A long look back

The end of 2014 is approaching and my thumb is enjoying a well earned rest… The last time I wrote something here was nearly three years ago, so maybe it's about time to 'report' on what's happened in those nearly three years.

2012

After the amazing trip with Justina & Maarten, seven more trips followed in 2012, and there's not a lot to tell about them, a few more trips of the "Raststätte Hopping" variety, including one dipping into Italy, a trip to my stepson and his wife in Heidenau near Dresden, getting there from Oostende took just two rides, the second with a Polish family driving from Scotland back to Poland and passing, isn't life great, Dresden. The way back was a bit slower and involved a long night-time walk through and a bit of sleep next to the railway viaduct on the exit of Brussels. After that followed the now more or less standard interruption of our summer holidays in Vilnius, with a short trip back to Oostende. Getting to Oostende didn't exactly go according to plan, I went via Luxembourg, but I did get an invitation to come with a driver to Tajikistan, something that would have been more than interesting, but lacking all required visas, it would have been impossible. The trip back to Vilnius was pretty amazing, it took just 25:41 and the last ride was with an Azeri living in Lithuania. The first thing he asked was "Do you have a driving license?", and when I told him I had, I was told to get some sleep, and a few hours later I took over and he got some sleep. The last trip in 2012 took me back to Luxembourg to pick up Inga's keys so that we could spend a weekend visiting the Christmas markets in Luxembourg and Trier while she was on holiday.

The boring statistics for the 2012? 29 days on the road, 165 rides, 23,302.3 km, 10 countries visited and rides with drivers of 30 different nationalities, a new record, I'm so happy!

2013

And then came 2013, which started with a quick trip to Luxembourg, to return Inga's keys. The second trip, also in January took me to Heidenau to finally see our third grandson. Day one of this trip was pretty bad, I only got as far as Raststätte Frechen, just before Köln, but late at night I struck gold, well more or less. A car with a MEI(ssen) plate stopped and the driver offered me a ride, with a twist. He had to go to Oostende(!) first, to service a windmill, and would pick me up if I was still at Frechen when he would return in the morning. I did try to go on, but in the end I slept in the restaurant, and the next morning cautiously waited. True to his word, the driver showed up, and dropped me off in Heidenau right before the apartment building of my stepson, his wife and our grandson.

The third trip of 2013 was quite special, but for a wrong reason… I was planning to do another quick dash through Germany, but a misunderstanding at aire de Bettincourt took me to Raststätte Hochwald, where I eventually walked to the other side as getting a ride further south turned out to be impossible. Once on the other side, I eventually managed to get a ride from a young woman, Anne G, on her way to Luxembourg. It was snowing, people drove carefully, and we missed the exit towards Luxembourg, but before we could turn off, something "funny" happened. We had been following a Polish truck, and eventually, coming out of a curve the Autobahn began to climb slightly and the truck slowed down significantly. Anne looked in her mirrors, indicated a lane change and moved into the left lane. When we were next to the rear wheels of the truck, a Skoda came around the corner, driving "etwa 150 auf den Tempomat" according to the idiot driving it. Anne saw him flashing his lights and accelerated, and when we were passing the cabin the Skoda hit the back of the truck with the backdoor of the drivers side (yes, that's a turn of around 135 degrees). Anne stopped, we got out, the idiot immediately accused Anne of driving dangerously. After a sizable wait for the police, the speeding idiot and his girlfriend were, objecting vehemently, because they claimed not to be hurt, driven off in an ambulance. His totalled(?) Skoda was removed and Anne and I turned around at the next junction, and she generously offered to take me all the way to Luxembourg, where Inga just as generously allowed me to stay at her place. The case eventually came to court in March 2014, with the speeding idiot asking for damages from Anne. I was called as a witness, told what had happened, but never heard anything about the outcome. I do however know that I will never appear in a German court again, not only do they allow this type of person to blatantly lie, but they do not even pay you for the trouble of actually going there, the judge, without having the decency to ask "How did you get here" blindly assumed that I had hitchhiked and withheld the cost of me spending the night in Germany.

Trips 122, 123 and 124 were just trips to keep up the rhythm, but during trip 125, during which I was picked up, leaving Oostende, for the sixth time by the same guy, something really funny happened, I got a ride from Raststätte Inntal, the one just before to German-Austrian border to Raststätte Nürnberg-Feucht, with a Russian guy in his early seventies, who was working as a courier. We made a little detour, dropping of and picking up a load of car-parts on an industrial estate just outside Verona, turning a ride of around 240 km into one of over 950 km. On the way back to Oostende I got a taste of what it's like to actually hitchhike in the Ruhrgebiet, and I guess I was pretty lucky, as I waited on average just 24 minutes for the three rides in this "hitchhikers hell". One of those three rides was with a guy from Vietnam, the first and only new nationality for 2013 and 81st in total. He'd never picked up any hitchhikers before. The next day, I spent the night on "aire de Tignée" next to Liège, took me to Wavre ("aire de Bierges") rather than Brussels, and I decided that it would be fun to return home via Luxembourg and, for the first, and so far only time, I actually got a ride from "Aire de Capellen", the big petrol station just before the Luxembourg-Belgian border directly to Oostende.

Trip 126 was the usual one during the summer holidays, from Vilnius to Oostende and back to Vilnius. On the way back I got another ride from the guy who had picked up the three (Justina, Maarten and me) of us a year earlier, and another Tajik who gave me a ride from just before Bialystok to Marijampole.

Trips 127 and 128 aren't worth a lot of space, a bit more "Raststätte Hopping", and although trip 129 was more of the same, it deserves rather more space…

Trip 129 – Sarah Franke

On 21 April 2013, "fransa" posted the following on the now sadly defunct Digihitch website,

Subject Wanted for a Hitchhiking Documentary

Attention hitchhikers in Europe!

I am looking for anyone interested in being the subject of a documentary I will be making in the Fall. I'll be in Germany between August and December, and I am planning to make a film about someone who has chosen to make hitchhiking a lifestyle. My goal is to capture and explore the spirit of the 'wanderer'. You do not need to be in Germany – I should be able to work with you if you are anywhere within Europe. Please contact me for details if you’re interested, either on here or at (email address).

Thank you!

and still interested in being "famous for 15 minutes", I write, on 2 May, the following back

It's not a lifestyle, it's something to periodically escape everyday life.

http://hitchwiki.org/en/User:Prino
http://vimeo.com/40209632

Regards,

Robert

to which Sarah Franke replies, on 4 September, with

Hi Robert!

Thanks so much for responding to my post… I know that it's been quite some time, so just to recap, I am a film student from the US, currently living in Germany, and presently working on a documentary about hitchhiking. When I wrote my original post, I was beginning the planning process, but now that I am actually in Europe and preparing to shoot, I am getting in touch with a few people that I'm hoping to feature – yourself included. I read your bio and watched the film on Vimeo, and I think your input would be a really fascinating addition to my project. If you still have interest in being involved, I would love to find a time to meet up (I would come out to you) and do some filming. My intention is to feature interviews/stories from my subjects along with actual travel/hitchhiking footage, so if you will be hitchhiking at all within the next months, I'd love to know! But otherwise, I would be glad to find a time to come out to see you in Belgium, if you'd be willing to do an interview and to talk a little bit about your experiences over the years and why you hitchhike, etcetera etcetera. Please let me know if you are interested! Thank you.

After that more emails sail back and forth, and on Thursday evening 17 October Sarah arrives with the train from Köln (she's staying with a family in Bonn) in Oostende. The next morning we walk to the Kennedy round-about, and after a short wait we're off towards the Jabbeke petrol station, and from there after another short wait to the one at Drongen. Here I decide to change plans, we're told that there is huge traffic-jam towards Brussels, so we're going towards Antwerp, and after at the Kruibeke petrol station that is a bit longer, we get a ride that will take us to "Het Goor", the first petrol station across the B-NL border. On the petrol station it takes me more than an hour to get a ride, petrol stations near the Dutch borders are usually pretty quiet due to the fact that petrol prices in the Netherlands are among the highest in Europe. In the end we get a ride with a British engineer who's on his way to Quedlinburg and can take us towards Hannover, but near Dortmund, where we're supposed to go onto Autobahn A2 towards Hannover, his SatNav tells us that we can expect a delay of at least two hours due to an accident. Needlessly to say, our driver follows the advice of his SatNav and we take the A44 towards Kassel and eventually we go all the way to Quedlinburg with him, where we also have something to eat, and meet the mayor, who happens to also have dinner in the same restaurant. After dinner we walk out of town and just after 19:00 we end up on a small pitch-dark round-about, where the only light is that of headlights of cars. Standing at a place like this in the dark is normally a guarantee to not get a ride, but we beat the odds, someone stops and tells us that he can take us to Magdeburg, but in the end he decides to take us all the way to junction 67 on Autobahn A2, explaining that getting out of Magdeburg at this time of the day, it's 20:20, will probably impossible to get a ride further towards Berlin, something I wholeheartedly agree with. After spending a few minutes at the petrol station we walk over to the actual slip-road onto the Autobahn, and at 21:00 a car stops. Sadly it's not going all the way to Berlin, but we end up spending just 6 minutes on Raststätte Buckautal to get our final ride of the day, to Raststätte Michendorf, where we cross over to the other side. Given the time, it's now past ten o'clock, we decide to stop for the night. Had I been alone, I would just have sat down in a dark corner of the restaurant, but in this case I actually ask if it's OK if we sleep in the children's play corner. It's OK, but the lady tells us that she needs to vacuum the area first. I offer to do it for her, an offer that's happily accepted, and once the area is clean, we pull the children's climbing rack a bit from the wall and sleep behind it.

The next morning we're up pretty early and walk over to the petrol station. At about 7:15, I ask an Italian guy if he's driving towards the south. He is, but it turns out he's not alone, but with his wife, and their small car is rather full. However, they seem to like us and after spending about 15 minutes reorganising the car, their son lives in Berlin and he's given them his old computer packed in what seems to be the original very big box, they manage to create enough space for the two of us, with a big box sitting between us. Nearly four hours later we're dropped off on the last Raststätte before Nürnberg, and twenty minutes later we're back on the road, this time with a father and his daughter, on their way to a Bayern München game. They're in a hurry, at 143 km/h this is our fastest ride, and drop us around 30 km before München on Raststätte In der Holledau. I spot a car with Monegasque plates, but the female driver doesn't want to give us a ride. In stead we get a ride with an Austrian guy who drops us on the southernmost location of the trip, Raststätte Irschenberg, where we spend some time enjoying the glorious sunshine and I have a short conversation with the cows. Forty minutes later we walk to the slip-road at the other side of the Autobahn, and half an hour later a young couple stop. They only take us 16 kilometres further, our shortest ride, and at Raststätte Holzkirchen we have to wait 1:16, our longest wait, for a ride, but that ride will be, at 577 kilometres, the longest of our trip. It's also the final one for the two of us together, at 21:30 Sarah is dropped off right in front of the front-door of her host family in Bonn, the driver is on his way to Essen and having entered her address in his SatNav, it turns out the detour to drop her off at home is pretty much negligible on his way home.

Sarah has been filming our two days, but she wants to do a bit more, so a few days later she and a friend, Destiny Piñeda, who's going to do the sound, show up in Oostende. That evening they interview Audrone and me, and the next day, with me dressing the way I dressed during our trip together, we set off again, stopping at Jabbeke where they do a longer interview with me. At the next exit we stop again and they shoot some additional footage. Sarah's movie, aptly titled Prino, can be found on Vimeo, enjoy.

As for the part of the trip after Sarah and I parted ways, the detour through Bonn was great for Sarah, but less so for me, as our driver left Bonn at the "wrong" side and as a result I ended up on Raststätte Hösel, with, in essence, just one option, to hitchhike back via the Netherlands, and that's what I did, be it that I had to spend a part of the night on a petrol station between Utrecht and Breda, there wasn't really any more traffic and I was too tired anyway…

Finishing up 2013

The year finishes with two more trips, a short one to Luxembourg in November, a slightly longer one through Germany in December, making 2013 the second year, after 2011, in which I've managed to hitchhike in every calendar month. As for the boring statistics for the year? 39 days on the road, 221 rides and 28,618.9 km, and other than the trip with Sarah, pretty unremarkable.

2014 - The quest for circumnavigation

2014 was going to be a special year right from the start, I had decided that I would like to finally cover more than 40,000 km in a calendar year and not just a period of 365 days. My best achievement had been 2000, during which I had managed to cover 30,360.0 km and at the beginning of 2014 my best distance over any period of 365 days stood at 32,876.2 km, both well short of 40,000 km, which meant I had a pretty steep hill to climb. Read on to see what happened…

It's 13 January and maybe the fact that it's the 13th has something to do with it, but things don't go very well that day. I manage to get to "aire de Tignée" (the petrol station at Barchon, just after Liège) at 13:21, but spend nearly four hours at the place before a Polish guy, after a bit of pressure from my side, gives me a ride. I'm dropped of on what would normally be a disastrous place, an Autobahn parking, but having used his radio, my next driver, another Pole, is already waiting, and nearly two-and-half hours later the same thing happens, and I get third consecutive ride with a Pole. This time things go wrong, I fall asleep. When I wake up we've passed Raststätte Buckautal, my driver is going to the north of Poland, and I have no other choice than to continue with him on the western section of the Berliner ring, until Raststätte Wolfslake, where we arrive well past midnight. The place is dead, so I spend the next three hours watching TV and talking to the attendant. Eventually a guy comes in, we talk a bit and he offers me a ride towards Hamburg, but I soon find out that he's a bit of a weirdo, well, rather more than a bit…

He's driving a rental car, but seems to live it, he claims to know about every CEO in Germany (from the time he had a major company himself) and when I tell him that I might go towards Puttgarden and Denmark, he programs his SatNav and tell me he'll take me there, but before we continue, he tells me he's too tired to go on, so he stops on the hard shoulder of the Autobahn, puts on his warning lights, turns down his seat, and falls asleep. When he wakes up we continue, and it's then that I realize that something isn't right, we're not going towards Puttgarden, he's programmed his SatNav to go to Putgarten, and to finish an already too long story short, after we return from yet another misguided detour towards Trent, I simply open door when we stop for traffic lights and get out, despite him telling me that he can really take me to Puttgarden. I don't want to take the risk…

Once out, I quickly get three short rides taking me to Stralsund, were the wait is nearly an hour-and-a-half, but once the lady driver drops me in Rostock, things get a hell of a lot worse, and I spend well over four-and-a-half hours in the drizzle trying to get a ride, which eventually comes from a truckdriver who is not allowed to use the Autobahn as his boss doesn't like to pay for doing so. At 20:40 I'm dropped off on an Autohof on the north side of the Berliner ring, and in the end I will spend the night there, in the company of another (Chinese) hitchhiker, who wants a picture of me once he finds out who I am - he "knows" me from Hitchwiki. The next morning I manage to get a ride to the Prenzlauer Allee S-Bahn station, and after taking public transport to Michendorf, things pick up, only 11 minutes after arriving on Raststätte Michendorf I'm moving again, in a very nice car, an Audi RS6. The lady who bought it the evening before explains that she and her friend don't really have the money for such expensive cars, but that they like to drive them for a few months, before selling them on, usually at price close to or even over what they've paid for them! We cover the 443 km to Raststätte Lichtendorf next to Dortmund in a mere 2:57. Do the calculation yourself… The final of the next three rides, covered at a somewhat more leisurely pace, takes me to Brussels, and arriving there at 19:11, I decide that taking the train to Oostende is the right thing to do.

To wash away the "bad" taste of this first trip, I head out again less than two weeks later, and things go pretty well until I hit, guess, "aire de Tignée". This time I end up spending 5:35 at the place, but two rides of nearly the same length (263.9 & 265.0 km) save the day, and I spend a quiet night at my regular table on Raststätte Nürnberg-Feucht. The next day is fabulous, I make it back to the first Raststätte I ever stopped at, on 16 June 1980, Hamburg-Stillhorn, via Berlin and, you need to be flexible if you're hitchhiking, Raststätte Remscheid, next to the Ruhrgebiet. Six of my seven rides that day are longer than 100 km, and the average speed of all but one exceeds the 130 km/h Autobahn-advisory speed. I spend the night at Hamburg-Stillhorn. The next day I again spend more than an hour on "aire de Tignée", until a taxi-driver who's in a bit of a hurry races me to the Heverlee petrol station, from where two Moroccan guys take me into Brussels. As it's only four o'clock, I decide that it would actually be fun to try to get to Luxembourg, to hear what Inga has been up to during her traditional December holidays, so I jump on the Metro to "Delta" and just over three hours later I'm dropped off at Luxembourg Airport. I spend the night at Inga's place, and the next day it takes me two rides to get back to Oostende, the first of them dropping me at another airport, Zaventem next to Brussels. Once I've entered all the details of this trip on my PC at home, and have run my statistics programs, this trip turns out to be the fastest (as far as average driving speed goes) ever, I've covered a pretty astonishing 3,186.7 km in a mere 24:32 hours actual driving time.

Less than a week later, I'm back on the road for two not very successful days, I need 16 rides to cover just 1,375.2 km and 13 of them are shorter than 100 km, and four of those 13 add up to just 21.4 km, do the math yourself… On the "plus-side", I do for the first time use a new route into Germany, but the experience is distinctively underwhelming!

Just ten days later, my fourth trip of the year starts, and this time things go pretty well, in just three rides I make it to near Dresden, and two rides later I'm dropped off at the "Buch" S-Bahn station on the far north-east side of Berlin, fortunately still early enough to make my way, using public transport, to Raststätte Michendorf, where I sleep in the play-area, this time without having to vacuum it first. The next day is one of those weird ones that goes not exactly the way you plan them. From Michendorf I hitch to Nürnberg-Feucht, and from there to Raststätte Montabaur, between Frankfurt and Köln. I get out just after midnight, and rather than finding a place for the night, I decide to try to continue for a bit longer, and lo-and-behold just over half-an-hour later an Italian van stops. The driver is on his way to Amsterdam, but can drop me off on Raststätte Siegburg, but when I wake up, we're already gone past it, and so I decide that I might just as well continue all the way, to Amsterdam, and hitch from there back to Oostende. At 4:50 I'm dropped off at exit S107. Neither the time, nor the place, nor the weather are particularly suited to continue hitching towards the south, so I spend the next hour-and-a-half doing some nightly "sight-seeing" in Amsterdam, walking to exit S112, one of the few remaining official "liftplaatsen" in the Netherlands. I stop for a while at the Amstel station to get something to eat, and to find out that Sven Kramer was again denied a gold medal on the 10 km speedskating, this time by a stunning race of Jorrit Bergsma, who skated the second fastest time ever on this distance, less than 3 seconds slower than Sven Kramer's worldrecord, set in the thin air of Salt Lace City nearly seven years earlier!

But back to my sport, hitchhiking. The liftplaats delivers, be it not as fast as might be expected, and the ride I get is fairly short, to the "Haarrijn" petrol station, where I'm told that "we don't want you to ask drivers for a ride", something I conveniently ignore. I get a ride from a dancer who's on her way to Gent and she drops me on the "Kalken" petrol station, the last one before Gent, from where it takes me over two hours and two more rides to cover the last 79 km to Oostende, not verys good.

The age of 2014 is now 50 days, and I've covered well over 9,700 km, exceeding the nearly 5,500 km I would have to cover if the 40,000 km I'm chasing would be evenly spread over the year… Things are looking bright!

In March I make only one trip, a short one, but one that allows me to cross off a very important date, my birthday, 20 March.

The first two trips of April, spaced a week apart, are very short, I just hitchhike to Luxembourg and back. The first one takes me 9:01, the second is a fraction faster at 8:44.

At the end of April we're off to Vilnius for the baptism of our grandsons, but for personal reasons, a screening for medical guinea-pig work, I have to return to Oostende for a few days. The trip to Belgium is fast, just over 30 hours and includes a long ride with a Belarusian couple who live in Germany and a long overnight ride with a young Polish guy working in the Netherlands. The trip back is marginally slower and again includes a long overnight ride, this time with an elderly Polish man who lives in the Netherlands and is going to visit relatives in Poland. Initially he tells me that he can take me all the way to Warszawa, but eventually he decides to first get some rest with relatives just over the D-PL border. Because he will not go past the first MOP (Sosna) in Poland, I ask him to let me out on Raststätte Am Fichtenplan. Michendorf would (probably) have been better, but we've passed it by the time my driver decides that Warszawa is just too far. It takes me well over two hours to get a ride. The young guy is going to Poznan, but to my horror he leaves the A2 motorway at Rzepin. We stop very shortly afterwards at a petrol station in Boczów, and to my delight I get a ride with two Lithuanian guys who are returning from their jobs in Switzerland. They quickly return to the A2 and just over ten hours later I'm dropped on a petrol station on the A1 towards Vilnius and a mere 11 minutes later I'm already on my way to Vilnius, the first driver who stopped gives me a ride!

June sees me returning to Germany, but once again "aire de Tignée" plays havoc. This time I spend nearly three hours on the dreaded place. On the way back home two days later I get a ride with an Israeli. It's not the first time that this happens, but the last time was nearly 26 years ago, making this the (so far) longest interval between drivers of the same nationality, it can realistically only be broken by someone living next door to Israel, I've not had any rides with anyone from Lebanon since 2 May 1985!

The tenth trip of the year straddles June and July and it's yet another quick dash through Germany, no need to elaborate? Well it's the third trip of the year where the average speed of all rides exceeds 100 km/h and on Raststätte Garbsen I get a ride from three girls, who, when I ask for the odometer reading, realize who I am, Prino!

We're halfway, 182 days, though the year, and having covered 20,762.6 km, I'm still on schedule, for an extrapolated 41,639.3 km, but my margin of error has shrunk rather a lot.

The chase continues…

It's early July and we're off to Vilnius for the 80th birthday of Audrone's aunt, and to wait for the arrival of our first grand-daughter, who is expected near the end of August. Leaving the house in Oostende alone for two months is a bit too long, so we've decided that I will return twice, and that's what happens. Near the end of July I hitch back to Oostende, which takes me just over 34 hours, pretty average, but I'm sad that I have to go to Oostende, the second ride of the trip, with Jonas, takes me to Raststätte Michendorf, while he's continuing to the south of France. Had I been able to go with him, it might have been my second longest ride ever and the first 2000+ km one in nearly two decades. The trip back to Vilnius takes nearly 72 hours, pretty bad, but the highlight of it is a ride which starts on Raststätte Frechen. I am dropped there by a guy from Bosnia-Herzegovina, who is on his way to Sarajevo, and again, like on the way to Oostende, I'm cursing the fact that I have to return to Vilnius, because again I'm invited to come along! After walking up and down on Frechen for well over 90 minutes, a car stops, with a note on the window that reads "Hitchhiker friendly car". It turns out that Hans-Werner, the driver occasionally leaves home to pick up hitchhikers. When he left early that morning from Berlin and spotted a number of hitchhikers and asked one of them where he was going, a nd the guy replied "Maastricht", he drove him to Maastricht. He tells me that he can take me to Michendorf, but before we drive off, he asks me if there are any other hitchhikers on Frechen going our way, and when I tell him about two French girls trying to get a ride to Hamburg, he tells me to find them and he takes them to Garbsen. The Raststätte leaves Hans a bit disappointed, there are not other hitchhikers to be picked up. In the end, he turns out to be living well to the east of Berlin, he decides to take me all the way to MOP Sosna, where we arrive at 01:42 in the morning. I decide to go on, and nearly an hour later I get a ride that will take me to a never before visited MOP, Niesulków, 356 km closer to Warszawa. We arrive at 5:37 and this time I do go inside, "sleep" until 10:00 and then spend another 4:11 waiting for anyone to give me a ride, very few Lithuanian cars stop (most Lithuanians fill up when entering Poland and that will get them through the country in one go), and the few that stop are filled up. In the end one of the guys working at the MOP gives me a hand when a Bialystok-bound car stops by acting as a translator. The two guys explain that they're going "only" as far as Zambrów, but I'm pretty happy with a ride of "only" 226 km. ;)

They leave me at a little, and useless from a hitchhiking point of view, petrol station off the motorway, and after buying something to drink, I walk back to the junction where I can actually hitchhike again. A minute later a van stops, and I'm taken to the "wrong" side of Lomza and spend the next 40 minutes walking to the big round-about leading to Augustów. Traffic at the round-about is very slow due to roadworks, and 28 minutes later I'm offered a ride, not to, as a wrote on my sign, Augustów, but to Suwalki, which is even better. The driver is kind enough to take me to the border-bound exit of the city, but by now it's 20:32 and it's quickly getting dark. I spend some time at the petrol station, talking to the guy working there about what I'm doing, he's very surprised that a 54-year old still likes to hitchhike, and after a coffee I walk back to the road. Soon afterwards a young couple stops. He's been hitchhiking himself, and explaining that it might be difficult to get away from Marijampole at this time of the day, they take me a bit further to a petrol station, which unfortunately is on the wrong side of the road. However, occasionally cars do stop and after about 50(ish) minutes I approach the driver of one. He tells me he's sorry, but the car he and his friend are driving doesn't have a back-seat (it's filled with their DJ equipment), so he cannot give me a ride, but a few minutes later, I'm again sitting on the back of an empty small trailer, he approaches me and tells me that they can give me a ride if I'm willing to sit on the floor, and having once sat on an old car engine covered by an old carpet for two days, I tell him that I don't really mind. It turns out they've been DJ'ing at a party and are now on their way home to Siauliai and at 1:52 I'm dropped of next to Kaunas. After crossing the A1 to the Vilnius-bound side, I start walking, knowing that there is a petrolstation with a small restaurant a few (read: 6.1) kilometres down the road. I do stick out my thumb when I see or hear cars approaching, but when I reach the petrol station, I pop into the little restaurant, have a hot chocolate, and doze off for the rest of the night. The next morning one of the first drivers I ask for a ride takes me to the big supermarket next to Gariunai, opposite the small kiosk where I started off 11 days earlier, to paraphrase myself, the A1 is a pretty wide road to cross.

Just over three weeks later, I make the same trip. I few days earlier I've posted my plans on C$ and when I wake up there's an SMS from someone interested to come along, but when I call (at 5:30) and talk to his host, they're still asleep. I tell them that I will take the bus to the small kiosk on the A1 at Gariunai, and that I expect to get there around 7:00. When I leave it's pouring down, and once I'm at the busstop, I decide that I might as well spend the time waiting for the bus trying to get a ride, and much to my surprise someone actually stops. He doesn't speak English, but I tell him I need to get to Laisves prospektas, which is OK, but things get even better when I explain that I actually want to go to the A1. He tells me that he will go past Gariunai and drops me there. By then the heavens have opened even wider, and I spend the next twenty minutes in the busstop, before walking to the little kiosk on the A1. At 6:27 a small truck stops, the driver goes to Marijampole, but near Vievis his boss(?) calls him and tells him to return to pick up some additional items, and not wanting to loose time, I leave at Vievis, walk back to the petrol station, drink a hot chocolate, and three minutes after leaving the warmth, I get a ride to Kaunas. I'm dropped off before the turnoff to Marijampole, so I walk across the bridge to the petrol station. The ride I get will take me to the same petrol station just outside Marijampole where the two DJ's picked me up earlier in the month. The next ride still takes me to Marijampole and here I spend nearly three hours, first walking back to the petrol station just before the town, which turns out to be totally useless, and then just walking. Eventually a van stops and in it sits Luiz, the Mexican guy who had earlier SMS'ed me (or rather his host had). The driver drops us a little behind his destination, the petrol station just before the LT-PL border.

Just under an hour later a Dutch car stops, and I ask for a ride, and given that Luiz is in essence the first arrival, for him, the car has only room for one person. The reply is that it's me or nobody, so I apologize to Luiz and some four hours later I'm dropped of at the east side of Warszawa at a petrol station cum hamburger joint. There's plenty of traffic, but the plates indicate that it's pretty much local. Eventually someone points out that a car has stopped at the busstop on the E67. It's a young woman, and although she's also local, she takes me to MOP Brwinów on the A2, well past her destination. On the MOP she spots a Poznan bound car, talks to the driver and his wife, and after a bit of hesitation they agree to give me a ride. They are Polish, but live in New York and are on their way to pick up their children, who've spent the holidays with their grandparents, before flying back to the US. They tell me that they've never picked up any hitchhikers before, and would never ever consider doing so in the US, but I seemed to be someone they could trust. We stop on MOP Tulce and it takes me nearly an hour to get another ride, but it's a ride that's well worth the wait. Sam comes from Armenia, lives in Helsinki, is on his way to his girlfriend in Paris and because he doesn't speak English, I get plenty of opportunity to practice my French. We leave MOP Tulce at 21:35, sleep for a couple of hours on MOP Gnilec, the last one before the Polish-German border and at a permutation of our departure time, 15:23, I'm dropped on my least favourite place of the year, "aire de Tignée".

And once more, the place keeps up it's bad reputation, although the waiting time of 1:35 compares "favourably" to earlier waits. The ride to Brussels is in an original British Racing Green Mini, driven by an Italian, who even speaks some Dutch. It's raining all the way to Brussels, at times reducing visibility to no more than 20 to 30 metres. I'm dropped off at a tramstop in Brussels and as it's still pouring down, I decide to take the train back to Oostende, where I spend two days looking after things. On Friday (29 August) I leave for De Bilt, Saturday 30 August is my mother's 78th anniversary, and end up in Beuningen spending the night with my sister and her friend, the driver who picked me up just before Antwerpen is on his way to the far north-east, and should have gone past De Bilt, but when his SatNav warns him of a big traffic jam on the A27, he decides to go past Nijmegen, and dropping me next to Beuningen constitutes just a small detour.

On Monday at 6.59 I leave, my mother and her friend drop me on the "Palmpol" petrol station just after Amersfoort, and just over 24 hours later, at 8.21 I arrive in the centre of Vilnius, having (again) made the 6.1 km walk and spent the night in the small restaurant/petrol station next to Kaunas. During the trip I make my first stop on Raststätte Brockbachtal, the new Raststätte between the Dutch border and Raststätte Grönegau, that has opened earlier in the year, making hitchhhiking the A30 a bit easier, two 50 km gaps are easier to cross than one 100 km gap. In Poland I also get my first ride in a Porsche Cayenne, but the driver doesn't drive it at Porsche-like speeds, explaining that the fairly minimal amount of time he might save isn't worth the extra petrol.

Meryl

Back in Vilnius, and maybe even before I went, a posting had appeared on C$, from one Meryl Martell. It reads, [RAHP: URL shortened]

Hello everyone :)

I'm looking for someone who can drive in the UK (who has a UK/EU/International driving licence, and who can drive on the left side of the road with a French car, whose wheel is on the left side too), and who would be interested in driving my van (well, technically it would be a car like this, maybe less big. ) and me from Rouen, France (close to Paris) to Glasgow, Scotland, in mid-September (I'll have to be in Glasgow on the 19th of September). Ideally, we'd leave Rouen on the 15th or 16th of September (and the trip would take us two days (because there is the ferry to take, it would take 3.30 hours I think, then of course it's quite quick, motorway all the time).

I don't have a driving licence yet, and if I can take my test (which is far from sure) and pass it, I couldn't drive outside France for a month (the time I get the proper paper), and I NEED to take my van in Glasgow in time.

You don't have to pay gas money or anything, it'll already be a big service you give me :)
And you don't have to come all the way up to Scotland, I can drop you off anywhere as long as it's more or less on the road. :)

Please don't hesitate to PM me.

Thanks a lot in advance :)

I reply that I might be able to help if I'm not selected to be a medical guinea-pig. Some more emails sail back and forth, and on 16 September I leave Oostende taking the bus to the E40 Gistel exit. It will be my first solo trip into France and for a change things go pretty well. Meryl picks me up at the Buchy exit and takes me to Elbeuf-sur-Andelle. I have a first look at the van that will become her home for the next few years and it looks OK. After a short night we leave and despite having no driving license, Meryl drives almost the full distance to Dieppe. About half-way we're surprised by her mother who has followed us for a while flashing her lights. Meryl had forgotten her laptop… The ferry-crossing from Dieppe to Newhaven takes the best part of four hours during which I manage to get some more sleep, I've checked Google Maps, and it's a drive of around 950 km from Newhaven to Glasgow! In the end Meryl takes over twice, driving on the "wrong" side of a motorway doesn't seem to be too difficult. When we arrive in Glasgow, we leave the motorway and park in a small dead-end street in the suburbs, where we also spend the night in the van. The next morning, the day the Scottish independence referendum, we try to drive into Glasgow, Meryl needs to go to the university for paperwork, but in the end I turn around, driving in Glasgow in the morning rush-hour is a definite no-no. Driving out we pass a small housing estate with plenty of parking free space and that's where we split. Meryl has taken her bike with her, and the place is well within cycling distance of the university, so she will stay there for the first few days.

I walk back to the beginning of the M74 and although it's not an ideal place to start, I don't have to wait too long for a ride. Jonathan, a white-van man stops. He's a courier, gives me a lot of advice on becoming one, and just over six-and-a-half hours later he drops me on the Cherwell Valley Services. We have a drink together and once he's left and I've answered a call of nature I walk to the main exit, and when I'm still standing there over half-an-hour later, I walk to another exit where I get a ride in mere minutes, with a Belgian guy. He's on his way to north London, tells me that he will stop for around two hours near Heathrow for a party, but that he will be on the lookout for me when he continues his way. I walk to the main round-about next to Heathrow with a "Kent" sign and just 13 minutes later I find that I'm extraordinary lucky, as the place is in essence totally unsuitable for hitchhiking. A guy with Indian roots stops and when I get in he tells me that he can drop me at the M25/A127 junction. I suggest that the M25/A12 might be better, but when we leave the M25, it turns out that this junction, one I used numerous times in the sixteen years that I lived in the UK, has changed for the worse. The little layby is gone and we rejoin the M25, and I end up on the M25/A127 junction, one where Audrone an I once stood for nearly two hours on our way back to Ipswich. This time I'm away in merely 35 minutes, a London black cab stops and takes me to the exit that leads to the Thurrock Services. I'm not charged for the ride, the driver explains to me that he can only charge passengers inside the M25. I spend rather a long time on the Thurrock Services but eventually get a ride to the Medway Services where I spend the night watching the results of the Scottish independence referendum unfold. The "Yes" camp sadly loses.

The next morning a Moroccan truckdriver gives me a ride to Dover, but he cannot take me onto the ferry as that would require a ticket-change, and that would in turn show his boss that he had picked up a hitchhiker, something he's not allowed to do! For a while I try to get a ride at the entrance of the port, but in the end I just buy a ticket. After boarding I immediately make my way to the car-deck, but am unable to find a ride, the majority of the drives have already left their cars. I also go to the upper decks and rather than wait for the ferry to arrive in Calais, I decide to ask around and strike it lucky pretty quickly, meeting an Englishman who's going to Brussels. He drops me off at the same E40 exit I used three days before, and while still getting out of the car, a, as it later turns out, Polish truckdriver signals me that he can give me ride into Oostende, dropping me within walking distance of the centre. A short cycle ride later I'm home.

Less than two weeks later I'm back on the road, and things go pretty well, my first six waiting times add up to just 1:25 and at the end of the seventh ride I'm on Raststätte Inntal, just before the Austrian border, having covered more than 1,000 km in the process. On Inntal it's raining and nobody seems to be going more than a few kilometres into Austria, so eventually I decide to go to the Raststätte at the opposite side, but then find out that crossing isn't possible, there is a bridge, but it leads directly onto the Autobahn. Nearly back onto the service road leading back to the Raststätte, a car approaches, and without much hope I stick out my thumb, and the young couple actually stop. Thirteen minutes later they turn off at the exit for Rosenheim, and after trying to get away from there for nearly an hour, it's now nearly 22:00 and still raining, I discover a closed busstop with three metal seats. They're not ideal to sleep on, but in my sleeping back with a towel under my hips and using my backpack as a pillow, I still manage to close my eyes for a few hours.

Waking up (and not trying to get more sleep) at about 6:00, I get two rides taking me to Raststätte Fürholzen, and there a Slovenian guy picks me up. He's driving a BMW equipped with lots of high-tech gadgets that can almost drive itself. He drops me off on Raststätte Nürnberg-Feucht, and six hours, two of them spent waiting for the two rides, I'm on Michendorf, for the seventh time in 2014. I quickly cross to the Hannover-bound side and after about 40 or so minutes a nice white Porsche GT3 stops at the pumps. The driver turns out to be a Dutch marketing executive, and he tells me that I can have a ride, but that he first has to do some work. In the end this takes him around an hour-and-a-half, during which I actually try to get another ride, be it not too enthusiastically.

When we leave I notice that the car has only 364 on its odometer, and Louis tells me that he's just bought it and that he cannot drive it very fast. He's on his way to Eindhoven (which would allow me to continue towards Antwerpen), but near Hannover he turns onto Autobahn 7 so that he can make a few more kilometres, and at about 22:40, remember the "I cannot drive it very fast" the speedo shows 269 km/h (that's 167.1 mph for those more familiar with those units), I've never ever been driven faster. However, this is not the only thing that I will always remember about this ride: Just after we enter the A7, Louis turns off for petrol and while he fills up, I go inside and get coffee for both of us. Coming in I call him over, we drink our coffee and drive off, and it's not until about an hour later he realises that he hasn't paid for the petrol. Oops… Stopping on a parking, he manages to find the phone number of the Autohof, calls them and explains the situation, and at a later stop, there's a small police station next to the parking, Louis playes it even safer by going in and explaining what has happened. He later tells me that everything turned out OK. Just after midnight I'm let out at a petrol station near Helenaveen, and just 17 minutes later I get a ride from a truckdriver. He takes me to "Oeienbos", a petrol station at the other side of Eindhoven, but before we get there he has to make a handful deliveries in and around Eindhoven, so we only arrive at "Oeienbos" at 3:01. I have a hot chocolate, walk out, and at that moment a Polish van stops. I ask the driver if he's going in the direction of Antwerpen, and if he can give me a ride, and he replies with a "yes" on both questions. Once we're back on the road, I ask him for his final destination. It happens to be, of all places, Oostende.

The next trip is a standard tour of Germany, be it that I'm dropped off on Raststätte Hermsdorfer Kreuz, where I've never been before. The couple who drop me off are a German nun and a Slovak pastor who's lost relatives in the second worldwar. They're on their way to the Buchenwald Memorial near Weimar. The trip back goes once more via Antwerpen, but this time I spend most of the night sleeping on the Ranst petrol station. Once I wake up again around 5:00, I again manage to secure a ride, again directly to Oostende. Miracles do happen!

It's now 23 October and I've done 34,393.9 km. Doing the final 5,606.1 (or more) kilometre in the next two months, I also want to hitchhike in every month of 2014 doesn't seem too hard, but I don't want to take any risks, so just four days later I hit the road again, but the resulting trip isn't one to fondly remember. I spend the first night on Raststätte Lichtendorf, having waited more than two hours between rides on three consecutive occasions. The second day is OK(ish), but again includes a long wait, this time on Michedorf, but that is partially compensated by the long (470 km) and fast (141.7 km/h) ride that will take me to Raststätte Wetterau just north of Frankfurt, something I hadn't really planned. After crossing to the other side, this time doing it the right and short way, I get two more rides, and then spend another night, this time on the other side, on Lichtendorf. The next day it takes me four rides to get back to Oostende, and once again "aire de Tignée" doesn't want to let go of me, I spend a long 3:16 at the place.

Is now 29 October, I've now done 36,307.3 km for 2014, but my period-of-365-days total stands at 39,654.7 km and that period will expire on 7 November at midnight, so on 6 November I set off again, and as I require only 345.3 km, I decide that a quick trip to Luxembourg is all I need. Inga tells me it's OK to spend the night at her place, and things go pretty well. I keep a running total of my distance, and on "aire de Wanlin" I realise to my horror that I won't have anything to celebrate when I arrive in Luxembourg, it's only another 110(ish) km to get to Luxembourg, leaving me some 25 km short of the required 40,000 km. Fortunately it's still early, so I cross over to the Brussels-bound side, and hitch back, and am dropped of next to the Kraainem metro station, from where I take the metro to "Delta", where I had stood just under four hours earlier. This time it takes only six minutes before someone stops. It's a young woman from Rwanda, and she takes me to "aire de Aische-en-Refail", and the next day, having entered all my data into my spreadsheet I discover that the ride with her has taken me past 40,000 km in any 365-day period for the first time!

The ride with this woman is followed by one with an American guy who drops me off within walking distance of Inga's place, where I end up spending a pleasant evening with her and her new friend. The next morning I take my usual train to Capellen and walk to the aire with the same name. After about an hour I finally get a ride, from Sven Kiefer, a multi-percussion artist. He's German, lives in Luxembourg, and has studied in my birthplace, Den Haag, so we speak Dutch. A few minutes after we've left Aire de Capellen he realises that today he not going to Brussels, but to Maastricht. Given that he will pass Liège, I ask him if he can make a short detour to drop me on my "beloved" "aire de Tignée", and he agrees. This time the wait on the aire is bearable, just 42 minutes. A German mother and daughter pick me up and drop me next to the Schuman metro station, the daughter constantly warning her mother not to drive too fast! The metro and a bus take me to the Basilix shopping centre and from there I walk to the railway bridge at the start of the A10. Half-an-hour later a young Russian mother with her baby-daugter in a child-seat on the backseat stops. Her husband is Belgian and she's on her way to Brugge. Because hitchhiking out of Brugge towards Oostende is not very easy, I ask her to let me out on the Drongen petrol station. Fourteen minutes later a young couple give me a ride to Oostende, stopping almost next to my bike.

The next trip is short, I hitchhike to De Bilt to pick up my mother and her friend, we need to borrow their car to do some Christmas shopping, to meet friends, and to have a look at my house in Ipswich and we cannot go with our own car. It takes me three rides to get from Oostende to De Bilt, and I cover the distance is just two-and-a-half hour, about the same time we need when we drive ourselves.

After returning from England I've got three more weeks to finish the task I set myself, and I decide to combine business with pleasure, my old school celebrates its 108th lustrum on 29 November and if I hitchhike to Utrecht, making a little detour through Germany, I should have no problems covering the final 2,560.8 km that separate me from my first virtual circumnavigation of the globe in a single calendar year. (For what it's worth, legendary Russian hitchhiker Alexey Vorov needed less than 500 hours to really circumnavigate the globe in October!) Leaving on 27 November, it takes me just two rides to get to my least favourite aire of the year, but this time it takes me only 25 minutes to get my third ride, and it's a ride that counts, taking me straight to Michendorf. I quickly cross over to the south-bound side, and after another three rides I arrive on Nürnberg-Feucht, where I spend the night at "my" table. The next day starts of with three marvellous rides that take me to Raststätte Rhynern, just before Dortmund. Before? Yes, when you come from Berlin, Rhynern lies just before Dortmund! Four more rides take me to exit 2 on the A28, from where I walk to my mother's place.

The lustrum party on Saturday is OK, but sadly only three others of my "class of 1978" turn up, two "regulars" and one that I probably hadn't seen for twenty or more years, although that didn't prevent me from recognising her the moment she walked past me, like most others of our class, we organised a reunion in August 2010, she hadn't changed a lot.

I leave the next day, Sundays aren't the best days to hitchhike due to a lack of traffic and full cars, but not having hitched on a Sunday in a year in which I would cover more than 40,000 km would be unthinkable. My mother and her friend take me to one of the two official "liftplaatsen" in Utrecht, but rather than walking to the one at the sliproad in the direction of Breda, I decide to stay at the Amerfoort-bound one, and in no-time I'm offered a ride towards Apeldoorn. Two more follow after waits of 35 and 30 minutes, but the second of these two ends at junction 28 on the A35, and given that this junction is on the wrong side of Hengelo, I decide to walk the seven kilometre to the other side, knowing that this will take me to "Het Lonnekermeer", the last petrol station before the German border. When I arrive I see someone coming out of the building and when I ask him for a ride, I'm offered one to Hannover, and, about half-an-hour into this ride, complete the virtual big circle. When we stop on Raststätte Garbsen, I've done 40,145.1 km and I could go to the other side and hitch back home, but not having gone straight from Utrecht towards Oostende, which would have taken my final total to around 40,070 km, and given that it's only 16:31, I decide that I might as well hit Michendorf for a third time, give myself two hours to find a direct ride out there and manage to do so, with 12 minutes to spare. On Michendorf I cross to the other side, give myself another hour to find a first ride back towards Hannover and find one after 1:02 that will take me to Rhynern. Given the time, it's well past two when we arrive, I spend the rest of the night dozing off in a comfy(ish) seat. The next day it takes me four rides to get back home.

Final words

To end this long and interesting/boring, take your pick, entry, first of all my sincere thanks to all drivers who picked me up, without all of you it would have been impossible to remove another item from my bucket-list, bedankt, danke, ačiū, dziękuję, merci, thanks, falemnderit, shnorhakalut’yun, dziakuj, hvala, xièxiè, děkuji, tak, gracias, aitäh, didi madloba, köszönöm, grazie, obrigado, mulțumesc, spasibo, ďakujem, teşekkür ederim - complain to Google if your language is missing.

As for the exiting statistics for the year? I'm writing this on 29 December and don't really expect to do any more hitchhiking in the final two days of the year, so…

… it turns out 2014 is a year of records, not only did I succeed in a virtual circumnavigation of the globe, my final distance for the year was 41,243.4 km, I've also made more trips (19) than ever before, spent 55 days on the road, had 322 rides with drivers of 36 different nationalities (including one new one, HKJ), I've had a ride in a Porsche GT3 that, by a substantial margin, drove faster than any other car I had ever been in. Quite a few drivers took me further than they themselves needed to go, I've met one very weird guy, four people who "knew" me, hitched in the UK again after a gap of nearly seven years, my average waiting time in France was, at just over 19 minutes, shorter than in any other country, no mean feat, given that my long-time average waiting time in France (1:39) is longer than in any other (existing) country. I've hitched on every day of the week, every month of the year, and the distance in October was the third longest ever in a calendar month.

And what was bad in 2014? Plain and simple, "aire de Tignée", in total I spent nearly 24 hours on this aire!

Last updated on 11 August 2016 for move to Neocities


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