Article as appeared in the Miami News June 15, 1979

Preparing to hitchhike
“Hitchhiking, you can’t afford taking a bus, people think; so you’re either a bum or a low-life - that’s the attitude”

Key West to Alaska: not without a hitch

No man is an island, entire of itself:
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main…

- John Donne

Ilmar Island in Miami before starting his project to hitchhike from Key West to Fairbanks

Bill Brubaker
Miami News Reporter

Ilmar Island, on the road to Alaska
Photograph courtesy of Lasandro Demartino

This man is an Island - Ilmar Island to be precise. And he is, to his own way of thinking, entire of himself, even though assuredly the continent is very much a part of who he is right now.

Back on May 26, 1977, a toy designer from Queens, N.Y., made global headlines when he climbed the 1,350 foot South Tower of Manhattan’s World Trade Center.

That same day, a thousand miles to the south, 24 year-old Ilmar Island was thinking to himself in Pompano Beach: “Gee, man, why didn’t I think of doing that? Now, what can I do? Hmmm… Yes, got it! I’ll hitchhike from Key West to Alaska and I’ll do it super fast.”

Island had thumbed rides before, plenty of them. As a teenager, he had hitched from Pompano Beach to Alaska, but with no idea of trying to establish a record. This time, Island vowed to keep a detailed log of his journey to submit to the “Guinness Book of World Records.”

Island reasoned that if Guinness could recognize (as it has) a man who hitched across the 48 continental states in 14 days, four hours, 42 minutes and five seconds, it certainly would grant immortality to a fella who thumbed from the southernmost city in the United States to the northernmost, a distance of some 5,200 miles.

In short, with apologies to John Donne, he wanted to prove that no man is any better at hitchhiking than an Island.

“The problem was, I could never find time to do it,” he said. Born in Venezuela, but a U.S. citizen since 1960, he served in the Air Force, then got a job in Pompano Beach as an electronic technician. “That was a temporary job, which was supposed to end in June,” he recalled. “I left instead in the middle of May. To get ready.”

Island wrote the Guinness people at their London headquarters, apprising them of his intentions.

“They told me they’d give me consideration,” Island said. “They said I’d need proof that I did it, so they recommended that I keep the log. I decided to ask every person who’d give me a ride to write his name and address in the log.”

He even asked Key West mayor Charles “Sonny” McCoy to record the start of the hitchhike by signing the log. McCoy signed it at 7:38 a.m. on Saturday, June 2. which happened to be Island’s 24th birthday. And he gave the adventurer a letter of greetings to present to the mayor of Fairbanks.

Island waved goodby to the mayor, then stood on U.S. 1, holding up a yellow aluminum sign stenciled with “ALASKA” and a picture of a hand, thumb extended.

A Fort Lauderdale bound couple picked him up at 7:55 a.m. and drove him to the entrance to the Florida Turnpike, south of Homestead. He was off and hitching north to Alaska.

His goal was to reach Fairbanks within a week, thumbing mostly on Interstate routes, carrying a backpack containing $500 in traveler’s checks, three changes of clothes (bluejeans, black turtleneck sweaters, jacket), teargas, toiletries (“everything but the bathroom sink”), a sleeping bag, knife, CB radio, camera, film and the all-important log.

The CB radio? That was so he could beg rides from truck drivers when the highways got lonely. (“My handle is Easy Rider,” he said. “It just seems to go with what I am doing.”)

His route took him Florida through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio. Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatachewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon Territory to Alaska.

“I got rides as far as Lake City, in north Florida, without any problems.” Island recalled. “When I got to Lake City, I got on the CB at a rest area and asked for a northbounder. Nobody answered, so I stated that I was hitching and I would appreciate someone giving me a ride. It worked. A guy picked me up and took me all the way to Ringo, Ga. He dropped me off in Ringo at 3 o’clock in the morning. It was raining and I didn’t manage to get out of Ringo until about 6.”

He made it to Louisville by midday, but nobody seemed interested in giving him a ride on from there.

“I got on my CB, but the truckers would only harass me,” he said. “They told me that if I could afford to buy a CB, I could afford a bus ticket.”

For five hours, nothing. When he finally did get a lift, he thought the worst was over. It wasn’t.

“I got into Chicago at 11 at night and didn’t get a ride until 5 in the morning,” he said. “It was basically truck traffic. I guess people around that area just don’t like giving rides. I tried everything. Going to the truckstops. asking for rides. Going on the highway. Talking to people in person. Talking to people over the air. But nobody was going my way.”

“I’ve found that people are more reluctant than they used to be to give rides. It’s a sign of the times, I guess. It’s the whole attitude toward hitchhiking. If you’re hitchhiking, you can’t afford taking a bus, people think: so you’re either a bum or a lowlife. That’s the attitude.”

From Chicago he hitched through Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Fargo, N.D. Three days out of Key West, he thumbed into Canada, ahead of schedule.

“I got my longest single ride in Winnipeg,” he said. “The guy took me all the way to Edmonton (a distance of 825 miles). I found it was easier to hitch in Canada. They don’t have the same attitude about hitchers as Americans do. A lot of times in Canada I’d stop to eat with people who picked me up, and they wouldn’t even let me see the check. I insisted on paying for my meal, but they wouldn’t hear of it.”

From Edmonton, he hitched to Dawson Creek, in British Columbia. “I was stuck there for two hours before I got a ride,” he said. “It was raining and 35 or 40 degrees. My pants were raindrenched and my feet and shoes were saturated with water.”

Another ride took him to Fort Nelson, on the Alaskan Highway, in northeastern British Columbia.

He averaged four hours of sleep a I night - “in cars and trucks, where else?” - but said he didn’t complain. What's the use of complaining on the Alaskan Highway, anyhow?

He rode with the man in the van for 720 miles, until they reached White Horse, in the Yukon Territory.

Five days had passed.

Finally he thumbed across the Yukon/Alaska border. At Tok Junction, a settlement 200 miles southeast of Fairbanks, he met two young women who were planning to hitch their way downward through the continental U.S. “I wished them luck and gave them my tear gas,” Island said. “I told them, ‘You’ll need this more I will.’”

He reached Fairbanks at 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 7 (4:30 a.m., Friday, Miami time). The skies were sunny (it is light all night this time of the year) and so was his disposition.

He had hitched from Key West to Fairbanks in five days, 20 hours and 52 minutes.

The 5,200 mile journey cost him $30, he says.

“When I arrived in Fairbanks. the mayor’s office was closed, of course, so I went to the police station, to get somebody to sign my log,” Island said. “A Sgt. J.B. Carnahan signed my log and had a notary seal from the police station put on it. The next day, I went to the mayor’s office.”

Mayor William Wood was out of town - attending a conference in Thailand, in fact - so acting mayor Joseph Marshall welcomed Island.

“He gave me a little medallion that says on it: ‘The City of Fairbanks. Alaska. Incorporated on Nov. 10. 1903,’” Island said. “It must be a medallion to the city. I guess they don’t have any keys to the city. If they do, I didn’t get one.”

Ilmar Island, transcontinental hitchhiker, plans to send his log to the “Guinness Book of World Records” people within a few days.

So what are his chances of attaining immortality within their pages?

“I don’t think his achievement is earth-shattering, but what is earth-shattering today?” hard-to-impress Guinness associate American editor Steve Morgenstern said. “To get into our book, it’s much easier if you break an existing record, rather than try to establish a new category.”

“But you say he did it in five days, huh? From Florida to Fairbanks? Well, that sounds good. When he sends us his log, we’ll examine it. And if we think it has a shot, we’ll forward it to our main editorial office in London. I don’t think it’s probable. But it’s not impossible.”

Island woke up in Fairbanks the other morning with another record-shattering idea.

“When I got up here, I found out there’s a road that’ll take you even further north than Fairbanks,” he said. “It’s a private road (open only to Alaska pipeline business) that goes to Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean. If I could get up there, I could hitch from the beginning of the northernmost road in the United States to the southernmost road.”

So he’s seeking the support of Alaskan truckers to hitch on the desolate Prudhoe Bay road.

“Hitching from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.” Island said, dreamily. “Kinda like that idea.”

“Yes, back to Key West. I want to give the mayor of Key West a bottle of Prudhoe Bay crude oil.”

Actual entry in the
1980 Guiness Book of World Records, page 466

"THUMBED FROM FLORIDA TO ALASKA: A young man named Ilmar Island of Pompano Beach, Florida, Hitchhiked from Key West, Florida, to Fairbanks, Alaska, a distance of about 5200 miles, setting out on June 2, 1979, and arriving at his destination on June 7, just 5 days 20 hours and 52 minutes later".