“No one does that anymore”
“Oh, you should stand over there, you’ll get picked up quicker”
“I did 60,000 kilometers around Europe when I was young. I almost had that road fever and then I had to stop.”
The most remarkable experience I had Hitching across France this August was how much people wanted to share with me. I already have experience of being a person that people share with, as a private English teacher I find that I am often cast as a counselor discussing peoples day to day grievances. The difference between that experience and conversations on the road is that people came to me as if to confess their past lives as Hitchers. Every ride I got told me some personal story of sticking out their thumb in the hope of getting where they needed to go. Even people who couldn’t give me a ride would stop and tell me about their experience and give me their personal tips on how best to find a lift. The truth of course is that is that there is no tried and tested method bar a smiling face!
The stories slowly eeked out of every person I rode with. I discovered that it was the norm in the Netherlands for students to hitch home at the weekends, until the government introduced cheap (or free?) public transport for those in studying full time. I was told that I was far more likely to get a ride standing at the exit of the Petrol Station rather than lingering outside the cafe as people would not think twice about stopping for me and moments later, as I stood near the slip road that it was a hopeless location. I met a man who covered 60,000 Km and wrote a book on the subject (L’auto-stop Efficace). He couldn’t go on for fear of never being able to stop. He called it the ‘road fever’ and having done a mere 1,000 Km I can already understand his concern. When you ride as a Hitcher the road grips you. It is elating to see the landscape change, to cross mountain ranges, to be air-conditioned or blasted by the hot European summer through a window, and all for free.
But the cost, although what motivated my trip is not the only factor in hitching. There is an exchange involved, company even across languages. My french is poor but I still managed to share something with those drivers who picked me up that I was not able to converse freely with. Others picked my up out of kindness or obligation and hoped that god would go with me and that we might meet again “up there.” Others saw a fellow traveler or some mirage of their youth, now touting babies and partners and some modicum of control over previously fragile existences. Regardless, all this information was proffered with kindness and an abundance of “good luck” or “bon chance.” They say that no lunch is for free, meaning that even if you do not pay for something it may cost you in effort or charm or company. As a man who is time rich and money poor I have all these available to me in abundance and it is my pleasure to share them with others on the road.
My personal Journey took me from Barcelona to Montpellier (three cars) were I stayed with a friend of a friend, and collected a most heinous hangover. Montpellier to Antibes (five cars, one broken down), with knives in my eyes, where I stayed with a personal friend of mine. I was then collected by a another friend and taken to her fathers house near Aix-en-Provence (under construction) and most recently, from Aix to Samoëns (Three cars, one lorry). Now I am in the Alps and thinking of Paris. There is a fair chance I will get a ‘legitimate’ lift most of the way but I still need a place to stay. For once I do not have a friend to rely on. Maybe this is where the real travelling begins.
To Hitch is to live in hope. The uncertainty is a blessing that allows you to believe in every possibility. There is every chance that you will not make your chosen destination and every chance that you will and the only thing between those chances is if you are prepared to ask someone if they will give you a ride. Even if that means broken french or wide grins from behind your ragged piece of cardboard. I have felt the joy of the road and I will feel it again. I don’t have the fever yet, but give me half a chance…
You can check out darling James’ blog here.