Following are a number of assorted excerpts from my four books, "Following My Thumb", "Kundalini and the Art of Being", "I Leapt Into the Night" and "Don't Push the Road":
"Rather than hide from that which we fear and pretend it’s not there, jump headlong into it. Get a feel for what exists out beyond the familiar paved roads, in that unsettling foreign land where the moose, grizzly and eagle roam free. There’s another very real and deeply meaningful world out beyond the realm of human perception, which we can glimpse and perhaps even get acquainted with, if we so desire. For the unknown is truly unknown only as long as we choose to ignore it. There’s really only one way to get to know anything—and that’s to experience it. Ultimately life is an adventure, whether we like it or not. Better for the soul to accept this, it seems, and then live accordingly." (Excerpt from "Following My Thumb", Chapter 9.)
"I lay there on my back wide-eyed for a good long while, nerves frayed from an overabundance of caffeine and another experience of strangeness, peering up at the clear night sky and the faintly twinkling stars, contemplating the odd behavior of humans, listening to the cars going around and around and around me." (Excerpt from "Following My Thumb", Chapter 7.)
"Somehow that loneliness was heightened more during the light of day, without the comforting blanket of myriad twinkling stars to ponder overhead. It was just my lone soul, the great expanse of wide-open starkness and a thin sliver of road leading me onwards. And, based on the previous day, a car roughly every half hour that brought only a glimmer of hope as it approached from across the expanse, for what seemed an eternity of longing before it finally flew by at a mile a minute, with nary a smile nor faintest teardrop of humanity to spare a bedraggled, sullen traveler; and I was thrown back into the despair of the lonely road." (Excerpt from "Don't Push the Road".)
"As my beer buzz thickened and reality began to seep slowly into my tired, travel-worn mind, I found myself in one of those peculiar states in which you start to feel more as if you’re looking out at a panoramic movie screen before you, rather than actually living the scene around you. The woman sitting before me was a vision of beauty, as if she’d just stepped out of a fantasy film in which she reigned over a kingdom of unicorns and fairies. She had long, wavy, sandy-blond hair, a soft, vibrant face with deep, thoughtful brown eyes and was wearing tight shorts over a faded red swimsuit that concealed firm and ample breasts. She was strong, independent and intelligent, yet totally feminine and infinitely alluring. She was pretty much everything I desired in my wildest of romantic juvenile dreams. I’m sure that she would have made an excellent queen of the fairies. I just wasn’t certain in that moment that I was prepared to be her knight in shining armor, should that be her expectation. Come to think of it, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d ended up sitting there with her at all." (Excerpt from "Following My Thumb", Chapter 5.)
"The air was cold and brisk on that starry night, and my breath spewed from my mouth like a dragon, a comforting reminder that I was still alive and breathing. The snow-covered trees and wide-open meadow were cast in that eerie black-and-white light, the awesome presence of the full moon hanging high overhead. I could see the warm lights of my father's humble cabin in the distance behind me on the edge of the meadow. The trees behind it loomed darkly, as if to pounce at any moment. The dull lantern on the front porch swung creakily in the slight chill wind. All I could see of it was the faint point of flickering light swinging back and forth, back and forth." (Excerpt from "I Leapt Into the Night".)
"In the fall of 1994, I was twenty-two and leading a relatively stable life in rainy western Oregon, when I rather impulsively quit my job, sold my old Datsun pickup, moved out of my house, and hit the road with just my backpack on my back, thumb leading the way. I had only a vague notion of where I was going and what I was getting myself into. I simply had an undeniable yearning for adventure and the unknown, which I chose to follow. I was the type who tended to act on these sorts of impulses. Little did I know the real adventure that I was embarking on this time." (Excerpt from the Introduction of "Kundalini and the Art of Being", published by Station Hill Press, 2008.)
"Over the next few days I happened to talk with a few other folks who had been involved with the community. I discovered that some of the leader’s many outrageous claims about himself and his cult were: that he considered his group to embody the highest spiritual truth on the planet (hey, that’s a new one); himself to be a reincarnation of the apostle Paul (perhaps so—but I’m not washing that one down with Kool-Aid); that he was the doorway to the fourth dimension (come on, everyone knows it was the Beatles); that the energy vortexes around Sedona were of his own making (how old was this guy—4.6 billion years?); and that crop circles were his own creations from past life-times (let me guess—and he also built the Sphinx single-handedly?). As my old college physics teacher would have put it, this guy had an ego roughly the size of the observable universe." (Excerpt from "Following My Thumb", Chapter 10.)
"I hiked on and on through the rain. I had no idea of the time of day, with the thick, gray clouds ever-present overhead. After several more hours, it seemed that it would soon be getting dark. I had no idea how much farther I had to go. I decided that I needed to find somewhere to set up my tent before nightfall rather than be caught hiking in the dark. I set my pack down on the gravel jeep-trail—streaked with
countless tiny streams, a rather uninviting environment for making camp—to take a look around. But I could find nowhere. The jeep trail was on a steep slope covered with trees, and the trail itself, though wide, was far too wet and rocky to lie down on all night. Besides, I didn’t know what condition my tent and sleeping bag would be in at this point. I had to keep going." (Excerpt from "Kundalini and the Art of Being", Chapter 17.)
Following is the Introduction and all of Chapter 1 from "Following My Thumb: A Decade of Unabashed Wanderlust"...
Why travel? Good question. Like most things in life it depends on what you want to get out of it. A two-week vacation of tranquil boredom on a tropical beach can be the perfect antidote to the hectic 9-5 work schedule and all the other pressures and stresses associated with modern-day life. I’ve enjoyed more than a few weeks of tropical bliss myself in the course of my travels, and hope to again in the future.
But as for myself, it’s not a vacation from 9-5 I’ve looked forward to but, because I think modernity is for the most part an unnatural and incongruous way of living to begin with, I’ve done my best to skip the daily grind entirely. My travels could certainly be described as bumbling at times, lacking a clear direction or purpose. The whole not-having-a-regular-job thing meant that I was generally traveling on the cheap, sometimes to the extreme. My travels in Europe when I was 18, and the corresponding creative lengths I went to in finding a place to sleep for the night, led to my mantra of “benches, beaches, barns and bridges” (all being suitable places to rest one’s head, in a pinch). It seemed that whatever fix I managed to get myself into due to a lack of cash on hand, there was always a way out of it—as long as I kept my options very wide open and expectations to a minimum.
But as hopefully the following 26 stories will illustrate, with a certain degree of flexibility, open-mindedness and flagrant disregard for following the societal rules (as well as a little luck thrown in to help compensate) one can travel on a budget without compromising the experience in the slightest. In fact, it’s more than likely to be a hell of a lot more interesting (or harrowing, as the case may be).
A vacation is one thing. An adventure is something else entirely. My quest has been one of seeking out experiences that were catalysts for expanding my mind, learning and evolving—situations that suddenly showed me the world and myself from a completely different perspective, or challenged me to reach for a new way of being. The most rewarding experiences were almost inevitably the ones that I didn’t plan, didn’t expect and sometimes couldn’t have even imagined. And underneath it all, from the joyous moments to the terrifying ones, has been a silent, steady lesson of trusting the universe to provide what I needed, one way or another.
This book chronicles my first decade of being an unrepentant travel addict, from 1990-2000. Part 1 tells the stories of my first introduction to hitchhiking as a young boy and my first trip abroad when I was eighteen, as well as my escapades rambling around Alaska as a college kid—including unknowingly following on the heels of Chris McCandless, subject of Into the Wild. I hitchhiked part of the same stretch of highway through Canada and Alaska just a few months after him, and spent that summer working in Denali National Park, just a short ways away from where he was living in an abandoned bus, before dying of starvation.
Part 2 takes things to another level after I drop out of college and commence six years of semi-homeless traveling around the United States on a spiritual quest; which resulted in everything from falling in love on the road to getting mixed up with a strange cult, to attending Rainbow Gatherings and sweat lodges and living in the Hawaiian rainforest for several months.
And in Part 3 I explore a whole new dimension of cultural immersion and reality-bending as I spend five months traveling throughout the vast sea of rich culture and humanity that is India. I attend a massive spiritual gathering on the Ganges River, visit the erotic temple ruins of Khajuraho, tangle with an assortment of crooked businessmen and end up hiding from tigers in the jungle while awaiting the much-hyped potential effects of Y2K.
Although the book isn’t all about hitchhiking by any means, the theme of “following my thumb” prevails throughout (not unlike following one’s heart or gut…except that the thumb has the practical element of being able to actually get you there, i.e. hitchhiking). Put another way, it’s the journey, not the destination. Life is indeed short, and I’ve just tried to make the most of it. But hey, I’ll let the stories tell themselves and stop wasting your time with a lengthy introduction. Enjoy, and happy trails.
PART 1. Young at Heart, Loose at Foot…
Chapter 1. Hitchhiking may be hazardous to your sanity
…Standing on the side of the road outside of Valdez, Alaska, waiting for a ride. We could see our breath as we stood there in zipped jackets, our hands in our pockets. Although it was deep into spring it was a typical Alaskan spring—cold, overcast, damp. The birds were not yet chirping in ecstatic delight to welcome the new season. They must have been huddled in their nests, same as all the people.
We were about ten miles out of town and the silence was deafening. Pure wilderness rolled away from the road and for hundreds of miles east and west. Cars were scarce—we had seen less than a dozen in two hours. And they weren’t compassionate faces that stared out from behind the windshields. It seemed the people around here didn’t have much time or care for hitchhikers. Our plight wasn’t their concern. It was Alaska. If they knew you, or simply knew of you, I’m sure they’d go well out of their way to save your hide. But otherwise, you might as well be a moose.
Okay, so perhaps we weren’t yet in a plight. It was May, not the dead of winter. But it could become desperate soon enough, if we didn’t get a ride the heck out of there. We might die of boredom and impatience, or even worse: Delusional Hitchhiker’s Syndrome. It’s not pretty, believe me. Frustration and annoyance turn rapidly to delirium as warm cars continue to speed by, the occupants staring out at you as if you’re an escapee from the local psychiatric ward. After a while you start to play the part, acting in strange, impulsive, socially deviant ways—yelling and singing into the air, hopping around in circles to entertain yourself, telling dumb jokes aloud to the wind and any animals that might be listening. And of course, the more advanced the condition gets, the less chance you have of actually getting a ride.
But my friend Josh and I weren’t the transient outcasts we may have appeared, despite our forlorn predicament. We were just a couple of college kids out exploring the world, on a spontaneous hitchhiking road trip after finishing up the school year at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. The few paved highways of interior Alaska make a huge loop that covers about a quarter of the state. We wanted to explore as much paved ground as we could in the week we both had free.
So far we had been east from Fairbanks almost to the Canadian border, then south down to Valdez on Prince William Sound. Now we were headed back north and then west across the Chugach Range towards Anchorage, further north from there up to Denali National Park and then full circle back to Fairbanks, at the center of the state.
We’d spent the previous night at a campground on the outskirts of Valdez. That morning we got a short ride about ten miles out of town from a local going home—to smack in the middle of nowhere. We were both wishing we’d stayed near town and waited for a better ride, so we could get a hot cup of coffee about now and break up the monotony.
Finally, we saw another car in the distance coming towards us down the long, straight stretch of highway. We each pulled a hand from our pockets, thumbs extended, ready for action. As the vehicle approached we could see that it was a large Suburban wagon. Our expectations rose as it neared.
“Gabe, man, this is our ride—I can feel it,” Josh said to me.
We held our outstretched arms high. As the vehicle came closer, we could see that the two occupants were both young women—gloriously beautiful women too, or at least so our chilled brains imagined. They seemed to slow as they approached. We both had sudden visions of rescue, warmth and romance swirling in our heads.
It was perfect: They would pull over with radiant smiles on their lovely faces and offer us a ride in their roomy wagon. We’d stretch out in the back seat and have engaging conversation along the way, connecting with the two beauties like old friends, enjoying the pristine Alaskan scenery so much more now that we were moving down the road in comfort. We’d all go out for lunch at a pizza parlor in the next small town, and then continue down the road. That night, the four of us would decide to split a hotel room between us to economize. The next day we would all go backpacking together, and end up falling in love in the wilderness.
It was a classic hitchhiker’s dream. But it passed us by. They smiled slightly and waved half-heartedly as they flew past. They hadn’t slowed down a bit. It was the Hitchhiker’s Syndrome already beginning to set in, a mirage of our distorted imaginations. For a brief moment it had seemed so real, just a few feet away. But then it was all rushing away from us at a mile a minute.
I stood in the middle of the road after they’d passed, my arms raised in protest.
“How could you pass us by?” I yelled after them. “Do you have no respect for destiny?!?”
I lay down in the middle of the road on my back and started laughing uncontrollably. It was definitely setting in…
Here's the Table of Contents for "Following My Thumb" to give you a hint of what's in the rest of the book...
PART 1. Young at Heart and Loose at Foot…
Chapter 1. Hitchhiking may be hazardous to your sanity
Chapter 2. The beginnings of a hitchhiker
Chapter 3. When in doubt, act like you know what you’re doing
Chapter 4. Never turn down a free meal
Chapter 5. Those beautiful Swedish women
Chapter 6. Uniting body and mind
Chapter 7. Sleep under the bridge, not on it
Chapter 8. To travel is to be mystified
Chapter 9. The idiot’s guide to Denali
PART 2. Rambling Around the West…
Chapter 10. Always double-check the directions
Chapter 11. The continuing quest for a good night’s sleep
Chapter 12. Love between hitchhikers
Chapter 13. An adventure in peaceful protest
Chapter 14. Small world
Chapter 15. Sweating it out
Chapter 16. Adversity builds character—and hopefully wisdom
Chapter 17. Close call
Chapter 18. When dealing with the authorities, try to keep your clothes on
PART 3. Another World…
Chapter 19. A rupee is only worth a rupee
Chapter 20. Hold onto your chai
Chapter 21. Get good directions on the way to the rainbow
Chapter 22. A fahking adventure
Chapter 23. Always double-check the return policy
Chapter 24. Don’t fool around with the locals’ women
Chapter 25. Immersed in the crowd
Chapter 26. Watch and listen