hitchhike

IMG_9023My youngest sister is getting married this summer and I’ll be out of town on contract. The brutal thing about professional theatre is once that contract is signed you do not take time off. We produce a show in four weeks or less; there is no idle time and everyone is indispensable. But it’s my little sisters wedding! Without a car this summer and a really shitty bus schedule from a remote outpost I was trying to figure out how to get to her wedding and miss as little rehearsal (actually tech. Seriously Dana, this couldn’t be a worse day for me) as possible. The simplest thing to do would be to hitch hike. Dust off a thumb that has logged a lot of time on the road.

Growing up in this valley where I live there’s a town, however small, every 10 to 15 minutes by car. Before my friends and I could drive we got comfortable sticking out our thumbs and climbing into the back of orchardist trucks to go see bands or hang out in the park with kids from other towns. As my confidence grew I could hitch hike in 5 hours or less to the city and sleep on roof tops with new found friends and hitch home over the weekend.

I’d get picked up by other hitch hikers -road karma- or the occasional person that would confess to me it’s something they never do but were doing it cause I was a young woman. I could tell they at least got a thrill out of it. A lot of the time it was just old tradesmen on the road, bored and looking for conversation; occasionally curious about what else but maybe my naivety always saved me from further propositions… in reality just dumb luck.*

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 I trusted my gut instinct to refuse rides. I’d try to find a way to be nice about not getting in the car making up a lie about where I was going. It often resulted in the guy spinning out and spewing gravel all over me while shouting profanities. I’d congratulate myself on clearly a good decision.

One time that didn’t happen. We were 15 years old, my friend and I were in a town about 40 minutes south of home. A car pulled over on the outskirts and she hopped in before I could access the ride. Two guys with huge grins asked if I was getting in. My guts screamed Pull Sara the fuck out of the car but I was tired, it was cold out and late. I got in. The driver kept smiling and saying ‘You like to party?’ Sara was in the front seat falling asleep, head bobbling and mumbling ‘Yeah… sure… I like to party.’  I was in the back seat panicking I have got to take control of this!

He started talking about getting drinks. I finally I spoke up ‘Our night is over. We just want to go home. No partying.’ The smiling stopped. I affirmed this several more times. He pulled over on the pitch dark highway and said ‘Get out.’ Headlights came up behind and blinded us as we climbed out. Two cars full of guys pulled up and that’s when I realized how grim of a situation we were in but gathered all of my will that this was not going to f-u-ck-ing happen.

There was confusion as the other guys thought we were just swapping cars. Sara and I started  yelling at them to leave us alone. They peeled out and a couple minutes later came back menacing at us. As if being left in the gloom we’d change our minds but we just screamed more. They scowled, called us bitches and drove off. We wailed into the black night; the stars and darkness.

I figured it would take us about four hours to walk home which was fine but what if they came back? We were walled in by mountains, barbwire fencing and ranch land. The road was the only route home.

A tow truck driver pulled over and offered us a ride. His face was kind. He was freaked out that we were walking the highway at midnight. We told him what happened. He had daughters on the cusp of being teenagers and asked us to promise we would never to hitch hike again.

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This seems to be the only picture I have of us actually hitch hiking. After a brief stint living in the prairies in the late 90’s  Joslin (left), Amanda (right) and I  were getting the fuck out of there and heading home, across the boarder into the mountains. I think Amanda was singing a Misfits song to her bag of jujubes. We were picked up by two guys in a jeep. With no room for our bags, they piled them on top of me and Joslin in the back seat. Our bodies were so tightly wedged we had to hang our heads out the back, faces up to the stars, laughing hysterically how we couldn’t hear or feel anything. The wind tangling our hair together. Our legs fallen asleep.

I spent two & half months hitching around New Zealand. Everyone that picked me up was great. It was summer; people were laid back, curious and friendly. I headed to Australia to visit family for eight months. Australia is similar to the rest of Canada in that the cities are hours and hours apart with little else in between. I flew into Sydney to stay friends in Newtown. I figured I’d just hitch my way down to Melbourne and around Victoria. My friends in Sydney were aghast at my plan. This was shortly after the hitchhiker serial killer Ivan Milat had been convicted, who inspired the horror movie Wolf Creek. Friends and relatives alike said ‘We will buy you plane/train/bus tickets – no one hitch hikes anymore.’ I reluctantly conceded.

I landed back in BC where Highway 16; cruelly known as the Highway of Tears, started getting more press ** Then Robert Picton’s farm was exhumed. I hitched home that Christmas from the city through a snow storm on a desolate road. I was picked up by a trucker who half way through the five hour journey pulled a switch blade to my throat while he was driving. I stayed calm, partially due to shock but also because I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of inciting fear. It called his bluff. As fast and incomprehensibly as it had happened, he laughed and handed me the knife to look at. Switch blades are contraband in Canada. He thought it would impress me. He was fucked in the head but ended up being nonthreatening once the scales were balanced. The rest of the ride I did grip the door handle staring at the winter wasteland wondering when I would jump, yet acknowledging we hadn’t passed another vehicle in miles. It was a white out on top of the mountain. No one was on the road.

This was the last time I hitch hiked. I settled into a routine going back and forth from the rural theatre to the city then relocating in my home town because was closer to the theatre and had the bonus of the family bookshop for the off season. Although I immediately decided I wanted to do carpentry during the off season which required a reliable vehicle for getting to remote job sites at dawn. The privilege of my own car, catching rides with friends or grappling with the awful bus service has kept me from needing to hitch. Thinking through this wedding quandary I found myself nostalgic and convinced it would be the cleanest solution for getting to her wedding in time.

 

That is until I recently watched Joseph Ellison creepy 1980 slasher Don’t Go in the House where the Psycho like killer finds women in need of a lift and takes them back to his mother’s house under the guise ‘It will only take a minute won’t you come in?’ Watching this eerie flick alone, obliterated any romantic notions of the autonomous freedom I had of being on the road.

Don’t Go in the House affirmed if I can avoid it, there will be no more hitch hiking in my future.

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*A further rant on my dumb luck ** Despite reasonable assumptions that there were/are several serial killers active over a forty year period along The Highway of Tears; the reason Highway 16 received prominent national press was because a Caucasian tree planter had disappeared. I cannot ignore the likelihood that my, for the most part nonthreatening, experiences hitchhiking had a lot to do with the fact that I am blond and white. I have to acknowledge there was more than ‘my dumb luck’ at play that I can sit here and reminisce my hitch hiking days.
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6 comments
  1. My whole life people have commented how similar Australia and Canada are (maybe not so much in things like landscape!), and Australia is also a country stemmed in systemic racism and that crap is still ongoing 😦 I don’t follow politics of other countries much but urgh your previous PM sounds about as hideous as our last PM!

    • lysette said:

      Hey Faye! Sorry after you posted this comment I actually edited out my ranting about our Prime Minister. It didn’t sit well with me so I cut it :/ But yes! Harper, Howard, Bush all had Karl Rove as their campaign manager! Hideous is an understatement. Ugh my skin is crawling just thinking about those Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Our countries are so similar though you’re more like a circle populated around the shore line, we run like a long rectangle with most cities hugging the American boarder. Up north, especially through the middle of Canada there is hardly any people, like the center of Australia. We’re both British colonies, with the same histories it’s sad but true. Though our previous PM had the audacity to say we are have no history of colonialism! Gaaaahhhh, he lasted two terms!

  2. Wow, some wild stories! I have never hitchhiked and i’m glad you were able to stay safe doing so. That old photo is great. It’s probably best not to travel alone. Sometimes I think about all the dumb shit I did as a kid and just shake my head at how i’ve survived. We’re resiliant as youths, and i’d like to think the fearlessness (aka stupidity) has something to do with confidence that other people respond to etc.
    Hope you find a way to get to yr sister’s wedding.

    • lysette said:

      So so true, youth is the fool walking off the cliff, face up to the sky. Hitchhiking is a common rural necessity, that’s a big part of the issue with the highway of tears, a lack of public transit. If there is access to buses and trains etc people have more choice and are ultimately less vulnerable for sure. I’m glad, Maud, we can consider ourselves less stupid these days! 😉

    • lysette said:

      Yes! I’ve heard of Sticky Institute! Thanks so much for thinking of that ❤ Unfortunately they have come and gone but next time for sure!

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