Zipping through the last of England and Wales

The addictive ingredients in wanderlust include several forms of travel magic; my last stretch of hitching through the UK would conjure up some of this magic as any good hitching stretch will.

Most of this "magic" is as simple as it is deeply gratifying. After a wet night of camping somewhere off the side of the road around the Lake District I packed up and got my thumb out. The first ride I got was from a guy who said he typically wasn't in a car, but rather cruising around on his motorcycle.

"I'm straight," he started, with a sort of knowing assurance and understanding that what he was saying next could be misconstrued in the current context, "If you want you can come back to my place and take a shower, grab a quick breakfast before you continue on."

Unwanted propositions are not encountered at a high percentage, but anyone with a high volume of hitched rides is still going to run into them by sheer odds alone. I respected his understanding and acknowledgement as it reflected his own travel experience; and more so I was happy to get a shower in.

While I got cleaned up he prepared some bacon, beans and eggs which were equally appreciated.

Back on the road, several hitched rides later, I realized I'd left my shirt and a pair of underwear in his bathroom. Gone forever now, no small mistake for someone who just owns a few pairs of each, but I came to terms with it and moved on with the silver lining of a slightly lighter pack to carry.

A couple rides later and I was on the M6 motorway and a rest area with the WiFi needed to contact my pre-arranged host in Manchester to work out the details of meeting. Something compelled me to go into a bathroom stall and trim off several months worth of an increasingly unwieldy beard, then I was back to the road with a thumb, slightly lighter still.

Three rides and some police scolding for walking on the highway later and I was getting dropped off within walking distance of my host Jennifer's house. She was in the city, but I met some other travelers staying with her and before long we were catching a ride to the city ourselves with Jennifer's friends. The rest of the night wrote itself as anyone might expect: bars, beers, mdma, comedy clubs, gay bars, drunk munchies and finally falling into a couch sometime after sunrise.

That was it for Manchester, on to Liverpool dodging the rain nearly perfectly as the three hitched rides it took to get there popped up just before each downpour. Once again I had a one-night couchsurfing host lined up, we met for a beer at a bar he liked because of the marble urinals in the bathroom, then it was back to his apartment for a far more mellow night compared to Manchester.

Another morning and again I was simply in go-mode now with Wales on my mind. No huge hurry, however, there was a brewery on my radar I figured I'd check out on the walk out of the city.

Once I arrived at the little brewery it became immediately apparent that this was not a brewpub or a tap room or a place open to visitors, simply where they brewed. The brewers proved friendly, though, maybe because of my backpack or my keen interest in their equipment and process; they gave me a glass and filled me up with some samples as they showed me around, then loaded me up with several bottles and a couple tips on bars nearby that served their beer.

I happily shimmied down the streets to one of the bars that had just one of their beers. After nursing that down I went to the next one where I figured I'd have one or two before continuing on to the motorway.

I walked in to empty tables and a half dozen empty bar stools with only a smiling girl behind the bar welcoming me in. I plopped down my backpack and ordered a beer and right away was answering questions about my travels and hearing about hers. Somewhere during the second beer she'd offered up her couch and a pitch of a night out with friends of hers in a bid to have me stay another night in Liverpool. Sold on travel magic again.

A chef emerged from the kitchen with a free plate of fries, another beer swung around and soon her shift was over and we were off to another bar before heading back to her place where I met some roommates and friends. Back to the same after-work bar we went where it turned out she was actually performing. I kicked back beers with my new friends for the night as she sung her songs alongside a keyboard player.

A night of beers back at her place, a morning ride to her bar and one more for good measure, finally I was walking out of Liverpool once again with a half a mind to trip on down to Spain and join her on her upcoming trip. In this way of life ideas reign supreme in the place of plans, Ibiza was now another blip on the radar.

After walking through the tunnel I started picking up rides, it took five altogether to chain my way to a remote chapel in the Welsh countryside that a Couchsurfing host had converted into a "spaceship" as he called it, but more accurately it was a sort of nomad base where he worked on projects from art to apps. A familiar team of laptopers glanced up long enough to introduce themselves as he showed me around the renovated chapel.

After a while we headed to the small town to check out an open mic night a cafe, then it was back to the chapel to crawl into my little hole-in-the-wall sleeping nook.

I hitched about a dozen rides the next day through the countryside, cruising on at an ever-restless pace through the UK. Those who yielded to my thumb that day ranged from paranoid woman afraid of everything from bombs to poison water (yet not hitchhikers), guys from Gambia bragging on their country's fruit and simple pace and even a guy who was coincidentally friends with my chapel host from the night before.

As it got dark I was dropped off at a pub at an Abbey where I figured I'd be stuck, but my next host had no problem driving out to grab a beer and head back to his place. Sam was his name, we chatted into the night and into the days to come about girls, conspiracy and locations traveled around the world.

Sam had the passion for life that's infectious. He could talk and drink endlessly and I could listen, chime in and drink quite the same indefinitely. He was around fifty years old, but with the spirit of a 27 year old, the chops of a 36 year old and the experience of 65 year old. He'd spent many a night in the casino where he'd clean up on chips and waitresses and whatever else he needed.  His stories were equal parts lessons as they were entertainment.

He lived right between the cities of Bristol and Cardiff, for several days I hitched and bounced between the two exploring, always winding up at the table sharing wine, beer and stories back at his place into the night.

Next I was walking past Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, having finally hitched a few rides to keep things moving, now heading to yet another Couchsurfing host's apartment who I'd only contacted at the very last minute. I stayed there for a couple nights, spending just one full day wandering around the city.

London itself is actually full of people who either wish they lived in New York City or stubbornly project a sense or pride to refute that fact, often fooling themselves into believing it. Kings, queens and other such novelties have paved the way to areas worth photographing for the unimaginative, but for those who can't get across the ocean or find themselves hitchhiking through, the city still offers all the token elements one can expect from any population center of the size.

A gifted Oyster card got me at least halfway out of the sprawl of the undefined city limits. While not the best exit surroundings for a hitchhiker, my feet got to moving and my thumb was put to work once more with France as the next target. Magic awaited there as well as fleeting romance, abundant travelers, new tastes and the continuing rhythm of a rambling jam of life on the go.

July 4, 2015 to July 15, 2015