The idea started after our Tallinn walking tour, eating lunch with our tour guide. “People hitch hike all the time to Tartu.” Light bulb. I’m in, doing it for sure. A few days later I’m taking the bus to the spot she recommended. Walking, walking, and surprisingly there is someone with a sign headed to Tartu. We start talking and, another surprise, he is from Hungary! We’re both standing there talking, him in his extremely broken English, waiting, when suddenly I realize that someone is waiting for us to jump in her car. Didn’t even realize she was standing there! I wasn’t out there 15 minutes and we, both the Hungarian guy and I, were in the car headed for Tartu. Not bad for my first time hitching..
1pm and I’m at the HitchWiki recommended gas station on the outskirts of Budapest. No sign, just my thumb, for now. And the wait begins. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Nothing. Even more nothing. 4 hours later, still nothing. I’m getting frustrated because Damn, it shouldn’t be this hard. But it’s not happening and around 6 I give up: unsuccessful. I’m headed back to the hostel, I’ll just take the bus tomorrow.
Lesson learned. Had it gone seamlessly 2 days should have cost me nothing. Hitching would have been free and I had a CouchSurfing host lined up in Vienna. Instead it cost me about 52 euro because I had to pay for a hostel in Budapest, the bus ride, and then also a hostel in Vienna. Lesson learned.
New ZCLOCO hitch hiking rule: If the bus is less than 20/30 euro, take it, don’t waste your time hitch hiking.
There’s always that weird feeling when you’re en route to the hitching spot:
“What if I don’t get picked up?” “How long will I be out there?” “What type of person will pick me up?”
And this morning, on the train from the center of Vienna to the beginning of the A1 highway that leads to Munich, these thoughts are running through my mind. Soon after leaving my Couch Surfer’s flat, after a quick walk, I arrive at the spot. Deep breaths.
The gas station is set up well for hitching because there is only one exit, meaning every car that goes through the station has to drive past me and my “Munchen” sign. Perfect. Backpack down, head phones in, sign and thumb out. Not five cars later and I’m in a car headed to Salzburg, 4 hours closer to Munich, via a slight detour to my ride’s house.
There’s always tension as the driver and the hitcher initially interact, asking questions to find commonality so the conversation can flow and the ride will be enjoyable for both members.
He’s a cool guy. He’s 32, works for Red Bull (which is based in Austria. He drives me by their headquarters), and has a variety of adventure sports he partakes in. Through the years he has been a rock climber, paraglider, mountain biker, and also some sort of martial arts.
He works hard and doesn’t completely love his job but he uses his free time to do what he likes, to round out his life. He talks about climbing in Thailand and the beaches in Bali but says he chose the corporate life because he didn’t want to end up like his friends who work only to travel AKA his hippie friends. He chose the real life path, yet, he still lives an exciting, full life. This is an interesting topic for me because this question, this diversion of paths, has been running through my mind quite frequently lately.
He is telling me all of this as the landscape is slowly changing from flat to mountainous. We are going to drop off some cabinets at the house he is building about an hour outside of Salzburg. His girlfriend is following us with a van but is quite far behind, so we take some detours through the hills and mountains. He tells me about the 3 small towns that make up the drive, the different lakes, the history, the Red Bull Headquarters, and all about his Austrian country side. He tells me about the multitude of outdoor activities he enjoys in the surrounding mountains.
Occasionally he will stop by the gondola after work and paraglide down to his car before going home. “That 40 meter tall rock is where Red Bull held a cliff diving competition. I’ve also jumped off of it.” “This was a very wealthy area because of their salt mines.” “That 600 meter natural wall is right by my house. I’ve climbed it. It’s kind of crazy looking between your legs all the way down.” On and on, as he’s flying around corners (“It’s a company car”) he is telling me about his life and his country.
Soon after we are at his parent’s house, RIGHT NEXT DOOR to where he is building his house because it is “a really expensive area so I’m lucky to get this land.” And soon after that we are sitting around the table with his parents eating lunch.
Experiences like this can’t be planned. They can’t be penciled into a schedule but instead can only happen when you, me, or anybody opens up to let the universe direct your direction. It’s times like this that teach me most about life in different areas, from different people, and about how I see myself while looking at others.
I bonded with this guy over the 5 hours that we were together. It was almost kind of hard to split ways. I don’t know if he felt the same or if it was just me being a lonely traveler but I considered getting his contact information to stay in touch. But I just met this guy, that might be weird. I ended up not connecting with him. Who knows, maybe I will go back to that area of Austria and knock on his door: Can we go paragliding?
After Red Bull drops me off, I walk to an area that looks suitable for hitching. I have about an hour and a half before the sun sets so I post up near a round about that leads out of Austria and into Germany towards Munich. I’m waiting, waiting, and I’m getting a little worried because the sun is setting and I’m not seeing any results. Will I have to hitch through the night? If I can’t find a ride, where will I sleep?
Then a convertible pulls up and says they are headed to Munich so I hop in to the cramped back seat, slide my feet in between the custom speakers and the passenger seat and we’re off, music cranked ALL THE WAY UP, top down, hair blowing. They are flying around corners and I’m loving it. The scenery is great and the music is banging under my seat. The co-pilot speaks a little English but her pilot husband speaks none at all. No problem, I have a ride to Munich!
But then they start taking all these back roads and my mind starts to wander..
They could be taking me somewhere WAY out of the way. They could be weird people, they definitely have a different look to them. What if they drop me off on some back raod? And my mind is thinking all of these crazy thoughts as they peel around the corners headed up the mountain.
This can’t be the right way to Munich, these are all back roads. Well, I guess we will find out. Stop thinking all these crazy thoughts, it will be alright. And soon enough if it is because I see the Munchen sign and we’re back on the highways, pushing speeds of 140-170 km/hour through the cold mountain air. Two hours later they drop me off in the center of Munich and my Oktoberfest adventures begin.