We’ve been nomadic forest-dwellers for more than two full weeks now, the longest either of us has ever spent camping or backpacking. Two weeks isn’t much out of a 6-month stint, but it’s been enough time to notice our brains wrapping around our new lifestyle. A few examples of our shifting realities, (and our apologies if our honesty isn’t refreshing!):
-Deodorant is futile. We haven’t worn it since May 10. When you sweat eight or more hours a day and have shower access once a week or less, deodorant is a waste of money and pack weight. We knew we had acquired the hiker funk when we stopped noticing the odor of other thru-hikers who’ve been out here for a while, but could smell the squeaky clean, freshly showered day hikers long before they passed by.
–We’ve become raccoons, meaning we scavenge for trash cans and are delighted to find them. At home, most people mindlessly fill trash cans and put them by the curb once a week so that the trash can magically disappear from our lives. Trash cans – and trash – are seemingly everywhere. On the trail, however, trash receptacles are scarce and if you create trash, you’re carrying it with you. At least you better or your name is mud, because the hiker who finds what you left behind will feel a sense of responsibility for packing it out and will curse you all the while. There’s a strong commitment out here to maintaining a natural, primitive, seemingly untouched environment. So, we carry our trash for miles, then click our heels together at the sight of somewhere to unload it. (For these reasons, I am surprised and a little disappointed at the general food culture out here: lots of processed, individually wrapped stuff. But, I digress; that’s a topic for another day.)
– Tromping through the mud is the best! Until it isn’t. This was true for the first few days because mud patches were softer and gentler on our feet than hard-packed dirt and all the rocks that Pennsylvania is famous for. After 9 days of rain, however, the mud patches had graduated to endless mud miles. It stuck to our boots, eventually engulfed them, kept them wet, and made each foot step all the heavier. So, the adage holds true: everything in moderation, including mud.
-Moldy Beans, Gazelle, and Butter Bear are people. It’s an A.T. tradition to be christened with a trail name, one bestowed upon you by a fellow hiker. We had to wait a few days to get ours, but we like them. Travis is now Galaxy, the result of three people in a 24-hour period telling him he looks like Chris Pratt from Guardians of the Galaxy. Someone suggested the name Star Lord since that’s the character’s actual name, but such a moniker felt like too much to live up to. I think the resemblance to Pratt’s Jurassic World character is actually stronger. What do you think?
I’m now Songbird, a name that may not need much explanation. My tendency to interrupt my conversation partner with snippets of songs has not been dampened by the trials of the trail. I was relieved that I’d already been named by the night that I got cold and wet enough to threaten to dip my freezing toes into a hiker’s piping hot lasagna. I almost forevermore became Lasagna Toes.
-Meeting our basic needs basically takes up all of our time. We’ve been surprised by how little free time we have. In two weeks, neither of us has finished reading even half of a book, and we’ve barely missed the deck of UNO cards we meant to bring with us. We stop hiking around 5 or 6:00 most evenings, then set up our hammock (or claim space in a shelter if it’s supposed to storm….which it has about half the time). By the time we do some foot care, collect water, cook, enjoy one of our shockingly delicious dehydrated meals, do our dishes, brush our teeth, stow anything edible out of bear range, and locate the privy….well, it’s about 8:00 or later and starting to get rather dark in the trees.
Hiker Midnight, as it’s called, comes around 8:30 or 9, and past that point it’s plain old rude to be making noise since most people are in their sleeping bags already. We read for a few minutes, perhaps post to social media if there’s service, and crash. The sun – or occasionally a persistent whippoorwill – wakes everyone up around 5:30, and the tear-down, fuel-up process begins: pack, eat, hydrate, hike. Rinse (or on a really lucky day, wash) and repeat. We’ve only taken one zero day so far (when you hike zero miles), and we had such grandiose plans for all the time we thought we’d have for recreation…but we ended up spending 5 hours washing our clothes in the hotel room bathtub and drying them with the hair dryer and iron.
We’re looking forward to the days when we’re really settled into the routine and hopefully more efficient at it. That UNO battle is still calling our names, and we’re looking forward to blogging more often. (Thanks for your patience while we got our feet under us, and if you want more frequent but brief updates from us, follow us on Facebook or Instagram.)
So, the tally sheet so far looks like this:
Stay tuned, or better yet, come visit and become a part of this adventure story! We’ll happily take a zero day to sit at a campground and roast marshmallows with you.