A few weeks ago I had to go to Raleigh. Part of my route took me up Highway 242 through Bladen and Sampson counties. I had plenty of time so I stopped at my usual place, a little combination convenience store and restaurant not far from Roseboro.
After I made my usual purchase purchase of a Pepsi and a pack of nabs, I started back to the car and a fellow walked up to me and wanted to know if I was headed south. I told him I wasn’t. He said he was headed to Florida.
The man had grey hair that was a little long, a short beard and was wearing a heavy camouflage, military-type jacket. He also carried a large backpack. From his speech and manner I could tell he was not an ordinary vagabond. So with my usual curiosity, I asked him why he was hitchhiking to Florida on this country road rather than I-95.
“Nobody will pick me up on the interstate. They don’t want to slow down that long,” he said. “And it may be against the law. Besides the countryside is more interesting than the interstate”.
He seemed to want to talk about himself so I let he go on.
“I’ve been making this journey every year since the 70s when my friends and I would hitchhike from Pennsylvania to Florida during spring break. Back then we were called ‘hippies’ and we had a grand time going down there from school. It was not a protest or statement; we just wanted to do it; it was just fun. Over the years fewer and fewer of us made the trip. Some got married, some settled into suburbia. Some assumed the ‘Establishment’ lifestyle we had spurned during our ‘hippie period’. Now there is only me.”
He stopped his soliloquy just long enough for me to ask the obvious question: why had he continued when the others had stopped?
“It keeps me young,” he said. “I have a regular job that makes me enough money so I don’t have to worry about being declared a vagrant in the various towns I pass through. But I still try to travel much as I did in those early years. I eschew motels except in inclement weather and don’t usually eat in restaurants.”
“Does that mean you sleep in the open at night?” I asked.
“Well, it’s not really in the open. Last night I slept in the woods just down the road. I was quite comfortable. I like to tell people I spent the night with a lady friend.” He paused for my reaction. Not getting one, he said, “Mother Nature”. He chuckled at his own humor then went on with his monologue.
“Mother Nature takes me into her bed of pine needles and soothes me to sleep by having the woodwind section of the Pine Tree Symphony play their song. When the morning comes she wakes me with the warmth of the sunlight and washes me with the morning dew.”
We both laughed at the imagery. “You make it sound almost poetic”, I said.
“Something left over from my hippie years. It sounds better than telling folks that I actually spent the night freezing my ass off in the woods.” Again, he chuckled at his own humor.
“Well, I’m off on my quest,” he said as he started back down the highway.
I wished him good luck and watched him head south as I got back in my car and headed north. In a way I envied him or, at least, I envied the romanticism of his freedom and briefly felt that I might like to join his quest for whatever it was he was seeking. But then I remembered how much I hate sleeping on the hard ground.