Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: June 1, 1999
Brad Benedict keeps very detailed records of his hitches, much like Robert Prins. But where Robert's focus was on the numbers, Brad's has been on people and experiences, enabling him to summarise very beautifully the many outstanding experiences he's collected. Rarely will you read such a convincing summary of why people hitch!
It's All About People
People. That's what hitching to me is all about. People. The people you meet on the road. Locals that you just don't meet staying in 4 star hotels and taking the train, or flying between major cities.
It doesn't matter how you go about it either. I've hitched on my own, with a friend, and with my wife. Don't think it's always easy as I've been stranded for over six hours on several occasions and had cars spin rocks at me, young hoods shout obscenities through car windows, and been chased by rabid dogs. Thankfully I've never had an incident with a driver, but it is a risk I accept in order to obtain the benefits that hitching can bring. As a traveler you always have to be a bit wary no matter whether you're traveling on a train, walking through a town or hitching. Unfortunately bad things have happened to hitchers, it's a personal choice and it's certainly not for everyone.
The real value in hitching is meeting good people from all walks of life. Especially valuable when you are in a foreign country. No country that I've ever hitched in is immune to this sort of generosity, as nearly everone you meet on the road helps out in some way. Some by providing information on the people, culture and politics of their country. A lot have driven out of their way to get us on a better road, out of a large city, or to a hidden campsite that only the locals could know of. The best and most appreciated were the ones that have opened up their homes for me. I've got lifelong friends in New Zealand who took me and two friends into their home for three days back in 1988, and since then we've visited back and forth several times. One lift into Melbourne led to three different Kmart managers, and their families, treating a friend of mine and I to 10 nights of free room & board - now that's hospitality!
Most of the people I'll never see again. Complete strangers who do a good deed and expect nothing in return. I offered money whenever the need was there, but very few would ever accept. A 40-year-old Finn with what looked like his life belongings in his car, drove us twenty miles out of his way, because he had hitched round Italy & France twenty years ago and people had been good to him. A Belgian woman who drove out of her way to get us on a better road, simply because a stranger had been helpful to her in London years earlier. A lot of the lifts I've gotten over the years have come from fellow hitchers. Joe, an American living in Finland, took us in for three days because people had done it for him countless times in Oz and NZ. These are GREAT people who return favors that they were never able to repay to the strangers that had done similar to them. Last year my wife and I provided a bed to a young hitcher from Quebec, and I keep in touch with him weekly on the email to this day. The circle continues.
Old and young, rich and poor, the lifts came in all forms. The Irish widow who gave us a lift despite the fact she had two young boys in the car - I had a great time being taught the rules of hurling by a 7-year-old. The 70-year-old Welsh grandmother who stopped despite being in a hurry to get to the hospital in Llandudno to feed her Alzheimer stricken husband. The Aussie couple who shared their home for three days, and gave us the opportunity to spend it playing with 11 orphaned kangaroos. The young German who gave us a tour of Würzburg before dropping us at a service station that was out of his way. The BMW owner in Ireland who picked us up in the rain and didn't mind the fact that he had leather seats. The Scot who insisted on taking us home for dinner to meet his parents, resulting in a great afternoon of conversation, and a hike to a waterfall. The Danish businessman en-route to Copenhagen, who upon hearing we needed to pick up some visas at the Indian embassy, insisted on helping us find it and then proceeded to drop us on the front steps. The Swede who went out of his way to drop us at a quiet beach where he knew we could pitch our tent for the night.
The Czech couple with two young children who said they had to find room in their car for us, as they saw the CDN flag on my pack and just had to try and help us out. The Frenchman who insisted on giving us a driving tour of all the major sights in his beloved Paris, before he dropped us at the front door of the budget hotel that we had looked up (and he had called for us to book a room). The Kiwi grandmother, who despite living alone, brought three nineteen year old Canadians home and had us pitch our tent in her back yard. The middle-aged Canadian women who, along with her mother, stopped and picked up three young guys and didn't think anything of vouching for strangers at the US-Cdn border. The wealthy German couple who took my wife and I 2,200 km down the west coast of OZ, stopping at all the scenic spots we had hoped to get to. They would drop us at our campground, and promise to pick us up one or two days later as we made the journey all the way to Perth together - and steadfastly refused to take a penny from us as we tried to share the petrol costs. These are just a sampling of a hundred more like them, who truly did their country PROUD!!!!
If anyone is thinking of heading off hitching a bit of advice...1) Bring along a great attitude - if you can't find the humor in getting stranded for 5 hours, you'd better learn to lighten up...2) Bring a tent - I've been dropped in some out of the way places and having my tent always meant I had a place to crash... 3) Enjoy the people - if you have no desire to talk to interesting locals in a country either stay home and rent the video, or join a tour and avoid the locals completely!
I have to admit I'm impressed. Brad's managed in this short piece to squeeze in no less than 18 specific examples of human beauty that he's experienced over his 11 years of hitching, and still find time to recognise the drawbacks and dangers. This must surely be enough to make even the most admant anti-hitchhikers out there think a second time about their view of the balance, between risks, incoveniences and returns ...
It's worthwhile comparing Brad's story to that of Jostein Sand Nilsen. What emerges is a stimulating contrast of views and the very clear picture that the joys of hitching are most certainly out there, and yet, not within everyone's reach ...