Does hitchBOT dream of electric sheep?

HitchBOT doing what he does best, hitching!

HitchBOT doing what he does best, hitching!

HitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot from Ontario, Canada, had hitched across Germany, the Netherlands, and of course Canada, but his recent exploits, traveling across the United States ended in tragedy. On August 1st hitchBOT was found dismembered and left for dead in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia.

And just like that, hitchBOT became a social media superstar.

In the words of his creators, Dr. David Smith (McMaster University) and Dr. Frank Zeller (Ryerson University), "simply put, hitchBOT was designed to be a free-spirited robot who wants to explore the world and meet new friends along the way. This usually worked out splendidly, only sometimes bad things happen to good robots...." A social experiment of sorts, surely intended to gauge human empathy and willingness to interact with the largely inanimate hitchBOT.

As a fellow traveler and hitch hiking advocate I thought it might be worthwhile to weigh in on the subject. A lot of people seem to be pretty upset about the situation and nearly unanimously the global audience has declared that it is "not surprised this happened in the United States". But, what does the end of hitchBOT's journey really tell us.

Tragedy Generates Headlines

Unfortunately for hitchBOT while his travels had been going "well" up until his untimely demise the quirky social experiment had gained very little interest or attention. However, immediately following the destruction of hitchBOT the project's popularity skyrocketed. Beyond that, I'm not sure hitchBOT's adventures or his dismemberment has given us any insight into human nature or any other cultural phenomena. Here's why:

While it's undeniable that hitchBOT is/was a charismatic and fun interactive or "living" art project it's tough to say that his successes or failures and interactions with people as he traveled could be in any way representative anything beyond the nature of the interactions, which was person to robot.

If hitchBOT's creators were interested in measuring, for instance, the viability and the perceptions of hitch hiking in a modern world, which would be an incredibly interesting topic worthy of study and exploration, or if they wished to measure human responses to a strange situation and a call to action, they have missed the mark entirely. A cutesy robot found on the side of the road is nothing at all like an actual human being.

If only hitch hiking worked like this!

If only hitch hiking worked like this!

Take a look at the photo to the right. At first, the image seems to express a young woman's acceptance of a strange situation and her willingness to participate and assist. It screams, "go humans! What kind compassionate and helpful creatures we are!" Unfortunately, the truth is, that she's "helping" a dressed up five gallon bucket with a solar panel and a handful of voice commands programmed into a smart phone. It's sad to say, but this lovely twenty-something wouldn't be caught dead with her arm around an actual hitchhiker or stranger. The chances that this young woman would offer a ride or assistance of any sort to an actual hitchhiker are, unfortunately, nearly zero.

Fortunately, unlike robots, a man can dream.

Clearly, this is not a human.

Clearly, this is not a human.

It's not all bad news, however. Similarly to how hitchBOT's apparent ability to charm young ladies with the wink of his LED eyes is characteristic of nothing besides a human interacting with a robot, the same logic applies to hitchBOT's dismemberment. It's all too easy to add hitchBOT's story into the collective hitch hiking mythology. That is to say, if you hitch you're bound to get chopped up into tiny pieces and left to rot in some dark and scary corner of the world.* This isn't the case, and hitchBOT's destruction represents nothing more than a robot being destroyed in Philadelphia. It's actually nearly impossible to even fathom any Philadelphians tearing an actual human being limb by limb and leaving them in a dark alleyway.

And so we can rest easy. While the everyday traveler might not be able to pick up women as easily as our robot counterpart, we're also far less likely to have our arms ripped off.

Interesting, quirky, funny, and certainly a little bit sad, it's hard to determine the meaning of hitchBOT's journey and ultimate destruction. Perhaps what is most notable is this final point.

Even in the year 2015, with all of our modern complexities, stresses, and personal concerns, a simple robot made from a five gallon pail can still manage to capture the hearts and the minds of the entire world.


* Oddly enough, the exact same fate (bodily dismemberment) seemingly awaits those who pick up hitch hikers, which, if anyone really sat and thought about is absolutely absurd. These beliefs imply that in every hitch hiking episode both the hitch hiker and the driver presumably square off in a deranged battle to kill, rape, and mutilate the other person.


I was nervous. This whole bike touring thing is new to me and I've been making novice mistakes with my bike throughout the course of my "training" on a daily basis. Couple that with a pretty down to the wire pre-ride schedule and then top it off a relatively nasty storm system had rolled in on Thursday night and was making zero indications of passing by. (Good new: powder skiing the morning before the trip!)

I was a bit of a wreck. 

But do I look it?

But do I look it?

From the start this trip has had an emphasis on flexibility. Rather that committing fully to "completing" a Colorado to New Jersey ride on a very tight schedule I instead decided I'd just go, see what happens, and if it becomes necessary, hitch hike in order to reach my destination in the time alotted. 

And so, after fighting the reality of this storm coupled with the difficult high elevation climbing and mountain passes  

I finally admitted that riding out from Vail, CO was not only unwise but unsafe.

And just that easily I had solved the problem and taken a lot of weight off my shoulders. Then, after consulting my trusty road map alongside the recent radar findings I decided to drive down (thanks Jeff!) to Buena Vista and begin my ride from that point forward. 

It proved to be an excellent idea as we were able to escape some very bad weather in Vail, drive up and over the pass and therefor avoid some dangerous conditions, come out the other side, and have mostly sunny skies and warm weather! 

We arrived in Buena Vista where I packed up my bike and began pedaling.  

Instantly, I was at ease. 

I was, once again, back in control, running the show, and out on my own with thousands of possibilities and a world to explore! 

I feel excellent and after having pedaled twenty miles or so came across a stunning and secluded campsite I simply could not pass up! 

Can you beat this place?! 

Can you beat this place?! 

Happy trails everyone! And stay adventurous! 

Switching Gears:

It’s been a while, folks!  In the words of Wendell Berry, “I never doubted that the world was more important to me than the literary world…” (Wendell Berry, A Native Hill, 1969).

Christmas with the Vail, CO family!

I make no apologies, for having been caught up living. Work, friends, snowboarding, and of course the mountains had (rightfully) taken precedence over my writing. In truth… in additional truths, my laptop threw in the towel; I took my time replacing it with a “new” refurbished unit, which also gave me a handful of problems and needed to be replaced as well. Only a few days ago did I finally get a working computer.

Regardless. I much prefer to live in the present and to make a few plans for the future.

This Spring I’ll be taking a bike ride from my current home in Vail, Colorado right on back to my childhood home outside of Clinton, New Jersey.*

Here’s the details.

Departing Date: April 20th
End Date: May 22nd
Days Available To Ride: 33 Days
Estimated Total Mileage: 2,400 miles
Required Miles Per Day: 73 miles per day

Concluding Thoughts: That there is a mighty aggressive schedule!


More details and thoughts to come shortly. I've still got a lot of prep and conditioning and not a whole lot of time to do it, but I'll be sure to fill ya'll in on some further details and thoughts on the trip!

I still need a name for this trip "The Little Bike Trip That Could" just seems a bit too long-winded. Leave a comment below with any suggestions!

* This is not entirely the truth. I’ll actually ride from Vail, Colorado to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania where I will attend our annual Klein family reunion, a favorite event of mine, and I will then take a ride back to my parents’ place after the weekend. Also, of relevant note, the last time I was able to attend the reunion was during my 2010 Appalachian Trail thru-hike in which I had walked all the way from Georgia for the event!