Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: December 1, 2001
Recent experiences in Australia left me wondering how I could leave my ride behind! I’d had enough and needed a graceful exit. Thumb around long enough and you too will inevitably encounter a moment or two when you wish you weren’t in this particular car, at this particular moment. Then, thoughts of exit inevitably come to mind.
Most commonly, especially in a country the size of Australia is the problem of rides that are just going too far. If there’s someplace along the way you’d like to see or visit, it’s easy enough to say so and get out. For example, several of rides I enjoyed after Darwin were headed all the way to Perth (over 4000 km!) and after Perth all the way to Adelaide (over 2500 km). I wasn’t in quite that kind of a rush and hopped in and out of these rides at leisure. Two rides though, I recall, I wanted to escape for more pressing reasons of comfort and/or safety.
The first was on the leg from Adelaide to Darwin (3000 km). By Pimba I’d snagged a ride all the way to Alice Springs. The car was headed for Darwin, but my next stop was the Alice. Stuart, my driver, was a quiet kind of guy who drank one beer after the next the whole of the way – something I find disconcerting to this day oddly enough. He also carried a rifle (usually) and expressed his chagrin at the new gun laws in Australia on account of which he’d had to hand a few in … oddly enough I was asking myself how I could lose this ride.
Now I’d committed myself to Alice Springs by confessing the destination, and by simple virtue of nothing of any interest lying in between (such is this vast inland of ours). So I was up for a long ride spanning two days but was ready to hop out at any roadhouse basically and swap drivers within the first day! One of those uncanny privileges hitch-hikers enjoy!?
The question resolved itself, oddly enough. We pulled into the small opal-mining town of Mintabie looking for a place to sleep for the night, as Stuart was tired and wasn’t going to make the Alice today. In Mintabie we checked out an old camp called the Roundhouse that a friend of mine had there, but at this stage it was abandoned and derelict and the grand outdoors looked more attractive (such is the reliability of a friend’s advice). Stuart was going to sleep in his car and I pitched tent on the only bit of green in the whole township – the football field.
We bid one another good night, then Stuart drove off, abandoning me. Hmmmm, I noted a mixed feeling of chagrin at being abandoned, surprised at the cowardly manner of it and joy at having lost the ride I wanted to lose. No doubt Stuart had decided he wanted to drink and drive on through the night and could sense I wasn’t wildly comfortable with it. This might be called a self-resolving exit option! I got a ride onwards with the school bus in the morning oddly enough …
The second ride I needed to escape was crossing the Nullarbor (the formidable plain of “no trees” and nothing much else, that separates the south east from the south west of Australia) much later in my Australian circum-thumbing. Doug picked me up in Coolgardie, the Friday before Mother’s Day. That very morning at 11 a.m., he’d decided he wanted to visit Mum in Melbourne and hit the road. Melbourne was only 3500 km away and he had all of 48 hours to be there by Sunday morning … no problem after all! Late that night, part way along the Nullarbor Plain Doug starts meandering left and right as consciousness meanders into and out of fleeting somnolence… He had earlier hoped I might act as relief driver, but my own battle against slumber, after a very full day, wasn’t any more promising. I declined, suggesting we get some sleep.
Doug pulled in to a watershed (one of the structures along the Eyre Highway that catch water in large tanks as an emergency supply for travellers) and agreed he’d take an hours sleep. Um, “six or seven would be wiser,” I suggested. But the schedule, the schedule …
I pitched my tent. He slept two hours, I slept eight. Doug drove off without me. To his credit he did try to wake me, and succeeded, but I succeeded equally well in ignoring him. Hence my problem was solved. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere with little food and little water (ironically the these water sheds are so vandalised as to contain drinkable water no more) in exchange for possibly seeing Doug’s wreck rolled over by the side of the road as I drove by later … an accident waiting to happen this guy was.
I thumb a ride on in the morning, though that’s a tale in itself and didn’t come easy out there in the middle of nowhere. I never did pass Doug’s wreck on the way, so it seems he made it, past Ceduna anyhow, where our paths diverged.
Casting my mind back to earlier voyages, on other continents, I can remember very few times I felt any pressing urge to part company with my drivers. Only the occasional encounters with road rage really. Drivers who’ve completely lost the plot and start out in hot pursuit of a vehicle that’s offended their senses and/or yelling abuse and honking horns … fortunately no guns involved to date. But I can tell you, in a fast moving car with a driver whose fuming at the ears there are no obviously graceful exit options. In fact, there are no real exit options at all … grin and bare it. The secret is to avoid becoming the object of the driver’s rage, and maintain an understanding almost counselling distance – easier said than done, but forsooth, the only option! Fortunately a rare experience, as it’s emotionally a bit draining.
I can find in my memories the occasional reference to wandering hands, mainly old men with their hands on my knee moving towards my crotch. But I always parried those off without chagrin or a need to flee. Indirectly even, by opening maps out on my lap or shifting posture and laying a bag or something on my lap, have never yet needed to say “no thank you” more directly than that.
A hitch-hiking encounter is by it’s very anonymous and fleeting nature an ideal environment for low risk sexual advances after all. I’ve not held anyone’s sexuality against them since my youth (provided they can take “no thank you” for an answer). Besides, I’ve always felt it a welcome kind of insight into what women have to deal with far more frequently than I do … unwanted sexual advances.
The first thought to spring to some worried minds on the subject of an exit post haste, is no doubt how to jump from a moving car without killing oneself, and I’m sure there are those who’ve tried it. I wish them luck. For my part I’ve always preferred defusing discomfort more gracefully than that, but then I have to confess I haven’t shared a ride with Ivan Milat either!
Perhaps the most dramatic exit I’ve read about was submitted by Bjorn to Kirsty Brooks for her book of short hitching anecdotes. He’d have us believe that he got a ride with a suicidal man who played chicken with trucks. Intentionally, in the end, running one head-on. Bjorn tells us he left through the windscreen … evidently surviving to tell the tale (the driver didn’t). A tall tale? Or a wild one?
I’d love to hear from others about their preferred exit experiences hitch-hiking. Perhaps there are some tales as woolly as Bjorn’s out there …