HITCHING you can get anywhere in the United States in less than three days,” said friend and Great Race organizer Aaron Bell while stirring campfire coals, still visibly disappointed with a second place finish in his own event. The first place team bested his time by 2.5 hours, traveling from an open highway outside of Dallas to a little known campsite in backcountry North Carolina in 14 hours.
For four years now the annual Great Hitchhiking Race has marked the end of Spring semesters and the beginning of kid-like endless summers. For Aaron and his friends the race began as a way to travel cheaply during summer breaks. Word of mouth and the viral appeal of Facebook grew this year’s race to 21 particpants, many of whom have been thumbing rides since high school.
Check out Aaron’s Evolution of Hitchhiking” to learn the art from a master.
Luckily, the race’s time/place couldn’t have been more in line with my South American bike tour. The May start date will allow me to bypass the rainy seasons in South America, which is important given my element exposed-style of travel. Also, flying out of North Carolina was the cheapest option with a one-way ticket to the island nation of Trinidad costing just US $222. A short boat trip to Venezuela, then bus travel to Colombia will reunite me with Surly. Most importantly, the race allowed me to visit my close high school friends Eric and Craig in North Carolina before leaving the United States.
How Does a Hitchhiking Race Work?
The Teams: There are seven teams of three, each with one experienced hitchhiker, one inexperienced, and one female. The night before the race competitions (e.g. Indian leg wrestling, dodgeball, roller hockey) were held to determine interstate placement. The following morning teams are driven to the highway (thanks Aaron’s mom!), dropped off to their hard-won positions exactly one mile apart.
The Rules: Travel from Aaron’s childhood home in Van, Texas to Gorges State Park outside of Sapphire, North Carolina as fast as possible—by thumb.
The Fun: The hitchhiking hours are filled with cellphone trash talk and misleading texts to keep the competition on edge. Drivers become absorbed in the game, de facto fourth teammates who contribute gas and speed for the cause. This year’s first place team won due to the driver’s eight hour detour swerved like a cartoon skid mark after having been convinced of the fun at the falls. Upon arrival to Gorges State Park participants camp for a week, enjoying the sense of freedom that comes from stepping to the highway and ending up in a perfect playground.