By Peter Carter

I DIDN’T MEAN TO TEACH my 12-year-old son to hitchhike. It just happened. What’s worse, I’m afraid the accidental ride-thumbing lesson was well learned. Because about six years later, when he was 18 years old, Michel hitchhiked to Toronto from Quebec City.

He didn’t ask first, but that’s not surprising. He and his sisters, Ria and Ev, have long operated on the “it’s easier
to get forgiveness than permission” principle. He arrived home safely (which is all I really cared about) and managed to save me the hassle and gas money associated with having to pick him up.

Still. Nobody wants their kids hitchhiking, right?

Like I said, hitchhiking school was a mistake. Michel and I were heading home from the cottage and ran out of gas. My motorcycle was old and didn’t have a fuel gauge. I just overestimated how much fuel I had left.I should have known better. I’ve been driving bikes since forever. My kids will tell you they were raised around the things. In fact Ev, now 25, reminded me recently that I sometimes biked them to elementary school.

One by one, the kids strapped on backpacks, tightened helmets, climbed aboard and were ferried the four blocks to school.
I’d drop off the first; circle back to fetch her brother and then loop round for the third.

The whole deal took 20 minutes tops, and I couldn’t think of a happier way to start my day. I had forgotten about that ritual. Which reminds me: You know all those incredible events and adventures you get up to with your kids? WRITE THEM DOWN for Pete’s sakes! When it’s happening, you think you’ll never forget such drama, but trust me, you will!

Anyway, I digress.
Michel and I had been on the road about 15 minutes and were just a few klicks south of Orillia, Ont. when the bike started to slow down. I pulled on to the shoulder, we dismounted and I did the only thing I could—stuck out my thumb. It was such an instinctive reaction for me that I never bothered to outline to Michel what was about to happen. Helmet in hand, I walked to the edge of the road with Michel following and I gave the hitchhiker’s salute. Less than 10 minutes later, a
van (I know, I know) pulled over.

 

“Some adventures—hitchhiking springs to mind—I’d prefer they didn’t tell me about until after it’s over and done with.”

 

The driver was about my age. Her young daughter was sitting happily in the back. During the short hop to the gas station,
she told us about travelling through South America with friends and running out of gas. Turned out she, too, had to hitch a ride. It’s interesting to note that both she and I had hitchhiked without fear when we were younger, which is really strange, considering it was probably far more dangerous back then. I’m not advocating rides with strangers, but the fact is: vehicles and drivers are far safer today. There are fewer drunk drivers and crime rates have plummeted. Not to mention the fact that everybody’s wearing cameras these days. I’m surprised there aren’t more hitchhikers!

Moments after we were picked up, we arrived at a gas station, thanked our good samaritans, bought gas and thumbed a ride
back to the bike. The guy who picked us up this time was a professional trucker heading home after a shift.
I don’t remember Michel (who’s a strong, silent type) uttering a word during our rides. But just as we climbed aboard the bike, he said, “You know Dad, with this hitchhiking thing, you could go a long way for not very much money, couldn’t you?”

Six years later, without asking, he proved it.

I should add that both of Michel’s sisters, who’ve travelled extensively through other countries, have also been known to thumb rides. Again, they didn’t seek permission; they got forgiveness. They also know I’m kinda proud of them, though I’m not supposed to admit it. I love when my kids try new things. Some adventures—hitchhiking springs to mind—I’d prefer they didn’t tell me about until after it’s over and done with. But when it happens, I’m thrilled that they had the courage
to do something exciting and the wits to do it safely. Whether you’re talking about trying exotic new foods, boarding the scariest rides at the theme park or bungee jumping, we all want our kids to have adventures—even if some of them are too scary for us to watch.

When mine tackle a new thrill, I have nobody to blame but me. I was the one who rode them to school those mornings so long
ago. Maybe I should have learned my own lessons; specifically: Lesson Numero Uno: If you don’t want your kids to take risks, don’t take them yourself. The kids are always watching.

Lesson Number Two: It’s too late to learn Lesson One. You’ve already taken the biggest risk of all: becoming a parent. ■

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