I picked up a hitchhiker on August 14, 2017.
He was in the middle of nowhere, about 10 miles outside of Moab, Utah. He looked sketchy, so I passed him at first, then slammed on the brakes and pulled over one hundred yards down the highway. It was hot, well over 100 degrees, and the man seemed to not have water. He didn’t see me, so I honked. I hid my computer and iPod under some clothing in the back seat as he ran to the car. I rolled down the window.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Montecello,” he said.
“How far is that?” I asked.
“About thirty miles down the road.”
“Well, hop in.”
His forehead and right cheek were scratched and swollen. His grey sweats were stained with dirt. A ball cap sat over reddish unwashed hair. He smelled like sweat. I gave him water.
“Thanks for the ride,” he said.
“No problem. I try to pick up hitchhikers when I can. A lot of people are scared to.”
“Nothing to be scared of here,” he smiled with yellowing teeth and patted his shirt and pants. “I don’t have a weapon on me to rob you, even if I wanted to.” I still don’t quite know what to make of that comment.
Ten miles in, after small talk, he told me that he went to Moab after a fight with his wife in Montecello. He also has a son in Montecello. Two years old. Said his parents live in Moab and he grew up there too.
Twenty miles in, he advised me to look out for mushrooms along the road. Said he used to take mushrooms and acid.
“Better than the hard stuff,” he said.
“Yep,” he paused. “I’m a recovering addict.”
He told me that he had to get out of Moab to get away from those crowds. So he moved to Montecello.
Thirty miles in, we pulled into Montecello. He got out of the car.
“Thanks, man. You’re a nice guy.”
Thirty miles in, and I was convinced that he had relapsed the night before.
I had driven thirty miles out of my way to take him to his child, and I hope that he stays thirty miles away from Moab.
That night, I was sitting by a campfire next to my tent, listening to coyotes and watching the fire cast wild dancing shadows on the rocks.
I thought about the meth-addicted hitchhiker, his two year old son, and cycles of pain. One year prior, I had been a hitch-hiker on the side of the road. I was in Arizona, and I had been picked up by a Navajo man. He spoke to me about cycles of pain which spin across generations. A circle is the strongest shape, the man had told me, and cycles of suffering are the hardest to break.
Looking at the fire, I thought that if the hitchhiker manages to give his son a happy life, if he manages to shatter that circle of pain, he would reach a pinnacle of human greatness.
If the hitchhiker can stay thirty miles from Moab to give his son a happy life, if he can break that circle of pain, to me, he will be a hero.