Five more magic trips

After discussing the troubles with time zones last time, let's return to hitchhiking itself, and let's start with the trip that was the reason for the previous write-up, trip 223, but first

Long rides, a bit of history

I started my recorded hitchhiking career on 16 June 1980, and my first trip ended on a high on 6/7 July 1980 with a 924.0 km ride from Varberg in Sweden, directly to De Bilt, in the Netherlands where I used to live at the time, in a fast BMW driven by the late Roger Albertsen, a Norwegian football player, who was playing for FC Den Haag at the time. I even drove for two stretches, wisely(?) not having told him I only passed my driving test a few short months before.

It wasn't until 4 May 1985 that this record distance was broken, but only just, during a ride from Sentilj to Skopje. I sat for 926.0 km on an old engine covered with an old carpet!

Then came 26 June 1986… I had been to Greece, and has started my way back to De Bilt. The first three rides out of Athens were short, to the exit for Oropos, to Ipato, where I had to wait 3:29 for the next ride, and then to a petrol station at Thiva. Here, after 25 minutes a German car stopped. The driver got out, it was a woman, but, after some initial hesitation, I was allowed to come along. We left at 15:11, and the next day at 20:40 I was dropped off on Raststätte Nürnberg Feucht Ost, 2,217.0 km further, obliterating "my" previous record!

The next 2000+ km ride followed almost three years later, in 1989, and it was the one that started off the sequence of four rides that gave me my fifteen minutes of fame. Neoklis Adamopoulos drove the 2,110.6 km, from Gevgelia, the Greek-Yugoslavian border to Raststätte Siegburg Ost, pretty much non-stop.

Not just another, but two(!) more 2,000+ km rides followed only a year later, during my longest ever trip, a nearly 13,000 km monster that took me from De Bilt, via Stockholm to Kars in the east of Turkey, and back to De Bilt via Athens. I covered the 3,615.1 km from Stockholm in only four rides and a mere 70:55. The last of the four was the third "hors category" ride, 2,124.9 km, from Tankstelle Aurach, it wasn't a Raststätte at the time, to Gelibolu, on the Bosporus.

"Hors category" ride number four followed just five weeks later, and, at 2,502.9 km, it's still my longest ride ever. Lucien Steenkist and his little dog took me from a petrol station at the exit to Platamonas in the north of Greece to Driebergen, and it was the middle one of only three rides that took me the 2,888.0 km from Athens to De Bilt, in just 52:16!

The last, until trip 223 came along, of these ultra-long rides came four years later, when Wim Roodzand took me in a truck from Brindisi to Utrecht, a distance of 2,420.0 km. With a driving time of 29:04 spread over three days, it's still the longest ride time wise.

And then came the lean years… Sure I had the occasional 1,000+ km ride (and they were rather less occasional in 2016, when I had five of them), but when you're mostly hitchhiking from A to B, where the distance between these to places is actually less than 2,000 km, it seems impossible to get a longer ride, but then came…

Trip 223 - the return of R2K

On 30 June 2019 I leave home at the usual time, 5:10, use buses 35, 2G, and 20 to get to the Gariūnai bus-stop, walk to the A1 and stick out my thumb. I must have waited for a good hour, before, oh joy, getting a ride Vievis, just about 25 km further, not an ideal start, but a mere 9 minutes later, while standing on the A1 itself, rather than at the petrol station, a Latvian lady stops. She's on her way to Rīga, and drops me off at the "Devintas fortas" bus-stop just after Kaunas, from where I walk to the petrol station on the A5.

About 45 or so minutes later I approach yet another driver, asking him if he's going into the direction of Marijampolė or Poland. He replies that he is, and asks me where I want to go to, to which I reply "Belgium", after which he tells me that he's going to Tilburg, and can take me there! However, he warns me that he will have to make a bit of a detour to drop off a friend in Germany. Needlessly to say, I tell him that that's fine with me, if you're about to get a ride of over 1600 km, you're not going to complain about a few kilometres more, given that you're going to arrive in the night or early morning anyway.

So we drive off at 10:02, cross into Poland an hour later, have a bite at a "that" hamburger joint in Białystok a little before 12:00 (you gain an hour crossing from Lithuania into Poland), get petrol on MOP Parma after Warszawa another two hours later, and then, somewhat to my surprise, turn off towards Łódź, stopping, after another two hours, on MOP Janus, to stretch our legs a bit, before eventually crossing the border into Germany at Görlitz at 18:35.

A few more stops at Raststättes follow, to get LPG, to have a bite (again at "that" hamburger joint) and eventually, at 02:30 we reach the place where Paulus drops his friend, Neunkirchen, next to Homburg and Saarbrücken, so much for a "little detour"… From Neunkirchen we continue non-stop towards Tilburg, and I'm dropped off at the last petrol station before Paulus' destination, Kriekampen.

When we left Kaunas, the odometer read 191,124, when we arrive on Kriekampen at 06:22, it reads 193,201, and that makes me quite a happy bunny, clocking up another 2,000+ km ride was something I had never expected to do on a trip that's normally just 1,850 to 1,925 km long.

I also realise that this single 2,077.0 km ride, in an elapsed time of 21:20, brings me within a whisker of my 1989 Guinness record, but when I check out Google Maps I find that it's only 217 km to Oostende, and next to that rush-hour is about to start, so pretty quickly I abandon the idea of (over) pushing my luck. In the end my program erroneously tells me that I've done 2,218.1 km in 24 hours, a manual calculation tells me it's "only" 2,215.0 km.

So their are now six longies. To put this in perspective, at the time I'm writing this, 27 October 2019, I've also had 953 shorties, rides not exceeding 25.0 km. The total distance for those is 13,056.7 km, and, amazingly, this is 485.7 km less than the distance covered by the six monster rides described here!

As for the rest of trip 223, it takes me three more rides to get to the Belgian coast, getting to Nieuwpoort rather than Oostende. The trip back to Vilnius takes 11 rides, so the average length per ride record, 295.2 km, set in 1986, going from De Bilt to Athens and back in just 20 rides will live a bit longer. It is somewhat remarkable because the first ride from Oostende was with an Iraqi, it went via Nürnberg (why not be consistent and make a detour on each leg?), and included two rides with real German speeds, a top speed of 254 km/h with a German driver between Raststättes Fränkische Schweitz/Pegnitz Ost and Osterfeld Ost, and one of 242 km/h with a South-Korean driver, further to Michendorf Süd. The two Poles taking me from there to MOP Zalesie never go faster than 198 km/h.

Trip 223 is finishes with a 777.6 km ride from MOP Zalesie to Kaunas, from where the final driver is kind enough to make a (not so) small detour to drop me off next to home, the fourth time that happens this year!

Trip 224 - an unexpected visit to the "Duimenrace"

Trip 224 was supposed to be yet another bog standard V-O-V trip, but then something unexpected happened…

A few days before I was about to set off for the (outward) V-to-O leg I received an email from a friend, Frank Verhart, who's also active in the "Hitchhikers" group on Couch$urfing, in which he told me:


Hi Robert

Next week I will participate in a lift competition for the first time.
www.duimenrace.nl (English translation)

Although we are skilled, we are not going to win. It is compulsory
for two and my buddy is also a man. But it will be beautiful!!!!


to which I replied:


Hi Frank,

On 2019-08-24 00:26, Frank Verhart wrote:

> Next week I will participate in a lift competition for the first time.
www.duimenrace.nl (English translation)

Oh wow, then it's about time I also find one, RSN ;)

> Although we are skilled, we are not going to win. It is compulsory
> for two and my buddy is also a man. But it will be beautiful!!!!

You never know, it's only ~330 km so everything is possible.

I'm off to O next Thursday (29/08), small detour via Hoorn and the IJsselmeer would be fun…


In the end I only leave on Friday (30/08) as our dog has had surgery, and Audronė wants me to be around, just in case we need to go to the vet in a rush. Obviously this crushes any hopes I might have had of taking part in the race.

The day starts as usual (see above), and after five rides I find myself, at 10:47, on my "favourite" petrol station, some 7 km before the Lithuanian-Polish border. Traffic is sparse, maybe just because it is, but maybe, and that's something that may require me to abandon this particular petrol station, because prices are way higher than those at the recently opened new one a few kilometres closer to the border…

Fifty-four minutes later I've found my "usual" long ride, with a German coming from Latvia, who will take me to Raststätte Buckautal Nord, the one between Berlin and Magdeburg. We arrive there at 22:15, it's summer, still not too dark, and amazingly, it takes me only four (yes, four!) minutes to secure a ride to Räststatte Garbsen Nord, just west of Hannover, where I pop into "my" corner and get a bit of sleep for the next few hours.

While walking around the next morning, I'm asked by "Kai" where I want to go. Obviously he's not going to Belgium, but he can take me one Raststätte further, and who am I to say no?

The wait on Auetal is fairly long, 58 minutes, perhaps because it's early, perhaps because it's Saturday, but eventually a young woman, who's never before picked up a hitchhiker gives me a ride to Raststätte Rhynern, where the waiting time is again (too) long, 42 minutes, before I get a ride with a Dutch couple to a petrol station a bit south of Nijmegen.

I eat my traditional "kroketje", and start asking for rides again, and then something magical happens…

Nermin, a guy from Bosnia, who speaks about the most flawless accent-less Dutch you can imagine, tells me he's on his way to Nijmegen, some 20 km down the road, but when I tell him that I'm on my way to Utrecht (it was my mother's birthday on Friday), or that I might go first to Hoorn for the above mentioned "Duimenrace", he tells me that he will take me there, because he likes helping people and my enthusiasm. Wow, wow, wow!

I'm dropped off just outside the centre of Hoorn at 15:29, and when I arrive, after having initially gone the wrong way, at the start- and finish-line of the race, the first two teams are already back in, and Frank and Lenny returned in the second fastest time. The next two-and-a-half hours we spend mostly outside the cafe, and at 18:31 the last team finishes.

After a pop-quiz, the prize-giving ceremony is held, I'm mentioned as a visiting minor celebrity, and at 20:38 Dieuwke and Arthur give me a ride to De Bilt, where I spend the weekend with my mother and her friend.

Hitching, on Monday, to Belgium is neither good nor bad, I get my first ride at 9:32 from the Official south-bound hitchhike spot in Utrecht, and just over five hours and five rides later later, at 14:36, I'm in O. For what it's worth there's also an Official north-bound hitchhike spot, and what's really funny is the fact that I'm the owner of both of these "Travel lounges" on Google Maps.

A few days later I return to V, and for a change that leg doesn't follow the "normal" route via Eindhoven. On the Kruibeke petrol station I'm offered a ride in the direction of Deventer, and because that's well on the way to Hengelo, I accept, variety is after all the spice of life! The next ride is supposed to take me to the "Bolder" petrol station, but we miss it, and that turns out to be rather unpleasant. The driver fortunately drops me off in Hengelo, and more-or-less next to the street that will lead me back to the A1/E30, but it's raining! It takes me well over an hour to make my way to the "Het Lonnekermeer" petrol station, where the wait is another 1:47, and losing more than three hours is bad, bad, bad.

I'm "saved" by Joost, who takes me directly to Raststätte Michendorf Süd on the ring of Berlin, where I have to wait another excruciating 1:46 for the next ride, which takes me to MOP Sosna, just across the German-Polish border. Here I spot a car with Dutch plates. The driver is a naturalised Dutch guy, who came from Afghanistan, his wife is Turkish, and they're happy to help me by giving me a ride to MOP Zalesie, the last petrol station before their destination, Poznań. We have a bite and a coffee together, which is followed, somewhat unsurprisingly, given that it's now after midnight, by another excruciating long wait, 1:56, with me popping in and out of the petrol station whenever a car stops.

In the end my patience is rewarded, and I get my second ride with people from Moldova, and this ride, all the way to Kaunas, is a bit longer than the first, which only took me from the last petrol station before Brussel into that city. For good measure two guys even drop me off on the petrol station on the A1!

The final 27th ride of the trip follows a mere three minutes later, and takes me to Vilnius.

Fixing holes - introduction

Way back in 1995, I added the "Use of calendar days" table to the main lift program, and at the end of that year I had hitched on 131 out of 366 days, and only 13 out of 183 for Jan-Mar and Oct-Dec.

However, I think it was in 2012, when June, July, August, and September had already been "hitchproofed" that I started thinking about filling the remaining 122 days (yes, exactly one-third, and since 2013 I've been trying to select unhitched days whenever possible, progressively closing more holes. Right now seven months have reached that state, and there are only 23 unhitched days left, with 12 of them occurring in December.

October had until a few weeks ago two "gaping" holes, and although they were on consecutive days,a single trip to fill both wasn't a too realistic option. Sure, I could have hitched to Warszawa, "slept" in MOP Brwinów or MOP Baranów, the first two MOPs after Warszawa and both allowing you to cross legally to the other side, and hitched back, but getting from Vilnius to Warszawa isn't one of my most favourite stretches. So I decided to make it Lithuania only trip.

Of course I did want to do something meaningful, although it's of course doubtful if hitching to A, turning around, and hitching home is meaningful… For most of you it's probably not. So I decided to see how far I could get, hitching towards Klaipėda.

Fixing a hole (Part I) - trip 225

Following the normal routine, leaving at 5:10 and using buses 35, 2G, and 20, I get off at a new stop, Kauno Plentas, which is directly next to the A1, and after climbing the stairs, walk up to my normal hitchhiking spot, just before the kiosk. At 7:18 I get my first ride, to the now third petrol station on the A1 at Kaunas, and 15 minutes later the next ride takes me to the exit for Tauragė, the driver having told me that he's not going all the way to Klaipėda. The ride sets a new record for highest average speed in Lithuania, the driver covers the 107.8 km in just 0:44.

Unfortunately, the exit is pretty quiet, so rather than going further towards the coast, I decide to walk up to the petrol station, to find a ride back to Vilnius. It takes 10 minutes, and a woman tells me she can take me to the "MEGA" shopping mall in Kaunas, which at the time of writing isn't really the best place, as the A1 around Kaunas is being reconstructed and that makes it very difficult to stop cars coming back into it. However, in the end I don't have to worry, as she decides to first visit her son in hospital in Elektrėnai!

After having been dropped off at the main exit, I walk to the petrol station a few hundred metres further, and 14 minutes later I'm on my way again, and eventually dropped off next to the white bridge in the centre of Vilnius.

Obviously, at just 393.8 km, this trip(let) was shorter than many of my rides, but it served its purpose, "hitchproofing" 14 October.

Fixing a hole (Part II) - trip 226

Starting off again one day later, and following the same routine, trip 226 didn't turn out to be a copy of trip 225.

This time it takes only about two minutes to get away on the A1, and although the driver, for a change someone actually older than me, had only been taught English at school in a very grey past, still engages into conversation, and as usual his English is way better than he believes it to be. He drops me off at the slip-road onto the A1 just before the Devintas fortas bus stop.

Here it takes me quite long, 39 minutes, to get a ride, although in all honesty, two cars stop and tell me they can take me to the exit towards Panevėžys and Rīga, rides I decline. In the end I accept a ride towards the exit for Kėdainiai, although the driver, also a hitchhiker, tells me that it might be worse than my current location. From the exit I walk to the Cinkiškiai bus stop next to the entry slip-road.

Standing here, in essence on the emergency lane of a motorway, it takes just 21 minutes for a BMW M5 to stop, and in a pretty spectacular way, pulling over from the outside lane, and going from well over the legal limit to zero in about 60-70 metres. The driver is in a hurry for an interview, and just over 24 hours the until then fastest ever ride in Lithuania is relegated to the second place. The driver covers the 177.0 km to Klaipėda with an average speed of 168.6 km/h, entering my top-50 of fastest rides on place 21, and the third driver of the year entering that top-50 with a ride exceeding 100 miles per hour, the other two were Polish, and both of those rides took me from MOP Chociszewo to MOP Gnilec. The fourth entry was, give it a break, a ride in Germany, but that ride is the second longest fast ride, at 377.0 km (at 158.2 km/h). The longest and oldest ever fast ride in the top-50 dates back to 1986, a woman covered the 406.9 km between Raststättes Nürnberg Feucht Ost and Siegburg Ost in 2:30, making it my first ever ride with an average speed in excess of 100 miles per hour.

In Klaipėda I waste no time, walk back to the round-about, which sadly isn't the best location any more, as most traffic coming out of the city uses the fly-over. However, the streak of short waits continues, and 13 minutes later I'm given a ride to, the driver warns me for it, "the middle of nowhere", aka the exit for Vėžaičiai.

However, there was plenty of traffic, and this time a Mustang more-or-less repeats the manoeuvre of the BMW driver, by pulling over from the left lane, albeit that he wasn't driving as fast as the former. The ride to Vilnius, the second longest ever in Lithuania is interrupted by a short visit to a notary in Kaunas, but at 14:07 I'm dropped off, this time close to the green bridge.

Still shorter than quite a few of my rides this year, the trip did what it was supposed to do, "hitchproof" the final open day in October, and like the previous trip did with the 14th of the month, this trip did the same with the 15th of the month, these two days are now also "hitchproof" for ever month of the year.

Trip 227 - standard V-O-V, 2c, and a 10-2 split!

There's not all that much to say about this trip, it starts the usual way, and after only two minutes on the A1 a driver stops. He's on his way to Kaunas, but once again I find that he's already turning off at the exit for Petrašiūnai. Under normal circumstances that's already a bad place to continue hitchhiking, but now that they're working on the A1 at Kaunas, it's, literally, the pits, just after the exit the emergency lane is a 50cm deep hole!

So, having myself mentally prepared for the 45 minute walk to the petrol station closer to Kaunas, I'm pleasantly surprised by the fact that a new petrol station had been opened on the small industrial/commercial park, only about 500 m after the exit. Needlessly to I try my luck there, and am rewarded by a ride that could have taken me all the way to Klaipėda, but that's not an option this time, so I get out at the "Devintas fortas" bus stop, walk through the tunnel to the other side of the motorway, and then to the petrol station on the A5, where a mere three minutes later, I'm sitting in a minibus with a Latvian couple on their way to Austria, which, quite sadly, is another no-go area for this trip, and eventually I'm dropped off on MOP Parma, before their exit to Łódź.

The small Dutch van that's standing next to the pumps is empty, but the driver returns, and when I start talking to her in Dutch, she tells me that she's Polish, and that English would be more useful. She's on her way to Łódź, but is happy to take me to MOP Nowostawy, just over 25 km further. It's the last MOP for the exit.

The next ride takes me to the never before visited MOP Sołeczno, where I enjoy some spicy chicken strips, and make some calculations to see what distance I have covered so far. It turns out to be 754.1 km. Adding that to the distance I had done since I started recording my rides tells me that I'm a mere 103.3 km away from spending my second recorded light-second on the road, and around 40 minutes after leaving the MOP, in a ride that will take me close to Hannover, we duly pass the 2c mark.

On Raststätte Zweidorfer Holz Nord I get out, both the driver and I erroneously assuming that Raststätte Lehrter See Nord is still a "Baustelle", which later turns out not to be the case. Zweidorfer Holz isn't a great Raststätte, the petrol station and the restaurant are almost 400 m apart, so it's not really an option to walk back and forth between the two when it's quiet at either end. I try for a while at the pumps, then pop over to the restaurant to get a bite, and eventually return to the pumps.

About half-an-hour later I get a ride from a Dutch courier. He can take me all the way to Roermond, but given our expected arrival time there, I ask him to drop me off on Rhynern. "Why not Frechen or Aachener Land?", I hear those of you in the know ask? The answer to that question is that the restaurant on Aachener Land closes at night, that Frechen is small, and that both would "force" me to go past Liège and Brussels, which means endless traffic jams in the morning, and more than likely, a long(ish) walk out of Brussels.

I find a quiet spot in the restaurant, close to the motel (which gives you unlimited free internet, rather than the normal three hours), and sleep for a few hours.

Hitchhiking the next morning is bad. Looking through my data, most of my waiting times on Rhynern are well below one hour, including most of those before the first ride of the day, rides for which I do not record waiting times, but this time I don't get a ride until 11:48! The ride is with a Dutch man, and when we talk about my statistics, and tell him about some rides I vividly remember, he asks me if I will remember the ride with him, and I tell him I probably will, because it's the second consecutive ride with someone from the Netherlands in Germany, and because he calls me a "strange man", in a good sense, during call just before dropping me off on the Oeijenbraak petrol station before Eindhoven.

I eat my traditional kroketje, get plenty of offers for rides into Eindhoven itself, but nearly an hour later I hit the jackpot, finding a British courier, who, after I promise that I won't kill him, takes me to the Jabbeke petrol station. We discuss Brexit, and as a courier who goes into Europe all the time, he's absolutely against it. The final ride to Oostende follows a bit later.

All-in-all, getting from Vilnius to Oostende was OK, nothing more, nothing less and obviously nothing gave any indication about what was to come…

Once home, after a bit of rest, I enter the data for the 10 rides into "lift.dat", the input file for lift, run the program and a quick look at the various output files doesn't show anything out of the ordinary.

A week later, following the Oostende routine, getting up at about 5:00, and walking to the Kennedy round-about, I quickly get a ride, and six minutes later I'm dropped off on the Jabbeke petrol station. It's 1 November, All Saints' Day, and traffic is rather sparse. I get a few offers of rides into Brugge, the Dutch guy that stops goes towards Kortrijk, but buys me a coffee, and eventually two UK cars stop. After the two drivers return to their cars, I approach the male one, and ask him if he's going towards Antwerp, or maybe even Germany. He confirms he is, has a short conversation with the other driver, it later turns out she's his wife, and off we go, at 8:02, one hour and five minutes after having been dropped off on Jabbeke.

That wait not only turns out the longest of all waits during trip 227, it also turns out to be the last, Ricardas and his wife, Oksana, are on their way to Lithuania! We have a bite on Raststätte Rhynern Nord, another one in the new "Port 2000" next to the Torzym exit in Poland, and although Ricardas indicates that he could have gone non-stop to Vilnius, they decide to stop for the night, as it's Oksana's first time making such a long trip, the cars they're driving have been bought second-hand in the UK, and they're going to sell them for parts in Lithuania.

The motel on MOP Osiecza III turns out to be full, but a few minutes later we find out that hotel Zajazd Blue still has rooms available. It's the hotel where Audronė almost always stay on our way towards Vilnius, it's a really nice place, includes breakfast, and irrelevant for this trip, they allow you to bring your pets. At 7:10 we hit the road again, and slightly less than eight hours later, at 16:05 I'm dropped off, for the third time in 2019, right in front of the door.

Having twice covered the distance from Vilnius to Oostende in five rides, on both occasions stopping at the same places, this two-ride version is about as good as it gets. Sure, it can obviously be done in a single ride, and having had a just as unexpected 2,077 km and met a driver who happily made a 330 km detour to drop me off at a hitchhiking race, nothing is impossible, but somehow I don't think it's ever going to happen.

Epilogue

At the very beginning of this (way too) long epistle, I wrote that I started my recorded hitchhiking career in 1980, I'm now nearly 40 years (almost) literally down the road, and I'm still amazed by what happens. I've just described five trips, and not only did all five brought me where I wanted to get and back, but all five contained amazing moments of magic, a 2,077 km ride during a trip between two places separated by only 1,900(ish) km, a driver making a detour of some 330 km, because he likes to help people, a new fastest ever ride in Lithuania, and another one, just a day later, and meeting Ricardas and Oksana, giving me one of the most amazing rides of my years on the road, in the very same league as rides with Lucien Steenkist and Wim Roodzand mentioned earlier.

Another piece of magic that connects the ride with Ricardas and Oksana to those two, it also broke the record I wrote about in the section about trip 223, a record that had stood for more than 33 years. The record now stands at 310.8 km per ride, and I'm looking forward to breaking it again, the magic power of the thumb will never cease to amaze me!

But the real magic? The fact that AD 2019 65 drivers still gave rides to a complete stranger!

Last updated on 2 February 2020 (Changed round-robin forward link)


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