Hitchhiking the USA, and a Few Thoughts on Trust - Reisverslag uit Portland, Verenigde Staten van Gerben Nap - WaarBenJij.nu Hitchhiking the USA, and a Few Thoughts on Trust - Reisverslag uit Portland, Verenigde Staten van Gerben Nap - WaarBenJij.nu

Hitchhiking the USA, and a Few Thoughts on Trust

Door: Gerben

Blijf op de hoogte en volg Gerben

01 Mei 2012 | Verenigde Staten, Portland

The deranged nutcase, the psychopath, and the serial killer. In the USA the idea of who you are changes quickly once you've accidentally mentioned that hitchhiking is one of the things you like to do. It would be amusing seeing the conflict on people's faces, if it weren't so disappointing. Conflict, because I seemed like such a nice guy up until that point. Conflict, because I still kinda seem like I'm not fit for any of the labels above, but the person in front of me has been taught from childhood through all sorts of different media that someone that does what I do is not to be judged upon his merits. He is to be left alone, ignored, and certainly not approached. "Do you want to get yourself killed?!"
Disappointing, because I wish a society populated by people as friendly as the ones that come my way would not have to live in fear of strangers.

Friendly, for example, like Steven. Steven works on his family's ranch in Utah. It's a big ranch, full of cattle spread out over the hills of the desert-like landscape. Today a storm is coming, and the large amounts of rain that will fall would certainly flood the fields of the ranch if the irrigation canals running through the fields aren't diverted in time. He is driving through Panguitch on his way to take care of it as he sees me walking. It's overcast, and a cold, strong wind is blowing, a bit of rain falling as a warning for what is to come.
At the time I'm hungry, after just having waited for an hour just outside the city with no one stopping. I can't really blame them; after all, what person starts looking better if the wind is pulling his face in a constant grimace? Nonetheless, it is a strange sight. A young man, clean, with a backpack walking through a town where no tourist really has any business being.

"Where ya headed?" His innate curiosity must be big to stop and ask a complete stranger.
I was headed to the subway store across the street. A decent sandwich that wouldn't have me feeling worse after eating it was at least one of the options there.
"But in the end I'm trying to get north."

In quick succession I tell him where I'm from, and how I'm traveling by thumb. I'm hoping that the combination of my appearance together with my exotic origins will push the scales of danger assessment in my favor as I see him doubting for a moment. His car is pointed in the wrong direction for me anyway, but I really wouldn't mind just having a nice conversation with someone after standing in the wind for such a long time.
After showing him my map, I can see he wants to help me. He has already told me that the road I was planning to take has been closed, which has made the route ahead for me quite a bit harder. This is of course none of his doing, but he clearly feels bad for me.

"I could pick you up on my way back in a few hours and give you a lift to Beaver?"
"That's really nice of you to offer. I have no phone though, so I wouldn't be able to let you know if I've already found a ride."
"Well... you could come with me to the ranch in the south if you want."

I think for a moment. The weather being like it is I don't give myself much chance of getting far. I hear myself think: "I could of course get lucky. After all, a few hours is quite a bit of time...". At that moment my experience kicks in. "You know what you should be doing", it says, and I do. In hindsight it was definitely the best thing to do. Going with Steven to see his ranch gave me one of the greatest experiences of my entire journey. But how did I know this? What is this experience?

I wish I could explain it better, but I knew that I had to accept the offer. I've learned to trust that voice. At first, it was just a theory I held. After having several experiences of some friends of mine offering me to go somewhere random or to do something that I had never done before, while I didn't have any other plans, I decided that I should consciously try to allow for more changes in whatever plans I made. Friends of friends offering things to do soon became quite acceptable in this theory too, and before long I was encouraging myself to try this with complete strangers when it so happened to fall on my path.

The offer is made and I assess the place and person. A look in the eye and a feel of the atmosphere makes me allow that voice to kick aside any plans that I am then debating, and from then on adventure begins and everything around me seems to have become just a little bit brighter, just a little bit warmer. I think this is the result of trust. Trust in what, I'm sure, many will ask and answer differently. But that seems to me to be of a lesser importance. Trust and an overcoming of fear is the main thing.

That day I would be racing through glorious mountain fields of the Rockies on the back of an ATV quad. The next morning I spent doing much the same but this time trying to catch newborn calves running across the desert in a different part of the ranch, in order to weigh and tag them. In the mean time I met Steven's family, and was able to ask him a lot of questions about his beliefs while at the same time seeing if there were any relations to what I had learned from experience so far.

Trust and fear play important roles in our societies. Economies stand or fall by them, political debate thrives or withers with them, and communities bloom or collapse through them. There are many things susceptible to being used to instill fear in people, strangers being only one of them. For this reason it is important that members of a society can tell the difference between what is genuinely dangerous and what they have merely been told to fear without question. Teaching people to ask questions about everything that is generally accepted without question, to arrive at either new insights or renewed confidence in old ones, is one thing that could be done. Spreading stories that show that a small fraction of untrustworthy strangers does not make it justifiable to fear all strangers is another.


By now I've made it to Portland, Oregon, with less than 500km left to cover to reach Vancouver. In the past weeks, Steven is but one of many strangers that have picked me up and shown me kindness that was far greater than I could have imagined. I could have picked others as well as an example, and I hope you'll forgive me for not mentioning you if you read this and picked me up, but the blog would simply become too long to remain practical if I wrote down all the stories. Once again, all other stories are being collected in my head and diary, so I will have plenty for a rainy day or a long night at the fire place.

  • 02 Mei 2012 - 09:03


    Fijn om weer van je te horen, en ook dat je zoveel positiviteit ontmoet! En bedenk maar dat de angstigen daar uiteindelijk zelf het meeste last van hebben!
    Doe ze de groeten in Vancouver, ik zal kijken of ik nog wat foto's kan opsturen, om de familie daar up-to-date te houden ;-)

  • 02 Mei 2012 - 17:52

    Pap En Mam:

    alweer een mooi verhaal maar toe nou! je kunt toch wel twee verhaaltjes doen per keer???? Overigens we zullen vast een kapvergunning aanvragen voor enkele bomen met stevig hout zodat we tenminste genoeg hebben om het vuur aan te houden terwijl je vertelt. En 500 km dat gaat je dus hooguit nog een dagje of twee kosten? doe de familie daar de groeten van ons.

  • 02 Mei 2012 - 18:36


    Haha, ok, in 't vervolg zal ik twee verhaaltjes doen (...voor het slapen gaan ;) )
    En ik ben van plan om komende zaterdag daar aan te komen, om in de tussentijd nog wat vrienden in Olympia, Washington, op te zoeken.

  • 03 Mei 2012 - 05:30


    Al weer een verhaal dat we zullen onthouden en doorvertellen.

    Groeten in Vancouver.

  • 03 Mei 2012 - 06:29


    Nu zit je precies op de route die Ekko en ik gedaan hebben vorig jaar! Hier wat tips: 1 van de brewery pubs in pearl district in Portland (linkse, studentenstad trouwens). Hier heb ik trouwens ook even gewoond! Olympia: das een dorps stadje maar dan met grootse Capitol-achtige gebouwen ivm hoofdstad. En vergeet Seattle niet!! Ook daar weer veel brewery pubs! Enjoy :D

  • 04 Mei 2012 - 21:41


    After all the dialogue about fear is said and done, I will still continue to tell you to be aware...and to be cautious. What one experiences in a rural place like Utah is somewhat different from what you will experience in and around large cities. I always thought that I was a careful traveler and even I was robbed of my passport and money in my hotel in Paris. I admire your courage and adventurous spirit. I will always cherish the time we spent together and hope to meet again soon.

  • 08 Mei 2012 - 18:10

    Oma Riet:

    Ik had al gereageerd een paar dagen geleden, maar misschien niet op ok gedrukt(dat zie ik hier ook nergens) Je bent nu in elk geval in Vancouver, ik had tante Annie aan de telefoon.Je beleeft heel wat en over angst en vertrouwen zou opa Ger graag een boom met je opzetten! Doe de familie daar de groeten,fijun dat je er welkom bent!! Kus oma.

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