Ahhh, the lure of the open road and the call of that big event. There is nothing like it, all those miles of open road ahead of you. Now imagine you are walking. Hitchhiking. People still do it and no I’m not kidding. There is an entire subculture of folks that hitchhike to their favorite tailgating events each year, mud, flood, hell or high water. While some people have relegated themselves to playing cornhole on their computer, these people have gone the other direction.
The event is only half the fun. When you’re hitchhiking your life is on the road and making it comfortable and fun is the name of the game. Taking the time to gather the right gear before you leave ensures your pack is party perfect. Every successful hitchhiker knows the essentials to pack on their back to make that big hike to tailgate party central.
“Always take as little as possible,” says Dwayne Miller, a hitch hiker who traveled from Chesterton, Indiana to the 2011 Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, some 512 miles. “Once you get on the road whatever you have on your back just gets heavier and heavier.”
There are certain essentials that every hitch hiker needs to pack for a tailgating event of any kind. Besides you basic tent, sleeping bag and hygiene products rain gear is the most important. A good, sturdy poncho protects you from most inclement weather situations while your between rides. An umbrella can come in handy if its the retractable kind that wont take up much room.
First aid supplies are another must-have. “You’ll definitely get blisters,” says Miller. “Always bring bandages and some kind of antibiotic ointment. You’ll be glad you did after you walk those first hundred miles or so.” Other ‘just in case’ first aid items include ace bandages, aspirin, cotton swabs and liquid bandage.
Its important to know where your going and consider the route before you leave. Depending on the event and the season there are a few variables. Bug spray and bug bite ointment are big summer items but if your hitching to a football game in October bugs wont be a big factor. The same goes for sunblock and windbreakers.
Another variable, believe it or not, is a map. “Smartphones can do whatever you need these days.” explained Miller. “Program your route into a GPS system on the phone and keep it. You always know where your going and its way more convenient than trying to tug a map around.” Using this kind of GPS system also allows you to find local hot spots, campgrounds, grocery stores and hotels.
Safety is a big issue for anyone hitch hiking. Not just safety on the road but safety in the cars and trucks along the way as well. Wearing reflector tape at night and bright colors during the day keeps you in sight of drivers and less likely to be hit. Stay a safe distance from the roadside to avoid getting hit by loose gravel or debris from vehicles.
But what about the crazies, you say? “You’ve got just about as much chance of getting a hitch from a nut job as that driver has that your a nut job.” quips Miller. “Media and urban legend have us scared to death to hitch hike anymore and that’s just sad.” Knowing when to take a ride is important and Millers advice is to trust your instincts. “If it doesn’t feel right, don’t get in.”
Carry pepper spray and women should always ride with a partner. Make note of the make and model of the car when you get in and never fall asleep in the car. Do the majority of your hitch hiking during the day and get a room or camp at night.
That concept goes both ways, however. Your going to scare off ride after ride after ride if you haven’t brushed your hair or teeth in three days and you have the same clothes on from the day you left home last week. If you don’t look safe your not going to get a ride.
There is always the question of signage, too. To carry or not to carry? “I’ve went both ways and I have to say if your going to a major vent carry a sign. Other travelers going to the event are more likely to pick you up if they know your going to the same place they are. Stand under street lamps and at busy sections of the road. Truck stops are also great places to catch a ride.
Food is another issue new hitch hikers tend to overlook. Sending long hours walking down the road will work up an appetite. It can be a great weight loss exercise. Continuously sip on bottled water and carry health foods like fruits, nuts, pretzels and granola. Nibbling on this type of food all day not only keeps hunger pains down but keeps morale and energy up as well.
Theft is one of the biggest problems for today’s hitch hiker. “If you don’t keep it in your lap your liable to lose it.” says Dwayne Miller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. “Don’t put any bags in a trunk or saddle bags or compartment. Keep everything you have right on your person at all times.” Keep your identification, cash and credit cards in your pocket. After hours of travel, especially on foot, hitch hikers can get road weary and tired, the perfect combination for thieves.
There are most definitely dangers to hitch hiking but the advantages are pretty spectacular; no cost, meet new people, adventurous, see the country and so on. While you may be unpleasantly surprised by how few rides you get and how much actual walking is really involved, you will never forget the countryside, the people and conversations, the moments. “It is an experience no one can ever forget.” smiled Miller. “It has the power to change you, let it. Oh, and don’t forget a roll of toilet paper.”