Issue #11.2 Bonus Content: Hitchhiking Home Blind with Devon Raney

A year and a half ago, I recieved an email from Devon Raney. I had never met him, didn’t know who he was. Attached was this story about hitchhiking from Mt Baker, WA to Bainbridge Island near Seattle, WA–blind. I’ll admit it took me some time to give it a proper read. But after reading Devon’s story, I knew there was more to him than this single story could tell. So, over the past year and a half, we became friends, and I tried to share his story with our readers.

If you’ve read Issue #11.2, you’ve read Devon’s profile, and hopefully come to understand the unique individual that he is. But we couldn’t fit his hitchhiking story into the pages of our print edition. So here it is, unedited, as a supplement to the print edition. Enjoy. And if you ever see a somewhat tanned dude in his late 30s standing roadisde with a “Seattle” sign, consider giving him a ride. He might have some stories to tell.


By Devon Raney

Snowboarding for me is something awesome and exciting. Each year brings new adventures, exciting moments, memorable runs and great new stories. Mt Baker changes every year with different snowfalls and yet stays the same.

But this past winter, one of my biggest and most exciting adventures came off the mountain–on my hitchhike home. I did not have to go far: White Salmon parking lot to Bainbridge Island, about 200 miles. I have a friend who hitched up from Bend, OR for the Banked Slalom back in the day, and I thought of him and it made my journey seem easy.

However, I am a blind snowboarder, which I guess would make me a blind hitchhiker, which I guess just makes me a blind person. I’m not completely blind; I have about 15% of my vision left, but none of it is detail vision. Which means I don’t see faces, or recognize people, or read, or drive, but I do navigate through my environment super well. I use my peripheral vision to pick-up objects and changes in light and movement.

It was March 2012, and the snow was epic–a record-breaking March at Mt Baker. My wife Becca, my daughter Madrona and I had gone up to our cabin in Glacier on Thursday night. We rode great powder as a family through the weekend and Sunday night they went back home to Bainbridge. I figured I’d see a friend during the week that was returning towards Seattle and bum a ride home with them.

By Wednesday–three more days of insane snow–no one was returning home. The temperatures were supposed to hike way up the following day and the precipitation was going away. I decided I would hitch home on Thursday. Glacier was sunny, beautiful and a little warm that day. I snowboarded with a friend until 1:00 pm and officially started my hitchhike home at 1:30. The first leg was oh-so easy! My same friend game me a ride down the hill to Maple Falls, and was nice enough to stop by my cabin on the way, so I could drop off my board and change into hitchhiking-friendly clothes.

In Maple Falls, with just a small backpack and even smaller paper sign that read “Seattle,” my journey really began. In theory the trip should have been easy–get to Seattle by nightfall, get a cab to the ferries, take the ferry to Bainbridge Island, walk home from there. So I stood on the side of the road in Maple Falls and waited for my first ride; or maybe I should I say my first lesson.

I waited and began to think about the fact that I couldn’t see faces or really get a good look at anyone. Not being able to see someone would make it difficult to determine whether or not I could kick their ass if they got weird.

The first person to pick me up was Jeff Hambleton, a great shred and all around nice guy. Jeff teaches avalanche safety up on the mountain. This was a great ride and Jeff turned out to have extensive hitchhiking knowledge. He was on his way to work at REI in Bellingham and took me to the I5-South onramp at Sehome Village. Jeff helped me get across the busy intersection and showed me right where to stand. It was about 4:00 pm.

I stood at the onramp for more than a half hour before anyone stopped. I began to wonder if I looked insane. Maybe it was the hood pulled over my beanie that turned them off, or maybe it was because I was wearing gloves. Finally a car came to a weird jack knife stop and a hillbilly jumped out of the driver’s seat and yelled, “You drive. Quick!” He ran around the front of the car and got into the passenger seat. He rolled down the passenger window and I could smell the alcohol.

“Quick! Drive!”

My mind was moving slowly and I couldn’t come up with anything awesome to say, so I just said, “I don’t drive.”

“You ain’t got no license?”

”No,” I replied.

Then he ran back around the front of his car, jumped back in the driver’s seat and took off.

I was starting to get cold and it was starting to get dark, so I decided to put away my “Seattle” sign and just hang out my thumb. Minutes later a normal guy who had only been drinking coffee stopped and said he was going to Mt. Vernon.

Mt. Vernon is only 30 minutes down the road, but that was 30 minutes closer to home, so I got in. It was now about 5:30 pm. My ride to Mt. Vernon was easy. The dude was normal, by my standards, and I took 5 minutes to explain my vision impairment to him. He seemed to understand and when we arrived in Mt. Vernon he took me right up to the I5-South onramp and let me out. It was 6:00 pm by now, and getting dark. I hung out my thumb again.

It only took a couple of minutes this time, maybe because of rush-hour traffic. A nice gentleman from India picked me up. I should have known right off that a language barrier coupled with my vision impairment was going to make for a difficult situation. But I got in anyway and sure enough my trip got hairy. We drove for about 40 minutes not saying much, trying a little to communicate in broken English.

As we got closer to downtown Everett he pointed to a rest stop.

”You go to rest stop,” he said.

I quickly said, “No.”

I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up, but it was clear that it wasn’t going to be an onramp. We drove for five more minutes until we came to exit 189 where the I5 meets other highways and they cross over and under each other, spider-webbing out into different directions. He slowed down and pulled off into a grass embankment. Cars were honking.

”You get out here,” he said.

I looked at him with a blank expression and realized that if I didn’t it would seem like I was the crazy hitchhiker who wouldn’t get out.

”Thank you,” I said.

And I stepped out onto I5-South, cars honking all around me. There was really only one thing I could do and that was make my way up the grass embankment in hopes of finding an arterial road. I clearly could not put my thumb out on the side of the freeway; cars were mobbing by at 70mph.

So I hiked up the side embankment, through sticker bushes and a single track trail made by homeless people. After about a half-hour of walking I came to a chain link fence. There was a road on the other side of the fence, but it looked just as busy as the freeway.

I began to panic… just a little. If I called my wife I had no way of telling her where I was. I couldn’t read any signs and I had no idea how far I had wandered from the freeway. I didn’t know what the nearest exit was. My situation seemed bad, yet it reminded me of situations I’d been in as a kid while surfing. Times I’d been out when the waves were too big, and I chose not to paddle for one–just be calm and stay still.

So I decided to do just that, stay still. I sat down at the fence for 10 minutes or so, just thinking and breathing. Then I stood up and climbed the fence. Unfortunately for me there was barbed wire at the top and I had to throw my backpack on the barbs to protect my hands. This is the bummer of vision impairment, not seeing much.

After I was over and walking on the other side about 50 yards down the way I passed a gate. I could have passed through the gate instead of scaling the barbed wire! I sat for a while on the curb of the busy road, trying to gauge the traffic patterns. Finally I just stood up and put out my thumb. A couple of cars sped by and honked and then one stopped abruptly. The window rolled down.

”What the F—K are you doing!”

I told him my situation and he said I had walked six miles away from the freeway. He said to get in and he would take me to an onramp. It was now about 8:30 pm. By the time we got to the onramp I was in downtown Everett.

Unfortunately I never had the opportunity, or maybe courage, to explain my vision to him. When he dropped me off I didn’t realize I was on the wrong side of the overpass. It was extremely busy traffic, and the lights were impossible for me to see. Exhausted, and hungry, I turned and walked down the sidewalk for a while until I came to a restaurant. I went inside and asked the gal the name of the place.

“Callahan’s,” she said.

I ordered a beer, a sandwich and a shot of whiskey, and had them in that order. Then I called my brother who lives in Ballard and told him of my ordeal. He offered to come pick me up and take me to the ferry in Seattle. I felt a little defeated having not made it the whole way, but in the end I conceded.

I made the 10:20 pm boat to Bainbridge Island and an hour and a half later walked through my front door. Becca was up waiting for me and stayed up to hear my story. I went into my daughter’s room and kissed her cheek and then got into my own bed. I lay there smiling, thinking about all the crazy things that can happen to us in this life and wondering if other visually impaired people hitchhike.

My last thought before I fell asleep was, “If I have to do it all again to get good snow, I will.”


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