Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Hitchin' a Ride
While at university, and later in 2004, when I lived at Punakaiki on the West Coast, I would often hitch-hike. Despite the concern of some friends, I and others who hitched with me, never had any issues. The people I met along the way (and would never see again) were fascinating, but the most exhilerating part was knowing that, while I had a destination, there was no telling when I would arrive there, or how. It felt like freedom. Whether there was some romantic link to America or the Beat generation, I'm not sure, but I still think of them as some of the more real experiences of my life.
Three golden rules exist with hitching (in my mind at least). Firstly, I have only hitched in the South Island. Secondly, there are some people (e.g. parents) that one should not mention to that you are hitching- the disapproval and debate is not worth it. Thridly, if the ride doesn't feel right, don't hop in.
In the first mid-semester break in my first year at Otago University two friends from my hostel and I decided to tour around the South Island by hitching. We still followed through with this plan, despite one breaking her leg three weeks prior to our departure. We stopped at remote beaches and camped the night, and got one amazing ride from a woman in an old converted ambulance who took one week off a year from looking after severely disabled daughter in Christchurch to tour around the West Coast.
How well your hitchhiking experience goes depends on three things:
1. Gender. Being a woman means it is more likely women will stop and pick you up.
2. Placement. Where you try to hitch is important, the speed limit, the available stopping space, how easily you can be seen all contribute.
3. Weather. Standing in scoarching sun, or dripping wet generate sympathy.
The worst experience I had was being stuck in Reefton late one afternoon waiting for a ride, hoping like hell we wouldn't have to spend the night there. An hour and a half we waited for a ride to come along, and were relieved by the offer of a shearing gang to drop us in the next town.
So last Friday, with dreams of saving money and re-living the experience for one last time, I decided to try it again from Picton to Kaiteriteri. My first ride was Doug the priest from North Carolina who was very liberal and we had a great discussion on politics, before getting lunch together in Nelson. From there I had a five small rides, many interesting stories, never waiting longer than 5 minutes for a ride. It was the talk with people and lives that I may never have meet otherwise that I enjoyed, and travelling a road I had never been on before.
Reflecting on it all, it makes me think about the way we percieve risk, what comes from the kindness of strangers, and about humanity before globalisation and paranoia took hold. There are the news headlines and there are days like Friday. I will hold onto my beliefs in the general good of (wo)man, thanks, because if I think too much about the gloomy direction we are heading, I may never leave the house again.