A Guide to Hitchhiking: 1) Don’t walk past the speed limit sign at the edge of town

I started off from Hamilton, New Zealand. I walked out of Dad’s place wearing my loaded backpack and headed for the road to Cambridge where I had some family I could surprise. It was rush hour and people were grumpy at the stop-start traffic. I felt silly marching through the city with a backpack on and I could see some of the drivers watching me with curiosity as they crept past. Sometimes the traffic would slow right down and I could overtake the stopped cars. As cars overtook me and I overtook them back I felt we were becoming more familiar. There was a set of twenty cars that were going about the same pace as me. Having watched me for a while I figured one of these cars would pick me up, but nobody stopped. Then the traffic started flowing again and my friends were gone.

No biggie, I thought, I’ll just keep walking and my positive actions will be rewarded by the universe. So I walked out of town. You can tell you have walked out of town because there’s a sign at the edge increasing the speed limit to 100kmh. I felt good, I had hit a milestone, I had left Hamilton. I’d rather have left in a car but at least I had left. I was on my way.

As I walked further out of town I stuck my thumb out and realized that the drivers were going by at a higher speed. Ignoring me was so much easier at 100kmh. One blink and I was a blur in their rear view mirror.

An hour and a half later I was wondering how long it would take me to walk all the way to Cambridge. Would I get there by nightfall? At least I had brought my sleeping bag. A minivan stopped and asked where I was going.

“Cambridge,” I say.

“That’s where I am going. Hop in.” And so I became a hitchhiker. I had risked my life, stuck my thumb out and hitched a ride from a complete stranger. It was a young mother and her two little children.

“How come you picked me up?” I asked.

“You were making an effort to walk there on your own.” She said.

This comment reinforced my ‘walk out of town’ habit and messed me up for days. Here’s the lesson: Don’t walk out of town. It took me a lot of miles to figure out the best option is to stop at the speed limit sign at the edge of town, put down your pack and stick out your thumb.

These lessons were learned the hard way over a period of a couple of weeks hitchhiking in New Zealand. It was 1988 and I was 21. My Father was living in Hamilton on the North Island so I started there, making my way to visit my cousin Kevin in Dunedin on the South Island. Even though I was a New Zealander by passport I had left the country at fifteen months of age and was an Aussie kid with an Aussie accent living in Sydney. In no way is this a definitive guide to hitchhiking. This was the only trip I hitched.


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