Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: January 1, 2002
I’d filled the year 2001 with a tour of Australia. I’d never travelled very broadly at home before, and this trip opened my eyes to all manner of new landscapes, topographic and urban. I could have gone another year and not run out of things to do, but the money was certainly drying up. The plan emerged, to migrate to Tasmania, and settle down once more. I had a gal, there was the hope of work and a liberal university that might entertain some of my research ideas (into hitching).
I had a pile of stuff holed up at my parents’ place south of Sydney though. Christmas was coming and I spent some time lingering there preparing a present of sorts – I slaved over a scanner, dismembered all of our family albums and converted the family legacy to digital format (thus preserving thousands of old fading photographs). While there I got word from my partner down south that I should bring my bicycle …
I balked. We all knew I was skint, and planning to hitch down at least to Bass Straight (Melbourne). My first instinct was not to take the bike. I thought instead to take my skates. They’d maybe keep me mobile in Hobart, and were certainly far more portable. I’d done a fair bit of roller hitching in Europe over the years and knew it was comfortable. So I asked for some advice, the bike or the skates?
"Bring both!" came the reply … I was slowly conjuring images of Tony Hawks’ hitching Irishman with the fridge. How much junk can I lug around while thumbing south?
I had hitched with bike before. Out of necessity. On tour along the New South Welsh coast in 1993 I lost 3 spokes at once and the wheel jammed in the frame. Unable to repair that in the field I hitched into the next town (bike and all) and fixed it there. Later on the same trip I was caught in a deluge and offered a ride, unsolicited, by some musicians staying in the same hostel I crashed at to escape the rain.
I thought too of Yvonne, a Dutch lady I knew who in 1996 wrote me with this plaintive conundrum hoping for some advice from a different angle:
I wasn’t so sure myself! But I loved the idea and encouraged her to give it a go – which she did. With great success. Her longest wait on the trip was in Queensland, where she got a little fussy and only wanted a ride that went more than 200 km … she waited three hours before she had the idea to turn her bicycle over, so as to appear as if she had a problem … and got a ride in short order. "Australians are helpful people!" she writes … (scheming Dutch ladies!)
And then I too had hitched across the English Channel the year before with a 750 cc motorcycle! (In a small truck with three Pakistanis who wer ekind/foolish enough to take me on board). So really I figured, who dares wins. Just as Hawks wanted to prove he could hitch around Ireland with a fridge, so too, I rose to the challenge of my own fears and knew I had to hitch south with my bike, my skates and my luggage … I just had to try.
I set out in the brilliant summer sun near Sydney (I was dressed in shorts and a sleeveless shirt), took the train as far as I could, to Bomaderry, rode through Nowra and encountered cold drizzle and rain … Hmmm. I’d packed all my warm clothes down deep, most irritating. I was still apprehensive about the hitch, but the rain I think worked in my favour. Aside from making me wet, cold and miserable (danged southerlies) I scored a short sympathetic ride inside of a quarter hour – better than average (I’d been keeping statistics all the way around Australia, and my average wait without the bike hovered somewhere just over 20 minutes).
I won my next ride in about 10 minutes, bettering the score again. But it too was short. Then I rode a while to the next service station, where I ate, and waited almost an hour before scoring a long distance ride. I was finally in Batemans Bay, but the sun was almost gone, and I wanted to reach Moruya about 30 km south, to see an old friend … if it weren’t for the cold and rain and the hilly shoulderless unlit road I’d have ridden my bicycle, but as it was I waited for a ride in the light of the service station.
I had one in short order, and it got me to my mate’s place behind Moruya - almost. Grant was a local and very alternate, building mud brick houses for a living, and he was headed right past my friend’s place to work in the morning. But he lived between here and there, and suggested I crash at his place and go with him next morning. So I slept at Grant’s near Mogo (though after keeping each other up most of the night talking we didn’t have much sleep time left before his early start).
I stayed a night at my friends, using the day to catch up on sleep, and then headed north again to Batemans Bay, to reach the connector with Canberra and the Hume Highway to Melbourne. I cycled to the Bay this time, the sun wasn’t really out, but the rain was holding back as well.
Another long wait, nearly an hour, at the start of the Kings Highway (Braidwood Road), before Jo and Jill pick me up. Jo say’s she’d not have picked me up if it weren’t for the bike, her son rides and she knows what it’s like … That got me to Braidwood, where I waited 5 minutes before a Romanian refugee took me into Canberra.
Canberra proved a little traumatic alas. Carelessness on my part left me without my Psion (the palmtop computer I kept notes in) and hence Jeannette’s phone number … I was raging at myself for losing this expensive little toy of mine, literally screaming with fury from time to time, as I hit the road, unable to reach Jeanette, in the rain, burning fury driving me north and west towards the Hume. By the time I was drenched to the bone, and fatigued to a crawl, I remembered my old mate Spike who fortuitously happened to live along the way, and knocked feebly at his door … I found a shoulder to cry on, a warm and dry bed, and was forever grateful. Last time I dropped in on Spike I had a crisis of sorts too, and I promised him I’d drop by again some time and leave my crises at home …
Next day I rode to Yass, and there waited an hour for a ride to Wangaratta (with Rick from Mullumbimby) and another 20 minutes there for a ride onwards to Melbourne (with Emma and Melitta heading home after a white water rafting course) arriving around midnight. Fortunately Miranda was out on the town and I found her in St. Kilda where we caught up a little on my tales of woe, and went home …
I found an $80 flight to Hobart, which left at 06:15 Sunday morning and arrived bleary eyed with fatigue, physical and emotional, cycling the 17 km from the airport to my lovers house, picking wildflowers on the way for a pleasant bouquet …
So, hitching with a cycle is definitely not a problem. Average wait was about 20 minutes, on par with cycle-less hitching. Eight rides to cover about 1000 km over 4 days (the breaks were of my choosing, it an be hitched in a day). Hitching (or cycling) in the cold rain, and being robbed on the way, can’t really be recommended, and made throwing a few hundred dollars at a Sydney-Hobart plane ticket look retrospectively attractive … but those are the pros and cons of hitch-hiking.
Footnote: I've annotated this tale with links to mapquest.com to help walk you through the geography some. I have to confess I find mapquest maps lacking in quality compared with expedia.com, but the latter won't allow outside links. In any case, the links may not live as long as the article, so if they break over time, I can only recommend www.expedia.com, it is an excellent mapping site for orienting oneself.