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September 3, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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Hitcher

I like to hitchhike.

I write this from the backseat of a moving vehicle. Janet and Ethan are a couple from Auckland who run their own business manufacturing labels for clothing, they picked me up from the side of the road just North of Taupo. About five minutes ago we stopped in Tirau for a coffee break, Janet kindly bought me a chai latte and has offered to drop me off at the train station once we get to Auckland. I hitchhike as often as I am able to, and have hitched my way over most of the North Island over the past few years. It’s fantastic! It’s cheap, you meet interesting people, gather stories, it’s better for the environment, and most importantly, every trip is an adventure! There is quite a strong negative vibe directed toward hitchhiking in New Zealand, a hyped-up fear which from my experience is fairly unjustified. Shit, I’m even going to go so far and blame it on the media. But hitching ain’t so bad, and it certainly restores my faith in humanity.

The people who stop and pick up hitchhikers are a widely diverse breed who share one common trait: they are all good people (ignoring that small percentage who are murderers/rapists who just ruin it for everyone). In the past I’ve received rides from an ex-soldier Vietnam Veteran traveling to help out an old war buddy in trouble, a rich young businessman who had hired a car and wasn’t concerned about any speeding fines he racked up (we made such good time), a born-again Christian who spent the whole trip making sure I understood and appreciated what Jesus has done for me, two skanks from Masterton who couldn’t drive for shit and almost killed us going over the Rimutaka ranges, an ADD hippy with a choice dog driving a windowless van, a first-time-picking-up-a-hitcher girl who stopped in at some mates and invited me in for a cup of tea, and on one of my first ever hitching trips I was picked up by two of the most feral looking, possibly gang member, guys in a beat up old Holden who I didn’t want to ride with because they scared me shitless, but I did anyway because I didn’t know how to say no once they stopped for me. That experience taught me two valuable lessons about hitching – one as that you can’t judge people by their appearance, the two guys were the best ride I’ve ever been given, they bought me a pie and offered to pay for a bus the rest of the way to Wellington because they couldn’t take me past Porirua. I was so comfortable I even napped in the back seat.

The second thing was realising how stupid it is to take a ride just because you feel you have to do so when someone stops, and that with hitching you do need to be cautious. I haven’t felt uncomfortable enough since to ever need to turn someone’s lift down, but I will if it happens. I also now make a habit of telling friends/family when I’m hitching and regularly text updates of where I am and who I’m riding with, including a description of the vehicle.

The more you hitch the more you pick up on subtle little nuances and figure out tricks to getting rides, but despite whatever you think you know even the smallest change in your circumstances will completely change the rules of the game. Where you stand, how you stand, what time of day it is, what region you’re in, the weather, what you’re wearing, whether you walk, stand or sit, your gender, if you’re traveling alone or in a group… all these things have much more influence on your chances of a ride than you’d think. When you look like a hippy people are less likely to pick you up, unless they think you have pot (pot is a major unspoken, yet magic factor in the hitchhiking world). I once waited for over an hour in the Wairarapa without getting a ride, I noticed it was mostly farmers driving by giving me dirty looks so I tied my hair back and put on my Ivamec farm jacket. I got a ride within 10 minutes after that.

When you hitch, you get an appreciation for many things. When you’re standing at the edge of Taupo wanting to get to Auckland and no one is picking you up, you gain an appreciation for distance – Auckland isn’t “four hours” away, it’s suddenly a full 282 kilometres away and a LONG way to walk. When you eventually get a ride you suddenly feel how fast you’re flying along, and you appreciate the kindness someone has shown not to drive by pretending you aren’t there, or give you a ‘I’m sorry’ shrug, a distrustful glare, a cheeky return thumbs up or pull the fingers at you (boyracers generally). But mostly, you get out of a vechile and you really, really appreciated the beauty of not being stabbed or molested on some country side road.

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