Hitchhiker's guide for purists

Some people take years to learn how to hitchhike properly. Clearly, they have not made enough mistakes.

When two mates and I decided one Easter to hitchhike to Gore, we had no idea we were about to undertake a monumental learning experience.

We made so many mistakes, that everything I could possibly need to know about hitchhiking I learnt from that very first try.

To help you learn just as quickly, here is the ultimate guide to how not to hitchhike.

- Firstly, do not plan.

If you give even a modicum of consideration to details like time of year or time of day, you are dooming yourself to learning nothing from your first foray into the world of ‘‘thumbing''.

Andrew, Grant and I were sitting at the pub on a damp and blustery evening at the start of the Easter break when it was suggested we should hitchhike to Gore.

The three of us were living in the South Island for the first time - first-year students at the University of Otago. None of us had hitched before.

It was raining and we were only wearing jeans and light jackets.

It seemed like the perfect idea.

- Do not know where you are going.

A destination is fine, but having anything more than a general idea which direction to go is not good form.

Asking a few intelligent questions or consulting a map is to suck all the potential out of your impending doom.

To us, Gore was the mythical home of the Southern Man. We had never been further south than the Octagon.

Correction, we had caught the bus to St Clair beach.

We knew a motorway was out there somewhere and we went looking for it. Forty-five minutes later we found a motorway overpass and clambered up the bank, popping up on the edge of the Southern motorway above the Kensington Tavern. It was dark and we were drenched.

- Do not hitch in pairs.

Pairs offer companionship and safety that is likely to see you arrive at your destination upbeat and in one piece.

A woman hitching on her own is a magnet for perverts. Three males hitching together are as attractive to drivers as an offer of sand in their petrol tank. It was going to take a while.

- Do not select a good spot from which to hitch. I

f you let them, people will tell you not to hitch in town and to make sure you select a spot where vehicles can safely pull over to pick you up.

Do not listen or you will never be able to find that out for yourself.

We hoisted our thumbs on the side of a busy motorway, in the dark, in the rain. After half an hour, the pertinent points were being driven home as thick and fast as the sleet that stung our faces.

Then a car stopped and the driver, who obviously had no concern for our personal growth, offered to take us to East Taieri where he reckoned we would have a better chance of getting a lift.

- Do not choose your rides.

If you are prepared to say no to a dodgy-looking vehicle or driver, you could save a lot of trouble and perhaps even your life. Where is the fun in that?

On a long straight just south of Mosgiel we were offered a ride by a big old Holden Kingswood sedan pulling a horse float.

If we had paused for even a moment to smell the alcohol wafting from inside the car we might not have hopped in. If we had not hopped in we may have missed valuable pointers on how to drive with one hand while holding a rigger to the mouth with the other.

I would certainly have missed out on a practical demonstration of how the vomit of an inebriated front seat passenger can be blown back in through the open back window and all over the window-seat passenger.

I can still feel the chunky spray hitting my face. You cannot buy first hand experience like that.

- Do not hitch with people who like adventure.

Hitchhiking is all about embracing the unknown. It is about enjoying not knowing how, when or with who you will be travelling.

It is uncontrollable. It's a lot like life. This is best done with people of a similar outlook.

I would not be so starkly aware of this fact if I had not hitched to Gore with Grant. He grumbled as we stood in the rain and moaned gently as the Kingswood wove its dangerously erratic course south.

The moans rose in volume and pitch when, approaching midnight, we were deposited in the wide, dark main street of Gore. ‘‘The police station. We must go to the police station,'' he screeched.

- Do not shut out the miraculous. Hitchhiking is about the personal growth that can come through lessons learnt. So do not ignore your spiritual development.

The devil is in the detail, they say. So forget the details and leave room for angels. Standing in the rain outside the Gore police station - which was, of course, empty and locked - we realised that having reached our goal we had no idea what to do next.

After trudging lonely back streets for about half an hour, we spotted light coming from the open doors of a little old wooden church.

We huddled in the foyer for 15 minutes and scampered off when it sounded like the Easter service inside was about to end. But we were spotted. A few minutes later a car pulled up and a couple invited us home. Warm food, hot shower, dry bed - thank you God.

- Do not look the part.

Everyone knows what a genuine hitchhiker looks like - tramping pack, hiking boots, warm jacket, friendly (preferably international) expression.

Those are the sorts of people who get rides.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, the three of us left Gore bound for Dunedin in the state in which we had arrived. Looking almost exactly unlike hitchhikers and rather more like we were taking a quick stroll around the block.

No-one picked us up - for hours.

We walked 35km through Southland and Otago and still no-one picked us up. By mid-afternoon, having had no food or drink since breakfast, we must have learnt our lessons.

A car picked us up and carried us all the way home.

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