Back in New Zealand, I felt like I never stopped hearing from everyone how amazing hitchhiking was there. It’s a waste to travel any other way, they’d say. They’d boast of never waiting longer than 20 minutes before being offered a ride. I, however, did not have such luck.
I would wait for hours at the side of the road with my thumb towards the sky, watching countless cars drive by as I forced a smile over my discouraged face. One day hitching out of Dunedin I gave up after 5 hours of standing on the side of the road and booked a bus for the next day.
When I heard that hitchhiking was an integral aspect of hiking the PCT, I was concerned to say the least. I thought perhaps there must be another way to resupply, surely there are other means of getting to and from towns. If I couldn’t get a lift in New Zealand, allegedly one of the best places in the world to find rides, what hope did I have in the states? This time around, I would be dirty, smelly, and sporting a beard that makes me look like I’ve been an island castaway for the past few months. Might as well start walking into town now.
Yet since I first started standing on the side of the road stretching my thumb, I’ve had the most incredible luck at getting rides. Perhaps I paid my dues back in New Zealand and now I am free to bum rides as I please. Whatever the case, it’s made for a much less troubled hike. Still, there’s one aspect to my hitching that I don’t quite understand. My good fortune in finding rides comes most often when a surprising caveat is in place: when I’m alone.
They say that hitching with women is a surefire ticket to a quick lift, but I haven’t found this to hold true. Perhaps it’s coincidence, but the fastest rides I’ve received have all been when it’s just me. This is especially surprising because there’s such a stigma against dudes hitching, though not unjustifiably so. Hitchhiking is not what it once was, so I’m told, and it’s much more dangerous picking up strangers these days. This is why I can’t explain why so many people have been so gracious about offering rides to a rank transient like myself.
Perhaps it’s because most of the towns we pass through are small and familiar with hikers and the trail, or simply that small town folk are more trusting and willing to help a stranger. Maybe my beard actually makes me look quite dashing and they can’t help but stop and offer a ride for the chance at a closer look. Whatever the reason, I’m very grateful for it. Here’s a breakdown of my rides:
Idyllwild via Pines to Palms highway:
In; (with Crasher) 2nd car, 1 minute.
Out; (with SpoonMan) 4th car, 10 minutes.
Idyllwild via Devil’s slide trail: (with Crasher, Cerveza and SpoonMan)
In; offered a ride into town by an older woman leaning out the top window of her house as we walked by. Given toiletries and a tour of town.
Out; With a ride angel.
Big Bear City:
In; 2nd car, 10 minutes. A retired gentleman and his grandson visiting family.
Out; 3rd car, 5 minutes. Local on his way to work.
In; 1st car, 0 minutes. An older gentleman returning home after helping with a school field trip. Pulled over as he saw me walking down the trail towards the road and offered a ride, never had a chance to stick out my thumb.
Out; Offered a ride by Thomas the trail groupie as he saw me packaging food outside the supermarket.
The Anderson’s: (with Honeybuzz and Clark Kent)
In; 6th car, 15 minutes. An SUV full of women headed the opposite direction stopped, piled into the back to accommodate us and our packs, and drove us to the Anderson’s house.
Out; with Terri Anderson.
In; 2nd car, 5 minutes. A young man working as a turbine repairman at one of the wind farms. Tried to impress me with how loud the bass in his speakers could get and couldn’t understand that I had walked there from Mexico and that I was not Mexican.
Out; (with Drop Dead, Annie, Pellet and Jimbrick) ride offered by an older gentleman who gave the rest of the group a ride into town.
Lone Pine via Kearsarge Pass: (with Drop Dead, Annie, Pellet and Jimbrick)
In; ride yogi’d by Drop Dead from a section hiker, Extra Credit, scoping the area for a food drop.
To Whitney Portal; (with Pellet) 1st car, 10 minutes. A woman headed up to the restaurant at the campground with friends took us to her house and gave us drinks while she got ready.
Out; (from Whitney Portal) ride yogi’d by Annie from a retired man passing through the area. Gave us a tour of the Alabama hills on our way back to the trail.
In; (with Ninja, Drop ‘n Roll, Roadrunner, and Goose) 9th or 10th car, 20 minutes. A Harley-Davidson enthusiast who piled us into the bed of his pickup.
Out; (with Ninja, Drop ‘n Roll, and Roadrunner) 4th car, 5 minutes. Former Yosemite volunteers doing some hiking in the area. Drove 20 miles out of their way for us.
South Lake Tahoe:
In; (with Ninja) lost count, 25 minutes. A fossils and precious stones vendor outside the Nevada casinos.
Out; (with Ninja and Drop ‘n Roll) lost count, 40 minutes. A rafting guide and bartender. Had to make a sign, even though we were only going 7 miles.
In and out; Ride yogi’d from a day hiker who brought me to town, waited while I did shopping, took me to an outfitter, and then back to the trailhead. Also offered to bring me to dinner with his friends and put me up for the night.
In and out; 1st car, 1 minute. A weekend hiker getting gas waited for me to do my shopping and brought me back to the trail. Offered help if I needed it in Washington.
In; 5th car, 4 minutes. A fellow thru-hiker, Todd, was being dropped off when I began hitching. I rode into town with his wife and 4 children.
Out; Offered a ride to the trail while walking down the sidewalk towards the edge of town.
In; 1st car, 12 minutes. Local headed to town for groceries.
Out; Offered a ride while walking down the sidewalk towards the end of town from 2 young men. Sang Johnny Cash with one in a gas station parking lot while the other scored weed before being dropped off.
In; 1st car, 5 minutes. Sat in the back of the truck with a sad looking dog.
Out; with the owners of the hiker hut. Sat next to Bo, a happy old dog who had chewed my seatbelt off.
In; 1st car, 15 minutes. A local woman on her way to work.
Out; lost count, 35 minutes. A newlywed couple looking to move to Grants Pass. Drove me 12 miles down the interstate the opposite direction they were headed to bring me back to the trail. My hardest hitch, though I think I may have been at the less trafficked on-ramp.
Here’s my two cents on how to best find rides. Presentation is everything. Straighten your hair, wipe those dead bugs off your shirt, and try to get as much dirt off your face as possible. It’s inevitable that we stink, but if you can delay your driver from finding that out until you’ve loaded your pack and buckled up, your chances are much better.
Stand somewhere that gives them the chance to pull over. Some swear by standing at the front of the pullout, others say at the back. I think it makes little difference, but wherever you’re most visible usually helps. Be sure to smile, but don’t overdo it. I’ve seen some hikers hitching with a huge forced smile that makes them look a bit deranged. That’s not helping your odds. A good closed mouth smile is sufficient without making you look insincere or like a psycho killer. I usually stand with my pack in front of me to make it clear I’m hiking, one thumb hooked in my pocket and the other pointed towards the sky. Not much to it.
I don’t have very many opportunities for hitching left on the trail, but I hope that my remaining rides come just as easily and with as affable and interesting people as I’ve been fortunate to find thus far. It’s become a fantastic part of the trail experience that has made my aversion to hitchhiking seem totally unfounded.