5 Tips for Hitchhiking on the Appalachian Trail
Wagon wheel. The one song every thru-hiker has heard quite enough of already. He paints such a great picture of hitchin’ rides, making his way down the coast. I had never hitched a ride before in my life and wasn’t even sure it was a good idea. But when we arrived at the road crossing to Hiawassee, GA it seemed like a great way to save a few bucks. My hiking partner decided to stay at the roadside with the dog while I made a quick trip into town for the basics.
I stepped to the side of the road and trying to be cool about it all, I held my thumb just out from my side. Half an hour later, still no one had stopped. “You’ve gotta be confident!” called my partner from the stone picnic table. Annoyed, I jabbed my arm straight out. The very next car pulled over.
It was a sweet older couple in their silver Acura ready to whisk me away. They continued into town and dropped me off at ‘Wash Tub Coin Laundry’- but it had just closed, the doors being locked in my face. The couple felt badly and offered to take me to their lakeside rental to do a quick wash. “It’s just down the road” they claimed .
Once there I realized I was on the opposite side of the lake! Trying to be polite I went ahead and started my wash. As the water churgled into the machine soaking everything, they informed me they had a concert to attend and wouldn’t be picking me up until after 11:00PM. I couldn’t wait that long and my partner didn’t have phone reception at the trailhead…but they were already backing out of the drive.
Through this stranded, panicked moment and other hitch hiking experiences along the trail, here’s a solid 5 ways to hitch a ride in the right direction.
1. “You’ve gotta be confident!”
No matter how you look, drivers are more than happy to stop and pick up a hiker. But they have to know you want a ride. You can choose the ‘liberty stance’ with your arm straight up. You can choose the ‘cool vibe’ and just let it hang out in space. Stand on the side of the road heading the direction you’d like to go and jab it out there with a smile. You’re a hiker and proud of it!
2. When Rides are Sparse, Get Creative
After spending the night at Chet’s Place in Lincoln, NH we wanted to get an early start the next day. We walked over to the ‘Price Chopper’ and grabbed what we could before walking out to corner for a ride. Nothing. Morning commuters don’t always have the same time as afternoon cruisers. So we turned on the phone, pulled up some music and started an impromptu dance party. Attendees: just us. A few cars later and we had a ride. When you make people smile, good things will come to you. Some creative options to consider: dance parties, funny cardboard signs, comically sticking your leg out (really funny if you are male).
3. You Choose the Ride
Not everyone who pulls over is an ideal ride and that’s okay. Listen to the instincts you’ve got and if you don’t like the ride, wave ’em onward with any sort of excuse such as, “Oh man, I totally forgot I’m meeting someone here in just a bit” or “Hey thanks for stopping, I just realized I’m supposed to catch up with some other hikers out here today.” Be polite but do not feel badly. This is your hike after all and you own it!
This isn’t even just for safety reasons. In Tennessee we watched a father-son duo we had met the day before step out of the woods for a ride. After a few minutes, the tiniest Fiat convertible zoinked into the parking lot across the way and insisted on fitting them into the ‘backseat’. Four people and two huge packs squished into a tiny car without a roof. It was like watching the circus head off for town. Aside from the laughs we enjoyed watching this take place, the hikers could have waved them on. No harm, no foul. Nobody who picks up a thru-hiker needs to be the ‘perfect ride’ but you can make the choice for what’s best for you. You can add them to the list of characters you’ve met and enjoy the ride or you can wait for another character. But ultimately, you choose.
4. Have a Location in Mind…and then a backup
Don’t panic if you don’t get your first choice of location but take a minute to think through where you’re headed. Sometimes the hostel and the grocery store are on opposite sides of town from each other. Where do you go first? Sometimes the hostel is full, then where should you go? Maybe the laundromat just closed…
There are always more options. Take a minute and consider them. Most times the hostel will let you do laundry without staying or will provide a ride to the grocery store as part of their services. When we caught a ride into Waynesboro, VA we opted for the laundromat first. It was a long walk back to the church hostel we planned to stay at for the night.
5. Be Grateful and Roll the Windows Down
“Ugh, there must be a sewer plant nearby” I said, scrunching up my nose. My Aunt Nancy had the a/c on in her new car. She paused and quietly said, “No honey, that’s just you guys”. I raised my eyebrows and looked back at my hiking partner in the backseat. She had just picked us up from Killington, VT for a quick visit and only just then had we realized our stink. We felt relatively clean but it was in our gear, stuck in our clothing, and even in the slicked hair we had grown. Off went the a/c and down went the windows.
Alright, so what did I do in Hiawassee, GA stranded out across the lake? As my laundry did it’s thing, I popped some popcorn I found in the cupboard and pulled out my AWOL guide book. I called three hotels in town trying to find someone to give me another ride back. I finally got the number for a person in town who occasionally runs shuttle services on her own. I set out down the drive with my ‘mostly dry’ laundry packed away. As Kay picked up her phone, three terriers started chasing me down the empty back road barking at my heels. Kay helped talk me through the panic and the dogs and the street signs I could find. And after an anxious twenty minutes and a number of cars looking at me confused as to why there was a lone hiker out that way, Kay pulled up in her compact Ford. Oh the sweet relief! Kay reprimanded me throughout the drive back on using my brain, getting rides to legitimate places, telling other people my whereabouts. It all made sense after the fact. And I did not save a few bucks. I spent more than I would have in the first place.
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