Wayne and Jill’s Hitchhiking Adventure: MD to ME in ’74

Wayne and Jill
Wayne and Jill in 1974, along Virginia’s Skyline Drive above the Shenandoah Valley

In August 1974, Jill and I took off on a three-month, 1,500-mile hike and ramble. Our apartment lease was up, we had no local commitments, and we wanted to go adventuring.

The previous January, we had signed up for a week-long yoga retreat at the University in Orno, Maine. We looked forward to a week of yoga, meditation, vegetarian meals, and workshops. But, the retreat didn’t start until September, and our lease ended on July 31. So, we determined that we would spend the month of August backpacking the Long Trail through the Green Mountains of Vermont. We were hippie kids in our glory days.

book side of the road
The book “Side of the Road” inspired us to tackle the hitchhiking portion of our hike

Problem: Ditch the Car?

But if we drove to Vermont and backpacked the trail for 160 miles, how would we reconnect with our car to drive to Maine? We discussed the matter for weeks, struggling to find an affordable and reliable option. One day, we were browsing in the University of Maryland book exchange when I saw a book titled “Side of the Road: A Hitchhikers Guide to the United States,” copyright 1972. The book outlined all states’ hitchhiking laws, safety practices, and practical considerations. It was everything you’d want to know about hitchhiking.

But the book warned readers to stay out of Texas altogether and to not get caught hitchhiking in Providence, Rhode Island, because they would fine you $150 (per person) and put you in jail. The fine for picking up hitchhikers was $250. But we didn’t plan on stopping in Providence, so voila! Problem solved. Besides, I’d hitchhiked off and on during my college days, and Jill and a companion hitched around the Mediterranean in 1971. We were confident we could handle ourselves on the road. So we would hitchhike to Vermont, hike the trail, and then hitchhike to Maine, visiting friends along the way.

The Route: Rural Areas, State Roads

We hitched from College Park, MD, through PA and NY, staying on State roads and avoiding the interstates. At night, we camped off the road in wooded areas. No campfires or lights; we were clandestine campers. We then traveled east into Massachusetts, where we stayed with friends for a few days, and later, we went north into Vermont and hiked the Trail.

Long Trail Guidebook 1971
The Long Trail Guidebook was indispensable

Challenge #1: Not enough T.P.

The Green Mountains are beautiful and aptly named. There wasn’t enough open space on either side of the trail to pitch a tent, but there were lean-to trail shelters about every five miles. We spotted a moose, a bear, and a lot of deer along the way. But our only run-in with a critter was a curious porcupine who arrived in the middle of the night. We scared him off. Our food supply consisted of freeze-dried backpacking meals and a substantial supply of trail mix . We snacked on the trail mix as we hiked.

On the sixth day, we discovered that the dried fruit in the trail mix was mostly prunes. Nothing brings a young couple closer together than two days of diarrhea in the woods. You can’t pack enough toilet paper to plan for that contingency. We got to know each other very well. Fortunately, it was summer, so the leaves were fresh and an acceptable substitute for Charmin. I was grateful it wasn’t fall, when leaves were dry, crumbly, and scratchy.

yoga retreat
We stayed at a week-long yoga retreat at the University of Maine in Orono

The Return: Through the Cities

We left the trail and traveled east into Maine. The yoga retreat was delightful, and we were rested and enthusiastic when we hit the road for our return trip. We caught a good ride in Bangor that took us through New Hampshire into Massachusetts, and a second that went to Rhode Island. It didn’t take long to realize that we should have stuck to rural roads and avoided Eastern cities.

I asked a young driver: “You’re not stopping in Providence, are you?” “No,” he replied, but I’m going through it.”

That worked for me. We were good to go as long as we didn’t stop in Providence.

Challenge #2: A Tense Night

I’m sure you can guess what happened next. We got to Providence, and the driver said: “I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to visit a friend, so I will drop you off here.” He dropped us off on a sidewalk near the edge of the city. Our backpacks and hiking clothes stood out like neon signs. No sooner had we closed the car door than we were warned by passers-by: “You can’t be hitchhiking here,” and “You’ll go to jail if you get caught hitchhiking,” and similar warnings.

We considered our options. We didn’t have enough money left for either bus tickets out of Providence or a hotel room, nor did we have credit cards. Wiring home for money was problematic, and we didn’t want to sleep on the streets. So, we decided to walk out of town along a state road. We might avoid arrest as long as we were walking, not hitching.

We had walked about two miles when a Volkswagen bug pulled onto the shoulder. The driver jumped out and yelled, “Get in, quick!” So, we did. He drove us beyond the city limits and dropped us off at a highway exit ramp. Then, he turned around and went back toward the city. God bless hippies.

Since it was dusk, we went about fifty yards into a wooded area and set up camp for the night. The threat of trouble had disappeared, and we were safe for the night.

Or so we thought.

Around midnight, a group of bikers arrived at the exit ramp and built a bonfire about 50 yards from our camp (how did they get away with this on a well-traveled highway?). They were drinking, fighting, and generally rowdy. Jill and I hunkered down and stayed quiet. Twice, bikers approached our position to relieve themselves. We were terrified of being discovered, but we never were. Near dawn, they left.

Home, Sweet Home, and Out Again

We caught a ride early that morning from a guy going to Delaware. We made it through Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey in one ride. We crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge into New Castle, Delaware. We were only 110 miles from home. By then, we were like horses that sensed the barn: we couldn’t wait to sleep in our bed. We threw in the towel on hitching, went to the bus station, and bought two cheap tickets to College Park.

Two days later, we packed my car for another two months on the road, visiting friends and adventuring. Our hitchhiking days were over. We went spelunking in Missouri, scuba diving in Texas, and skiing in Colorado. We hit Jill’s hometown of Golden, Colorado, in late October, where we married and lived happily, ever after. We’ve been married for fifty years, and we always stay well-stocked with toilet paper.

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