Wednesday, 22 April 2015


As I lay out my things for the morning I find myself laughing out loud. Onto the blue velcro knee brace that lies on top of the chest of drawers I put the blister plaster and the heat wrap. Collectively they look like a First Aid training kit, but right now they’re just the items I need to walk the dog.

Somewhere between the arthritis in my right knee, the sciatic cramp and numbness that runs from hip to toe down the other leg and my new walking boots that have bored a hole into my left ankle, middle age has become so established I don’t know where it ends and old age begins.

All this for a bloody walk? That’s when I laugh out loud, wondering who the hell I am and what happened to that bloke who used to walk effortlessly for hours?

From the age of 15 I felt a strong desire to hitch and quickly discovered that I was good at it. Back in those days hitchhikers were a common sight, groups of longhairs clumped around service station exits, sitting on guitar cases, relaxedly unperturbed by the prospect of getting anywhere.

While they sat waiting for someone to stop, I walked further to a spot where a car could easily pull over. A few minutes later I was climbing into a car accompanied by the distant sound of hippy wailing.

As so often in life, empathy is the name of the hitching game: if you want a lift think like a driver. Stand still where drivers can see you from as far away as possible. Give drivers somewhere safe and easy to pull in. People used to ask me if I’d ever been stuck, to which I replied that if I was stuck I’d still be there. Every time I put out my thumb I enjoy a thrill of excitement along with the assured knowledge that I will reach my destination.

Some people, apparently unable to stand still, hitched while walking along the edge of the road. I never understood them. If you can walk to where you’re going, why are you hitching? If you can’t then what good will walking do you? Drivers won’t stop if they can’t see your face and by the way, the car that just passed you on that tight bend was the one which would've stopped for you, were you standing in a good spot.

Always an early start and then walk out of town. Walk and walk until the buildings are far behind you, yet the traffic’s not speeding up too fast. Find a good place and stand there until you get a lift. 

No signs, because you’ll miss out on the shorter interim lifts that might bring you somewhere better.
Innumerable fascinating one-to-one talks with drivers from every walk of life. Some want silence, happy just to help. Others need to pour their hearts out to this stranger who they know they’ll never see again. Then there’s the ones who want to convert you to their belief system, be it a world religion or vile racism. They expect you to agree with them as you’re riding in their car or truck, but instead at the sound of

“Bloody Pakis!”

I’d simply smile and explain how much I loved living in Bradford.

Hitching wasn’t just about moving from A to B. The purely random length of lifts requires sometimes being dropped off in the middle of bleedin’ nowhere.

I love that.

Watch as the car disappears into the distance down a side road. 

Wait for silence to fall once more. 

Now take a look: you’re standing alone in a magnificent wilderness. Walk a few paces up the road and stop to look at the view from a perspective that possibly nobody has ever seen.

For a couple of months in New Zealand I went with the lifts, persuading each driver that just because I had no destination in mind, it didn’t mean I was a dangerous psycho. I went wherever they went, and gradually there grew within me a profound state of calm.

Faith is an essential ingredient of hitching. Smile and believe that you will get there and sure enough, you will get there. A friend used to start hitching up the M1 from Brent Cross, harbouring thoughts in his mind that he’d give it three hours and then go to Golders Green and get the 3:30 bus.

He was doomed to failure, due to the doubt in his heart from the off.

I used to hitch to the pub where I worked when I was 17 and in my early 20s I flew all around England’s motorway network. Working in warehouses each winter, I saved enough to board the Cross Channel Ferry in the Springtime and hitch around Europe once again.

I’ve no idea why I loved sleeping out in French fields so much. Long before I’d read Kerouac or Guthrie I savoured waking up in a ploughed furrow on a dew-soaked morning, feeling fantastically unleashed.

After walking the dog and removing all my medical support systems I walk down to the crossroads. The Snapper has promised to drive me home later, so I’m hitching into Galway to have a drink or three with excellent friends arriving from London.

After fifteen minutes the first car comes along. It stops and takes me into the city. Looking out of the window at this road which I’ve driven ten thousand times, I’m reminded how much drivers miss of the world around them.

Wow look at that house! It’s huge and I didn't know it existed! Oh and over there, see where that stone wall curves and rises along the crest of that hill, with that beautiful little shed built right into it?

It feels great to be sitting in the back seat; invisible yet welcome. I miss the worlds that hitching reveals, but between my knee, blister and back I suspect my freewheeling days might be behind me.

©Charlie Adley

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