It’s Monday 13 September, about 6:15. I’m pumping up the rear tire of my bike to cycle to the start of the A10 for another dash into the hitchhikers Valhalla that is Germany. I’ve given myself two days to cover the 1,859.1 km that would take me back to my annual average of 10,000 km.
Some ten minutes later I’m cycling on a flat tire, which is not a good omen. However, I push on and at about 6:40 I’m at my usual get-out-of-Oostende spot, where a 12 minute wait is rewarded with a ride with an Indian guy, who, after having worked and lived in Paris for eight years, is now working in Brugge. Before I have the chance to ask him why anyone would swap Paris for Oostende, we arrive at the Jabbeke petrol station where I have asked him to drop me off.
It’s early in the morning, still pretty quiet but after a not too long wait I get a ride to the next petrol station, just before Gent. The driver is actually going to Antwerpen, but my plan is to go via Brussel. The ride is pretty much non-descript, a male driver. At the petrol station it’s still quiet, but after a few minutes a car with German plates stops and yes, I get a ride, via Antwerpen (did you expect anything else), to Germany, the Raststätte Frechen, just before Köln. We spend a good 20 minutes in the normal rush-hour traffic jams on the ring around Antwerpen, but for the rest it’s plain sailing, and at 10:05, merely three hours after starting, I’ve already covered more than 300 km, maybe the flat tire wasn’t a bad omen after all – Why a Bad Dress Rehearsal May Be a Good Thing
Sadly, Frechen isn’t my favorite Raststätte, there is a lot of traffic going from there into Köln itself, and going into any big city when you want to just travel is an absolute no-no. My average waiting time at this place is well over an hour and this time it is even worse, almost two hours. I ask at the petrol station, and when it’s quiet there, I walk to the parking at the far side, before returning to the petrol station. Eventually I get a ride. A Belgian guy on his way to the Frankfurter Messe takes me to Medenbach, the last Raststätte before Frankfurt.
Now, having said that Frechen isn’t on my list of favorites, I must admit that the eight rides I got from there were actually pretty good, one was in excess of 1,000 km (into Poland), one just short of 1,000 km (into Slovenia), and only one was just a trifle shorter than 100 km.
The wait at Medenbach is shorter, but 50 minutes on a Raststätte is still pretty long. Eventually I get a ride from a Dutch guy, who lives in Nürnberg. He’s returning from a visit to his German girlfriend, who happens to live in Den Haag… I’m dropped at Raststätte Aurach.
Now Aurach is one of my more favorite Raststättes. The average waiting time here is less than my long-term average and I’ve had two very memorable rides from the place, in 1990 a Turkish guy took me from here all the way to Gelibolu on the Bosporus, a ride in excess of 2,100 km, and just three months earlier, in June of this year (2010), I got a ride to Raststätte In der Holledau. That ride of 139.5 km took just 44 minutes, making my first ever ride with an average speed in excess of 190 km/h. (Of course, like everyone else who’s ever done any serious hitchhiking in Germany, I’ve had plenty of rides where the highest speed was well over 200 km/h) This time the ride also took me to “In der Holledau” at a somewhat more leisurely pace of 140 km/h. The driver was going to the airport and it was raining quite severely, so took shelter for a while. However, this left me with the task of finding someone to take me just 25 km further, to the parking opposite Raststätte Fürholzen. It takes me some time to do so, and the businessman that gives me a ride end up in such a deep conversation (lasting all of 9 minutes) that he actually drives past the entrance of the parking and has to stop on the hard shoulder to let me out.
Sadly, getting from the parking to the actual Raststätte on the other side is no longer as easy as it used to be. The pedestrian tunnel that once connected the two sides is closed up, and crossing the Autobahn in this part of Germany is just as deadly as jumping off a plane without parachute. Fortunately there is a normal road tunnel a few hundred meters further, and to get at it you have to walk to the end of the fence of the parking, climb onto the hill, turn left, perpendicular to the Autobahn, for about 10 meters, and then turn right on the dirt track. Just follow it and eventually you will reach the normal tunnel, where you can cross over to the other side and walk back to Fürholzen proper. It should take a normal fit person no more than about 20 minutes. Fortunately it was dry again when I crossed!
Once I got to the other side, I got a ride, with an Australian guy on his way to the Frankfurter Messe, which meant that I binned the plan to return to Oostende via Berlin, which would have bad consequences…
Sam Soghomonian was born in Aleppo in Syria, his parents were Armenian, and with his three brothers he’s running a fairly big company down under that specializes in European car parts. He dropped me on Raststätte Weiskirchen, and before we parted our ways he gave me one of those orange emergency vests with reflective strips and, obviously, the name of his company on the back. During the ride I told him how I had met my wife, he told me how he had met his, despite the initial opposition of his mother. I told him how my wife and I had celebrated our honeymoon in Japan, he told me how he first started doing business in that country: Flew in to Osaka, spent the night going through the equivalent of the Yellow Pages, and hired a taxi for the whole next day to visit car companies he had found during the night! It was the second ride with someone from Australia, some ten years after another guy from down-under pushed me into visiting Liechtenstein.
Arriving at Weiskirchen at 22:36, my prospects were a bit bleakish. I don’t mind hitchhiking at night, but it was eerily quiet and I was wondering if not going via Berlin had been a smart move. It took one hour and fifteen minutes to find out that not going to Berlin had indeed been a very smart move, because the next ride, my first ever with a Slovak – two years ago I only crossed the country from the Czech republic into Hungary in a single ride with a Hungarian truck-driver. When I told him I was on my way to Oostende, he reprogrammed his SatNav, he was on his way to Calais and the UK, going via Brussel, and dropped me off almost next to my flat-tired bike, a mere 22:35 after my departure.
Cycling home on a flat tire wasn’t too enjoyable, especially for the poor tire. Audrone, aka Mrs Prino, was also none too pleased, as she didn’t expect me to return until late(r) that day, it wasn’t the first time that I arrived home too early…
Then, after a few hours of sleep, came the shock:
I started this story by mentioning that I had wanted to cover the 1,859.1 km that separated me from my 10,000 km per year average, but after putting everything into the PC and running my programs, I found out that I had covered merely 1,751.6 km, close but no cigar…