by Peter Nelson

Hitchhiking can be very dangerous!

But, no, not in the way you might think it’s dangerous. It’s not that the drivers who pick you up are particularly weird or threatening. Nope. It’s the exciting and sometimes scary opportunities they offer to that unwary guy standing innocently on the side of the road with his thumb out.

My first real hitching adventure was in Europe in 1968. After six months of tooling around on the Continent, England was a nice country to end my trip, fairly restful after the relative chaos of the rest of Europe. For one thing, I worked on a farm in Little Langford, Wiltshire, for a couple of months, and augmented my seriously diminished bankroll. And, hey, in England, they almost speak our language!

Wiltshire was a lovely county, but you can’t be in that neck of the woods without going down to Cornwall, maybe the most beautiful county in a country of gorgeous counties. So, with my clothes clean, my wallet full, and my body fit after all that physical work, I headed west. Took a lot of short rides to get there. In those days, no one seemed to drive very far in the U. K. No motorways back then, nobody was in a hurry.

Cornwall 1

Got picked up by a couple of guys who turned out to be rock climbers on their way to do some climbs around Land’s End. And did I want to come along? Did I look like a rock climber? Well, I had long arms and new hiking boots, so I guess so. I’d done a lot of climbing in Alaska, but mostly solo mountaineering, nothing technical. But these dudes were serious. Ropes, rock hammers, harnesses, pitons, carabiners — the lot.

Cornwall 2

So we geared up and hit the cliffs. And cliffs they were! Pretty much 90º straight up and down. And right down below us was the Atlantic Ocean, smashing angrily against some jagged rocks that didn’t look as if they’d be much fun to land on. We did some easy climbs at first. They were testing me, seeing what I could handle. We did a couple of chimneys, which were great fun. Chimneys are straight rectangular tubes in the cliff, and you climb them by pressing each hand against opposite walls. Ditto with your feet. Then you jockey up, little by little. Friction is your friend here, cause there were no handholds or footholds, and the Atlantic looked pretty unforgiving down there.