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Traveling On Trust (Blog Archive)

During the summer of 2013. I hitchhiked 7,000 miles across small-town America, carrying nothing but a backpack, an empty wallet, and a sign that read Traveling On Trust.

I hitchhiked along cowpath highways and dime-sized towns, testing the hope that people will stop to help a stranger. I slept with a shotgun one night, rode fifty miles with a blind driver, and found myself trapped with a man who once attacked police officers with a machete—but despite a few nervous moments, I found good people. These Good Samaritans were truckers and criminals, meth addicts and Vietnam draft dodgers, New Age skiers and conservative Christians. Their diversity challenged my definition of what it means to be a good person, and my attempts to understand them came at the cost of my own convictions about right and wrong.

I kept a blog as I traveled, where I shared a few of the more significant stories that happened along the way. And The Spark, Calvin College’s alumni magazine, published a six-page feature about my story in the winter of 2013. Since that summer, I’ve written a full-length travel memoir called Traveling on Trust about the experience, and I’m in the middle of that long process of finding the ideal literary agent. Here are the blog posts:

The End

A Volkswagon Beetle never picked me up. Neither did a Mini Cooper, nor a PT Cruiser, nor a Porsche, Jaguar, Beamer, etc. Ironically, I never rode in a VW van, either. After one hundred and thirty-seven rides, I had learned to stop hoping for a lift when certain...

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Rushing to a Wedding

I dropped my pack over the barbed wire fence, followed by my sign, and then the sandwich and iced tea my last ride had given me. Dusk had ended half an hour ago, and right now, a spot behind the only tree in sight looked like a good enough place to pitch my tent. The...

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The Loneliest Road in America

Five hours in bristling Nevada heat. Five hours of drivers whipping past, unsmiling and unwaving. Five hours of suffering on US50, the “Loneliest Road in America.” Half the vehicles that passed me were semi trucks or white work vehicles with emblems on their sides,...

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No Interstates

Land is abundant in the central western states, but people are scarce, and so roads are scarce, too. Flip through an atlas and compare Utah with Michigan, or Illinois, or even Kansas. In any state east of the Mississippi, cow pathers have options. Roads crisscross to...

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The Million Dollar Highway

Hitchhiking is easy in the Colorado mountains. In Dolores, I caught a ride with Kai and Haley, modern-day hippies without peace signs or tie dye. He drove with aviators and a blond goatee, in a 4Runner packed with camping gear, food and beer, guitar and banjo. "We're...

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Drugs, Switchblades, and Mysteries

Dustin made me nervous. The combination of a tough-guy goatee, black-on-black sunglasses, and oversized gangster shirt with way too much gold lettering made him someone I wouldn't have smiled at had we passed on a sidewalk. A cool chin lift, maybe, but not a smile....

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Working for Free, Full Time

"Brother, this town is delicious." Heather leaned forward to peer farther out the windows, looking like I do when I drive through mountains. "Can you believe it? Get a look at that building." More than twenty artist-owned galleries fill the town of Salida, "the...

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Whitewater Hitchhiking

I've had many "first experiences" in these past weeks. Seeing the North Dakota oil fields, sleeping in a semi truck, riding in a car going a hundred and ten miles per hour for half an hour. But the most unexpected was whitewater rafting. Outside Buena Vista, a girl a...

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Two Hikers and a Crazy Man

I had my first group hitchhiking experience of the trip with two Colorado Trail thru-hikers and a crazy man. I met the hikers in Buena Vista, a town shadowed by fourteeners and well trafficked by rafting companies. The two brothers, Brian and Seth, had hitchhiked into...

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Small-Town Snapshots

Norton, Kansas Established: Feb. 26, 1867 2010 population: 2,928 Julie Winters had a good life. Good enough to feel guilty about, she said, then added, "I'm paying for it now." That morning, like every morning, she visited her husband. They married fifty-three years...

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The Cop and the Hitchhiker

A sheriff's truck pulled into the nearby lot, and a cop got out. He was young, with short, military-style hair. "Hello!" I put my thumb down and rolled up my sign. "How're you?" He nodded. "You're technically hitchhiking, which is illegal in Kansas." I stepped away...

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24 Hours With a Trucker

I was hungry and sunburnt and stuck at a truck stop metropolis in northwest Indiana when I met Glen. In the two and a half hours prior, a woman going the wrong way offered me a ride, a cop checked if I was a runaway, and a dad and son asked about my story when I...

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The Biggest Disaster Yet

I lost my sign. My beautiful sailcloth and housepaint sign. Passengers would see it and smile; kids in the opposite lane would twist around to read the lettered side. More than half my drivers mentioned it, and many said it was the reason they stopped. But in...

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Roadside Art

The highways can surprise you. Just off two-lane MI-28, for instance, well away from so much as a gas station, I found a sculpture park, quirky and free and controversial. Lakenenland, named after its creator, is unaffiliated with any city or artist collective. It is...

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The Untrustworthy

"I'm not trustworthy," Cindy said. "Every number's half of what I say, and every story's half as good." She cackled, then twisted so she could wink at me, crammed in the backseat. She rode shotgun and fidgeted constantly. Cindy was fifty-five, but small enough to find...

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Walking for the Fallen

I first heard about the veteran walking across America when I was still a full state behind him. “We saw him last week,” a family told me. “He’s carrying a flag all the way across the country.” And from another driver: “He's walking from Washington to Washington! And...

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You Can’t Plan For Virtue

I rarely wait more than an hour for a ride. The average, actually, is somewhere closer to half that. Sometimes I get out of one car, wave goodbye, and before I can even walk across the parking lot and pull out my sign, someone else pulls up and offers me a lift. Those...

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Oil!

California had the forty-niners, Alaska had the Klondike. And now, North Dakota has the Bakken. It's a gold rush without the gold, and it has turned North Dakota on its head. Between 2.1 billion and 7.4 billion barrels of extractable oil lie in the Bakken oil...

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Snares, Seizures, and Freaks

One of my best rides took me nowhere. I was picked up in Ponderay, Idaho, near the Big R grocery store, and--three hours later--was dropped off in the same spot. Kathy and Sharon, a mother and nine-months-pregnant daughter-in-law, saw me on their way to get groceries...

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Who Picks Up a Hitchhiker?

In eleven rides, I made it through Washington state, and in eleven rides, I learned who will pick up a hitchhiker. My trip officially began on June 20th, during a rainy afternoon in Mount Vernon. I had bussed down from Bellingham, and, finding myself in the middle of...

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Rule Change: Money

When the hotel manager was young, he used to walk--multi-day or multi-week treks across country. It gave him time to think and see the land. He's no longer in shape for a hundred-mile expedition, nor is he a young man anymore, but he still dayhikes when he can and...

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The Cement City

In 1938, people knew about Concrete, Washington, if only for a few days. On Halloween Eve, 1938, listeners throughout the town tuned in to hear Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Like more than a million others, Concrete's listeners fell for the...

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Fifty Pounds of Planning

I know how to pack for a long trip--semesters abroad, fifty-mile hikes through the backcountry, three solo weeks across Europe. I can whittle a month's supply of clothes down to a carry-on suitcase. I can survive a week in the wild with nothing but the gear on my...

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