Guest post: Hitchhiking the E40 – by Jans Schaper (hitcheast)

Stunning views in Kyrgyzstan - by Jans Schaper

In this week’s guest post we join Jans who, against all odds, started hitchhiking the E40, the longest European route, that stretches between France and Kazakhstan…

E40 map - Jans' journey. Hitchhiking the E40

E40 map – Jans’ journey

Despite the Cold War being long gone, the borders of what was once the Soviet Empire still have a foreboding quality for a lot of people in the West. Tell them you are going on holiday in Russia or Uzbekistan and they will question your sanity, tell them you are going hitchhiking there, and you’ll have to convince some of them you do not have a death wish.

Plinth on which Lenin stood in Poltava, Ukraine - by Jans Schaper. Hitchhiking the E40

The plinth on which a statue of Lenin used to stand in Poltava, Ukraine – by Jans Schaper

When I just started hitchhiking, a little under a decade ago, I surfed the web in search of interesting roads to travel along. I came across the existence of the so-called ‘E’ or European routes. These are existing national roads strung together by some faceless UN bureaucrat. As far as I can tell they don’t really mean much to anybody (except presumably the faceless UN bureaucrat) but they are very interesting because they connect places that really don’t have much reason to be connected. For example, Calais in Western France and Ridder in Northeastern Kazakhstan. These are the outer ends of the E40, the longest of the E-roads. When I came across this route I knew straight away I had to follow it. It seemed like a perfect way to combine two of my main fascinations, hitchhiking and the former Soviet region.

Beginning of the E40 - by Jans Schaper. Hitchhiking the E40

The beginning of the E40 in France – by Jans Schaper

For years I tried convincing my friends to join me in hitchhiking down this road, but being the responsible adults that they are, they had better things to do with their lives than hanging around highways spending an unnecessarily long amount of time at risk of being robbed (or worse) by random strangers. This, I now know, is how most people define hitchhiking. In contrast to most of my friends I did not have anything better to do than hitchhike the 8,000 or so kilometers from Calais to Ridder. So after convincing myself I was capable of going it alone, I decided to do just that. In the end, I followed the E40 for probably a little over half of its route, because of safety concerns (the Ukrainian ‘situation’) and sightseeing (the E40 hardly goes through Kyrgyzstan, but some other really beautiful roads do).

105 kilometers to Ridder. Final stretch of the E40 - by Jans Schaper. Hitchhiking the E40

105 kilometers to Ridder. Final stretch of the E40 – by Jans Schaper

I am currently typing this on my smartphone in Ridder, which looks very much like you would imagine a small ex-Soviet town looking. The fact that it is not a particularly appealing city is probably the only thing it has in common with Calais, where I started my journey. But what unites them is a series of long abstract yellow lines, which exists only on paper, but which in real life became for me a path populated by countless helpful strangers ready to help a hitchhiker on their way.

Breakfast with truck drivers Kungrad, Uzbekistan - by Jans Schaper. Hitchhiking the E40

Breakfast with truck drivers Kungrad, Uzbekistan – by Jans Schaper

Jans eating lunch at the house of a mixed Kazakh-Turkmen family in Western Kazakhstan. Hitchhiking the E40

Jans eating lunch at the house of a mixed Kazakh-Turkmen family in Western Kazakhstan


written by:
Jans Schaper

“I was born, got bored, started to travel. Began waiting for rides on highways and byways a little under a decade ago but before this trip, I had never hitchhiked outside of Western and Central Europe”

visit his blog at: hitcheast.com

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