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Hitchhiker writing 'The Kindness of America' is shot in Montana

June 11, 2012|By Matt Pearce | This post has been updated. Please see note at bottom for details.

The first rule of adventurous traveling: Things are almost never as bad as your mother thinks.

The second rule of adventurous traveling: The "almost never" exceptions can be pretty bad.

Further, if you’re writing a book called “The Kindness of America,” as hitchhiker Ray Dolin is, you might be tempting fate. Dolin learned this when a stranger shot him Saturday evening in rural Montana where Dolin was trying to hitch a ride.

Dolin, a 39-year-old from West Virginia, had been traveling across America to work on his book, a memoir, and was on a highway near the Bakken oil patch, authorities told the Associated Press.

"He was sitting down to have a little lunch, and this guy drives up,” Valley County Sheriff Glen Meier told the AP. “He thought he was going to give him a ride and as he approached the vehicle, the guy pulls out his weapon and shoots him. It's as simple as that.”

Dolin, 39, will live; he got hit in the arm and was being treated at Frances Mahon Deaconess Hospital in Glasgow, Mont.

Meanwhile, police told the AP, they tracked down a suspect about four hours later in Culbertson, Mont., and identified him as Lloyd Christopher Danielson III of Washington. He was arrested on suspicion of felony assault with a weapon and driving under the influence. Officials said he had a criminal record in Washington involving intimidation and assault.

"He [Ray Dolin] was on the way across the country taking pictures," his father, Melvin Dolin, told the Billings Gazette. He had left home in Julian, W.Va., last week and taken the bus to Montana and planned to find his way to Washington from there, his father told the Billings Gazette. "He was going to make up his mind as he travelled along. But he didn't get that far."

Ray Dolin wasn’t available for comment, so there’s no word on how getting shot will affect his book project.

Hitchhiking is still a popular form of transportation the world over, though its increased regulation across the U.S. suggests, anecdotally, that it’s gotten less popular here since the days of Tom Joad and Jack Kerouac.

A 1974 study by the California Highway Patrol (perhaps too old to mean much today, but interesting nonetheless) found that hitchhikers were more than twice as likely to be the victim of a crime than to perpetrate one.

High-profile, alarmist reports of crimes against hitchhikers — ahem, such as the report you’re reading now — could be one way to explain the decline of hitchhiking.

“There seems little doubt that hitch-hiking in Britain and other countries in western Europe, not to mention the United States, has declined since the late 1960s or early 1970s,” sociologists Graeme Chesters and David Smith wrote in a 2001 article titled “The Neglected Art of Hitchhiking: Risk, Trust and Sustainability.”

“Journalistic accounts tend to explain this with reference either to cheaper public transport (which is doubtful, since coach journeys were cheap in the 1960s) or to particular high-profile cases in which hitch-hikers (not drivers) were murdered; and no doubt such cases have contributed to a sense of heightened risk.”

But if there’s a lot of fear about hitchhiking in the U.S., Americans have embraced the similar concept of couch-surfing without much fussing, enabled by social-media sites that allow strangers to link up and share a spare bed or couch, usually without getting murdered.

That might be the kind of kindness Dolin wanted to write about. Here’s to hoping he finds it when he gets out of the hospital.

[Updated, 12:20 p.m. June 15: Ray Dolin later admitted to lying about the incident, telling authorities he shot himself, the Associated Press reported. Full details here.]

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