The Longest Wait: Patience as a Virtue

By: Bernd Wechner
© November 1, 2001

The Longest Wait: Patience as a Virtue

The Longest Wait: Patience as a Virtue

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: November 1, 2001

I had long heard stories of horrendously long waits. Sitting around planting roots in the hope that a much needed ride will transport one onwards, if only a little way for a change of scenery. I’ve lost count of the number of three-day waits I’ve heard of in Spain. I’ve heard of comparable waits in Australia; a week-long wait on the Finnish-Russian border, and weeks of lingering around Asian cities fishing for flights in the ‘50s … a small consolation offered to me by an old hitcher once was the (fallacious I reckon) conviction that “the longer the wait, the better the ride.”

When I set out to circum-thumb Australia then, I braced myself for a few multi-day intimacies with one junction or another along the way, wondering all the while how long my patience would last and when I’d opt for the bus (as Horwitz did when he walked past a couple of three-day waiters in Australia!). At least once I told myself I’d be prepared to weather a very long wait, if only to share in the experience with the ranks of ardent thumbers past – a kind of perverse readiness if nothing else, to capture a tale (if perhaps, an uneventful one).

To my surprise, the first opportunity arose not in the dusty outback, where camels outnumber cars, but in the heartlands of South-eastern Australia, our most populated and trafficked corner! And as Murphy or one of his more vindictive brothers might have it, with no fall back options available, no busses, no trains, no plane … just me and the road on which I stood, the Bonang Highway through Gippsland. A classic case of having hitched in with no trouble, but the hitch out …

If I feel like flattering the Bonang Highway I tell people that the sixth car to pass me pulled over! If I feel less positively inclined, I tell them it took 5 hours to come along and was driven by folk I knew from the Goongerah Environment Centre I’d just visited!

But, although it be a record in my books, it was still only a five hour wait. Not a multi-day epic. I managed my entire way around Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory and was half way into Western Australia before I won that privilege.

To be sure, along the way I did find myself at a lonely junction somewhere overnight, to pitch tent and hitch on in the morning, but this had happened to me in other countries as well, and wasn’t associated with very lengthy waits. Being equipped with the tent, I’m prepared to accept rides toward the end of the day that deliver me to lonely places devoid of infrastructure – all the more suited for camping out. Early morning hitches also prove on the whole uncannily efficient. Perhaps drivers are impressed by the seriousness of anyone prepared to be up and thumbing on lonely junctions by the crack of dawn!

Until the Pilbara - one of Western Australia’s more scenic mountain (read “hill”) ranges. I arrived at Paraburdoo in the morning (having hitched in from Tom Price at dawn) and found myself firmly rooted to the spot by sundown. Perhaps only 3 transit vehicles had come past during the whole day! Hmmmm …. At last the arduous wait I’d been expecting?

I was in fact on a touristed road. But the tourist flow was south to north, away from the southern cold and rain toward the northern dry and warm. I lost count of cars coming by the other way, and decided I might have to hitch back out the way I came in if I couldn’t get out this way (a detour of some 750 km to get 300 km down to the sea). But the tourist traffic wasn’t all there was. All day I was passed by local traffic going to and from the local garbage dump just down the road. It was easy to identify – loaded up with garbage. We got to know one another … I was becoming a local phenomenon.

So much so, that in time, a local would pull over for a chat. Problem was, the small township of Paraburdoo was an iron mine basically operating on a 4-day roster cycle. We were in the middle of one of those cycles. Only on the edges of the cycle did locals head down to the coast for the 4 free days, or back to be in time for the start of the next cycle. In other words, no local traffic down to the coast for a while. And clearly very few tourists headed that way (three that day and they were full, as long distance tourists tend to be).

But I was invited down the pub if I should be stuck the night, and offered a place to stay. In due course the sun went down, I went down the pub, and true to form, ended up playing pool with the locals, chit chatting, drinking lots of beer and was invited home … as promised. They chipped in ideas and told me about the Wesfarmer’s truck (which stocks the local supermarket) that was expected and which heads down to the coast on its delivery run. A ride would surely be available. Of course there were no public transport options out of Paraburdoo. It was a hitch in, hitch out kinda town.

Sure enough, by midday the next day I was still planted at the edge of town, with just as little traffic, when the Wesfarmer’s truck pulled in (you can see most of town from the edge of town!). So I make tracks, and share my tale of woe with the driver. He’s hip, and after unloading will take me down the coast.

Packed and ready to go, sitting in the cab, he calls home base - a change of plan. He has to go back inland … oh well, looks like I am headed around the long way - around the Pilbara, instead of through it. It took me 12 hours to cover the 300 km between Paraburdoo and the coast!

The point of note was though, that with enough time in one spot, and a local community nearby, the wait becomes something of a shared adventure. I wasn’t to see this phenomenon again until I’d come all the way around the country. After an uncannily successful hitch up the Old Telegraph Track to the tip of Cape York (ardent four wheel drive country), me and my girlfriend found ourselves trying to hitch back south with a slight air of trepidation after our failed maritime efforts. Before us, a 700 km stretch of badly corrugated dirt track through very sparsely populated country.

We arrived at the Cairns road junction of an afternoon, and of course the traffic over a stretch like this departs in the morning. The aim was to camp out and be here at dawn to catch the early travellers. We waited a total of almost three days and three nights on that junction, with our tent, and campfire at the site of an old DC3 wreck which drew some tourists during the day.

This was an even more sociable experience than Paraburdoo. Within short order, the locals were bringing us water, taking us to and from town for supplies, out to a swimming hole and back, pooling ideas and promising rides next week with Joe through to Cairns, or maybe tomorrow with Tom down to the Jardine which would be a kick start. The airport manager even promises if he has an empty charter flying back he’d duck out and get us! People who pull in have heard of us, are even aware of our dinner time menu – such is the efficacy of small town gossip. We even consider charging entry to the wreck site and offering guided tours …

A charming experience. Granted, hot, and dry, and something of an ordeal as well, not one I’d repeat voluntarily in any hurry, but still a surprising social encounter.

In the end Bob pulls in and says we may be in luck. Can we drive? He’s the local Ansett Airlines agent, and they just went bankrupt (to my girlfriend’s chagrin as her ticket home from Sydney is with Ansett and now null and void!). So Bob is out of a job. But he’s just scored a new one in Sydney and has two vehicles (his four wheel drive and the airport bus) to get as far as Cairns. He needed a driver!

So it was, that we got to drive our own Land Cruiser back and Ansett’s bankruptcy mad up ins some small way for the loss of our air ticket!

The trip down was a story all of its own … though it’s worth noting here, that tourists we passed on the way continued the fashion, expressing recognition and surprise to see us not only with a ride, but a car of our own!

So, with any kind of small community nearby, long protracted waits, take on a certain social character all of their own. The simple audacity or tenacity of rooting oneself for the long wait inscribes one in the local news, impresses people enough to solicit some help and support for the arduous mission ahead … at least in Australia! Don’t panic about it, just stock up on food and water, and wear it out, at least the once, it’s an experience believe me.

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