Yesterday’s blog about Adam Shepard’s experience of living as a homeless person in Charleston, SC but with a goal of making it on his own brought back some fond memories of some of my own experiences of my youth. Here are two of those stories.
I’ve always loved to travel, as you can probably deduct from reading my blogs. My most interesting trip occurred when I was 19 and decided to hitchhike across the country, not necessarily to see anything in particular but just to see “if I could do it.” As you could imagine, my parents were not exactly thrilled, but I was not to be dissuaded, agreeing only to call home every two days (collect, of course!). I’m sure that they agreed to this concession so that it would be easier to develop a smaller search area of where to look for the body.
I left home that June morning with a sleeping bag, backpack and $35. Off to see America!
My Uncle Art gave me my first ride, five miles to interstate 70. Two rides later I was in Denver where I spent the night with a family friend. Forty nine hours after leaving home I was on the front stoop of my Aunt Delores’ home in Los Angeles. That is 1,970 miles!
My longest wait for a ride was in LA but I was rewarded when an older gentleman (everybody was older to me back then) approached me, asking, “Do you have a driver’s license? Would you like to drive a car for me to San Francisco?” Needless to say, I jumped at the chance, even more surprised when the car turned out to be a MG convertible. This hitchhiking wasn’t so bad!
As you can imagine, not every ride was as much fun. Some were a bit terrifying, at least for a rather naive small town teenager. But, I made it to Seattle, Salt Lake City, Omaha, Des Moines and back home. In all, I traveled about 5,500 miles in two weeks and still had $5 left in my wallet. And, I got a heck of a hug from my Mom when I got home. Evidently, those votive candles she lit, actually worked!
The other experience was a move to Brazil (the country not the town in Indiana) when I was 25. I’d written my thesis on the future of soybeans in Brazil, raised some money from family and friends and moved to Brazil to buy land, clear it and begin farming. I moved to Mato Grosso, which means Big Trees in Portuguese, a state that was nine times the size of IL but with only one asphalted road down the middle of it. It was considered the Wild West of Brazil. My future father-in-law used to drive his children to the river which divided Mato Grosso from Sao Paulo, pointing across the river to the wild wilderness of the country.
The first year (of seven that I spent there) were spent on the farm I was building. We didn’t have any electricity, water was carried from the natural spring and evenings were spent reading under gas lanterns listening to the BBC on the shortwave radio. I’ve always really appreciated taking long, hot showers after that year.
I spent a time or two at gunpoint, had three cars stolen and learned more in those seven years than all of my time in college. I also returned to the USA with about $5 in my pocket. It wasn’t the most financially successful period of my life.
But, I learned a lot. I met my future wife at a cattle auction. Our twin sons were born in Brazil. There are lots of memories from those years.
We all learn from our experiences. Some of those experiences are good ones. Some aren’t. But, at the end of the day, we are formed by the experiences that we’ve had. Those were two of the many that helped to shape me.