Two things that are odd. 1) that there should be rules for something as iconically free spirited as hitchhiking. 2) that I haven’t thumbed a ride in nearly forty years. There is a chance I’ve forgotten a few things.
So perhaps these are not rules, but instead, strong suggestions. And that these suggestions come from five years of experience, three years that were pretty steady. In truth, it was almost entirely the summer months in the west, so we are not talking about rain and snow. Bad weather introduces an entirely new set of suggestions that I haven’t practiced very much.
1). The first rule is do not hitchhike. The salad days of freely hitching down the road are over. It was never safe, but the safety factor is easily ten times what it once was. Are there more Landsharks than then? Hmm, no, I don’t think so. We haven’t entered into an age of rampant lawlessness on our nation’s highways. I think the number of bad guys are about the same. The problem is that the number of good guys that extend the safety of their vehicle is far less. People are fearful and perhaps have good reasons for that.
In my humble opinion the ratio has gone too far in the wrong direction. There are still more good people than bad, but the odds are now skewed so that the chance of running into a landshark is much higher.
I use the phrase landshark to describe an individual that will harm you because of their nature. It is not something that you did that causes the harm, it is simply the nature of the beast. If they are hungry they will eat you, and they are not hungry they may still bite because they can.
There should be no more rules or suggestions after this cardinal rule but sometimes there are circumstances where hitching is the only solution. The following suggestions are meant to be helpful.
2. Always be the first to ask where they are going. Vague answers are a red flag. A quick response of a town further down the road has a much better chance of being truthful. The real reason to ask this is to have the time to assess the driver and the interior of the car. Much information can be gleaned from a quick inspection. Next time you see a highway patrolman you can bring up this subject and you will learn far more than I can state here. In general, the cleaner, orderly interior, will be safer. The cleaner and more orderly driver likewise. I do not fit this model in either case so I know it is not absolute, but merely playing the odds. Landsharks do not care where they are going, as long as there is food there.
3. In all cases, protect what is valuable to you. With enough temptation, a landshark will bite. Keeping this in mind the thing that is most valuable to me is the pack that I carry. Never put the pack in first. Enter the vehicle then grab the pack. I know this is awkward in many small cars. It is so natural to open the back door, or trunk, and throw the pack it, then wander over to the passenger door, hoping that it is unlocked. The advantage to traveling in pairs is obvious. One person enters, one person loads gear then is the last inside. Even if you are a single hiker, open the passenger door first, then open the rear door with the idea that you might quickly jump in if the car lurches ahead. One thing to consider, if the vehicle is actually speeding away, you might want to count your blessings that you didn’t jump in. If at all possible I had my pack on my lap, last in, first out. Landsharks take advantage.
4. Always consider that women are possibly targets. Never let women enter first, always let women exit first. Landsharks are often sexist.
5. Engage the driver in conversation, but do not dominate. It is always good to assess the character of the driver beyond a visual once over. Be careful if there are landmines in the conversation. Getting no response to questions about relationships and family can be natural and not an issue if you are at a cocktail party. A chilled no response, trapped in a moving car doing seventy, is an entirely different animal. Landsharks are touchy.
6. Never give away your right to exit at any time. It may be awkward but I quick “Could you pull over at the next safe spot?” is always correct, if you feel it necessary. Telling an untruth is also an option. “I feel sick!” Is pretty good, “Oh, my gosh, I left my ID back there!”, is another. I once jumped from the backseat (it was a two door) when the drivers were in the station office selling the almost new tires to the attendant for gas money. Selling off parts of the vehicle is a red flag. Landsharks are very inventive.
7. Never sleep while the driver drives. Catching some sleep while your partner is on watch is a better solution. Having everyone watchful and awake is the best solution. Too many things can happen if you are not watchful. Take nap before hitchhiking if necessary. Landsharks love to bite when you are not looking.
8. Never volunteer “gas money”. You are hitching because you are broke! Landsharks are greedy!
9. In conversations, ask more questions about them. If they do most of the talking they will consider the conversation positive and good things will flow. Useful for hitchhiking, useful for job interviews. Landsharks are egotistical.
10. Refrain from smoking, eating or chewing in their vehicle. There may be rules, better to assume that they are there, than to find out that you have broken them.
There are more things to consider when you are on the road, but these relate to basic safety.
11. Do not upstage hitchhikers already in position. Walk downstream and allow the first ride to pick them up. Go down far enough that if a ride does pass them but picks you up… well, go far enough to not hear the yelling.
12. If you make camp mid-day, be out of site, out of mind. Pick higher ground, with good visibility of anyone coming. No fires!!! If fire, no smoke, and block visibility!!!
13. Walk for miles to find a spot where you are visible for at least 500 feet, and that there is a safe turnout for them to pull over, regardless of their speed.
And finally, never break rule number one. Do not hitchhike!