This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
There's no such thing as an unremarkable hitchhiking story. I learned this pretty quickly when I started asking the people around me about their most memorable “free” rides. You're putting your life into a stranger’s hands, inviting them to assess you for a potential exchange—as they used to say—of ass, cash, and/or grass.
It’s a truly weird thing to do in an age of Uber and Craigslist rideshares, but many of Canada’s West Coast islands and northern communities still rely on hitching as an informal public transit system. Fortunes can change so quickly from ride to ride—you can end up meeting the mayor of a tiny seaside town, or contemplating the best throat-slitting angle, should you need to take justice into your own hands (in self defense, obviously).
To understand what kind of person still hitchhikes in 2017, and why so many more of us have sworn it off forever, I’ve compiled the strangest and most terrifying stories about catching rides I could find. One person described it as the original IRL Chatroulette: You never know who you’ll get next.
Over the summer of 2004, I was dating a very adventurous anarchist activist in London, Ontario. We were both in our early 20s, it was the summer after our third year, and we wanted to go on this trip from London to Halifax.
We had big backpacks with us, and we were really doing it on a budget, which was part of the adventure. We didn’t sleep in motels or anything. We just had our sleeping bags, and we’d sleep on the side of the road, in nearby parks, behind school buildings—wherever to make due for the night. We were really roughing it.
There wasn’t really a single moment where I felt unsafe, except this one part, which was kind of scary, but also kind of fun and enjoyable—it was a mix of emotions. It was a dreary, rainy Sunday afternoon. We were leaving Quebec City, and we had some trouble. Nobody was picking us up.
We made our way to the highway, pretty much standing on the on-ramp trying to get a ride for a few hours. Finally this big transport truck pulled over. It was this young hippie from Quebec— Francophone accent, mid 20s, progressive politics, chatty and friendly. He had a beard and long blond wavy hair, probably wearing a plaid flannel shirt.
He had this big bag of weed next to the shifter or clutch, whatever it was. He was freely dipping his whole hand into this big pound bag. And he was chain smoking joints—one hand on the wheel, single-handedly rolling joints with the other the whole time.
He had a young child with him also, a five-year-old kid in the back of the cab, which was pretty bad, I thought. He had this curtain that the kid kept pulling shut. I’m not sure what the THC is in secondhand smoke, but the smoke was everywhere. He probably smoked two or three joints at least.
It seemed he was such a super stoner that it wasn’t affecting him that much. I would watch him, looking for signs of him spacing out. We kept exchanging nervous glances. We were uncomfortable, in a hitchhiking situation, thinking are we going to crash? But he seemed really skilled at multitasking. He kept a coherent line of argument, kept his eyes on the road and the kid.
I’ve never hitchhiked since, but not because I was discouraged. It was almost the opposite. It was surprisingly easy; it took us six days. Other than getting rained out at one point, and having a guard come and tell us to move once, it went surprisingly smooth, considering we went halfway across the country.
When I hitchhiked I mostly went with truckers, because they’re accountable. It’s true there are dangers involved, especially if you’re not a guy like I am. But truckers have a number, an identity, you can text someone what truck you’re on. Not saying it’s perfect, but it felt safer. Plus they have little TVs in the back.
I was traveling with two women friends, introducing them to train hopping, and later hitchhiking. From Winnipeg heading west. I think we were going through Field, BC. This guy in a small car went by, didn’t stop, and then I’m pretty sure did a U-turn, which was the first red flag. He was coming from the wrong direction, going east.
We thought it was a U-turn, but we weren’t sure. There were a lot of cars going by, we thought maybe it wasn’t him. He told us he commutes to Fort Mac from Salmon Arm. We get in and his car is spotless, not even a shred of junk food, or a coffee cup. And in the trunk he had all these pillows and blankets neatly stacked and wrapped in plastic. But we thought, maybe he’s just anal, you know? An anally clean long-distance commuter.
He says to my friends oh, so happy to meet you. And he tells me to reach under my seat, that he has a gift for them. By this point we’re racing at full speed. It’s this box with 30 or 40 rocks in there, with “BC girls rock” painted on them. Which we thought was creepy, but I guess not dangerous.
I think we were just past Malakwa, and he started talking about showing us a cabin the woods, and kept trying to pull off the main highway. And he did pull onto some side road, under the guise of wanting us to see the real BC. Which was when we decided we may actually die, and I decided to take my knife out. Apparently I blacked out with my knife in my hand, and my friends kept hitting me. We all had the same fear of death.
Finally we get to Salmon Arm, and he veers into a post office and we get out and just run. We find an RCMP officer, walk up to the window and say we’d like to report a suspicious incident. We believe this guy could be a danger to women hitchhikers. I had his information, I asked could you enter this into your system. He literally replied “hitchhiking is illegal in BC.” He basically said he wasn’t going to write a name or number down, and threatened to charge us. It was awful. I think I said under my breath, "No wonder there are so many missing women in this part of BC," and walked away.
My best friend and I were invited up to a friend’s cabin for the weekend, and we brought along another friend. I don’t think they expected us to make it there, but they were polite enough to offer, so we jumped on a bus to the ferry terminal, and made our way to Vancouver Island.
We were heading up to Port Alberni area, and we kind of got stranded for several hours, to the point where one of us was approaching hysteria. It was just starting to get dark. Then we saw a vehicle coming down the highway that started to slow down. We immediately thought this is awesome—it was a Lexus, a nice big car—so we were excited to jump in.
I ended up getting in the front seat, and my two friends got in the back. Right away I got a vibe, like a Fear and Loathing thing. This guy was wearing a suit, but his tie was kind of undone, and he looked sweaty and stressed out. We tried to make small talk, but he’d respond with something completely different. Like he asked where we were going, I said we were heading up to Port Alberni, and then he didn’t say anything. Then a minute later he asked where you guys going again. I looked back at the guys like, “What’s going on?”
At this point, we’re speeding down the highway at like 100 miles an hour, so it’s not like we could just jump out. It seemed like he was in a rush. At some point, he asks us, “Do you guys party?” And being young guys, all in our early 20s, we said, "Yeah, sure". He said, “Do you mind if I party?” We were like, Kind of. What do you mean? He says, “Do you guys mind if I do some ketamine?” and we’re like yeah, actually, we do mind.
He just kind of looked a bit embarrassed and shocked. He seemed genuinely upset. I asked, “Have you been on ketamine since you were driving us just now?” and he didn’t really answer me. I looked back at the other guys, kind of talking without speaking, and I just kept a close eye on him. We didn’t talk for another hour and a half.
When he dropped us off, we made sure it was far from where we were going. We weren’t scared of him, we just didn’t want him to come party with us.
Years ago my best friend and I did a long trip around the southern tip of Nova Scotia. We were in Halifax, and we took a bus to the outskirts of town. Our first ride was this middle-aged man with this East Coast country vibe. I want to say he was driving a four-door pickup.
He sounded a bit concerned for us, so he gave us his business card. I didn’t keep the card, but I’m pretty sure the job he had listed was “pig roasting” which was a little strange. I can’t remember his exact words, but he started telling us about these two women he picked up ten years ago. These women were backpacking, basically doing the same thing we were doing. He said a few months later he was called by police because these two women were found murdered somewhere in the bush, and his card was on them.
He told [the police] he’d given them a ride, and gave them a card just in case something bad happened. At this point I had my phone open, ready to call 911 just in case. I remember thinking, If something weird happened, I could press call, and they would hear what was going on. I mean, that’s not a great way to make someone feel comfortable on a ride. Nothing ever came of it; he never got charged. I don’t think he did it, but he could have, I don’t know. I don’t think we ever looked it up.
I don’t think it was a conscious decision, but I haven’t hitchhiked again since that trip.
I was at an SNFU show, which was a fairly prolific punk band back in the day, at the Starfish room on Seymour in Vancouver. I was 17 or 18 at the time, but it was super easy to sneak into. They didn’t ask for ID—they didn’t care. It was summer, because I remember taking off my shirt in the show. It was so packed and sweaty. I was having a conversation with a guy in the beer line, just talking about music.
Once the show finishes up, I lose track of all my friends in the pit. I was quite wasted, so I just started hitchhiking, and the guy I was talking to in the line pulls over. He asked if I needed a ride, and I said yeah dude, totally. I was thinking to myself, thank god I didn’t get in some random weirdo’s car. He seemed nice. Maybe he could be a new friend.
I was giving him directions, like take a right on Boundary or whatever. And then he pulls over and is just silent. I’m like no, dude, it’s still further. He seems super nervous about something. I ask, are you OK? Do you have a health problem? He says no, it’s fine, and we keep going. Wasted Rob thinks this is kinda weird, but whatever, we go another five or ten blocks, and he stops again.
He’s avoiding eye contact with me, just staring at the steering wheel, and I’m worried. I ask, are you OK to be driving? For a second I thought he might be wasted like me. We did meet in the beer line. We start driving again, and he pulls over a third time. He takes a deep breath, looks at me, and says, “I’ve always wanted to suck another man’s dick.” I was like oh, that’s what’s happening.
I said thank you, I’m flattered, but no, I’m totally good. Thanks but no thanks. And he started getting really flustered. I said I’m just gonna walk, and I got out of the car. I was nowhere near home, and this was before the days of cell phones. In retrospect I kind of feel bad about how I reacted. That guy probably came out to me. I don’t know what happened to that guy, but I hope he’s happy. I hope he’s come to terms with his identity and feels comfortable.
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