Ten years ago, I wanted to travel, discover new lands and meet new people. But, let’s be frank, my lack of resources quickly made me disillusioned and pushed me, almost by chance, to discover and practice hitchhiking regularly.
It was mainly in summer.
In Belgium to begin, The whole France to train and some excursions in Portugal or in Spain, let’s say for laughs.
Everyone knows the principle of hitchhiking.
As a reminder ; we land at the edge of a road, preferably in the direction we want to go, we present a summary sign with our destination written on it, or simply we raise the thumb, we plate an angelic smile on the face and then, well, we’re waiting.
Sometimes it works well. Sometimes worse. Sometimes not at all.
Of course, many variables come into play.
The weather first. Waiting in the rain or in the sun is not the same. And it is well known, the weather also plays on the mood of people. On a sunny day, people may be happier. Conversely, if you are soaked to the foot, you may be a little pitiful, and someone will stop to help you. You already see, that only for the weather, it is very variable.
Then, are you alone or accompanied? Being alone has the advantage that you take up less space. But people will not trust you because you may be a serial-killer on the run. Or more confidence because you seem friendly with your friend or your girlfriend.
Yes, because gender is so important. A boy alone, will inspire less confidence. A girl a little more, but it may be riskier for her. Two guys are more flipper. It also depends on the size, the outfit, the type of skin (do not be hypocritical). A couple is good. Two girls is better. Or not.
Let’s continue with the destination, the main goal, anyway, of this little journey. Go far? Not far? On a busy axis? Not frequented? Are there good spots on the way (spot = place to land, to be visible, but safe, that cars can stop easily and not impede traffic, there is a shelter in case of rain, etc. Example: service stations with their toilets and their store in case of glitch are pretty good)? Do people want to help you for ten kilometers, or twenty or a hundred, or a thousand?
Where is this destination? In the country of departure? In another? Do you have to cross borders? Is it a welcoming country? A safe country? Rather bad reputation? Are people open or more reserved? Is it a habit in this country, or not?
You will understand by these points, hitchhiking is not an exact science.
I had just arrived in Finland for a volunteer project in this small eco-village, Kurjen Tila, which promoted sustainable development. At a small international seminar, we were offered to participate in a hitchhiking race. Two days, secret destinations until departure time and good luck.
So, I embarked with a young Latvian I hardly knew for this adventure like no other. I had often hitchhiked. For me, to join friends or just like that, but never as part of a race.
The purpose of this competition was to promote hitchhiking as a means of transportation. From the ecological, economic, human and social point of view, this way of swallowing the kilometers was the simplest and the most advantageous. But it was not just about hitchhiking, but about carpooling.
How many cars go in the same direction with one person on board, the driver? I have stayed hours and hours on the side of the road, I can tell you, tons.
Hence this simple observation, just share. Time, expenses, everything. No more fear of the other for the driver or uncertainty of waiting for the hitchhiker. The specialized sites grow and are more and more sure (blablacar.fr to name only the most known). But I’ll come back to it later, first let’s do an express summary of this race like no other.
Helsinki. Outdoor amphitheater. 6 PM.
We had received our GPS trackers, to be followed on live, and the secret destination: Kemi, on the border of Lapland, seven hundred kilometers away. We were fifty teams of two, disguised, old, young, regulars, couples, friends, a mother and a son (!) And … it’s gone.
Well, not right now.
The time to choose a route (two possible routes: the green road, “easy”, by the center of the country, two check-points required or the red road, “difficult”, by the coast, two other check-point), to leave the capital by tram and to settle at an exit of the city, an hour had already passed.
Then, the wait. Thirty minutes, nobody stops.
A student, on foot, advises us to go further. We listen to it and we walk.
Wait, again. Nobody stops. It starts badly.
Finally a car. But it’s a taxi. We refuse nicely, he advises us to go further. We listen, again, and we walk, again.
We meet another team. They have been waiting there for two hours. We go a little further and… we wait.
Finally ! A bus filled with team-building engineers stops. They go to Lahti. After three hours, we are finally on the road. For a small step, but still. They share a beer with us, ask us what we do, we explain. The atmosphere is good, they are enthusiastic, but they explain us that in Finland, the hitchhike is quite rare. No matter: “we believe it” we answer.
One hundred kilometers, it goes quickly when you have fun. They drop us at an ABC gas station open 24/7 and under encouragement, they leave us. A pee break and is it’s gone.
The few cars and the late hour urge us to try to move on. We make the wrong choices by leaving the station and accepting two lifts of thirty kilometers. Here we are at two o’clock in the morning, in the parking of a closed station, without a car on the horizon. The night, which never really falls here, still makes us sleepy. A few mosquitos, a sleeping bag on a bench, the caps screwed on the head and good night.
Wake up at 6 AM. A tea and a hot chocolate at the opening of the shop and hop! we change the strategy.
No more thumbs and wait, we will directly approach the first customers who park for a morning commission. The language barrier, our awakened heads, the early hour, what do I know, we are only refusing to begin.
Then Santa’s smile enters the track. A man, forty years old, tells us that we are in a bad place. He can drop us off on the right road, at a good place, but it’s only thirty kilometers away. Here we go. I sit at the back and I have a companion, a shotgun. Oops.
A little embarrassed, our driver explains that he likes to hunt birds and that he forgot to put away his weapon. It’s reassuring.
He talks to us, very friendly, and just tells us that, if Santa were all alone, she would have fewer problems to move forward. I, the men, scare people, apparently. This is a speech we will still hear at least three times.
On the right road, it’s an old gentleman who takes us. He does not speak English, but goes to Jyvaskila, as our sign indicates. He wants just to help us, without sharing chat or anything. It’s also that, hitchhiking: pure mutual help without compensation.
Twenty kilometers from the first checkpoint, he drops us off. Still follows the wait. Under a fine drizzle, thumbs up, smiles exposed, we wait. Some people pretend to stop and then restart. One, down, stops, given us his finger and restarts in a rush. What’s going on?
A Russian finally drops us off at the first checkpoint, the photo proof with a panda made, we restart.
We have fallen behind. Very late. By internet, we learn that there is already a winner. They have just arrived at Kemi, by the red road. We are stuck four hundred km from the finish, but we keep our spirits up, others have just left Helsinki.
We continue the technique of approaching people at a service station. We smile, we introduce ourselves, we explain our project. A not-so-smart young man is going to Lapland in a big empty Audi break. We almost begging him, but he’s just saying it’s not his habit. Yes, not everyone is ready to help.
Two sisters take us because they saw a report on the TV on the race where the reporter said to take us, because hitchhiking is cool. Finally, we meet people who are touched by our message.
Gradually, we arrive at the second checkpoint. We renamed our race “Step by step”. A little boat trip, a souvenir photo, a lunch break and we take stock.
Three hundred forty kilometers left, it is already 3 PM, and with our average speed, we will arrive in two days.
We write Oulu on our signal, and we walk under the gaze of the sun (finally!) along the road. To laugh, I say that in twenty-eight cars, we will be taken. The tenth stops and that’s good, he goes to Lapland.
We take a seat in his comfortable 4×4 and between discussions, small naps and tourist stops we ride more than four hours with him. Enchanted by our adventure, we share our experiences and our anecdotes.
We finally arrive at the campsite, the photo-finish shows 7:58 PM and it is by crushing a mosquito that we noticed that we travelled almost twenty-six hours for not even eight hundred kilometers.
But such an adventure.
It ends in this small campsite around a barbecue and a sauna. We share our experiences with other teams. We are only thirty-five, fifteen turned around.
There are regulars who did it for the sixth time. There are hitchhiking fans. There are novices. There are people who came from Lithuania on purpose. There is a bit of everything. Everyone has a little trouble. Everyone laughed. Everyone has met people for one or a hundred kilometers. Everyone shared a lot. This is especially the spirit of the auto-stop: sharing.
Here ends the report a bit long of this race like no other. What more can be said ?
Yes, it is always a little disappointing to see that in our present day people are less and less inclined to help others. That fear and selfishness predominate. Can we blame them? I do not think so, but it’s a shame. People who stops the car, they give hope. By curiosity, by charity, by kindness. Only good values.
To overcome the fear of the unknown, solutions exist. Car pooling has become commonplace in France and Belgium. Whether between colleague or friends. From a verbal arrangement or through websites, it spreads like good news. We are looking for a route among the thousands of proposed routes and we embark. We discuss, we share costs, we reduce our impact on nature. Economic, ecological, social… Did you say sustainable?
What is the use of driving alone in one’s car or in one’s life, if five others do it in the same direction?
See you on the road,
International website of carpooling: https://www.blablacar.fr/
(Germany, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Spain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Reunion, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Morocco, Monaco, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, United Kingdom, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Sweden, Senegal, Czech Republic, Ukraine)
Only Finland is missing, right?