Hitchhiking the USA, and a Few Thoughts on Trust
01 Mei 2012 | Verenigde Staten, Portland
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.
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