A two-man race across the USA that I will never forget
A tale of Vision, Preparation and Execution
Atlanta, August 1967. One sultry Sunday afternoon,
my friend John and I challenged each other to a hitchhiking race from San Francisco to New Orleans to take place in September, just before fall classes began for our senior year of college.
Why? Because that's the kind of thing 22-year-olds do after having one too many.
So within a few days, we had worked out the details.
Our plan was to travel separately at our leisure to the starting location of the race in San Francisco. Our precise meeting place was at the intersection of the Great Highway and Fulton Street at the northwest corner of Golden Gate Park.
And our meeting time was scheduled for 12:00 noon (PDT) on Wednesday, September 13, 1967.
Our race started at top left corner of this map. John headed down the Great Highway and I headed east on Fulton St.
Game on. Following our pre-race rendezvous that worked out precisely as planned, we had a quick snack at a diner across the street and began our race - agreeing that we should both have no trouble making it to New Orleans by Saturday night.
To ascertain who won the race, we chose the honor system and simply agreed that we would each record the time we arrived inside the New Orleans city limits.
Then, the post race celebration would begin at our favorite watering hole in the French Quarter: the famous Pat O'Brien's, home of the Hurricane cocktail and the dueling pianos. As for the celebration, that's another story. As for the winner, read on.
Prior to our race, I had never been west of Louisiana, so wanting to truly experience a hitchhiking trip spanning the entire country, I took a train from Atlanta to Washington, DC, and started my journey from there.
Turns out, my first hitchhike ride was a train to Chicago, for which I used my Southern Railway pass to request a free ride from the conductor before boarding.
Memory snapshots of my outbound trip include riding with a trucker across Iowa and Nebraska, hitchhiking out of Little America, Wyoming at 2 a.m., sleeping in the back seat of a '57 Ford driven by a fugitive in Utah, enjoying the fun and games of Reno and finally, the excitement of seeing the sparkling lights of San Francisco for the very first time.
My fold-in-the-middle sign, with
on the other side, carried me safely to victory over 4,000 miles and is now a framed bit of memorabilia in my home.
Fifty-two years later, I reflect on those memories and still get goosebumps. It is also sobering to think that were it not for that hastily-planned adventure trip in 1967, I may never have imagined something so crazy-sounding as GRATOLA, an idea that may help spark more widespread critical thinking regarding the future of our species.
(In case you haven't read any of my blogs lately, GRATOLA is an acronym for
Green Region Atlanta to Los Angeles,
which you can read about here:
Survive & Thrive with "GRATOLA"
Ironically, our race distance was almost the exact same mileage as my recently envisioned GRATOLA corridor - just over 2200 miles as I hitchhiked through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana, covering most of the same route of that corridor.
As for the other states within the same corridor: Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia - I spent the first twenty years of my life living in those places.
Now, over a half century after first experiencing
most of that corridor from ground level, all of its features are still embedded in my memory - the features that make it so ideal for an ultra-efficient, beautiful, livable, sustainable and plausible human habitat of the future.
That southern corridor has it all: wide open terrain, no steep mountains to cross, moderate climate, few densely-populated areas to disrupt, lots of sun and wind for green energy and no rising tides to worry about.
Back to the race. We both made it safely to New Orleans in time for our Pat O'Brien's celebration on Saturday night. And following an incredibly
memorable journey, we had many stories to share on our train ride home the next day.
As employees of Southern Railway, we could ride the rails for free and that day we hit the jackpot, enjoying the luxury of sleeping on bunks with crisp white sheets aboard a well-appointed Pullman car where we recuperated from our unforgettable journey.
Seven hours later, fully-rested, we rolled into Birmingham, Alabama, where my mother met our train...
And that's when she took this photo.
Jim Hicks and John Patton thumbing for just one more ride
That's me with the snappy looking clothes and plaid travel bag. My strategy was to look as wholesome as possible so folks wouldn't be nervous about giving me rides.
And my strategy worked!
My total race elapsed time was 56 hours, which earned me a 22-hour
My takeaway after reliving that trip in this blog:
Maybe that vision of Gratola has been incubating in my memory bank for the past fifty-two years.
And without that incubation, the GRATOLA vision may have never emerged. I sincerely believe that If you can envision something on a grand scale, leveraging current technology, it can become a reality faster than you think.
That was the case with our transcontinental race:
We saw it. We planned it. We did it.
The Bottom Line. I feel confident that we could do the same with GRATOLA. Granted, it may be several billion times more complex than our simple race, but it is all based on current technology.
That said, with enough leadership, funding, AI, cooperation and determination, I agree with Dr. E.O. Wilson's conclusion that we are capable of creating a virtual paradise for ourselves and for the biosphere that gives us life.
But making that vision come true will not be easy. Key global indicators that foretell disaster ahead are steadily getting worse, while most of the citizens in the developed world are paying no attention.
They don't want to hear about it, they don't want to think about it and they don't want to talk about it.
What to do? Just keep working constantly to raise awareness...
- By expanding the global "conversation" about this most crucial of all topics
- By prompting others to begin looking at our planet as a an overall "system" that must be optimized if we are to survive
- By being a part of a movement to influence and/or coerce those in power to begin urgently developing feasible, global solutions to our sustainability dilemma
So I will continue to focus on all of the above - in my writing, my blogging and my speaking.
Note: Just for the record, my entire counter-clockwise, trans-USA loop from Atlanta totaled just over 6,200 miles, mostly hitchhiking.
As for speaking, I am still looking for mainstream audiences who may have an interest in learning more about a realistically hopeful vision for our future.
As such, I will travel anywhere for an opportunity to speak to one or more groups in each city that I visit. I only ask for travel expenses and a modest honorarium.
As for the specifics of my topic, I invite you to
contact me directly
about how I might tailor my presentation to best suit an audience you may have in mind:
High schools, churches, universities, legislative bodies, environmental organizations, leadership clubs, alumni associations, think tanks and/or civic groups who may appreciate a message of reality and hope for our future.
Finally, the Weekly Updates
For updates, I primarily monitor these four websites:
1. Weekly Arctic Update. The good news is that the melting ice slowed this week and even had two rare days of ice growth for this time of year.
- NSIDC site focusing on the Arctic Ocean and Antarctica
The bad news is that the ice extent set a new record low every single day in the month of April, as shown by this Pettit graph, dated April 30.
2. Weekly CO2 ppm Update.
Yesterday, on May 1, a new all-time record was set: 414.88 ppm (NOAA data)
Now I draw your attention to the chart below, dated two days earlier, documenting CO2 levels since 1700, fifty years before the beginning of the industrial revolution. For the record, in the past
800,000 years (until around 1950), atmospheric CO2 concentration climbed slightly above 300 ppm just once.
Now it appears to be permanently over 400 ppm and setting new all-time records several times a year.