Aventure d’auto-stop: A Hitchhiking adventure – By Stacey Sturrock-Davies

 

Bio:

 

Stacey Sturrock-Davies: passionate adventurer, occasional writer, aspiring photographer, sunseeker, sightseer, music lover.

 

Stacey Sturrock-Davies

Aventure d’auto-stop: A Hitchhiking adventure.

After months of waiting, studying and fundraising, the time had finally come. It was during fresher’s week of my first year at the University of Kent, Canterbury, that I first considered the idea. At that point in my life, drastic change was about to happen.

Standing at the roadside with our comically large, over-sized red foam thumb, an improvised whiteboard and our backpacks, we awaited our first ride. This call to adventure was first presented at a ‘Fresher’s Fair’ during my first year of university in September 2013. It combined two things that I wanted to do more of during my time at university, the promotion of adventure combined with the aim of raising money for a charity. The task: raise money by promoting the compelling cause that Link Community Development was doing, with the aim of improving the educational system in villages in several African countries. The reward: grab a backpack and travel to Africa for very little cost. This was a call I could not ignore.

It was several months later, after fundraising, completing various pieces of coursework, and shopping for myriad items that would prove useful on our adventure that the opportunity came. I first met my travel partner, Clara, only the day before setting off, thanks to a Facebook page hosted by our charity organization, where hitchers from many different universities, located across the UK, could meet others to travel in small groups, as it was considered too dangerous for solo hitchers.

Clara and I began our expedition from the University of Sussex, Southern England, to see where our generous chauffeurs would take us. We set off with the hopes of experiencing many unique places as we improvised a route through France, Spain, and into Morocco; where we would eventually take our time to enjoy the sites of Fez and Marrakech.

In order to be effective hitchhikers, Clara and I came up with a system; we would position ourselves at roadside before a lay-by to give cars a place to pull in. I would stand 20 metres before the lay-by, holding our improvised whiteboard (A4 sketch pad covered with transparent plastic coating, protecting it from wind and rain), requesting a ride to “Portsmouth (Harbour)”, while Clara would stand a further 15 meters away holding the large, red foam thumb. We had hoped that the red colour would be eye-catching enough for vehicles to reduce their speed enough to see our small sign and pull over into the lay-by if they were heading in our desired direction.

We thought that once our first kind stranger had offered us a ride, the rest would be easier. However, we had to wait at roadside for an excruciating 40 minutes for our hitch to begin. Jonathan, a kind man in his early-30s, an outdoors adventures instructor, who had his own experiences of hitchhiking during the decade before, was made curious by Clara’s roadside thumb, saw our sign, pulled over into the lay-by, and honked his horn to call us over. Our adventure had begun.

We were in the company of Jonathan for approximately 20 minutes, time spent recalling travelling adventures of his own, such as the time he had been walking back from a day spent rock climbing in Wales where he was granted a lift by a kindly local man who knew that when he saw Jonathan, he was miles from any village and offered to take him to civilization. Before he could finish his story, he pulled the car over to the side of the road in an area that he thought would help us on our journey towards Portsmouth.

The next kind chauffeur to stop for us would be the very next car that passed. We barely had time to wave goodbye to Jonathan before the next car had seen our thumb and destination sign, had pulled over and opened the rear door to his stripped out white van. Clara and I had assumed that the van had been repurposed for taking his family on their own adventures. After we loaded our bags into the back of his van, we took our seat in the cab and gave greetings and thanks to Andrew and his two adolescent sons who were heading to Portsmouth to watch a football game.

We travelled with Andrew and his children for about 75 minutes.  Andrew’s excitement grew as I told him about our adventure, our fundraising, and what we hoped to do and see along our way. Before long, Andrew was also talking about his own experiences of hitchhiking when he was younger, teaching his children to consider the world and its people in a positive way, and offer to help others when they can. A spontaneous life lesson being bestowed upon his children by helping strangers at the side of a road to get to where they wanted to go. It was no extra effort or expense to him, why wouldn’t he help others? It was en route, he had space for us, and it was a fun way of getting to know others under friendly circumstances.

Andrew took us even further than he had originally intended, after having missed the junction for his exit, as he was now subconsciously reading signs and directions for Portsmouth Ferry Port instead of into the city and towards Fratton Park, Portsmouth Football Club’s stadium, so he simply explained that he would go the extra few miles to help us out. A gracious effort that would further cement the lesson of being kind to others and about karma; he was once helped by strangers on the road, a gift that he would pass on to Clara and me.

What first struck me about hitchhiking, and the whole concept of it was that Clara and I would be relying on the generosity of others to get to any destination that we desired. It took two drivers to stop and drive us 52 miles before crossing into France.

While we had a bit of a slow start, we felt overwhelmed by how kind our drivers had been. It was not lost on us that both drivers had had their own previous adventures revolving around our current mode of transport. We had considered whether hardships during their own experiences had encouraged them to stop and help others who were on their own similar adventure. This speculation had formed simply from the coincidence that both of our travel partners had previously hitchhiked in their younger years. However, we would later receive rides from many more drivers who had never hitchhiked or picked up hitchhikers before.

After arriving into Portsmouth harbour, and as the Ferry pulled away from the English coast, we found our way to the cafeteria for some lunch and coffees. Later, as we headed back to one of the lounges, we spotted some familiar t-shirts. As all volunteers did when signing up for the Hitch event, we received a green t-shirt with the charity’s logo and our destination printed on the front. This was to promote the type of event, and to let others know that our hitchhike was in aid of fundraising for Link Community Development. According to the organisers, it was a logo and event that people might recognise and may make our journey easier. This proved to be somewhat true; the t-shirts that we had spotted in the lounge stood out to Clara and me; ours were almost identical. The only difference being, that our destinations had 2,080 miles between them. We were heading Southwest to Morocco, while they were heading Southeast across mainland Europe and into Croatia.

(Photo by Stacey Sturrock-Davies. Croatia-bound group on left, Morocco-bound group (Clara and myself) on right)

As Clara and I identified the Hitch t-shirts, we, while wearing our own, greeted the group of 3 fellow hitchers with smiles and hugs. Two young women from the University of Swansea, near my home town in South Wales, and a young man from the University of Exeter had also met using the same Facebook group page that Clara and I had used to find each other. After some talking about our diverging adventures, and after a couple of hours or so playing card games, we went to the top deck of the ferry to enjoy the sea winds, as the sun began to lower in the sky, nearing the horizon.

The ferry would finally reach its destination in Caen, Northern France, and we gathered our belongings, took a group photograph, and descended from the vessel onto continental Europe. Neither Clara nor I, or the Croatia-bound group, had made sleeping arrangements for the night in Caen. As bother groups of adventurers had brought tents with us, however, we headed towards Sward Beach to find a suitable location to pitch our tents for the night.

The lights from the ferry port enabled us to pitch our tents in what would otherwise have been more of a struggle. Within 10 minutes, both tents were pitched. Together we set out to wonder around along the dark beach and around the sandbanks. As the early hours of the morning became ever more of an imposition, we sought out our tents and crawled into our sleeping bags, as our first day of hitchhiking adventure came to an end.

The knowledge that there was still 13 days to go, with much more to do and see, was a comforting one. This new and exciting experience had just begun.

Instagram: @stacey.sturrockdavies

How to Beat Writer`s Block by Casey M. Millette

Bio:

 

Casey M. Millette, sixteen, has been into fantasy since she was five. Her love of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia has inspired her to write Cursed and pursue other passions, such as martial arts, acting, and lots of reading. Casey lives just outside Atlanta, Georgia with her family and cat, Hudson. You can follow her on the Casey M. Millette Facebook page and www.caseymmillette.com.   

Casey M. Millette

How to Beat Writer`s Block by Casey M. Millette

Anyone who`s ever written anything has experienced the down toll of getting “stuck.” Its terrible; trust me, I know. Every writer deals with it, and every author overcomes it. If it were easy, writing would no longer have the value that it does today. Maybe you`re lacking motivation, or maybe you really don`t feel like it, don`t have the time, or are just plain scared of facing that blank page. I know I`ve experienced all of those. You`re not alone!

As I have grown older and my writing abilities improved, I discovered several ways to beat out the writer`s block and find new inspiration:

Read!

As a writer, you should always be looking for more inspiration and improving your craft. All great writers recognize that they still have much to learn. William Shakespeare quoted, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” The best way to become a better writer is to read. The same pieces of your brain that you use to write are engaged in a slightly different way as you absorb information. Inhale (read), exhale (write). 

Take a Trip

Going on a road-trip, hike, vacation, or even a 20 min. walk around the neighborhood can work wonders. Seize these opportunities to reconnect with your family or anyone else that you might have lost touch with while distracted with other activities (it does`t necessarily have to be writing!). Whenever the brain fog sets in, that means it`s time to breathe again. Relax and move in meditation, physical exercise, or as a board game character that you`re playing your little brother.

Reconnect

As a writer, you are prone to be immersed in different worlds, dimensions, and other people`s heads. I remember when I first started writing, I drifted so far away from my family that my parents grew concerned. I wouldn`t talk to anyone. I didn`t want to see my friends. I was perfectly settled in my own world that I had created. That`s not a good thing. That means that you are not in control. The ability to pull from your world as well as enter inside its core is not an easy task. In order to master both, you need to make sure that your relationships aren`t neglected. Get in touch with friends, or even family that you don`t see as often (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.). A skype call would probably mean the world to them. As many of my characters are based on my friends, I draw my inspiration from them. Whenever I hang out with who I`m close to, I listen to their troubles, hurts, passions, the sound of their voice, and watch how they move. Being around people in general is very inspiring. You can learn a lot from any soul.

Build a Routine

Getting into an system is beneficial and effective. You`ll have more time, feel less stressed, and build organizational skills . Since I get up at four, I dedicate those early hours to my work. Because I have school and various other things to do during the day, I make sure that my writing gets the attention it deserves. If you are not a morning person, find time in the afternoon, evening, night, whenever, as long as you motivate yourself to sit down at that computer from 1-2 or 4-7. Make sure those hours count.

Listen to Soundtrack

Everyone has a favorite movie. If your muse isn`t cooperating, let the music speak for it. Listen hard. Listen well. Find your favorite movie`s soundtrack and discover other dramatic orchestra work. Personally, soundtracks create  movies in my head. I can hear my character speak with the music. Hans Zimmer, Michael Giacchino, Howard Shore, and Ramin Djawadi are only few of the composers I listen to in order to find my muse. Even pop songs with meaningful lyrics can create a deep character.

Push Through

And, last, of course, there`s always the option of pushing through. Sit yourself down at your computer/paper/journal and just freaken` write. Even if that just means you have the energy for a few paragraphs, sentences, words, it still means something. You`ve got this. Nobody is going to be as passionate about your project as you are. Once you start rolling, the words will just come. Even if it takes days of sitting in front of a blank screen and pounding out just a measly paragraph, it still makes a difference.

My first interview as an ‘author’

Turns out that writing a book makes me an author. Who knew! It’s not a word I would have naturally used to describe myself; it feels slightly foreign to me, like being referred to as a trumpet player. (I don’t play trumpet.) But, it seems, I have written a book.  ‘Writer’ sounds okay, perhaps, but ‘author’ sounds a little grand – as though I’m borrowing someone else’s clothes – clothes that are a bit too big for me. But perhaps I’ll grow into them.

Anyway, here’s my first interview as an ‘author’, as conducted by a friend of mine, who has elected to remain anonymous. (I’m not sure how to take this.)

Let me know your thoughts and please do send me any other questions you’d like me to have been asked. I’ll answer then in my next post.

Interview (November 2017)

  1. Why did you decide to write this book?

To be honest, I was about three chapters in before I realized I was writing a book. I had just bought a sports car as my childish act of defiance against redundancy threats at work. It was my ‘crash and burn’ reaction, I suppose. I’d also recently started writing articles on various topics, with the intention of touting them around magazines, etc. But what was meant to have been a solo, four-day wander into France to ‘try out the new car’ slowly morphed into this forty-day road trip, mostly because my wife suggested that she’d quite like to come too.

After a while, I realized that I was writing more pieces on this trip than on other issues and so it occurred to me that these pieces could just as easily be called chapters. Suddenly, I was writing a book!

 

  1. What was your inspiration for the road trip?

Well, it’s not like I knew people who’d taken road trips, and I’m not really a particular follower of the road trip genre, either in books or movies (though I do love to travel). But this road trip project really was a case of the stars aligning – I had a new car, an annoyance with work and a desire to step off the daily grind for a bit. Added to this was the fact that my wife was also up for taking a journey. Ultimately, the road trip just happened – with the help of a large open map on the floor of our living room and a good bottle of wine … or two.

 

  1. What was your one, stand-alone highlight of this trip?

That’s a difficult question to answer. It’s always exciting to visit new places, to wake up in new towns or drive through new types of scenery. It was all a highlight to me. I guess my strongest memories include driving through Tuscany, waking up on Lake Como in Bellagio on my birthday, and experiencing the Alpine areas of Switzerland. I also have a soft spot for the Cote d’Azur. The company was good too. I think my best memories involve the simple stuff though – sitting outside with wine or a cold beer in our hands, me and Nat, just having a good laugh. We laugh a lot – usually over stupid things – it’s just that we have a preference for laughing in pretty places.

 

  1. Did you have a specific, favourite place?

I refer you to the above. My favourite places still change, depending on where I’m thinking of at the time.

 

  1. Which of the service stations on your route was your favourite?

Ha! Ha!  Service stations have their own charm, I suppose. I like that the food is freshly produced in many of the French ones, unlike the crap that is generally sold in British motorway services. The alternatives to service stations in France were the motorway picnic areas that seemed to turn up very regularly, especially once you get south of Lyon. These are great places to stop, stretch your legs and just spend a little time enjoying the sunshine, usually surrounded by squirrels and cicadas. No, I’m not sure I have a favourite one though. I shall think a bit more about this question.

 

  1. Have you been able to pick up any foreign language skills throughout the trip?

Natalie would argue that I didn’t learn anything throughout the whole experience but that’s not entirely true. I did get a little more confident with my restaurant French. And I learned how to ask for the bill in Italian, without having to mime for it. I’m quite proud of that. I took a few Italian lessons prior to the Italian leg of the trip too – totally pointless!

 

  1. Were there any moments on the trip when you were genuinely worried but tried to make out like you were still in control?

If I was to admit to that then there would be no point in me making out like I was still in control! So I’m going to say no. To be honest, I tend to not really take in the full significance of a situation until after it has happened. This is a good thing in that I tend to stay calm in a crisis and just deal with stuff but it’s also potentially bad because perhaps I don’t always remove myself from situations as quickly as I should. I have had guns pointed at me on more than one occasion while travelling, but not on this particular trip. Perhaps I’ll write about these events at a different time.

 

  1. What would you do differently if you were to do the trip again?

I don’t have any regrets about any of the decisions we made when planning this trip – the whole thing about exploring new places is that you are learning as you go. We didn’t want to plan beyond having a destination to get to for each evening. Beyond that, we just made stuff up as we went. Not planning means that you can’t mess up your plans. There were places we visited that we thought, on reflection, we could have factored in more time for, like Strasbourg and the Interlaken area of Switzerland, but we could only ever have known this in retrospect.

 

  1. What did you enjoy about writing this book?

Reliving the details of the trip. Resurrecting funny stories with Nat as I went back and wrote about them. It could be a horrible, wet, dark November day in the UK but in my head I might have been sitting in the St Tropez sunshine or up a mountain in the Alps. Writing is escapism, reflection and a great way to spend a day. I didn’t once suffer from writers block but perhaps that was because I wasn’t writing fiction and so didn’t have to make stuff up.

 

  1. Do you have any strange routines that you stick to when writing?

Not in any superstitious way, like I here some writers have. I do tend to drink a lot of coffee while writing, however, so that is something I’ve realized I need to be aware of. Nat doesn’t like the caffeine-infused version of me, strung out and wide-eyed, meeting her at the door when she gets home from a long day at work.

If I have any quirks at all, it’s that I do tend to like a sense of life going on around me as I write. As much as possible, I’ll write in restaurants or bars but when I’m working at home, I fool myself into thinking I’m in a social place by using an app I have on my phone called Coffitivity. It emulates the background sounds of different types of cafes. My current setting is called ‘Morning Murmur’, which gives me a sense of not being isolated. Writing is a solitary experience, after all.

 

  1. Did you embellish on any of the episodes in The Sat Nav Diaries?

I didn’t have to. The nice thing about travelling with Nat is that this stuff writes itself. We seem to constantly get caught up in weird conversations or with strange characters or situations. I refer you to her quote on the front of the book, as testament to that.

 

  1. People like it when they get an insight into a writer’s real life and a number of people have said that The Sat Nav Diaries gives them exactly that. What else can we learn about you? For instance, what is your earliest childhood memory?

That’s easy. And I can even tell you what age I was, mostly because we moved house so many times in my younger years. I’m coming up to my first birthday. I’m sat in my high chair, alone in the garden. It’s early evening and I’m watching birds flying across the sky in formation. I’ve no idea what type of birds they were (Nat would tell you, she’s quite good at that sort of thing) but they were the type of small dart-like things that fly in perfect, tight formation. I was fascinated buy them. I still am when I see that.

 

  1. Back to The Sat Nav Diaries, you seem to get on very well with your wife in the book, did you argue at all on the trips?

We actually didn’t. In fact, we don’t really argue at all. We can have different points of view on things and we freely voice them, but we don’t argue. I’m sure I must frustrate her from time to time but she’s very patient. Ha! Perhaps that’s the secret to our relationship: she’s very patient.

 

  1. I was going to say that your wife seems very patient in the book. Is she like that in real life?

Yes. I think we both are, at least with each other. We’ve both been in relationships where people have made problems out of things that really didn’t need to be problems. So when we met, I think we’d both got to the point where we realized nothing is important enough to fall out over. And the fact that we both speak our minds totally freely means that nothing really ever builds up. Which is good, right?

 

  1. Are you planning to write any more books?

I have a bunch of ideas for future books in the ‘Sat Nav Diaries’ series, but right now I’m working on a book of articles called RANDOM, which is really an insight into mine and Nat’s domestic life. It’s not a huge departure from The Sat Nav Diaries, just that it all happens at home – or in our ‘British’ life. This is due for release some time in 2019.