At 5 AM, the motel alarm blared, and I awoke with a start. I was tired and cloudy of mind, to say the least. Rest had been minimal for much of this trip and the 4 hours of sleep this time was no exception. However, I was pumping inside with adrenalin to get the heck out of Clarksville and avoid both the gang of 5 and the police, since hitchhiking was illegal in those parts, or at least punishable by the local law. Not all we hitchhikers were apparently hard-working people, just going on an adventure because we could… in this great free country we call America. I can accept that.
As weary and tired as I was that morning after a quick shower and getting dressed, I was even more determined to get on the road and leave Clarksville behind. As I think back, and with greater capability in my later years to understand and communicate, I did a disservice to the town and those precious fellas who sincerely wanted to help me. If I had any idea who any of them were, I would surely find them and try to make amends.
I strapped that heavy pack on my back and headed out on the mile or so hike to the highway on that chilly September morning. By the time I reached the highway ramp, I was wide awake and plenty warm. The only thing on my mind was getting out of there without further interference. A commercial laundry truck picked me up, and just in time. I came face to face from the opening of that door with a trooper. I looked him in the eye with an affirmative glance as we pulled down the ramp onto the highway. Instead of gloating, I realized then, that much, if not all that I had heard about Tennessee police in the ’70s was BS. I could have been collected twice within an 8-hour period and was freely on my way east, still on I40. You can’t always believe what you hear. That may be truer today than ever before in my lifetime.
As the nice young man drove up onto the highway and I thanked him, I felt grateful for the past 10 hours and yet also a bit guilty about my dishonesty with the gang of 5 whom I left behind. They did nothing wrong to me. It was my unwarranted fear that caused me to abandon them. I still doubt they had the intention to abandon me. Regardless, I prefer to give them the benefit of any doubt. Today, I would handle the situation entirely differently, but then I was not yet equipped to do so. That is another reason why we should all understand that growth is a process, and that process never ends if we remain committed.
My new short-term goal was to reach Cape Cod, Massachusetts sometime in the next two days. My one and only laundry truck ride thus far was pleasant, and it took me well east to the northeast corner of Tennessee. Years later my son Brad went to university in a town split between Virginia and Tennessee. The town was Bristol, which is more famous for its NASCAR track than the white line through town delineating the 2 state’s borders. Little did I know that I would return multiple times 25 years after hitchhiking through there on my way to New England. My appreciation for Bristol was much different when I returned to visit my son than when passing through at about his age under vastly different circumstances. I didn’t blink the first time through but soaked it all in when I went there to visit my offspring. It occurs to me how dramatic time and our frame of reference change our experiences.
My next ride in a car was my last for about a week. I was given a ride by a young man who had been visiting his sister in San Francisco all summer and was heading back home to New Jersey. I think he was about as broke as I was and in fact, according to him, had no cash left. So, he bought gas with some sort of credit card… a foreign concept to me at the time. I bought the Big Macs to keep us fueled. We drove all day and night until arriving in Newark at about 4 AM. He suggested I buy a train ticket versus trying to hitchhike in the middle of Newark at that time of day. I agreed, but not initially. After all, I had made it that far without a bus or train ride and a conflict between logic and pride absorbed me. I wasn’t certain what my next move would be. I did know that I was afraid and had to deal with the familiar concept of real versus imagined fear that I was facing. The next leg of my trip required it.