Hitchhiking certainly is a punter’s game. However, despite what your mum may have lead you to believe, success in this craft boils down to more than just foolish fortuity.
A Brief Introduction:
The first time I ever hitch hiked was in Whistler, Canada. My Swiss friend Cami, who is a bit of a nutcase and a hitchhiking veteran, talked me into it. We stuck our thumbs out, holding our little sign saying “Vancouver” and were picked up in under ten seconds. From that point on, I was an addict. In early January this year two other friends and I hitch hiked over 1500km through British Colombia and Alberta (Canada).
The first step in hitchhiking is the most nerve- jolting. Standing by the side of the road with car after car driving unflinchingly past can make you feel like a hippie idiot. It’s not until that first God- sent driver skids to a breathtaking halt beside you, that the intoxicating nature of this game first hits you…
Hitchhiking makes you happy. As you swing your backpack into the ute-tray and climb up into the passenger’s seat, your body will be just as adrenaline riddled as an amateur bullfighter’s. It’s practically an extreme sport, without the requirement that you jump out of a plane. You’ve hit the jackpot.
This perspective from cloud nine takes the pressure off phase two of the game: becoming fast friends with the driver. However, this is also the most valuable experience, as the people you meet hitchhiking tend to be the type who love nothing better than a good yarn, and a good laugh. The very fact that the driver initiates the connection in picking you up makes it likely that they are interested in talking to you too. Hitchhiking stories seemed to be particular crowd pleasers! Most of our drivers were outgoing, laid back and chatty, the perfect companions to chatter away the miles with.
We met some wonderfully colourful characters, who shared with us their equally fascinating stories. An Excerpt From the Road:
We met a Kiwi girl around Banff called Clare. She told us about her time driving around Australia in 2011, during the infamous floods. Around Halls Creek, in Northern Western Australia she and her friend found themselves trapped, locked in by floods cutting off the road behind them and about 200km in front. They ended up being trapped in this region for six weeks, eating with truckies in the same situation. Towards the end of the six weeks they were even forced to drive out to local aboriginal tribes and ask them for food. When rations got really low they used the last of their petrol to drive to the tiny airport at Halls Creek. With no money left for a ticket, the happy- go- lucky duo traipsed out onto the runway and stuck their thumbs out. Six hours later and they were bouncing around with some crates of apples in the back of an old freight plane en route to Darwin. “The car is probably still in Hall’s Creek”, Clare thought.
Another favourite character we met was an old lady called Dorothy. Her friend Louise was driving her to Calgary for an eye exam, and they picked us up just outside the picturesque town of Canmore. At first Dorothy talked about her numerous volunteer activities, which this week had included re-stocking the free condoms at health clinics. She followed that up by bluntly conceding, “But, oh I really don’t see the point, I’m sure nobody would actually use them”. We asked her why not, and she told us they needed scissors to open them. “I don’t know about you, but in the heat of the moment there’s no way I’ll be bothering to look for a pair of scissors!”
Sealing the Deal:
The final manoeuvre to negotiate in hitchhiking is the drop off. Sometimes you will get lucky and your driver will take you straight from A to B. No worries, no stops and no request you pitch in for petrol money (actually this never happened; all our rides through Canada were on the house). Other times though, arriving at your destination will take multiple rides. This can be both good and bad: it gives you the opportunity to meet many new personalities, but can also be exhausting. When it’s your fourth ride of the day and it’s getting dark and you’re starving, sometimes you just cannot summon the energy to make any more conversation.
The other major problem in the drop off is when drivers want to leave you in the middle of the highway. Usually this is because they figure that since heaps of cars here are traveling in the direction you want to go, that one of them will surely pick you up. However when they are literally flying past you, with no time to see you and nowhere to pull over safely, it feels much more likely that they will run you over rather than help you out. Just put your foot down and explain this to your driver and they should understand and drop you somewhere more appropriate.
Playing it Smart:
There are times when your luck runs dry before you even play a hand. Big cities for example, are easy to hitch a ride in to but incredibly tricky to hitch out of. Generally you have to walk for hours to find the perfect spot before a freeway entrance. After waiting for three hours by the road out of Calgary we gave up and booked a bus.
Many people choose to use a sign when hitchhiking, but I wouldn’t advise it. Going with the flow is what travel is all about, and with no fixed location you’ll find yourself in a perfect situation to do just that. It is also a safer option, a chance to redeem yourself in the eyes of your parents when you tell them about your haphazard undertakings: by not broadcasting your itinerary to the world, you have the chance to create an excuse for dodgy- looking drivers. Trust your instincts, because when it’s all said and done, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
A Risk Worth Taking:
In saying this, hitchhiking success comes down to embracing the journey and not worrying too much about the destination. Shed your poker face and connect with your companions. We met so many totally unique personalities in our travels. A surf instructor, a chairlift constructor, a famous aboriginal rights activist, two marijuana growers (on separate occasions) and we climbed the Rockies in a Mack truck that was towing another Mack truck (the slowest, but one of the most beautiful journeys of my life). Hitchhiking is living and like all the best things about living it can’t be scripted. Embrace the spontaneity. Once the chips are in you’ll be left with the true jackpot- of experiences, adventures and eye-opening connections.