I have always had a romanticised view of hitch hiking. It embodies so well a sense of freedom, a calculated carelessness, an unshakable trust in the kindness of strangers and an uncompromising desire to move forward.
It’s an exercise in optimism as you pick a direction, a goal, and little by little move towards it. It can be a daunting task to maintain any optimism as car after car passes you by; all while a storm menacingly approaches the patch of road you have been helplessly stranded on. But that sinking feeling is instantly alleviated and replaced by an overwhelming sense of relief, and happiness, as you watch that same patch of road disappear from the rear vision mirror of your next ride.
I had done a little bit of hitchhiking before but always with another person, and never really ventured too far. I’d always wanted to try it solo I wanted to test myself and how I would react in the unpredictability of a journey facilitated by people I hadn’t met yet.
I was staying in Sydney and I needed to be back in Brisbane some 920kms away, so I thought it was as good an opportunity as any to attempt my first solo hitch-hike. My one rule was once I reached my starting point I did not want to spend any money. I had a couple of big bottles of water, a sleeping bag and a can of tuna so if I needed anything else, food or shelter I was going to have to either be offered it or find it. It was an intimidating but exciting thought, though I didn’t really know if I was ready for this adventure.
Realising it might be difficult to go directly from Sydney’s CBD I hoped on a train heading north. I got out at Hexham station situated right next to the pacific highway that connects both cities.
As I made my way toward the side of the road I noticed some pretty ominous clouds in the distance. “Great” I thought. A few people stopped but they were heading the opposite direction. I was still hopeful, but judging by how close those clouds were I wouldn’t have much time to find a ride. It began to rain lightly and I was desperate to get somewhere with at least some shelter.
Finally a man pulled over offering to take me 60kms north to a truck stop I agreed and jumped in. As we drove off the rain started pouring the sun was also fast disappearing and the man offered me his couch, suggesting that I try again the following day. I was slightly disappointed in how little distance I had covered but was thankful none the less.
The man fed me and gave me a place to keep warm and dry. I was beyond appreciative and I started to believe I could actually do this. He dropped me off at the truck stop at around 6:30am in the morning. It wasn’t until 11:45am that an older concerned looking couple was kind enough to pick me up. They took me down the highway a few kilometres and left me in a stopping bay. At least I was facing traffic going the right direction.
I only stood there for about 20 minutes before a Frenchman picked me up. He had begun his tour around Australia and was keen to practice his English. He drove me about 240kms before heading off to find a place to camp for the night.
It was mid-afternoon and I was committed to getting to Byron bay by the end of the night, even if it meant hitch hiking at night time. A few people stopped but were not traveling very far. Eventually I was picked up by a man who would be by far the most interesting person I’d meet on my journey back to Brisbane.
The first thing I noticed as I entered the van was a police scanner displayed proudly on the dashboard, as well as countless wires coming out of every single corner of the van. He was heading to a town just south of Brisbane and Byron Bay was on his way, so he agreed to take me there.
The near 7 hour journey was eventful to say the least, with numerous stops, and detours, near crashes in his clearly un- roadworthy van. We stopped to fix a petrol leak, malfunctioning windscreen wipers, along with a number of gas and food stops.
On the way the man explained he had been kicked out of South Australia by family services, he told me about his extensive criminal record but assured me he had “no violent charges”. His insanity was only more and more apparent as the journey continued.
He began to fall asleep at the wheel and I was forced to make conversation to keep him awake for the last two hours of the drive. The topics of discussion ranged from a computer program that was after his license, to how he wanted to teach his children the art of map reading. Finally arrived at a friend’s house in Byron Bay around 10pm, I was glad to see his tail lights disappear around the corner.
Despite being quite obviously insane he seemed to have a good heart for at least the majority of the time and I was still grateful for his help.
The following morning I awoke and after a quick swim in the ocean walked off towards the road again. I waited about an hour before a French couple took me the rest of the way to Brisbane.
I couldn’t believe I had made it, the journey took almost exactly 48 hours, traveling over 920kms, spending $8.80 on a train ticket, and meeting 9 other people on their own journeys through life.
I have to admit there were times when I wish I had just gotten a plane home. By the end I was hungry, dehydrated, dirty and above all exhausted, but I wasn’t unhappy. It felt like the most natural way to travel, walking down the road into uncertainty, with my thumb to the side, I was free.
There is a catharsis in getting lost in not knowing what to do, to live a moment that has not been lived yet. It is so easy to become a victim of expectation by taking the travelled route. Every now and then we stumble across the road less travelled and it expands our entire perspective on the possibility of beauty and happiness in this world.
I find that you never really discover anything from arriving at a destination, except for what it looks like, it’s how you get there that defines the journey.
“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” – Alain de Botton
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