My first day, technically, of hitching resulted in standing in Dover for five hours, not a fucking clue what I was doing, trying to hitch across on the ferry to Calais. Got bored and distressed after said five hours and stayed at a mate’s house, then got the ferry the next day. Cheating, but I was clueless and eager to move.
Landed in Calais in the rain and said fuck it, so bought a train ticket. Wasn’t sure what I was doing, wasn’t sure at all, but continued deeper into my travels. Had a place to crash from Couchsurfing so I refused to listen to the voice in the back of my head and went with it. I was anxious but thought of Kerouac to get me through the initial tough moments. As I like to say, I’d rather regret attempting my travels than regret not doing it. Met the guy from Couchsurfing who was nice enough to give me exact details on how to get to his gaf, he was a cool cat. As I was on the way to his place, I noted in my diary ‘I have no idea where the fuck I’m going.’
I landed in beautiful Ghent and was shown around. It’s a beautiful city, though I was only there for a night. My host brought me to this wonderful small bar, and we had hazelnut liqueur that tasted like Nutella and vodka. Strolled around, chilled. It was all so unbelievably new to me, though there was something there that I was missing, but not in a bad way, not in a bad way at all. Slept on a stranger’s couch for the first time in my life and it was awesome.
Woke up, used a carpool and landed in Amsterdam. Crazy dude didn’t even charge me. I sat down in the main square in Amsterdam and just smiled. Met my mate and chilled in his house in Leiden, which isn’t too far by train. Decided to meet someone I’d talked to online in a hitch hiking forum to see if we’d like to travel together to Berlin, as we were both intending on heading that way.
Back into Amsterdam, I met my (now steady) friend and we strolled around. It was at this moment that something was realised in me that I had missed but hadn’t known what it was. It was freedom. The freedom to do or go wherever I wanted, whenever I pleased.
We got a beer or three, chilled and chatted it out. There was a connection there that’s hard to relate to in everyday life, but we decided to hitch together (well, it was more me following her), and it was set. Another night in Amsterdam, then we skedaddled along the E30 and my life changed in a way I never thought it would.
First day hitching set into motion a series of events that I’m still figuring out and which culminated most recently in hitching from coast to coast in America. We got a train to the outskirts of the city, where there’s a special spot for hitching along the motorway that leads directly to Moscow. I was decked out in horribly disgusting clothes but sure look. My lovely friend made a sign that read ‘Berlin’ and I just ambled about, not really knowing what was happening and not caring.
Thumbs out, a ride pulled in after about ten minutes and we hopped in. It was a lovely lady by the name of Inke. She spoke soft and struck me as a really caring person. She was a lovely first ride to get. She worked as a ‘conflict zone psychologist’, cared deeply about people. She even gave us her phone number in case we drifted back towards Amsterdam anytime soon. It’s touching moments like these that leave an imprint.
Second ride took a while to arrive in the wind and cold. An older couple pulled in, but as soon as we discovered they were heading to the German border along the backroads we noped and started hitching again. Not long and a younger couple dropped us two minutes up the road to a petrol station, which was a much better place to hitch from. Stood there, I was delirious about everything and nothing, and not long until a youngish man came along chatting to us. He’d never picked up hitchers but he was driving from the south of Holland to Copenhagen, just because. He saw us and said fuck it. He was a G, Benjamin, and dropped us near a spot called Innsbruck.
Thumbs up again, and a wild looking older Polish guy picked us up. He hadn’t a word of English and it took an hour into the journey to discover he had German. I was edgy at first, as there were no words and he kept screaming loud Polish into his phone, but once we started chatting he was a legend. He drove us for about two hours at a solid 150km/h, and at the end even looked for a ride for us when he saw Polish reg plates. It was this act of trying to get us a ride that showed me for the first time what it meant for someone to go out of their way for me, with no reason other than to be nice.
He dropped us off in the setting sun, hugged us, laughed heartily and headed on his way. I often wonder where he is or what he’s doing. We went and got food at this abandoned petrol station and wondered what the fuck we’d do. It was about 5.30pm and the sun was setting, which is bad news for hitching. There was also no traffic, at all. We sat out on the curb and I got anxious but trusted in my friend. I turned, and was like, ‘hey, look, it’s a British registra-’ but she was already halfway across the carpark to talk to the guy who was driving. He agreed to drop us to the outskirts of Berlin and we were set. Turns out he was Polish too, drove lazily, and near Berlin told us he had no insurance. He was a funny chap. Dude drove from Liverpool to the edge of Poland in 24 hours because a flight was too expensive.
We arrived on the outskirts of Berlin, I said adieu to my friend (who was going to her friend’s house) and went to meet another mate to crash at his house. And so the first day of hitch hiking went immaculate. I kept diaries of my travels, and that’s why I can recall each memory so vividly. In saying that, often before I read the excerpt I can recall names and places and such. Nothing can compare to the feeling of freedom I found, something that no one really believes is true. No matter how much Kerouac you read, you’ll never understand how accurate his texts are until you hit the road and see it with your own eyes.
My project for the rest of January is document various moments from my first trip. Though it gives me a heavy heart to read these diaries of times gone by, I know they’re some of the best memories I have. Take it easy, you cool cats. Sunflower, sunflower.
Here’s some more photos of Amsterdam and the hitching that followed:
And here’s an album I associate with travelling across Europe forgetting about what it meant to exist: