Rajam, named after a distant Indian friend, decides, on a whim of teenage wanderlust to leave it all behind in her small Alabama town and take to the road to follow the hippy festival trail across the country and beyond. Giving away all her “stuff” she takes off to the famous Rainbow gathering and falls in love with the vagabond lifestyle as she hitches with truck drivers, do-gooders and other drivers of questionable motive with only a pan and a tarp to get by and becomes a “road dog”: a hitchhiker living free on the open highways with only her thumbs to carry her.
As she embarks on her journey, she is lucky to be surrounded by a bunch of vegan eco-warriors who, along with her previous outdoor skills course taken in a bored moment previously, help the young traveler develop all the survival skills she needs to acquire food, bedding, clothing and even money with just a pack of beads for trading and a trusting nature.
Rajam has no thought of her future. She lives, as many young people do, in the now. She finds a puppy, and then loses him. She pairs up with a hitching partner and parts from them. She does of course come across some dodgy characters. Violent relationships, criminals and mental patients all turn up, causing scenes and somehow get turfed out of Rajam’s adventures. She has a close shave with one driver intent on having his way – escaping, she believes, by exuding confidence. Always she seems to somehow walk away unscathed.
Some readers may find the whole lack of responsibility and bare cheek of a girl with a perfectly good family home claiming supplies for the needy a little grating, but when you pick up a story about living free and being young, you must embrace the spirit of what that means: this is not a moral tale, this is a tale of escape from the everyday rat race, how to live on the edge of a society and see something new and fresh in the forests and mountains. It is a tale of adolescent possibility and the feeling of the future being far away and consequences something for those who are older; more tired, more cynical. Instead of worrying about what she needs, she lets the events around her decide, only making a decision to turn back when she feels bonds being made: two male companions have to be cut loose due to their admiration of her feminine charms.
Bravely entering Mexico illegally, and then swiftly deciding she wasn’t ready for such an endeavor is one of her gut-based decisions that then leads her onto an even more colorful opportunity to later return, again with a dog and a male companion in tow to experience the country with a real zeal for the road dog lifestyle. I enjoyed this part of the book the most, with the tiny detail of local living that made the story come alive in a way that only lived-through recounting can dance on a page, such as the men with the rolled up trousers to prevent ants, and the lesbian that asks for sex behind her husband’s back make for really entertaining reading, as does the tale about her hitching a ride on a yacht, no less!
Reminiscent at times of Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, this is a real salt of the Earth account of a life less ordinary and more lived by a free spirit that inspires travel and adventure – standing testament to the endless possibilities of an alternative existence to that of the daily grind.