[Updated September 20, 2012]
By Bridget Ryder
“If you don’t have patience, don’t hitchhike,” Tim Shey said.
He’s speaking from his experience of using the mode of travel for sixteen years and his ventures have brought him through Teton Valley on more than one occasion. He’s slept in junk cars in Victor and grassy spots in Driggs, sheet rocked a house in Tetonia, and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity.
His roaming follows inspiration, providence, and the compass of circumstance.
“I just knew God inspired me to hit the road,” he explained.
He felt the nudge in 1996 but he never thought he would still be standing with his thumb out on the highway 16 years and two books later.
Shey, a native of Algona, Iowa, started hitchhiking in Ireland and parts of the United Kingdom in the early 1980s. In 1995, he finished his degree in English at the Iowa State University and then hitched his way through the Western US. In between, he worked in the lumber and construction businesses and then hit the rode for a solid nine months in 1999. During that hitching stint, a lady at a gas station in Texas asked him when she would get to read his book. She wasn’t the first to ask. When he returned to Iowa, he wrote 200 pages in ten days.
“I just wanted to get it done,” he said.
Over the years and between his travels, Shey touched up the manuscript and it appeared online and in CD form until Publish America put out the bound pages of High Plains Drifter. He stopped wondering why he got a degree in English.
“I guess all those English papers were good practice,” he said.
But the heart of his story is his Christian faith. As he travels, he both shares what he believes and lives it.
“It’s an act of faith, you can’t plan it like this,” he said.
The connections, reconnections, and happenstances he experiences lay beyond his control. A ride can lead to a conversation, a job or a friend, places he has returned to work or visit such as a cow-calf operation in California or the home of friends in Teton Valley.
He formed a strong connection with Jeremy Aughenbaugh of Jackson, Wyo in 2003 when one of Aughenbaugh’s roommates gave Shey a ride from Dubois, Wyo. They then invited the hitchhiker to stay with them for a few days. The two bonded through their common Christian faith and Shey has consistently returned to visit his friend since.
“He definitely wasn’t what I expected a hitchhiker to look like,” Aughenbaugh said. ”[He’s] clean cut, he seemed like he was on a mission.”
Aughenbaugh doesn’t put Shey in the category of a wander beaten down by life trying to figure out where to go. He has a purpose.
“His life is a sermon,” Aughenbaugh said.
Shey predicates, according to Aughenbaugh by getting into chance conversations in his travels and letting people “on the perfect timing” that he attributes to the action of God. Take Saturday for instance. Shey had been trying to head south out, but met with little luck, a calm inner movement told him to try the other way. He quickly caught a north-bound ride and found himself where help was needed—helping Aughenbaugh build a Habitat for Humanity house.
“If I run into a brick wall, I say I’m going in another direction,” Shey said. “I hitchhike by faith. God protects me.”
In all his years of accepting the help of strangers and doing what popular opinion considers a good way to get killed, he has only felt endangered once.
On his way through New Mexico, Shey picked up a ride from two men. The trip ended at the trailer park where they lived. Outside the car, Shey continued his conversation with the driver, Apache. While they talked, Shey could see the other man flanking him. Then he pulled out a knife and lunged toward the hitchhiker. Shey jumped back.
“What are you guys trying to do rob me?” he said.
Apache called his friend an idiot and told him to put the knife away.
“That was the only time somebody pulled a knife on me and it was not that big of a deal,” Shey said.
Apache sent Shey on his way with a fist full of cash and even his blundering attacker gave him a dollar as he left.
On the other hand, he has also been offered a ride with the stipulation “sir, if you don’t kill me.”
“I think I‘m on the road to redeem the image of the hitchhiker,” he said.
According to Shey it’s five times more likely for the hitchhiker to be killed than for someone bumming a ride to be the murder.
He admits to getting tired of hitchhiking, but for feels that for now it’s his calling.
And if you’re driving, don’t miss the opportunity to give Shey a ride. He might write you into his next book.
The Victor library carries Shey’s first collection of recollections as well as his more recently published volume of tales, The First Time I Rode a Freight Train and Other Hitchhiking Stories.
Follow Shey on his blog http://tim-shey.blogspot.com/ or read his whole story at the Victor library.
Teton Valley News [Driggs, Idaho]
Copright 2012 Teton Valley News
The powerful play goes on
By David Stein
Teton Valley News
July 21, 2016
“Last night, LaPriel and I were driving home. We were just outside Newdale, Idaho about 25 miles from our farm, when we passed a hitchhiker.
“I only caught a glimpse of him as we were driving by at 65 miles per hour. He appeared to be fiftyish, clean shaven and standing with a large hiker’s backpack.
“I slowed and asked LaPriel if we should pick him up. She didn’t say no.
“I rarely pick up hitchhikers. More often in Mexico than in the U.S.
“My son and I had once stood hitchhiking with our backpacks outside Gardiner, Montana after finishing a three-day hike through Yellowstone National Park. I had wrongly assumed there would be a taxi or shuttle service in Gardiner at the conclusion of our hike.
“Fortunately, a guy from Cincinnati stopped and drove us back to our car. He had recognized the Cincinnati Reds jacket my son was wearing and decided he should help.
“Perhaps it was that memory that prompted me to pick up this hitchhiker. I slowed and turned our car around and drove past the man with the backpack. We decided he looked safe so we turned around again and picked him up.
“His name is Tim Shey. He said he has been hitchhiking full time for twenty years. He earns money working side jobs: landscaping, construction, working on farms.
“When he is close to running out of money, he buys a loaf of bread and starts looking for work. No peanut butter. Just bread. He said he is sick of peanut butter.
“Tim doesn’t have a tent. Just two sleeping bags. He sleeps in places where he won’t be bothered. He said he travels full time so he can share his Christian faith.
“I asked him what has changed about hitchhiking in the past twenty years. ‘For me, nothing,’ he said, ‘but, there are less people doing it.’
“‘How long does it take to get a ride?’ I asked.
“‘It depends,’ he said. ‘Sometimes five minutes. Sometimes and hour. If no one has stopped in an hour, I start walking.’
“He said when you are in your twenties, there is no better way to figure out what you want to do with your life then by hitchhiking across the country. Especially because of the random people you meet, and you see what they are doing for a living and how they like it.
“We dropped Tim at the gas station in Tetonia. He planned to stay at the city park and hitchhike to Jackson, Wyoming the next day.”