It was the weekend, primetime and I was in Nashville, Tennessee. What a perfect place and time to take a break and enjoy myself and all I could think about was getting 50 miles farther east to Clarksville! Why? I wish I could answer that question logically, but all I remember is that I had looked at the map in my backpack and decided that I wanted to reach Clarksville that night and then get an early start the next morning.

My next ride seemed promising at first. Three lovely young ladies picked me up. They were very friendly and seemed delighted to be providing me transportation and company. I was delighted as well… for a few minutes. Then they made an offer that may have been one of those life-changers for me. They wanted me to go out-on-the-town with them in Nashville, stay with them at their home, and then drive to Virginia Beach with one of them the next morning. I was very torn between my choices. And then came the tipping point… as silly as it will seem – I had been on the road for almost 16 hours which included wearing a baseball cap all day and toting a very heavy backpack. I felt unfit to join the 3 lovelies on the town in Nashville. I was grubby and scrubby, to say the least. So, I did the only thing that made sense to me. I said, “No thank you”. They seemed shocked that I would turn down not 1, but 3 women. I had my mindset on reaching my goal that evening and asked them to drop me off at their exit, which they did.

I symbolically periodically kicked myself for years, wondering what might have been. I didn’t return to Nashville for a long time. Now, it is one of my favorite towns. What would have happened if I stayed? Would I have not wanted to leave? Would I have developed deep friendships with those 3 girls? I will never know and truthfully, I let go of it and have no regrets. Sometimes when we have goals we get distracted by shiny objects and we never reach our goals.

Clarksville, here I come! Soon, a beat-up old van full of party-hearty guys stopped and picked me up. There were 5 of them in the van and they were enjoying marijuana and some wine so cheap that I had never heard of it. The van smoked and I swear it burned more oil than petrol. They were pretty wild, even by my standards, but friendly, happy, and accommodating. I made note of that and what a difference it makes when people treat you like you are important. That was yet another of many leadership lessons I learned hitchhiking across the U.S. The evening was just getting started.

The AM radio was blaring country music unless they wanted to hear me talk about my adventure. They made fun (in a curious and almost affectionate way) of my accent and dialect and the fact that I was hitchhiking. I thought they sounded like the hillbillies that I had seen on TV and in the movies. Even before we traveled the 40-plus miles to Clarksville, they offered to take me home to Vermont the next day. I thought “There is no way this hunk of junk van will ever survive that trip”. But I did deeply appreciate their generous gesture. In my mind, I just turned down the second ride offer east within an hour. I still kid around about that night, but I have never forgotten how genuine they each seemed.

Of course, they wanted me to hang out with them in Clarksville. I needed a shower and a change of clothes so convinced them to drop me off at a motel. They said they would be back in 30 minutes to pick me up. They were! I had no intention of going out with them so showered and jumped in bed and quickly fell asleep. Then came knocking and then pounding on my door with the words, “We know you are in there”! Seems the motel operator gave them my room number. They persisted with their efforts until I succumbed. We have all heard the saying “persistence pays”.

Instead of being upset at me for trying to avoid them as I thought, they seemed happy that I would finally join them. It goes to show you, that our fear is often simply false evidence appearing real. The incessant banging on my door didn’t translate into anger. So, off the 6 of us went, crowded into a sedan. After driving around a bit, my fear returned. A patrol car began flashing its lights behind us. The driver quickly turned a corner, and several bags of pot were deposited into the shadows of the cruiser headlights. “I will never get out of here now”, I thought. We pulled over at the side of the road.

Two officers approached our car from either side with flashlights. “Hello, boys”, the officer on the driver’s side spoke. I was shrinking as much as possible with my long hair in the middle of the back seat. “You boys ran a stop sign back there”. Then the most amazing thing happened. They never mentioned the contraband, and with his flashlight now searching the inside of the car, the officer said to the front center passenger, “Aren’t you (so and so’s) boy”? “Yes,” he replied. “Well, you tell your daddy I said hello. And you boys be careful now. Have a good night.”

I thought, “What just happened”? It was once again time to be incredibly grateful! A brief time later, a relieved gang of 5 dropped me off and told me they would be back between 7 and 8 AM. I set the motel alarm clock for 5. I felt bad that I wasn’t honest with the guys, but I was intent on running instead of spending another risky day with those boys.