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When Josh DeLacy, a recent graduate of Calvin College, first decided to spend the summer hitchhiking across rural America, his choice stemmed from his experience as an intern in Washington, D.C.
“I first came about the idea about 6 months ago,” DeLacy says via phone whilst waiting for another ride outside of Ann Arbor, MI. “I was working as an intern in D.C., which was a great experience, but I realized I wasn’t ready to jump into a career of office work. So I wanted to get out, see something else. And, through various books that I’ve read and people I’ve met, the idea of traveling around the country really appealed to me.”
One way that DeLacy’s trip across America differs from other trips some might take (other than the obvious fact that he is hitchhiking) is that he has decided to travel completely on trust, with no money of any kind, and also, that he would avoid all interstates and highways.
“At this point 84% of the population lives in metro areas,” DeLacy says. “We’ve kind of lost touch with the small town life. I want to find out what that was like. And I want to explore and learn, I want to see America by seeing the small towns and rural areas.”
Starting from Mount Vernon, Washington, Delacy’s trip is split into thirds, with his eventual destination being to double back to Washington.
DeLacy’s strategy to get rides involves find a spot where people have plenty of time to see him as they drive up. “I try to give them time to realize, oh this guy isn’t actually scary,” he jokes.
DeLacy then speaks about the surprising stories and conversations he has had with the people who have picked him up. He lists examples such as hearing another man’s hitchhiking story of illegally riding trains from Minneapolis to New York all at the age of 13. People also speak about their work, with one notable example being a bounty hunter.
“One of the most unexpected things I’ve encountered is how open people are willing to be with a stranger,” DeLacy says. “I hear about drug addictions and failed marriages. How do I respond to this? How do I help them when I’ve only known them for an hour, but in that hour, I care about them?”
Another way the trip has gone differently than expected involves DeLacy’s plan to originally work in exchange for food or for a place to sleep.
“I haven’t had to work for a place or for food,” DeLacy says. “People have been much more generous and open than I expected.” He tells of stopping inside a hotel to ask if he could use the bathroom. After the manager of the hotel let him use the bathroom, they struck up conversation. He then allowed DeLacy to eat the hotel’s continental breakfast. Then, as DeLacy prepared to leave, the manager gave him a box of food, as well as $20.
“I think that comes from traveling on trust,” he says. “They see my sign and realize that I’m trusting them and they’re trusting me.”
When asked if there is anything he would want people to take away from his trip, DeLacy responds resolutely.
“There’s a lot of good people out there,” he says. “If you interact with someone and expect them to be honest and trustworthy, and you do the same yourself, people from all walks of life will prove themselves to be decent people, even more than decent people. That ranges from former alcoholics to current drug addicts, to hippies, to grumpy Vietnam vets. People I wouldn’t normally interact with, but when I’m hitchhiking with them, it breaks down those barriers.”
DeLacy’s blog contains written accounts of his travels. DeLacy also plans to write a larger work about his collected travels in the near future.