Disclaimer: Don’t try this in today’s day and age.
Each month I will try to do a #tbt post about how some previous life experience has changed my life and what I have learned.
I did a lot of hitch hiking in the 90s. It wasn’t to be glamorous, or to go on some grand adventure like exploring the country full of glitter and whimsy like the movies. I was trying to survive. I had to get from point A to point B; I had very tenuous social ties, little to no funds and resources, and was trying to enact positive change in my life. I was also still a teenager, a freshman in college, with nothing to lose, no sense of fear, and a will stronger than gravity pulling me to follow my dreams.
One of the more dangerous (although I did not realize it at the time) hitch hiking trips ended up happening on the east coast when I went from Western Massachusetts to Rochester, NY and back again. This was the year that the internet was still being called the “information superhighway,” with internet access only being afforded by the very affluent and some colleges, yahoo was just invented (literally – I am that old), and the Macarena was this jammin’ club song, not just some cheesy dance you do at a wedding. It was Halloween weekend 1996, and the Yankees had just won the World Series. I remember it because I was later in NYC for the ticker tape parade, and I remember there being so much trash in the streets, it felt like walking through someone’s very dirty bedroom, but I digress.
Anyways, I had this grand plan of moving to Rochester from Massachusetts, hence the trip. Being in the pre-internet age of the dinosaurs, I collected as many newspapers and other printed materials I could in an effort to be able to connect with housing and employment to facilitate the move. I had so much material it filled a paper grocery bag. This was in addition to the backpack of clothes and other personal supplies, including my disc man (for the young ‘uns – it was a personal CD player with headphones before iPods were even imagined). I will always remember this as the trip I dropped my Blue Traveler CD on the floor of the Greyhound bus and broke the CD case. I still have both the CD and the case, in 2 pieces, to this day. Some things you do NOT leave behind.
Anyways, as plans fell through, as they do when you are young and clueless, I ended up stuck in a very rural part of Massachusetts called Cheshire, where there was not enough traffic to hitch hike, no pay phones around to call (No, children, there were not cell phones at that time either. We still had phone booths, and maybe if we still had them today, Superman would have a place to change), and my ride fell through.
I began what I did not know then, but know now, to walk my first unofficial half marathon, as it was about 16 miles from where I was to my destination. This was years before I officially started running, I was still a smoker, and so out of shape that I wasn’t a shape. It took me all day.
In the course of my journey, I learned just how heavy things could be. Literally. Baggage. The paper bag full of newspapers I was carrying in addition to my backpack of personal items, my head full of thoughts all conflicting and whirling.
I kept walking. Everything I was carrying got heavier.
I had already shed some items. Prior to the paper bag of newspapers, when I first arrived in Rochester, I was dropped in the Red Light District. Of course, I did not realize it was the Red Light District until I ended up being chased down the streets by some women taunting me, but I learned fast. In the course of that run, I lost things from my backpack. It was okay. They were unnecessary things. While in Rochester, I ended up sleeping in the AKC tunnels, and had things stolen. I don’t even remember what they were. Now, here I was in the middle of nowhere Massachusetts with a paper bag of newspapers and whatever was left of what ever I had packed in my backpack.
Luckily for me, the story ended happily. I was actually picked up by a very friendly police officer about three miles from my destination, who drove me the rest of the way. He told me I reminded him of his younger sister, and “don’t ever do this again.” Of course, I did. I hitch hiked the west coast a year or two later, but that’s another story.
Anyways, by the time I reached my destination, I no longer had the paper bag of newspapers that I so desperately acquired so I would have the information I needed to relocate. I no longer had the backpack or whatever personal items, including clothes, I originally had inside. I had the disc man, and that Blues Traveler CD whose case was now in two pieces from the Greyhound bus I did take from Western Mass to Albany, NY; the only portion of the trip I did not hitch hike.
I don’t remember and have no idea what was in that backpack. I do remember what that trip taught me. Sometimes, the things you leave behind are so painful to part with at the moment, and in retrospect are utterly meaningless. Parting with those items is freeing because it allows you to travel more lightly. Parting with certain possessions allows you to focus on the things right in front of you, and most important to you. For me, my music was important to me. Music has kept me going most of my life. What I would later realize from this experience is that what is most important to me was right in front of me.
I never did end up moving to Rochester. I was accepted to the university to which I applied there, but I did not get what I felt would be enough financial aid to make it a viable option. I ended up staying in Massachusetts, which was the best thing for me.
Now, what I didn’t realize, and that took me over 10 years to learn, was that when I finally did leave Massachusetts the following year, was that I was never meant to leave. That’s part of learning from the things you leave behind. Some of those things are meaningless, and some of those things change you.
What have you left behind? As painful as it is to let go, sometimes, we need to do that in order to see the beauty in front of us. For the record, when I travel, I now only pack one backpack, which makes it quite easy to get through airports with no checked luggage in the baggage claim, and I only pack what I absolutely need to survive (a few days worth of clothes). I have only hitchhiked twice since 2000, which is an improvement, but not something I would recommend.
The longer I live, the more I realize that sometimes you need to let go to get what you want.