Riding with Strangers: A Hitchhiker’s Journey by Elijah Wald

 Rod’s Non-Fiction Pick:

 (Chicago Review Press, 2006)

In this day and age, is it still possible to get out on the road and hitchhike quickly and safely across the United States?  This was the question Elijah Wald wanted answered as he embarked on a nationwide journey from Boston to Seattle.

Wald once boasted that he “can beat Greyhound anywhere in the USA”, but speed was not the reason for his adventure.  In fact, Wald was willing to forgo making good time and instead wanted to savour the experience.  He wanted to prove the naysayers wrong, to show that hitchhiking is still a cheap, easy, friendly way to travel, and to urge a generation of young adventurers to try it.  Along the way he encounters a bevy of interesting characters, gives tips and lessons in hitchhiking, a history of hitchhiking, and examines how the culture of “thumbing a ride” has changed over the past century.

Naturally, Wald admits that there are dangers involved – just as there are dangers in riding motorcycles, in climbing mountains, in drinking whisky – and he does not suggest that anyone should risk it if no pleasure is derived from the experience.  But, ultimately, the danger is what makes for adventure.  Wald is on the road because he is still a romantic, a dreamer, and a believer in the common decency of the average human being.

Anyone who has ever experienced the thrill of hitchhiking will undoubtedly love this book.  It also gives a wonderful taste of the experience for the armchair traveler and shows how hitchhiking puts you in touch with the world as no other form of travel can.

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