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  • Ken Ilgunas

Rule of Thumb #5: Bring lots of stuff

Day 5: May 19, 2007. Teslin, Yukon Territories to northern border of British Columbia (158 miles).

The two most useful items you can bring on a hitchhike are a baseball cap and a box of Crayola crayons.

The hat serves multiple purposes. For one, it hides bed-head, unruly curls, and tidies up a disheveled appearance that would otherwise keep the hitchhiker on the side of the road for longer than he wishes.

Plus, there’s something very North American about baseball hats. The hat helps the hitchhiker communicate with his prospective driver at 50 miles-an-hour. The driver might think to himself, subconsciously, “He can’t be too bad.”

The crayons are even more important. For one, crayons don’t run out of ink at inopportune times. Plus, the trails of colored wax stick and glide easily onto cardboard signs. Any experienced hitchhiker can attest the practical and aesthetic benefits of crayons. Hobos begging for change and kidnappers writing ransom notes can get away with black markers. Not hitchhikers. The hitchhiker is better off with a set of cheery, family-friendly crayons that explode off the cardboard sign and boldly, colorfully, say, “Pick me up, please! I’m no psychopath!”

Sometimes I’d draw a yellow sun or a forest of green pine trees. When I was trying to get from Alaska to Canada, I sketched a big red maple leaf on a flattened piece of cardboard that once housed bags of frozen french-fries.

Today I was in the native village of Teslin in the Yukon Territories of Canada trying to head to Watson Lake, 250 kilometers to the east. I drew Watson Lake in big, purple bubble letters inside of a giant lake that I shaded with Blizzard-Blue.

But today neither my hat nor my crayons would be of any service to me. I patiently waited for drivers on the top of a hill on the Alcan Highway for 12 hours. But none stopped.

The previous night was one of the strangest and scariest of my life. Yet, in the morning when I got out of my tent, I was greeted with a new view of Teslin. Below me was a small, peaceful subarctic village with a crest of mountains to the north that were smothered in a thick white cream of melting snow.

I passed the many hours by reading Robinson Crusoe, updating my journal, and thinking.

As the daylight slowly dwindled I gave up and walked back into town over a grated bridge, bought a $2 shower at a motel, toured the town’s museum, and then did something I had never done before. I begged.

I was at a gas-station where I watched drivers fuel up and tried to summon the courage to ask them for a ride. I was only able to do this twice. The first driver politely declined. The second took me 800 miles into the heart of British Columbia.


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