Donovan: 43 miles hitchhiking through California




Up to the mountain

This weekend is Homoto’s annual board retreat. One of the members has access to an awesome cabin up in Lake Tahoe. When starting my term as president, I felt it was important to gather the full board to have a time of connection and bonding as well as planning out the year. At first, members were a bit skeptical but the weekend proved to be valuable in setting up the rest of the year.

Fast-forward 12 months here we are again heading up the mountain to Lake Tahoe. I’ve taken a bit of vacation to have some time up in the Sierras before my departure to Sydney. This is my favorite areas in California and I wanted to spend some time here before leaving for Australia.

Connecting through hitchhiking

On the way up I saw a hitchhiker on the side of the road. I was in the left lane and couldn’t pull over in time. I looped around at the next exit and decided I would pick him up if he was still there. He looked like a young kid out of place up in the mountains. We were both headed the same direction, so he hopped in my truck and we were on our way into the snow country.  I come to later find out that it’s pretty easy hitchhiking through California as long as you are not in the Central Valley,

Taken at 16mm
Taken at 16mm

Donovan was an interesting character. He was 19, from southern California, on his way to see his father in South Dakota. He didn’t quite seem the hitchhiking type. He was well-dressed and clean shaven. Donovan did a fair amount of traveling last summer all over the United States. Again starting from southern California, made his way up to Seattle, Montana, across the Rockies and all over the Northeast.  I hitchhiked a few times as a kid and have given some strangers rides.  When hiking the Appalachian trail through Georgia, hitchhiking was a staple to get to town for supplies.

Everyone asks him what his strangest pick up was. He was stranded in downtown Boston and a dark BMW with blacked out windows stopped and asked him if he needed a ride. As bold as he was, he took pause on this one. Once he got in the car the driver asked him if he minded that they were packing heat. Up for the adventure, he said it was okay and later found out they were major drug dealers in the area. He smiled telling the story. Apparently they were the nicest drug dealers he’s ever met. They even bought him dinner.

I wondered where Donovan spent last night. I get the hitchhiking deal. It consumes your days looking for people heading the same way that you are. The question becomes, what do you do when the world is asleep? I got a variety of answers. Sometimes he sleeps out in the woods. Other times he finds the kindness of strangers in a spare room.  He has spent nights in the sleeper cab of an 18 wheeler. Last night, he slept behind a Starbucks in Vallejo.

I got the sense that Donovan very much appreciated the Sierras. We talked a lot about the geography of the area and he seemed to be genuinely interested in little bits of trivia. In some ways motorcycling is a lot like hitchhiking. You’re a part of the open road. Weather is a big deal. Housing is a big deal at the end of the day. This experience reminded me of how car travel really seals you away from interacting with the world.

Donovan was beginning his own blog to share his travels. I talked about my own story of blogging. The Injection started as a means to stay in touch with those were concerned about my safety on my first trip to Seattle by motorcycle. Over the years I’ve had a lot of motorcycle riding content. My blog though doesn’t really share much of me. I talk a lot about experiences and factual data, but not a lot of my perspective. I’m hoping to change that this year.

Donovan’s ultimate goal was to get to Reno for today. The thought was he could find a long-haul trucker to get him most of the way across interstate 80. In recent years, he shared, that many companies are requiring drivers to be solo. Picking up a  hitchhiker would be grounds for immediate termination. Thus, he’s got to find a driver who is independent. I immediately thought of Zach up in Redding who often does that very run.

I only really had two options for Donovan: the rest area at Donner Summit or the on ramp in Truckee.  Donner Summit was closer to the flow of I80 and likely have long haul traffic, but had no real plan B as it was late in the day in the winter at 7500 feet. Truckee was somewhat lower elevation and had more people around should he not able to find a ride. I didn’t get the sense he was really prepared for his journey through the Rockies. He wasn’t overly clued into the importance of elevation. His sleeping bag only got him down to about 20 degrees.  At Donner Summit at night it was likely to be 10°F.

The road less traveled

Since he decided to go to Truckee, we took Donner Pass Highway instead of Interstate 80. I wanted to share a bit of the richness of the Sierras that you can’t see from the freeway. Donovan enjoyed the story of the Donner party and how this area got its claim to fame.

Portrait photography has always been harder for me to come by. I continually have to get out of my shell and ask people to be photographed. I wanted to remember this experience. One of the big values of Project 365 is it each photo brings value to every day for a year. Donovan was happy to have his photo taken by a complete stranger.

Taken at 35mm

I know there are readers out there who will tell me I did the wrong thing. I had two tell me in person today. But to be honest, it was a great hour to connect with a complete stranger I’ll never see again. I got to see a different perspective on a shared experience of the open road.

I’m guessing you’re somewhere in Utah now, Donovan. Best of luck to you in your future journeys.



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