A car pulls up and the driver pushes open the passenger door and says, “Get in!” I happily throw my backpack in the back and jump into the passenger seat, happy to have got a ride so quickly. The driver turns to me with a worried look on his face and says, “Do you carry pepper spray with you?”, to which I reply, “Ummm no” and he says “If you were my daughter I would make you have pepper spray. We’ll stop and buy you some!”
And so my hitchhiking adventure across Flordia continued. Hitchhiking is a weird thing. It can be scary but there’s no better way to meet locals, gather travel stories and see the country you’re travelling from a whole new perspective. It REALLY pushes you to get outside your comfort zone, to have less solid plans and sometimes to just go with the flow and see where you end up.
The driver and I start chatting and when he tells me his name (Rowland) I can’t help but laugh that this concerned fatherly figure only happens to have the exact same name as my own Father. Sadly he’s not going too far though, so he drops me off at the side of the road, wishes me luck and continues his journey elsewhere.
I’m sat on a major highway north of Delray Beach on a fairly hot April morning, wondering who my next ride will be. This pick-up truck towing a caravan pulls up, with surfboards loaded up on the back, and a man in his 40’s (maybe 50’s?!) with shaggy hair invites me to jump in. I felt a little hesitant about this one.
When hitchhiking it’s best to listen to your instinct as you must do what you can to try to stay safe. I shook off the weird feeling and jumped in, hoping that this ride would get me a little further that the few KM the last guy drove me. Less than 5 minutes down the highway and my overly-friendly acquaintance asked if I mind if we stop in Denney’s for breakfast. A bit annoying as I needed to cover some ground today but I said no worries and off I went on this weird sore of breakfast date with this shaggy-haired surfer-type for a traditional American Breakfast.
Even during breakfast, at a brief moment, while he was in the toilet, I felt my instincts to tell me to get out of there, but as my bag was in his truck it wasn’t really possible. I blew off the feeling again and tried to enjoy my free breakfast. After all, had I not just hit hitchhiking gold? A free breakfast thrown in with a ride up the coast.
We continued on up the highway and he asked what my final destination was. I told him New York and he laughed. It was the truth, but obviously not my final destination for that day. We chatted and he was actually a pretty interesting guy, sort of nomadic, living from his truck and caravan 6 months a year, chasing the sun and waves around the US coastlines.
As we passed a pretty beach with good waves, he suggested we park up and go for a surf. I was a little hesitant but decided I needed to stop being so nervous and live a little. He let me change in his caravan and even had a spare surfboard for me to use. It was actually a lot of fun until after our surf finished and we sat on the beach drying off.
First of all the guy was a HUGE Trump supporter and so each direction our conversation went, it ended as a heated argument.
Secondly, I believe he thought me accepting his invitation to go for a surf meant that I liked him and so he kept getting a little too cosy and near me, rubbing my leg. He suggested I quit my plans and stay in his caravan for a few days and just go wherever he goes. I was getting pretty nervous at this stage but didn’t want to show it so I kept just laughing it off and suggesting we hit the road. Once we got back to the truck I grabbed my bag and said I decided I would just chill on the beach for a bit, thanks for the ride but I’m good from here on.
I sort of power walked to the other side of the car park, walked up to a car that I later found was almost full to the brim with a very happy Jamaican family, and asked if I could jump in and get a ride to just about anywhere that wasn’t this beach car park. It was a bit of a squash, and they told me I was bat shit crazy to be hitchhiking in Florida, but they got me another 30km up the highway, slowly making my way to Daytona Beach…my actuall final destination for the day.
The very chatty Jamaican family weren’t actually going to far, so 20 minutes later I find myself sat on my backpack on a busy Florida high way, for the fourth time that day, waiting for a ride. No one stops for what feels like an eternity. Then slowly a pretty nice sports car slows down a little, pulls in and I start to get my hopes up. Only for the assholes to speed off, pissing themselves laughing at the trick move. Dicks.
Eventually, a pickup truck pulls over, being driven by a fairly old mans with many missing teeth. Thankful to get a ride, I jump in and tell him I’m heading to Daytona Beach. He says he wants to make sure I’m safe so he’ll bring my right to where I’m staying. What a legend. I notice his driving isn’t the best and he is sort of swerving a little here and there. Then I notice this large hip flask he keeps swigging from, and know there’s no way in hell that’s got water in it!
The longer I’m in the car with him, the more concerned I get about his erratic driving and level of intoxication. It’s not too crazy but I’m kicking myself for not noticing before I jumped in. Why didn’t my fight or flight instincts kick in? When hitchhiking you must always assess the safety of the situation before fully committing. But sometimes it’s hard, especially if it’s getting dark or you’re far from your final destination.
We eventually make it to Daytona Beach, and true to his word he drops me right off at the hotel I booked and happily, swerving a little, drives off home, no doubt to refill his little silver hip flask.
Another adventurous day of hitchhiking complete, and stories saved up for a rainy day.