My workbench

My workbench

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Trip!


View Larger Map

15,314 kms in three months!
(9515 miles)

Possible change in plans

...I might enter Tramprennen 2010.

http://tramprennen.org/rennen2010/

Which would mean ONCE AGAIN that I skip going up to Nordkapp, visit my friends in July and early August, and then enter the Viva con agua hitch-hiking race from Hamburg to southern Romania. 

..And miss out most of the time in Iceland, and instead fly from Munich to Iceland, spend a few days there, and then head home.

I don't know, but a hitch-hiking race sounds like SO MUCH FUN.

And I'm competitive when it comes to hitch-hiking. 

Did I mention that I just finished a 4500km hitch?  Or caught a single 2400km ride a month ago.  I'm a bit proud of my thumb at the moment.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Big Hitch

Leaving Perth early in the morning, I caught a train to Midland station, where I had a short wait to catch a bus up to the start of the Great Northern Highway, my road to Darwin. It was the 21st of June, and I had exactly ten days to make just over 4000km across vast stretches of scrub bush and desert. Insecurity and apprehension gripped me as I stood at the petrol station, thumb out, smiling at passing drivers. Am I a fool for attempting this? Will I fail? Thoughts, both doubts and hope, flashed through my head at blinding speed, shaking my confidence to the core. I thought back to times before, to the improbable tasks and impossible goals I have always set for myself, and yet usually attain. Finally my mind settled on one thought: Failure is not an option. My first lift was going to Jurien Bay, some 250 kms up the coast. He dropped me on the side of the road, albeit a fairly crowded highway- I was 10ks from the nearest anything, with a moderate sun shining down on me. I started to walk up the road backwards, thumb in the air, smiling. The second car to pass pulled over, with a pair of Aboriginal guys sitting up front. They were headed to Geraldton, a five hour drive from Perth, and the first real town on the route. They were brothers, one looking for work in the labor/construction industry, the other a hip-hop artist trying to break into the North American market. We discussed everything from drugs and alcohol to poverty, crime, and the current state of hip-hop music. He had decided years ago to turn away from drugs and booze and focus on music and family; it was the most significant decision he'd made, and he never looked back. I admire determination like that, having felt something similar, yet constantly looking back to what I could have 'if only.' From Gerarldton, one short lift with a surf junkie turned commercial fisherman, and I was at the 440 truck stop, just north of the town. An older gentleman picked me up and drove me to Northampton, where he and his wife and dog, Boston, lived. I hiked up the hill at the north end of town, watching the shadows growing long and the sun dwindling. Night would come soon, and I needed somewhere quiet and out of the way to camp. Just as I had picked out a suitable spot to bed down for the night, a station wagon slowed and stopped for me. Bevon, a South African student/surfer was headed to Canavorn, but would stop for the night in Kalbarri to catch some waves in the morning. It was nearly 400kms, and so I agreed to accompany him for the evening and the next day. We grabbed some wine, watched a world cup match (I don't recall who was playing), and headed off to sleep- Bevon in the back of his wagon, while I walked a few yards off to the beach to settle down to the sound of crashing waves amidst a beautiful star-lit sky.

I woke at daybreak, watching a group of anxious fisherman preparing a boat for a day on the water. My South African friend was also awake, and we stretched and laid out the basic plans for the day. As we were preparing to depart, a local ranger drove up, asking if we had spent the night in the car park. It is illegal, he told us, to sleep in a parking area in Western Australia, as well as illegal due to a town law. We would later learn that the reason it is illegal in the town is that the local caravan park is owned by the council, and they want the money. Naturally, we were creative with the truth, and received a warning. The surf turned out to be crap, or so I was told, and after a lukewarm cup of coffee, we headed north. I got dropped off 7km outside of Canavron, on the road heading north to Exmouth and Karratha, unfortunately leaving my good silnylon tarp in the back of Bevon's car. I hope he has some sort of use for it, or passes it on to someone whom might use it; I'll have to get another one when I get back to the US. An hour or so wait later, and a large SUV pulling a caravan stopped for me. A 60-something hippy smiled out at me, offering a lift to the Minilya roadhouse, as he was heading to Exmouth, which was a turn-off an nearly 100kms out of my way. We discussed travel, both his and my plans, life, and everything else which popped into mind. I mentioned my unfortunate mishap with the tarp, and we he dropped me off at the roadhouse, he walked back to his caravan. A brand new 6x9 tarp came flying out at me, still packaged in plastic. "I can always buy another one," he told me. I've often used this thinking, and it was incredible to be on the receiving end for a change. I also received a beer, an orange, and some snacks. Again the light was failing, but I still tried to hitch for an hour or so until dark, at which point I walked over to a nearby parking area and camped out, chatting with a few other campers. I had hoped to ingratiate myself to the point of catching a lift, but it seemed that all of the nice folks had full cars, and those with space had no interest in talking to me. C'est la vie.

The next morning I woke just before sunrise, thankful for my Nunatak down blanket, as a slight chill had set during the night. I walked up to the roadhouse and began hitching. I saw plenty of cars, with plenty of seats, but none considered stopping. Two vehicles did stop during that time, unfortunately they were both headed south, the direction I had come. Self-doubt and thoughts of failure began creeping into my mind slowly, occasionally bolstered by the truckers whom I spoke to, some of whom were quite discouraging. A procession of antique Bentley's drove past, some with space in their back seats. Sadly, it was only the ones which were full whom stopped to chat, all apologizing for not having space, some offering kind words of reinforcement and admiration at my courage to hitch-hike. Plenty with empty space drove past, but again none stopped. I had woken around 6AM, and by 1PM I was beginning to become despondent. Perhaps a hundred vehicles had passed going my way, yet none had even slowed. I saw a tradesman pull in, his passenger seat empty, and I decided to go against my normal routine and ask. When I saw him returning to his vehicle after a break, I walked up and asked if he might be headed north. He smiled and said yes, offering me a lift as far as the next roadhouse. My heart jumped, and I immediately hopped in. He was from Queensland, thousands of miles from home, but had to work out in Western Australia to make money to support his family. I cannot quite commiserate, but I can imagine how difficult that must be. When we pulled up to the next roadhouse, I thanked him, walking over and immediately buying a cold drink and an ice cream cone- some things are just worth boosting morale. I spotted a young guy lingering by a new cement mixer, and again decided to ask. What's the worst that could happen, I thought to myself. Again he was headed north, and smiled when I asked for a ride, "Yeah Mate, hop up." I caught a lift past one road house, to Fortescue River roadhouse, where numerous trucks were parked. I tried to hitch for a little while, but again it was getting dark. After a bathroom break, and a water refill, I wandered off into the bush to make my camp for the night. The nights were beginning to get warmer, though midnight chills significantly dropped the temperature and early morning winds kept my sweater on for the first hour or so of daylight.

Daybreak brought a sad surprise- almost all of the trucks were headed south! I asked a few truck drivers whom appeared to be heading north, unfortunately they were all either unwilling or did not have space to take me. A large rock sat by the entrance to the truck stop, with significant visibility down the road. I sat there, listening to music, writing, thinking, thumb out, for most of the morning into the afternoon. Again cars passed, from trade workers and miners to pensioning nomads towing caravans and backpackers in every conceivable vehicle. A few gave apologetic shrugs from over-full vehicles, while most simply ignore me and went about their business. Around 2PM I was sitting on my rock, again wondering if THIS was the place I would be stuck, when a man walked up from behind me. I pulled out my headphones to the greatest phrase,"Hiya there, you needing a lift?" I smiled, asking where he was headed. Karratha, the nearest thing to a town within a hundred KMs, was his destination. Pat and his co-driver Jonsey were exploration drillers, living for weeks at a time out in remote areas of the bush, drilling to explore the possible mineral content in the area, and then selling the rights to larger mining companies. They dropped me at McDonalds, where I planned to hop online and update my blog. Unfortunately, while they had free wireless, it failed to work, and I quickly gave up and hit the road. It was 7KMs back to the main highway, though I assumed it would be easy to hitch a lift. A half hour later, in frustration, I decided to walk. By that point, perhaps 200 vehicles had passed, most not paying me the slightest glance, nearly all with at least one empty seat. Walking perhaps two kilometers, a guy pulled off and offered me a lift to the hightway and then north to Roeburn, some 35kms away. He had just sold a caravan up there and needed to do some work on it. I got a quick tour around the town, which was mostly an Aboriginal community, and then was off to the road. I received dirty looks from most of the white Australians whom passed me, while the Aboriginals mainly ignored me or looked confused. I managed to walk through the center of town and out the other side (maybe one kilometer, if that) and decided to keep going on the road, in the assumption that I would need somewhere to camp. By this time I was running calculations in my head, knowing that I would need to start making more significant distances if I wanted to make my goal. I had just reached the caravan park on the outskirts of town when a van pulled over, and two young French girls smiled at me. They were heading 200kms to Port Hedland, and would be delighted if I went with them. Melanie was from Picard, while the other girl was from Brittany, though I don't recall her name. These girls were meeting up with some friends, and while initially I was planning to sleep outside of town at the truck stop and make an early start, real human contact and the desire for friendship overrode this decision. I got along great with the three French guys, to the point that I was invited to dinner (Fajitas) and beer, and was told I could sleep in their van for the evening.

The cost of companionship was evident the next morning, when I faced a 15km walk back out to the highway. Again setting off at daybreak, I began walking along the main road out of town, thumb out, head held high. I had made maybe one mile, a kilometer and a half, when a work truck pulled up next to me. An Indonesian guy offered me a lift out of town, dropping me at the north-bound truck stop. Here I would way again until early afternoon, my longest wait yet in Australia. During this time, I asked multiple truck drivers, always being rejected, and occasionally ridiculed. One particularly fat and idiotic trucker took offense to my having asked him twice (fat hairy truckers all look the same to me), and insisted I pick up a pushbike and start pedaling towards Darwin. Every time I walked up to ask a trucker, this fat idiot would yell something about biking at me. Eventually a trucker admitted to having just come south, and offered to announce me to other truckers on the wideband radio. I thanked him profusely, hoping that it would help my chances. After another few hours, Alession, an Italian traveler in a somewhat malfunctioning 4WD Mitsubishi van stopped and offered me a lift to Broome. He could only go 80KM/hr, but that was still faster than i was making, and it was 600kms to Broome. Alession and I had some similar passions, especially snowsports and the mountains, and he ate up my stories of Montana and California, vowing to come and work in the states. I gave tricks on travel, from tips of survival to language shortcuts and comprehension issues. We got along great, and he must have apologized a dozen times for not driving further than Broome, but he was in need of work and would be staying there to try and find a job.

I thanked Alession for the lift as far as Broome, my longest on this part of my trip, and with renewed confidence knew that I would make it. From the truck stop outside of Broome the next day, I caught a quick 100km lift with a pair of French guys, whom dropped me 45km outside of Derby, on the highway but in the middle of nowhere. They were concerned for my survival, and decided to have lunch right there, telling me that they could give me a lift into town if I failed to catch a lift before they lift. I was grateful, and soon an Aboriginal couple pulled up and gave me a lift to Fitzroy Crossing. I got into town around 2PM, and would not get out until 9Am the next day. I was in desperate need of a shower, and saw the sign at a truck stop, 'Showers $4.' I walked up to the counter to pay, and was told by the young man behind the counter not to worry about it, and simply to hop in. I felt like I had been on the trail for weeks, trekking through hot desert. Clean and refreshed, I headed into the bush to camp out under a partial lunar eclipse showing millions of start in the sky overhead.

Once again, I awoke before sunrise, marveling at the beautiful gradient created as night gradually turned to day. I walked back out to the road, determined to catch a lift this time. By this far north, the heat during the day was becoming a bit difficult to take in direct sunlight, and so I sought shelter under a small tree, shaded from the harsh sun but still only a foot or so from the road. Lazily I wrote in my notebook, listened to music, and held out my thumb. I did not have a care in the world, sure by now that I would eventually get a lift, only waiting until it would eventually reveal itself. Today I was in luck, and a car stopped after only three hours of waiting. The driver, an older gentleman, seemed to be a bit hard of hearing; when I asked how far he was heading, he replied rather brusquely, "Further than you." He, as it turns out, was headed all the way to Katherine, some 1000kms away. I happily jumped in this car, and away we went. The ride was rather uneventful, although he turned out to be one of the most racist people I have ever met- that's something, coming from experience hitching around the US. We did not speak much, though occasionally I mumbled incoherent agreement when he would spout out something about the blackfella ruining the country, stealing the land, fleecing the government, etc. The ride was worth a bit of intolerance, and I chose not to speak up for my true beliefs in the interest of getting where I was going.

Which brings me to Katherine, where I spent last night and again will spend tonight. Sitting by a pool, relaxing, not a care in the world. I'm 300kms from Darwin, and my flight leaves the day after tomorrow. I'll hit the road in the mid morning tomorrow, stay a night in Darwin, and by the following evening I should be in Singapore. I've already lined up a couchsurfing host there for a few days, and then it's off back to Amsterdam and the Casa. I can't wait.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Made it to Katherine

I've hitched 4200 of the 4500 kms to Darwin- it is the 28th, and my flight leaves on the 1st.  That means I've still got two days to hitch the remaining 300kms.  There are also trains and busses, if I somehow manage to fail at this.  Just wanted to let everyone know, I am alive, well (mostly, a lil dehydrated) and totally out of my mind.

Love and miss ya!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I'm back in Perth- I've spent the past few nights in Fremantle at Eva, John, and Bruno's house couchsurfing along with Helene. I met Helene in Denmark, Western Australia while I was couchsurfing and she WWOOFing. We came up here together thanks to a lift from the owner of the farm, Helene intending to stick around for a while, my plans being to leave immediately and head north. That was Wednesday. Everyone in the house was wonderful, as were the many friends I met (Father Dominic and Martina, especially). I could have stayed longer, was certainly given the option to, but with just over a week to go, and nearly 4000km to hitch, I must get going. I will head out at 6AM to a truck stop north of the city, and begin asking truck drivers, car drivers, and generally anyone whom might be headed north if I can possibly catch a lift. I'm not really concerned that I won't make it (my flight out of Darwin leaves the evening of the 1st of July), just that I could get stuck and have to push my thumb further than I really want to (hitching at night, for instance). The danger comes from the long distance between everything, I could get stuck catching only one or two lifts a day (at five hours/ride), which means I won't be covering much ground daily. That being said, there are only a dozen or so significant stops between Perth and Darwin via the Great Northern Highway. If I don't make it...I've got a flight from Singapore to Amsterdam on the 5th of July, which I really do not want to miss. Also, my Australian visa expires on the 9th of July, if everything else falls through.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A new Blog Editor

Let's see if this one works better than the last few...

Friday, June 11, 2010

A day in the life of a WWOOFer...

I woke up around 7:30- work wouldn't start until half past eight.  With some premade batter from the prior evening, I cooked up pancakes for myself, the Belgian, Japanese, and three French WWOOFers who's 'house' I was staying in.  We walked up the hill together, reaching the worksite and breaking into pairs to get to work.  This particular site is building a house out of mud bricks- nothing fancy, really just home-made bricks.  I spent the day (5 hours of work) moving 20lb bricks around, laying them down with mortar, leveling them, and moving on. 


After five hours, we (my partner and I) had placed 15 bricks.

Seriously.

A bit of pre-planning would have gone a long way with this sort of project- for example, using a level on an uneven brick is like trying to nail in a piece of cooked spaghetti.  The bricks DID have one flat side, which I was promptly told was the bottom... Being new to the project, and seeing as my partner was the owner of the estate, I chose not to discuss the merit of leveling out an object with a top profile similar to a gravel road.

Otherwise, a great day.  I realized about halfway through that in my past two years of travel I have...

Laid brick (Australia), built a house with rebar-reinforced cinderblock (poland), done  remodeling and furniture construction (California), and performed emergency plumbing repair (Scotland).  My skillset is becoming quite varied.   I can't wait to build my own house (on wheels!)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Denmark...Wait, what?

I made it!  Denmark, WA that is. I'm going to be meeting my host in a few minutes, but I wanted to shoot a quick update- I'm still alive!  I'm going to be working out how many KMs I've hitched (and then convert to Miles) soon.  Other than that...life is great, things are good, I'm healthy, (somewhat) wealthy, and...

Two outta three ain't bad, right?

That's all for now, hope everyone is doing well and enjoying life.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Tony's

I walked a few Kms out of Mandurah- all the way to Miami, in fact.  Apparently the developers around here are so lacking in creativity they need to 'borrow' US cities for new names, go figure.  After two DELICIOUS pies (Cajun Chicken and 'huntsman'- emu, kangaroo, and buffalo), I headed out to the road.  My first lift was only going a few KMs down the road, but would get me over the bridge (wherever that was).  As it was late in the day, I mentioned camping, and he dropped me at the entrance to a national park, on the way to his destination.  As I got out, shouldering my pack, he shouted out the car window, "Hey, do you like bourbon?"  I smiled, confirmed my interest, and proceeded to walk into the bush.  "If you hear some hollering later, you're more than welcome to stop by," he says, "assuming my mate is up to it."  I thank him and walk off into the bush, ditching my pack and climbing a dune to watch the fading sun and enjoy the freedom after being in Perth for nearly a week with the dreaded (and RIDICULOUSLY racist) Brits.

No sooner had I settled in, a shrill whistle pierced the calm air.  I looked over, and there was Sean, my lift, with his friend, whom would soon be introduced to me as Tony.  I scampered down the dune, grabbed my pack, and walked over to where the two were teeing off from Tony's front yard.  Along the way (100 yards or so), I passed a few wild roos (kangaroos) whom simply stared at me.  After a quick introduction, they asked if I had seen any roos out in the bush, and were apparently trying out some target practice with a sand wedge.  Personally, I would have preferred a 3 wood for a straighter ballistic profile, but I'm no golfer.

Darts, Pool, homemade bourbon, and lively intelligent conversation set the tone for the next four days.  Sean departed on the third, but I stuck around for an extra, getting the opportunity to meet Ronnie, Tony's wife.  Amidst all of the festivities and fun, we had conversations ranging from hunting to survival, dirtbikes, computers, politics, religion (and the problems it's caused), to politics (and the problems it's caused).  In many ways, Tony reminded me of Steve, minus the engineering background and machine shop.  I had a true blast, and have been invited back anytime.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Perth- Brit expat central

A few I don't mind.  The Irish are great.  But for the love of all, why are there so many Brits in Perth?  I couldn't take it anymore, after getting my package (THANKS MOM!), sending my stuff home (it'll take a while- $60 for a 7lb package the SLOW WAY?!), I bailed.  I'm currently enjoying the hospitality of Tony...