Diary of a Serial Hitchhiker
Trip Start Sep 15, 2006
80Trip End ??? ??, 2007
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"Yes we are, I'm Hunter and this is Cierra..."
"Is that where John Edwards is from?"
"Uh, yes, he's from our state."
Donald gave a little nod, inviting us into the garage. This was going to be a weird one, I thought. Walking us through the garage and into the back yard, he explained that he'd had some no-shows from hospitality club people before, so he hadn't moved a few things out of our room yet. No problem, we promised. He then took us to a second garage area, packed full of chairs, piles of wood, buckets of wood carvings, a healthy layer of dust, and a mattress too large for the bedframe it was balanced on. "Here's your flat. Can you help me move some of this?"
We looked at each other, shrugged and dropped the bags, shuttling all the excess junk to the tool-shed. He took us on a tour of the place, his parents' house that he was living in now that they were both gone. Wood paneling, peeling wallpaper, chipped dishes, none of it mattered to Donald. Aesthetics in general was not high on his list. We decided that Donald was not normal, but was a nice guy and we would do our best to make a connection with him.
After a run to the grocery store and a hastily cooked and eaten dinner (there had been no lunch), we decided to pass the evening with a walk to Coff's marina and jetty area. Donald offered to guide us, and we were happy for the company.
Donald started the walk off at a pace that would have made Forrest Gump proud, and it was all we could do to keep up. It was a dark night, and we had to watch his white socks pumping along the path ahead just to know where to walk. We were far from anywhere and talking about what we'd gotten out of the trip when Donald asked if we'd come across any of Australia's backpacker killers. Then he let out a high pitched laugh that turned my blood cold. I considered running screaming for my life. Hmm. In all the movies I'd seen, that resulted in imminent death. Besides, there was next to no chance that Donald was an established backpacker killer. He was practically wearing a shirt that said "SUSPECT" in clear black and white letters. If a murder ever happened within 10 miles of this man, he'd be taken in for questioning just on principle. So he was either about to attempt his first murders on a sidewalk in full view of the road, or he was socially inept. I'm going with socially inept... and it turns out I was right, as he didn't pull out a huge knife and chase us down the street with it. At the next intersection, I said, "Well, if we're going to talk about backpacker killers, I'd rather take the well-lighted path", and no more about it was mentioned.
On to the beach, where a group of drunk teens were having a party. We passed a guy relieving himself on the sidewalk. "Oh, scuse me. Hey, I wrote my name on the concrete. C'mere and take a look."
"No, thanks!" I said over my shoulder as an unperturbed Donald marched us onwards. By the time we reached the jetty, the winds were whipping across the water and we were chilly, so we went back home with Donald and flopped into bed.
We awoke, pleased to find ourselves not murdered, and set about walking ourselves to death the next day. First, up the highway a long ways, then up a mountain to a lookout, then to another scenic view, then to one of the largest trees in New South Wales, and so on until we wandered back down to Donald's for lunch, exhausted. Then we were off again, for a creekside walk in town that went right by a botanical garden. The day finished up before we were through with the walk, and we limped back to Donald's, having walked over 35 km in just one day, the farthest yet on the whole trip. A bit of chatting with Donald about the boat he wanted to buy and it was off to bed with us for the night.
We headed out to the highway first thing in the morning to thumb our ride. Another lucky morning... five minutes in, a tan fellow with dark hair and no shoes on pulled a car strewn with garbage over and offered us a ride. Turned out he was going to Kyogle, not very far at all from Nimbin, the next stop on our journey. Once we'd been on the road for a while, we started to learn things about this guy. A miner by trade, he was tending a friend's crop of grass somewhere in the woods, while he waited for his Land Rover to be fixed. Oh, what happened, we inquired. Fell asleep driving a week back and ran into a fence. Ah, bad luck. Yeah, I was trying to drive for 22 hours straight. Ah, stupid luck. He was biting his fingernails and checking his mobile phone every 10 minutes. Okay, so now he was a possible meth addict. Nervous, he said, because he'd left his girlfriend behind and she was newly pregnant. And eighteen. And her family would find out today. He looked 35, and claimed to be 26. No wonder this dude was driving north fast as his car would go. I checked the rear-view mirror. No pickups with shotguns gaining on us yet, so perhaps we would survive.
A big truck, loaded down and moving along, passed us, and the gust of wind caused our car's hood to come undone. For a second I thought it would come up and bash in the windshield, but the spring loaded catch held until I'd pointed out the problem to meth-head and we got stopped. I slammed the hood down and it clicked into place.
We got out gratefully at the town of Casino, near a roundabout and waited a while for a ride with no luck. People buzzed by with helpful suggestions like "Why don't you buy a car?" Wow, those are available for sale? Thanks, I'll look into that. Finally, it began to rain, and the extra bit of sadness on our faces worked like a charm. A middle aged lady pulled over and gave us a ride to the next town. In between the GPS device on her dashboard doling out directions in a calm voice, she chatted about her new granddaughter and gave away cooking advice (she was a chef). Once she'd let us out, we had a quick walk and hitched one more ride, this time in a family's SUV. The father was also a chef, sporting dreadlocks that pointed to a Nimbin connection. We got dropped off in the center of Nimbin... another successful hitchhiking experience!