I was apprehensive about hitch-hiking. On my departure from home, with skeleton plans and no car, my mother, who’s no whimp, asked me not to do it. Her words and the stories of Ivan Mirlat, ‘backpacker serial killer’ of the 1980s, nagged at the back of my mind. But I was traveling with Jurek Lubinski now. And hitch-hiking is his favourite sport. After hitching in places like Romania and Tajikistan, telling Jurek “hitch-hiking can be dangerous”, as we walked to our hitch-wiki suggested point of suburban Sydney, seemed a bit lame. We stuck out our thumbs at the side of a freeway entry ramp and within 5 minutes we were away!
I’m now more than 1700kms away from that first pickup point. And I’m hooked. It restores your faith in the goodness of people to find that a stranger would take the time out of their journey on route from one point of their life to another, to stop their vehicle, rearrange their cargo and welcome you inside without question. And then you find yourself in the sacred space of their car on the open road.
Even in just a short ride you can learn a lot about the person who’s been generous enough to stop for you. The inside of the car can give clues to the rest of their life, but more often than not, I leave surprised. Initial judgements can be so limiting. Like the bloke who got us to Gympie, a concreter who works all over Queensland. ‘Rough as’ I thought. But right at the end of the lift, I enquired about the baby’s car seat – “how old?” and his face soften as he spoke about his 8 month old daughter with Downs Syndrome.
Names don’t matter on a hitching lift. It’s about places. “Where are you from?” “Where are you headed?” The driver sets the mood of the ride. Maybe they’re looking for a chat. Maybe they’ve got stories to share. Maybe they’d like to hear a story. Maybe they prefer silence. We even took a nap on one longer lift. A lift is very much a moment in ‘The Present’. Neither the hitchers or driver care about what’s come before and it’s unlikely there’ll be any follow-up after. This can create a safe place for the driver. Our lift to Marybourgh was a man in a flashy jeep on his way home from a school reunion in Tasmania to an empty home, as his wife had left him the week before. He didn’t want to talk about it too much, though the conversation would inevitably return to the subject. But picking us up put off being alone.
Sometimes hitching reveals characters of life to you that you couldn’t make up if you tried. Like our first lift in a truck that took us to Rockhampton: a seventh day adventist truckie choosing to be vegetarian to follow the diet of God. Lindsey asked me if I was religious, I carefully answered that I was trying to figure that out. He replied that I’d had better hurry up because Jesus is coming. Lindsey was nearing the end of his 12 hour driving day. He took our number down in his diary at the end of the lift. He likes to follow-up on where people land from time to time.
The generosity of thee driver can extend beyond the lift. Jenn invited us to camp in her backyard in Bellingen, which then became the flat under the house (after no shower for 3 days this was a huge luxury!); Tori invited us to WWOOF with her in construction of her earthship in Kyogle (which we later did); Dan shared his weed with us at a highway rest area 10 minutes after he picked us up on our way to Byron (we declined the offered puff from his carefully constructed bong); A Peruvian engineer drove us an extra half hour passed his destination to make sure we reached our Couchsurfing host before sunset, though he’d already driven 4 hours that day and was itching to get home; We were even given a $10 note each by a young Forster tradie, who was inspired by our rejection of the norm (“get yourselves some lunch”)! When you’re a hitch-hiker, the world seems full of givers.
Sticking my thumb out on the road-side feels like the definition of free: no set time frame, no set destination, open to where the universe may take us. On the longer waits on the road-side I feel myself pouring so much love into each passing car. I feel I’m brightening days, even when they don’t stop. I’m providing a little reminder that there could be another way…