessmen in wide, air-conditioned sedans often stopped, looking for someone to keep them awake with conversation or to pepper with questions about us young kids and hair and the war. Guys just out of the service, readjusting, curious about college and girls and driving hot new cars. Sometimes “older” couples with kids about our age. All types, and they’d often tell their secrets, encouraged by the odd intimacy of the front seat, where the hours demand conversation but eye contact is difficult. And then they dropped you off and drove out of your life, leaving you a little closer to your destination, with their stories now in your bag.
Soon, of course, I got my own cars, and kids, and jobs. Getting away required more time management and less whimsy. In the fall of 1979, I thumbed part of the way from Minnesota to New Mexico, and returned cold, late and exhausted. That was the last time I’d hitchhike, until 32 years later.
In that time I don’t believe I saw even a dozen hitchhikers, total, anywhere in the U.S. The aging of the baby boomers, I’m sure, was part of it. So was the growth in vehicle ownership.
In 1965, there were about 47 vehicles on the road in the U.S. for every 100 residents, according to the Federal Highway Administration. In 2007, the number was 84. That’s getting close to one vehicle for every man, woman and child in the country. Meanwhile, one glimpse of a high school parking lot will tell you that kids who once might have been likely to stick their thumbs out on a highway shoulder now don’t lack for personal transportation. And if everybody’s got their own wheels (or a cut-rate airline ticket), who’s left to bum rides?
There are some people — experts, in fact — who view hitchhiking as an environmentally and socially positive thing to do. A solo driver is hauling space that is “a colossal resource that we waste,” according to Alan Pisarski, an international transportation policy analyst and author of “Commuting in America.” And hitchhiking could reduce that waste, he says, with new communications technologies helping people find rides while easing the risks and fear associated with hitchhiking. That’s already been happening in Washington, D.C., and some other large cities, where commuters have developed an informal but website-supported activity called “slugging.” Slugs — the riders — connect with drivers at designated locations, and both get to work more quickly than they otherwise might because the driver qualifies for the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on freeways. Slugging even has its own code of in-the-car etiquette, governing the radio, talking and coffee-drinking. And authorities have winked.
But long-haul hitchhiking, quite a different enterprise from commuting, doesn’t appear to have many practitioners. If you’ve grown up getting rides from your parents, who then gave you your own car, while you also became accustomed to the instant responsiveness of the Internet, or if you’ve had your own wheels for the last 40 years, why would you subject yourself to the uncertainties of unscheduled rides with strangers? Serendipity is just too cute a word for it.
And let’s not ignore the fear factor. It’s a cliché by now: the hitchhiker, kidnapped, cut up and left in a plastic bag on the side of the road. Or, conversely, the hitchhiker who robs and kills the people who picked him up. The 1974 film “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is still getting mileage out of that one. Meanwhile, Let’s Go Publications, the series of travel books founded in 1960, which grafted the cheap utility of hitchhiking onto the romance of youthful travel, by the 1980s was warning that the practice was dangerous. In 2011, the books got rid of their “thumb” logo altogether.
But how well-placed is that fear of hitchhiking? Some say not very: Most murder victims know their killer. Noted sports statistician Bill James, who has recently turned to crime analysis, says that hitchhikers aren’t any more of a danger to society than any other group of people that might include random predators. Crime didn’t go down when hitchhiking slacked off, he added. And while he says he doesn’t pick up hitchhikers himself, he regards the practice as good for society (apart from his personal safety), by building trust and a sense of community.
When I called the Montana state patrol before I left to ask what was legal and what wasn’t, the woman who answered the phone used the word “dangerous.” When I asked what she meant, she said it’s not that hitchhikers are getting waylaid, it’s just that people standing or walking on the shoulder of the road often get hit. “You’ve got to be totally on your ‘A’ game,” she said.
But the shrewdest insight I found in my preparations came from Elijah Wald, author of “Riding With Strangers/A Hitchhiker’s Journey,” and a lifelong, global hitchhiker. These days, predators aren’t out burning $3.50-per-gallon gas looking for victims, Wald wrote. More likely they’re cruising the Information Highway. And that wasn’t my route.
I’d be joking if I said I knew how to prepare for this trip. I had no idea how long it would take me, and although I planned to fly home, I couldn’t buy a ticket, because I didn’t know when (or how) I’d get from Twisp to the Seattle airport. I didn’t know where I’d be each night. And for some reason — probably years of driving around on my own, and stopping when I wanted to — I was really worried about whether I’d get to the bathroom enough, and how I’d avoid getting hungry. And would I get coffee when I needed it?
I did make one rule for myself: No camping. At my age I deserved a motel room after a long day on the road, even a cheap one. Of course that also meant I wouldn’t have to carry a big load of gear, either. So I packed a borrowed backpack with a couple of changes of clothes, a rain jacket, a laptop and a heavy but otherwise forgettable book. I also packed a foam board that I could break into pieces to make signs, and a big, thick marking pen. My granddaughter had made me a card reading “Good Luck! Have Fun!” which I tucked into my book as my good luck charm. I locked up the house, not knowing exactly when I’d be back or even how far I’d get.
I had told very few people about this. I’d started a blog I would update often on the road; I’d also developed a plan with my kids to text them every time I got picked up, and then again when I got dropped off. I’d thought about shooting pictures of license plates of cars that had pulled over for me and emailing them, but I quickly realized that was the exactly the sort of thing I didn’t want to do: approach would-be rides with suspicion. Good judgment, yes. Suspicion, no. And gratitude, yes.
The pickup driver was John Berger, hauling eight bucking bulls and a pony from a rodeo in Rice Lake, Wis., back to his home in Mandan, N.D.
“You looked like a clean-cut fellow,” he said, when I asked why he’d picked me up.
I’d never ridden with bucking bulls. But hitchhiking trips are full of surprises, and this one was already pushing the limit. The day before, in fact, the second ride of the trip had been (for me) unprecedented: a lift on the back of a motorcycle.
“You gotta be kidding,” I said when Dale, a well-built guy in a tank top with several spikes in his face, pulled over to where I stood on the entrance ramp at Monticello, Minn.
“This’ll work. Just tie that backpack on with those bungees,” he said.
I turned my cap around (seems I hadn’t packed a helmet), and as we leaned into the traffic, Dale asked if I was hungry or thirsty. His church, the Church of the Living Water, just up the road in Clearwater, Minn., was giving away food, water and clothes to anybody who stopped by. I’d just eaten, and I didn’t want to lose time, so I asked him just to drop me at the closest exit. But then: an epiphany. I had no control of time, I realized. No control of anything, really. I didn’t know where I’d be from hour to hour, or whom I’d be riding with. And wasn’t that the point? I could stand at a hot freeway interchange waiting for a ride that might or might not materialize, or I could go to Dale’s church picnic, meet people I would never seek out in my normal life, and then ride farther up the road on the back of his motorcycle to St. Cloud, tacking hard into the wind. I realized I’d have to chuck my usual impatience. And it meant that, even in a small way, I’d have to discover faith. I’d get somewhere. It would take however long it took.
I had to trust that the rides would come.
And they did. By Sunday night, I was in Glendive, Mont., more than 500 miles from Albany, Minn., where I’d thought about turning around that morning. After Berger and his bucking bulls, I got picked up by a National Guard chaplain whose wife was the superintendent of schools in Dickinson, N.D. Then I crossed the high plains of western North Dakota with Terry, a high-speed talker who was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, since he’d spent the day managing his gas well-drilling company’s golf tournament. These were people I should fear?
As the sun set, I had clearly reached the West. Vent flames from natural gas wells — a signature feature of the new industry turning western North Dakota inside out — dotted the vast, treeless landscape like fireflies. Glendive, Mont., which I remembered as a quiet outpost on the range, was now busy with trucks pulling off the highway and men just hanging around in small groups outside the few motels – workers gearing up for another week in the fracking fields or on the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad expansion. I was lucky to get a room. But luck was with me, I now believed.
The next day, Monday, another gas worker, heading from New Town, N.D., to his home in Caldwell, Idaho, for a three-week vacation, hauled me nearly 300 miles to Bozeman, Mont. Berger had been right: Once I got out of Minnesota, the rides would get longer. I quit for the night after one more ride, to Three Forks, Mont., now three days and 1,000 miles from home. More than halfway.
Tuesday morning I stopped for breakfast in a restaurant next to the motel, plopping my pack onto a chair and lying across the top my latest handmade sign, which now read, “Missoula.” The waitress asked why I had the sign.
I explained that I was hitchhiking, and that I wasn’t really going to Missoula, but well beyond that. She wished me luck, and 10 minutes later, as I was paying my bill, slipped me two fresh scones in a bag.
No charge. “In case you get hungry,” she said.
Suddenly I realized that, as I inched my way west, at the mercy of strangers and sun, people were actually looking out for me. “I saw you when I was going the other way, and couldn’t believe you were still here,” several said. A pair of off-duty tribal police officers picked me up in succession, providing a sort of police escort through some otherwise sparsely traveled country. And two drivers, when I asked why they’d picked me up, said God had told them to.
But it was after that breakfast at Three Forks, posted on the shoulder at Milepost 278, that I received a sign from the ancestors. Bored and wandering along the shoulder, checking out the trash and wildflowers as little traffic came by, I thought about taking a picture of the streetlight at the entrance as it curved in graceful isolation against the open, blue sky. And as I approached the base, I noticed a rusted inscription at eye level:
“Rainbow Krystal. 7/1/81. Good Hitching to You All.” Thirty years ago!
Krystal was probably long gone from the road, and maybe even from life. But the connection felt almost alive. Here, at last, was my traveling companion — a vaporous partner, joined through time in the adventure and the tedium, in the youthful dependence on the kindness of strangers, in the gluttonous delight in the scent of hot sage and the chirping of meadowlarks, and in the simple, summery joy of moving on, particularly west. Here was someone who knew the way, who’d stood in this very spot, trying to flag a ride. Times had changed, sure. But even though I was waiting longer for rides than I ever remembered, Krystal might have found the experience familiar: a trip down a vivid receiving line of eccentrics and brooders, protectors and braggarts, seekers and lecturers, actors and emcees. Some were former hitchhikers returning the favor, while others said they thought it might be something they’d try themselves someday. And all of them, for a little while, were neighbors. (And, yes, one was too drunk to be driving.)
Whatever they sought from me — conversation, or the fulfillment of some mission (none asked for money) — I hope I provided. Thank you, Krystal. And to those who follow: Good Hitching to You All!
There wasn’t much traffic late the next afternoon as I walked north through Bridgeport, Wash., about 50 two-lane miles from my primary destination: Twisp, Wash., where my friend had just bought the weekly newspaper. (And you thought my road trip was nutty?) I passed the town’s only motel, boarded up a generation ago, and started wondering if I’d need to sneak under someone’s porch to sleep. I heard several cars approaching, turned, and locked in on a small, blue BMW convertible. “This would be nice,” I thought.
The car slowed. The driver, wearing a plaid shirt and amber glasses, appraised me, then stopped at my feet.
“Hop in. You’re going to Brewster?” he said, reading my sign, indicating the only destination I thought people in the area might recognize.
“Actually, I’m trying to get to Twisp,” I said. The word sounded funny, but the idea was becoming reality.
“I’m going right through Twisp,” he said.
And so the best came last — an easy cruise in a luxury two-seat convertible, winding down the Columbia and up the smaller Methow River as twilight enveloped the mountains. Claude Bannick, the driver, who turned out to be a prominent lumberman in the valley, told me about how he and his late wife had hitchhiked all over Europe. Had I not been so aware of how I’d arrived at this moment, I might have thought the music on the satellite radio — the Grateful Dead — was proof I had returned to another time. But this was clearly now.
Because when we drove into Twisp, there was my pal Don, now a publisher, waiting in front of the Methow Valley News office. I introduced him to Claude, now his neighbor in the valley. These days, it’s all about networking.
I’m pretty sure that’s the last time I’ll hitchhike. I really am too old for that sort of thing; a highway shoulder is a loud, dirty, assaultive place to spend a day. The long waits and doubts can be wearying. Several friends said later they never thought I’d make it, and while I was glad they hadn’t told me that, I could hardly believe it myself.
Was I lucky? Was I ever. Luck has always been part of it, though patience is its partner. It’s possible that in some other week I might have gotten few rides and had to fly home from Billings — or even Fargo. Or it might have rained. Or that deputy sheriff way back at Albany, Minn., might have visited me a second time, asked me if I wasn’t the same guy he’d told to get off the road the night before, and hauled me to the local senior center.
But in 19 rides over 1,700 miles I found that it’s still possible to hitchhike in America, and get where you’re going. Perhaps we’re even on the verge of a renaissance. I’ll leave that to others. But I do believe they’ll find that the American road is still a hospitable place, that our fellow travelers are curious and caring, and that fear will get you nowhere.
Bill McAuliffe has been a staff writer at the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 32 years. He lives in Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @BillMcMpls.