I Pick UP HitchHikers SometiMES.
When you thru-hike a long trail like the PCT, you rely on the kindness of strangers to get hitches into towns and back onto the trail. (Besides needing to re-supply on food, it’s nice to eat a hot meal, shower, do laundry, and call loved ones.)
I was fortunate in that I never had to wait more than half a day, and there were usually other hikers around to hitch with. But my first time hitching by myself, at mile 270 on the PCT, I stood with my thumb out for 2 and a half hours before a car pulled over, right as it was starting to get dark. The driver didn’t know about thru-hikers and thought I was homeless, but stopped out of concern for my safety and went out of his way to drive me right to the doorstep of Big Bear Hostel.
Remembering his goodwill, I try to pay it forward when I can and have picked up eight people since.
1. Young boy walking on the side of Braddock Rd (Burke, VA | summer 2016)
Hoped to be a musician, idealistic to the point of naivety. He was going to walk 19-20 miles on highway shoulders to get to DC but wouldn’t have made it before nightfall. Plus drivers merge like crazy on I-95/495.
2. Older man who was probably homeless (Manassas, VA | January 2017)
Didn’t speak, declined an apple cider donut, had a very disorganized bundle of stuff, didn’t have a specific destination other than “in town.” My sketchiest pickup. The only time I stopped at night but also the only time I had another passenger.
3. Older man who sold everything to travel and see National Parks (the beginning of the entrance to Badlands NP | June 2018)
Talked too much, ecstatic I stopped but bitter about everybody who else who didn’t, politically conservative, anti-government, had defaulted on his student loans, divorced father of three girls, all he owned was in his 80 lb pack, not much of a planner. He had half a gallon of water and at least three hours of walking in direct sun to go when I pulled over.
4, 5, and 6. PCT thru-hikers looking for a hitch to the post office (Old Station, CA | July 17, 2018)
Looked like thru-hikers, talked like thru-hikers, smelled like thru-hikers. They had just set their packs on the side of the road when I spotted them. I spent maybe five minutes total with them but it was a wonderfully nostalgic five minutes, which is why I picked up hitchhiker #7.
7. Older PCT thru-hiker standing by the post office (Old Station, CA to Redding, CA | July 17, 2018)
Third time attempting a complete thru-hike, retired in Mexico, father of two girls, trail name was “Charlie Brown.” The conversation started off decently and ping-ponged between various topics but didn’t end well. After an hour he abruptly proclaimed, “I have an advertising strategy for you! You know what all young kids will be doing in the back of self-driving cars? Having sex.” I’m still not sure how that’s a strategy. I dropped him off shortly after.
8. South-bound (90% are north-bound) PCT thru-hiker (Rainy Pass, North Cascades National Park to Mazama, WA | July 29, 2018)
A carpenter with a gentle manner of speaking, knew a lot about the geological history of the Pacific Northwest. My favorite hitchhiker so far.