Volume 16 Number 4
Hitching a Miracle
01 August 2003

Canadian novelist and newspaper columnist David Jenneson was just 18 in August 1967, when he had an experience that was to play a major role in his life.

Canadian novelist and newspaper columnist David Jenneson was just 18 in August 1967, when he had an experience that was to play a major role in his life.

Earlier that summer he and seven friends had set out to hitch-hike their way to Montreal to see Expo ’67—the world fair that was celebrating Canada’s centenary—and had then gone on to Quebec City. Now he and one other were trying to hitch-hike home across the continent. The first week had brought them no luck—they had travelled just 500 miles and still had 1,500 left to go.

‘Now, although it was late in the afternoon, we had been stuck on the same spot since early morning. It was a mean stretch of cold road—a thousand miles of nothing but small, hostile towns. A central point on this highway is White River, where a sign boasts “160 degrees below zero—coldest spot in Canada!” We stood shivering on the gravel shoulder, shuffling to keep warm. We dreamed about
the warm leafy streets of Vancouver—and our homes.’

They each had just 20 cents in their pockets. A police officer had warned them that two men who had been dropped down at that very spot had later had to be picked up by the authorities to save them from starvation and exposure. ‘At that moment a Provincial Police cruiser pulled over. In most places they check your ID, here they checked your health. He said he would be back in the morning, as if he already knew how hopeless our situation was.’

Hope of a sort was suddenly extended in the form of ‘a strange little man’ who approached them. He turned out to be a railway switchman. ‘He advised us to hop the next westbound freight. He assured us that the trains had to slow down to 10 mph to take the curve. We had both hopped freights before, so followed him down. In a few minutes the train came whistling round the bend—roaring past my nose at 40 mph. I have never stood so close to anything so big moving so fast. I was rooted to the spot in terror.’ So much for alternative transport.

It did not seem that Jenneson’s situation could get any worse. But it did. Another car pulled up, but only to disgorge two more hitch-hikers. ‘They were in worse shape than we were—with only the shirts on their backs. After a few minutes one landed a punch on the other. Soon they were rolling around on the gravel shoulder, wrestling and fighting. Cars veered around them, horns wailing. That absolutely guaranteed there would be no ride. Motorists saw them, and by the time they passed us they were actually accelerating.’

The sun was now sinking and the chill sharpened. The four of them decided to walk towards a tiny garage at the foot of the hill. As they did so something happened which Jenneson says he will never forget. ‘The last rays of the sun illuminated a little white church on the opposite rise. “If you are listening, God,” I thought, looking at the church, “please get me home now. If you do, I swear I’ll believe for the rest of my life.” ’

The effect was immediate and electrifying. As they got to the gas station a brand new Chrysler roared in. ‘I asked the driver if he was headed west and he said “Sure, hop in”. In a few moments the four of us were hurtling down the highway. The driver drove at a steady 110 mph. The car was roomy and comfortable. The heater was on. Our rough-housing friends were safely asleep in the back. The driver even paid for our food. We shot 700 miles westward across the map as major cities slipped by—Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Regina. There the man turned north. Everyone went with him except me. I stuck out my thumb. The first car pulled in and whisked me another 300 miles to Calgary. To catch my breath I went into a café and spent my last 20 cents on a cup of tea. I emerged from the café, stuck out my thumb again and boom—the first car pulled in and drove the final 500 miles non-stop through the night and deposited me at my parents’ front door on a beautiful warm August morning.’

He had seen a church and made a promise. ‘On doing so I was delivered home like some Priority Express package, rocketing over 1,500 miles in 30 hours. I couldn’t have taken anything faster—not a train, nor an express Greyhound, and 20 cents doesn’t buy a plane ticket!

‘It seems I am one of the rare ones lucky enough to have asked God for proof and got it on the spot,’ he says. ‘So do I still believe? You bet. Especially as a writer it has helped me to have faith in myself. That was 35 years ago, but believe me, you only need that kind of demonstration once.’
Paul Williams

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