The Way Is The Goal

Category: Hitchhiking (Page 2 of 4)

Somewhere in Portugal

Hundred-and-fifty people and amazing fun in Paris two years ago, just over a hundred in Odesa last year (a lot harder to get to, see video) and non-stop hitching adventures. The ones gathered are hitchhikers, first-timers and hardcore travelers. Nice reunions of friends and contacts, of people who share-alike.

Both times I helped (un)organising the events. And this year again I do my part, setting up the website hitchgathering.org and helping out with communications and outreach.

I am not so much of a scouter and both last years the location of where to meet was pretty much left to the last minute, literally. And again for this year, we have no clue yet where to meet, except for “somewhere” in Portugal. Fantastic, and perfectly alligned with a hitchhiking attitude.

It ain’t easy for people to embark on quite a big trip to Portugal if they never hitched before, and especially if people have to hitch through Spain (which can be a bit of an adventure). So there is a challenge for many of us to inspire and motivate them.

Travel Without Papers

What’s the single most important thing to bring when traveling – except your sense of humour and (not) knowing where you’re going? A passport, right? Now that’s what I forgot before going to Berlin to attend a pre-meeting for the 2010 edition of the European Hitchgathering.

I traveled in Europe without identification before and was hold at the French-Spanish border (“open borders?”) while the border-officials were checking my story (which they couldn’t – but I got released anyhow). So I know traveling without papers can be done.

But Germany is another challenge. The highways are filled with German cops and they pull over anyone that looks suspicious: a foreign license-plate, an interesting looking cargo or your profile. And if you’re with no papers, you are asking to be taken in.

Traveling from The Netherlands makes you suspicious, for no other reason than that. So, when we drove across the border I was unthrilled to see dozens of police. One officer stood in front of us. A look into the car, a break of two seconds… and we were cleared. Sigh, take a breath.

We drive through and laugh. The price of the car, a German numberplate and the fact it had a female driver, might have helped.

Though danger wasn’t over yet! She drops me at a small parking-lot just before Osnabruck. It is cold and few cars. An hour passes when a police car enters the parking and drives slowly into my direction, holding still at 70 meters. I hold my breath and then think of the story I would make up, knowing that German police often interrogates hitchhikers and do check papers, when just then another driver opens its window, offering me a 350 km ride.

Home Sweet Roads

Ever since leaving Amsterdam to the 789 hitchhiking festival in the Ukraine, I didn’t stop traveling and I hitched around 8000 kilometer. I was ready for a new adventure though and wanted to give HitchBiking a try, not with a foldable bike but with the new mountain-bike that I was given in Barcelona.

My goal was to arrive in Antwerpen within 2 days, and after a short stay, to bike the last 160 kilometers to Amsterdam. The first two rides were perfect and I got close to the border with France at around six in the evening, leaving Barcelona at two in the afternoon.

So why not bike across the border, as I was on a not-so-good hitch-spot anyway? I assembled the bike, got the wheels together, the seat back up and my bags on the new bike-rack, that I had bought especially for this purpose. Just 20 meters on the road, the unfortunate happened. I was in shock looking at the front wheel axle split in two.

F***

What else to do then dump it right there and stick up the thumb again? It felt like abandoning ship but some hours later I was way into France -  tired and cold as the temperature had dropped almost 15 degrees since Barcelona. I waited 20 minutes for my Moroccan savior. He picked me up, gave me a place to sleep and fed me with breakfast before putting me back on the highway the next morning.

Three rides later I was 1000 kilometers further, on the ring of Brussels, in the middle of the highway; cars passing by in the dark with 120 kilometers an hour. It was cold and rainy. As Antwerpen was just 35 kilometers further all I could do was think back to my bike. It was as if my bike was telling me: if you leave me on the side of the road… please, enjoy my sweet revenge…

But my legs were not as broken as the bike wheels. After inner consultations, I headed back some kilometers towards the airport where I  got quickly picked up to receive a home-delivery. The nice coincidence? The driver, from the Basque countries, studied and lived in the same small city as I did in England, and we even slept in the same dorm…

Starday (the name of the bike), I do miss you.

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