It's easy to romanticize the life of a hitchhiker. I quickly conjure up visions of Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Ken Kesey hitching rides, listening to jazz, meeting charming people, and exploring the American landscape. I remember my dad's stories of hitching his way from Michigan to Florida in his 20s, imagining him as an oh-so-cool hippie before the days of parent-teacher conferences and two cars in the driveway. Part of me has always wanted to follow his footsteps: pack a small bag, head out to a freeway ramp, and stick out my thumb.
But the other (bigger) part of me knows I'm not of the Beat generation, and the horror stories of hitchhiking-gone-bad cloud my dreams of running around the country with strangers. Dev Carey, on the other hand, estimates he has received 400, maybe 500 rides from strangers, and his hitchhiking history is chronicled in the latest issue of High Country News, as told to contributing editor Michelle Nijhuis.
Carey has used his thumb to navigate the U.S. West, France, Holland, Germany, and Luxembourg—and has only felt as though he was in danger once. He says he simply enjoys the human connections that emerge from sharing the road with someone. He feels good that he was saving gas and money, and although he has options for travel beyond hitchhiking, he says he is advocating for those who don't.
After 20 years of hitchhiking, however, Carey finally had a breakdown after being passed by cars for hours on end. He writes, "They looked like they were in a rush, they looked guilty, they looked angry, they flipped me off. I’d been watching that for a long time, and I finally let myself really feel it… I was suddenly very aware that all of us were going around so scared, so isolated, that we wouldn’t even look at each other."