Hitchhiking America: How Body Odor & Rain Can Help (Part 9)

Hitchhiking the United States
Hitchhiking America: Smelly Passengers Wanted
Morgantown, West Virginia

I’d heard rumors that hitchhiking on the East Coast was tough. It was time to put that theory to the test and hitchhike with strangers into Washington DC.

Day 30 of my hitchhiking journey starts in Morgantown, West Virginia. After spending the night in the woods on the side of the road, I walk to a McDonald’s and get online for posting photos and responding to email.

When logging into Instagram I discover a comment from a stranger named Brad. He lives a few miles away and wants to know if he can help.

How about a two-hour ride into Maryland? He said yes!

Hitchhiking the United States
Ride #26: Brad the Festival Promoter

Ride #26: Brad the Festival Promoter

Brad picks me up in his car, and we head East on Route 68 towards Maryland. He works as a music festival promoter in West Virginia, designing & publishing a local festival magazine too.

An avid kayaker and whitewater rafter, he explains that West Virginia has fantastic rivers that boast some of the best whitewater East of the Mississippi.

He’d been following my adventures after coming across the blog a while back. A like-minded soul following the philosophies of Tim Ferris & Rolf Potts. Design your own lifestyle and make travel a priority.

We stopped halfway through the drive to grab a beer in a town called Cumberland before continuing on to Hagerstown, MD. Pulling in as the sun went down. Brad then drove me around to search for a good camping spot where I could spend the night.

Hitchhiking the United States
Dumpster Diving for Cardboard

Hitchhiking Signs

Slinging my hammock between two trees off the side of the road, I fell asleep watching deer & rabbits out for a late-night stroll under the stars. Apparently, I’d set up near a wildlife trail.

Checking Google Maps satellite view on my iPhone the next morning, I couldn’t find any good onramp spots to hitchhike from at this exit. So my best be would be walking about 2 miles to the next one. But first, I’d need some cardboard for a sign.

Grocery stores (like Safeway) are usually best because you can just walk in and ask someone stocking the shelves.

But when that isn’t an option, I go dumpster diving!

Restaurants, gas stations, and retail shops usually have a separate dumpster out back specifically for recycling cardboard. So you don’t actually wade through rotten food or anything. Most of the time it’s not necessary to climb in either.

Hitchhiking the United States
Ride #27: Sean the Fish Lover

Ride #27: Sean the Fish Guy

After climbing a chain link fence I make it to a nice spacious on-ramp area for I70 and pull out my brand new “Take Me To Your Leader” sign, hoping to get a ride into Washington DC. But it doesn’t seem to work at first.

So I proceed to dance like a fool in a bid to entertain passing cars and entice someone to stop. While I get plenty of laughs, it takes 90 minutes before Sean finally stops for me.

Sean works as a customer service rep, and collects tropical fish in his spare time. He also frequently gives rides to homeless people. Sean thinks I’m homeless.

Well, technically, I guess I am. But I’m not destitute. So he’s a bit confused at first as I fill him in on what I’m doing. It’s a short 30 minute ride, and he drops me off at a burger joint in Frederick, MD.

Hitchhiking the United States
Ride #28: Carrie-Anne the Florist

Ride #28: Carrie-Anne the Florist

With no place for me to stand safely at the on-ramp in Frederick, I loiter in front of a gas station with my sign. Soon the attendant comes outside and asks me to leave. The same thing happens at the next gas station.

I give up for the day and hang my hammock in a groove of trees in the middle of town that night. Yay urban camping!

The following morning I score a ride from Carrie-Anne while standing in the rain at a different on-ramp a few miles away. Bad weather can be a hitchhiker’s best friend. People feel sorry for you.

Carrie-Anne is a retired florist. Who also rides Harley Davidson motorcycles. That’s a pretty bad-ass combination if you ask me. She’s not going far, but gets me to the town of Clarksburg where she grew up.

Visiting the White House
Washington DC!

Ride #29: Walter the Environmental Scientist

In Clarksburg it didn’t take long before I was picked up by Walter, a quirky older man on his way into Washington DC. He hit the breaks and squealed to a stop on the rain-soaked road.

He never picks up hitchhikers, but thought I looked harmless. Plus it was raining.

Although before I could enter the truck, he asks if I’m wearing cologne. Nope. I actually hadn’t showered for a few days either. “Perfect!” he says. Um, ok…

It turns out Walter is severely allergic to chemical fragrances. It’s called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. So stinky body odor was actually preferable to deodorant.

Who knew that being smelly could be an asset while hitchhiking!

Walter used to work for the Department of Energy, specializing in environmental cleanup and toxic waste sites like Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

He wasn’t comfortable with me taking his photo. But he dropped me off in the heart of Washington DC. ★

Route: Morgantown, WV to Washington DC | Distance: 213 Miles

Have you ever been hitchhiking before? Have any questions about it? Let me know in the comments below!


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, beautiful photos, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
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Comments (18)

  1. Great story (as always).
    My mum also has that chemical sensitivity – I once got into her car after freshly showering, and since I was wearing deodorant, she kicked me out to wash it off..

  2. This is amazing!! Just started following your blog…my boyfriend and I are also travelers who are just starting our travel blog/photography adventure. I LOVE your site. The crazy thing is, I stumbled across this particular entry…and we currently live in Frederick, MD! I hope you enjoyed your brief stay :)

  3. Love this! Brought quite a few laughs. The thought of hitchhiking still frightens me, but judging by the photos of your drivers, it may be safer than I thought!

  4. I love your tales Matthew. I have hitchhiked a few times, but would love to spend a couple months do it across the U.S and Canada. Completely my style of travel.

  5. This is such a funny post and i would definitely agree on the comments on this post as well. It is nice to be meeting people on the road, especially those that are totally weird and funny at the same time! Haha!

  6. You are awesome. This is a hilarious post and made me laugh out loud. What different people you met – just debunks the myth about hitchhickers and the types of people who pick them up, doesn’t it!

    • It certainly does Carmen. One of the truths I’ve learned on the road is that travel is full of myths that are easily debunked when you experience things for yourself. The danger of hitchhiking is one of these myths. Just because something bad happened to someone once, doesn’t mean it happens to everyone. Or even most people. In fact it’s probably a very rare occurrence that just gets tons of media coverage, distorting our view of reality.

  7. I love your hitchhiking posts. It is amazing how many different types of people you meet and how interesting some of them are. I have never heard of anyone who is allergic to fragrances. Very bizarre!

    • Me either Tammy. It was a first. What was funny is he completely fit the stereotype of the intelligent, eccentric scientist who’s allergic to everything on the planet. I can’t believe he picked me up. He was the last type of person I’d expect to do that. I think I was his adventurous activity for the year.