If you’ve ever felt inspired by Jack Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical travels in On The Road or Arthur Dent’s interplanetary adventures from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, then you’re in luck: there are three islands in Canada where hitchhiking is not only considered normal but is encouraged by infrastructure.
The Southern Gulf islands of Mayne, Pender, and Saturna in British Columbia are ideal places to hitch a ride. Beginning on Pender Island in 2008, green signs were put up with this note: “Car stop. You accept a ride at your own risk. But the ride is free so consider it a gift.”
The signs spread from Pender to the other two islands, now totaling around 60 marked pick-up locations. Though Kamloops This Week describes the local population of the islands as “eccentric,” travelers who want to find a ride with a generous stranger are likely to find one here.
Because public transportation options are limited and visitors may not bring their own vehicles, hitchhiking offers an appealing, environmentally-friendly solution for getting around the islands.
Historically, hitchhiking is mostly associated with the migrant workers of the Great Depression, the free-wheeling Beat Generation of the post-WWII era, and the bohemian hippies of the 1960s.
That said, hitchhiking seems to have been declining as a method of transportation since the 1970s.
While it’s hard to pin down one exact reason why hitchhiking has declined in popularity, increased rates of personal car ownership and a perceived sense of risk certainly seem to play major roles. There is some safety research available on the internet, but critics and supporters of hitchhiking both agree that travelers should exercise caution and use their common sense when riding with strangers.
Though hitchhiking is somewhat rare these days, the islands of Mayne, Pender, and Saturna are not alone in their efforts to bring the practice back into the mainstream. Some parts of Germany have built Mitfahrbänke, “hitchhiking benches,” that help riders link up with benevolent drivers who can get them closer to their destinations. Proponents of hitchhiking tout reduced fossil fuel consumption, an increased sense of community, and a reduction in traffic congestion.
About The Islands
Whether you’re interested in hitching a ride or not, the Southern Gulf islands of Mayne, Pender, and Saturna are perfect for people who enjoy the great outdoors. Most visitors arrive at the islands from Vancouver by ferry, though they are accessible by personal watercraft as well. While all three islands provide opportunities for kayaking, hiking, fishing, cycling, and other active pursuits, Mayne is particularly well-suited for history lovers.
The 8-square-mile island is home to the Springwater Lodge (currently closed for the winter), which was established in 1892 and is said to be the longest continually operated pub in the province. Because of its associations with smugglers, bootleggers, and other outlaws, it is reportedly referred to as “Little Hell.”
Guests who want to learn more about history can also visit the island’s garden and memorial to the Japanese settlers of the island, many of whom were interned during WWII.
Owing to their sizes, accommodations are somewhat limited on all three islands. That said, Poets Cove on the 13-square-mile Pender Island offers luxury stays in a stunning natural setting. While on Pender Island, visitors can also check out the small local shopping scene, spend some quality time in nature, or try to spot marine animals at Thieves Bay.
With a permanent population of only 350 people, Saturna Island is perfect for those who want to get away from it all. The view from Mount Warburton Pike is highly recommended and is accessible by foot or car, though bringing a truck or SUV may be a good idea. If you don’t have such a vehicle with you on the island, you may just want to consider sticking your thumb out and seeing if you can hitch a ride.
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