Lone hiker explores the art of hitching


Co Mayo-based Chris Doris spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness - the summit of Croagh Patrick - just over a year ago. Now he has just completed a 2,000km odyssey throughout the county, using the power of his thumb.

Working on a line drawing of his route each day he hitched from Blacksod to Ballindine and from Charlestown to Louisburgh. Entitled "VIA", the route was determined by the lift-givers, to whom he is indebted. Sixty-five of them - five female, one a nun - signed his record over a period of eight days.

It was a sharp contrast to the type of endurance test he put himself through on the Reek last year.

"Up there, there was a lot of goodwill, whereas I encountered so much fear and suspicion, punctuated by private acts of generosity, on the road. One such kind act was in Westport. I was trying to get out of it, stuck in the dark, and I was picked up in the rain by a mother of nine."

Fear of litigation and fear of the unfamiliar meant thousands of cars and trucks passed him by, though some signalled sympathetically to say they could not stop. One of his worst days was in Ballina, when a Berlin-based accountant eventually stopped after he had waited for 4 1/2 hours and asked if they could go to Achill island to find a pub he thought he knew.

An emigrant picked him up en route from a wedding and asked him to keep him awake. One of several commercial drivers included a delivery man for the North Connacht Farmers' Co-op. Doris stayed with him for 90 miles and heard how many small shops were struggling to survive, or were about to close.

He got a free lift from a taxi-driver, and an academic told him about her research project on concepts associated with the manifestation of consciousness.

While he was on the road, it was blackberry time, and this sustained him; bed-and-breakfast "breakfasts" set him up for the day.

As the weather was not great, he knew he must have looked daunting. "I was dressed up like a paramilitary."

Hitching, he says, offers "a very brief but quite intimate view of people", but it is being killed off by affluence. About 90 per cent of his drivers were former hitch-hikers. His experience "reflects our cultural conformity, and how difficult it is now to explore the paths less travelled". If one wants adventure, one is forced to stick to the main highways.

The result will be a large piece reflecting the cumulative pattern of his journey and a series of screen prints from his line drawings. He is preparing the Reek project for exhibition, in co-operation with Mayo County Council.

A graduate professional healer and preceptor of the Sahaj Marg system of Raja yoga, Doris lives with his wife, Rachel, and children in Lacken, north Mayo.