Going on a long distance hitchhiking trip, at least for me, takes proper planning. It’s not a spur of the moment thing, although I have met guys on the road who take a few clothes, wrap them up in a blanket, and tie a rope around it. That’s all they carry. I guess I like a few more comforts than that.
Let me say first that hitchhiking, which is known as “thumbing” amongst hitchhikers (thumbers), is a young man’s game. In your 20′s and 30′s, you can endure less comfort. My last long distance trip was at 43 years old and I found that the ground seemed to be getting harder, the sun hotter, and the bugs nastier. I also was susceptible to poison ivy and poison oak, which never affected me in my earlier years.
When I go thumbing, I like to take some 3-4 day side trips into the wilderness. So my planning begins with researching where trails are located in the states I expect to be in. I take notes, showing where I can get on the trail and where I’ll come out a few days later. I’ll also make notes about lakes and rivers I might have the opportunity to explore. I avoid cities.
I use a backpack, one that has the frame inside, not outside, which is too bulky. In the bottom compartment, I pack a hooded sweatshirt, a raincoat, a pair of jeans, and sandals. In the top goes 3 tee shirts, 3 pair of socks, 3 underwear, a flannel shirt, a pair of shorts, warm lined gloves, a ski cap, my journal, and a few odds and ends. In those small outside pockets go things like pens, magic marker, matches, nail clippers, toothbrush, comb, and such. A quart bottle for water is essential, too. I attach my sleeping bag and tent to the outside bottom of the pack with bungee cords.
The object is to carry enough for comfort, without taking unnecessary things. You’re either going to carry 30 pounds around for a few months, or 50 pounds. It makes a big difference, especially when you take off up a wilderness trail that climbs a thousand feet or so. It’s also easier getting in and out of cars with a smaller, lighter load.
My bible is an undersized road atlas. I always had a book that was close to the size of a piece of paper (8.5″ x 11″), with a map of each state. They’re not as detailed as a full sized atlas, but they’re very handy. I usually refer to my atlas at least 10 times a day.
The most important thing you bring is identification. Let’s face it, now and then a cop is going to stop to check you out. Having a big, bushy beard drew me my share of police attention. But my calm, friendly demeanor defused any potential bad experiences.
I was stopped by a county sheriff once in Arkansas. He pulled up and rolled down his window. “Get in the back seat,” he ordered with attitude. “Good morning officer,” I replied with a sweet smile, “Let me get my ID out of this little pocket of my backpack so you can check me out.” I held up my pack so he could see that I was innocently getting my ID, not a gun or knife, and handed it to him.
“I’m a good guy and I know you’re just doing your job,” I continued in a friendly voice, trying to take control of the encounter. “I’ll lean my backpack against your car and get in if you’d like” is my first veiled admission that our interaction began with him ordering me into the backseat.
As he’s running my ID, I’m talking it up so he’ll feel comfortable that I’m not an escaped felon or something. “I’m coming from Little Rock and heading for a hiking trail near (whatever). Am I headed in the right direction?” Now I’ve led the conversation to him being helpful. He’s pumped up.
Once I passed the ID test, he offered to take me 20 miles to the county line. “That would be great”, I replied enthusiastically. He probably already likes me better than his own son-in-law. We talked during the ride, and he quickly decided I was a real interesting guy, one of a kind.
Shortly before the county line, he radioed the next county’s sheriffs. “I’m dropping off a guy with a beard at your county line. He’s hitchhiking. If you see him, give him a ride. He’s a good ole boy!”
- Mountain Man