Travel Adventure Book
"My first long distance hitchhiking adventure took place in 1976, the Bi-Centennial Year - the 200th anniversary of the United States independence. It was a summer filled with hope, a special summer to hopefully rival the "summer of love" just eight years removed. The counterculture, of which I was certainly a part, felt that something was going to happen that year - a new way of thinking, a new way of living, a revolution, the hatching of a utopian society? Who knew? All we seemed to agree upon was that this would be a benchmark year in the history of America. In hindsight, I guess we were all wrong.
That spirit of '76, however, propelled me, my then wife, Mel, and our canine companion, Osha, to hit the road. It would be a summer that we would live to the max. We would learn that challenge doesn't necessarily just build character, it reveals it."
"By now the wind was honking, blowing sand almost horizontally across the desert. It was so intense that the driver put on his headlights and occasionally his windshield wipers. At Monahans, we bid farewell to our driver and thanked him for the 85-mile ride.
Exiting the car, we were blasted by sand. Ooooh, it stung! It was a scene right out of one of those old black and white French Foreign Legion films starring Buster Crabbe. We leaned forward into the howling wind, backpacks on our backs, and headed off the highway to find the state park. Poor Osha. The sand immediately got into her eyes, which puffed up and excreted tears and gunky custard. I got down on the ground and pulled her head up into my sweatshirt for some relief. I then found a bandana and tied it across her eyes. She would have to blindly follow our voices.
Twenty minutes later, sand in every nook and cranny in our clothes, skin, hair, ears and gear, we were in the treeless camping area. There were three RV's camping, and no one else in site. The park office was locked up tight.
We'd never be able to set up our tent in this gale, so we sought shelter in the restrooms. In the men's room, I attended to Osha. Pulling off her improvised blind, I flushed her swollen eyes with water until the sand was gone. She wagged her tail and licked my face in appreciation, then lay down and looked at me with an expression that said, "What next, my friend?"
After a quick conference with Mel, we decided to spend the night in the ladies' room. We thought that a guy might get the wrong idea if he came upon us three in the men's room. We moved to the ladies' room, situated Osha and our backpacks in the corner, then both stripped naked and jumped into the oversized shower. We actually began to feel human again as the sand washed from our bodies.
The ladies' room door opened. "What a nice dog", a woman's voice said. Now what? This camper from one of the RV's doesn't realize that it's not just Mel in the shower. Will she freak out when she discovers I'm in here, too?
"Ummm ... my husband's in here with me", Mel said meekly. "Oh, that?s alright", she replied. "I saw you were on foot when you arrived so you stay in here as long as you like. It's nasty outside." We were relived, to say the least."
"Our day in the redwoods was very relaxing and awe-inspiring. We also got the chance to take hot showers, our first since Reno, Nevada about four days prior. The campground itself was a bit annoying at times, what with kids running around screaming and yelling, negating the serenity of our majestic surroundings. Was nothing sacred? Did the parents have any appreciation of nature's glory, or was this just another place to park their 50-foot RV for the night? Hmmm.
In the morning, we were off at first light, as was our usual habit. I have always been an early riser. I recall as a five-year old getting up between 5:30 and 6 o'clock every morning. That ritual has carried with me all my life. A late morning's sleep for me is 7 o'clock, and even then I feel like I've missed part of the day. That only happens a few times a year. Sleeping until 8 o'clock is an aberration, an occurrence as rare as a Bigfoot sighting. When camping outdoors, I'm rarely lingering in my sleeping bag at 5am.
That early morning, for me, is the best time of the day. It's me and my thoughts, without interference or interruption by outside forces. I feel whole. I feel like the world is mine. My subconscious becomes my conscious. I feel more in tune with the universe, with life, with existence. I feel a link with my ancestors, our ancestors, the ancient ones. I sense man versus nature, man with nature, man and nature as one. I was born alone and I'll die alone. This 'alone' time in the mornings links the two."
"Back at our improvised campsite we built a campfire, a rarity when we're on the road. We'd need to dry out our pants and shoes and socks before taking off in the morning. The bluff afforded us a magnificent view of the ocean. The rhythmic pounding of the waves added an extra sense of tranquility, of inner peace, of oneness with nature. The circle of glow surrounding the campfire brought my mind to our distant ancestors, the hunter-gatherers that once roamed free across the planet. Live was simple back then - find food, stay warm, defend yourself. I'm sure their day often ended like ours - folks sitting around a campfire reflecting on the day's events."
"I was also struck by the devastation caused by Hurricane Hugo, which had torn through less than three weeks prior. It seemed like every fourth house was missing all or part of its roof. Many windows were boarded up, or at least covered in cloth. There were telephone poles laying everywhere, with broken lines still attached. Trees were uprooted and toppled over, or missing their tops. It was eerie. I felt for these people, though they bravely - even nonchalantly - seemed to be taking it in stride.
As a steel drum band played on the square in front of the post office, I sat on the lawn and reflected on my weeklong trip from New Jersey to St. Thomas. It had been filled with ups and downs, but here I was at the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Virgin Island vehicle license plates constantly reminded me that I was in "American Paradise".
My journey to St. Thomas was the epitome of why hitchhiking is so inspiring. It's the people you meet. The 1,200 mile jaunt from New Jersey to Miami introduced me to a lot of folks that you'd never get to know if you traveled via conventional transportation. Without a car you are forced to interact with your fellow humans. Your security blanket - the car - insulates you from the world. Getting out there on foot brings humanity into the picture. People's goodness and generosity restores your faith, giving you optimism that the world isn't such a bad place."
"These families lived simple lives in Spartan surroundings. Their houses could best be described as shacks. Many had missing windows, not that the tropical climate dictated that they ever needed to heat their house. But no windows also meant no screens, so houseflies and a wide array of insects shared the domicile. I never saw a vacuum cleaner, only brooms. In most homes, there was no living room. All family togetherness and leisure time was spent in the kitchen, or out sitting on their front steps.
Each family, plus some other native families I had come to know in the neighborhood, had me over to dinner once. Upon arrival, I inevitably would find the wife cooking on the small four-burner gas stove, with a pot of some delicious concoction on each burner. All the kids in each family would crowd around me. "Tell us a story, Mr. Doug," they'd say. Nathan had started calling me Mr. Doug from the beginning, and soon it spread amongst all the kids up on the hill in this part of Charlotte Amalie.
The kids were a joy. Once you were seated, whether in a chair or on a couch, they swarmed. Two would sit on my lap, one more at each arm. They were so physical, so affectionate, so giving of their love and loyalty. Every one of the kids had to be touching you, none would settle for being excluded. Even the ones who sat at your feet would grab a pant leg and not let go. Imagine four, five or six darling little black native kids clinging to you like lobster claws.
I sometimes pondered the reason for children's unconditional affection. Why had I become the Pied Piper? Was it because I was white? That seemed a distinct possibility.
Except for Willie's house, there may have never been a white male visitor before at the other homes. They also seemed drawn to my beard, whose reddish tinge gave me a bit of a Viking aura. They always wanted to touch my beard. Or was it because I was the teacher, the one who, in their innocent eyes, knew all kinds of things about the great big world?
Once dinner was ready, the parents (or single mother, more likely) would tell the kids, "Let Mr. Doug up so we can eat dinner." Once the kids established where Mom was going to seat me, there was a mad scramble to get the chair on either side of me. "I'm sitting next to Mr. Doug," they all would declare, then the battle would be on. The kids were so lovable that I wished they'd always be a part of my life. But I knew that wouldn't be so."
"The intense storm continued to turn our St. Thomas to Florida voyage into an immense adrenalin rush. The scary kind, the "I don't ever want to do this again" kind, but nevertheless it got your heart pounding so loud you could hear it over the howling wind and pelting horizontal rain. It also made my head feel like my brain was bouncing around inside my skull. Boy, did I have a headache!
On one of my shifts, outside alone in the dark with nothing for company but the roar of the wind and the waves, a tune suddenly popped into my head. "The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed, if not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost."" Where did the Gilligan's Island TV theme song come from? Was I losing my mind?"
"It's funny how taking a bath after all these days of not being able to get cleaned up can change your outlook on life real quick. I went from sweaty, smelly, and despondent knowing I was standing in the wrong place on Route 156 when I should have been on Route 225, to being refreshed and emitting a fragrance reminiscent of a streetwalker on a Saturday night.
Hitchhiking certainly is an up and down existence, just like working a job in real life. There's times when nothing could be better, like sleeping in that barn last night, and there are times you couldn't feel much more down. You're in a place you don't know, you're on a road you shouldn't be on, and you can't get where you're going from there. That's when it's time to make a snap decision. Let's change the karma. Let's try something else.
One thing about thumbing that certainly hasn't changed in two decades is that people who are going your way look away from you. People who are going in the opposite direction really check you out. They slow down, turn their head and really look, because they know they're safe. They know they don't have to say "no", they don't have to make the decision even though it would most likely be "no".
Those coming toward you are comfortable. They have their little pickup truck or whatever and they're secure. They're making the payments, going to work or on the job, and they think they're hot shit but they're afraid of you, especially teenagers. Teenage boys are the worst. They try to act so cool, but when you look them in the eye they look away. They can't take it."
"Being so far from civilization without light intrusion from cities, malls, car dealerships and such meant that the night sky could display all its depth and splendor without compromise. The stars projected radiance and they seemed to be suspended from a large black dome, enveloping our planet like a bubble.
With all this raw magnificence displayed at out mountainous locale, it took me back to the pre-industrial era of our world, even before the human race subjugated the earth to our dominance. For lack of a better word and to make it easier to comprehend, I'll say the "caveman" era.
How did homo erectus and homo sapiens rationalize those very natural phenomenon that we can explain in the 21st century through science? How did a wandering hunter-gatherer from 15,000 years ago deal with the earth's daily display?
Let's take a clan from the era in earth's evolution where language was rudimentary, but communication was possible. Let's assume that the clan had a leader, leaders, or at least a wise elder.
When a magnificent sunset threw glorious reds and oranges into the clouds, how did the leader explain that? What about lightning and thunder - how could that fit into their lives? Even the changing seasons - why did the earth flourish and nourish the plants and then turn bitterly cold? What was the sun, the moon? What was an eclipse? What were the stars? What was rain, what was snow, what was fog? What is a rainbow? The leader would have to calm the fears of his people. He'd have to become a thinker, or at least a good salesman to alleviate their doubts.
And so ... religion was born. Without science, the answers would have to come from somewhere else. Explain the unexplainable. It must be the gods. They are mad at us, they are pleased with us. They sit above in some great kingdom, exerting their dominance and influence over us. We must pray to them, offer sacrifice, appease their egos. We were created in their image to be subservient to them.
Okay, you get the picture. Without science, religion was invented to calm the uneducated, unsophisticated masses. The need to explain was met.
As I sat beneath the bright, thought-provoking stars, I pondered what those primitive ancestors must have thought. Then I saw a shooting star and took it for exactly what is was - a beautiful thing!"