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Hitchhiking – why I no longer thumb a lift

Montenegro hitchhikers
Photo by Matei D.

Hitchhiking as a teenager

In my hippie days as a teenager, and in my twenties, I used to do a lot of hitchhiking, more out of necessity than pleasure though because it offered a way of travelling long distances for free.

Of course, being a hitchhiker was a “cool” thing to do too because it showed how adventurous you were and how you had no need for conventional means of transport. You were a free-spirited member of the alternative culture and hitching a lift was definitely an alternative way of getting from A to B.

When it worked hitch-hiking was a wonderful experience. You got to travel for free and often met really interesting people that gave you lifts and along the way, but there was a downside to it too.

The Isle of Wight Festival and a Good Samaritan

I had my first really bad experience as a hitchhiker when aged just 16 I was returning from the Isle of Wight Pop Festival. Naturally after days at the event I was tired and just wanted to get home to Cardiff as fast as possible but I ended up stuck in Bristol.

I remember walking all along the long stretch of road from Bristol centre that headed for the motorway and the Avonmouth services. Hitching as I walked failed miserably, and so did taking breaks and standing with my thumb out.

All I could do was keep on walking. I didn’t have any money left so couldn’t go and get a bus or train.

To be fair to drivers in the built-up areas of Bristol you cannot expect them to stop because they might only be going around the corner at the next bend. I needed to get to a stretch of road where it was clear that you wanted the motorway route to South Wales and where much of the traffic was bound to be going that way.

When I finally got to the stretch of motorway link-road where the sign displayed showed that no pedestrians were permitted past this point I had to join the other hitchers who were already there and take my place at the end of a long queue lined up along the grass verge at the side of the road.

Bob Dylan

I was completely worn out and there was nothing that could be done now but wait. It was a really depressing and frustrating end to a wonderful weekend in which I had seen many top acts including my hero Bob Dylan.

The experience was to take a turn for the worse and the better at the same time though. I must have fallen asleep on the roadside, worn out from my long journey and walk, but was brought out of my slumber by a man who was finding out if I was OK or not.

Good Samaritan

The man turned out to be real Good Samaritan because he was a vicar from Gloucester. It was by now drizzling with rain and my clothes and travel bag were damp. I gladly accepted his offer of taking me as far as Gloucester. It wasn’t where I was going but it was a lot better than being stranded where I had been.

What made a big impression on me though was not only my rescuer’s true Christian act of kindness, but by contrast all my fellow hitchhikers and hippie-type festival goers had all just left me lying there on the roadside. Love and peace but don’t bother about anyone but yourselves was what it clearly meant.

I was able to dry off in the vicar’s car a bit and felt a lot better after my sleep but still had to get another lift back to Cardiff from Gloucester. I eventually managed that but it was a long and traumatic experience I had just been through that could have been enough to put me off hitchhiking but didn’t.

Short film about the “Lost Art” of hitchhiking

Bad experiences as a hitchhiker outnumber the good

Although there were hitchhiking experiences I had that were a great success, e.g. I once hitched to Dover from Cardiff with a friend, and then after crossing the channel we got as far as Brussels by the afternoon after leaving Ostend, the number of bad times and problems I have encountered have outnumbered the good ones.

I know there have been times when I have had to ask myself why on Earth I had stupidly tried thumbing a lift, if I was ever going to get out of the place I was stranded in, and even whether I would survive this hitchhiking disaster at all! Yes, it can get that bad!

After dark you know your chances are much worse than in the daylight and getting stranded in a small village late at night or on a motorway access road with no “civilisation” within miles can be a scary experience especially if it is getting very cold or wet.

By day or night it can also be very disheartening to see thousands of empty cars, vans and lorries with spare seats go past without stopping.

Then there are the really horrible drivers who take pleasure in taunting weary but hopeful hitchers by stopping a little further along the road so you think at last you have got a lift but then driving off as you run up towards the car. Those moments leave a very bad memory of hitchhiking.

Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

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  • Article by Bard of Ely

    avatar Born in Cardiff, South Wales, Steve Andrews lived there until 2004 when he relocated to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. He used to live on the Ely housing estate and Big Issue magazine, in which he had a regular column, dubbed him the Bard of Ely making reference to his talents as a singer-songwriter, poet and performer. He is also a writer, journalist, author, public speaker and naturalist. In 1998 he worked as a TV presenter for two series of In Full View on BBC Choice. He is the author of Herbs of the Northern Shaman (O-Books 2010) and Hummadruz and a Life of High Strangeness (Amazon Kindle), as well as having contributed to Tenerife News and the Tenerife Sun newspapers and Kindred Spirit, Prediction, Feed Your Brain. Living Tenerife, Permaculure and the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners magazines. Bard of Ely has performed at the Glastonbury and Green Man festivals and was a compère for the Avalon stage at Glastonbury in 2002 and 2003. He has had his songs released on many independent labels including Double Snazzy, Very Good Records, Pink Lemon and DMMG Records. He is written about and quoted in books by several fellow authors, and is in Fierce Dancing, Last of the Hippies (Faber & Faber) and Housing Benefit Hill (AK Press) by C.J. Stone, in The World's Most Mysterious People by Lionel and Patricia Fanthorpe (Hounslow), Real Cardiff by Peter Finch (Seren), The Trials of Arthur (Element) by Christopher James Stone and Arthur Pendragon, and in The Remarkable Life of Leonard Cohen (Omnibus) by Anthony Reynolds.
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