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Hitch-hiking Down Under

My first hitchhike in a different country:

During the first part of 2017, I moved to work and live in Australia for 5 months l as an outdoor educator (backpacking and rock climbing instructor for teenagers) with Outward Bound Australia.

When I first arrived to Australia someone at the organization picked me up to take me to the Basecamp where most staff - and some of their families - lived and prepared for all of our multi-day or multi-week expeditions. (I’ll never forget the first time I tried to get into the wrong side of the car at the airport in the Australian Capital Territory - “most American thing ever,” I thought to myself).

After about a half hour of driving I arrived at the Basecamp where I’d be living and working, I was given a tour and was told I had no official work for 5 days in order to give me time to sleep and adjust to the 16 hour (ahead) time difference after a 15.5 hour flight from Los Angeles.

I remember the next 24-36 hours being a huge blur of randomly sleeping, trying to find food to eat around base and familiarizing myself with the massive size of spiders that seemed to be everywhere. I’d wake up most mornings to see at least one wolf spider (about the size of my hand) on the wooden floor of my cabin.

There were a few times when people would walk into my cabin to clean it and realize

That there was “an international” sleeping in there - as they called anyone who wasn’t from Australia working for the organization.

At the end of my 2nd day I found myself wanting to explore a bit. It was my first time in Australia after all. As any adventurous runner would do, I decided to throw on my running shoes and hit the road. Luckily, I had the Gaia GPS app downloaded to track where I was as well as the distance I was running. I ended up running out to a hill in the distance and back. On my way back, I stopped at one point to take in the view and all the sudden noticed that there were about 50 kangaroos starring at me while being very still. I started to laugh, because it was the first time I’d seen a kangaroo in the wild - and there were 50 of them - in a herd like elk. It was incredible. I eventually made my way back to my Basecamp and found dinner to eat again.

On my 3rd day there, another American arrived. She was peppy and excited to start work there in Australia. I remember her not getting much sleep upon her arrival because she was too excited and ready to explore. Because we were both “internationals” and did not have a car. This is what lead to my next adventure. We decided to find other staff on Basecamp to borrow bikes from to get into the nearest town, which was only 28 Kilometers, or 17 miles, away.

At the time, this did not seem like much to me or that it would be very hard. I had been an avid trail runner and rock climber in the mountain town I’d been living in in (Lander, Wyoming) for the 2 years prior to moving to Australia.

I was wrong.

The bike ride out to the nearest shopping center seemed excruciatingly long. I remember feeling desperate for shade and finding trees to take breaks under where we could. We were in the Australian Capital Territory, which is essentially more like the Outback. Once we arrived I remember feeling extremely burnt and worn out. Our mission was to get new SIM cards for our phones and get banks set up for working in Australia. We managed to get all of that done and grab a (very expensive) beer and snack while in town. Then, the ride I will categorize as being one of the worst of my life, began. We were both already sore, tired and burnt Americans riding our way back outside of the city into our basecamp. We stopped often and may have even cried a little, but I’ll never forget riding into the sunset. Which seemed to take over the whole sky because it was so flat where we were living. We arrived back and immediately drank as much water/electrolytes as we could while then devouring dinner.

A couple days later our training began - we started learning how to navigate in Australia as well as how to drive - which, I never mastered because they only had stick shift vehicles for us to drive while on the opposite side of the road and the car. Just a few days into my training, I was told that I was being sent to a different Basecamp that was in need of more staff to a place in northern New South Whales, called Uki. Just about 20 minute drive down the road from a very popular tourist destination/hippie town: Nimbin and just below one of the tallest mountains in the area, Mt. Wollumbin. This environment was different than anyone I had ever lived in before and total opposite from where I had been a week prior: skiing with my ski instructor guy I was dating at the time in Jackson, Wyoming. I had just been moved to a sub-tropical rainforests. Where pythons slivered around, platypuses frequented the banks of the nearby river and koalas could be heard growling their mating calls from the tall eucalyptus trees above all night.

This was the place that made me realize how many different sicknesses/skin issues you can get from being overheated. It is also where I first experienced Universal Healthcare - absolutely incredible. But that’s for another story.

When I moved to this town of Uki, I was even more removed from anyone who had a car to get around and the roads were extremely curvy and dangerous to ride a bike along.

More internationals worked and lived at this Basecamp and were also car-less. So, it was somewhat normal to hitch-hike if you needed to do so.

Although I’d hitch-hiked before in California, when backpacking a portion of the PCT, I was a little more afraid to do it here in Australia.

It wasn’t until my Australia bestie came along. Another international who had just arrived from working and living in Canada, but who was originally from France. Her name was Heléne and she was hilarious. Her and I instantly bonded over our somewhat sarcastic humor and ability to laugh at the ridiculous situation we were put in. We had been assigned to “room,” together. I say, “room” because it was not much of a room let alone a place to live. It was a tin shed with two windows that had been cut into the side and had screen stapled over them. Each night we would let the other know that we were sleeping naked and on top of our sheets because the heat and humidity was unbearable. Especially for two northern hemisphere gals who had just been in snow.

Heléne was the person who had much more experience living in other countries, sleeping in airports and finding her way around than I did, so I was glad to have her as my new roomie. She just assumed she would be hitchhiking every where until she got a car while living in Australia (she still lives there to this day!). So, I decided to start hitchhiking with Heléne.

We only ever wanted to get to a swim hole or into the nearby town, but we always met some characters and very kind humans.

One of the first people who gave us a ride was an Australian, probably in his 40s, with dreads down to his butt wearing some sort of tie-died wrap/skirt and driving an old Volkswagen bus - which were quite common in Australia.

He asked if we needed a ride towards the beach and we said yes, but that we’d only need to go about 20 kilometers to a nearby swim hole. He asked our names and then began guessing where each of us were from. He guessed that I was Canadian and that Heléne was German. We didn’t correct him, because we would only be in the car with him for about 15 minutes, plus the fact that it was 2017, right after Donald Trump had been elected, and every single person I met in Australia felt the need to tell me how dumb we were as Americans for electing him, then proceed to tell me all the reasons why he was not fit to serve. This I already knew and believed - I was a Bernie Sanders delegate for my county while living in Wyoming if that tells you anything.

This man, whose name escapes me, then proceeded to tell us about how he lived in Nimbin and asked if we wanted to go to a beach party instead. It’s where he was headed and just planned to sleep on the beach that night and that we could for sure get a ride back in the morning. While it was tempting and Heléne and I did discuss it, we decided that ultimate it would be too risky, since we had to work at 10am the next day and the beach was about a 45 minute drive from Uki where we lived and worked.

Heléne and I continued to hitchhike for the rest of my time living in Australia and never once had a problem or ran into any trouble. Sometimes people who picked us up could only take us halfway, sometimes we had to wait upwards of 30 minutes or more to get a ride. But we always found a way. I’ll never forget when I saw Heléne begin her hitchhike out of Brisbane in Queensland all the way to another part of Australia. She said it only took her about 18 hours to get to where she needed to be for her next work contract.

She was most definitely someone who inspired me and who still inspires me to live bravely and free each day. To work hard and believe that the universe will give back whatever you put into it. She helped me to trust in the the kindness of strangers and ultimately trust in myself and my instincts.

Cheers to Australia. It was an adventure, I’ll not soon forget.

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