Hitchhiking out of Freiburg was a little chaotic today. On a tip from the hostel, I walked to the gas station to seek a ride instead of busing it to the autobahn. I tried both the street and the station door, but waited about two hours. Probably not aggressive enough at the door. Vocally asking for rides has never been my style, even in my 50,000 miles hitchhiking in my crazy, bohemian youth. And it turns out that really only the left lane went to the autobahn.
Just as a family picked me up going to Offenburg, the sun came out over the Black Forest.
Offenburg wasn’t as far I’d like, not Karlsruhe, but maybe a better spot. The father spoke better English than the mother or the teenage son. Or maybe the teenage son was just a teenager, too self-conscious to admit his own mastery.
They dropped me at an autobahn rest stop, where my only option was accosting people at the door. This time, I accosted in earnest, landing a ride in thirty minutes with a young wrestling champion (2nd in Germany, 5th in Europe) going home to milk the cows at his family farm. When he found out I was a wrestling captain in high school, he showed me a video of his finals match on his phone.
He went out of his way to find me a good spot between Karlsruhe and Stuttgart, but finally had to drop me. Hitchhiking in Germany is pleasant, wholesome even. Everyone is nice, no one is afraid, no one considers you morally questionable for hitchhiking. But there are damned few good spots, good shoulders, good ramps. I walked, praying that I wouldn’t have to walk for hours, and reached a decent spot – cars could pull over, albeit on the rural side of Pforzheim. A nice man about my age offered to bring me to a better spot on the other side of Pforzheim.
“Sure,” I said. Movement. Anything. But the new place was worse.
“There’s the ramp to Stuttgart,” he said. “Right there.” Big smile.
Yes, right there. With no shoulder at all, with Germans flying by at the death-wish speeds for which they are famous. Too rural for bus stops. I trudged through weeds back toward Pforzheim, looking for a shoulder or an intersection, anything. I finally came to a right turn lane where no one was turning right, and staked my claim. At least they could stop if they really wanted to.
In a spot like this, after an hour, one always wonders: “Is it an impossible spot and I’m just not seeing it? What are my options? Where’s the nearest gas station or bus stop?”
A light rain starts and then stops. Then a ride. A woman about my age (Kiki) takes me into Stuttgart. She had dreamed of traveling herself. She and her high school friend had planned a trip to Australia. Then she got pregnant. Twins. Then another kid. She never got out.
Almost 6 p.m. and I got an email. The Airbnb request I had put in yesterday for Stuttgart was rejected. More light rain. Kiki dropped me at a hostel. She gave me the address of a tiny jazz club (Kiste). She would try to meet me there later.
The hostel was booked, but I found a cheap hotel and walked the streets.
I would make it to Kiste – with some students I met while trying to tap the university’s free wifi. But I would not see Kiki again. You never know which on-the-road contact might stick for life, but most will always be just fleeting moments, leaving nothing but pleasant little traces behind.
Gary Gautier, author of Hippies