Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
Best way to hitch is not at all...
When you meet people on the trail heading for their car at the trailhead, strike up a conversation. Eventually, you'll be able to imply that you'll be hitching into town. With any luck, they'll offer you a ride. If not, you can just ask them.
In town, if you're at a restaurant or store and looking for a ride to the trailhead, it's OK to wait outside and ask people as they are leaving if they are heading in the direction of the trailhead. Often they'll offer you a ride, sometimes even if it's out of the way.
If you are staying in a motel, you can ask the proprietor if they know anyone going in your direction. Sometimes they will offer a ride or know someone who can, or others in the lobby might overhear and offer you a ride.
By being in a position to ask politely and in person, they are much more likely to offer you a ride than if you were a stranger standing along the side of the road. They may say "no" and that is OK and their prerogative. Remember, they do not "owe" you anything. Try to smile and say "Thank you" anyway. If you leave a good impression, maybe they'll help the next hiker they meet - and you might be that "next hiker" when you get to another town.
Anything you can do to make yourself look neater can only help. Tuck a shirt in, pull hair back into a ponytail, tame wild hair with a hat, take off your dark sunglasses, take off bandanas that make you look like a pirate, etc... Also, try to keep your stuff self contained. I would always collapse my hiking poles and attach them to my pack. It took less time to load and unload my pack from the vehicle that way. I always kept my backpack visible as I was hitching as people are more likely to pick up backpackers (esp. thruhikers in some areas) than grungy looking "vagrants."
If you're thumbing and need to know where to stand, think like a driver... They want to see you, analyze the situation, and still be able to stop safely. If there's a trailhead parking lot, try to stand before it so the driver will have time to react and pull over. Stand at the point where the shoulder widens enough to pull completely off the road.They can pass you and pull off. Watch for cars that pull off behind you. Sometimes they won't slow down until after they pass you. They may start backing up towards you or wait 1/8 mile down the road. Some cars will pass at full speed and do two U-turns to come pick you up. Be prepared to sit in the back of a pick-up. It may be a lot colder there than standing on the road.
Keep your stuff in as small and neat a package as you can. Be ready to grab it and move to catch up with a car that stopped ahead.
I met some wonderful people while hitching and had some great experiences. The only bad experiences I had was when I couldn't get rides. Once at a trailhead with a couple of police looking for someone they feared might be committing suicide (false alarm) and once on just a really bad road for stopping. Both of these were walking distance from/to town. I walked.
Here is some more I wrote about hitching:
I grew up with my parents always warning me never to hitchhike and never pick up any hitchhikers while driving around. After all, the world is full of crazy people and anyone you would meet on either end of a hitch is one of the crazy people and all they want to do is hurt you.
I've since realized that there are many, many people who also grew up knowing that hitching is "dangerous" or have been so affected by media that they now think hitching is dangerous or think picking up hitchhikers is dangerous. I don't have statistics, but I've certainly felt a lot more scared while walking along twisting and winding roads with cars zooming along than I ever have during a hitch. I suspect walking along the roads is probably more dangerous than hitchhiking.
That being said, I never hitchhiked until the autumn before my 1999 AT thruhike. The closest thing to giving a hitchhiker a ride I had done was offering thruhikers rides from the Crawford Notch hostel to a store and back. They weren't looking but I was offering.
During my AT thruhike, I realized that there was nothing wrong with explaining to a stranger who you are (thruhiker, blah, blah, blah), what your needs are (getting to/from a trailhead, etc.), and asking if they could help. It gives them the opportunity to see that you are a well-spoken, polite person with an honest need for a ride.
I have found that in most cases, even along the AT, they don't know what thruhikers are and are curious about your activities. Be prepared to answer the 10 most frequently asked questions politely and with good humor.
The vast majority of the people in this world are good, honest people. They are not out to hurt you or anyone else.
While I cannot "recommend" hitching alone, there may be times when you are alone at a trailhead and have no idea when the next person might come along. In a case like that, or if you know it's going to be a while, go ahead and hitch. If something doesn't feel right about a prospective ride, you can always use the excuse that you "forgot" something at your last break point and have to go back to get it.
I sometimes hike in a sports bra but never plan to hitch in it. I'll put a shirt on when I get to the trailhead. There was one time where that did get me a ride... I had gotten to the trailhead and it would have been obvious to passing cars that I was about to look for a ride. I hadn't put my shirt on yet when woman pulled over. She had never picked up a hitchhiker before but since I was a woman and alone, she figured it would be safe.
There are some people who advocate walking and hitching. I don't. I think if you're standing near a trailhead, people are more likely to perceive you as a hiker. Otherwise, they may just think you're a vagrant without that point of reference. From town, if you can't find anyone to ask, stand on the outskirts of town so it's obvious you're leaving town. I would only even consider walking and hitching if you're prepared to walk the entire distance yourself.
I used all of these tactics on the PCT in 2003. Somehow though, there were very few times when we actually had to thumb. There always seemed to be friends out on the road. But when we did thumb, these tactics seemed to help.
As for picking up hitchhikers myself, if they are where I know there are trails in the area, and they look like hikers, I'll pick them up.
That means I don't pick up hitchers near Boston, but I do in the Whites of New Hampshire and did near the Tetons on my 2003 road trip.
Last updated, February 20, 2005.
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