Editor’s Notebook: The Summer of Hitchhiking

by Greta Belanger deJong One thing I love about editing CATALYST each month is that I always learn new things. For instance, if youmentioned Wasatch Crest Ridge, I’d have guessed it was a new high-altitude real estate project. From Sophia Nicholas’ back-to-school story I learned it’s a 3,000-mile-long trail that runs from Mexico to Canada-right through our own backyard.

Maybe I’ll start attending yoga classes again to get in shape for tackling this hike (you can pick up the trail at the top of Millcreek Canyon’s Big Water Trail). Or maybe I’ll venture out on this hike to get in shape for yoga….

In another piece in this issue, Sophia profiles “the other side” of Mayor Ralph Becker: Meet the river-runner, desert rat and yoga practitioner. This is one of my favorite CATALYST stories in a long time. I hope you read it.

I did have to smile at Sophia’s awe of the fact that Ralph used to hitch-hike. Times do change. In “those days,” all young adventurers hitch-hiked. We were learning the world was bigger, and in most cases friendlier, or at least more varied, than we had been led to believe. Today’s “stranger danger” was not a prevalent attitude.

One summer when we were 19 or 20, my friend Kate (whose beautiful echinacea photo was on last month’s cover) and I hitched from Madison, Wisconsin to Boulder, Colorado. Outside of Lincoln, Nebras_ka we got a ride from a couple in a gold Cadil_lac who drank Coke and chucked the empties out the window. In the back seat, I was apoplectic. Never in my life had I seen someone do this. I thought of the sad Indian in the TV commercial, and of Keep America Beautiful, the anti-litter campaign championed by Lady Bird Johnson. I was itching to proselytize. Kate, always the more judicious, sent me a warning look. In spite of my inclinations, I kept my mouth shut. So much to learn about the people of the world.

Into Boulder, wonder of wonders, we got a ride from some Madison boys we actually knew. They were spending the summer renovating an old cabin up Eldorado Canyon. They invited us to join them, and we did, for a week or so. Hitch_hiking in those days was means that often became an end, with offers of places to stay and dinner gatherings.

My mom never let on that she knew I hitchhiked, though I expect she knew. Dad, on the other hand, would drive me to the freeway instead of the bus station, when it was time to head back to school after a holiday, hand me the bus fair and tell me to “be careful.” I’m grateful for his trust in me and the universe.

Of course many people thought it was a risky thing to do, and one would occasionally hear of a bad interaction. Once a man made some innuendos. I politely ignored them, asked if he had any daugh_ters (he did) and got him talking about them. The wind of ill intentions blew over and I forgave his lapse in good taste, though I did get out at the next convenient stop.

I think back now to how brave I was then, and how natural it seemed at the time.

Two summers ago, my friends Kristen and Melissa and I were headed to Burning Man when the engine blew in the borrowed Subaru wagon we were driving. We hitched from Lovelock, Nevada all the way to Black Rock City with an entire carload of food in about the same amount of time as if we’d been driving, and got dropped off right at our camp. I think it was Kristen’s karma; she assured us we’d have no trouble getting rides, and she was right.

Nobody hitchhikes any more unless their car has broken down: The drivers think the hikers are penitentiary escapees, and the hikers aren’t so sure about the drivers, either.

Too bad. It was a good way to get to know our country; one had conversations with people you might never otherwise encounter. It was ecological; few students I knew owned a car, and still everyone got around.

A few years ago in Cuba I was told it is the law that you must pick up a hitchhiker on the freeway if there is room in your vehicle. That’s maybe going a bit far, but it does put cars back in their place: as modes of transportation, vs. homes away from home, sanctuaries for solitude, entertainment centers.

Hitchhiking has gone the way of phone booths, and young adventurers must seek out other routes.

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At the very end of the “One HEART” story, Jennifer Street Hyvonen refers to a gala fundraiser. Here is more information about it:

The Grateful Heart Gala: One HEART’s 4th annual Salt Lake City event is a fundraiser to benefit Tibetan women and babies. It’s Thursday, September 18, 6-9 p.m. at Pierpont Place. The evening includes appetizers, beer and wine, entertainment, and a live and silent auction. (Live Auction items include a trip to Tibet for two.) The event costs $75 per person. Leici@onehearttibet.org or tel. 801-596-3317.

– Greta Belanger deJong

Greta Belanger deJong is the editor and publisher of CATALYST. greta@catalystmagazine.net.