The romantic lure of the road had captured my soul and imagination and I reveled in the stories of many of the old blues and folk players who traveled the country and the world. That wasn’t all though. In addition to Woody’s influence was a tv show that I used to watch religiously called “Then Came Bronson”. The show chronicled the life of a lone, mysterious, biker who seemed to have no roots and lived on the road, free as the wind. He had the coolest Harley in the world and the images of Bronson plying the Pacific Coast Highway burned into my brain.
That was also around time that Simon and Garfunkel sang, ” We’ve all gone to look for America”, and the movie “Easy Rider” was a hit on the big screen. I yearned to see the Golden Gate Bridge, Big Sur, the Grand Canyon and the Tetons. (I later rode a motorcycle across country and back passing through the Painted Desert, Monument Valley in Arizona and the Rockies of Colorado, hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon alone twice and stood atop the Grand Teton).
But back to the story. After graduating from Penn State, I was in my first year of teaching 5th Grade in an isolated village in the mountainous coal mining region of central PA. I had the summers off and couldn’t wait to get out on the road. I had heard about a rock climbing school in Colorado called the LEAD Outdoor Academy that was just forming and I wanted to get in on the ground floor as an instructor. I heard that the original staff was getting together for a training session and I was invited to come out for what became a week long job interview in the wilderness. I was thrilled to have the opportunity but had no way to get to Colorado and no money. I had a theory which I tested many times over the years and found to be true. I figured that even in a worst case scenario, one could hitch across the country in three days. A person could easily go for 3 days without food so in my mind even if something bad happened, I would be alright. Call me foolish but with this in mind, I decided to make the trip.
Mom knew she couldn’t stop me so she became an accomplice. As mentioned, she gave me my first ride to the Bellefonte exit of Interstate 80, waved goodbye and all of a sudden, there I was, all alone looking down the road with my thumb out singing to myself the words to the theme song from “Then Came Bronson”.
There aint nothin’ here gonna tie me, and I got some friends I’d like to see again
One of these days I’m gonna settle down, but ’till that day I won’t be hangin’ round
Goin’ down that long lonesome highway, Gonna live life my way.”
My ride took me all the way to the Pennsylvania - Ohio border. As I got out of the car, it was obvious that a very bad thunderstorm was quickly approaching. The sky was an ominous looking grey with big black thunderclouds just waiting to explode. I again said a prayer and believed as much as I could that God would take care of me.
From Chicago, I got two long rides to Colorado and was dropped off on Interstare 25 just north of Denver. I had planned to connect with the an old friend’s brother named Thomas. He lived on a street named Hooker Avenue.
Its ironic that when hitching across country, you can often easily pick up rides that will take you long distances, sometimes traversing many states. It is much harder , however, to navigate a city where you have to make a number of turns. You may wait hours for a ride that will take you a short distance to your next turn thus taking all day to cover a distance of 20 miles or less. Add to that, when I was dropped off, there was another hitcher on the ramp ahead of me. I went over to talk to him and he lamented that he had been standing there for over 8 hours with no luck. Undaunted, I told him that if he got picked up, to tell the driver to pick me up too. Following the etiquette of the road, I took a spot down the road from him. Once more, I looked to the sky and prayed for a ride in this seemingly impossible situation.
After a day or so in Denver, I got back on the road for a fairly quick trip to Gunnison, Colorado. Near there, in the beautiful Colorado Rockies, I spent a week with the first staff of the newly formed LEAD Outdoor Academy. Nearly six years later, I realized the dream that I had envisioned on that momentous trip across country and became a mountaineering and rock climbing instructor with LEAD which by then had moved to New Mexico at the edge of the Capitan Mountains Wilderness Area.