Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: April 1, 1997
Having recently covered the Guinness Book of World Records, I'd like to present an idea for a real record. The Guinness Book seems to have come to the conclusion, as I have, that the records they were collecting over the past few decades were no measure of human achievement, so much as sheer chance. The token record they keep is a compromise, though I'm still left puzzled by the way they measure the figures cited and their reliability. Not meaning to steal any credit from the current record holder, one way or another I'm sure he's convinced the Guinness people he hitches a god damned awful lot ...
But I've been moved by a dream for some time now that would be a record, and it would be a human achievement, and, above all, it would be a demonstration, a demonstration of the things that hitch-hiking represents (see my earlier articles: "The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking" and "Hitching is Not Just Ride Sharing!").
I was inspired by a series that Michael Palin presented, titled Around the World in 80 Days. In a modern-day rerun of the book of the same name, Michael set out with a film crew to get around the globe in 80 days (without flying). It was an attempt to demonstrate the possibility and to entertain at the same time.
So, what about the same thing, hitch-hiking, without the time limit? Can it be done? Hitch around the world? I think so. Further, I think it would be a real achievement, and could produce a very entertaining journal, as well, be it a film, a book, or whatever. In its full glory the trip would be not just around the globe, but around the world. By which I mean around the Americas, around Africa and Asia and Europe and Australia. Ideally, even the sea legs between them. Now, that's a grand task, and no small undertaking, not least because of the borders along the way, not to mention the civil strife within some of them.
I have in mind a book of faces. A photo of each driver from all those cultures, compiled into an album with the story beside it. A kind of album of people from all over still prepared to help a traveller on their way, a book of smiles. It's a little too grand a dream to imagine I'll ever undertake it myself (though I toy with the idea). But maybe someone will, and if they do, I'd be watching.
A smaller version would be just around the globe rather than around the world. A smaller version, still, is something like Southeast Asia to Europe, or Alaska to Argentina. All of these trips, by virtue of their length and cultural and political diversity, strike me as human challenges. Indeed, it wouldn't surprise me if they'd been fulfilled, unrecorded or unrecognised. For example, I came across a book in the catalogue of the Australian National Library recently. It is titled Seven League Boots: The story of My Seven-year Hitch-hike Round the World, by Wendy Myers, published in 1969. I suspect it's a rather rare book. I have it on order, in any case, and am mighty curious about what Wendy has to say.
In the end, I think we have the makings of true record here, a first, rather than a best. First to hitch around the world. And if the Guinness Book don't want it, who cares? Indeed, part of what irks me about the records, to date, is the feeling that people strive for the record for the record's sake, not to do something interesting and worthwhile which just happens to be ground-breaking.