The story of my first hitchhiking experience;
Early one Saturday morning during the tale end of an Indian summer I decided to set off. I had 4 days off work and with it came a great sense of freedom. The only thing I had to commit to was the need to be back home and ready for work in 96 hours time. And it felt gooood!
I never have trouble getting up early. In fact to any of my mates who've had the pleasure of waking up with me after a night out, its somewhat of an inconvenience! But I'd managed to sleep until 9am this morning. An achievement in lieing in! I made a plan from my pillow. Pack up, walk out of my apartment and aim for Canterbury. I had a good friend who lived there who I hadn't seen in a while.
My pack consisted of very little. One change of clothes, a travel towel, sleeping bag and a brand new bivvi bag in case I had to sleep rough anywhere. A few chocolate bars and a litre of water were thrown in for good measure and I was off.
My first 'pick-up' wasn't your typical hitchhiking procedure. I didn't even have the chance to hold out my sign! I'd walked the 2 miles to the edge of town and had drank nearly half of my water! I blame the late summers heat but I think if I'm honest it was a reflection on how unfit I was. I sat down and lent against a garden fence, triumphantly withdrawing my sharpie marker like a brave warrior preparing for battle. I'd only managed to outline 'Peas' in my best bubble graffiti (intending on completing 'Pease Pottage' but realising it wouldn't all fit on the page!) when the lady who owned the garden fence popped her head round the corner;
"Need a lift?" She asked, obviously catching sight of the letters I'd scribbled on the page.
"Please!" I replied eagerly. Surprised and kind of disappointed I didn't have to finish my masterpiece.
It was all very pleasant. I helped load her kids' bag in to the boot of the car and broke one of the rules of hitchhiking, 'Always travel alongside your bag', by chucking mine in with it. I clambered in to the passenger seat and waited patiently while the lady strapped her kid in to the car seat.
We agreed that she'd drop me off at the services a mere 4 miles away, but I was happy! The services was the 'hitchhiking hub' in my eyes and a sure thing for the next pickup. We exchanged chit-chat until we pulled in to the car park, I grabbed my bag out of the boot, and she wished me good luck. How easy was that? My first experience of hitchhiking had gone without a hitch (excuse the pun).
I made it as far as Dettling Hill, 40 miles in an hour. I'd struggle to do that journey in that time if I was driving! I've probably got Neil to thank for that who picked me up and drove at 110 mph up the motorway while telling me about his very interesting Yurt rental company. He lived in a converted horse box but had the VW Golf we were in for business meetings etc.
Then it struck ... I think every hitchhiker must go through this process at some point in their hitching career, and I'll bet on more than one occasion. I called it The Wait. 3 hours of standing on the same road, holding your sign out, with no success. It is soul destroying. I lost all faith in humanity. Convinced myself that the world we live in was occupied by selfish, arrogant people. I don't know why I felt this way. I was asking people to sacrifice their time and petrol to give me a lift. For nothing in return! At the time it felt like there was no good in the world.
This thought was bolstered when a van pulled over about 50 metres up the road. I grabbed my bag and ran hurriedly along the road towards my new lift. The sense of relief, belief, I don't know what it was? Elation? I felt like I could cry and was preparing my thank you speech as I ran up to the back of the van. Just as I got alongside the passenger door and reached for the handle the van sped away. Cackles of laughter trailing in the wind behind it. A prank. One that hurt.
"Let's walk!" I proclaimed. Somehow it was as if I was getting one over on all of the cars that passed. I didn't need them. I still held my sign out though. Sheepishly, but it was there. I hadn't gone far when I stopped to pick some blackberries at the side of the road. I worried for a second how much exhaust fumes had coated the berries but they tasted too good not to eat. I felt like Ray Mears! Still disheartened though.
A big artic truck pulled in to the lay by roughly 200 meters up the road and I thought nothing of it. I didn't have my hand or sign out and was quite enjoying choosing the biggest, juiciest berries to eat. A shout came from up the road, towards the truck. The driver had got out and was waving and hollering. I walked normally up to the cab, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of watching me run, only to speed off like the van driver.
"Tibor! You need lift?" said the driver holding his hand out. He had a thick eastern european accent. Lithuanian if I was to go by the 'LT' on the numberplate.
I caught 2 more lifts and was dropped off at my friends doorstep! The 70 mile trip took only 5 hours. My belief in human kind had been restored and I'd arrived to brilliant sunshine and the cobbled streets of Canterbury. I knew it worked. Hitchhiking had been an adventure, different. But I now knew it was possible for someone to thumb a lift in this day and age. I arrived in Canterbury with several sheets of road names places and directions as well as wanting more.
The next day my friend gave me a lift out to a suitable service station. I cradled a hangover as I wrote out my first sign, immediately hitting The Wait and sat for 2 hours. I'd set my sights on going to Brands Hatch race track to meet 4 of my friends for the second day of superbike racing. With no lift and a banging headache I'd settle for a lift home! The 30 miles to Brands took all day. Long waits and spots of rain made the hangover worse. I walked for 10 miles texting my friends updates on how long I thought I'd be until an old man with his car filled with furniture picked me up. We drove with my seat too far forward and I had to hold a chair steady but the discomfort was all made up for driving 15 miles up a hill.
My friends had miraculously managed to hold back a ticket stub from the Marshall's on their way in so I didn't have to pay. I used the entrance money I'd saved to buy a round of drinks that night and I slept under the stars in my bivvi bag much to the neighbours surprise. (It looks as if your sleeping on the grass with just a sleeping bag. In fact its like a mini tent and very warm!)
The racing at brands the next day was top class. I chilled, drank beer, took pictures and was generally pleased with life. I'd travelled over 100 miles on others peoples good will. I was amazed at how it could be so easy one minute and so hard the next. Next time I know I'll have to get in to the hitchhiking mindset before setting out. Because there will be a next time. It was awesome!
Have you ever hitchhiked? Or picked a hitchhiker up? Let me know your experience and any tips to bring The Wait down!