I was afraid of a few things on trail, but hitchhiking was never one of them. Before hiking the PCT, I had never hitchhiked before. Sticking my thumb out and asking a complete stranger for a ride into or out of town was something very new to me.
I guess the reason why hitchhiking never really scared me was because the first several times I had to hitch, I didn’t have to do alone. I was either with my trail family or a member of my trail family. The buddy system seemed to make something potentially scary actually kind of fun.
Hitchhiking on the PCT is just one of those things all thru-hikers do at some point. It’s not something that only happens in scary movies either. There are plenty of normal and nice people who pick up PCT hikers and give them rides into and out of town. There are plenty of weirdos out there too, but I was fortunate enough to not have any of those experiences along my thru-hike.
Hitching As A Group
Hitching as a group can be tricky, depending on how many people are in the group. Most cars have enough room to pick up two to three hikers along with their packs. When you have a group of five or six hikers AND who all have packs, it creates a challenge. When most people see a group that size, they won’t stop because they generally don’t have enough room in the car for everyone to fit. That’s why for larger groups, it’s best to split up into groups of two or three and hitch.
Our Team Lagger trail family got lucky with our first few hitches. The first time we had to hitchhike together was when we were trying to get a ride into Julian. There was four of us – Punchline, KitKat, Amish and myself. Bleeder had already hitched ahead into town a couple of days before to tend to his gnarly blisters. Within ten minutes of waiting on the side of the road, a grey Suzuki with a Trump sticker on the back pulled over to pick us up. The driver’s name was Volker. He made me a bit nervous, but we were all desperate to get into town and since we were all together, no one really thought twice. Once we loaded up our packs, piled in the car and got down the road a few miles, Volker proceeded to let us know our “hitch” would cost us a total of $20, or $5 per person. Not exactly a hitch and kind of shady on Volker’s part, but no one was going to argue with him. We just wanted to get into town.
Volker was nice enough. He gave us the lay of the land as we made our way into Julian and briefed us on some of the town’s history. He made sure to point out the orange buckets he had set up along the highway in his attempt to create a litter removal program for the road. He even brought up his strong political stance. None of us agreed with him, but none of us rose any opposition to his views either. We learned quickly, there’s a time and a place for voicing your opinion. Getting a ride in a car from a stranger was not one of those times. We all just smiled and nodded until we got into town.
A hundred miles up the trail, our trail family scored an awesome hitch back to I-10/Cabazon. This time, there were six of us – KitKat and Amish, Bleeder, Punchline, Grit and myself. Originally, we had taken two separate Ubers into town to eat at In-N-Out Burger and then resupply at a nearby WalMart. We had a tough time trying to get back to the trail after resupplying in town. There were no Ubers available and after spending 45 minutes trying to hitch our way back to Cabazon, no one was stopping to pick us up. Most of the people driving by assumed we were homeless. That is until we met Michelle and Bruce.
Michelle and Bruce recognized right away that we were PCT thru-hikers. They pulled over and asked us where we were going. We told them we were trying to get back to the trail under I-10 in Cabazon. Even though there was no way all six of us would fit in Michelle and Bruce’s Subaru Outback, they were determined to help us. These guys graciously went home to grab an extra car so they could give us all a ride back to the trail.
When Michelle and Bruce came back 15 minutes later with both of their cars, all of us girls piled into Michelle’s car and the boys got in the truck with Bruce. On the drive back to Cabazon, Michelle shared with us how it had always been a dream of theirs to hike the PCT. KitKat and I happily shared with Michelle information about how we each planned for our hike, the gear we were using and some of our experiences we’d had along trail so far. Before we said our final goodbyes in Cabazon, we exchanged contact information with Michelle and Bruce. Michelle and Bruce were so inspired by our PCT adventure, they started going on backpacking adventures of their own this summer, crediting our meeting for the hitch back to Cabazon as their inspiration.
Then there was the time when KitKat and Amish, Punchline, Bleeder and myself wanted to take a zero day from Hiker Town and spend it riding rollercoasters at Magic Mountain, a mere 45-minute drive away. The only problem was none of us had access to a car and there were no Ubers available anywhere near Hiker Town. Our only hope of getting to Magic Mountain was to hitch our way there. We spent an hour trying to hitch a ride. First, we tried hitching all together. Then we repainted our sign, making it easier to read from the road. It wasn’t until we split up the group, hitching three people at a time that we got a truck to pull over and offer us a ride. It was a local by the name of Jeff who happily accommodated all five of us in his truck. He just so happened to be running errands into town that morning and was happy to give us a lift. Jeff was so awesome. He even offered to pick us up from Magic Mountain and give us a ride back to Hiker Town when we were done later on that evening.
Hitching With A Partner
The easiest way to hitch on the PCT is as partners, two hikers at a time. On trail, we’d call each other “hitching wife” or “hitching husband.” Everyone wins when you’re a hitching couple. The male hiker is more likely to get picked up when he’s hitching with another female because he comes across as less threatening than if he were by himself. The female hiker is more likely to feel safer when she’s hitching with either a male or female hiker than if she were to hitch by herself.
Bleeder and I had one of the easiest hitches on the PCT, coming into Tehachapi. We were still hiking down the trail towards the road when we both noticed a car pull over to the side of the highway. A man got out of the car and got into the back seat to move stuff around. The female passenger stepped out of the car and called to us, asking us if we needed a ride into town. Bleeder and I looked at each other, smiled, slapped each other a high five and ran towards the car. We couldn’t believe our luck. We didn’t have to stick our thumbs out. We didn’t have to wait on the side of the highway. The couple that pulled over for us were locals in Tehachapi, coming back from a camping trip and looking for PCT hikers to help out along their way home. These guys not only gave us a ride into town, but they drove us to the post office and dropped us off at our hotel. We were so incredibly thankful.
Hitching On My Own
As a woman, I found it fairly easy to get a ride into and out of town whenever I needed one. The first time I had to hitch on my own was when I was heading back into the High Sierra via Kearsarge Pass. The third car to drive by, stopped and picked me up. It was a woman and her dog.
I’ve had quite a few awesome solo hitching experiences along the PCT since my first hitch. One of my favorites was on my way to Mono Hot Springs from VVR. I had been on the dirt road for maybe two minutes when a truck with two cowboys towing a horse trailer pulled over and asked if I needed a ride. I happily accepted.
Another time, I was on my way into Chester, California. I had just got off the trail and was walking towards the road when a truck driving in the opposite direction stopped in the middle of the road. The guy driving the truck asked if I needed a ride into town. I smiled and said yes. He proceeded to turn around, let me in and gave me a ride to the hotel I was scheduled to stay at. The best part about this hitch, besides the man clearly going out of his way to give me a lift into town? There was a cute dog inside the truck and the guy offered me freshly cut watermelon to snack on during the ride.
On my way out of Chester, California, I had an equally awesome experience getting a ride back to the trail when Brooke and her mom pulled over and asked if I needed a ride. I happily smiled and hopped in the car. Turns out it was Brooke’s birthday and all she wanted to do to celebrate was help PCT hikers get to and from the trail. Brooke and I became Instagram friends before we said our goodbyes and she followed me along the rest of my hike. How cool is that?
My luckiest hitch was on my way to the Kracker Barrel in White Pass, Washington. I had just finished hiking the fire detour from Goat Rocks to the highway. It had been a long and rough day, one of the top three hardest days on the trail for me. By the time I had reached the highway, it was pitch black dark and I was still three miles from town. Just when I had started to give up and was about to pitch my tent on the trail, a section hiker from Seattle in a van saw my headlamp, asked if I was a PCT thru-hiker and asked if I needed a ride into town. Without hesitation, I accepted his offer and hopped in the van.
With that said, not all hitches are ideal and go as planned. I was very fortunate in that I had nothing but incredible experiences hiking along the PCT. I heard stories from other, fellow thru-hikers who didn’t always have such lucky experiences. Some of their experiences were downright scary.
Advice For Hitching Along the PCT
Whether you’re hitching solo, as a partner or in a group, it’s always best to gather as much information as you can before getting into a vehicle with a stranger. First, try to collect important information before getting into a car with someone you don’t know. I like to start with the vibe. What kind of feeling do you get from the driver and the other people in the car? Are they friendly? Do they creep you out? Before hopping into the car, exchange a few words with them first and see how they make you feel. Ask them where they’re headed. If you get any sort of creepy vibe from them, it’s okay to decline their hitch. In situations like these, I always go with my gut.
Secondly, take a look at the car before you get into it. What color is it? Make and model? Try to snap a photo of the vehicle’s license plate and the driver of the car. This is especially important if you’re hitching solo. Explain to the driver you have a nervous, overreactive mother who only feels comfortable with you hitching to and from town when you’re able to send her a picture of the vehicle you’re about to get into. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to send the photo to your mom. It’s just a safety precaution for you. If the person who’s driving doesn’t feel comfortable with you taking pictures of them and their car in the name of your own safety, that’s a huge red flag and a clear indication you shouldn’t accept the hitch.
Also, pay attention to the passengers in the car. How many passengers are there. Are you, your hiking partner or hiking group outnumbered? What kind of vibe do the passengers give off to you? Is it a comfortable vibe? Uncomfortable vibe? Pay attention to any gut reactions that may come up. If something doesn’t quite feel right, don’t be afraid to turn down the hitch and wait for the next one. You can always use the excuse that you left something on the trail and have to go back for it.
For those of you not hiking the PCT, if you see a PCT hiker thumbing it on the highway, give em a break and pick them up. You never know who you’re going to meet and who’s day you could make, just by offering them a ride into town.