2020 (and a lot of 19)

It's 31 December 2020, and that means that it's time to look back on a year where 19 played a rather outsize role… No, of course not 2019, but Covid-19!

But lets go back to early 2020, there are some patients in China, but Europe doesn't seem to be affected, and on 3 January, yours truly sets off for his first trip back to Belgium. It takes me 32:25 to get to Oostende, probably slightly faster than average. I plan to stay for about a week, but…

On 8 January Audronė calls me with some really bad news, her younger brother has been found dead at his place. Needlessly to say, I quickly collect my stuff, and at around 15:00 I'm standing at my usual hitchhiking spot just before the Kennedy round-about that exits onto the A10. It's early January, days are still short, but at 15:23 I'm off, be it "only" to the Jabbeke petrol station 13 km down the road.

Six more rides follow that day, and just under 12 hours after my departure, at 03:13, I find myself on Raststätte Michendorf Süd, the first petrol station on the ring around Berlin. I get a bite, and eventually doze off in a far-away corner, waking up again just after 8 o'clock in the morning.

Outside I spot a van with BY plates, and 25 minutes after having escaped the clutches of Morpheus, Alex, who came from his sister in Liège, tells me that he can give me a ride, but that he first wants to get a shower and a bite. I keep an eye on other cars, but in the end, an hour later, we drive off, and the ride will end nearly 10 hours later on MOP Prosienica, about halfway between Warszawa and Białystok, Alex takes his time for lunch and takes another one hour break in the afternoon at a parking where nobody else is stopping.

On the MOP I get a coffee, and start my quest for the next ride. Obviously most truckdrivers are stopping for the night, but eventually I find a couple of Lithuanian guys transporting a car to Vilnius that agree to give me a ride in their van, and at 3:14 in the morning I'm dropped off at a busstop next to our current place in Vilnius, and in time for the funeral of Audronė's brother, a day later.

Having had to cut short my trip to Belgium, I return to Belgium on 27/28 January, just a few days before Covid-19 hits Italy, but it's only on 30 January, with 7,818 confirmed cases across 19 countries, that the WHO declares the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. However, Belgium and Lithuania still don't seem to be affected in any way, and on 8/9 February I hitch back to Vilnius, only needing six rides, the last of them my third 1,000+ km one of the year, taking me directly from the first MOP in Poland to the Vilnius bus station, with three Belarussians in a pretty comfortable minibus.

At the end of February Covid-19 is getting worse, but 2020 is a leap year, and in those years I like to hitch on that day, 29 February, so I'm off to Belgium again, returning just over a week later.

Then comes Friday the 13th…

And I'm off to Belgium again, don't ask why, and that's when the Covid-19 shit finally hits the fan, you can read all about it in "A viral story"…

After my return, the health situation in Lithuania isn't really all that bad compared to Italy or Spain, we stay in most of the time, and I continue my paint-jobs. When I finally finish I reckon I've painted about the surface of a tennis-court. Still, you've got to do something to "pay" for your accommodation.

Eventually, and Audronė is dead against it, I hit the road again on 30 April, the number of Covid-19 cases has been hovering in the low double digits, so I consider it safe enough. I just hitch to Kaunas and back, and the reason for it will only become obvious in a few months time.

In May I again hit the road for a very short trip, this time from Oostende to Brussels to Oostende, for the same reason. I actually drive to Belgium as a friend-of-a-friend from Lithuania is in the process of escaping from Brexitania, and we offered him to stay at our place for a while, and going by car allows me to take back our old Ipswich greenhouse for the family in Vilnius.

And then comes June, and more precisely, 16 June, and the story of that day has already seen the light as "16 June 2020, 40 years on the road".

Still in June, now it's the 22nd, and again I hit the road, hitching from the sliproad onto the A1 next to Gariūnai to the end of sliproad off the A1 next Gariūnai, via, to make things a bit more interesting, Klaipėda. Of course there wasn't really any need to hitch all the way up to the coast, the real reason for hitting the road on 22 June was purely statistical, by hitting the road on this particular day, June became the first month where I hitched at least twice on every day.

July comes, Covid-19 seems to retreat, I hitch to Belgium and back, clocking up my fourth and final 1,000+ km ride of the year, and get my second ride in a Tesla, and may have missed out on a fourth, noticing too late that the driver had returned to his car which was parked next to a charger. Earlier on that day, while standing at the official south-bound "Liftplaats" in Utrecht, no less than 15 Tesla's had driven past in the space of about one hour, about one in every ten cars!

Still July, and if you would ask me why I again hitched from Vilnius to Vilnius via Klaipėda on the 27th, I'd suggest you should think of me as the "Petje Pitamientje" of hitchhiking. (No link, figure this one out yourself!)

The 10th of August? From a sub-500 km one-time hitched day to a 1,000+ km twice hitched day. In other words purely for the statistics, and also for the same reason as the trips in April and May. And for a change of destination, I happened to get to the exit into Šventoji…

September comes and I make two more trips from Vilnius to Vilnius, both via Klaipėda, and the second comes close to hitting the jackpot, it starts with a ride of just 4.5 km, and two more rides take me back to Vilnius. If only…

I had declined the first ride? And the same woman who would stop for me, this time next to Gariūnai, two weeks later, driving me directly to Klaipėda had stopped that 30th of September? But that didn't happen. She did however give me my first direct Vilnius to Klaipėda ride of 2020, which was "sadly" followed by four rides to get back.

Although? Actually, the fourth of these rides was a treble first,

  1. it was the first ride in a Porsche in 2020 (and the 23rd in all my years on the road),
  2. it was the first ever ride in a Porsche in Lithuania (Germany tops the count with 11), and
  3. it was the first ever ride in a Porsche with a female driver (giving me a good excuse to add a new "type-of-driver", "VPor")

Two days later things go from "sad" to "bad", it takes me nine rides to get to Klaipėda, two (which is OK) to get back, but more than 13 hours is just way too much, and a 2:08 wait on a petrol station, even in the age of Covid-19, is also a bit too much. The final trip in October is much better, two rides out, one ride back.

The two days in November are just there for the statistics, 564.2 km on the 18th, and 599.8 km on the 25th take out the last two sub-250 km days of this calendar month. What is noticable is the fact that the first ride on both days is with the same driver as the first ride of 29 October, making it the first time that three consecutive trips start with the same driver!

The final "V-K-V" trip takes place on 9 December, and the K is actually replaced by a P for Palanga. By now we're really being bowled over by the Covid-19 balls, but people still stop, and what's more, they still stop while I'm standing on the emergency lane, all but one of the nine rides of the trip are of the "stick-out-my-thumb" variety, and the departure location of the fourth ride is "A1 @ km 231", the place I walked to after having been dropped off at the exit exit Šilalė/Kaltinėnai, in the middle of roadworks, where stopping would have been near impossible. The woman that picked me up there was going to Palanga, so I decided that that would make for an "interesting" change. Two rides later, with an 0:02 wait at the exit of Palanga and 0:08 on the sliproad in Klaipėda I find myself at the exit Vėžaičiai/Veiviržėnai, having accepted a sixty kilometre ride that turns out to be just over sixteen kilometres. Ouch! Fortunatly the wait is a short 11 minutes. The petrol station at the exit for Tauragė is pretty dead, so again I walk onto the A1, for a ride to the last petrol station before Kaunas, where I face yet again the longest wait of a trip, 1:13, and eventually just over eleven-and-a-half (long) hours I'm dropped of at the Vilnius Bus station, just in time to jump on bus 2G. The trip, the 19th of the year, taking 2020 level with 2014, is the first of the year on a never-before-hitched-on day!

Then the women running the country decide that "enough is enough", and that there will be a complete lockdown starting on 16 December, which happens to be another of my never-before-hitched-on days. So I take the risk and go, but things don't go very well. Next to that it's cold and there's a persistant drizzle. I make it to Kaunas in two rides, but after a cup of coffee I decide to cross to the other side, and hitch back, and it takes me two rides to get back to Vilnius. Of course we're singled out by the police who are now around in full force, my driver has the required papers that allow him to travel further into Vilnius, and when I tell the policeman who's stopped us, in English, that I'm on my way home, which I am for all intents and purposes, we can continue, and at 11:45, next to the Gerosios Vilties bus stop, the last, 180th, ride of 2020 ends.

Some final numbers for 2020

The year started with a bang, I never hitched a longer distance in January, and February and March weren't too shabby either, but the distances hitched in April and May were the shortest. ever, and June wasn't much better either. July included a trip to Belgium, but August and September were once again worst of the month. October and November were also well below the average for those months, and the good thing about December was the fact that it allowed me to cross off two more unhitched days, the bad thing was that my series of 31 (in 2018), 30 (in 2019) was interrupted, and 29 December will have to wait another year, just as 24, 25, and 26 December.

The total distance for the year, 24,528.7 km was, not entirely unexpected, around 25% lower than the average distance for the previous ten years, and more than a third lower than that for the previous five.

2020 was the second consecutive year without meeting drivers with nationalities that I had never met before, so that count stays at 93, and a total of just 18 nationalities is also well below the average of the last few years, but the fact that I only visited six countries, even missing out Luxembourg for the first time since 2008, provides a (partial) explanation. However, there was, as mentioned before, one new type, "VPor", a female Porsche driver.

Getting 20 trips in 2020 was a nice coincidence, and a new record, but I would rather have preferred fewer but longer trips. Four 1,000 km rides puts the year second after 2016, when I had five of thse little monsters. It was also for the first time since 2007 that I didn't have any rides with an average speed over 100 miles per hour.

Final words about 19?

Did Covid-19 make it harder to hitchhike? Looking purely at numbers, and one number in particular, my average waiting time, I could say "Yes"… Then again, the average waiting time for 2020, just short of 41 minutes is only a little over three minutes longer than the average waiting time for 2019, which was the lowest in the last 12 years, and still way lower than the whole-career average of just over 48 minutes, so on that basis the answer might just as well be "No".

What also suggests that it's not harder is the fact that a way larger than usual percentage of my rides was of the "stick-out-my-thumb-and-wait" variety, and for some 80% of them the average waiting time was below the whole-career average, and the per-country waiting times also didn't differ substantially from the long-term averages.

I did at all times carry a mask with me, but only a handful of drivers asked me to keep it on, and a few considered it a totally useless gimmick that only gives a false sense of security. More than a few also told me that hitchhiking might actually be safer than taking public transport, where keeping distance might be much harder, something I could only agree with, given that I take the "can of sardines" that is bus 20 from Lazdynai to Kaunas Plentas where I walk onto the A1 to depart from Vilnius.

Last updated on 5 January 2021 - Initial version

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