I find sleeping on public transport very difficult. My height, a blessing in many ways, is the main reason. Planes, trains and automobiles are not designed for a man with my long limbs; the price paid for a few minutes of fitful sleep is usually a loss of feeling in a leg or, conversely, a stabbing pain in my back.
I’ve only hitchhiked twice and, surprisingly, my first experience came as a result of falling asleep on a public bus. As soon as I woke I knew I’d missed my stop. The driver confirmed this; we had passed Port Macquarie 45 minutes ago and this was the last bus of the day. My only option was to hitchhike. It looked simple enough on television. How hard could it be?
Quite hard actually. Two hours later no-one had shown mercy on me. I felt very self-conscious stood alone, begging strangers for a ride. Somehow it felt rude. Adding to my woes, darkness was coming and I had no food or water. A classic case of travel gone wrong was unfolding.
“Where ya going mate?” asked the driver of a small car who’d finally taken pity on me. “I’m headed for Port Macquarie, that do ya?”
I accepted the offer and got in. My saviours name was Jim, he seemed to wear a permanent scowl. Unfortunately, beyond our initial exchange, Jim was not a conversationalist. I soon gave up my attempts at small talk and we sat in awkward silence for the duration. Jim didn’t even glance in my direction until, just outside of town, he pulled over, looked me in the eye and simply said “righto.” This was clearly my queue to get out and I was only too happy to do so. Completing the final kilometres on foot, I resolved never to hitchhike again.
My second hitchhiking experience came only a few months later, also in Australia, albeit on the opposite coast.
After several weeks working on vineyards near the town of Dunsborough, south of Perth, I joined a group headed to Margaret River for a night out. The following morning our designated driver had vanished. Assuming he’d popped out for breakfast we gathered our things and headed out to find him. However, on discovering his car was also gone it was clear we'd been abandoned.
Sat with coffees, confused and trying to piece together the night before, we received a simple text: Back in Dunsborough, see you guys later. We couldn’t understand why he didn’t wake us, how he’d left completely unnoticed, or why he’d slipped away at all. Whatever the reason, we were stranded 50km from home and public transport couldn’t save us.
In what sounds like a premise for an old fashioned joke, two Englishmen and Irishman spent the following hour taking turns at holding our thumbs up to passing motorists. Although it felt less awkward this time, the chances of finding anyone willing to transport three hitchhikers seemed slim. Until it happened.
A young mother with a baby pulled over and offered to take us home. We were shocked she had stopped but accepted the ride. Ironically, as grateful as we were, we spent the journey telling her off for picking up strangers until she promised never to do it again.
We never did discover why we’d been abandoned.