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Monday, February 18, 2008


In 1980 my wife and young son and I hitchhiked across the U.S. Our story was picked up by the Traverse City Record-Eagle in Michigan and we were interviewed by staff-writer Karen Wilson. Here is the newspaper's front-page story on Monday, September 8, 1980:


14 rides over four days give cash-short family an action-packed vacation and a visit to surprised Traverse City relatives

TRAVERSE CITY --- It was 5:30 a.m. and a stranger wanted to use the phone.

Gloria Thompson looked for something to protect herself with. Her husband, Bob, cautiously unlocked the front door of their Meadow Drive home. Moments later Gloria was hugging a brother she hadn't seen in two years.

Dale and Lilith Lund decided to drop in on the Thompsons last week. But "dropping in" meant hitchhiking 2,350 miles from the state of Washington.

The Lunds and their 21-month-old son, Leif, left their home state on Aug. 30. Four days and 14 rides later they were on the Thompsons' doorstep.

Lund, a finance clerk for the city of Bellingham, wanted to take a vacation but didn't have the cash. Hitchhiking seemed a good way to travel inexpensively.

Lund told his wife she could go along on two conditions: first, that she didn't slow him down and second, that she didn't complain.

Lilith wanted to go, even though the thought of hitchhiking and sleeping outside frightened her. "For the first week after we decided to go I cried every night. I kept picturing all the things that could happen to us. I'm afraid of the dark---I won't even take the garbage out at night," the 24-year-old mother said.
"We don't hitchhike at home. We don't even pick up hitchhikers, especially not with the baby in the car," she said.

But when Saturday morning came, Lilith found herself strapping her 25-pound son to her front and five pounds of diapers to her back. Her husband donned his 42-pound backpack and the trio headed for the highway.

Many hours and four rides later, Dale decided to turn back. "The baby started screaming he was so tired. I was getting really depressed and discouraged. And we were still in Washington."

But his wife urged him on. As they stood outside Cooley City, Washington, arguing about what to do, a van pulled over and the driver told them if they didn't mind going slow, he'd take them to Bozeman, Mont.

"That was two states away," Dale said. From Bozeman, the family got two rides which took them to Livingston, Mont. As they stood on the highway outside Livingston in a very cold wind, they witnessed a near accident.

A car and van nearly collided but the van swerved just in time. "The driver pulled out of his swerve and off the road right in front of us and asked if we wanted a ride," Dale said.

Inside the van were three zoologists returning from a vacation in the west. The family traveled with the zoologists for two days and one night nonstop to Coloma, Wisc. Dale said that leg of the trip was uneventful except "every time there was a road kill they'd screech on the brakes and pull over to look at it. They'd identify what kind of an animal it was and if it was something they didn't have they'd scoop it up in a plastic bag and put it in the van with us."

At Coloma, they passed up a ride. "The guy said he'd take us all the way to Traverse City but he'd been drinking and he still had a lot left."

They got a ride to Green Bay and spent the night in a motel there. Tuesday morning they found themselves once again on the highway "out in the middle of nothing."

Then a man with all of his belongings packed into a truck offered them a ride. "He said he'd take us to Traverse City if we paid for the gas."

However, they only got as far as Oconto, Wisc. "The truck started swerving all over the road. The lug nuts were being worn off and the wheels were coming loose," Dale said.

The Lunds decided they would go on and hitchhike along the north perimeter of Lake Michigan. But the truck driver told them it was too desolate in the Upper Peninsula and urged them to take the ferry across the lake.

"He had his own problems but he took the time to drive us to the ferry. He drove 85 mph to get us down to Manitowoc in time. We were 20 minutes late but the ferry was a half-hour late."

As it turned out, they had plenty of time. "We called the ferry office and they said it came in at 3 p.m. and left upon loading. We didn't know it took them six hours to load," Dale said.

The boat left at 9:30 that evening and arrived in Frankfort at 3:14 Wednesday morning. On the ferry they met a man who was going to Grand Rapids, but said he'd run them up to Traverse City first.

"He had an Audi Fox that was crammed full of parts for geodesic dome houses but he made room for us."

Not only did he make room for the Lunds, but another boat passenger--a man who was hitchhiking north, trying to get home before his wife delivered their first child.

Once in Traverse City, Lund had no idea how to find his sister, but with a street address the driver patiently asked around until they got directions. Then he delivered them to the Thompsons' front door.

"It was amazing. People went out of their way to be good to us and make it as easy as possible for us. A lot of people told us they didn't pick up hitchhikers but they stopped for us because they felt sorry for the baby."

Lund said his young son was well-behaved on the trip. "Just twice he got very fussy. I felt like fussing more than he did."

"Oh, and you did," his wife added. "Dale complained constantly. I couldn't complain because I'd made a promise not to."

Back home in Washington, Lund, 31, has a hobby which has almost become a second job. He is the editor of the "Tarantula Times," a bimonthly newsletter for tarantula lovers.

Lund, whose book "All About Tarantulas" was published in 1977, has formed an organization of about 500 tarantula fans across the country.

"Tarantulas used to be my greatest fear. I got one in high school to get over being afraid of them."

His hobby has brought him national attention, he said. He was the subject of a feature article in People magazine and has had offers from "Real People" and "That's Incredible" for television appearances.

The Lunds left Traverse City Sunday morning for their return trip to Washington. The Thompsons took them to Big Rapids to catch their first ride. "It was kind of hard leaving that young family on the highway," Gloria said Sunday night.

The Lunds plan to return to Washington by a southern route, going through Missouri, Kansas and Wyoming.

Lund, who hitchhiked all around the country in 1967, said he doesn't think he will take his family out on the road again, although he does enjoy hitchhiking.

"It's kind of like the pony express. You always get a new driver with new energy."

[This was the first of two articles in The Record-Eagle. The second one you'll find below.
I'd like here to elaborate on one incident touched upon in the above article---the incident I remember most about the trip to Michigan. In eastern Washington we were dropped off at an isolated turn-off in a bleak prairie, just after Leif had had one of his prolonged screaming fits, and I was fit to be tied. I was yelling at Lilith (nicknamed Micki) that we had to go back, that we couldn't go on if we had to cope with that. Micki was very patient and encouraging, and said, "Dale, you just have to slow down."

At that, I reeled on her, pointed my finger and yelled, "You told me you wouldn't slow me down!"

Just then a van was approaching, pulling a trailer, and, because, despite my feelings, I would never fail to thumb an oncoming car, I angrily threw out my thumb. The van stopped right in front of us. The driver got out, walked around and slid open the side door for us, looked me directly in the eyes at close range, and said in a comforting drawl, "I can take you to Bozeman, Montana...if you don't mind going slow."]

Here is the continuing saga of our hitchhiking trip in 1980. After getting home, the same staff-writer of the Traverse City Record-Eagle, Karen Wilson, telephoned to get a follow-up story. The article appeared on the front page on September 17, 1980.


TRAVERSE CITY --- After safely hitchhiking from the state of Washington to Traverse City two weeks ago, Dale and Lilith Lund had no qualms about hitchhiking back to the west coast.

Six days after leaving Traverse City, the couple and their infant son miraculously walked away from a semi-truck, car crash in Wyoming, and continued to hitchhike--but this time to the nearest hospital, then to an airport.
In a telephone interview from their home in Bellingham, Wash., the Lunds---recovering from cuts, bruises and cracked bones---said even though they narrowly escaped death or serious injury, they don't regret their two-week hitchhiking experience.

"I had my beliefs confirmed that most people are good people and that God watches over us," Dale said.

The 31-year-old city finance clerk, his 24-year-old wife, and their 21-month-old son, Leif, left their home state of Washington on Aug. 30 to hitchhike to Traverse City. After four days and 14 rides, they paid a surprise visit to Dale's sister, Gloria Thompson.

On Sept. 7, Gloria and her husband Bob took the young family to Big Rapids to start their journey west.

Five days and 24 rides later, the trio was picked up by a trucker in Grand Island, Nebraska. Fifteen miles outside of Casper, Wyoming, at about 4 a.m., the Lunds were asleep in the back of the trucker's cab when they heard a screech, then a loud slam that sent them spinning.

Lilith said somehow she knew what was happening and holding her son, crawled from the sleeper section of the cab into the passenger seat beside the trucker.

"I was in bed just trying to hang on," her husband said. "The truck was out of control and Micki asked the driver what happened so he explained it to her. I couldn't believe it. They were having this conversation as we were running off the freeway."

The driver told Lilith there was a car stopped in the middle of the highway with its lights off. He didn't see it in time to stop.

Dale said the truck went off the left side of the road, then jackknifed and the cab flipped over. "The sleeper the three of us had been in was crushed flat. Micki was in the passenger seat and she saw the whole world was coming down on her so she jumped up on the dashboard, all the while holding Leif. I don't know how she did it."

Dale said the passenger seat his wife had been sitting in was crushed into the dashboard, which left an opening for him to land in.

"When we stopped moving we were upside down. We all held hands and prayed for the people in the other car," Dale said.

The car was a total loss. "All that was left was a front seat and an engine," Dale said. Amazingly enough, its occupants, a man and a boy, were not seriously injured.

Lilith suffered two cracked ribs, a cracked leg bone and numerous cuts and bruises. Dale received a bad muscle sprain in his neck and upper back, a puncture in his leg and various bruises.

"Leif didn't get a scratch," his father said.

Dale said they later learned that the car had broken down and pulled over to the side of the road. Then the driver got it started again and pulled out onto the highway when the brakes locked. The driver failed to turn his lights on.

"It was the kind of accident that when you drive by it, you know somebody got killed," Dale said.
The truck driver stayed at the scene to file the accident report and the Lunds hitchhiked to a hospital in Casper.

A hospital employee gave them a ride to a travel bureau and the highway-weary family was booked on the next flight to Seattle.

Dale said he won't take his family hitchhiking again but not because of the accident. "We never planned on doing it again. It was just a one-shot deal."

Dale said the trip west prior to the accident was excellent. Before leaving Michigan they were picked up by four "hillbillies."

"I didn't know there were hillbillies in Michigan," Dale said. "They had just bought new tires for their car. To make room for our pack, they took one of the tires out and rolled it behind a bush at the on-ramp. They said they'd come back and pick it up later."

Dale said he was worried about hitchhiking through Chicago but "we met two of the nicest people there. One young lady took us 30 miles out of her way and gave Leif some toys to play with. Another man took us miles out of his way and bought us breakfast."

The family was stranded on the highway in the middle of Illinois for two hours in a baking, hot sun before being picked up by "Wild Man Mike," a CBer in a van. "He pulled into a roadside rest and cooked us dinner and espresso coffee on a Coleman stove in the back of his van."

The family got a ride to Wichita, Kansas with a farmer in a hay truck who makes a four-hour trip every other day to Wichita to pick up $1,000 worth of hay for his cattle. Dale said this summer's drought has made the farmer's trip necessary. "He said he picked us up because there was a bad electrical storm coming but I also think he wanted us to keep him awake. He was really tired." From Wichita, the Lunds got a ride with a man who said he and his wife were in the steel and iron business. "He steals and she irons, he told us. They operate a family salvage business so we ran around looking for scrap for awhile."

Back in Bellingham, Dale said he was glad to be home. "I'm just walking on top of the world. Basically I feel very happy to be alive. I look at things a little differently and I have a new found trust of people. Also, I got so worn out it's a relief to go back to work."


Here's a brief, ride-by-ride journal of our hitchhiking journey -- 35 rides that took us over 4,000 miles:

1.  Snohomish WA to Monroe WA - Carnie lady.
2.  Monroe WA to Wenatchee WA - Mike Strong on fishing vacation.
3.  Wenatchee WA to Waterville WA - Shy man giving us tour to view of Waterville from hilltop.
4.  Waterville WA to Coulee City WA - Old couple from Lummi.
5.  Coulee City WA to Bozeman MT - Doug and Bill with trailer.
6.  Bozeman MT to 12 miles outside Bozeman - Three people in van going to get wood.
7.  12 mile point to Montana town 18 miles east - Christian knight coming from church.
8.  Montana town to Coloma WI (2 days, 1 night) - Three hippie zoologists in VW bus.
8 1/2.  Passed up ride with man going all the way; he was drinking.
9.  Coloma WI to motel before Green Bay WI - Philip Hendrickson, President of Krueger Co.
10.  Motel to Green Bay exit - Lady with two kids.
11.  Green Bay WI to Hwy 41/141 split WI (about 20 miles) - Construction equipment saleman.
12.  North to Oconto WI (wheel trouble) then south to ferry at Wanitowoc WI - Paul, a Christian job-seeker with problems, and his dog Odie.
13.  Manitowoc WI across Lake Michigan to Frankfort MI - The "Viking" ferry.
14.  Frankfort MI to Traverse City MI - David Ferris, geodesic dome builder and stockbroker.

Left Snohomish WA at 6:00 a.m., Aug. 31, 1980
Arrived at Gloria & Bob's in Traverse City MI at 5:30 a.m., Sept. 3, 1980.

15.  Traverse City MI to Big Rapids MI - Gloria & Bob, my sister and brother-in-law.
16.  Big Rapids MI to Grand Rapids MI - Marty, a beer drinking, fast driving, pot dealing, friendly guy.
17.  Grand Rapids MI to Saugatuck MI - Two young guys out shopping for speakers.
18.  Saugatuck MI to Pullman MI exit - Four Michigan hillbillies threw out their tires to make room for us.
19.  Pullman MI exit to Hammond IN - Woodcutter building octagon.
[We stayed at a Howard Johnson's that night.]
20.  Hammond IN to Highway 30 IN - Quiet blonde hippie.
21.  Highway 30 IN to Highway 57 IL - Patty the glass packer.
22.  Highway 57 IL to Kankakee IL - Jean, computer operator with sore feet (treated us to breakfast).
23.  Kankakee IL to Rantoul IL exit - Guy from Notre Dame.
[Spent two hours at Rantoul exit in hot sun - no onramp traffic - frustration! - finally went down on freeway to hitchhike.]
24.  Rantoul IL exit to Marshfield MO - "Wild Man" Mike in "Oxley Express," a CBer.

Left Traverse City MI at 2:00 p.m., Sept. 7, 1980
Arrived at Calvin & Carol's in the early morning of Sept. 9, 1980

25.  Marshfield MO to Springfield MO - Calvin & Carol, my long-time friend and his wife.
26.  Springfield MO to Bolivar MO - Woman with mother and son (Changed her tire in heavy downpour).
27.  Bolivar MO to El Dorado KS - Trucker/farmer getting hay for Missouri farm (We saw grass fire and lightning storm on the way).
28.  El Dorado KS to Wichita KS - Fast driver from Tucson.

Left Marshfield MO on Sept. 10, 1980
Arrived the same day at Linda & Ron's, my sister and brother-in-law

29.  Wichita KS to Highway 135 KS - My sister Linda.
30.  Highway 135 KS twelve miles - Old man worried about us.
31.  Highway 135 to Westport "World Famous" truck stop off-ramp at Salina KS - Mr. Marx, traveling guy who talked a lot. Took us to Tony's Pizza.
32.  Salina truck stop KS to Minneapolis KS - Old man who smoked a pipe. Asked us if we wanted a ride even when we weren't thumbing.
33.  Minneapolis KS to truck stop at Belleville KS - Wichita Squaw, lady trucker with baby Leif's age at home.
34.  Belleville KS to Grand Island NE - Psychiatrist on lecture tour, ex-alcoholic on way home.
35.  Grand Island NE almost to Casper WY - Preston Schoolcraft, Ohio trucker in semi. Gave us coffee. We had accident that night on Highway 25, east of Casper, flipped upside-down.

Left Wichita KS on Sept. 12, 1980
Stayed in Casper that night, too sore to continue hitchhiking. Flew home.

For the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.

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