Stories for my Kids – Hitchhiking with a Gun-Totin’ Cajun

From the ‘Check it Out – Momma Has Always Been Batshit Crazy’ chronicles, this new series is born of a desire to put a face on Who I Was Before I Was A Mom for my kids so that some day, when I’m an old crazy person with a bad reputation of being The Troublemaker at the Home for Cool Old Folks, my kids will be forced to remember that I wasn’t always old and gumming stewed yams.

In 1997 I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.  Most of you know this for, as long ago as it was, it was one of those deeply affecting sort of things that to this day I still can’t help but blather on about.  Too many amazing things happened on that trip to not want to share them once in a while.  This is one of those stories:

A little backstory – the AT is a 2180 or so mile-long trail that goes from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME, or vice-versa if you happen to be going south-bound.  At 25 I found myself on this trail hauling a 35 pound pack 15-30 miles a day.  It is a grueling trek, not in the ‘escaping a gulag and hiking 4000 miles across barren tundra with no gear and no food’ sort of way but in a deliberate, acutely, frivolously American sort of way.  It’s physically and mentally challenging, facing day after day of hard hiking in all kinds of weather, whether you want to or not.  Because failure is not an option.  It’s like going to work with a lot more calorie burning.

As you plod along you hit roads, many of which hold the promise of taking you into happy little towns that abound with Places that Sell Food.  You can only carry so much, you see, so regular trips into these towns is a necessity.  You get into these towns, down these interrupting roads, by sticking your thumb out and hoping for the best.

Now, as a woman hiking the trail alone you’d think that I would have had more opportunities to take my solo female chances at road crossings, and yet when I came to the road that would deliver me into Waynesboro, Virginia, it was one of the few times I found myself alone in the venture.  It is a very social trail and you often find yourself in good company at such an intersection.  Alas, I hit the road without  my crew, stuck my thumb out and waited.

The first vehicle that came by pulled over.  I watched dubiously as the world’s oldest running pick-up lurched to the side of the road and rolled to a stop.  I walked up to it like a kid turning the knob on a jack-in-the-box and took off my pack to throw in the back.  As I did so I went to climb in after it when this crazy little toothless cajun guy got out of the passenger side and screeched ‘NO GIT IN THE FRONT!’  I blinked at him and said ‘oh no thank you sir, I’m happy to ride in the back’  you know, so that killing me is that much more of a logistical problem.  He said adamantly ‘GIT.IN.THE.FRONT’.  It was just one of those moments where you have to roll the dice, make a command decision and hope you don’t end up dead.

I got in the front.

He stood by the door so that I could get in.  Yup, not only was I to Get In the Front, I was to Sit In The Middle.  Driving the truck was what appeared to be a 100 year old woman who glanced at me not unkindly though silently.  As she eased the ancient rig into drive her little cajun companion started hollerin’ immediately ‘PUMP THE BRAKES, PUMP THE BRAKES!’  The road into Waynesboro, you see, is down a steep hill from the pass at which I had emerged from the trail.

Realizing that the most likely cause of death on this ride would probably be mechanical instead of human-inflicted, I did my best imitation of Relaxing and Enjoying the Ride.  As we rolled along, in between yelling PUMP THE BRAKES, my cajun companion reached down underneath our seat and came up with, you guessed it:  a gun.  Tired and resigned, I looked at him and asked ‘are you going to SHOOT me?’  He laughed hard, flashed his big toothless smile at me and said ‘NAW, the LAW likes me to keep this where they can SEE it.’  He set it on the dashboard where it jiggled precariously every time the brakes were pumped.

I watched in wonder as my little buddy then went under the seat – I just couldn’t WAIT to see what came up next – and brought up a dirty plastic cup which he handed to me.  Yummy.  One more trip under the seat and out came an ice cold 40-ozer.  He unscrewed the cap, filled up my cup and hollered ‘DRINK UP!  YOU LOOK THIRSTY!’  Did it matter that it was 10:30am or that the cup was of Unknown History?  You bet your ass it didn’t.  I chugged that beer because goddamit I WAS thirsty and I was trapped between an ancient driver and a gun-totin’ Cajun in a truck with no brakes going down the longest hill in America.  Holy crap.

Sooner or later the road stopped careening downward and we rolled into town.  They asked where I needed to go and I told them ‘anywhere in town is fine.’  He said ‘NO. Where do you NEED TO GO?’ I reluctantly told him as I knew it was out of the way.  The delivered me right to the doorstep and adamantly refused any money for their trouble.  He shook my hand and I his and he said ‘now you be SAFE, understand?’  I promised I would do my best (seeing as though the world is kind of a crap shoot) and I watched them lurch back down the road.  Before I stopped watching, their truck turned off the road and into a parking lot where I saw that a woman had the  hood of her car up and her hand on her hip looking lost.  The cajun and his ancient lady-friend pulled right up, hopped out and started looking at the woman’s engine.  I knew that she was in good hands.

The trail revealed to me on so many different occasions that People Are Good.  It pushed my trust-o-meter a little bit further into the green and filled my heart with bottomless gratitude for the kindnesses I received.  Was I very lucky that things turned out the way that they did?  Of course.  But that luck was delivered at the hands of human beings who were just out to be selfless and kind.

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Categories: Check it Out - Momma Has Always Been Batshit Crazy, Hiking | Tags: , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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19 thoughts on “Stories for my Kids – Hitchhiking with a Gun-Totin’ Cajun

  1. Oh, that is a great story, Alisa! LOVE IT! Hitchhiking is one of my concerns for doing the Colorado Trail with my kids. I’m not sure how much I will do it or try to arrange rides in advance. I’ve only hitchhiked once–with a friend in full kayaking gear. So it makes me nervous to think about, but your story helps. I know that most people are good, and many like to help hikers when they can.

    • Thanks Tonya! You just never know but most people are pretty solid. Especially those that will find themselves out where the CO trail hits the roads.

  2. Great story! I have a few like that myself.

  3. I love this.
    Still waiting for a full length novel about your AT trip.

  4. Cracked me up as always! And reminded me of a hitchhiking adventure in the mountains of Taiwan, atop a mountain of rice bags in the back of the truck, in the dark… in a nation where they hold the view that headlights *drain the battery* and so they hurtle through the darkness, honking their horns on the sharp corners to alert oncoming traffic.
    Also, are you watching Duck Dynasty? If not, you should be.

    • sounds like costa rica and nepal where the ‘might makes right’ rule is in affect on the roads…buses on the wrong side of the road careening around corners signaling their road usurpation with a jolly ‘beep beep’. those situations are where you learn total surrender. when were you in Taiwan? We flew in and out of there last time we headed west and it looks like a gorgeous island.

  5. Great story, but as someone else wrote, now we want the whole AT story! Sharpen your pencil 🙂

    • Posting stories like these can be seen as an admission to self that a book will likely never happen. I don’t have the writing skills or the discipline. But there is some part of me that wants to leave behind a written record of some of the more colorful moments in life in order to hopefully inspire my kids to get out there and see the world and get the dysentary and survive the hitch and run terrified through the jungle and take the pictures and open themselves up to the brilliant beautiful vibrant reality that is the whole world in all its struggles and imperfections. Those are the moments we remember forever.

  6. Russell

    LOVE IT!!! What a wonderful, indeed classic personal experience!

    Awesome!

    AND just LOVE the experiential outcome!! You just never can tell a book by its cover!

    I remember reading the late Peter Jenkins book/memoir, “A Walk Across America”, where he comes to the same conclusion: That most people across America are generous & kind. Also actor/travel writer, Andrew McCarthy, reaches the same conclusion in his brand new travel memoir “The Longest Way Home: One man’s quest to find the courage to settle down” — that our own State Department does a disservice that most people in the world are friendly & helpful.

    Look forward to reading your blog (Thank you, Jimmie Jackson of the “Walking the Walk” 2012 A.T. blog, as I never would have stumbled upon your wonderful A.T. “hitch” blog post.)

    • Russell

      Oh, GOOD, I stand corrected!! Author/traveler/hiker Peter Jenkins is not dead, and is very much alive, still traveling, writing, connecting with people! Don’t know why I thought he had died. Way cool!

    • hey thanks Russell, kind words. I hope one thing for my children and that is that their lives are full of rich experiences that fill their hearts with happiness and adventure. There is too much to experience out there!

  7. Hi Alisa. I have nominated your blog as a Liebster Blog (it means “dearest”). Here are the details about the award, a graphic to put on your blog, and some other tasks to do if you choose: http://backpackingkids.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/liebster-blog-nominees/

    Also, if you want to read my responses to the questions that were asked of me when I was given this award, you can read that here: http://backpackingkids.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/its-a-major-award/

    Thanks for the great stories, and keep them coming! 🙂

    Tonya

  8. Wow! I have a few stories like that, but NONE as entertaining. Wow. Great account indeed.

    Yes, I agree, people are good. In many ways, I would much rather be with a Mr. Cajun-type than many of the “normal” people I meet up with down here in Texas on a given day. Given the recent news, it’s nice to be reminded that some people are just plain helpful and that’s all. I enjoyed reading; sorry I’m late to drop by.

  9. Scott Burdette

    I couldn’t agree more with the incredible humanity found on the road. I guess it’s a little biased since the cynical jerks probably won’t pick up hitchhikers but I’ll take it. I had good luck on the PCT and a trip to Colorado and Wyoming from LA after college.

    • Hey Scott – sorry there isn’t much fresh to read on here…need to get inspired to write again! Hope you’re doing well – next time you’re in our hood, holler. 🙂 And yes, there are plenty of good people out there, aren’t there?

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