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The Hitcher

Isn’t it funny how things happen in cycles or coincide enough to convince me that we have lemming ancestors in our DNA. A few weeks ago public transit systems in Canada were going about their business with only the Lions Gate Bridge or skinny old Highway 99 hitting the top 10 gripe list. Now it appears road users will really have something to moan about, with transit workers threatening to put the brakes on public transport in and outside the province – "Welcome to commuter hell, don’t forget to pack your lunch, this could be a long sit-in."

Striking is now officially in fashion from Calgary to Victoria and Vancouver, and don’t forget the Sea to Sky Corridor – Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish may be jumping on the bandwagon too if their transit contract negotiations don’t work out. Given that Whistler boasts the highest ridership per capita in the province, and possibly the whole country, that’s a lot of people who might be eyeing up their bicycles a little sooner than expected. Your heart may thank you for the longer commute but your bosses probably won’t.

Then again, there are other options. Yes I’m referring to that practice that is an integral part of the ski-bum and Whistler worker lifestyle: hitch-hiking. Take a drive along Highway 99 between Function Junction and Emerald Estates and check out the key spots where traffic is forced to slow down – traffic lights are a favourite. There, standing in the sun, rain and snow, will usually be a "thumb bandit" wearing a hopeful expression and, often it seems, carrying a snowboard.

And we’re not talking about just the odd one – hitching is alive and well in this town, despite the odd outburst from concerned citizens about its inherent dangers, especially for those who like to thumb a ride at night while standing in the darkest spots, the best recipe for road-kill.

I too, am a member of the hitch-hiking fraternity, but unlike many others I do own a vehicle: Madeline the V8 Ford van to be exact. So why you ask, do I bother thumbing a ride? For starters there is the cost of fuelling a great gas guzzler in a town infamous for its hugely inflated petrol prices. Plus there are the terrors of parking on "death driveway" – an affectionate term for the icy slope in front of my house where up to 12 vehicles reside and slide with disturbing frequency when you move them.

But to be completely honest, I also hitch because I enjoy it, and Whistler is a pretty safe town. I have met some great people during my brief hitching career here and even garnered a few stories from my encounters, because it’s locals who tend to pick you up. You can usually spot the ones who will stop. Predictably perhaps it’s the pickup trucks that score the highest, closely followed by beat-up vans and occasionally the odd sports car. The drivers are usually male.

Take the kindly middle-aged Vancouverite who picked me up recently. It was one of the stony grey March mornings when it hadn’t snowed in days and everything was frozen into submission. My thumb stung in protest during its brief foray from my warm pocket to the frigid air. As usual, the wait was 30 seconds. During the pleasant eight minute journey between Blueberry and Function we covered an amazing range of topics, including changes in Whistler since the 1970s, the weather, his friend’s real estate business and the conditions off Peak Chair today.

As he dropped me off at the turnoff, a forlorn looking fellow hitcher some five metres away brightened up, hope written all over his face. As I stepped out of the car and waved at my driver, there was an audible click as all four locks snapped down and he hit the gas.

Sorry guys, but it’s a sexist world. Girls score a lot higher than guys when it comes to the art of hitch-hiking because we have many factors on our side – sympathy, concern and not least, because we are not male.

But for the record, on the odd occasion when I take Madeline out for a spin, I always pick up loads of hitchers – even the male ones – mostly to improve my "hitching karma." And who knows, if the strike goes ahead over the next few weeks, I could earn enough good karma to last me a lifetime.

— Robyn Cubie