Swift Run Gap is around mile 65 on Skyline Drive which runs through Shenandoah National Park, and through which the Appalachian Trail also crosses.
I’d had enough of hiking. I wanted something else.
So I deliberately walked off the trail and followed the ribbon of asphalt away from the mountains, downhill past the park entrance and out to US 33. The town of Elkton, VA was only 6 to 8 miles away downhill. “How hard could it be to hitch?” I wondered. The worst that could happen was that no one would pick me up and I’d end up stealth camping there somewhere on the edge of Shenandoah NP.
I shouldn’t have worried though. Within minutes a van had pulled over and the driver, in between cleaning off the seat and opening the broken passenger door from the inside, asked me how far I was going.
He was an exterminator on his way back home to the “game” he told me. I can’t for the life of me remember his name. He suggested a few cheap hotels on the way into town but I didn’t think that was something I’d be doing. Still, when he mentioned cheap but good Mexican food I told him to drop me off there, El Paso Mexican Grille.
In between eating some amazing huevos chorizo burritos it was the usual drill. Charge my phone, check wifi and stare off into space instead of doing any productive planning.
There were plenty of places to stealth camp right there near where I was, if I waited until after dark to set up. There were a few more hours before sunset and the weather forecast called for heavy rain the next day.
Stealth camp here and hitchhike in the rain tomorrow? Or hitchhike now and stealth camp somewhere random tonight and figure the rest out later?
Walking out of town didn’t seem like hiking and for whatever reason I was much happier. Occasionally I would throw out my thumb at a passing vehicle but there weren’t that many places for anyone to pull over. Or much room on the side of the road to be safely walking. And yet I’d hardly walked more than a mile when a truck pulled over.
“How far ya goin?” he asked.
“Waynesboro,” I said. “But anywhere down the road will help.” And that was the truth. The thought of walking the entire 31 miles into Waynesboro didn’t depress me, it was just something I’d rather not do if I didn’t have to.
“I can’t get ya that far, maybe as far as Grottoes,” he said and pulled back into traffic.
That was better than half way. I’d take it. We chit chat for a bit but with his accent I miss some of his end of the conversation and have to try and fill in the blanks. I’m not sure if he is inviting me back to his house for dinner or if he has had other hikers over for dinner before.
After he drives through Grottoes he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. I let it go for a bit but feel like I have to ask, “Hope this isn’t taking you out of your way.”
“It is,” he said but kept driving. Then on the outskirts of Waynesboro he must have hit some kind of deadline or something because he pulled over and seemed to be in a hurry to get going back the way we came. No sooner than I’d thanked him he was gone.
The nice thing about Waynesboro is that it is a hiker town. I’d looked at the map a week or so ago and saw that they’d installed a hiker pavillion area in town for hikers to tent for the night for free. Trying to remember the map and figure out where I was I headed in its direction.
It took a little effort to find, but somewhat after dark I was set up for the night.
As if by magic I’d arrived in Waynesboro hours ahead of the rain.