The hitch-hiker

The hitch-hiker

A Chapter by Mike

Chapter 4


Occurred - February 2011, Kulgara (Northern Territory, Australia).

Anybody who chooses to embark on a road trip through Australia's red centre will invariably have some form of chance encounter with a hitch-hiker. For city people like myself, the idea of hitch-hiking only stretched to what I'd seen in movies or had been told by my parents. More often than not there would be a negative connotation attached to anybody that stands on the side of the road with their thumb out, mainly because you were brought up to think that they were completely insane.

But when you're down and out yourself (and low on money) they suddenly don't appear as harmful as they did when you were a child. I had often seen them scattered on the road that connected my small suburb with the next biggest suburb, and always asked my parents what they were doing. At the time I couldn't help but think that they were crazy, especially when thinking about it in hindsight and knowing that they were so close to bus stops and train stations. My parents probably made a good judgement call to not pick these ones up.

But on the drive to Darwin there was nobody to tell us who we should and shouldn't pick up, and at the time we definitely wanted to test the boundaries. Dean and I had already pushed these limits by (1) deciding to drive to Darwin in the first place, and (2) deciding to do it with only a couple of hundred dollars to our name.

Luckily when we left Tasmania we found a transient German back-packer that was more than willing to join us for the trip up north. Besides being a solid guy he also made our journey cheaper. We met Yannick on the first day that we arrived in Cradoc, and spent just under a month with him slavin' under Helen's rule. He was probably the most efficient German back-packer that I'd ever come across, even if Germany is already miles more efficient than any other nation in their everyday life.

He had come to Australia with no plans, but brought a tent and all the cooking equipment to prepare him for any situation that Australia might throw at him. Like a complete vagabond, he had pots and pans tied to his backpack, as well as some sturdy walking boots. He found most of his clothes out of the lost and found box in the Tassie hostel and definitely had no problem in rocking out some black business pants and a tight Puma t-shirt all the way across the country.

And so it was that the three of us soon found ourselves in the middle of the Australian desert. We were crossing the country in a 1990 model Honda Prelude with an esky full of beers and mini diet cokes which Yannick would slam when he was in the driver's seat. The car had essentially became our home for the two weeks that it took to travel 3,000 kilometres, with only the odd roadhouse 500 kilometres apart to keep us amused.

But this was Australia, and if you wanted to get to Darwin by car you were forced to travel straight through the country's centre. It's a stretch of road that has actually been known to kill humans as well as wildlife, and aside from some dead Kangaroos, a pack or two of stray cows, and some aimlessly roaming Aboriginals there is basically just a whole lot of nothingness. Our small sports car was all that separated the three of us shirtless backpackers from the very serious idea that without ample food, water, petrol and sleep we would most likely die.

This particular day was, at first, no different. We'd just spent the night pulled over to the side of the road after burning out of Cooper Pedy as fast as we had entered. This is because Cooper Pedy is just an odd place to find yourself. Over 60% of its inhabitants live in underground houses, making the entire town look like a ghost town because houses are hidden under huge dirt mounds. The only people who live there are either Greek or Aboriginal, which at first I found to be a strange mix, but after it actually made a little sense. The Greeks had arrived decades ago in the hope of mining some opals, but the reality of the situation (which they were quickly realising) was that it was rare to find anything. The fact that the Aboriginals co-existed with the Greeks marks probably one of the only places in the world where this is a reality.

After a night of cooking burgers on a grill we'd taken from an old BBQ in Tasmania, we hit the road. We were about 200 kilometres south of the South Australian/Northern Territory border when we spotted a figure standing on the side of the road. The sun was blazing and reflecting off the road, so all that we could see was the rough outline of a woman. I thought that she was smokin' hot from afar on account of my poor eyesight. We all gazed as she stuck her thumb out in true fashion. At that moment I had no problem with attempting to squish her in the back with me, mainly because we hadn't encountered a hitch-hiker yet and were intrigued by what might happen.

As she approached closer her outline became more defined. It was alarming to say the least, but by that point we had already begun pulling over so it was kind of too late to pull back out onto the road and floor it. 

She murmured a thank-you as we pushed all of our bags on top of each other and moved the esky into the front seat. I moved into the middle and lay down my own towel for her to sit on. This was a bad move - the sweat of a random hitch-hiker is just plain rank. But in any case she squished on in and we continued our journey.

I think the three of us at that point were amazed at how a bald-headed woman could survive on the side of the road with no hat, clothes or money. Well, that's a lie really because she did have clothes - one extra item to be precise. For however long this woman had been waiting on the highway underneath a harsh 45 degree sun all that she needed was some ratty t-shirt stuffed into a plastic bag.

Life became hard in the back seat. Whilst Dean was driving contently and Yannick was reading his book on British Imperialism I could barely move. With fear that any part of my body would come into contact with her white, scaly and clearly sun-damaged skin I sat as far away from her as possible. I literally just had to sit there and gaze into the distance with the glare of Puddy from Seinfeld.

At one point she fell asleep and naturally I had a cheeky look at her. I studied her pretty intensely. I looked at the faded gecko tattoo that she had on her forearm and into her well-guarded plastic bag to see if any other little surprises lay in there. I could only see the shirt, with items like a phone or a wallet seeming to be non-existent. It was as if she'd had no experiences whatsoever besides being stranded in the outback hoping to catch a lift to Darwin. She never really spoke and we never really found out what she was doing, who was she or where she was going. The only noises I really recall were a couple of screams.

So for 200 kilometres it should be known that I sat there in silence, sometimes gazing and at other times studying the hitcher beside me. 200 kilometres is a long time, especially for me. I always have to talk, even if it's about s**t (which most of the time it is). I think I would rather wreck my life through saying absolute lies than not talk at all. Actually, I wouldn't but it tends to happen.

Over time I became used to seeing her scaly skin and I was actually starting to come to terms with the fact that she may never leave until we reached Darwin. But that was still over 1000 kilometres away. I started to imagine setting up the tent with her, cooking burgers and drinking beers. Maybe she would become infatuated with us and never want to leave.

Luckily I was brought out of this trance as Dean swerved off the road. Although this was an unusual occurrence, driving day in day out through the outback can take its toll you - especially when there isn't anything to look at besides endless red dirt and one straight stretch of highway.

Fortunately we had a system for dealing with it. Whenever Dean's eyes began to close I would just hit him, either from the back-seat or from the passenger seat - where ever I could reach in a good smack, really. In this particular case it was enough to wake him, even if he did swerve off the road, pass the one-meter strip of stone that lay on either side of the highway and start heading for the shrubbery. The hitch-hiker didn't approve.


I jumped out of my seat higher than I thought was physically possible. We all pissed ourselves laughing as we stopped the car. We just couldn't help it. If some random weird looking Aussie came hurtling into your life and you stupidly decided to pick them up, tell me you wouldn't be in stitches if you almost killed the poor girl.

But after all, she wasn't our problem. We were doing her a favour, and as far as we were concerned anything that happened was just a part of another experience for all of us. We laughed stupidly at how serious the situation could have been, and switched drivers.

Yannick jumped on in, fresh as a daisy. (As a side note it should be pointed out that German's have ridiculous stamina. They can drive for up to 10 hours and only need a bottle of water to keep them energised. I don't know what it is, but somehow they just never get tired).

As we pulled out everything slowly began to return to normal. The tunes were cranked back up, cigarettes were lit and I was back to feeling extremely uncomfortable. But there was one more thing that made me laugh a little bit inside. I started to realise that because Yannick was German he was used to driving on the other side of the road. As a result, all of his driving in Australia had been quite disjointed because he was always having to swerve back onto the road. We had another German friend that we taught to drive in Tasmania and she just couldn't get the hang of driving on the left-hand side. No judgement though, at least they could both work a gear-box unlike myself.

Our bald friend let out a few more screams and gasps as a result of Yannick's swerving. I felt her hands clench up and her back tighten as she waited to be let out. We most certainly could've told her the truth about her driver, but on account of her behaviour only 5 minutes prior we thought we'd keep this one a secret.

Soon enough we began to see more signs that indicated a town was close. Even if the signs were only a 'K' with a '150' written underneath you would still get a little excited because you knew that other humans would actually be there.

Eventually we pulled into a large roadhouse in the town of Kulgara. It didn't even have to be said that we were letting her go - it was implied and clearly indicated. She was terrified, and we completely knew it.

We pulled up to the gas tank and all piled out. I threw my sweaty towel in the back as I attempted to hide it away from everybody's view.

We pulled out one hour later to find her back on the road again, thumb out. We sped past with a courtesy beep that really said 'good luck with finding anybody who would wanna pick you up again.' And that was the last we thought we'd ever see of her. One week later we did have the thought to look for her around the parks and bridges of Darwin, but a part of us wasn't even sure if she'd make it. Perhaps she was still somewhere along that barren highway with her thumb out, hoping for a ride.

© 2018 Mike

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Added on August 31, 2012
Last Updated on August 13, 2018
Tags: Australia, Desert, Roadtrip, Outback, Hitch-hiker.



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