VAK-15 - No escape from hitching to the middle of nowhere

It's Wednesday 28 September 2011 and after a too short night I'm standing at my usual spot next to the president Kennedyplein in Oostende, about to depart to Vilnius for the 15th anniversary of the Vilniaus autostopo klubas, which will be held in Klabiniai, next to the red arrow, aka "the middle of nowhere"…

It doesn't take me long to get my first ride, to the petrol station just before Gent and from there a ride takes me into Brussels. I could have gotten out at the "Groot-Bijgaarden" petrol station, but this is not very good place if you're heading towards the east (Germany) or south-east (Luxembourg), because a very large proportion of the cars that stop there continue into the city itself and furthermore, there are no other petrol stations on the ring. In Brussels, I take a bus to "Simonis" and from there a metro to "Schuman" and once I position myself just before the tunnel leading out of Brussels (this is one of those very rare good hitchhiking spots in the middle of a big city), it takes me a mere ten minutes to get a ride to the petrol station cum bridge restaurant at Barchon, just after Liège. Just over two months earlier I had also been here, and had managed to get a ride straight to Kaunas, this time I'm less fortunate, the next ride only takes me to Raststätte Lichtendorf, next to Dortmund. From here two more rides follow and at 17:42 I arrive on Raststätte Michendorf, on the Berliner ring. I hope to get a ride from here directly to Lithuania, but it takes an agonizing 90 minutes before a Lithuanian car stops. The driver doesn't (or pretends not to) speak anything other than Lithuanian, so I call my wife and she convinces him to give me a ride. Like the ride in July, it will take me to Kaunas, once again saving me the hassle of hitchhiking in Poland. (Hitchhiking in Poland isn't particularly difficult, but, unless you get a ride to the east with Lithuanians, Latvians, or Estonians, or to the west with anyone living to the west of Poland, rides tend to be short(ish), and short rides means plenty of waiting between rides…)

The ride covers new territory, and having later looked at it on Google Maps, it is indeed one of the shortest routes from Germany to Lithuania, at least as far as distance is considered… If you just use Google Maps, it will suggest this 1,007 km long ride. However, my driver uses a shorter (962 km) route via Elblag, hoping to save himself not only some fuel, but also a few złoty in the process. Sadly his SatNav maps are not up-to-date (there's a lot of road building going on in Poland, in preparation for the 2012 European Football Championships) so in the end, after a few mishaps, the ride ends up at 984 km, merely 23 km shorter than the one suggested by Google Maps, and longer than the (faster) one most people would follow, using the A2 motorway, a route that will be even faster from December, when the ~120 km stretch between the German-Polish border and Nowy Tomyśl, the current start of the A2, opens. Including nine stops and a one hour loss due to the fact that Lithuania lies in the next timezone, it takes us over 15 hours to reach Kaunas, with a driving time of just over 10 hours. [RAHP, 2016: Note that due to the changed roads in Poland, the above links no longer reflect the 2011 distances…]

The last little bit of the trip, to get from Kaunas to Buiniškių kaimas, where our grandsons and their parents live, a distance of just 85 km, takes almost four hours…

After having rested a bit, I call Andrius, the president of VAK, and ask him if he can give me a ride to Klabiniai, because I have a feeling that hitchhiking there might be a bit of a challenge. It's no problem and on Friday we meet in Vilnius and together with another girl who doesn't want to hitchhike to the middle of nowhere we drive to Klabiniai, to be greeted by Vilmantas Trumpickas, last year's male winner of the "VAK Best Traveler of the Year" award, who has actually managed to hitchhike to the place. In the following hours a few more people arrive by thumb, but a substantial majority comes by car. Friday evening we spend sitting around the fire, enjoying a good meal and good conversation. Some more people arrive on Saturday, and we spend quite a bit of time preparing the evening meal. During the evening the best traveller awards are awarded. Vilmantas wins the male trophy for the second year running, with a distance of 39,000 km, I sadly have to settle for second best, having only covered just over 28,000 km. However, there is some comfort in the fact that Katja Lachmann, my stepdaughter-in-law, wins the trophy for the best female traveller, and does so for the fifth(!) time in six years. After the trophies are awarded, the 10 novices are tied together, and after overcoming great challenges, they are inaugurated.

On Sunday we clean up, and eventually head back to Vilnius. Some 40 minutes away from Klabiniai I suddenly realize that my "hitchhiking" bag, and worse, the green binder I've been using to keep my notes, have not found their way into the car - I had put the bag and my backpack downstairs, but when someone started cleaning they got separated and I only put my backpack in the car. Ouch! Not sure about what to do, I eventually suggest that we drive on to Vilnius, and Andrius calls the "owners" of the place. They tell him that there will be another meeting in two weeks and that they can pick up my bag at the same time. Initially I agree, but in the end I decide that I don't want to hitchhike back without my bag and binder, so I call Andrius and he tells me that there is a key hidden near the house!

Of course this means going back to Klabiniai, and either I'm just a very lucky git, or Klabiniai is not the really "middle of nowhere"…

On Monday morning my stepson-in-law drops me off on the outskirts of Vilnius and it doesn't take me too long to get a ride to Molėtai, where I just start walking, because waiting outside town at a bus-stop with a traffic density of about one car every five to ten minutes is pretty useless. I manage to cover about seven kilometres in the next hour and a half before finally getting a ride with someone who's delivering gas cylinders. He eventually decides that he will take me to Klabiniai, which for him means detour of about 16 km on an unpaved road. After thanking him profusely, I walk to the party-place, manage to find the key, pick up my bag, lock up, hide the key and then start walking back towards Alanta. A few minutes later a car approaches, but the driver and his wife look at me as if I'm some kind of alien and just leave me standing in the dust, and I half expect that I might end up walking the full (8 km) distance, but about a kilometre later, when I approach a T-junction a car is approaching it from the other site and, after frantically waving at it, the driver stops and gives me a ride, to Alanta. Here the wait is negligible, seven minutes and back in Molėtai I only have to wait 18 minutes for a ride back to Vilnius, despite the presence of another "hitchhiker" standing some 50 metres in front of me.

On Tuesday morning my step-daughter drops me off at a bus-stop on her way to work, and I take the bus to Gariūnai and walk to the A1 towards Kaunas. Just two minutes later I've got a ride with a young couple on their way to Klaipeda. They drop me off at the big Marijampolė-Klaipeda junction. After making my way to the petrol station after this junction, I get a ride to the A5-130 junction near Garliava and here I finally get a ride from a Belorussian. It's short, just to Marijampolė. The next ride takes me to a petrol station just before the border, the driver is actually going into Poland and could take me as far as Suwałki, but I think the petrol station will give me a better chance of getting a long ride into (or even all the way through) Poland, two months earlier I got a ride to the west side of Warszawa from the same petrol station. This time the ride is not that long, "only" to Różan, with two Poles who had to deliver movie to Kaunas for a showing that same evening. The petrol station in Różan is dead quiet, so I actually walk out of town and while hitchhiking the old-fashioned way, with my thumb, a truck stops. Now I do not particularly like rides with trucks, but you cannot really tell someone to move on when they stop, and, in a country like Poland, normal cars don't move much faster anyway. The driver is Latvian, on his way to Paris, but he has only four hours of driving time left, which he uses to get us to a petrol station on the A2 motorway near Osiecza, where we arrive at 21:25. I tell him that I would like to try to go on, and he tells me that if I can not get a ride, I should just knock on the window and he will let me sleep on the second bed, something that hasn't been offered to me for longer than I can remember, but that turns out to be unnecessary.

Just before midnight two cars with Lithuanian plates stop, and the drivers try, in the dark, to replace the broken headlight of one of them. Now I always carry a wind-up flashlight with me and, devious git that I am, use it to help them, only to also casually ask them if they happen to be going towards Germany. They turn out to be Georgians, have bought the cars they are driving in Lithuania, and are on their way to Hamburg from where the cars are to be shipped to Georgia. (The cars originally came from Germany, don't ask, neither did I…) Because of their destination, I am forced to "disembark" on Biegener Hellen, a not very good Raststätte, given that petrol in Poland is rather a lot cheaper than in Germany. However, this time I am lucky (a waiting time of just 21 minutes in the middle of the night) and get a ride with two Lithuanian guys to Michendorf. They seem to be going (a lot) further, but need to stop a few times after Berlin and me telling them that this would be no problem sadly doesn't seem to get through to them, so after we get to the Raststätte I decide to get some rest, trying to sleep sitting at a table in a corner of the restaurant. Needlessly to say, I don't sleep much.

After "getting up" a few hours later, I quickly get a ride to Lehrter See, the final Raststätte before Hannover, but from here things take a turn for the worse, it takes me close to two hours to get a further ride, to Raststätte Rhynern, where I have to wait almost four hours to get a ride to Lichtendorf. Here a Romanian guy picks me up. He's also, like the Latvian truck driver a day earlier, on his way to Paris. After being dropped on the Liège bound side of the petrol station at Barchon it takes me close to another hour to get what turns out to be my last ride of the trip and at 21:08 I'm dropped off at the railway station of Sint-Agatha-Berchem in Brussels. This station is more or less next to the place where I normally hitchhike out of Brussels towards the coast, but given the time of day, the lack of sleep and the frustration of having already spent more than seven and a half hours waiting that day, I decide to take it easy and take the train back to Oostende, which may seem a bit like throwing in the towel after having managed to hitchhike to something close to the middle of nowhere two days earlier. Blame it on my age…

Last updated on 25 July 2016 for move to Neocities