Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Now I'm a real vagabond!

Seven o'clock in the morning and I am standing at the petrol station in St Helens which leads onto the M6 motorway. Everybody who drives by is looking at me; I guess this is pretty exotic for this town. Some people look a little scared when I ask them if they are heading south on the M6; I don't know what the problem is, I've only just set off, I'm clean!
After around fifteen minutes, a tucker, with a name I cannot remember, offers me a lift to a huge truck stop further south on the motorway. Woohoo, I'm on my way!!

"I'm not supposed to take hitchhikers because there are rules with the insurance," he says ten minutes into the ride.
"I'm also not supposed to smoke when I'm driving".  He lights a cigarette.
"But rules are there to be broken, hey?!"

The truck stop turned out to be a hit; there were hundreds of them. The only problem was that they all have that silly insurance rule and they are all terrified of it.  Literally hundreds of  "Excuse me, are you going south on the M6"'s later and I feel like giving up.  Stupid insurance.  Stupid insurance claims.  Stupid truckers.  Stupid England!  Then a gorgeous Welsh man stopped for me.  Ok, I take all that back.  Maybe I was vulnerable because I had just been out in the cold for two hours, but I wanted to marry him.

An hour or two into our conversation it was time for him to drop me off.  I got out on a very long lay-by full of cars and trucks.  The second person I spoke to was going all the way to London. This is getting too easy!

If you wonder what I talk about to a random stranger for six hours then here's your answer... Usually, in my experience, people pick hitchhikers up because they want to chat to somebody on their long lonely journey.  Which usually means they are a chatty person, so I can just let the conversation go as they want it to.  Let me tell you; some people talk about strange things.  This one in particular; about horses.  I've never really had anything to do with horses myself, but after six hours of conversation mostly about horses and looking at pictures of horses of which all looked exactly the same to me; I am now an expert on...horses.  I would delve deeper into the subject, but I've already mentioned the word horses too many times in this paragraph.  Horsey horse horse.  Ok, that's enough.

He also had a story about the time he was identified as a match to a police sketch of a murderer.  But his faithful electronic trucking log graph gave absolute proof that he was in a very different place at the exact time it happened.  I'm glad he said that, otherwise this story might not have ended so well...or been written at all.

So I finally arrived in a service station south east of London with a lot of daylight time left.  I did have the intention of staying inside London for the night, or staying at my friends house south west of London.  Every person I spoke to was going towards Dover.  So after three hours of trying to go the opposite way, I gave up and instead went to Dover.  Not just to Dover but all the way to Calais.  It was 11:30 at night and I had managed to hitch all the way to France in just one day!

 I gave myself a pat on the back and then realised that I had nowhere to sleep.  Oops.  I started walking in a direction I chose subconsciously and two minutes later I was investigating a bridge and was warming to it rather quickly.  After all, it had a bedroom and an ensuite at the side, what more could I ask for?  My night went pretty much like this: fiddle around with my backpack, turn around in my sleeping bag, sleep for half an hour, wake up because I thought I heard a noise, shiver, turn around in my sleeping bag, sleep for ten minutes, wake up because I thought I heard a noise, .....and so on. I lived to tell the tale, and to take a picture.

The good thing about sleeping rough for the night is that not only is it free but it is also very easy to wake up in the morning.  At 5am I was standing at the exit to a truck stop with my thumb out and my sign saying "PARIS".

An hour later I was in a truck with a Greek man called Basos.  We found a common language...German.  Combining his Geek accented German and my English accented German, we were probably speaking gobbledy-gook.  Despite this, I think this was my best time ever hitchhiking.  We talked about everything from apples to our countries economies.  He had a really interesting outlook on Greece's "problems":
"We have three thousand years of history and culture, and Germany are trying to tell us how to run our country.  Germany!  Before Europe, Greece was doing perfectly.  They made the Euro and Greece goes to shambles!"
It seemed I must have been tired after my very long day hitchhiking and my very long nights turning over and over and over. When we wern't talking, my eyes kept shutting uncontrollably.  I tried to fight it but then my head started bobbing too.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" I said.
"Go to sleep, it's ok!" He laughed.
By this point, I trusted Basos completely but if hitching's unwritten rules were ordered in terms of importance, I'm pretty sure that falling asleep would be top of the list.

He bought me breakfast and a coffee to wake me up, gave me a spare ticket for a ferry from Italy to Greece, and even offered to take me all the way to Greece over the next few days as that was where he was headed.  I took his number and promised to get back in touch when I get to Greece later on this year.  He dropped me just outside of Paris where I could then get a short train ride to the centre.

I had made it!  From home to Paris in one and a half days.  Not one penny spent, on travel or food.  Now I'm a real vagabond!

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