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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

A (Wet and Wild) Hitchhike in the United States

I've had more wild hitchhiking stories than this trip, but thought I'd share this experience because it was my first attempt in the United States, and included the looming obstacle of customs.

Last weekend I visited my friend in Seattle and decided to hitchhike down from Vancouver, typically about a 3 hour drive, plus the unpredictable wait at the border. On the Friday morning, I took off on Vancouver's Translink network. Two hours of Skytrain and buses later, I arrived in the border town White Rock. From the last stop, I walked 30 minutes to the border.

As a pedestrian I waited in the customs line lumped with a few other drivers that drew the short straw. This line moved slowly, taking 40 minutes. On my turn, speaking with the officer, I told him I planned to "go to the nearest gas station and ask for a ride" which prompted a look of sarcasm and confusion. He then proceeded to search my entire backpack, top to bottom, which was a bit dehumanizing. He even opened my notebook, glancing at one of the pages, then turned to me and asked "so you're into gardening?"

Once past that fear mongering bureaucratic nightmare, I walked out to the nearest highway on-ramp, to a spot practically off the highway, and stuck out my thumb. After about an hour, a spit of rain starting, and a tinge of impatience wearing across my face, I spotted an authority vehicle stopped on the other side of the highway. Surely I caught their attention, so I reluctantly started back down the on-ramp.

Too late, they came off the highway and around the other side, meeting me on my on-ramp. The officer rolled down her window and told me I couldn't be on the I-5. Thankfully she must have just been a customs officer, because she didn't press me any further. I was feeling a little defeated about this but, once the officer moved along, the second or third car behind her pulled over to pick me up!

The driver told me he spotted me at first but couldn't stop in time, so circled back from the next offramp. He was also headed for Seattle and took me right to my friend's front door! We had really interesting conversations all the way there too. My driver was an intelligent gay man with a Masters of American Literature.

The Way Back

After an awesome weekend in Seattle with my friend, which included one sunny day, gardening and a cultural festival, I started off Sunday morning. Within 15 minutes of reaching the on-ramp I got a ride, but the driver could only take me 10 minutes down the highway.

My luck ended there. I waited over two and a half hours for my next ride, and it started raining sideways after just over an hour. Too bad I left my umbrella on the bus in Vancouver on my way here... I got so frustrated I texted my friend to come get me, and was ready to purchase a bus ticket home, before someone finally picked me up.

Three drivers since the day began, I ended up in Bellingham's bus terminal. I asked the staff there if there was a bus to the border. Unfortunately, not on Sundays. But the staff suggested I go to Costco, where lots of Canadians go shopping there! They even gave me a free bus ticket to get there. Once at Costco, I waited by the main entrance asking any customers with fairly loaded shopping carts and, within 15 minutes, an older Asian gentleman agreed to take me home.

We had nice conversation, and the man was very impressed with my story. I expressed concern crossing the border in his car, but he was reassuringly calm. Sure enough, we crossed customs without any hassle. Must have helped that I looked like his son! And, of course, the Canadian customs officers are much nicer.

As much of a hassle as it was to thumb it out, it was an adventure, as hitchhiking always is. I took 6 hours from Vancouver to Seattle door-to-door, where the bus might have taken around 5 hours (4 hour bus plus public transit) and driving might have taken 3.5 hours. However, I spent only $1.50 on the journey (a slightly longer trip than my monthly transit pass allowed). The bus would have cost around $35 plus additional transit to my friend's house in Seattle.

The way back wasn't so pleasant but was affirmatively glorious. I took 9 hours in four different cars, but I got a free bus ride, and a driver from a Costco! I also spent $1.50 on this journey.

It felt good to hitchhike again, to put my faith back in humanity, and to challenge the paradigm of fear and the lack of trust that pervades this tense time in human history. It felt good to make human connections through the gift economy, and to acquire my needs with very little resources.

Throughout my weekend in the States, I was involved in several political conversations. Needless to say the atmosphere is very politically charged. It's only appropriate that I end this with "Go Bernie Sanders!"

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