Sunday, December 2, 2012

Part 1; picking up a hitchhiker

I arrived in Florida on Sunday and made my way to Panama City to visit my friend Peggy, whom I met in Tucamcari, NM back in October. I stayed with her and her partner for a couple of days in a lovely little bayou village, relaxing and drinking wine. I was welcome to stay as long as I liked but my goal was to be in a certain place for my birthday, but more on that in a bit.

Okie and I got back on the road on Wednesday, heading down the west coast of Florida to eventually work my way east to my folks place. We had a fairly uneventful day of driving and ended it with a stay at the Holiday Campground just outside of Panacea. In the morning we took our time getting back on the road. About ten minutes after starting out on a long stretch of pavement with nothing on it but trees, I passed a guy walking wearing a big straw hat and lugging a very full backpack. He didn't stick out his thumb as I passed but he turned his head around in enough time to meet my eyes. Something struck me at that moment but I kept driving. The feeling lingered so a mile down the road I made the decision to turn around and see if he needed a lift. I know everyone is cringing at this moment and trust me, I NEVER thought I would even consider picking up a hitchhiker as a solo female traveler. Peggy and I had talked before about picking up hitchhikers along our travels and she had only done it once. It's something she doesn't regret and I can see it in her eyes when she tells the story. Her experience isn't what made me turn around though. After all, he wasn't technically hitchhiking since he didn't stick out his thumb for me.

I pulled over and called to him, "Do you need a lift?" He accepted and threw his pack in the back. Not for a second did I think my life was in danger or threatened in any way. It goes back to what I said about trusting your instincts. Something just told me to go get him and see what adventures ensue. It was the best decision I could have made. Don't get me wrong, I don't have plans to keep picking up vagabonds but I'm sure glad I invited this one along.

Larry Gust, or Shaggy to his friends, would be with me for the next three days. We both had the same route south planned.  He had been walking from Kansas with a destination of the Everglades where he wants to work for alligator tours or with reptiles in some capacity. He had been alone for two and a half days so he had lots to talk about. His stories regarding the kindness of strangers almost brought me to tears. I mean, I thought I had some amazing stories, and I do, but I am floored by what he has received from people. One example; He was walking on a country road in Missouri and came upon a woman gardening. She was curious as to why he was there and where he was going. They began to talk and before he could blink she was making him food, doing his laundry and offering him a shower. He left there with food in his pack and $20 in his pocket and this is not an isolated incident for him. Another time a man stopped to see where he was walking to and just so happened to be taking a load of army gear to donate. Larry ended up with a new pair of boots and a meal. These are just two examples from the many stories he told me.

The whole day was spent driving down the coast, stopping to go for walks and getting snacks. We were immediately connected and traveled with ease together. His infectious laugh and gift of gab was a welcome addition to my little hobo family. We traveled until dark and I offered to let him set up his tent at my RV spot. We toasted to us meeting with vodka-spiked Gatorade and went to our beds for the night. The next day would be my birthday and he agreed to spend it with me in Gibsonton, but more on that in the next post when I'll write about us swimming with manatees and drinking with carnies.

to be continued......
Larry and Gorilla. End of day one.

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