I thought about writing a blog on this topic while I was on my hike today. I didn't do much research on it before I did my hike nor did I really think to look too much into it. Not sure why but getting into a car with strangers just didn't really scare me, until this summer.
Here's a little excerpt of what I wrote about what happened in Burney, CA last summer:
"I walked out to the side of the road and hitched for about 15 minutes before someone pulled over. At first glance, it looked fine. There were two guys in the car and a kid in the back in a child's seat, maybe about six or seven years old. I thought oh there's a kid, they must be ok. So I got in and little did I know, this would become the sketchiest hitch I've done. There was a cooler in the backseat so he passed it to his friend in the passenger seat. I noticed the kid had a terrified look on his face. I tried talking to him but he did not answer. We started driving and he said that he needed to make a small pit stop at his friend's house to pick up some money. I immediately thought, "Fuck, what am I getting myself into?" I tried asking them questions to see if there was anything fishy but he seemed to know about the pct and apparently, he's picked up hikers. They are from Oregon and I guess they have family in the area and the kid was his grandson. The seemed only about 40-50 years old. They were headed to the river or something. It was hard to hear with all the windows rolled down. He missed the turn to the house so we make a u turn and got to the street. He pulled up to this somewhat "dumpy" house and said "I'll be right back." The house was blaring loud music and he bangs on the front door. He finally goes in and later comes out with the man. The man is a huge overweight guy with tattoos wearing a wifebeater. I overhear them talking about money, a casino and winning a fight. The whole time I was praying and hoping we could leave soon. The man never once looked at me nor said hello. The driver finally gets back into the car and we were off. I kept staring at their hands to see if they were up to anything. He starts asking me questions like "So, what makes you want to do this hike by yourself? Are you ever afraid out there all alone as a solo woman? What's been your scariest experience so far?" It made me really nervous but I answered in confidence that it's been not scary except for the bugs. I kept praying that they would not kill me tonight. After a long 7 miles that seemed like an eternity, with the sketchy pit stop, I told him he could just drop me off at the pullout and I can just walk a few feet back to the trail. I was so glad he actually stopped the car to let me out. He awkwardly asked for a hug and I gave him a little pat. I said thanks and walked fast down the road and crossed to the other side. Praise the Lord. I seriously didn't think I would make it today. I'm so sick of hitching by myself. Sometimes it's fine but it's so hard to make a quick judgment. You never know what they're like until you get in the car. I need to remember to never try to be nice when you feel uncomfortable. But I didn't feel that way until I got in and he needed to make a detour." - From Day 101: Burney to 1415.9
After that day, my view on hitching solo has completely changed.
WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE USUALLY PICK UP HITCHHIKERS?
- weird people
- people who know about the trail
Basically, it's either or. Usually, normal people (who don't know about the trail) won't pick up gross looking people off the side of the road. Sometimes, people who know about the trail, know that you're desperate for a ride and will try to make money off of us. Sometimes, people will pick you up drinking a tall boy. Sometimes, people will drive hella scary down passes and you pray that you don't get into a wreck. Sometimes, you'll get one of the nicest drivers ever and treat you like family.
SHOULD YOU HITCH SOLO?
Yes, and no. I say yes bc I hate sitting around waiting for people to hitch with. If it's later in the evening, hikers may not even show up and then you lose your opportunity to get a ride out before it gets too late. If I can, I do try to hitch with someone else, but many times, I was alone and wasn't going to wait around for people. Sometimes, you just have to hitch solo and trust your gut. After my bad hitch this summer, I had some people give me really great advice if you had to go solo.
- Ask where they're headed to first. If you automatically get weird vibes, turn them down.
- Either ask or sneakily take a photo of their face/license plate and text it to your friends. I think if I were to do this again, I would ask and if they feel uncomfortable getting their photo taken, obviously they are hiding something.
- Never be too polite and take a ride that you're uncomfortable with. I know it's hard to tell right off the bat but trust your gut instincts.
DO PEOPLE ACTUALLY LIKE HITCHING?
I'm gonna go with a no. At least most people around me hated it. It's like "fun" the first few times, but then it just gets annoying. Especially, when you know it's gonna be a hard hitch and you're just sitting on the road with your thumb out, getting rejected from every car that passes by. Also, trying to sweet talk people into rides is really awkward. We've noticed that the best approach is to just straight up and ask someone/day hiker if they haven't already offered. Many people will just offer right away and it's like the best thing ever, you don't even have to try. Sometimes, I'm willing to just pay a shuttle/taxi bc it's reliable. I think after a few hours or so, hitching just becomes exhausting and discouraging, unfortunately.
DO I LIKE GIVING RIDES TO HIKERS?
So it was kind of funny when I got home from my injury, hikers were still going through Snoqualmie/Stevens and I ended up experiencing what it was like to be on the other side. I picked up a few hikers and it's just so funny being the "clean local." They really do smell, but I really loved giving them a ride. I know how much it sucks waiting for a hitch in a remote place. I think rides are kind of the best types of trail magic you can offer to hikers instead of food. I can't wait for hiker season in WA again! Hopefully, I'll get back early enough to still have hikers come through.