There was a time when great distances would be covered using only your thumb and an optional scrap of cardboard onto which you’ve scrawled your preferred destination, be it Limerick, Lucan or Lisbon. Of late, however, you would be doing well to spot a hitch-hiker anywhere, at any time of year. Maybe it’s just the nature of living on an island where all roads run into the sea, but it would seem that the same decline in the ancient art of bumming-a-lift is also to be seen over on the continent. The act of hitching-a-hike has become something reserved for hippies, bums and motorway break-downs.
The majority of people have never hitch-hiked and would never think to avail of this alternative mode of transport, and in a sense, they would be right. There has been plenty of horror films, scary stories and in some countries, deterrent laws that discourage this practice. In fact, the majority of truckers (long-time best friends of hitchhikers) are forbidden by their contractors and/or insurance companies from taking on random passengers. Psycho mass-murderers aside and remembering that the majority of people are sane and up for a chat, it truly is a pity that one can’t grab a lift simply by asking.
Hitchhiking may just be making a gentle comeback, however. Hitchgathering has been in motion every year since 2008. It’s an opportunity for those few folk who still have a passion for the wide open road to congregate and discuss how much they love not having to pay for their own transport. They’ve held the event in France, Ukraine and Portugal to date, however numbers have supposedly dwindled due to the precarious nature of how patrons choose to get themselves to the gathering.
Couch-surfing is a similar enough phenomenon that has managed to catch hold despite the fact that hosting a stranger could land you in a pickle. In fairness, you have to build up a reputation before you can be considered a decent couch-surfer but could the same not be said for Hitchhiking? There’s likely an app for it already. In an ideal world, hitch-hiking would be an environmentalist’s bliss. It could be called spontaneous car-pooling or eco-thumbing, it would cut a few cars off the road and free a few spots on the bus. It would surely instigate a few haphazard friendships, and it’d save someone a few euros in the long run. If someone really desperately wanted to be a weirdo they wouldn’t need to stand on the side of the N65, they could open the busiest intersection in the world, yeah, Facebook. Eventually someone would get a hitch-hiking weirdo, but it’d hardly happen to you or me, and that’s the main thing.
It has been the colleges of Ireland that have really helped re-invent the notion of hitchhiking in the last few years. The Jailbreak events of 2013 and 2014 saw students of TCD, NUIG, UCC and UCD flee as far from Irish shores as possible within a weekend, all in the name of charity. The well-prepared and ambitious managed to get flights in the first few hours but it was those who went to Dublin, Belfast and Wexford Ports to blag their way onto long-haul lorries who came back with the best and most surprising of stories. You would have to admit that hitchhiking actually has a bit of an Irish feel to it, and it was a regular occurrence probably up until the coming of the 21st century. It was widely practiced in rural areas, often by the travelling community and it would have based on the concept of ‘meitheal’, the “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” attitude that used to get the harvest done in simpler times. It would be no harm if people would actually try that sort of stuff again.