A Stage is Set: the IHHC rides . . .

By: Bernd Wechner
© April 1, 1998

A Stage is Set: the IHHC rides . . .

A Stage is Set: the IHHC rides . . .

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: April 1, 1998

It's a frosty winter's morn, and our hero Vlad rouses from his sleep prepared for the journey ahead. Ennio Morricone's playing in the background. Vlad splashes water on his face, dons his yellow jumpsuit, and walks out to face the day. He's in a small country town in the east, where he collects his woman and together they ride out to the west, on their trusty thumbs. At the border they meet three of their gang from the north.

Back in old Russia there's a clansman heading the same way. Abandoned by his mates he sets off alone. A lone figure in a yellow jumpsuit heading west over the horizon.

Vlad and company have no trouble crossing into Poland.

Way out west in the lowlands, a thumber of old, the grand-daddy of them all, collects two partners and heads to the station. Old Dan had written the book on thumbing, but he didn't do that any more, left it the young lads . . . He'd seen his days come and go, and the young'uns looked up to him with a glint of respect in their eyes - well, most of them . . .

The Russian reaches the Ukrainian border. There's a check, and he has no papers!

The train hurtles east.

Vlad's gang of yellow thumbs on west.

Times are hard 'tween old Russia and the Ukraine. There's a hefty exchange at the Ukrainian border. The tempers are high, the thugs in uniforms take our Russian in . . . he's beaten, thrown out, discarded on the lonely Russian road headed back home, blood stains on his suit of yellow.

The train hurtles east.

Vlad's gang arrives in Warsaw. They had an address from back home, a Pole who runs a hotel of sorts. They'd heard from afar he'd likely harbour them for the night before the mission of the morrow. They rap on the door and find the welcome they'd come for.

The train rides on through the night.

The Russian is left to bleed on a lonely Russian road.

The night passes quietly; the train pulls into Warsaw with a screech of its breaks. Old Dan and his team pull out and head into town, to the place. The place they'd arrange to meet Vlad, The Russian, and others . . . . It was a gathering of the highest importance.

On time, as planned, the thumbers young and old, east and west, yellow and not, came together. A quick head-count - only a few Russians were missing, but the International Hitch-Hiker's Conference could go ahead . . . !

On the 15th of February 1997 in Warsaw, Poland an ambitious project saw the light of day. It was the first International Hitch-hiker's Conferance (IHHC), organised by Lithuanian and Russian hitch-hiking clubs to discuss plans for the future.

Recently on the 7th of March this year, the second IHHC took place, again in Warsaw. It's a small event with 11 members first time round and 19 second time round, but it's probably one of the most significant events in the hitch-hiking world at the moment.

Not least of all because it brings to reality many of the themes and ideas I've presented here over the last year. The strange uneasiness of hitch-hiking and organisation coming together. Such an intensely personal experience, yet so ill at ease in today's community that its adherents (and I'm among them) seek the solace of company among one another and formal, open expressions of their passions.

At the IHHC recently they discussed and decided to implement the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to Everywhere, the World Hitch-Hiker's Association and the Hitch-Hiker's Hospitality Club, all of which they'd planned already last year, and independently of my writings here. We've only come to know one another over the course of the last year. That the same ideas should have appeared here and there independently suggests to me that their time might have arrived - that hitchers in different places unknown to one another are thinking of and voicing similar ideas.

These two conferences were one-day affairs, but this time around they managed to cover only four items on the agenda of eight, and have tabled two days next year. They are of course learning as they go. By their very nature, being hitch-hikers they're not likely to be very experienced at running conferences. By nature their hearts are more inclined toward the free and easy than the ordered and controlled.

But they're brave. It's a challenge. They've come a long way already to see two conferences brought to reality, no matter how small. They've drawn interest from the Netherlands and several Eastern European countries. They've faced serious problems with borders and visas to make it happen. They've discussed some serious themes. They've borne the disdain even of other hitchers not so taken by this open attack on the unplannedness that is hitch-hiking.

The next conference (probably in February or March of 1999) is likely to be in Lithuania or Finland on account of the visa troubles many would-be-participants have had with Poland. If anyone is interested in participating I'd strongly recommend you write to Vladas Sapranavicius of the Vilnius Hitch-hiking Club. Or drop me a line and I'll put you in touch.

One of the themes discussed at the conference, and very soon to take place, is an event they've called the World Hitch-Hiker's Trophy - a race around the world by thumb, with a pre-planned route across Asia, Europe and North America. I may expand on that theme in a later article, though, because it warrants a little discussion, opens a lot of issues, raises questions, and is more than a little interesting.

In introducing the IHHC here I took some liberties in mixing details of the two conferences and stories I'd heard mainly from Vladas. Somehow the idea of all these hitchers wearing yellow coming together in Warsaw, Daan's interest and participation, their staying at an old friend of mine's in Warsaw, and the sad story of our Russian compatriate beaten at the Ukrainian border, seemed strangely romantic to me - like an old spaghetti western. Sergio Leone's Cowboy Western becomes our Thumbboy Eastern. I hope none of the participants take offence at the imagery and poetic licence . . . .

The main participants were Vladas Sapranavicius, president of the Vilnius Hitch-Hiking Club, Daan Toner, author of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to Europe, and an unfortunate Russian whom I'll leave nameless but whom I'd like to express my respect and sympathy for. Such are the trials of the East at the moment, or so it seems.

If you're feeling generous and want to express gratitude for the work presented here, by all means donate some money.