Saturday, September 23, 2006

Hitchhiking Delights

Crawford Notch, NH
Mile 1829

One of the skills I've picked up over the course of this hike is the art of hitchhiking. In a lot of ways, hitching is like gambling. You start the hitch attempt sort of wanting to get to town, in this case, for an all you can eat breakfast buffet. Time goes by. You wonder if you really want the AYCE buffet, and how wouldn't it be nice to get to the hut early before the forecast heavy weather sets in? But the thing is, the more you think about that AYCE buffet, with its limitless tanks of sausage gravy and eggs and bacon and pancakes and real local maple syrup, the less likely you are to give up the hitch. It begins to look like a big jackpot that you're just around the corner from. A jackpot filled with pork grease and sugar.

And truth be told, hitching is a something-zero game. If you can give up a certain amount of time, you get odds to win the ride. Given enough time, you will win. If there was a casino with this kind of game, people would be knocking each other over to play it, right before the house closed the game.

Then again, maybe they wouldn't. In a New Yorker article on neuroeconomics and loss aversion ("Mind Games"), researchers noted that people often choose not to gamble even when the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor. For example, if they are given a game where they have a 50-50 chance of either winning a hundred fifty dollars or losing a hundred, eighty percent choose not to play, in spite of the fact that if they play it twenty times, they will end up quite a bit ahead. "The brain has a lot of competing systems in it, and they don't always say the same thing," said a researcher in the article. You're telling me, bub.

The gambling analogy is a lot better than the charisma analogy, in which every passing car is an affront to your personal dignity. No sir. It's not a popularity contest. It's just a game.

That said, thanks to all those picking up hikers off lonesome roadways, especially Jocelyn from the AMC Highlands Center. You make us- and our bellies- very, very happy.

You make our bellies very happy until we attempt to climb four thousand feet in two miles. Then we get very very sick.

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