For much of my life, I have believed that if you couldn't fly there, you couldn't get there. Driving was never an option, except for very short distances. Fortunately, I worked for an airline for many years so it didn't cost much money to travel by air. That meant I could fly just about whenever and wherever I wanted. We used to joke that we put a handle on our toothbrush and went to Denver for dinner or Vancouver for the weekend.

I think some of my reluctance to travel by car was learned on the last long driving trip I had endured before my airline days. My former spouse was just getting out of the Navy and we were driving to the Twin Cities where we would live while he was a student at the University.

I wanted to see some of the sights and historical points on the way from Florida to Minnesota; after all, we had no idea how long it would be before we would be on a real vacation again. But he was in a hurry, and had little patience for stopping other than for gas and food. He did agree to a short stop at Nashville and I insisted on stopping at "Little Norway" in Wisconsin. But that was a short stop, too. He stayed at the car while I looked and, of course, who could enjoy it when someone was impatiently anxious to get on the road again? After that, I never wanted to do a driving trip again.

I didn't have to because not long after that I went to work for the big airline. I traveled to many exciting and far-flung places, and only drove rental cars. However, that changed when I left the airline, moved back to Minnesota and again became a grad student. On one of my first holidays, I decided to visit my son on the western side of South Dakota. I thought, "No problem. I will drive."

I got as far as St. Peter and was already tired of the experience. Since it occurred in the days before cell phones, I stopped in at a gas station and used the telephone to call and find out when the next flight was to Rapid City. But when I heard the price, it was obvious that it was way outside of my budget. I grumpily got back on the road and soon was really bored with the journey.

Just after I crossed the border into South Dakota, I spotted a hitchhiker. He was obviously Native American and I was pretty sure he was going to have a difficult time getting a ride with strangers. So I stopped and asked him how far he was going. Since I was going farther than he was, I told him to hop in. He did and the trip immediately became far more interesting.

This young man had just turned 21 and was returning to his home on the reservation to do his vision quest, a traditional coming-of-age process for Dakota males. He described this as a way to find out the purpose of his life and guidance for the direction he should go. He would be spending four days and nights alone out in nature, away from any people. He would stay awake the entire time and eat no food. Eventually, his direction for life would come to him in a dream or vision. A medicine man, whom he already knew from his youth, would help him get ready, including being purified in a sweat lodge first. After the days and nights alone, the medicine man would help him interpret his vision, if he needed it, and give him guidance for his future. The young man told me that not many young Dakota males still did the vision quest; sadly, like many traditions, it was falling by the wayside.

We talked and talked and the miles sped by. I had studied the Dakota language at the U, and I tried to remember enough to practice on him. We stopped at rest stops, for gas and another time for some food. We came to a junction: the shortest way to his home on the res would be to get off the freeway and take the direct route. I was enjoying the drive and the company, so instead of leaving him there on the side of the road to test his chances again, I decided to go by "the scenic route" and take him all the way home. Another bonus, besides a boring trip passing quickly and good conversation, was that I drove through the reservation, something I had not experienced before.

I don't remember the young man's name; maybe I have it written down somewhere in my archives. I don't know if he was able to successfully complete his vision quest. I would guess that he did, because it was very important to him and he seemed quite determined. I did wish him a good future and I do hope that happened.

When I have told people about this experience, too often they have not heard the story of the vision quest, but instead have focused on the perceived dangers of picking up a hitchhiker. I have never regretted doing so; it was not my first or last experience with a hitchhiker, none of them bad. And it did help to change my perception of driving on a long trip.