Sunday, August 23, 2009

Putting the "Hike" in Hitchhike

I packed up my tent. It was time to go south on the next leg of my Epic Hitchhiking Journey (EHJ). My Orange Hitchhiking Bible (OHB) said I needed to get to highway 37. On that day, and on many others, the OHB was essential to my EHJ.

Leaving the lake, I asked a local mechanic how far it was to the road I'd need.

"How far is it to the road I need?"

"Turn left, and walk up the hill. It takes about 15 minutes," he said.

[15 minutes later]

I stopped and put down my pack, sweating and out of breath. What was that mechanic thinking? I was squarely in the middle of nowhere. Not only that, but what he called I hill, I call a mountain. But the scenery was great, the weather was nice, and EHJs are not supposed to be easy, so I kept walking.

[30 minutes later]

Drenched in sweat, I rested again. I never weighed my pack, so I can't tell you exactly -- but if you'd asked me then, it was about 100kg. I cursed that crazy mechanic.

I figured I was about halfway to highway 37. In this picture you can see my destination in the distance. Note that I started walking at sea-level.

Averse to hiking another hour, I evaluated the hitchikeability of the road beside me. Conditions were poor:

Curved and mountainous

Narrow to nonexistant


I stuck out my thumb anyway, repeating the 'hitchhiker's mantra'.

Eventually, someone will stop.
Eventually, someone will stop.

Someone did, and his name was Shin. He was a pleasant plasterer, on his way to a plasterers' meeting. Exactly what goes on at plasterers' meetings, I have no idea. I do know, however, that they are great people. Better than mechanics, especially.

Shin dropped me off at highway 37, saving me more walking and sweating. Checking online, I now see that my "15 minute" walk was really a 7.1km, 1.5 hour mountain trek with 150kg on my back (yeah, it got heavier). See for yourself:

You might think that I misheard the mechanic's directions, or that he was just trying to screw with me, but that kind of thing was actually not uncommon on my trip. Consistent underestimation of walking distances was something I came to expect in Hokkaido. Five minutes usually meant 10 or 15. And 15 minutes often took the better part of an hour.

In any case, Shin dropped me off, I assumed "the pose," and soon received a conditional offer for a ride from an old man with a dog.

"Your pack has Canadian flag on it -- are you Canadian?"

"Yes, I am."

"Good. Americans are bastards. Let's go."


  1. My assumption is that people who usually drive and rarely walk long distances have little concept of how long it takes to walk anywhere.

  2. Yeah, I think that's it too. At least I was never in a hurry.

  3. Maybe a 15 min drive? He prolly didn't expect you to walk it.

  4. Hello!!

    Isn't there such a bible (road atlas) for Tohoku for example, I can only find one for Hokkaido...

    Thank you and thanks for the blog and your nice stories! I'm planning to Hitcchike Tohoku this summer!


  5. Hi Gobbe, thanks for your comment. The road atlas I linked to in the post includes all of Japan. I actually only used a couple of its pages dedicated to Hokkaido.

    Best of luck this summer. You're going to love it!