Looking back on 2010, a very good hitchhiking year

It's March 2011, I've already made my first trip in 2011, but what did I do in 2010?

I did write a little, Close, but no cigar…, about my failed attempt to bring my average annual distance back to 10,000 km, but it wasn't the only trip I made that year, not by a long shot, my audacious plan for 2010 was to try to do some hitchhiking in every month of the year! (Spoiler: I failed)

The first trip for 2010 took me to Luxembourg. I left Oostende at 6.49, with an Afghan refugee, who had been living in Belgium for a few years. Unlike the previous and only other ride with an Afghan, this was only a short seven minute ride, whereas the ride in 1989 was with a truck-driver on his way back to Afghanistan, in a long convoy of Afghan trucks loaded with humanitarian help for the country. Two rides followed in quick succession, the second taking me to Evere, inside the Brussels ring. It turned out to be pretty senseless to get back onto the ring, so I took a tram and walked for a while to near the Delta metro station, where I got a ride to Audange on the Belgian-Luxembourg border. From here I took the train to Luxembourg, but given that it was still too early to visit a friend, I decided to go for a bit of a yo-yo movement, switching trains in Luxembourg (taking the one towards Arlon) and getting out at one of the monster petrol stations that can be found at just before all border crossings in Luxembourg. It didn't take me very long to get a ride back towards Brussels. I got out at Wavre, crossed the motorway and near instantaneously I got a ride. It was merely to the next petrol station, 22 km down the road, and here I made a near "fatal" mistake by accepting a ride without actually looking on the map… I was dropped off, in the dark, at a motorway junction with very little traffic. If it had been summer, I might have found myself a place to sleep, but now, on a cold evening in January, I could only try to go further. It's at those moments that I usually beat the odds, and that's what also happened this time, after a mere 21 minutes a young couple stopped and they graciously made a detour to take me to the next petrol station. It took me well over an hour to get away from here, but was rewarded with a ride taking me to the front-door of my friend.

The next day I went back, again via the petrol station and Wavre, where, as usual, I settled for a ride into Brussels, due to the lack of petrol stations on the ring it is quite hard to get from Wavre back onto the E40 in the direction of the coast. Going into Brussels and taking the metro and bus to the other side just makes more sense and can save you a lot of time…

The next two rides from the other side of Brussels took me to the petrol station just after Gent, and here I got a ride that I will remember for a very long time. The driver was a middle aged lady on her way to visit a relative on the coast, who was driving with a dog on her lap. Talking on the telephone while driving is something you should not be doing, but driving with a dog sitting on your lap is an order of magnitude more dangerous, especially when the driver is paying more attention to the dog than to the traffic, on three occasions she almost drifted off the road. In the end she also decided that she knew exactly where to drop me off, taking me half a dozen tram stops further than necessary. In her defense? She gave me a ride and was quite interested to find out why someone at the ripe old age of 49 was still traveling by thumb. (Because he likes it!)

February came, February went, and yours truly saw his audacious plan fall apart at the second hurdle…

Then came March, I did hit the road again, and the March 2010 trip will always be remembered for two reasons.

Sometimes you wait for a ride, when you're lucky a few minutes, sometimes a bit longer and sometimes you just decide that it's better to take out your sleeping bag and try again the next day. However, there is a fourth category, that of the frustratingly long waits for no apparent reason. And one of them I encountered during this trip, a wait of 6:09, six hours and nine minutes and making it even worse, it was at a petrol station, where you're normally gone in a jiffy.

It was the fourth longest non-go-to-sleep-and-try-again-tomorrow wait of my hitchhiking career, beaten only by a 9:35 wait at the border between Austria and the old Yugoslavia, on the day that the Netherlands lost it's opening match of the 1988 European Football Championships against the Soviet Union (making the day even worse), an 8:24 wait at the border between Greece and the old Yugoslavia in 1989 (although the four rides that followed this wait gave me my entry into the Guinness Book of Records) and an 8:01 wait in 1989 on the German Irschenberg Raststätte just past München, for reasons that I don't even remember.

Six hours and nine minutes sheer of agony, six hours and nine minutes of frustration, six hours and nine minutes listening to drivers telling you that they only went to the next motorway exit, that they were driving company cars and weren't allowed to give you a ride, six hours and nine minutes of wasted time. In the end I was saved by two Turkish guys who gave me a ride to a Raststätte in Germany, making a small detour to get me there. What followed was a bit of Raststätte hopping, taking me eventually, the next day, to Raststätte Hamburg Stillhorn, and the other reason for remembering the trip.

It took me about twenty minutes to walk from one side of the Autobahn to the other, and the same time to get a ride. The driver was on his way to Rotterdam and just over 450 km later, he dropped me off right next to my father's place in De Bilt, where I spent the night. The next day it took me four rides to get back home. The third of these was with a priest from Ghana. I asked him for a ride at a petrol station before Breda and initially he said no, but when he returned to his car after he paid, he called me over and told me to get in, "after all I can hardly preach about helping your fellow men, when I don't do it myself", and gave me a ride to just past Brussels.

In April I did two trips. The first was just another bog-standard Raststätte hopping exercise that took me via Aachen to München to Berlin to Nürnberg to Köln and then via Luxembourg back to Brussels. The only remarkable things about it were a series of 11 rides, all with an average speed in excess of 120 km/h, spanning more than 2,000 km. And it was, at the time, the trip with the highest average speed ever, 122.5 km/h.

The second trip in April was an entirely different kettle of fish, I actually needed to go to Bingen am Rhein, to attend a meeting of an IBM users group. Now, Bingen is less than 500 km from Oostende, it is next to an Autobahn, so you would normally expect it to be easy to get there, but the truth turned out to be somewhat different: it took me eight rides, with a total driving time of just under five hours to cover the distance of 472 km. Now five hours for that distance is sort of OK(ish), but eight rides implies seven waits between rides, and with a total waiting time of more than six hours, you can imagine that I wasn't a very happy bunny. The last wait, at Raststätte Aachener Land, just after the B-D border, was the longest, well over two hours. I eventually got a ride from there with a female courier. She told me that she drove on average around 20,000 km per month, which is pretty impressive for someone who was obviously no longer a spring-chicken.

I spend the weekend in Bingen, attended the IBM meeting across the Rhine on Monday, and on Tuesday I managed to get back to Oostende. That trip was marginally better, only seven rides, and a total waiting time of 2:52, excluding the time to cross Brussels by tram and bus and the time to walk from the actual motorway junction leading to IKEA next to Gent to the petrol station around 4km further.

After April came May, and like February before, May passed without me hitting the road.

In June I was back on the road. The trip would again take me into Germany for a bit of Raststätte hopping, because, to quote Robert Louis Stevenson, "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.".

Was there anything special about this trip?

Yessssssssssssssss!!!!!

Ride 14 took me from Raststätte Aurach to Raststätte In der Holledau. In itself this wasn't a reason to jump for joy, and neither was the fact that the odometer indicated that we covered 139.5 km between these two Raststättes. However, what made it special was the fact that we left Aurach at 20:06 and arrived at In der Holledau at 20:50, making this my first ever ride with an average speed in excess of 190 km/h!

On my way back to Oostende I spent the night at the petrol station just before Liège. We arrived there at 0:35 and I tried for a little while to go further, but in the end decided to get some sleep. The next morning I woke up at about 6:30, refreshed myself a bit and went out. After a few no's and a useless offer of a ride into Liège itself, a German car stopped and I approached the driver with a "Fahren sie vielleicht im Richtung Brüssel, oder sogar weiter nach Ostende?". He left me flabbergasted when he told me that he was actually on his way to Oostende and just over three hours later I was home!

The next trip, numero 87 started at the end of July. I was planning to do more of the same (i.e. Raststätte hopping), but after the first hop onto Raststätte Frechen, just west of Köln, the trip became a bit more interesting when an English car stopped. The driver turned out to be an ex-Croat who had fled his country during the Yugoslavian wars in the early 1990'ies. He had obtained the English nationality and worked as a music teacher in Birmingham, but was going to Zagreb to visit relatives and offered to take me there. However, in the end he took me only as far as a petrol station just across the Austrian-Slovenian border, because he, as I later found out, wrongly assumed that I could not enter Croatia with just an ID card rather than a full passport.

After getting something to eat, I decided that I would not go to Zagreb, but settle for Ljubljana and a return via Italy. That evening I still managed to get a ride to Ljubljana, or rather to a petrol station on the ring, but there was very little traffic when we got there, well past midnight, so I walked out of the back, found a wooden bench and rolled out my sleeping bag for a nap. The next morning I eventually found a Hungarian truck driver who was on his way to Italy and although I expect to get more rides with trucks in the future, he currently holds the distinction of being the last truck-driver who gave me a ride. It's not that I mind trucks, it's just that they are a bit slow when you're racing around Germany…

I was dropped on an Italian "Area Servizio" next to Padova, and the plan was to "turn right" after Verona onto the Autostrada del Brennero towards Austria, but again things took another turn. A Swiss car stopped. The driver, a Chinese guy, was initially a bit reluctant to give me a ride, but in the end he decided that it would not be so bad to have someone to talk to. He had come to Switzerland as a student and was now working for a Swiss investment bank, doing pretty well. He dropped me off almost five hours later on a petrol station just after the Gotthard tunnel. After a meal and a bit of rest, I tried getting a ride, and although 27 July was just a normal Tuesday, it turned out to be a day on which everyone seemed to be returning from their holidays, with cars full of children and suitcases. It took me nearly four hours to get a ride with two Dutch guys, who eventually dropped me off on a Raststätte next to Freiburg, from where I managed to get one more ride, before calling it a day.

I got home the next evening, and the data I collected during the trip ended up on the PC a day later. I knew that I had done more than 3,000 km in three days, but it wasn't until I looked at the output of my programs that I realized that I had managed to do something far more interesting, the drivers of rides two to nine had eight different nationalities, finally surpassing the set of seven-in-seven from a trip I made more than 25 years earlier. The other amazing statistic that rolled out of the programs was the ridiculously high "quality" factor for this trip, 132,443. If you want to know how I define this "quality", have a look at Thumbing Around: Robert Prins Writes on Bernd Wechner's mirror of the now defunct Suite 101.

The numerical "quality" factor of the next trip was rather a bit lower, and I even had to take a train back for the final stretch back home, but what happened between arriving at the destination, Katwijk, and returning from there two days later was fabulous. At the beginning of 2010 I had found (again) a list of my fellow sixth form pupils of the "Class of 1978" and more amazingly, although given the resources that are available nowadays, maybe not entirely unexpected, I had managed to track down all 25 of them, albeit that I found out that one of them had sadly died some 15 years earlier. With two exceptions everyone thought it would be fun to hold a reunion, but getting together 25 people turned out to be pretty hard, especially when five of them live abroad. In the end 13 of us came together on a glorious Saturday in August, it was great to see each other again, and to find out what everyone was doing. Two of our former teachers also turned up, and one of them, my former chemistry teacher, Eelco Hessling, even took his old teachers notebooks with him, including the one with where he misspelled my name as "prino", the nickname that has stuck ever since. Using another one I was finally able to prove that he once withheld me a mark of 10 on one of my report cards.

The next trip, in September? You can read all about it in the blog I already mentioned earlier, Close, but no cigar….

To get that cigar, I needed to hit the road again, and so I did in October, twice! Trip 90 was another pretty much run-of-the-mill exercise in Raststätte hopping, but trip 91 was the third trip with an actual goal, another IBM meeting, this time in Eisenach.

The part of the meeting that I wanted to gate-crash took place on Monday, but I had been unable to find accommodation via Hospitality Club or Couch$urfing, so rather than going on Friday, when there is in general more traffic, I had decided to go only on Saturday, and that worked out very well. After a first ride to the petrol station just before Gent, the second ride, albeit after a wait of well over an hour, took me into Germany. Here another long wait (1:33) followed, before getting a ride to Raststätte Siegerland, which is, looking at it from a pure hitchhiking point of view, a step in the right direction.

Or is it?

If you ask Google for directions, Google Maps suggests three possible routes and I had followed, more or less, the second of their suggestions, so what could be wrong? The problem is that Siegerland lies on the direct route in the direction of Frankfurt, with few cars driving around Giessen towards the east, Google's suggestion to go around Giessen via the north is useless, it's not an Autobahn. So what can you do in a situation like this? I decided to go towards Frankfurt, and to get out at Raststätte Wetterau. The old 1997 guide of Tank & Rast did not mention any way of crossing the Autobahn, but I was hoping that I would find one and if you actually zoom in on the place, you will see that there is a road going under the Autobahn. Once on the other site of the Autobahn, traffic will be far more evenly divided into traffic going to the west and traffic going to the east, and it took me just 16 minutes to get a ride, with a Polish driver, that would take me directly past Eisenach. He dropped me off at the exit and I walked the last bit into town. Once in the center I tried, in vain, to contact my potential CS host, but eventually decided to stay in the youth hostel.

The meeting was on Monday, I finally met IBM's lead PL/I developer - he should have attended the April meeting in Bingen, but the Eyjafjallajökull eruption threw ash in the works. After the meeting, which ended at around 17:00, I had two options. The easy one would have been to return to the youth hostel and return early on Tuesday morning. However, I decided to reward myself with a challenge and so I walked out of Eisenach to the Eisenach-West junction, arriving there at around 18:30. Standing with a Giessen sign in the dark, and not a lot of traffic, I expected that it would take me some time to get away, but after just about half an hour a car stopped and I was given a ride to Raststätte Berfa, almost 80 km further and a mere 10 minutes later a ride to Raststätte Limburg followed. The driver actually made a detour past his final destination to get me there, "because if I drop you at the place I need to turn off, you'll never get away anymore". The wait at Limburg was bearable, and eventually I got a ride with two young women, one from the Czech Republic, the other from Russia, to one of the places I had visited quite a few times before in this year, the petrol station just before Liège. I did go in, tried to get a bit of rest, but occasionally threw a glance at the forecourt. My not falling asleep was rewarded, just before three a Polish minibus pulled up, and based on experience, I guessed that the driver would at least be on his way to Brussels, but maybe even towards the coast and the UK. It turned out he worked as a bus-driver in London and he was on his way to Dunkerque, and a little over two hours later he dropped me of at the Jabbeke petrol station. It was 5:14, not a time to be out on the street hitchhiking, nor a time you'd expect women to pick up hitchhikers, yet a mere seven minutes later I was given a final short ride to Oostende, by a woman!

I had now done ten trips, more than in any other year since I started recording my trips way back in 1980, my plan to hitchhike in every month of the year had already fallen to pieces after missing out in February, so I did consider calling it a year, but in the end I decided to push on to at least to make a trip for every month of the year.

So, off I went again near the end of November. The weather wasn't ideal, it was cold with a prediction of snow, but the trip was amazing. It was yet another exercise in Raststätte hopping, or should I be bold enough to say, a masterclass? The trip took just under 72 hours, during which I got 23 rides. The average speed of every ride was in excess of 100 km/h and the average speed for the whole trip (based on actual driving time) was a mouthwatering 126.8 km/h. One of the rides was with, if I were willing to believe the driver, the fastest Mercedes in Germany. He claimed that it could do in excess of 310 km/h, but sadly, due to the snow, he wasn't able to prove this claim, we never went much faster than 230-240 km/h and then only on the few stretches that weren't yet covered with snow. However, he still managed to cover almost 340 km in just 2:12. I hope I meet him again someday, when it's dry and quiet on the road.

The trip ended on a somewhat low note, I spent a total of almost six hours waiting for rides 20, 21 and 22, and more than four hours in a semi-sleeping state at the Jabbeke petrol station, before finally getting a ride home.

The final trip of 2010 took place in December. Two days, 16 rides, and, pretty disappointing, a train-ride back from Liège to Oostende. I didn't want to spend yet another night in the petrol station there and when someone offered me a ride to the railway station, I jumped at the chance and a quarter of an hour later found myself in one of the most amazing buildings I've ever seen.

So how would I summarize the year?

I'd say it was great! I "visited" eight countries, my drivers came from 27 countries, "I" broke my average speed per ride, average speed per trip, "quality" per trip, most consecutive different nationalities for consecutive rides and trips per year records, but more than those cold numbers, I met an amazing set of people, who entertained me with their stories, who on occasion went out of their way to help me, and who, by virtue of giving me rides, showed that hitchhiking is still a fantastic way to travel, even for someone who's well past the "normal" age for this mode of transport.

Last updated on 24 July 2016 for move to Neocities
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