Road trip…or Road Stumble

By Jeffery Cohen

A year after my brother had transferred from a college in West Virginia to one in New Jersey, he began to miss his old classmates that he’d left behind. During his semester break, he decided to take a road trip back to his old school and invited me to come along.

“A road trip? Where did you get a car?” I asked.

“No car.” He grinned and stuck out his thumb.

“You’re going to hitchhike down to West Virginia, in January? Won’t it be cold?” I asked, shivering.

“It will be an adventure,” he answered.

“But won’t it be cold?” I repeated.

“Remember the stories that Dad used to tell us about how he bummed around the country hopping freight trains and thumbing rides out on the highways and byways?” he reminded me.

I did remember those tales of days that took my father through the Southland, then out to the West coast, but all I could say was, “Won’t it be cold?”

“We’ll take a couple of warm sleeping bags with us, just in case we have to stop somewhere on our way down, but I don’t expect we’ll ever be using them. It should be clear sailing all the way. And besides, we’ll be heading south where it’s warmer. So, what do you say? You in?”

The Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken” popped into my head.

‘Two roads converged in a woods, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

Filled with imaginings and possibilities of the unknown, I answered. “I’m in!”

The next day, my youngest brother volunteered to help us out on the first leg of our journey. “I’ll ride you down the road a piece,” he said, warming up his old jalopy. “Kind of get you off to a good start.” The gray skies and the winter chill all around us played on my kid brother’s sympathies. He drove us more than fifty miles before finally saying goodbye.

So, there we were on the side of the road, packs on our backs, thumbs out. It wasn’t long before a blue sedan pulled over. “How far are you going?” the middle-aged man behind the wheel asked.

“West Virginia,” we sang out.

“I can get you as far as Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.”

“Sounds great,” my brother said, and we climbed aboard.

This is going to be a cinch, I thought to myself. We made small talk, listened to some country tunes on the radio and before we knew it, we were back on the road, looking forward to a ride out of Valley Forge. Unfortunately, all the next three hours brought us was a man in a pick-up truck who yelled out an apology, saying he was only going a couple of miles on his way home. Though the temperatures weren’t nearly as frigid as January can be, it was cold. Without a whole lot of daylight left and prospects for a ride slim, we wandered over to a nearby wooded area and staked a claim for the night.

As my brother slipped off his gear and sat down on an old tree stump, I began dragging sturdy fallen branches and wedging them between a cluster of young trees.

“What do you think you’re doing?” my brother asked, shaking his head.

“Building a shelter,” I answered, as I continued to construct a canopy with downed boughs, then heaping on layers of fallen leaves as my brother watched in amusement.

“You really think we need all of that?” he smiled. “We’re just staying the night, not the week.”

“Better to be safe than sorry.” After finishing my shelter, I gathered up a pile of wood that we could use for a campfire once night fell. Then we stowed away our packs and decided to get a bite to eat at a small bar across the road.

We were welcomed by the warmth of the inn keeper as well as the place’s blazing fireplace. After a bowl of hot, homemade chili and a couple of beers, we were ready to face the night. As we stepped out of the door, we were surprised at how quickly the sun had gone down and just how dark it had gotten.

“How are we ever going to find our way back to our stuff?” I asked, a bit panicked.

My brother shrugged. “Dumb luck, I guess.”

With low expectations and little hope, we wandered across the road, just as it began to drizzle. Like two blind mice, we stumbled around in the black for nearly a half hour, and by some miracle, we actually found our way. Now, the rain started to pick up. Ducking under our ceiling of leaves, we unrolled our sleeping bags and slipped inside.

“Guess building a shelter wasn’t such a waste of time after all, was it?” I said. My brother grudgingly agreed. Unable to light a fire with a wet pile of wood, we settled in for the night.

At about five in the morning, I woke up shivering to the incredible drop in the temperature, but I was thankful that I no longer heard the patter of raindrops on our roof. Then I pried one eye open, and I realized why. Snowflakes were gently falling around us, already leaving an inch of white on the ground. It was time to get a move on.

We packed up and made our way out to the road, determined to hitch a quick ride south, but every car seemed to be going in the opposite direction. From the few vehicles that did pass our way, people waved, yelled out words of encouragement, gave us the peace sign, but nobody bothered to even slow down. We were beginning to understand the kind of hardships George Washington and his men must have endured, having spent a winter here. After three teeth-chattering hours, our fingertips and toes began to feel numb. That’s when we decided that our road trip to West Virginia wasn’t as good an idea as we had thought. We crossed over to the northbound lanes of the highway to head back home.

In minutes, a van pulled over. “I’m only going as far as New Jersey,” the driver informed us. Turned out, he was the salesman that took care of the printing of the yearbook at my brother’s college, and so we got a ride all the way back to where we started from. As we sat back, relieved by the warmth, watching the snow fall behind us, I thought again of Frost’s poem and realized why there was a road less traveled. Not enough traffic to hitch a ride!

About this writer

  • Jeffery Cohen

    Jeffery Cohen

    Freelance writer and newspaper columnist, Jeffery Cohen, has written for Sasee, Lifetime and Read, Learn, Write. He’s won awards in Women-On-Writing Contest, Vocabula’s Well Written Contest, National League of American Pen Women’s’ Keats Competition, Southern California Genealogy Competition, and Writer’s Weekly writing contest.

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One Response to “Road trip…or Road Stumble”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Your stories are always so interesting. I’d have crossed the road, too!

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