“Do you believe in the Lord? And that was from the apocalypse, not to mention the retired clergyman. Andy Brew, veteran hitchhiker and Stuff reporter, tries his luck on the road again.
With a dire lack of public transport options north out of Christchurch, a recent city break in Ōtautahi left me with three options for returning home to Blenheim.
As a non-driver, the first was to get up and shine on a cold Sunday morning to catch the last bus out of town at 7:30.
The second was to book an extremely expensive last minute flight to Marlborough, with Air New Zealand prices over $400, and Sounds Air a bit cheaper in the region of $230 (but I remembered I was also not rich).
So the third option that came to mind was to dust off my golden thumb and try hitchhiking again.
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It had been a very, very long time since I had stood by the side of the road with a thumbs-up, relying on people’s good nature, sympathy, curiosity or loneliness to help me out of a hole and go where I was going. .
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As a youngster, I had hitchhiked through New Zealand with such skill it seemed almost natural, and had met a wide range of weird and wonderful people along the way.
But that was then, and this is now. I was no longer a carefree young traveler, happy to sleep in the bush by the side of the road for the night if it was too dark to continue my journey that day. With no deadline to meet, I knew my destination would still be there the next day.
This time hitchhiking I was in my 40s with a decent job that I needed to be back in Blenheim the next day.
And so the old routine began. Before hitting the road and entering an actual lottery, I like to spend 30 minutes observing traffic from afar, like a surfer sitting on the beach, pacing the ocean and entering the area.
Headphones and a good soundtrack are must-haves for hitchhiking. I’ve discovered that the type of music I listen to when hitchhiking can have its own role to play on the road.
Anything too heavy or aggressive can subliminally affect your posture, stance, and body language, which potential wearers will see upon approach. Any sign of dancing moves will likely be taken as a sign of recent and substantial drug or alcohol use, and you risk being avoided at all costs.
With that in mind, a bit of The Doors and Bob Dylan tend to do the trick, infusing me with a much-needed sense of freedom and an essence of ’60s summer love that every motorist emanates.
Once in the zone, life on the road becomes a game of telepathic tennis between you and oncoming drivers.
There are five different types of motorists you will encounter when trying to make eye contact with oncoming drivers.
You have those who suddenly turn their head to the right like an owl spotting a meal, and they stare at the imaginary prey there, doing their best to show you that they haven’t seen you.
Then you have those staring straight ahead, desperately trying not to make eye contact, who look just as uncomfortable as you.
There are those who give you a smile, a shrug and a thumbs-up indicating that they are turning off at the next crossroads, so there is no point in walking you back. It’s hard to tell how truthful they are, but it’s one of the sweetest ways to give you two fingers.
There are those who give you a beep, a few thumbs up or a death metal sign, who would pick you up if their ute wasn’t full of pigs.
Then there are those who stop. These can come in all shapes and sizes, and from every walk of life imaginable, but one thing most have in common is that they have all, at some point, hitchhiked in the past. They have empathy for a kindred spirit.
Over the years I’ve had a lot of interesting rides from equally interesting people.
There are too many to mention, but the gangsters, in what turned out to be a stolen car, who went out of their way to take me to Ōpōtiki on their way to Gisborne, and bought a fish and chips supper along the way. way, stands out.
The return trip to Blenheim was a little more mundane than some of my previous adventures, but I still encountered a mixture of the weird and the wonderful.
Shortly after giving a thumbs up I realized we were still living in a Covid tinged world, and there was the possibility that there were quite a few people out there who would be quite averse to car sharing confined space with a stranger.
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Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long for a ride when a young man picked me up on my way back to Amberley after a weekend in the Big Smoke.
Following this, on the outskirts of Amberley, I was picked up by a fully-fledged ‘doomsday’ whose first question I was asked as I sat in the car was, ‘Believe you to the Lord?
“I most certainly do,” I said, thanking the Lord for having another ride so soon.
It turned out that my savior was a strong believer in apocalypticism, as he told me unequivocally that the return of the Lord was imminent and that unbelievers would perish in hellfire.
After 20 minutes of preaching, I thanked the Lord again when he told me that he would turn off at the next crossroads and it was time for me to get out of the vehicle. He said a prayer for me and wished me luck, which I appreciated as my journey continued.
With the sun setting in the distance, I knew my next ride could make all the difference in whether I returned home that evening or sought shelter elsewhere.
Hitchhiking was like playing the lottery. I could wait for a ride to Blenheim, or I could just take the next lift that arrived in hopes of arriving somewhere safe and warm before dark.
With the day being so long in the tooth, I realized the beggars couldn’t choose, so I took the next available ride and drove up to Cheviot just as it was dark.
Since it’s rather futile to hitchhike in the dark, I shelled out $70 to rent a nearby cabin where I spent the night before hitting the road the next morning.
When a large kahukura (red admiral butterfly) landed on my hand as I entered the “zone” and drank my morning coffee, I knew the hitchhiking gods were on my side.
And so it was. I was soon picked up by a retired Anglican minister from the Kapiti coast who was driving to Blenheim. Alleluia!
During the long journey we talked about life, the Lord, the media and the war in Ukraine.
When he dropped me off on Alabama Road in Redwoodtown in the middle of the afternoon, it had taken me about 26 hours to hitchhike the 310 miles from Christchurch to Blenheim – a trip that usually took about five or six hours by bus.
Minus the forced 18 hour layover at Cheviot due to the short winter days, the eight hours I spent on the road weren’t too bad and were much more fun, informative, engaging and rewarding than to sit on a bus.
Would I still hitchhike? Certainly, but when the weather is nice, the days are longer and I’m not in such a hurry to get where I’m going.