Patrick O'Brien

Tag: hitchhiking

Our waking earth

Copyright 2012 © Patrick O’Brien

Seen beside the road today — spring will soon be here:



Rebirth of the Sun


My backpack

The author ~ Image © New Zealand Herald

We hitchhikers grow to love our backpacks, which is just as well given that we spend our lives in their company — many a long hour standing beside the road, or crammed into cars, and, come the night, we lie down beside them to sleep.

One’s choice of backpack is a personal matter. I use Macpac designs after switching to them in 1993 because, at that time, they were the only company manufacturing canvas bags with twin compartments.

Here’s how I pack my bag:

The bottom compartment is for clothing and change of footwear — the former rolled, not folded, for more efficient use of space and less creasing of the garments.

The top compartment is for stowing my heavy gear, listed here (from the top down) in the order of which I use it come the end of day: two ground sheets; my tent; sleeping bag (loosely stuffed, not bagged); cooking gear; a reserve fuel tank.

There Image: Front packare front and lid compartments on my pack and these hold my sewing kit, first aid kit, toiletries, and other sundries. A water bottle and sleeping pad are strapped to the sides.

I also carry a front pack, or day bag, which serves as my office, and this attaches to the main harness, as shown (click to enlarge).

Once a week I thoroughly examine each pack, looking for any wear or tear . . .


A full list of my road kit is available here:

“… a day in the life of …”

Copyright 2012 © Patrick O’Brien

I was born and raised on a dairy farm so it’s not surprising I’m always drawn back to the land in my travels. These days, my favourite assignments are those where the women folk commission me to shoot a-day-in-the-life-of their men. It’s fun! — for around a week, simply hanging out with them, their dogs and my cameras.

About (10)

My long road back . . .

A man cannot run and hide forever, and so, in 2003, I “returned” to New Zealand, where, for seven years, hitchhiking the roads, meeting her people and sampling the mood . . . it felt like I was touching this land for my very first time.

In 2007 I wrote to the Chief Justice of New Zealand and confessed my sins — a small step on my path to becoming a bona fide member of Community.

As expected, my letter instigated an inquiry, then a criminal investigation, and now I anticipate charges of perjury and perverting the course of justice to follow. I do not fear this process and I gladly face its outcome . . .

Last year, a Kaumātua sent me this message:

“Kia ora, Patrick:
I admire your courage. It is up to us the People not the courts to redeem you and through your actions it is now possible  . . . walk freely on this earth now, Patrick.”  ~ Mike Smith



“Icebreaker” Logo ~ Image: 2012 © Patrick O’Brien

It’s the first day of winter. This morning I unrolled
my thermal skins — merino wool from Icebreaker.


A full list of my road kit is available here:

About (9)

‘The wandering seek . . .’
“And homeless near a thousand homes I stood,
and near a thousand tables pined and wanted food.”

~  William Wordsworth  ~

The ‘garage sale’

 Copyright 2012 © Patrick O’Brien — 

Various projects and assignments have me coming off the road for more than a month at any one time, taking up temporary residence in a house or apartment for the duration. Here’s a recent example with the Gelfling pictured kneeling on her sleeping pad after moving into a new loft. We have become experts in an arcane art — the garage sale — selling off our accumulations from a stay, prior to moving on.

A successful garage sale is when everything on offer is sold. The secret to that success is pricing. Label every item with a price tag which you’ve arrived at by estimating the second-hand value of that item, and then halving it. This is your starting price. If items are not snapped up immediately when your punters arrive, then halve the price again.

Think of it like this: people are paying you to take away your junk.



Le plonk

South Pacific Island Sojourn

In the world of children . . .

Copyright 2012 © Patrick O’Brien

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves,
and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever
explaining things to them.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


In earlier posts I’ve spoken about those precious moments in my life as a hitchhiker when people invite me into their homes and open their lives to me, even trusting me to photograph their children — a blessèd task made easier if the child accepts me in their world. This is Master D with little brother climbing on the camera . . . they adopted me.

About (8)

On the run . . .

In 1978, haunted, hunted, traumatised and scared, I resigned the police and fled New Zealand — a price on my head and lucky to be alive — the legacy of my work for Criminal Intelligence.

For thirty years I travelled the world, running and hiding, running and hiding, yet never able to lose the demons that rushed around in my head.

At one point in the late 1980s, on a visit to New Zealand and desperate for help, I underwent a psychiatric assessment. The psychiatrist, a specialist consultant for the police department’s undercover programme and an expert in the field of PTSD who also worked with veterans from the Vietnam, Korean and Second World wars, diagnosed my condition as being chronic “post-traumatic stress disorder” resulting from my work as an undercover agent — and yet the police department absolved itself of any responsibility and refused my ask for assistance.

Their refusal was a blessing because my life of wandering continued . . .


My cooker

Copyright 2012 © Patrick O’Brien

—  MSR XGK-EX  —

In an earlier post on Life’s little Pleasures I spoke about tea being my preferred drink — plain, black-leaf tea, served boiling hot with lots of sugar. Pictured here is my cooker, boiling up the billy for a brew.

The XGK-EX multi-fuel stove is a serious bit of kit, designed for use in the most extreme conditions and a popular choice of those on expeditions — or travellers such as myself who are equally serious about making cups-of-tea under all conditions.

I purchased this cooker in late 2007 to replace my older (equivalent) model, the XGK-II which had served me well since around 1993, and, while I love the simplicity of design and trouble free use (it does exactly what it says on the box) I wouldn’t recommend this particular model for general backpacking or outdoor use. Here is a downloadable stove comparison chart showing which MSR models are better suited for any intended purpose.

XGK-EX technical details, performance specs, schematic diagrams, plus an owners manual in PDF format with instructions on its maintenance and use, are available from the manufacturers Web Site, here:




“My tent”

Some thoughts on tents . . . their purchase and use

My heroes (2)


― Maewyn Succat ―

Many travellers assume road names and mine is that of childhood hero and patron saint who was born Maewyn Succat in 387 AD at Kilpatrick, Scotland, the son of Calpurnius and Conchessato who were Roman officials in local government.

At 16 years of age, Succat was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland where he was sold to a Druid high priest in Antrim. Working as a shepherd slave, Succat became fluent in Irish and knowledgeable in Druidism.

After many years of captivity Succat escaped, returning again sometime after 432 AD — an ordained priest and bishop using the name “Patercius” or “Patritius” (derived from two Latin words ‘pater civium’ meaning the father of his people) which was conferred on him by Pope Celestine.

Succat died on 17 March 460 AD and is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. Today, Succat is known as Patrick . . . which is my given name.

Precious moments:

Copyright 2012 © Patrick O’Brien

“A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”

Oscar Wilde  ~


In previous posts about hitchhiking, I wrote of exchanging my camera skills for food, water and a place to pitch the tent (here’s some examples: a girl’s bedroom, the client, and, the babysitter).

This business model works well, except with wealthy people, many of whom, unless charged an exorbitant amount of money for my images, regard them as having no value.

Not so with the poor — the grateful mother of this young man, for instance, overheard explaining my concept to sceptical friends: “It’s simple; Patrick comes to stay, we look after him for a few days, and after he’s gone we’re left with all these precious photos.”

Precious moments, priceless memories . . .

The hitchhiker

The author © New Zealand Herald

“. . . and the journeying is towards God . . .”

~  Qur’an  ~


My parallel universe:

Succat Serials

‘Stealth Camping’

Copyright 2012 © Patrick O’Brien

Being a hitchhiker, I’m often asked by people and
other travellers starting out — where do you sleep?

In the following discussion thread over at digihitch, my alter ego, Succat, offers some well practised suggestions to a young Canadian woman who is starting out on a solo hitchhiking tour of New Zealand. These tips are applicable universally, including the use of cemeteries . . .

Stealth camping as a Woman



“There’s probably little need for “stealth camping” unless you find yourself in a city or town and don’t want to be disturbed through the night.

The trick is to not be seen entering the area you wish to sleep. Scout out a suitable spot during daylight hours and then return after dark. Remember: keep to the shadows, they are your friend.

With regards cities and towns, any of the following will enable a quiet night’s sleep: parks, reserves and botanical gardens; church yards; cemeteries (my favourite); and, on weekends when classes are out, school grounds . . .”


The ‘baby sitter’

Copyright 2012 © Patrick O’Brien

On occasion during my travels I will come off the road for short periods of time and look after people’s property — a baby sitter, if you will. These opportunities have gifted me some wonderful experiences and, while usually farms, I’ve also minded a holiday park, numerous homesteads, even an art gallery, while their owners take a break.

In this example, I looked after a man’s animals for a month while he travelled abroad to marry his betrothed and bring her home. I took this shot shortly after their return . . .

Farewell ‘digihitch’

— the on-line portal for hitchhikers, travellers,
vagabonds, and other lovers of the road, has shut down.
Some links on this Blog will be broken. Here are my tags:



23 January, 2012 — The owners of digihitch have now
.paid their registration fees and the Site is back on-line.

20 January, 2013 — due to lack of interest, gone again.

• And, it’s back again — how to run a Web Site. NOT.

Travellers: are we intolerant snobs?

Earlier this week, while discussing human stupidity on a thread at Google-Plus, someone suggested that travel, and immersion in other cultures, makes us more forgiving and less harsh in our judgement of others.

The thread’s owner (an intelligent, articulate and thoughtful woman) responded to that comment by saying . . . “a lot of world travellers that I know are some of the snobbiest and most intolerant people that I’ve met” — which got me thinking:

Well, are we? Unable to resolve the question in my own mind, I posed it over on Digihitch, an on-line portal for hitchhikers, travellers, vagabonds, gypsies, and other lovers of the road.

Travellers: are we intolerant snobs?

The ‘client’

Copyright 2012 © Patrick O’Brien

In an earlier post on hitchhiking, I wrote about exchanging my camera skills for food, water and some where to pitch my tent — a fresh twist on singing-for-one’s-supper.

My ratio of male to female drivers is around 50/50 and, while not surprising, it’s worth noting that, as I grow older, so does the age of my female drivers. These days a lot of grandmothers stop.

Grandmothers make for both the best and worst of clients, in the sense that, while always keen to have portraits of their grandchildren, they often want to run the shoot. Many professionals ban mothers and grandmothers from their sets for this very reason.

I try and fit them in . . .

New year’s resolution:



A girl’s bedroom

Copyright 2011 © Patrick O’Brien

As a hitchhiker, I am frequently blessed when people take me into their homes and open their lives to me. In a fresh take on singing-for-one’s-supper, I will often exchange my camera skills for food, water and a place to pitch the tent. In this shot, the daughter of my hosts wanted a photograph about herself for use on social media . . .

Hitchhike New Zealand

Hitchhiking in the snowCopyright 2011 © Succat

New Zealand is an easy country to hitchhike around – even in winter, with the Gelfling pictured here following a fresh fall of snow. However, as with any country, getting through cities poses a unique set of problems for the hitchhiker and so, in this, the first of a series, the writer’s alter-ego offers some of his well-practiced methods on exiting each of the four major metropolitan centres in New Zealand:

Exiting New Zealand Cities

Hitchhiking & PTSD

A discussion thread with Succat over at on the relationship between war, post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD and the homeless, wandering vagabonds who inhabit and hitchhike through our world . . .

Look what they’ve done to my soul’

.“In those years immediately following World War Two, thousands of
. returned service men from my father’s generation went on the road
. or joined lawless motorbike gangs. We now know that many of these
. characters were traumatised by war and suffered a condition known
. then as battle-fatigue.” ~ Succat

A hitchhiker’s death

Conversation between a Minister and a Hitchhiker

Minister: How long have you been hitchhiking?
Hitchhiker: Twenty years.
Minister: Was your father a hitchhiker?
Hitchhiker: Yes.
Minister: What happened to him?
Hitchhiker: He died while hitchhiking.
Minister: And your grandfather?
Hitchhiker: He was a hitchhiker. He also died while hitchhiking.
Minister: But this is an awful prospect for you, my poor man. Are
…………you not afraid to go hitchhiking?
Hitchhiker: Afraid, parson? Where did your father die?
Minister: In bed, of course, like a good Christian.
Hitchhiker: And your grandfather?
Minister: He died in his bed, too.
Hitchhiker: That’s bad, parson. Are you not afraid, then, to go to bed?

Adapted from:
“A Mariner’s Miscellany”
by Peter H. Spectre

Mirror to the World

Some advice for the new hitchhiker starting out . . .

The simple act of standing quietly with your pack beside the road conveys a silent yet powerful message to all who pass. Many of those people will feel uncomfortable or even challenged by that message and what you represent.

Most will simply try to ignore you, looking away, or resorting to a variety of other amusing tricks in pretending you don’t exist. Some will attempt to block the message, and, not having a “delete” button, will shout abuse in their attempt to drown you out.

All hitchhikers will face this reality, and each of us will deal with it in our own way. It can be difficult, standing for hour after hour being ignored and/or abused — yet deal with it we must.

In many ways the hitchhiker is a mirror to the world and what people see is a reflection of themselves. Always be mindful that how they react speaks of them, not you.


Succat: copyright 2008 © New Zealand Herald

Succat @ Google+

Google-Plus has just released Pages:


South Pacific Island Sojourn

Copyright 2011 © Patrick O’Brien

I’ve stopped off on a large island in the South Pacific and taken up residence in a grand old house across the road from its port. Nice view!

From my porch I can watch the fishing smacks and cargo boats as they come and go, while across the bay are mountains that drop down to an alluvial plain which runs to the sea. I should be comfortable here for a while; around 18-months I expect.

The house has a large, colonial style garden, long neglected, which I’m slowly trimming back to shape. The lady next door is teaching me how to tend roses and a large walnut tree promises a good crop of nuts come autumn.

The locals are friendly and speak a strange dialect of English to which my ear is slowly becoming accustomed. The food is excellent and my staples are rice and fish which I supplement with fresh vegetables from a small salad garden I’m establishing.

My purpose here is to write a book about this. The publisher is understanding, even sympathetic. He writes: “It must be a strange feeling; you’ll develop itchy feet quite soon, I suspect. Just take it out on the keyboard!”.

Funny thing is, though, I’d always thought a biography was something we wrote following retirement — and yet, here I am, off the road, having been persuaded that this work needs completing now. One hundred thousand words: dead line 18-months.

In my spare time, when not writing or pottering about in the garden, I take long beach walks or wander along some cliff-top tracks around the bay. Once a week I stop off at a local outdoor café where I read the papers and catch up on local gossip over coffee. Thanks to a mobile PC-Card and our global, wireless networks, the outside world is only a mouse-click away.

The gelfling has joined me. Life is good . . .

Pieces of time

Copyright 2011 © Patrick O’Brien

Some road kit — a gift from my Love.


Copyright 2011 © Patrick O’Brien

This is hitch. He’s my hitchhiking buddy. I found him in
a muddy puddle beside the road, many years ago . . .

Highway Number One

Copyright 2005 © Gelfling

In 2003 I commenced a short hitchhiking tour of New Zealand, touching the country, meeting her people and sampling the mood. Pictured here, standing beside State Highway One which traverses the length of New Zealand from North Cape to Bluff, I travelled this land for seven years. Here are my hitchhiking logs which record the distance covered, a journey farther than travelling twice around the Earth’s equator . . .



The Hitchhiker

Hitchhiking — Zen Method

The law of reversed effort . . .

I’ve come to hold the view that hitchhiking is a metaphor for life and all those laws which govern human existence work equally well when applied to catching rides. The following link leads to a forum thread over at where Succat, my alter-ego,  discusses the use of a “minimalist” technique with his fellow hitchhikers:

Hitchhiking:  minimalism / “zen” method


Stylised self-portrait 2003 © Patrick O’Brien

Please allow me to introduce my alter-ego:

My Tent

 I love tents and here are some of my thoughts on their purchase and use . . .

● There is something very comforting when, at the end of the day, no matter where I am, even when cold, hungry or wet, I pitch my tent, climb inside — and, I’m “home”.

● Choose a tent designed for your intended purpose, such as, for example: “tunnel” tents for high wind use or geodesic for heavy snow loads. Many top end tents are a clever combination of both these design elements.

 ● Purchase the best tent you can afford; a good tent will be the most expensive part of your road kit.

● Good tents have a simple design — avoid tents with complex designs or those offering solutions for problems that don’t exist

● Choose your tent size as follows: if travelling alone, 2 x man tent / if travelling with a partner, 4 x man tent.

● Good tents are distributed with the manufacturer’s repair kit comprising patches for each of the materials used in their construction plus short metal sleeves for broken poles.

 ● An hermetically sealed tent will protect you from insects, snakes and other assorted creepy-crawlies that nibble ‘n bite in the night. To deter bigger critters, urinate into a container before sleep and spray a circular-perimeter-line about 10 meters out from tent.

● Twin-vestibules provide improved ventilation and alternate access/regress during storms. On good tents, the vestibules will be roomy and may be left open when it rains without leaking water into the cabin.

● A deep, tub-floor will prevent run-off from heavy rain or superficial flooding from entering the cabin.

● Designs with an attached/detachable fly-cover offer more versatility and ease of use.

● Choose a fly-cover that is waterproofed to a minimum of 3500 mm of hydrostatic head tested to British Standard 3424.

● My choice of colour for the fly-cover is dark green or similar.

● Aluminium poles are my preference: greater breaking strain; won’t shatter; can be temporarily repaired in event of mishap (for extreme conditions, carry two sets of poles and double sleeve them).

● To prevent condensation problems through the floor, carry 2 x footprints that have been sized or cut to the dimensions of your cabin. Place one underneath the tent, the other as your first layer inside the cabin.

● Carry a seam sealant and apply liberally on the inside seams of your fly-cover if leaks develop.

● Don’t use commercial products on tent zippers — a soft toothbrush (or similar) is best for cleaning/clearing teeth of dust and grit.

● Good tents are storm proof — but not fireproof, so keep clear of flame and sparks.

● Don’t sleep under trees — falling branches shred tents.

● Cut and carry a length of PVC pipe (or similar) and leave it permanently down the inside of your pack. This serves as a convenient sleeve to insert your pole bag unhindered when stowing.

 ● Leave a small hand towel (or similar) permanently inside the cabin for wiping out dust and debris prior dropping the tent.

● Carry a small high-absorbent towel specifically to wipe off excess moisture and condensation from the tent prior packing. While it will not always be possible to dry-pack your tent, water is a heavy substance and removing any excess will lessen your weight.

● Remember — it’s not always necessary to actually pitch your tent if the immediate terrain does not provide sufficient screening or cover for your purpose. In some situations it might be preferable to simply use the tent like a bivvy bag.

● Remember, too, that farmers and private land owners all over the world are usually welcoming of the Traveller. Don’t be afraid of asking permission to camp — simply knock on a farm house door before sunset and introduce yourself . . .

● Share the weight if travelling as a couple or with a partner — one carrying the poles and pegs, the other carrying the cabin and fly-cover.

● A combination of daily use and UV light destroys tents — even with care, my tents only last around 18 months!

● My favourite sound in the world is rain on the roof of my tent at night.

● This is my current tent:

Copyright 2010 © Macpac

● A full list of my road kit is available — here

● Free download in PDF format — a useful primmer for tenting in extreme conditions: “Alpine Tech Tip – Shelter For The Storm”