A Hitch-Hiking Adventure

Posted on Saturday 6 April 2013 and filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through theRSS 2.0 . You can leave a response or trackback to this entry from your site

It used to be that a road journey anywhere in Europe, or even beyond, would involve seeing many individuals standing by the roadside holding out their thumb. I did it myself and enjoyed thousands of miles of free travel as a result. My thumb was never harmed and neither was I. Then, as for many owners of travelling thumbs, a salary began to appear with regularity; I acquired a set of wheels of my own. I would then pick up thumbs and their owners and drop them off closer to where they wanted to be - a free service.

So what happened? Where have all those roadside thumbs gone? Has society become less tolerant? Or, has our perception of society changed? Is it really so dangerous to hitch-hike nowadays? Certainly, if I saw an extended thumb by the roadside, I would give its owner a lift - but there just aren't any around to pick up these days.

There was an art to hitch-hiking and an unwritten code of conduct for its practitioners. The time you spent waiting for a lift depended partly upon your skill in identifying the best place to stand - where the driver had time to assess you visually and could also conveniently stop to pick you up. It was considered bad form to jump the queue in a line of already waiting hitch-hikers. Some people wrote their intended destination on a large card, others just accepted any lift that came along.

But, your thumb did not always bring you free uneventful chauffeur-driven travel. Sometimes adventure would play its part. Take for instance, my attempt to hitch-hike in Australia from Perth to Darwin - a distance of over 2,500 miles. My thumb was firmly wrapped around the steering wheel for most of the journey and contributed significantly towards most of the vehicle repairs that were required enroute.

The journey started off by taking the cheapest available public transport to the beginning of the road out of Perth that I wanted to travel on. I wanted to be far enough out of the town centre to escape the heavy local traffic. I didn't wish to create any confusion as to which direction I wanted to go in.

In general, one tended to stand with your thumb out for 20-30 minutes before a vehicle would stop, but it could be up to a couple of hours; Sundays were always a problem for some reason. On this particular occasion however, I think it was about 45 minutes before I became additional cargo in a bread van making a delivery to the next town. Only a 20 mile trip, but still on the right road and I was not dropped off in the middle of nowhere.

I left the bread van as hungry as I entered it and don't recall how long it was that I stood by the roadside waiting for that big American Chevrolet to pick me up. Perhaps it was because there were justifiable reasons to wipe that memory out of my mind. Anyway, it was a journey that was to last through most of the night and all of the next day.

The Chevrolet driver turned out to be a professional lorry driver, with experience on the legendary roadtrains that are still a feature of life in the Australian outback. Some of the roadtrains so long that they have to stop outside their destination town and ferry the trailers in either individually or in pairs. My chauffeur was heading to the remote iron-ore mining camp of Tom Price to try his luck for a driving job. But this guy had a problem. As the afternoon turned to evening and the light began to fade, he told me that he had developed night blindness and couldn't see clearly in low light. It was in my interest and our safety that I take over the driving. So it was that, without a valid driving license for Australia, I learnt to drive that battleship of a car.

Well, the night progressed; my 'chauffeur' slept; and when I started to see non-existent kangaroos, where there weren't even bushes to confuse them with, I pulled off the road and closed my eyes. When daylight came, my 'chauffeur' took his rightful place back in the driving seat and we continued along that seemingly endless tarmac road up the west coast of Australia. The road passed occasionally through small settlements, and we noticed that each place we stopped at, the local store had run out of at least one item we needed. Apparently a freighter had sunk offshore about a month earlier. Such was the remoteness of Western Australia at that time, that a single supply ship could provide for most of the west coast inhabitants.

We eventually turned off the tarmac road and entered the approach road to the iron ore mine of Tom Price. But this approach road was 150 miles long and with a dirt surface resembling a corrugated roof. Chevrolet Cadillacs were not designed for corrugated roofs, so progress was necessarily very slow. Even so, it was not long before the tail end of the exhaust system vibrated itself loose and parted company from the car; it started leaving a tell-tale signature along the road. The exhaust needed to be tied up somehow, but it seemed my 'chauffeur' was travelling light - no tools, no spares. The only option seemed to be to strip out the wiring for one of the speakers from the onboard sound system and use that to tie up the exhaust. Problem was, 'no tools, no spares' also meant no jack to raise the car up so that I could reach underneath the vehicle. We tried parking the car over a shallow roadside ditch to give space for me to crawl underneath (photo). Bingo! Back on the road again. But it seems that my 'chauffeur' was not good at seeing potholes, even in daylight. So it wasn't long before we had a puncture.  'No tools, no spares' meant we had no option but to sit and wait for another vehicle to come by. Ever tried lifting a Chevrolet Cadillac to change a wheel?. Unfortunately, we had  only seen one other vehicle during the half hour we had been on this dirt road, but after about an hour, a pick-up truck came by and we were able to borrow their jack. Then my 'chauffeur' requested to borrow their wheel-brace as he didn't carry one of those either - I began to wonder about this guy.

So, wheel replaced, it's time for me go on pothole watch in the driver's seat; I'm driving like a drunk guy on the way home, but missing all the potholes. But potholes were not the main concern right now - the horizon was becoming obscured by smoke. A bushfire was obviously well established and we could not as yet tell in which direction it was travelling. We were not likely to be able to outrun a wild bushfire in this battleship of a car rattling its exhaust. Then, the sound of exhaust pipe hitting the road again. Never really expected that sound wiring to last as long as it did; it was more plastic than metal. So we give up the remaining speaker wiring and the journey carries on in silence for another 20 miles - seems to be the range of speaker wiring for exhaust pipe use.

The bushfire appears to be travelling parallel to us and ceases to be a threat, but slow progress is taking its tole on the fuel consumption and I notice the fuel gauge is already on the wrong side of quarter full.

Then the exhaust pipe leaves us again. So, I now reluctantly have to give up my recently acquired original Australian cowhide trouser belt and just hope that a return to normal diet as soon as possible will be sufficient to keep me respectable.

We finally enter the mining camp well after dark - trousers still up, belt still on the exhaust and the fuel gauge on empty. But we get hopelessly lost in the quarrying area that is prohibited to cars. We get a good lecture from the site duty manager and directed to a place where we can park up for the night. It was a welcome rest but I was totally unable to sleep due to the vision of a  never-ending red dirt road moving slowly towards me every time I closed me eyes. I remember trying to spot potholes, just to pass the time, but it was a smooth virtual road - conjured up by a disgruntled mind.

In the morning the 'chauffeur' attempted to drive his car to the mining camp's fuel station but there was only enough left in the tank for a few hundred yards and had to get it towed the rest of the way.

He never did get the job he was hoping for. The mine management refused to employ him. My last memory is of seeing him selling his Rolex watch to pay for enough fuel to drive back to Perth. I let him keep my belt attached to his exhaust.

I stayed another day at the mining camp and then hitched a ride for the remaining 1,500 miles to Darwin with two former workers at the mine. The owner of the car had just lost his driving license for drink-driving and the other was an alcoholic - but that's another story.

Author: Maurice Thurman

Copyright © 2013 Sandhya Maarga Holistic Living Resources

Holistic Living Annex (APR 2013)

1 Response for “ A Hitch-Hiking Adventure”

  1. jR says:

    It's too dangerous to hitchhike today. Especially in KL, you'll never know if you'll make it home alive. We cannot trust people so easily now. Those were the good old days. Even if we do not hitchhike, people still come and kacau us. We don't even dare to help people in need on the roads anymore because of all the gangsterism and criminals on the road. They may be faking it to lure us potential victims into trusting them, the rob us.


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