For Suzanne Brown and Shawn Von Biela, hitchhiking is not a thing of the past. While they do acknowledge its dying popularity in the United States, they have both done it — Brown in Italy; Von Biela in California — and they’re about to embark on their most ambitious hitchhiking endeavor yet. They’ve quit their jobs, and on June 28 they will set out for Alaska armed only with two backpacks, two cameras, two journals, and four thumbs.
To raise money for the trip, Brown has made arrangements with Dawn O’Brien, owner of the Mercury Lounge, to hold a fundraising show this Saturday at 8 p.m. Sprout, a local favorite and this year’s winner of Battle of the Bands, will headline. Other performances will be by local folk-soul four-piece group Howlin’ Woods, 18-year-old Sudanese local singer/songwriter/guitarist Ishmael, and San Diego band River City: all friends of Brown and Von Biela except the last. The $7 door charge will go directly to the duo and their trip.
“[O’Brien] is really supportive of our trip,” said Brown, a Portland native who has spent the most recent six of her 14 years in Santa Barbara working on and off at the Mercury Lounge. Von Biela, Santa Barbara resident of eight years, is finishing up his tenure at the Isla Vista Food Co-op.
The plan for the hitchhiking duo is more than just a travel adventure. “We both wanted to do a project, travel, and we’re both into photography,” said Brown. They will ultimately compile their stories and photographs into a book titled The Lost Art of Hitchhiking.
“Hitchhiking just doesn’t happen like it used to,” said Brown. “It’s still alive and well throughout the world, but not so much in this country. In the ’60s and ’70s, people did it all the time. But it’s not so much part of our culture these days.” Brown explained the dynamic qualities of hitchhiking — when she did it two years ago in Italy, she was alone. “It’s putting yourself out there, meeting strangers — there’s a lot to it.”
Their destination in Alaska is Anchorage, home of Von Biela’s sister. “He’s been there before; I haven’t,” said Brown, before adding, “It’s a good place to trek around once we’re there.”
In addition to money raised Saturday night and the kindness of motor vehicle-equipped strangers, the duo will rely on money raised from homemade postcards to get them to Alaska and back again. They made packs of them using their own photographs, and will sell them for $10 at the show and to friends.
Follow Brown and Von Biela on their hitchhiking adventure here.