Hitchin' a ride



First aired on Airplay (22/6/12)

When Colin Flaherty was 17, he hitchhiked around America. It was one of the most memorable experiences of his life. Thirty-five years later, he decided to do it again. He wanted to see if it would be as easy — and as safe — as it was in the 1960s and 1970s. He wrote about this journey in his latest book, Redwood to Deadwood: Hitchhiking America Today.

What Flaherty discovered was that, despite widespread belief that the world and hitchhiking are less safe than they were a generation ago, his journey was just as easy, and just as pleasant, as it was the first time. It wasn't difficult to get rides (but Flaherty admits that might just be because he now looks like a harmless old man). And it wasn't just long-haul truckers looking for some company who picked him up. "I was surprised at the kind of people who gave me rides this time around," he told Airplay host Dave White. "I got rides from families on their way to Little League games. I got rides from single women. I got rides from everybody."

He only had trouble hitching a ride twice. Once, he was within walking distance of a prison. The second time, he was in Nevada, steps away from several brothels. But even then, he eventually scored a ride. He just had to wait out the drought, which never lasted as long as it seemed. "You wonder, 'I am ever going to get a ride?' But you always do."

We're told hitchhiking is dangerous. We're also told that picking up hitchhikers is dangerous. So why did people pick Flaherty up? What were they looking for? Flaherty thinks they just wanted to have an adventure, even if it was only for a little while. He found that it didn't matter who offered him a ride, they wanted to hear his story. "They are very curious about who you are. They are curious about what happened to hitchhiking. They are just bored."

To those people, and to the people who read his book, Flaherty offers one piece of advice: you can make your own adventure. It doesn't have to be hitchhiking. It can be anything. "Figure out a way to do something epic in your life," he said. Then go for it.