Once upon a time, before Uber and Lyft, there was a FREE method of car-sharing based solely on trust, kindness and curiosity…
I was nervous to write about hitchhiking because I don’t want to imply that it’s for everyone. I acknowledge that my skin color and gender make it easy for me to get rides. People of color and trans and queer folks may have a more difficult and/or dangerous experience hitchhiking. I also know that women are at an increased risk of being taken advantage of and have to be careful about extending our trust to strangers.
A few years ago, I would have shuddered at the thought of hitchhiking because I was told from a young age that it’s not safe to get into cars with strangers. But when you hike long trails, you have to rely on people with vehicles to get you from the trail to town every five days to resupply. After many positive experiences hitching around trail towns, I felt emboldened to start catching rides all over the place.
I can’t believe the number of fascinating folks I’ve met hitchhiking—people I would’ve never been exposed to otherwise. I’ve gotten rides from Trump supporters and Trump haters. Jesus freaks and vocal atheists. Rural Americans in beat-up trucks blasting country music. Chinese tourists in a rental car who barely spoke English. A district attorney in a luxury sedan on her way home from work. Climbers and vagabonds livings out of their vans. Cement pourers. Students. Pot growers. Former long distance hikers repaying their karmic debt for all the rides they got when thruhiking. I even spent an hour in a car in the eastern Sierra discussing water politics with an employee of the LA Department of Water and Power.
For sure you need to turn on your “Spidey sense” when hitchhiking. I generally prefer to approach people in parking lots, so I can assess their vibes from afar before asking them for a lift (face-to-face contact is also more likely to get you a ride than sticking out your thumb). But if getting picked up from the side of the road, I chat for a minute with the driver before getting into their car to make sure we feel comfortable with each other. I also sometimes take a picture of their license plate and text it to a friend.
After countless hitches over the past three years, I have never felt unsafe. Not once.
Again, I’m not trying to say that everyone should start hitchhiking. I just wanted to talk about it because it’s been a big part of my journey over the past three years. Along with thruhiking, it’s taught me one of the most important lessons of my life—that you can choose rational caution over irrational fear when making decisions and taking risks.
It’s also cemented my belief that most people, despite their flaws, are inherently good.