Friday, 27 June 2014

Hitchhiking Home

Hitchhiking: "(also known as thumbing or hitching) is a means of transportation that is gained by asking people, usually strangers, for a ride in their automobile or other road vehicle."

I've never hitchhiked before. It's another thing that's never really entered my head and if it ever did I'd probably have thought that driving myself or travelling by train would probably be both safer and a hell of a lot more comfortable (or should I swap the words safer and more comfortable around there?).

But I've been thinking about it for a little while now. The original idea was to Hitchhike to Hull. Partly because one of my best mates lives their - and I need to visit him - and partly because it's a good title for a blog post.

But then a couple of weeks ago my maternal grandmother or "me nan" as I called her sadly passed away.

Me nan was an amazing woman. She went through a lot in her life but always came through any adversary with good humour and a smile on her face. She was one of my favourite people in the world, not least because she was strong, determined, independent and had a strong sense of fun. So in the true spirit of the way me nan lived her life - she definitely lived it her way! - I decided to Hitchhike Home - to North Wales - for the funeral.

Now I wanted to do this properly. By which I mean give myself the best possible chance of actually doing it. So I set an alarm for 9am but I have a bad nights sleep, sleep through my alarm and wake up late feeling ill. My snot - of which there is a lot! - is bright yellow (glow in the dark yellow).

I think about postponing my adventure by a day because not only do I feel ill but I'm also worried that if I leave mid afternoon I'm going to be stuck in the middle of nowhere attempting to thumb a lift after dark. But I have a shower and something to eat and feeling a bit better I decide to give it ago. If I don't do it now I maybe never will. So I make some signs. I had some cardboard lying around from my "very successful" attempt at Graffiti and just before 2pm, with my bag:

my signs:

a maxed out debit card and (only) £8.61 in my wallet (there was no plan b. It was hitch home or nothing!):

I leave the house full of apprehension and hopeful that I will get to travel in at least one HGV.

After a quick trip to a well known supermarket chain who don't need the advertising - where I blow half of my budget on lunch - I take a walk to the closest dual carriage way, around 30mins away. This is for two reasons. Firstly I feel that the chances of me getting picked up in the middle of Walthamstow are slim to none and it gives me some time to get the confidence to start putting my thumb out.

By the time I've found a place to stand - with space for people to pull into a bus stop to pick me up - it is 2.45 and about time I get started (or I never will). So I stick out my thumb and hope for the best. I don't know if it's a good place to stand? I'm probably too close to the roundabout but there are a lot of cars. I guesstimate that around 1000 cars pass by without any sign of stopping. I tell you, you arm really starts to ache after holding it out for 30mins.

Now I start off a little nervously. Putting your thumb out at the side of the road is an alien thing to do. It's not like you're stopping a bus. You're putting your thumb out in the hope that a random stranger will do you a favour/pity you enough to pick you up. And finally someone does! At around 3.15 when I'm starting to think "if no one picks me up after an hour I'm going give up and get a train" a middle aged woman in an old green Renault Scenic pulled up. I was so excited I nearly leap up into the air. The adventure was on!!!

Now the first thing to mention was that it was a woman on her own who first picked me up. I found this strange as I didn't really expect a single female or anyone with children in the car to pick me up. Watching the cars stream by I totally understood when a woman or family went by but every timt I saw a man alone in a car I always thought "oh come on! Surely you could pick me up". Secondly I recognised her and her car. She had already driven by!

My first lift was from a woman called Carolyn - unfortunately there are no pictures. I'm still a big rubbish at this blogging lark - who was on her way to Loughborough to pick up her daughter from University where she had been studying Computer Science and Maths. Carolyn was brilliant because not only had she stopped to pick me up but she had totally gone out of her way to do so.

She had seen me and thought about picking me up but didn't really have time to stop. However, she took a few minutes to think about it, before coming off at the next exit, turning around and coming back to pick me up. How amazing is that!

She was really nice. We had a good chat. She was originally from Essex, had a husband and four children (I think). We talked about all manner of things and when I asked her about hitchhiking she told me that she had hitched for lifts herself, a long time ago. 25 years ago when she was young and carefree. But that she hadn't picked anyone up - at least not recently - because her husband wouldn't like it and also because there had been some bad press about picking people up.

So I asked her why she decided to pick me up. She told me that I was standing in a bad place with no indication of where I was going. But that I was a young man with a bag and so I looked like I was coming from somewhere or going somewhere. She was also going on a long journey and so there was a good chance that she could take me somewhere. Basically I think that she felt a little sorry for me and was thinking as a mum and would like someone to pick her child up.

I was in the car with her for a good while. I think around an hour and a half? Before she dropped me off at Watford Gap Services.

It was either here or the junction where the M1 met the M6 but we both felt as though I might have better chance of getting a lift from the services.

Waving goodbye to Carolyn was when it began to feel serious. I was now in the middle of nowhere over an hour from London and several hours from Home! I couldn't just call it quits and walk back to my house in Walthamstow anymore. Which ever way I wanted to go - to Wales or back to London - there was only one way I could do it. Get another lift!!!

I started by asking the lorry drivers. There was one guy who was polite but couldn't help. The rest were very dismissive. But a couple of people later told me that truck drivers aren't allowed to pick people up? Which really put a dampener on my hopes of travelling in at least one HGV.

I made my way to the far side of the services, took out my sign saying "CHESTER" and stuck out my thumb. It was weird starting again. I felt nervous all over again but luckily this time I didn't have to wait long before a young guy called Huw picked me up in his old red VW Golf. Unfortunately he couldn't take me very far, in fact he took me to the junction where the M1 meets the M6, but I was just thankful that a second person had picked me up.

Huw seemed like a pretty cool guy, around my age and was the outdoors type. He talked about mountain biking in North Wales and told me that he often picked up hitchhikers. I asked him what made him pick me up and he told me it was because I had a sign - not to self always use a sign - and so he knew that I had a destination in mind. He said that he once picked a guy up who was just happy to go where he was going which had made him a little uncomfortable. He also told me that the bag helped as it made it look like I was going somewhere not just drifting around without purpose.

My third life was with Terry. A middle aged man in a small white van. I don't remember him picking me up. I really should have more video and photographic evidence of my trip :( but I remember I was in his car for 30mins or so. He was a good guy. Had been in the armed services when he was younger and had hitched himself. It was definitely starting to become apparent that if you had hitched yourself you would be more inclined to pick someone up. I think that I would now be more inclined to pick people up.

Terry told me that he picked me up because although he wasn't a particularly religious person he was a god fearing man and he believed that what comes around goes around and so he likes to do good turns for people. Plus he has been on the other side and people have picked him up.

Like with most people who picked me up we talked about the safety aspects of picking up strangers and getting in the car with strangers. Terry was funny. He told me that he wasn't afraid of dying - which I could tell from his somewhat aggressive driving style - and that if I pulled a knife or gun on him he would just speed up and hit the car in front as fast as possible because if he was going to die he would take me with him!

Terry dropped me outside Coventry where I was very quickly picked up by my fourth lift a guy called Kiri. Kiri was originally from Sri Lanka, had studied in Birmingham and had spent the last 9 years living in Denmark. I can't remember what car he was driving but like most of the people who picked me up it was quite old and battered and because he had been living in Denmark until recently it was a left hand drive.

Kiri seemed like a nice enough guy and I was in the car with him for a good part of the journey. I'm grateful of the lift but it was the most problematic of the lifts I received. Firstly it was quite an awkward journey. Kiri had been going through a difficult time. He was in the car on his own, lonely - generally in life I think - and thought it would be good to pick me up as it would give him someone to talk to and something to take his mind off his problems.

Now at no point did I ever really fell unsafe on my journey but if there was one point when I worried momentarily for my safety it was with this guy. Like I said he seemed like a nice guy but for the briefest moment I did think "this guy wants to end his life and is looking to take someone with him". But luckily that didn't happen although unfortunately the problems continued.

He ended up dropping me off in one of the worst places. He accidentally took me away from the M6 and I found myself stranded on a giant roundabout overlooking the Britannia Football Ground -  the home of Stoke City - with nowhere to stand and I real fear that I was never going to get picked up. However, to my surprise after waiting no more than 10 minutes, I was back on the road in my fifth lift with Paul who was driving an open top Peugeot.

Paul was in his fifties and although he didn't take me very far he got me back on the right track and took me back to the M6. I think Paul could see that I was a bit stranded where I was and he had both hitchhiked and given lifts to people before. He told me that he was shagging some girl in Knutsford when he was young. That he would travel up to see her and thumb a lift the 10 miles or so back. He told me that the girl was worth it and was now his wife (they have been married for 28 years).

The next lift was fantastic! I got out of Paul's car, crossed the roundabout and headed towards the M6 slip road. When I got there, there was a car already waiting for me. I tentatively approached it as I wasn't sure if they were waiting for me. However, luckily for me they were! This was Rob my sixth lift. Somehow as I crossed the roundabout he had driven past and seen my sign saying Chester and decided to stop for me. I didn't even need to put my thumb out or anything.

Rob was again a middle aged man, this time who had his own construction and landscaping business. He was an interesting guy who had been in the military and had both hitchhiked and picked up hitchhikers in the past. I was in the car with him for quite a while and he took me all the way to the Chester services just outside of Chester and only 10-15 miles away from my family home. I was nearly home!

However, this is where it all started to unravel. Unfortunately the slip road I was on was completely deserted. After waiting for around 20 minutes I was moved on by some people who looked and acted a lot like police who told me that the slip road was classed as part of the motorway and that if the police stopped I would be given a fine. So I moved up to the services where I continued to have no joy.

At 9pm, 45 minutes after my last lift had dropped me off I decided it was time to throw in the towel and ring my sister Sam.


It was funny. As I was waiting on the abandoned slip road she had text me saying "when are you coming home". I didn't answer straight away, but at 9pm with the light failing and 7 hours of travelling already behind me I decided to call it quits and tell her that I was stranded and needed a lift. At this point I had almost completely lost my voice and so my sister thought I was drunk but after convincing her that I wasn't and that I genuinely needed a lift, Sam and her husband Craig came and rescued me, branded me a nutter - I think all my family think that I'm mad - and took me home to see the reaction of my mum (who we all assumed would kill me).

In truth my mum reacted better than anyone who knows her could ever have imagined. Telling her afterwards and opening with "don't worry I'm not planning on doing it again but..." was definitely the way to go! She was just happy that I was home.

And so after 8hrs, 200+ miles, 6 (not 5 as I say in the video and maybe 7 if you count Sam and Craig?) lifts I finally made it home! A long and tiring but a fun and pretty successful journey.

What I would say is that I had a good time and although I don't think you should live your life thinking the worst of people, hitchhiking does of course comes with risks. Therefore, if you do decide to do it, try to limit those risks as much as you can.

Maybe think about doing it with someone else? Don't do it if you are young and/or a woman on your own. Don't do it at night and/or on deserted back roads. Also don't do it on the motorway as you will get into trouble. But if you do decide to give it a go. I would say that signs and a big bag are a must or getting a lift might prove impossible.

Otherwise good luck & HAPPY HITCHHIKING!


  1. I think everyone should try hitchhiking - it's great.

    1. I completely agree. It's a shame that it's so unusual to see these days.