The First of Many Wild Rides

Impulse and risky choices have taken me on all kinds of adventures. This story epitomizes who I am.

After graduating from college, I struggled to find illustration jobs. Every month or two, I drew promotional advertisements for an upscale women’s clothing store where I worked selling clothes. The intermittent opportunities paid a meager wage. I made more money selling clothes than drawing them.

Esprit Girl

Then, I had a brilliant idea. Madison, Wisconsin is only a few hours away from Chicago, so I took the Van Galder Bus to the Merchandise Mart. I hoped to find a few businesses willing to pay me to draw their clothing and accessories.

With an art portfolio held tight in my hand, I knocked on doors all day, but only found one interested company. I showed the owner my drawings and paintings. She picked a purse from a pile on a table and said, “Draw this one.” She handed me a #2 pencil, a piece of typing paper and escorted me to her desk. She and her staff watched as I drew. Perspiration dripped from every pore on my body. Somehow, I managed to finish. She smiled and paid me $10.00. It covered less than half of my bus fare.

Purse Illustration

I took the elevator down to the lobby and stepped into the chilly spring air. After reorienting myself, I made my way to the bus stop. I thought about my career choice and if it would be worth it to travel to Chicago again.

While I stood shivering on the curb with my back against the Lake Michigan wind, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and a thirty-something, unshaven man in a light jacket and jeans asked, “Are you waiting for the bus back to Madison?”

“Yes,” I said and nodded with curiosity.

“How would you like to fly home?”

“Fly?” My heart skipped a beat and I laughed. “What do you mean?”

“Just give me the money for your bus ticket and I’ll fly you back to Madison.”

I didn’t hesitate. I handed him the twelve dollars and followed the stranger.

He asked a few more people. A young man and woman locked my gaze. I shrugged my shoulders the best I could with an oversized portfolio in my hand and said, “I’m going for it. Why not?”

The four of us shuttled out to the tarmac while making small talk. The pilot explained that he flew down to Chicago on a regular basis with deliveries. He enjoyed meeting new people and the extra cash helped pay for gas.

We arrived at the 4-seater Piper aircraft. The pilot loaded our possessions and unlocked the door for us. I could barely breathe as we climbed inside the small hull. I had only flown once and loved it. On that trip, I enjoyed the landings and takeoffs so much, I was thrilled to have a layover.

Piper aircraft

He started the engine and we ended our conversation. The noise and vibration of the engines reverberated through the hull and my skull. None of my girlfriends would do this. 

We ascended towards the sky while I white-knuckled the arm rests. I marveled at the view through the cockpit from the row behind. We arrived in a magical world of billowy clouds which swathed the windows in a wash of heavenly ribbons. White puffs flew by the passenger windows. We rose above them and for a while enjoyed the clear skies and smooth ride.

A towering mountain of thunderclouds brewed up ahead.  Instead of climbing in elevation, we headed straight for the center of the massive storm. I exchanged a nervous glance with the young woman next to me. I smelled rain.

We pierced the stormy wall. Rain pelted the windshield and windows and then came down in sheets. The rain-filled clouds tossed our tiny airplane around like a volleyball. Turbulence and pressure seemed to crush the metal structure. I took deep breaths, hoping to keep the vending machine sandwich in my stomach. My legs tensed with the roller coaster ride. Thunder rumbled and lightning flashed causing momentary blindness. It occurred to me that if the plane crashed, no one would know what happened to me.  It’s too late now.

The plane broke through the heavy clouds. It rose a bit with the release. We hummed along for a while and then jet turbulence from the Dane County Airport pounded the craft. Finally, we started our descent. Minutes later, we three-point landed on the runway. I let out my breath.

The pilot shut off the engine, but my head continued to buzz. I floated down the steep steps on rubbery legs.

As we walked to the terminal, he asked, “Does anyone need a ride home?”  I had already hitchhiked a ride on an airplane from this stranger. What the hell?”

After he drove me to my apartment, I phoned my friends and family. They thought I was crazy. They would never hitchhike a ride in a car let alone an airplane.

Sometimes acting on impulse creates an opportunity for a thrilling adventure. I am a Wild Rider after all.

Have you ever hitchhiked or picked up a hitchhiker?

Piper Aircraft photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Daily Prompt – Let’s Go Crazy

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124 responses to “The First of Many Wild Rides

  1. What a great story and what bravery. I picked up a hitchhiker once, after promising my husband I would never do so when alone. But there was something about the young man that made my instinct shout to pick him up. He was a young Jewish man from Israel, through-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I happen to live near one of the access points. He’d hitched into Seattle for the Jewish New Year and was hitching back to the trail. As I drove him there, he told me he’d been terrified of Americans, hearing how mean we were. I asked him how he felt, now that he neared the end of the trek. And he said he’d met nothing but kindness. And I was proud, so proud, to be part of that kindness.

    • Your story gave me shivers! It is so great that you had the opportunity to shape his opinion of Americans! We pick up hitchhikers on the way to the mountain. When they are carrying snowboards or skis it’s pretty safe.
      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. Fortune favors the foolish, Susie.
    You really are an amazing and wondrous creature.

  3. A well told tale, Susie. I knew you were a wild rider, but liking takeoffs and landings… now I know you are crazy too!

  4. I wish it was always like this. People trusting each other. Loved this story, Susie. And that Esprit girl is faaaabulous.

  5. Mathair and I have never been guilty of picking up a hitchhiker, though we have picked up stranded friends. We have hitched before though. We were on a highway when our tire went flat, our cell had died and we were miles from any phone or gas station, so we hitched. It was very scary, but we met a wonderful young woman that helped us get to a gas station and stayed with us while we waited for my Nana to pick us up. Of course, you would be that bad ass, Susie. You’ve got brass ones, baby girl! Because I would’ve never had the spine to do something like that. LOL. Great post. ;)

    • Thank you!
      There’s something about the thrill of doing something risky. Of course it’s important to live to tell the tale!!!! I’m glad your experience was positive too. No psycho killers on the highway that day.:)

  6. I have not hitchhiked or picked up a hitchhiker. However, I can say I did a 3-day road trip from the Midwest to San Fran with a bunch of people I barely knew and had a great experience. Needed an extra driver and I wanted to see California:)

  7. Hitchhiking is something I don’t admit to now that I have a teenage daughter, but there were a lot of good stories that came of them. Good times, indeed.
    As the old saying goes, you’ve come a long way baby.

  8. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

  9. Whoa. You really ARE a wild rider. I would never, ever in a million years do that – any of that. To walk in, cold, and sell your art, to get in a plane with a stranger…

    Good for you. No, great for you. What a zest for life you have, Susie.

    • I didn’t realize how outrageous that was until I saw the comments. I forgot to tell Danny. He read it and couldn’t believe I hadn’t mentioned it. I thought I had!!!
      Thanks Peg! Stick with me girl and we’ll have all kinds of adventures!

  10. A lot of my youth was spent hitchhiking. We also picked up hitchhikers.It was a different time then. I have to admit though, all my adventures in hitchhiking were on the ground.
    You may have given me an idea for a post.

    • Great! Glad to inspire you!
      It was a wild adventure that’s for sure. It was before cell phones so I couldn’t call anyone. Those were the days! Now it’s so much safer since we can stay in touch with people we know! (Takes the fun out of it!) :)

  11. I am so opposite of impulsive! When I was reading this post I was saying to myself, “Susie, are you freaking nuts?!?” I could never entertain such an idea, but I know lots of people don’t worry about the dangers. Even these days, I see people on the street trying to hitch a ride. Young, pretty girls, no less. It really boggles my mind, but I guess, some peoples’ guardian angels are on task more than others. :)

    • It’s in my nature and I am pretty trusting! So far so good! I don’t think I would hitch again, unless I had too. Dead phone. Dead car battery. Too far from everything. Whoa! Sounds like the beginning of a scary adventure!
      Yes. My guardian angel is EXHAUSTED!

  12. Great story. My dad used to pick up hitchhikers all the time, even with wife and kidlets in the car. I once had car trouble on a dark and stormy night and got into the van of a man who offered to drive me to a pay phone (days before cell phones obviously). I didn’t hesitate until I got out of the van and started walking to the phone. “What the hell have I just done?” my brain screamed. I called my boyfriend who rescued me in about 20 minutes, but I didn’t even think about the dangers first. A van with no windows of all things.

    And more recently, on the flip side of the coin, my husband and I stopped to help a poor kid who’d swerved off the road and into a ditch. He had a puppy in the car and he was having a dickens of a time controlling the freaking out dog. We offered to drive him home so he could call a tow truck (he didn’t have a cell phone and neither did we at the time). It all turned out good and he was so very thankful, but it could have gone sideways I suppose.

    Nowadays it’s hard to know who to trust on the street.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • It’s probably never been any different. You just have to trust your instincts! Good thing your boyfriend came to your rescue. Scary! Love your dad and how trusting he was!

  13. Small plane flying is a whole different experience. One of our group in grad school was a former military pilot. He had to get a flight time in to keep certification. We’d pool money, he’s rent a plane and we’d fly from wide spot in the road college to one of the big cities for dinner and wandering.
    But never dragged a portfolio along – those things are not only big and heavy, but so awkward it’s hard to look professional.(I think I remember that sweater! Nice.)

  14. Great story, Susie, and well written! You had us right up there in the seat next to you.
    When I was 21 and went to Europe for a year with friends, we hitchhiked all over the place … those were the days. But I didn’t admit that to my kids until they were adults. We met the most amazing people who often invited us to their homes and were happy to welcome strangers to their country. That was the beginning of my love affair with that part of the world.
    I smiled when you talked about picking up skiers and boarders … we do the same when we are at Whistler … it just seems right!

    • Thank you so much! That means a lot!
      We are two of a kind Pat. That sounds like a blast. Now that my children are in their twenties, the stories are slipping out…

  15. You’re crazy! I don’t know if I would have done this…maybe?! So cool. Love reading about your early “wild rides”!

  16. Thumbed lifts all over the UK and got to the South of France once. After 4 days. Never again!

  17. This story is piercingly thrilling, I enjoyed the chill of the sky and your courage to hitch a ride with him again… :)

  18. What a fabulous adventure! Although, that has to be a rare one…equally the makings of a romance or a horror story there ;) I hitch-hiked a couple of times when I was young and fearless. Walking alone on some northern Queensland country road, I was picked up by a farmer and taken to a deserted beach, where I slept the night in my sleeping bag. Did I mention I was Alone? With the stories you hear about backpackers in Australia…I really don’t know how I made it out alive. But I just didn’t believe it was my time (I’m way less brave these days) :)

    • WOW!!! That is fearless! I remember being more nervous about this guy driving me to my apartment than flying with him. The other passengers passed on the ride, so it felt a little more sketchy. He gave me his card. I should see if I still have it somewhere…

  19. Definitely a wild experience! Man! Hitching a lift on a plane? How cool is that! In the 1970s, when I was a teenager & my family used to drive around New Zealand on camping holidays in a VW Type 2 transporter (the one from “Little Miss Sunshine”), my parents occasionally picked up hitchhikers. But we never hitched.

    • How fun!!!
      We still pick up skiers and boarders headed for the mountain. One of my fantasies is to drive around some rainy day and pick up people from bus stops and drive them to their destinations! Wouldn’t that be a hoot????

  20. The Regular Guy NYC

    Now that if the definition of a wild rider! As Lameadventures noted we as jaded New Yorkers would laugh and take a cab, bus, or subway. Still, it gave you a great story to remember.

    Also, you have some great drawing skills!

    • Oh hey, thanks!! It was fun to go through my portfolio.

      I think I went through a transformation in college. I gained a lot of confidence and became comfortable in my own skin. Trusting my instinct helped me when making quick decisions. Marrying Danny and moving to Colorado after one weekend of dating is one of them. Talk about a leap of faith!

  21. I’m very happy that you accepted his offer, Susie, because I found this story very entertaining, but if a stranger asked me if I wanted to hitch a ride on his plane, this jaded New Yorker would be very suspicious — and would like ride the bus.

  22. My brothers and I hitchhiked all over the place when we were too young to be drive and certainly too young to hitchhike. Now that my kids are old enough to all drive their own cars, it’s safe to divulge that little fact.

  23. What a great story! I actually think that the tales of terror from hitch hiking are mostly made up by nervous parents.

    In my teens, I hitched all around town. I met nice people who gave me rides, usually right to where I was going. I heard new music, talked of books and dreams. It was great.

    The only real danger would have come from my parents had they found out!

    • Thank you!

      My mother would have been very upset too. My dad is not a worrier. He wanted me to get a motorcycle while I was in college. That would have been so cool, but my mom freaked out about the idea.
      I did turn down a few rides offered by drunk or super high drivers. Hitch hiking after 9:00 at night may not have been the best idea!

  24. Great story, Susie! I had an airplane ride like that once, and had eaten a sandwich just before the stormy ride on a private plane. Very scary and wished I hadn’t eaten the sandwich! By the way, another storm headed to NY and elsewhere tonight. Wah! I thought spring was finally here. :-(

    • Thanks so much! I’m glad you can relate to my wild ride!
      March is usually a big snow month here. Our weather has been fluctuating between snow and 70 degrees!
      I love the weather changes, but I hope our fruit trees don’t get nipped this year. We had snow every week last year until the END of May!!!

  25. You sure were one brave wild chica! Well, you still are. :) We live in a college town and my father was a Dean at Umass so we used to pick up students who were hitchhiking and give them rides. I never did it though. I do remember getting in a car with a guy I met at a bar (he shouldn’t have been driving) and went to his house for a “party” that was never really a party. Luckily, my cousin was with me and we stormed out of the house and took a cab home. Phew! I would die if my daughter did that.

    • Those stories seem to leak out as your kids get older too. I am wondering if my kids will read this!
      Sounds like you were very lucky. I think you either have pretty good radar for creepy people or you don’t. I’ve been lucky so far!

      I still pick up kids at the bus stop who are headed to the mountain to ski or board. We’ve met all kinds of grateful and interesting people!

  26. Yes, I had lots of “wild thoughts” long ago. Drove at night with a crazy kid driver on dark, curvy roads in the mountain while working at an overnight camp. Never told anyone about that. Had a boyfriend going to college in the south (I lived in the north) and he hitchhiked on a weekend to see me. But, I was with him the whole time! In spirit. Wanted to join the Air Force as a Lieutenant after graduating nursing school, but it didn’t work out. Lots of risky dreams. Good going, Susie. Sometimes we have to enjoy dreams through someone else. Yours turned out so well!

    • Oh thank you! I keep knocking on wood. Youth is meant for some wild times, but I’ve had a few crazy experiences throughout!
      I am glad you survived your Wild Riding!

  27. Whoa. You were fortunate to survive the storm. Flying through weather like that can in fact tear a small plane apart. I hitchhiked from Jacksonville to Miami when in college. Vowed to never do that again.

    • I bet you have some great stories though… We really did get tossed. I kept expecting him to try to fly above it, but I had the feeling storms in the Midwest were pretty normal for our pilot. He didn’t seem concerned at all!

  28. Martha B

    I’ve never even imagined hitch hiking via airplane… What an amazing story! I can’t believe how gutsy you were – I am just as impressed with the fact that you had the confidence to shop your art around like you did as the fact that you got on an airplane with a stranger. Little gems like this make me so happy I found your blog!

    • Oh! I am so glad you found me too! I have a bunch of crazy stories and decided I should occasionally post them in case I write a silly memoir some time!
      I was so deluded by having an BS- Art degree. I really needed 2 years in commercial arts so I could have started in paste up and layout. Wow! That is really dating me since that is BC – Before Computers…

  29. Wow! You really are a wild rider, Susie! What an incredible story. I’m certainly glad you accepted a ride from a stranger, braved a storm, and lived to write the tale of your adventure. And here I thought I was fearless. You go, girl!

    • Thanks Jessica! Somehow it slipped my mind 26 years ago when Danny and I got together. He had never heard the story and got a kick out of proofing this! It makes me wonder what else I’ve forgotten to mention… It was pretty crazy and exciting, but I was relieved once we landed.

  30. I’d never consider hitchhiking by car – too many crazies have drivers’ licenses. Pilots’ licenses are much less likely to draw the crazies, so I would trust an offer of a plane ride. I enjoyed the years when I flew. Too bad it got to expensive to justify.

    • I did both! It was all about convenience and the thrill of adventure!
      Some flights have gotten really cheap like Frontier. Forget United. That airline is outrageous!

  31. You are such a trip. Glad he wasn’t a serial killer.

  32. That was wild and crazy all right! The things we do when we’re younger. They make fantastic stories if we live to tell about them.

  33. My first thought when you agreed to take that ride was if something happened no one would know where you were. That took guts. Good for you.

  34. Wowza, Susie. That is some story! I wouldn’t have accepted the guy’s offer for two reasons — stranger danger, and extreme fear of flying! But I am ballsy in other ways. When I met and fell in love with my husband I was living in Boulder and he was in upstate New York. I took a giant leap of faith, rented a moving truck, packed my stuff in it, hitched my car to a tow bar behind the truck, and drove across the country by myself. I never looked back. That was a really wild ride!

    I’m glad you lived to tell your story. It’s a good one!!

    • Thanks Mary! We are two of a kind! You are a wild child!
      I pretty much did the same thing with Danny. Everyone thought I was marrying the guy I had dated for three years, but we broke up and 4 weeks later, Danny and I were engaged!

  35. Wow Susie, it’s the kind of life event that seems improbable and when it happens it’s even more thrilling. I kind of envy you, I love flying and don’t get to do it anymore. Be well my friend.

    • Thanks Talia! It was my second time and I was so stoked! I had hitchhiked a few times, so it wasn’t too crazy for me. I do remember laughing when he offered to drive me home. I figured I was pretty safe by then. Talk about service with a smile!!!!

  36. Your artwork is wonderful! I can’t picture myself hitching a plane ride, and I give you credit for just going with it. I never hitchhiked, but I used to work with a guy who was pretty adventurous. He and his wife traveled west, and they made a bet to see who could get back home to Wisconsin first, by any means possible. His wife hitchhiked with a trucker and beat her husband home – there’s an adventure for you!

  37. In South Africa hitchhiking of any kind can be really dangerous. So I did all my wild rides on motorbikes or bicycles instead. When going to university 500 km away from my parents house I drove there with a 50 cc motorbike capable of just about 80 km/ h . And next wild ride- next week, going down to Cape Town (1650 km/ must be about 1000 miles) on my BMW…

  38. Awesome Susie! A great reminder that sometimes it’s good to say yes.

    Once my friend and I picked up two sailors (sailors!) we had met just outside their ship and drove them into town. After they got into the backseat I had a nervous thought, “I just let two strangers in my car!” One was on crutches so I figured I’d be able to run faster than him if need be. :)

    PS – you’re a talented artist!

    • Thank you so much!
      Yes, it sounds like you made a good assessment. I’ve been there too! One time I was looking at Persian rugs in a stranger’s basement. All of a sudden, I realized he could be a serial killer. He could kill me and no one would know what happened to me! That’s why I became a writer- active imagination… :)

  39. First of all your illustrations are great. And wow, you hitched a plane ride?? Who was this guy??? Did you ever find out? At least you had other risk-takers with you. That was indeed an adventure, Susie!

    • Thank you Brigitte!
      Yep. I did. He gave me his card, but that was many “moves” ago. I doubt I still have it. He was a very nice pilot, luckily…Talk about a thrill ride!

  40. ha! I love this story! I can’t think of a time I’ve done something similar off the top of my head, but I know I’ve done things that were viewed as dangerous by others…maybe they just seem normal to me and that’s why I can’t think of one?
    Diana xo

    • It’s all relative. There will be those that can relate, people who think I’m crazy and others who have taken some really crazy risks!
      I have a few of these stories to share and will make it a new series. That way, if I ever decide to write a memoir, it will all be here!

  41. Great reading Susie! You are very brave. And a Piper in the T-storm, what a rush!

    • Thanks John! It was a rush! Adrenaline rushing through my veins created a very vivd memory. I wish I could find The guy’s business card. I’m sure it’s long gone. It would be cool to send him this story!

  42. I adore your tenacity and spirit of adventure, Susie. And, yes. I could see myself accepting a ride from a complete stranger. Come to think of it, I did a time or two and I lived to tell the story. Yes. I also picked up hitchhikers back-in-the-day, and loved the stories they told. I even went beyond my scheduled exit once to get a young man to the next interstate he needed for his long journey.

    And, yes. My friends and family would have lectured me mercilessly had I admitted what I did. So, I never told.

    • A kindred risk taker!!!
      I was so excited, I told everyone! I’m going to ask my parents today if they remember this story. They probably blocked it out.
      When I see people at a bus stop in the rain, I want to ask them if they want a ride. Most people are pretty leery these days. I often pick up people headed to the mountain to ski or board. They are always so thankful!

  43. That’s awesome! And balls-y.
    The one thing that kept going through my head as I was reading: This’d make a great opening chapter to a romance novel.

  44. Technically I have hitchhiked, but it was w/ my husband after our car broke down on an interstate. A man stopped to pick us up and take us to the next exit. I sat in the backseat of his car and watched empty beer cans roll around my feet, while praying that he wasn’t a serial killer. My experience was in no way as cool as yours.

    • Glad you made it to the exit, ALIVE! I used to hitchhike a lot when I was in college.
      Danny and I still pick up snowboarders and skiers from the bus stop and take them to the mountain. We’ve met a lot of interesting people that way!

  45. What a cool story. I’ve never done anything quite like that.

    • Thanks Professor!
      I am ridiculous and always have been! It occurs to me that some of my friends would be shocked by this story. I will post it on Facebook and find out.

  46. Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing the trip Susie! During my teen years I had the pleasure of flying in numerous light planes as a Civil Air Patrol cadet. Years later I flew in multi-engine commercial aircraft operated by my employer. Flying in the smaller, private aircraft never failed to thrill me. The most thrilling sensation for me was seeing the community in miniature moments after take-off.

    • That is so cool! Teen years as a cadet! I bet you have some stories to tell…. :)
      It is like a roller coaster at times and nothing like a commercial jet.
      Thanks for your comment Someone!

  47. Fantastic tale of belief and chance, Susie.

  48. Hitchiked once to a job interview that was so hideously far I couldn’t take the job.
    It was a fun ride though!

  49. Great story susie!! Hitchiked once and my fathers friend picked me up.. Never lived that one down..:)

    • Hahaha! What terrible luck! I used to hitchhike to work when I was in college. One night, a man picked me up and lectured me all the way home. It was one of the last times I hitchhiked, except for the airplane ride, of course.
      Thanks Linda!

  50. So lucky!!! You got an air-ride for 12 dollars… :)

  51. Bold – not sure if I could have done that – but it worked out. You are indeed a wild rider! Love the new header – I hope you are enjoying a wild ride on the slopes. Spring is nine days away and we have a winter storm warning – 4-8 inches on the way. It may be a wild ride tomorrow morning!

    • When Danny proofread this story last night, it was the first time he heard about this story! I can’t believe I forgot to tell him.
      I’ve always been impulsive. Sometimes it gets me into trouble. Other times, it works to my advantage! Somehow, I’ve lived to “tell the tale!”
      We’re supposed to get snow today too. It was in the 60′s yesterday! Gotta love Colorado!

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