For no particular reason, I was recently reflecting on my hitch-hiking experiences of the distant past.
I was of course, brought up ‘never, NEVER, to accept a lift from a stranger.’ Not bad advice by any stretch of the imagination. But what is it about parents who tell you not to do things that everyone else seems to do? You just have to try it.
I went youth-hostelling a couple of times with a friend and – although we weren’t hitching – it didn’t stop us being offered lifts. Not surprising really. From behind we were two tall slim, young women, one fair, one dark. Catered for most tastes. We were in our mid-teens. I refused all the lifts, saying I wanted to walk – which was true. My friend would have accepted, but hey, she spent most of one night with the youth hostel warden. Nor do I mean the evening, I mean after we came back from the pub post 11pm. And my father thought girls were safe in youth hostels with wardens to look after them?
But when I went camping in France with another friend – and her family – I figured a lift from the top of the camp site to the bottom would do no harm. It seemed a safe environment. So we jumped in and nothing happened. I felt very guilty though. Can’t even remember if I confessed my terrible sin to my parents. It would have been pretty stupid, but there again I was naive so I may well have done.
Next up was a few years later and I was a little braver. I was on a course from university in the Lake District. Being an early riser, I had skipped out of bed for a walk, and then decided I might as well wander into town and buy a newspaper. Which I did. But it took longer than I had planned and I didn’t want to miss breakfast. So when some guy in a van stopped to offer me a lift I jumped right in. He dropped me off, good as gold, where we were staying in some class Wordsworth-type place, and I flourished my paper and my story of somewhat risky behaviour. I gained some street cred I suspect.
After that I left the risk-taking alone for some time until I went to Australia. This is a big place for those of you who don’t know it. My travelling companion and I decided to eke out our funds by hitching from Sydney to Melbourne. We got a train from central Sydney to the furthest suburb and hit the main road. Sadly, it wasn’t the friend from the youth-hostelling days, this one was shorter and fatter – which does not guarantee the same level of offers of lifts.
I was getting to the point of suggesting she jump in the ditch (which is classic hitching advice because people think there is only one person to pick up, whatever that might signify) and someone stopped. We hopped in merrily and eventually – hours later – approached Melbourne as dawn came. It was a beautiful sight. I’ve still got the memory of that wonderful Australian sunrise, the open fields, the trees, and the grazing horses.
My mate had snaffled the dog box while I had spent all night in the passenger seat. My legs ached and I needed to stretch them. It was a good lift though, and he was a nice truckie.
From Melbourne, we went onto Tasmania, and stayed at Launceston. The following morning we set off south and decided to hitch out. The first guy who stopped, gave us both a bad feeling and we passed up the lift. Eventually we accepted a lift from someone who ‘looked ok’ whatever that may mean.
Looks are not everything however. He decided to take us sight-seeing. But we didn’t want to go sight-seeing. Especially down some deserted road in the middle of nowhere in Tasmania. ‘We want to go back to the main road, thank you, and get to Hobart.’ We argued on these lines for some time. My mate of course had nicked the back seat so I was stuck in the front with Mr Sight-Seer. I was considering how feasible it was to jump out of a moving car when he finally agreed to our demands to take us back to the main road. We told him to stop, and we got out. Talk about taking a deep breath.
We then got a good lift from some ‘hippy-looking’ types in an old V-dub sort of thing. I was wary about this lot after the last experience, but mate decided they were ok, so we jumped in the back. And they were nice. I should add that I was brought up to avoid drop-out hippy types who were always the depths of society and not to be trusted. Unlike reasonable looking middle-aged men. Ha!
We survived Tasmania, and with youth, optimism, and folly, we decided to hitch back from Melbourne to Sydney for the return leg. Got a decent truck lift as usual. As he wasn’t going right up to Sydney he said he would meet his mate and we could swap over. It seemed he needed to meet his mate in some obscure forest glade. What’s wrong with your average truck stop? If I had been wetting myself in Tasmania – this was something else again. How do you jump out of a huge truck in the middle of the bush? You don’t. Well we didn’t. And, we met his mate, swapped over, and got to Sydney. Phew gets nowhere near the mark.
Of course, hitching with a man is different, isn’t it? So once I hooked up with my partner in Sydney and cast off the short fat mate, we gaily set off down to Melbourne (can’t even remember why – wanted a cheap holiday probably). I don’t remember most of the lifts but the one I do remember is the guy who proudly proclaimed he didn’t have a roadworthy certificate on his vehicle. OMG I thought, it’s going to fall apart with us inside and we’ll be killed in a crash. What was even worse was the fact that he decided he absolutely MUST overtake every car in front of him, regardless of what was coming the other way.
At one point we stopped at some lights and we said this would be a great place to leave. Jumped out, grabbed the rucksacks out of the boot, and ran. He seemed totally loopy. Only later did my partner realise very sadly, that he had left his genuine Aussie bush hat in the back seat. I still hear about it to this day.
There were a couple of good lifts around Healesville and Marysville though. Someone stopped for us and we discussed walking. He dropped us off in the national park and pointed up the hill and said we would enjoy it. Of course, in the middle of summer with huge rucksacks, that’s great. Hiking uphill through the bush. In the heat of the Aussie sun. We didn’t have much choice so we took the route he pointed out.
Down the other side, we got a lift into Marysville. Don’t think there was much traffic there in those days. We got the same lift out the next day, but we avoided the scenic walk that time around.
I’d almost forgotten the time when I was still freaked out about lifts and someone offered us a lift in Tenerife. We were staying at some camp site near nothing apart from banana plantations and we were waiting for the bus. I refused to get in. The driver looked surprised and puzzled, and my partner shrugged his shoulders and said ‘She doesn’t want.’
After that, hitching took a back seat, so to speak. When we were discussing it the other night, I said I would never do it again. And then remembered in my late 30s I went on a work trip to NZ. The place I was staying at was not quite as near the main highway as it purported to be so I began the long trudge into town. Lo and behold, someone stopped for me. And what did I do? Yeah, I got in.
That really was the last time though wasn’t it? I said to my partner. ‘What about the time you were walking into town a few years ago and it started raining?’
Ah, yes. ‘But he looked a nice guy, he was German anyway, and people do that sort of thing where we live in Spain….’
To be honest, I actually wasn’t worried. I thought he was stopping to offer me a lift because it was raining. Which is reasonable. He was.
Don’t do as I do or as I did, do as I say. I wouldn’t do it these days. Honest. Well, unless it was raining and I didn’t have a waterproof .. and .. and .. and