Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: September 1, 1997
The issue of world records is a tenacious one. It just won't seem to let me go. You might remember from an earlier article (More Records) that Stephan Schlei holds the current record for hitching endurance at 776,955 km. Well, it turns out that Alexej Vorov challenges it. I mean, Stephan has been doing battle with Bill Heid now for anything up to ten years, slowly working his way up to this grand total, and now Alexej waltzes up and tells us he's done 1,200,000 km!
Well, that's 1,200,000 km according to our mutual friend Vladas Sapranavicius, or 1,005,000 kms according to Daan Toner. Alexej himself is incommunicado! I'm assured that he has written the Guinness Book claiming his record, though, so we'll see what comes of that.
Vladas tells me he once covered 2750 km in 24 hours, dashing Robert Prins' record of 2300 km, wrote the guinness book, only to find they no longer list this record! (To find out why see More Records, and below).
Well, I've already expressed my cynicism regarding these records, and introduced a suggestion for A True Record, but not too long ago I had reason to to suggest a record to the Guinness people myself. In so doing, as far as I know, I've coined a new word ...
Here's an extract from the letter I wrote them, judge for yourself:
Jim is a retired log truck driver. His wife died some 14 years ago, I believe, and he himself seems to be somewhat over the age of 60 (at the very least). In 1988, he tells me, he started to pick up hitch-hikers, and has been doing so ever since. He carries the evidence in his back seat. Of every hitcher he has picked up he's taken a photo. He asks them to sign his guest book, and takes their address to send them a copy of the photo.
He has in the 9 years since 1988 filled 7 guest books, 27 address books and dozens of photo albums. He recently counted the photos, one per ride, out of curiosity. They number over 5000. I counted over 500 myself before aborting my mission.
They call him the Angel. "The Angel of the northern hitch-hiker," reads one quote in his guest book.
Jim has in 9 years picked up over 5000 people, probably somewhere in the order of 7500 people, if you count people rather than photos (a great many travel in pairs, of course). That amounts to an average of 2 people every single day for nine years. I'm impressed. I hope you are too, and I invite you to consider listing Jim next to Stephan in your hitch-hiking section, as the most prolific "hitch-hikee" on record.
My argument for so doing, is not merely that it is probably a world record, and definitively well documented, but that listing such an act of generosity promotes somewhat more positive behaviour in would-be record takers than earlier listings have. It is, in short, a positive and useful record in the field of hitch-hiking, where so many you had listed earlier were of questionable social merit, promoting curious endeavours in seekers of Guinness Book fame.
I suspect that these speed hitching records, as they got better, relied on longer and longer rides. That the easiest way to break the record from Land's End to John O' Groats was to get a single ride all the way. Given the time waiting for that single ride was not accounted for, there must have been some incentive to wait for it.
In 1991 you listed the greatest distance covered in 24 hours, a record which you justly dropped the following year, as it is barely laudable. I've hitched similar distances, though not recorded them to such detail, and, yes, they rely on travelling through Germany where there is some 800km of very fast speed-unlimited motorway to help you along. Having twice covered great lengths in Germany at over 250km/hour I'm quite familiar with the chance, slim as it is, that a fast car will stop. Surely, little, if any, of the credit can go to the hitcher!
That 1991 record took only 4 lifts, and, of course, the fewer lifts there are, the closer the hitcher's speed comes to that of the ordinary driver. The likelihood that Robert Prins encountered a north German sports car heading home from, say, Hungary, as I once did, is noteworthy.
The ultimate record, then, will inevitably go to that lucky hitcher picked up by a pair of speed freaks doing shifts for 24 hours for as long as possible on German Autobahns, who remembers to get them to sign a testament to the fact. Not a human achievement, in my mind, just a rather fortunate event for the long distance hitcher.
Inciting people to stand around trying it by offering them an instant of fame through a listing in your otherwise praiseworthy book, is of questionable merit, in my mind.
Please consider, instead, listing Jim. You will be able to write to him at:
You too! Write Jim and express your support and amazement. Let him know I sent you; he's a real record maker among all the attention seekers.
Oh, and the Guinness people? They wrote back; they're busy compiling the new edition and will look into it ... Anyone care to take bets on who makes it into next year's Guinness Book? Alexej, Jim, both, neither?