Hitchhiking should not be a foreign concept to anyone. From movies, TV shows, and cartoons most people have seen a character put up their thumb on the side of a road as the universal hitchhiking sign. This concept remains in fiction for many, but the reality is different. People still hitchhike today. In Alaska, it remains a way of life. With all the hype around negativity in our culture, I can understand why people would be afraid to pick up a complete stranger and allow them to be a passenger in their car. The same reason people have hesitations on using Uber and Lyft but don’t have any problem riding a taxi. What fascinates me about hitchhikers are the stories they hold. Even on shorter drives of a few miles, it is unbelievable the tales they have to share.
Off the top of my head, I can think of nine different times I’ve picked up a hitchhiker; the majority of those are within the last year or two. How many were bad experiences? Zero. Summer 2016, I even made a friend. That ride was a blast. It was my last day as I was driving cross-country from Reading, Pennsylvania to Fairbanks, Alaska. While still in Canada, I passed a man with a sign that read “Fairbanks.” I stopped to pick him up. Then our 10-hour road trip began. Let’s call him Bob. Can’t decide if crossing the border or the burger stop in Delta was the best part. Eh, the border stop it is. While the US Border agent was looking over our passports he said, “so… you just picked him up on the side of the road?” to which I replied, “Yup.” We had a good chuckle and all was good. Bob was a cool guy from Europe that had been backpacking across North America. He started on the East Coast, went through Canada and was headed into Alaska. I believe his trip ended somewhere on the West Coast. And man was I thankful he had a music playing device. I was so tired of listening to my own Library of music. At that point, my trip totaled 80 driving hours. Our conversation was also good and it was really helpful to have someone else along to stay alert and focused on the last part of my excursion. We keep in touch through Facebook even today. Bob became a married man last year.
I have two other experiences I want to share with you. These two are unique to me because what they shared with me was invaluable. Let’s call them Stew & Bill. If you’re fortunate, sometimes a hitchhiker will offer you gas money or a meal to say thank you. My pal Bob did both. Not only did he give me some cash for gas, but he also spotted me to cover the rest of my burger bill since they only took cash. Stew and Bill on the other hand, revealed to me their hearts. Stew was an addict that was trying to get clean. A friend had reached out to me to see if I could help. Rather than letting Stew hitchhike into Anchorage, I offered to give him a ride all the way to the center the next day. Alaska is a beautiful state and has given me scenes that have often taken my breath away. I just stare at God’s creation in awe of what He has made. Sometimes I don’t even take a picture. When I do, I don’t always share it. What transpired that winter day was more beautiful to me than the landscape we were driving by. Stew opened up to me about his struggles, where he was in life, and why he wanted to get better. He had been trying to get clean the previous week. The Salvation Army rehabilitation center will not admit you into their program unless you can pass a urine test. I have since learned that the Dream Center in Palmer will accept you even if you fail the urine test. Unfortunately, he did not pass, but they said he was close enough to pass first thing tomorrow. I got him set up with the local shelter and we said goodbye. I felt invested in his journey so it was difficult to leave him there. However, I knew that the drive down was a great experience for us both, and he had my information. I have not gotten word about how Stew is doing currently.
Now, I want to share Bill’s story. His is the most recent of the three hitchhikers. Bill was one of those where I saw him and ended up turning around. He was sitting on the guardrail of a pull off outside of Palmer as I headed back to Glennallen. He didn’t have his thumb out, but something pressed upon me to pick him up. On our way back to the Copper River Valley he shared his story with me. He was in a tough spot and on a journey to sort things out in his personal life. It was his first time traveling the Glenn Highway. This story happens after my trip back to Reading in spring 2017. I was to move out of my dry cabin that weekend and begin my life as a nomad for the next two months. On our way back, the beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed Bill. He started to describe how everything seemed to be speaking to him and how things kept falling into place at the exact time he needed the answer. I shared my views with him and said I believed the Holy Spirit was reaching out to him. We had some deep discussions about relationships, women, past hurts, God, creation, and the Holy Spirit. It was great. We ate dinner together at Food for Thought when we reached Glenallen. I scribbled my number down on a LightShine card and dropped him off at Gakona Junction where he continued to hitchhike to Tok. He had mentioned his end goal was Seattle, WA. I didn’t think I would see him again but kept him in prayer. The next day I shared the story with the LightShine team that arrived to kick off the summer season of teams. To my surprise, that following Monday I got a call from Bill. He had stopped into the local trooper’s station to give me a ring. He told me he decided to turn around. I invited him to work on the KCAM project with us and the team invited him over for a meal and offered him to use the shower. For the next two days, we were able to help him continue to sort things out and speak into his life. He decided to take off that Tuesday night and we didn’t see him again the rest of the week. The crazy part about him coming back and working with us is this thought I had a few days prior. I was thinking, how cool would it have been for him to meet the team and be around some other solid men for a few days. Well, the Lord made that very thought a reality.
For me, hitchhiking is a risk worth taking. I find it odd when those who tell me not to do it are often Christians. The reason why I find this is odd is that we are called to preach the good news about who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for us. The price He paid on the cross gives us so much more than just a ‘ticket’ into heaven or a “get out of hell” free card. We also need to explain the peace and freedom it brings in our everyday lives. Yes, life will still remain hard. No, God will not make it easy. But, you will no longer walk through this life alone. There are some called to tell the good news at the cost of their lives. I recognize that possibility for myself. Anyone that knows my heart, knows I have had this approach towards missions. The persecuted church has been on my heart since reading DC Talk’s Jesus Freaks in middle school. When I have eternity on my mind, anything that could happen to me is insignificant to eternity with Christ. More times than not, it has been the Holy Spirit who has prompted me to pull over or even turn around to pick up a hitchhiker. When I have had the honor to impact Stew, Bob and Bill and hear their tales, it just confirms that the risk is worth taking. But consider this, when you have an opportunity to impact their eternity, is there truly any risk at all?