Haha, good idea right. I’m a fan of hitchhiking in general. It’s a good, cheap way to get around and lends you to many an interesting experience that you might not otherwise be privy to. This post is destined to be about hitchhiking to Fairbanks from Nenana, Alaska on one very cold day, but I’m afraid I just cant resist the urge to digress for a moment and tell of my absolute favorite hitchhiking experience.
The Spring of 2004 I was traveling about the Indian subcontinent with a brilliant, though slightly crazy German fella by the the name of Jacob who was originally from one of those Ex Soviet *stan countries, Eastern Europeish. We had just crossed the India-Pakistan border on foot coming from the Lahore, Pakistan side. There’s about 30km or so of road between Amritsar, our destination, and the border itself. As you can always expect in India, anywhere tourist are likely to be found, there is always a band of rickshaws waiting to give you a ride at an exorbitant price. In this particular situation however, there is no bus and no other means of transport back to Amritsar and the flock of rickshaw drivers had banded together and refused to negotiate a price lower than roughly four times what would have been a reasonable rate. Even considering there were at least half a dozen rickshaws and Jacob and I were the only foreigners in sight they wouldn’t budge. We proceeded into a fury of sorts accusing them of blatantly ripping us off, which they were, but they they didn’t seem to mind. It became apparent that this was a regular attraction on the border as the locals started amassing to watch the spectacle. Jacob and I ultimately refused the inflated price and decided we would try and hitchhike to Amritsar and if we couldn’t we would walk the the 30km. Well, the vehicle that we were able to flag down was a donkey cart carrying onions. The driver said he was headed all the way to Amritsar and he would take us on the back of the cart if we liked. He slowed, cleared a spot for us and we hopped on. The locals were obviously taken by our conviction and began to cheer as we settled and started to move, still in sight of the rickshaw gang. Jacob and I looked at each other and smiled, we won. The event exploded as the cheering started and the rest of the locals came to the street to see what was going on to find two foreigners riding a donkey cart down the main drag. The newcomers joined the cheering, Jacob and I happily smiled and waved. Through our bout with the rickshaw gang we had not only hitched a ride, but in doing so we inspired our very own Indian parade of which we were the main attraction. I love the Indians. As we cleared the end of the small strip and headed into the country side we noted that we could actually walk faster than the donkey cart could carry us. Just then, one of the rickshaws pulled along side of us and offered a ride at the Indian rate, well below the standard tourist rate. We gladly agreed and rode all the way to Amritsar with a sense of having actually beat the system of a foreign country, earning the hard fought respect of the rickshaw drivers and becoming the heroes of the moment on that small strip of pavement out of the no man’s land between India and Pakistan.
Having just relived that memory through digression it was such a triumphant moment compared to hitchhiking out of Nenana in the dead of winter. Cowboy boots. Cowboy boots are not meant for December in interior Alaska. Buts that’s all I had. I can say that cowboy boots do lend to the ceremonious event that is pulling on a good pair of boots and heading back into the world afresh, but they don’t keep your toes very warm. After the final blow out with captain Andy at Goldstream kennel in Nenana I packed my most necessary personal effects and hit the road on foot. My last glance at the thermometer indicated -26. It was mid December. I was supposed to stay the Winter. I was supposed to get paid. Neither one happened and it’s almost impossible to describe the thoughts that bounce back in forth in one’s head when they have just a few bucks in their pocket and they’re walking down the highway in the middle of Alaska what might as well be a million miles from home. I thought the passers by might have a little more concern for my plight. Hey, it’s goddamn cold out here. I walked, up and down hills in the snow for six and a half miles with 50lbs on my back and my dog at my side and those damned cowboy boots with no tread on the bottom. You start to wonder if maybe the world has finally forsaken you, if whatever it is that drives the wanderers to wander is actually insanity, if maybe this time you’ve gone just a little too far off the reservation. Finally, someone stops, a nice couple from Healy (site of the magic bus from “Into the Wild”) heading into town to grocery shop. I was well beyond pleased to see a friendly face and a warm seat. I told them of my experiences at Goldstream Kennel, my trip to Alaska and then we talked about the bus for a while. I learned that they didn’t film the movie in the actual bus where McCandless died, but in a staged bus in a more picturesque location. Hollywood. He told me about actually using the bus as a hunting cabin before all of the drama and how now, people just come and take pieces of it and there’s not much left. He drove me all the way to my destination in Fairbanks, Laurel’s cabin where I was taken in and given food and warmth. The end of one adventure and the beginning of a new one.
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