Posts Tagged ‘juggling’

Small Update, Big Trip

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

I’ve not written anything here for a long time, and that’s partly because the website is in the process of being updated. Once it’s sorted, things will be a little different around here.What follows is the first blogpost in a series documenting my recent adventures hitchhiking around Europe.

Day 1

The trip started out slow. My regular spot for leaving Saltash had only ever provided me with 15 minute waits, but today it took me 2.5 hours to get a ride, and then it was only to the other side of Plymouth. From there, though, I waited less than ten minutes for a ride to Gordano Services, near Bristol, in a van which had the heaters stuck on full. At Gordano, I got my water bottle refilled in Starbucks, and then waited about 25 minutes for a ride towards London. A continuing theme of this trip was having in depth discussions with people without ever actually learning each others’ names, and this was the first example. This was a guy who’d been driving from Cornwall, and had seen me that morning, but not been able to stop, since I was on the sliproad rather than the main road. He’d lived and worked in Singapore and now lived in Looe. We talked about generational differences and how no one hitches anymore, at least in the UK.

I was keen to get to the M20, so asked him to drop me just before the junction with the M25, but this turned out to be a bad idea. Fortunately, I was only waiting 2 minutes before I got a ride to Heathrow, with a really kind Indian guy who took me right to the terminal I needed for the underground.

I got a tube from there into London, and another out to Mottingham, on the A20 heading for the M20, apparently the best spot for hitching out of London towards Dover. After a 25 minute wait, Richard, an Irish tree surgeon who lives in St Austell, Cornwall, picked me up. He wasn’t going my way, but had had a good day and wanted to pay it forward. We stopped and he bought me a sandwich and a beer, then dropped me at the junction with the M25.

I waited about an hour there, right in front of a bunch of Highways Agency guys. It wasn’t a great spot, and when Rachel stopped to say she was going the wrong way, I asked her for a ride back to Mottingham. From there, I tried to hitch onto the M20 again for about 30 minutes, before calling Bryony and Phil, some wonderful friends of mine from South London, and staying the night with them. They gave me suncream, which turned out to be utterly invaluable, and then gave me breakfast the next day. After that, I headed back to Mottingham.

Approx. total distance: 400km

Approx. total wait time: 5 hours

Day 2

I waited for about an hour before another hitcher, Stephanie, showed up. She was much more experienced at this and shared some valuable wisdom. I started asking drivers at the pumps if they were heading down the M20, and was able to find us both a ride to Maidstone services. At Maidstone, we asked around the petrol station again, and got a ride after about 30 minutes with Peter and Charlie, and Hennessee, a small dog, in a 4 seater convertible. This was a squeeze, to say the least. They took us through the tunnel, with Stephanie finding a ride to Calais en route. After that, they were heading south, so I headed south with them, and they left me at Baie de la Somme services, a service station south of Calais. I waited for about 3 hours before giving up and deciding to spend the night there. At this point I felt pretty down and lonely. No one seemed to be going my way, and Annecy seemed a very long way off. It was, at least, a safe and comfortable place to spend the night, with free WiFi.

The lake at the back of Baie de Somme Services. The French do not mess about when it comes to service stations.

The lake at the back of Baie de Somme Services. The French do not mess about when it comes to service stations.

Where I spent my first night in France. It smelled of blossom, and minimal light pollution meant a beautiful starry sky.

Where I spent my first night in France. It smelled of blossom, and minimal light pollution meant a beautiful starry sky.

Distance: 250km

Wait: 5 hours

Day 3

I woke up after a fairly comfortable night in the grounds of the service station, dried the condensation off my stuff in the already hot sun, and headed back to the front of the service station. Asking everyone who came past, I waited for another 3 hours, and started to feel quite low. Sometimes when hitching you’re in a bad spot, but you don’t always have the option to get to a better one. Later on, I came up with a better method for hitching from service stations, but at this point I was still a relative novice. Finally a truck driver told me he’d go inside and pay, and then take me to a truckstop, near a peage, the far side of Amiens, about 100km away. We listened to AC/DC most of the way. It’s funny, all the insecurities and worry that build up while you’re waiting evaporate in the first 10 minutes of a good ride.

At the peage was another hitchhiker, from Germany. He didn’t speak much english, and my german is awful, but it turned out he was heading to Spain, with two dogs. He was waiting just before the tollbooths, so I went and waited after them, and he got picked up after about 20 minutes. I forget how long I waited- perhaps two hours or so, before Bea picked me up. She was going to Troyes to meet a friend, which it turned out was the exact direction I wanted to head. This turned out to be my favourite ride of the trip so far, a ride of about 250 km. Her English was pretty good, and I had my french dictionary too, and the conversation flowed pretty well. We’re friends on Facebook now, so she’s probably reading this. Hi, Bea!

The french do not mess about when it comes to fields.

The french do not mess about when it comes to fields.

We stopped part way, and she bought me a can of coke and a mars bar, which was super kind. She took me to Troyes, which, on the map, is almost exactly halfway between Calais and Annecy. She dropped me in the centre, and I waited at a bus stop for 10 minutes for a ride to the peage heading towards Dijon, with Francoise, who lived by the bus station and saw me waiting, so very kindly took me out. She’d been a german teacher, and while she didn’t speak English so much, she understood a lot of it, which was about where I was getting with French.

Once I got to the Peage, I tried hitching for a while, slightly confused about which way the road was heading. I also went and tried the nearby french equivalent of a B-road, which saw three people stop in 20 minutes, though none of them were going very far. While waiting here, a cyclist came past on a touring bike, with a trailer, obviously on a pretty long journey. We nodded and smiled at each other, and it kind of felt like a “Yeah, we’re travelling differently. We understand each other.” Maybe it was wholly imagined, but it was a nice moment.

In this image, the artist hopes it doesn't count as a selfie if he uses a tripod.

In this image, the artist hopes it doesn’t count as a selfie if he uses a tripod.

I decided to try the peage again, but a policeman told me I couldn’t hitch there, and asked to see my passport. It was about 8pm by this point, so I decided to find a place to sleep. Once I’d worked out where I would sleep, I returned to the peage and sat down, collecting my thoughts in my diary. At this point, I felt good, like I was over the worst of it, the difficult starting point of any journey, and it was all going to be fine from here. I was wrong, but not super wrong. I slept pretty close to the peage, but down a bank behind a thick hedge, hoping I wouldn’t get seen. I didn’t, fortunately, since the police station was about 200m away.

Distance: 260km

Wait: Roughly 6 hours, including 2 before giving up and going to sleep.

Day 4

I woke pretty early, and had to dry my stuff out in the sun again. It was already hot at 7.30, and once I started hitching from the peage (today, a different police officer stopped and chatted for a bit, while I was sat in the exact place I’d been moved from the day before), I realised that it was time to break the umbrella out as a parasol.

Everyone loved the fact that I had a full sized umbrella strapped to my rucksack.

Everyone loved the fact that I had a full sized umbrella strapped to my rucksack.

NOTHING happens in France on a Sunday. I waited for about 4.5 hours here before changing my sign from Lyon to “Aire de Service”, just to get onto the right road. Finally, I got a ten minute ride to the nearby service station.

This was probably the lowest point of the trip. I kept asking people and kept getting rejected. I went inside, bought an adaptor to charge my phone, connected to the WiFi, and whined at anyone I could on Facebook (sorry guys). I found out that it was about 340km from Calais to where I was, and over 350km just to Lyon, and this really depressed me. At this rate, I wasn’t going to make Annecy until Tuesday or something. Talking helped, though, and once my phone was charged, I decided to give up asking for rides, set my sign and bag up outside, and start juggling. If people wanted to help, I reasoned, they would help.

Desperate times call for increasingly adventurous self portraiture.

Desperate times call for increasingly adventurous self portraiture.

A nice guy came up and started talking to me. He wasn’t going my way, unfortunately, but he talked to me about travelling in Scotland and his own experiences hitching. Meetings like this were to become a theme of the trip, people who’d hitched when they were young and now picked people up whenever they could, or just stopped to apologise if they weren’t going the right way.

After a while of this, I decided to go and try at the petrol station. I did that for about an hour, and then elected to just go and sit at the exit with my sign. It was about 7.30 at this point, and even though I’d only travelled 5km that day, I felt ok now- the petrol station had a free shower, and there were plenty of trees around so I could have slept there. At least I was on the right road now- I’d realised the reason this had been so hard so far was that I’d come south out of Calais, eager to stick with my ride as long as I could, when I should have come south-east.

I’d been sitting there for about 5 minutes, having been at the service station for about 4.5 hours at that point, the 5th car pulled up. He wasn’t going to Lyon, he said, but maybe he could take me part of the way? I broke out the map to try and work it out, and when I leaned in through the window to show him, I glanced at his SatNav. He was going to Annecy.

Utterly unable to believe my luck, I jumped in, and off we set, to cover the 450km to Annecy. His English was at about the same level as my French, but goodwill and humour are fine things. I broke out my dictionary to look up words, and took the wheel so he could do the same. We listened to music, and shared a bag of nuts and raisins I’d brought. He gave me his phone to call Zoe, my cousin in Annecy, who explained the whole situation to him. We drove on into the sunset, hitting the alps just after dark. One important note: If you’re going to hitch in France, either learn French, or learn to love electro, dance, house, and any other electronic genre you can. You’ll need it.

As we approached Annecy, he gave me his phone to call Zoe again. She said she’d meet me by the town hall. Great, I thought, and hung up. Then rang her back to ask how to say town hall in French. We arrived at about 11.30, and met Zoe. I was more or less delirious at this point, unable to believe my luck.

That is not a "smile for the camera" smile. It's pure delerious non-believing joy.

That is not a “smile for the camera” smile. It’s pure delerious non-believing joy.

Distance: 460km

Wait: 9 hours or something ridiculous like that

Total distance from Saltash to Annecy: 1370km

Total wait time from Saltash to Annecy: 25 hours

Stay tuned for: Annecy!