“Pardon, monseiur, je suis perdu.”
“Mi scusi, signore, sono perso.”
“Por favor, senor, soy perdida.”
I’m not sure how grammatical any of those phrases are in French, Italian or Spanish, but they all mean one thing: I have wandered off the trail and have no idea where I am.
Out on the trail alone, it’s easy to get lost. Although I own a hiking GPS, I’ve never learned to use it. I can, on the other hand, read a compass. But a compass won’t pinpoint your position on a map. If I’m not paying attention, if I forget to verify the written directions, the map and the compass every single time I cross a path or take a turn, it’s easy to get lost. (Sometimes it’s easy to get lost even doing all that meticulous checking.)
Of course, no matter how badly lost I might be in Europe, it’s unlikely that I’ll fall into an abyss or wander through the wilderness for days. You’re rarely more than a few miles from a road, a farm, a village.
What mostly happens when I make a mistake is that I’ve added several miles to my walk for the day. Sometimes I just buckle down and log in the miles. But occasionally, at the end of a long hot – or worse, rainy – day on the trail, I yield to temptation and hitchhike into town.
Hitchhiking is something I never did when young. And I’ve rarely hitched rides in the US. But in Europe – maybe because I can’t read the crime reports in the local papers – I’m perfectly happy to flag down a ride.
Here’s what I’ve learned: Standing by the side of a country road and sticking your thumb out rarely works. Drivers see an overweight sweaty woman with muddy boots, a heavy pack and long walking sticks. These are not enticements to stop. Instead, I step into the road and wave the car down with both hands – trying to appear both plucky and plaintive at the same time. Just to be on the safe side, I generally focus on cars driven by women. In many years of walking, I’ve been turned down for a ride only twice.
On the Dales Way in England a few years ago, exhausted after a two-hour slog up a muddy hill, I stopped at the nearest road. Not a single vehicle arrived for twenty minutes. When a white car with three young men came around the curve, I abandoned caution and waved them over.
“Are you going to Cowgill?” I asked.
“We don’t know where we’re going. Today’s a bank holiday, and we’re just driving around looking for a pub.”
“I’m staying at the Sportsman’s Pub in Cowgill. I can show you where it is on the map if you’ll give me a ride.”
Off we roared. Three miles later, I pointed out the pub down the road off to the left. The driver immediately pulled over. “We’ll just let you off here,” he said.
As I clambered out of the car, I realized they didn’t want to drive up with a grimy old woman in tow. What if some cute girls were sitting outside? A few minutes later, when I walked into the pub, I sailed past them without a glance.