When I raised my thumb at a roadside for the first time, my motivation was simple and incredibly strong: I had no money and I really, really wanted to make it to Paris to see my dear friend Yulia. That journey wasn’t the easiest: hitchhiking alone for 16 hours in winter can be a challenging experience. When I got stuck at an empty gas station covered with snow at 1 am and a French truck driver offered me money for food, I felt especially sad and promised myself not to do it ever again. Nevertheless, it took me less than six months until I hit the road for the second time.
Hitchhiking is a kind of addiction. It often starts with the lack of money, but quickly financial reasons become the least important among motivators. An adventurous feeling of unpredictability and people who you meet on the way is what hitchhikers get hooked on. In fact, if you lost your faith in humanity – go, hitchhike. You will be surprised how many kind-hearted and beautiful human-beings are out there, who are ready to go out of their way to help you, a stranger.
The only reason why I stopped hitchhiking was time, which became a more valuable commodity, and with getting rides you just never know when you are going to end up and where exactly. But when an idea of a hitchhiking competition to Poland came up, I just couldn’t resist.
One pleasant Friday this September I packed a paper map of Europe and a warm pullover, and boarded a train to the outskirts of Berlin. It was the beginning of a 2,5 days hitchhiking competition during which we had to get from Berlin to Krakow and back, and we had to make it first. The rules of the game were easy: two teams (boy/girl), limited time, different spots for a start, one destination to reach.
The good news was – yes, we had reached our destination and even saw a bit of Krakow and couple of other places I had no idea about. The bad news was – it took us slightly longer than we had expected.
There are two mistakes you can make when you hitchhike: (1) start too late; (2) start from a wrong place. We started on Friday evening after a day at work and, as appeared, from a gas station, which led to Warsaw, to Minsk, and probably we could even make it straight to Moscow, but Krakow was nowhere on the way. We spent three hours at that cursed spot, watched two other hitchhikers (who wanted to go to Dresden) giving up and leave, and just when we decided to change our destination, we got picked up by our first driver, who brought us to Lodz.
Lodz was not exactly on the way, but it was in Poland and it was definitely closer to Krakow than Berlin. Four hours later, when our luckier competitors were already about to enter Krakow, we were sipping our drinks in a bar in a newly discovered city and wondering where to take a nap before hitting the road again.
In the morning we discovered that hitchhiking in Poland was much easier than in Germany and our hitchhiking skills finally came to use. Polish drivers were talkative and smiley, they mixed Polish, Russian, German and English and were genuinely enjoying a company in the car. The first driver from Lodz was especially inspired by the fact that he picked us up – his 17-year-old girl just started hitchhiking and he couldn’t wait to brag in front of her about his morning adventure. It took us two more lifts to pass through Katowice and then enter outskirts of Krakow.
The way from Krakow to Berlin was a piece of cake and with 3 cars we made it much quicker than it would have been by train. May be because Polish drivers are faster and more open to hitchhikers than German (both ways, only Polish cars stopped), may be because of a right spot, may be because of luck – we’ll never know, and with hitchhiking it is the point.
However, the competition on the way was tough – hitchhikers popped up on the road here and there along the way like mushrooms in the forest after a rainy day and it occurred to me that this type of travel is back in fashion.
In total, in two days, it took us 8 cars (including a truck where I had to hide), 10 people, 4 languages, numerous long conversations and few hours of sleep to cover 1500 km, reach Krakow 7 hours later, but then get to Berlin first and finish with the score 1:1. But as we all know, it is not about winning. Meet our drivers!
And if you feel inspired to take part in a hitchhiking race, but on a much larger scale, here is a full list for you!
Top Image Credit: Michal Sacharewicz