A Trail Story: Hitching a Ride in Shenandoah

A Trail Story: Hitching a Ride in Shenandoah

Hitchhiking is a way of life for long distance hikers. Although I have provided many rides to backpackers, I have rarely hitched one for myself.

Closeup of a hitchhiking thumb, blurred road and trees in the background.
Hitchhiking a ride from the trail.

In 2016, we began section hiking the state of Virginia. During that time period, I trained 3 times days a day Monday through Thursday: morning cardio, lunchtime strength and conditioning, evening power yoga. On Fridays, I’d back off my workouts to just strength training, substituting the night yoga practice for a drive to our Saturday hiking destination.

Male hiker and 2 backpack dogs sitting on the edge of a rock face, looking at the fall colored mountains in the distance.

We were hiking through Shenandoah National Park and opted to stay in a lodge rather than tent camp. Since it was summer, we had long days of sunlight, providing us with the opportunity to complete a lot of miles each day. Because of my over-training, I developed right hip pain that was dull and achy, but it was not debilitating. After a great night’s sleep and a big breakfast in the lodge, we ventured on a 22 mile day hike. Wearing light packs, we trekked swiftly. But then my pace slowed drastically. Around mile 15, my hip became more sore than usual. Thirty minutes later at mile 16, I was taking baby steps and knew that I could not complete another 6 miles. There was a road crossing and parking lot a half mile further, and that is where I hitched my first ride.

A distant road weaves through blue green mountains
Country Road, take me home …

My husband settled on a grassy spot with the dogs, yelling encouraging comments as I practiced holding out my thumb. A vehicle approached and I readied myself for a drive by. Surprisingly, the car pulled over and the window rolled down. I simply asked for a ride to the Loft Mountain Wayside parking lot, and the college-aged man stated that was his destination, too!

Fox red lab and black lab walk on a narrow trail bordered by overgrown plants.
Faith and Toro enjoying Shendandoah

I do not recall the driver’s name, BUT I do know that his rescued dog’s name is Barbara. We chatted the entire 20 minute drive. I confessed that it was my first hitch. He said that I was the first ride that he has given and we laughed that we were nervous newbies. Barbara seemed nonplussed over the entire situation. After all, she got extra pets from the hiker-lady in the front seat of her car.

After a sincere thank you, I hobbled to my SUV and drove to pick up my crew. During that 45 minute time period, the dogs napped and Brian made new friends. A brother-sister duo from Michigan were embarking on their first ever backpacking trip. We talked for a short time, chuckling about my first hitchhiking experience and wished them well on their sojourn.

The legs and packs of 2 hikers

The next day, we completed a shorter hike without incident. We drove toward the lodge for a hot shower and a big meal and recognized 2 hitchhikers along the side of Skyline Drive. It was the sibling duo! They had dropped their too-heavy packs behind the guard rail and were walking (slowly) along the parkway toward their car. The siblings had been trying to catch a ride, but no one had stopped. The weary twosome climbed into our Suburban and we circled back to pick up their packs. We laughed and talked on the drive to their car. Like true hikers, they spun a humorous tale about their first day on the trail. With promises to stay in touch, we dropped our new friends at their car and headed back to our rented room.

Mountains, fog and distant towns

There is a popular saying among hikers: “The trail provides”. I believe that it is the trail people that provide and the resulting experience is magical!  It is this magic that drives me to return to the trail over and over and over.  Strangers care for each other with genuine kindness and it makes me proud to be a part of the hiking community.

I continue to provide rides for hikers and periodically stick out my thumb with the hope belief that a kind soul will pull over and shuttle a stinky hiker, her husband and tired dogs while listening to trail tale along the way.

A man and 2 dogs look at distant mountains while standing on the edge of a rock.

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