Saturday, June 13, 2009

Thumbing

A week ago Thursday, in the early evening, I emerged from the tree tunnels of the Appalachian Trail onto Connecticut Rt. 41, near Salisbury. It's a winding two-lane road.

An hour before and three miles back, I had inadvertently walked past the path to the shelter where I'd planned to sleep that night. By the time I realized this, the shelter was quite a bit uphill from where I was. So I decided to walk to the road and find a motel for the night.

Dropping my pack and poles at the roadside, I stuck out my thumb and began to beg for a ride into town. Drivers of the intermittently passing cars looked me over and passed me by for about 15 minutes. After all, I was somewhat dirty and I had a five day grey beard on my face.

Then, a red Ford pickup passed me, going the opposite direction to the one I intended to go. As it faded into the distance I saw the brake lights come on, and I said to myself, "That person is going to turn around and pick me up." And so he did, and so began the mini-Oddessy of the next 12 hours.

The 40-ish, fit-looking driver had a heavy accent that I couldn't quite place. He told me there was no motel in Salisbury, but there was one, he thought, down another road in the direction he intended to drive. Would I be OK with going on awhile? "OK", I said, trusting in fate as he drove the truck, which needed some wheel balancing, too fast down the almost-shoulderless Connecticut roads.

More than one half hour and many miles later, following a fruitless information stop at a small town gas station, we pulled up to a shabby 1950's style motel with only one vehicle parked in front at 8 p.m. No other businesses were visible in either direction; the motel was squarely in the middle of "nowhere". There was no cell phone reception. The man said, "I'll come back in the morning, about 7:30, and take you back to where I found you." He waved goodbye, and the red truck disappeared down the road.

The next adventure of the evening involved an Indian lady motel owner who, without being asked, loaned me her shabby old car so I could drive nine miles to get dinner and call the Good Witch. I think she badly needed the cash I gave her to cover the gas I used, plus a bunch extra. The tiny stall shower in my room worked, and the bed did not have bedbugs. Everything's good!

At about 7:30 the next morning a red pickup pulled into the motel parking lot and stopped in front of the little cabin where I waited. Off we went, following a much more direct route to where the man had found me the previous evening. Even so, we were on the road at least 1/2 hour before arriving at the spot. Our conversation was continuous. I had many questions for my new friend, whose name was Walter Pezantes.

Walter was an Equadorian, working in America as a mason and stoneworker. He built high-quality walkways, porches, chimneys, and stone walls. He had an ex-wife and three children in Equador, and two larger parcels of property where he intended to retire someday. Working in America gave him the opportunity to support his family and plan for the future. He told me much about Equador while I struggled to get through his accent.

Why was it Walter who stopped for me? Why didn't the "regular Americans" give me a helping hand? The answer is simple, one I've known since I began hitchhiking as a young teenager. It's those who've had it tough, those who've really been desperate for help, those who've received an unexpected gift of kindness from others, who don't hesitate to put out their hand for strangers in need. Most "regular Americans", those who've never known deprivation, feel only fear of the unknown when they look into the faces of strangers in need.

I could tell that Walter enjoyed his time with me. We had a lively conversation, and he knew I was interested in him as a person. I thanked him profusely for helping me to get a shower and a good night's sleep before my last day of hiking.

The act of putting out my thumb, something that I'm never embarassed to do if need arises, set off a chain reaction of events that I'll remember as highlights of this past week on the Appalachian Trail. Now you know why I generally pick up people who wave their thumb and look at me with imploring eyes as my car approaches them on the highway.

2 comments:

ThomasLB said...

I think this is my favorite post you've ever done. :)

I always stop and help out people who need a hand, too. The world isn't nearly as scary as most people imagine.

Ron Davison said...

What a great story. It left me with a huge smile. And how amazing that Walter drove for two hours for you. Wow.