Another year has passed, so it’s worth looking (somewhat belatedly) back at the highs and highers of 2011…
One of the most striking things that happened in 2011 was the fact that Audrone and I hitched together again for the first time in almost seven years, and that we did so near the gorgeous Lago di Como, celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary.
The three rides we got, spread over three days, included the shortest ride ever, a mere 800 metres from the railway station in Stezzano to our hotel, and given that it took us about half a minute to get the ride, it saved an eight to 10 minute walk in the heat. Our main modus transportandi for this particular trip were “that” airline, buses and the very nice ferries that cross the Lago di Como. There are some private ships on the lake, but it’s my guess that it would be pretty hard to hitch a ride on any of them.
Of course this triplet wasn’t the first of the year; my goal for 2011 was to hitchhike in every month of the year. I had set the same goal a year earlier (and missed out on it), but in 2011 I succeeded, although I didn’t hitch on every weekday, I had no rides on Sundays.
The year started with a trip that spanned January and February. The idea was to do a bit more Raststätte Hopping, but if you’re hitchhiking for hitchhiking’s sake you need to go with the flow, and after three rides I found myself in Zwolle, after four in Hengelo and although that is perfectly located for rides in the direction of Hannover and Berlin, I got a ride towards Hamburg, with two Swedes. They dropped me off at Raststätte Ostetal and here I accepted a ride into Denmark, for the first time crossing from Germany into Denmark via the A7. Dropped off at a petrol station some 50 kilometres in Denmark, in the rain, in temperatures just above zero, my luck kicked in and two rides and three-and-a-half hours later I found myself in the suburbs of København. After finding my way to the station and discovering that it would close at around 01:00, I decided to continue. Walking in the centre of København in the early hours of the morning is not a pleasure, every twenty steps your approached by prostitutes offering you their services.
It took me around 90 minutes to walk to the place to hitch out of the city, the traffic-lights at crossing of Vigerslev Vej and Fole, a spot that was already mentioned in the “Use-It” leaflets in the early 1980′ies and it took me about an hour standing under the streetlights in the drizzle to get a ride, from a Turkish guy. Just seven minutes and only 12 kilometres further he dropped me off at a sliproad onto the E20 in Vallensbæck. I wasn’t a very happy bunny, but “Als de nood het hoogst is, is de redding nabij” and miraculously after a wait of just five(!) minutes another Turkish guy stopped an gave me a ride to the petrol station at Karlslunde. By now it was pouring down, and I spent the best part of the next two hours sitting trying to get some sleep. Eventually, just after five in the morning I went out again and the first driver I approached, a Somali refugee who had built himself a new life in Norway, gave me a ride, all the way to Dammer Berge, one of the two German Raststättes that bridge the Autobahn. From here followed a short ride with a French guy and nine minutes after he dropped me off at Raststätte Münsterland, I found myself on my way to Luxembourg, arriving there just twelve hours after leaving København. I was dropped off near Inga‘s place, where I spend the night. The next day it took me four more rides to get back to Oostende, and, for a rare change, I actually got a ride around Brussels, saving me the hassle of crossing the city by public transport.
Trip two of the year, and trip 95 of my hitchhiking career, was another exercise in Raststätte Hopping, and like the first, it spanned two months, I left on 30 March, and returned on 1 April. The only memorable facts from the trip were the facts that I got my second ride with a driver from Kazakhstan and that the first seven drivers had seven different nationalities, with two consecutive non-European drivers, the Kazakhstani was followed by an American.
The next trip was different, in May Audrone and I flew with “that” airline to Lithuania for her father’s 75th birthday and although I could have flown back on my own, Audrone was staying a bit longer, I decide to hitchhike. It took me just over 36 hours to cover the distance from Vilnius to Oostende and the last driver turned out to be living in our street and she dropped me off right in front of the door.
In June followed another trip into Germany and if a coolant hose hadn’t broken in the vicinity of Wismar, I would have covered the only major stretch in Germany that I have never covered, Hamburg to Berlin. It took well over two hours for a rescue truck to pick us up, dropping us at a garage in Wismar. Given the time, well past nine in the evening and the fact that I was on the wrong side of Wismar, I decided to hitch back toward Lübeck and eventually slept in the forest just outside Raststätte Buddikate. The next day I made it to Raststätte Vaterstetten just past München, from where a woman took me 451 kilometres back to Bad Camberg. Despite the hour, we arrived there at 1:31 and I had a bite until 2:27, I decided to try to continue a little more and after a wait of just under an hour I got a ride to Raststätte Siegburg, just south of Köln, where I finally called it a night and caught some sleep. Later that day another four rides took me back, not to Oostende, but to Oudenburg, where I took a bus for the last little bit back home.
Four trips had seen me hitch in the first six months of the year, I was halfway my set goal…
Trip five was as unexpected as it was brilliant. In July Audrone and I drove (yes, drove, you cannot hitchhike with a dog and four cats) to Vilnius for our summer holidays, leaving the house in Oostende in the care of our neighbours. Just over a week after our departure we got an email from them, telling us that the house was suffering from an infestation of fleas. As the cats and dog had just had their anti-flea treatment, we eventually decided to buy a vast amount of insecticides, and it fell upon me to use them… So I hitched back to Oostende for the weekend. I left Vilnius on Thursday morning and just before midnight I arrived at the aptly called motel “Nevada”, some 50 kilometres before the Polish-German border. A fair distance, but not exceptional.
However, the day was exceptional for another reason. It took me four rides to get from Vilnius to the last petrol station before the Lithuanian-Polish border, and 12 minutes after getting there, I got a ride from a Latvian couple, Guntars and Marina, members of “Quattro Differente” a clarinet quartet. They eventually dropped me of near Sochaczew, and here an amazing series of five rides started.
The place where I was dropped of was just a cross-roads and I didn’t really have any other option than to stick out my thumb. Of course this most basic method of hitchhiking still works, but it’s rare for trucks to stop. Not so this time.
I got in, the truck-driver spoke a fair amount of German and at some stage he asked me if he should try to get me a next ride using the CB. I didn’t object, he succeeded and near Kutno I seamlessly slid into the next car and near Konin the process was repeated, with me sliding back into a truck. This driver, and the next, both repeated the process and where before I had had only nine previous no-wait rides, I now had four in row!
The next day was not good, I lost a lot of time due to someone mistakenly thinking that Raststätte Am Fichtenplan was before her exit into Berlin, and it took me almost three hours to get back to Raststätte Michendorf. Arriving on Michendorf through the back-entrance I got another “no-wait” ride, the first driver I asked for a ride took me to Lehrer See, the last Raststätte before Hannover. Here the five “no-wait”s were cancelled out by a three hour wait. I eventually accepted a ride towards Hengelo/Enschede, and that probably wasn’t the wisest choice. It took me four more rides to get through the Netherlands and at 0:30, at the petrol station just after the Kennedy tunnel in Antwerpen I called it a day and tried to get some sleep. On Saturday I finally got home and went in for the kill. I sprayed anything and everything, vacuumed, sprayed again, vacuumed again, put a set of deep plates with dish-washing liquid and tea-lights everywhere for the night, repeated the whole process on Sunday and that seemed to have done the trick, when walking through the house with bare legs, they stayed flea-free.
On Monday I went to Brussels for a selection test for medicine research, and on Tuesday I finally went back to Vilnius. I left at just after 6:00; got my first ride at 6:44, and at 11:51, another six rides later I had covered a miserable 231 kilometres. The next ride turned out to be a bit longer. The driver was Lithuanian, absolutely stone-deaf, which made it impossible to tell him where I was going, until I remembered that I was carrying a business card with our address in Lithuania. That did it, and just under 21 hours later I was in Kaunas, after the sixth longest ride of my life. It took one more ride to get me to Vilnius, where my stepdaughter picked me up.
July was followed by August and another exercise in Raststätte Hopping, and the afore mentioned September triplet near the Lago di Como, which was my 100th hitchhiking trip. As I was planning to go to the 15th anniversary of VAK, I thought it would be useful to cover a little more distance and for the fourth time in 2011 I sped off into Germany, adding almost 2,500 kilometres to what I would hope would be enough. A few more kilometres were added hitching to Vilnius at the end of the month, but it was all in vain, as Vilmantas had once again covered more than anyone else, my 28,000(ish) kilometres were well short of his 40,000(ish), the whole story can be found in my previous entry mentioned just above.
After returning from Vilnius, the trip counter had reached nine and although one more trip straddling November and December would have been enough to reach the goal of having hitched in every month of the year, my ambition took over, and I decided that hitching less than 12 times, even if that would have meant hitching in every month of the year wasn’t real enough.
So two weeks later I left again. The plan was Luxembourg, Inga had told me that there was a festival of foreign movies. I send her an SMS from my PC the evening before (which for some reason never got to her) and the next morning I left. I got to Luxembourg fast, in fact so fast that I decided to do a yo-yo back towards Brussels before going again to Luxembourg. We met in the old town, watched a few movies and had a bite at her place. It took me three rides to get back the next day and at the end of month 10 the trip counter also read 10.
Trip 11, which started a month later, was intended to be just another, yes you know…
The first six rides followed more or less the usual pattern, from Oostende via Brussels and past Liege into Germany, in this case to Raststätte Frechen. The wait here wasn’t up to scratch, 1:18, but who complains about waiting time if it’s followed by a ride all the way to Slovenia, with someone from Bosnia who needs to extend his visa. I was dropped, in the early hours of the morning, in temperatures well below zero, at the big petrol station just across the Austrian-Slovenian border next to Maribor and spent a few hours sleeping in the still unfinished bridge restaurant, until I was told that this wasn’t allowed. Fortunately there was also a heated baby changing room and I spent the next two hours sleeping there, until I was very rudely awoken by a cleaner. I got out, it was still freezing, but fortunately I managed to get a ride towards Ljubljana pretty quickly. From here I got a ride with a Romanian truck driver into Italy, the temperatures rapidly climbed into double figures, and when I was dropped off at Area Servizio Gonars, I could walk around in a T-shirt, in the middle of November! After a quick espresso and a freshly made sandwich I got a ride from an 83 year old retired surgeon, all the way to the Brenner Autostrada. He was kind enough to drop me of at an Area Servizio past his destination. Three more rides followed and at 18.47 I was dropped off, just inside Austria, at Autobahnstation Gries/Brenner, which is the second petrol station in Austria, and which was pretty quiet, which isn’t really surprising given that there is one just across the border. It took slightly over half an hour to get a ride, I had hoped for one directly into Germany, but you don’t throw away a cent hoping to find a euro later, and half an hour later I was at the next Autobahnstation, “Vomp”. By now it was pretty cold again, but fortunately I didn’t have to wait very long, helped by the fact that I had already ditched my “avoid-trucks policy” in Slovenia, I quickly got a ride with a young German truck-driver, who took me to Raststätte Haidt, just before Würzburg. I slept in a quiet corner of the restaurant. The next day was not good, I didn’t get back to Oostende, but only, at 21:44, to Blankenberge, which meant having to spend another 40 or so minutes on the tram. The problem was a 3:08 wait at Raststätte Siegburg, nobody I approached was going towards Aachen or Belgium, and those that were going that way all seemed to hide behind the pretty lame “Sorry this is a company car” excuse…
The twelfth and last trip took place in December. It was another, yes… but it was pretty spectacular. After the third ride I once again found myself on Frechen, and although I didn’t get a ride to Slovenia, the 404 kilometre ride to Raststätte Aurach just before Nürberg was also pretty good. Five more rides followed and at 22:16 I found myself at the only other Raststätte bridging the Autobahn, Frankenwald, which turned out to be a lot nicer than Dammer Berge. I had a plate of freshly made spaghetti and soon after I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until about six in the morning. I left Frankenwald at 6:52 and two rides later, at 10:12 I arrived at Michendorf, on the Berliner ring. From here it seemed no more than logical to go to Hannover and back to Belgium, but I decided to have a bit more fun, and just before midnight I was back on Raststätte Fürholzen near München. It took me the best part of half an hour to walk to the northbound side (the previous evening two businessmen, one of them who had parked his car earlier on the day on the northbound side, had taken me to that side in just five minutes), but once on the other side I very quickly got a ride to Raststätte Nürnberg-Feucht, where I slept at my usual(!) table, and again slept very well, without waking up every few minutes. The first ride the next day was another beauty, straight to a petrol station just before Leuven in Belgium, 604 kilometres in 4:55, interrupted only by an eight minute stop. Sadly, the next 141.8 km took 5:22 (Ouch!), which was caused by a strike of public transport in most of Belgium, which in turn made getting from one side of Brussels to the other a venerable nightmare.
Once I got home, I wasted no time entering the trip data into my PC and other than the fact that I had for the first time in my hitchhiking career hitched in every month of the year, the output of the program revealed quite a few more interesting titbits, the December trip turned out to have the highest quality and at just over 3,400 kilometre in three days it’s also the one with the highest average distance per day. The triplet near the Lago di Coma had already set the record for lowest quality and shortest average distance per day. Looking at some of the more obscure statistics generated by my program also revealed that I had rides with drivers from 29 different nationalities (while visiting only 10 countries) and that combining the last two rides of trip 104 with the first two of trip 105 gave me four consecutive rides with women. I also beat my 365 day record which dated back to 2000-2001, but the whole year record I set in 2000 still stands, I missed it by less than 500 km. The combined distance of trips 104 and 105, 6,567.5 km also set a new personal record, but even that falls well short of the feat Ilmar Island achieved in 1979: it took him just 5 days, 20 hours and 52 minutes to cover the approximately 5,200 miles (~8,370 km) between Key West in Florida and Fairbanks in Alaska! Who knows, 2012 is still young…