Kamiak grad hitchhikes across Europe for charity

By Sara Bruestle | Apr 25, 2012
Courtesy of: Mike Zamzow Kamiak High School grad Mike Zamzow hitchhikes for charity at a service station outside of Metz, France.

With zero hitchhiking experience, Mike Zamzow hitchhiked more than 1,000 miles across Europe for charity.

Zamzow, 19, a Kamiak High School grad who is studying abroad, hitchhiked with a partner from London to Croatia this month to benefit Link Community Development.

Link works to improve the quality of education in sub-Saharan Africa. Link’s largest fundraiser is the hitch, with funds going to better schools and teacher training in Africa.

Zamzow picked up a flier on the hitchhike. As a fan of writer Jack Kerouac and the ‘50s beat movement, to him the thought of thumbing up a ride across Europe was very exciting. He signed up.

“I loved the idea of traveling upon the goodwill of strangers, because I do believe in the good nature of mankind,” he said. “The fact you can get to Croatia on that goodwill alone is exciting.”

Zamzow had never hitchhiked before. He was nervous. Not so much because it was unsafe, but over whether he’d get the rides he needed to get to Croatia in time for a flight back to school.

He and his partner, an English student named Marie, set out from London on April 2 to hitchhike to Zagreb, Croatia by April 7 or 9, depending on how lucky they were at getting rides.

Quickly, Zamzow realized there is a lot more to hitching than extending his hitchhiking arm to the road and sticking his thumb up. He wasn’t clueless, but he was close to it.

“I didn’t have any idea what I was doing,” he said. “I would eventually learn on this trip that I wanted to stick to service stations to get good lifts.”

Many times he had to walk upwards of five miles to gas or service stations – which are ideal locations to hitch from – and sometimes waited several hours at a time for his next ride.

Some of the drivers who offered to pick him up spoke little to no English. And he slept some nights in a tent, miserably cold without a sleeping bag.

At first, Zamzow felt awkward asking strangers for a ride. A lot of the locals he approached were not headed to the highway. Most drivers wouldn’t even look at him, and some gave him cruel gestures.

Until his first lift, Zamzow admits his belief in the goodwill of strangers had been waning.

“Hitching is all about super high highs when you get a lift, and increasingly despairing lows as you wait, uncertain,” he said.

The first to pick he and Marie up was a Frenchman headed to France for a funeral. He, like all of the strangers who gave Zamzow a lift, had hitchhiked when he was younger, though not for as great a distance. They made it to France.

Next, they hitched with a couple of loud and enthusiastic Moroccans who were listening to “ridiculous French eurodance music,” a British brother and sister headed to Zurich, and a Tunisian man who was delivering newspapers in his van. They got as far as Germany.

With Austria in mind, they were picked up by a couple of Dutch looking to score some drugs, a German man headed to Frankfurt to hunt for treasure via GPS in a geocache, and a couple of German brothers in a car loaded with beer on their way to Nurnberg.

It was in Salzburg, Austria that Zamzow’s partner decided she’d had enough – she just wasn’t cut out for hitchhiking – and Zamzow agreed to take a train the rest of the way to Croatia. They arrived in Zagreb on April 7, with about a week to go before Zamzow’s flight.

“We made it about 3/4 of the distance, not bad when you don't have a clue,” he said.

Throughout his travels, Zamzow carried on conversations with strangers from all over the world – and in English when he was lucky. He even met a few fellow hitchhikers, some also hitching for charity and others who use it as a regular means of transportation.

“It’s pretty adventurous, pretty gutsy,” said Tom Zamzow, Mike’s dad. “It’s something I might have tired when I was 19 years old.”

“Coupled with his love for adventure and helping people in need in Africa, which is actually one of his goals, I think it was a very good experience for him.”

Zamzow graduated from Kamiak in 2011, and is now studying at the University of Stirling in Scotland.

He is an international studies major, with a concentration in globalization and development. He plans to join the Peace Corp and eventually work in the public-health development field in East Africa.

He said he’d hitchhike again – he has already discussed hitching across the United States with his girlfriend this summer.

“Though hitching is perhaps the most tiresome way to travel, physically and emotionally, and that … makes it all the more exciting and rewarding,” he said.

Help Zamzow fund education in Africa: A donation box is located at Garlic Jim’s, 10924 Mukilteo Speedway in Mukilteo. He is required to raise $600 through Link.

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