After 30,000 Kilometers Hitchhiked: The Top Three Lifts

“When I attended this hitchhiking convention,” Levi began, “we were asked a question: what were our top three lifts?” He waited for a moment, as though standing at a podium, speaking to his own imaginary crowd. “I couldn’t answer. I really don’t know. There’s been so many. They all just sort of blend together.””

This was an interesting point, and you found yourself faltering to answer as well. Had you really hitchhiked that much? That it had become commonplace?

30,000 kilometers is a lot. It’s 18,600 miles. If you drove to and from New York City and San Francisco, again and again, you would cross the United States six and a half times. In ideal traffic conditions, going 60-70 miles (100-120km) per hour, that’s 275 hours of being in transit. But who drives that fast everywhere? Needless to say, you spent those hours with total strangers. Stuff was bound to happen.

Simple.

Simple.

By most people’s standards you’ve hitchhiked a lot. There are, of course, people like Levi who re-define what a lot means; and there are people who go beyond that. They make their whole lives about it.

“There’s always a type,” Levi explained. “Couchsurfing is full of these types, too. There’s the low-budget traveler. There’s the extreme Couchsurfer. There’s the freegan. The hippie. The traditional backpacker. The monk. And there’s the hitchhiker.” Levi falls into so many of these categories, it seems silly to define them as singular types, but you realize he was referring (maybe enviously–who knows?) to some guy whose plan it was to hitchhike around the world.

“Literally around the world. Sure. He will travel through the world. But what will he see?” Levi said.

“A lot of highways and the inside of a lot of cars,” you replied, shrugging.

Boring. But not always.

Boring. But not always.

Though you nodded along, generally in agreement–because you hate sitting in cars–you couldn’t help but remember that it wasn’t about the things you see; it was all about the people you meet. And you have met exceptional people, by chance, on the side of a dusty road.

This is why you hitchhike. It forces you to connect with people. You struggle with being an anti-social extrovert. You’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to go out of her way to talk to someone unless it’s neccessary. Hitchhiking does this for you. So does traveling without a phone. You must ask.

But a point had come when hitchhiking lost its luster. Maybe traveling with Katie has done it to you; she’s not a fan, though she has no regrets. You really don’t mind it so much. But the newness of it is gone.

Because it can be pretty sucky sometimes.

Because it can be pretty sucky sometimes.

“I’m actually on a mission to re-discover hitchhiking,” Levi said. “So I’m traveling with people who’ve never really done it. I want feed on their energy when they get excited when a car pulls over. And I want to hear them talk about how cool it all is. I want that again.” This was sweet. Someone like Levi, through whom so many people live vicariously, was trying to living vicariously through others. The cyclical nature of things…

So someone like Levi, who has probably hitchhiked… well… jesus… who can even estimate? He cannot name his top three lifts anymore. It would be like naming the three best meals ever eaten, or the three most comfortable couches slept on. It all blurs together like one common, quality experience.

But you can! Is that proof that you have more thumbing to do? Dunno. It’s hard to determine what makes something “best.” Was it something you got from the driver? Was it the driver himself? Was it the freaky-scary luck involved? You rifled through faces, cars, highways, cities, and conversations. So many to remember.

Try it another way: which ones did you not want to forget? If you had to flush your memories like crumpled Post-it notes down a toilet–which ones would you hope float back up. Pop to the surface?

*     *     *

# 1 – May, 2011 – Destination: Marezige, Slovenia –

You were thumbing it with Manon in Slovenia. Manon, being French, was interested in checking out a local wine festival just outside of Koper, in the tiny town of Marezige, so in the direction you went. It didn’t take long.

A 65-year-old woman pulled her car over and told you to get in. Her name was Nida. She was vibrant, energetic, fearless, and hilarious. She spoke at lightning speed: “Normally I don’t bother to pick up hitchhikers. Let someone else do it. But then I saw you were going to Marezige, and I was so impressed! Who in the hell ever wants to go to Marezige? So I just had to take you!” She drove agressively and made inapprorpiate comments about “super brown people” and laughed and told you how she liked to go to the port on Fridays to abduct unsuspecting tourists for the weekend.

When she learned that you and Manon were there for the wine festival and that you planned to camp, she said, “Don’t be ridiculous! You will stay with me and my husband in our house. We will show you the wine festival.”

Who could say no to that? You smiled happily in the back seat and let her direct the car around winding country roads, uphill, to her village–then to her home, which was large and gated–stunning, with a view of the mountains and the sea. She parked the car next to a Porsche, and you are astonished. Everything about the house said luxury.

Her husband, greeted you on the patio wearing a suit. You were seated poolside, served champagne, and fed sausages--then led into the house and shown your sleeping quarters. The bedroom was beautifully decorated in blue and white, with a queen sized bed and an attached sun room.  Your hostess said, “Here is the bathroom, you can puke in this toilet, come home as late as you want, eat whatever you want.  Make all the noise that you want.  This is your house now.”

In the evening, they escorted you to the wine festival, an all-you-can-eat-and-drink event, with traditional live music and country dancing.  All the tables offered samples of local cakes, honeys, sausages, truffles, cherries, and more.  It all felt too perfect. Then they escorted you to a private party in the mansion of an ex-special-forces man who may or may not have been involved in some kind of weapons trade.  The mansion was swanky.  The place was full of girls, one who wore a tight red dress and poured you free whiskey.

Everyone was welcoming. Later, you found yourself sitting next to the glowing blue pool and being treated to all of your drinks by a sweet little guy named Vayna. You got pretty drunk, and your hosts decided to head home for bed, but before doing so, strictly instructed you to sleep as late as you want whenever you did get home, and yes, to remember the the toilet is totally for puking, and don’t you dare try to be quiet. Just come crashing in!

This you did, minus the puking.

When you rose the next morning, you were served fresh coffee, whole grain bread, home made fig confiture, and free-range eggs fried in butter and a splash of white wine.  You lounged and listened to David regale you with stories of his life. Your day was spent in a bikini next to the pool, and Nida topped off your wine glass all day long, without asking.

No complaints.

No complaints.

She BBQed lamb chops, chicken wings, and traditional Balcan sausage with roasted red peppers, mint jelly, and plum brandy.

Nom nom

Nom nom

All this coincided on the day before your 27th birthday, so she also made you a chocolate, strawberry, cream, rum cake with a sparkler burning in its center. Her guests sang to you and you blushed head to toe.

Happy 27th birthday.

Happy 27th birthday.

The morning of your birthday, you were showered and supplied with clean, folded laundry, then stuffed full of food before Nida drove you an hour through the mountains to one of Slovenia’s most impressive caves.  She arranged lockers for your backpacks, purchased two full tour 25-euro tickets, and wished you a very happy birthday.

The Caves

The Caves

*     *     *

# 2 – June, 2011 – Destination: Zadar, Croatia – Kurt

It was a lift that followed a most unsettling experience with a creep named Damil.

In Croatia–Zadar in particular–life is so much better when you have a boat. You are free to float along the endless coast line, or explore any of the hundreds of islands. But, being the low-budget backpackers that you were, you and Manon were stuck on land with little else to do but spend your last few euros on some beers.  Manon had never been on a boat in her life, and you fantasized about charming someone who did have one.  Take pity on two poor girls and let the little French one have her first boating trip!

Be careful what you wish for.

It was then that you met Damil and, long story short, you were invited onto his sail boat only to have the shit scared and creeped out of you. This man did everything from suggest you all sleep together, to wrap his hands around your neck, to rub at his groin, to yell at you, to make you feel like you could die out there alone on the sea, where no one would ever hear you scream. When you finally made it back to the safety of land, you were so creeped out that you considered reporting him to the police; the only problem was, he hadn’t done anything illegal. He’d simply… scared you. Held you hostage for a while–and yet it had been voluntary.

His lovely boat.

His lovely boat.

Creepy Damil.

Creepy Damil.

Wow… Manon,”you said. “I’m sorry your first boat experience turned out like that.  Sorry that it sucked so much.  I promise that the next guy I find with a boat will be nice.

You walked sullenly along the highway for over an hour until you found a good waiting point. Car after car, packed with happy tourists who probably all had boat tickets, passed you with no space in the back seat.

Then you saw the big, bright, yellow van. It was towing a ski boat. You challened every ounce of travel karma remaining and… pointed at the driver. Cast your arm before you like someone throwing a javelin. Pointed at him, locked eyes, and commanded him to pull over.

He did.

The driver, a German guy named Kurt, was heading south with his boat to camp by himself for two days, as he awaiting the arrival of his friend.  Within minutes, you leapt at the opportunity.

“You know what happened to us this morning…” and you proceeded to explain Damil and how mean he was, Manon’s first boat experience.  Kurt bit the bait, “If you want, I can take you out on my boat.  I won’t be mean to you.”

What ensued?  You spent two days with Kurt, the sweetest, best, most generous man ever.  He insisted you stay with him in his camp site for two nights, paid for your slot, fed you dinner, bought you drinks, ice cream, took you all around the Croatian islands near Zadar.   You shared two incredible days with him, feeling like total princesses, sun bathing, seeing cliffs, driving the boat, and sharing stories.  You had luxury experiences in Croatia that most people pay hundreds of Euros for.

#3 – July, 2011 – Destination: Kopenhagen, Denmark – Albert

Albert found you standing in a little sliver of concrete on the motorway, where some sweet old lady had deposited you without a care. You’d been feeling frantic in the rush hour traffic. Every passing truck and horn-blaring car set your nerves on edge. Please, someone, just take you away!

To be continued…

Categories: Awesome Luck, Hitchhiking | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “After 30,000 Kilometers Hitchhiked: The Top Three Lifts

  1. Pingback: The Third Most-Memorable Hitchhike | Life Of Travel - A Memoir

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