Monday, October 20, 2014

58. Callouses

"Hold up, there's something wrong with my shoe."

I stopped and turned around, my breath steaming in front of my face. I pushed the hood of my jacket back, to see Whistle more clearly in the foggy mountain air. My forehead was still gently throbbing from earlier in the day when I hiked directly into a low hanging tree branch. I had been so focused on avoiding slipping on ice and snow that I forgot to pay attention to my environment. 

"What's up?" I rubbed my forehead and watched as Whistle leaned a hand against a tree, reached down and yanked a hiking boot off her left foot. She was standing in slushy, icy snow, and to avoid dunking her sock into the mush, she gingerly balanced herself with her boot-less foot on a large rock. I noticed that her sock was soaking wet, and my suspicions were confirmed when Whistle turned her shoe upside down and poured out about a third of a cup of melted snow water. Pursing her lips in concentration, she then stuck a hand into her hiking boot and started rummaging around.  

A few seconds later there was a ripping sound, and Whistle's hand emerged holding the entire insole of her shoe, a mangled, ripped mess of fabric and insulation. She frowned.

"Well that's your problem right there," I said.

Whistle slid her left foot back into the hiking boot shell and then went through the exact same process with her right foot. 

"Hmmm," she said, now looking at the two handfuls of dripping, mushy hiking boot insulation.

"We can probably get you some new insoles in town. Were those inserts?"

"Nope, those were the factory insoles, sewn into the boots," Whistle responded, bouncing a little on her toes to test out how her boots now felt.

"What are you standing on now, then?"

"I guess... I guess it's just the top side of the rubber bottom of the boot. There's no more fabric in there."

I opened my mouth to respond, but Whistle grinned and said, "They feel MUCH better now." 

Whistle never did get new insoles. We went through several towns, and she insisted that her boots were much more comfy without any insoles at all. She had built up the right sort of callouses, and no amount of padding was needed. Once the weather got warm enough, she changed over to wear Chacos, a type of hiking sandals, and threw her old boots in a motel trash can in some town.

To a hiker, building up callouses is like collecting coins in Super Mario by jump-smashing your head on the underside of a brick block over and over again. It's difficult and painful, but ultimately satisfying. 

By the end of the trail my feet were like leather, even though I wasn't hiking barefoot. When I was barefoot, I could walk on gravel without being much impacted. Our boots dissolved around our feet, and we kept walking until our feet touched the earth, and then we'd finally get new boots and start all over again.




That hiking boot has got no sole!


The "Boot Tree" in Neels Gap, where discarded boots go to heaven.

Drying out boots and socks.

Apollo's hiking boots, about a fourth of the way into the trail.

Yes, those are Whistle's calloused feet on the shelter's picnic table. No, no one cared.

At a shelter in the Shenandoahs. Notice the boots to the left with duct tape.

I don't know this hiker, but Dumptruck snagged this photograph.

DAAAAAAH FOOT MASSAGE

Whistle's first pair of Chacos eventually ripped across the ball of her left foot, creating
a sensation that she described as "Nail Foot" in which it felt like a nail was being
driven into her foot at all times. She had to get new Chacos.

New yellow Chacos pictured here, alongside the feet of their owner, Miss Whistle.

Near the New Hampshire/Vermont border

Barefoot hiker!
Love,
Clever Girl

Friday, October 17, 2014

59. Sweat

Whistle and I were hiking into the White Mountains, and the day was swelteringly hot. We knew we were heading straight up a huge mountain, and we were already covered in sweat. Often, I would hike wearing only a sports bra, and Whistle would usually wear a gray sports bra with an open button-down shirt. On this particular day, I just so happened to be wearing a tank top, while Whistle had packed away her shirt and was just rockin' the sports bra. Trust me when I say I spent probably 2 straight months wearing no shirt. Ladies wear sports bras to the gym or when they're out on a run, so I always figured that it was perfectly fine to just wear a sports bra while hiking. It's within context! I wasn't shopping at Bloomingdales, I was walking over mountains. There was no escaping the heat, but I could wear as little clothing as possible while still being decent.

A photo from this specific day!

Very recently we'd passed a road crossing, so there were several day hikers on the trail around us. Whistle and I were chatting away about something, probably something philosophical and thought-provoking (The structure of D+D Character Sheets) when we passed by a young couple hiking down the mountain with two children. One of the children was an infant in a bjorn on the mother's back, while the other was a 3 year old toddling along.

The family stepped aside for us to pass, and I offered a cheery "Hello!"

In return I was given the dirtiest of dirty looks. If this look was a mobster, it would be the kind of mobster that cheats at cards and then throws the other guy in the East River. Dirty. 

"You might consider putting on a shirt," she sneered, looking past me at Whistle, her voice absolutely soaked in passive-aggressive contempt, while trying to cover the eyes of her toddler. 

The Feminist Bronx in me immediately roared to the surface, and I opened my mouth to say something totally boss, but Whistle (luckily) spoke first. She flashed the woman a genuine smile, completely side-stepping the disdain.

"It's hot today!" she chirruped, not sarcastically, as though she took the woman's words at face value, rather than absorbing the grouchiness. A few minutes after we passed them, Whistle began whistling behind me, clearly in a good mood. I was meanwhile glowering about the utter rudeness of the woman.

"Did that bother you?" I asked Whistle.

"Did what bother me?" She replied, concerned.

"That woman."

"Oh, her? Nah. I figure, I'm just lucky that I don't have to live my life being miserable and judgmental. It's probably pretty exhausting. If anything, it just makes me sad for her that she has to carry that burden. I like being happy."

Well said.

In the context of regular life, we can sometimes get caught up in the way we look to other people. Especially with sweat. There is an entire aisle in the grocery store dedicated to making sure that people can hide the fact that they sweat. Don't get me wrong, I like wearing deodorant. Sitting in an office all day, I'm glad that I don't have to get random whiffs of molted green onion coming from myself. 

But being in the woods, I don't have to care about sweat, ever. No other hiker cares if you have pit stains, or if there is dried salt on your face from the sweat that collected there and then evaporated. No one cares what you smell like, and no one thinks its weird if you wanna hike without a shirt. Day hikers might have judgment, because they've never experienced what it's like to be unshowered for a week, and being able to be perfectly at peace with the reality of the human body.

Bodies are GROSS. And it's AWESOME.




Rinsing off some sweat at a river!


Drying sweat off ourselves with the cool air whooshing out from underneath a road!

STEAM FROM HEAD.

Bug net = triple the sweat. But hey, no bugs in the face!



This day was so hot.
Love,
Clever Girl

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

60. Doing Laundry In Trail Towns

"Oh god, I really have to wash this rain gear," I said, lifting the rain pants to my nose, breathing a tiny breath, and then recoiling in horror. I was in Fontana Dam Inn, one of the fancier trail town hotels. This was before I was slated to head up into the Smoky Mountains, to face the reality of my own mortality. But at this point, the stinkiness of my rain pants took precedence!

"What are you going to wear while we do laundry?" Apollo asked, reasonably.

Each hiker owns less than 10 items of clothing. Most hikers have only one of everything (pants, tshirt, long-sleeve shirt). The only items in multiple are socks, as most folks have at least 2 pairs to exchange each day. Nearly all male hikers have only one pair of underpants, or no underpants. I was a bit of a princess and carried 6 pairs of underpants. Regardless, over the course of a week, every single item of clothing got filthy with sweat, rain, mud, and heaven knows what else (but hey, it's all organic!). That means that when we were in the vicinity of a laundry machine, we were both delighted and a bit flummoxed. How does one clean all of one's clothing, while also having to stand in a laundromat? Most laundromats frown on their customers being stark naked.

The only solution to this problem was to wear one's rain jacket zipped to one's throat and rain pants. This ensemble included no underpants, of course, because all underpants needed to be washed. You can always identify any thru-hikers staying in trail towns, because they will invariably be walking around in full rain gear, even though it's perfectly sunny outside. If you live near a trail town, and you see such a person, you can safely assume that their laundry is currently being done somewhere nearby, and also, they're wearing nothing but a birthday suit under that rain gear.

But then, what was I to do when my rain gear also needed to be washed?! See how many loads I could get done before the owner of the laundromat called the cops and kindly asked them to escort my skinny nekkid butt out of there? I bet I could get at least the first load started in the washer. I can see the headline now: NAKED HOBO ARRESTED IN LAUNDROMAT WHILE SCREAMING "NO PAIN NO MAINE."

"How about I just give you all my clothes, I'll stay here in a towel, and then next town, we'll switch turns? So, next town I'll do all of your laundry?" I suggested, looking at both Apollo and Dumptruck with puppy dog eyes. They agreed, which was very magnanimous of them. I went to the bathroom, jumped in the shower, and Dumptruck then collected all of my clothing. After I got out from the shower, I wrapped myself in an admittedly small towel, and settled on the hotel bed to watch Dragon Ball Z. By myself. As a grownup.

Suddenly, the hotel door opened. I didn't even look up, because I assumed it was Dumptruck or Apollo returning.

"Uhhh..." I glanced up, my eyes nearly boinging out of my head as a parade of about 10 hikers tromped into the room. I only vaguely knew some of them, as this was near the beginning of the trail. Later on, this would be a completely expected, normal experience that wouldn't even elicit the slightest reaction from me (hikers just walking into other hikers' motel rooms unannounced, like college). But this time was VERY startling, because it was unexpected. But it's just part of the hiking community that's not usually advertised on in trail guide books. There is no privacy on the Appalachian Trail, none at all. And because no one has privacy, no one cares or judges. It's actually kinda nice.

I glanced down at myself to see if the tiny towel was covering enough of myself to be decent. It was, but just barely. I immediately rearranged my facial features into what I hoped was a look of cool, hippie, whatever-ness. Like, "Oh, a bunch of strangers marching into my hotel room to watch Dragon Ball Z with me, while I am in the world's tiniest towel? That's cool. Whatever, man, we're all human." Most of the hikers didn't even flinch, but there was one young gentleman, who was maybe in his early 20's, who turned the most beautiful shade of scarlet. Some conversation was had, while he determinedly stared at a spot exactly a foot above my head.

Several hikers just sat down on the end of the bed to watch cartoons, and I quietly slid under the bed covers and pulled them up to my nose... because I was, cold, or whatever, not because I was mortified. No way, man! I'm totally cool! I was just cold! Shut up!


And that's how Dumptruck and Apollo found me an hour later, when they returned with the laundry. 

Eventually I bought a $2 "Town Dress" to wear while doing laundry.
It's a good look!

The Hunger's laundry outfit.

I urge you to check out my leg hair.

Doing laundry at the firehouse in Daleville, VA, and sewing patches on our
backpacks to pass the time. Nothing like wearing a rain jacket inside on a hot day!

Laundry clothes at Neels Gap, our first hostel stop on the trail!
Also: cat.

Wearing rain pants and a jacket, on a perfectly warm, sunny day.

Wearing borrowed clothes from a hostel. You can see Apollo carrying the
trash bag full of all our laundry! What a guy!

Whistle would like me to point out that her phone is being held in
her dress. She does not have robot breasts.
Laundry in Erwin, TN



Love,
Clever Girl

Monday, October 13, 2014

61. How your Pack Fits You

You know that stereotype about how women love having shoes? Not every woman, of course, that's what makes it a stereotype and not cold hard fact. A cold hard fact would be to say that all women love having bones. Bones are pretty essential equipment, as far as human existence is concerned. Maybe they've never realized that they love having bones, but if you make a woman imagine what life would be like without having a skeleton, they will recognize that bones are pretty, y'know, nifty.

I heard a theory once that the reason that some women love shoes is that no matter what, once you're fully developed, your shoe size basically never changes. The shoes always fit, once you know your size. A lady might go through different dress sizes, or different pant sizes, and sometimes a lady might not always feel totally happy with how she feels about the way those sizes fit. And that's okay, as we've established. But shoes will always be the same size, and there's always at least one pair out there that could be considered "cute" to someone. To me, a cute shoe is one that is covered in mud and has paracord for laces, but each lady to her own.

If you've spent enough time with hikers, you may notice that when a hiker finds a perfect new backpack, it produces the same high-pitched keening of excitement that can be heard coming from ladies who find the shoes they love. You may also find that though hikers drag their backpacks through all sorts of trials, through sweat and snow and mud, they still love their backpacks fiercely. Their pack is their safety, their baby, their home.

Never in my life have I owned something that fit me more perfectly than my backpack. Over the course of 6 months, it became part of my body, and honestly, the shape of my hips changed to accommodate its weight. The first day it felt so heavy, so big and cumbersome that I could barely understand how I was supposed to carry it all the way to Maine. By the end it felt like an extension of myself, and even though I knew it must be heavy, I no longer felt the weight. It rested against my spine, it pushed me up mountains, and it allowed me to lean on it when I grew weary.

At the beginning of the trail, I was convinced that I would come up with a name for my pack. But I never did. I don't think I could name it, because it wasn't separate from me, it was part of me. It had everything I needed, and eventually, things I didn't even need, but wanted.

Would that I could seek to have a mind with so little clutter as my backpack, to find my thoughts with such an ease and grace.






This is Hancock - he had every hiker sign his backpack!

Love,
Clever Girl



Friday, October 10, 2014

62. Going Over a Mountain in a Lightning Storm

I want you to know that I use absolutely all of my willpower to generate entirely new content for the 200 Things List (rather than plumbing content I've already written during my thru-hike), but there are simply one or two things that cannot be re-generated. Their awesome-ness can only be described in the original way I described it, in the moment of absorption. Literal absorption in this case.  When we went over the Roller Coaster in Virginia, it was one of the most intense experiences of my life, thus fully encapsulating the terror and "rific" in Terrific.

Though the content may be from during my hike, the photographs are ones that have never been on the site before! Dumptruck and I will be trying to find more time to go through his 20,000 photos from the trail to be able to have more visuals from our trip here for your eyeballs to enjoy!

From June 13, 2013:

"YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE. MY ONLY SUNSHIIIIIIINE."

Scream-singing, emanating from a strangled throat filling steadily with water, barely echoes 5 feet from my face. Water is pouring over my forehead, down my eyebrows, cascading into my eyes and blinding me. I am standing calf-deep in a river, stark naked except for a sports-bra and tiny running shorts, as a veritable world of mud collects in my hiking boots. The river is the trail, and it is angrily waterfalling down the steep slope and over my knees and ankles. The world around me is blurred, I can barely see Whistle's body slip-sliding her way down the trail behind me. She never falls because she has the grace of a dancer and the tenacity of tank. In all of this haze, all of this madness, all of this psychology-questioning world rending, only one thing is certain:

It is raining. 

Drops the size of marbles explode on our skin, hurtling out of the sky with the force of a million Spartans intent on nothing but murder and victory. Spartans that know that they are charging headfirst into the Elysian fields, banners waving, spitting screams of glory, knowing that this battle may not last forever but they're going to destroy the enemy before they careen into Hades' waiting arms.

"YOU MAKE ME HAAAAPPPYYYYY WHEN SKIES AAARE *cough, hack, splutter up a cup of water* GRAAAAY."

Whistle has met up with me now, continuing my song while shaking her head back and forth. I would say that rain flies off of her face like a summer sprinkler, except that any and all exodus of water from her skull is obscured by the aforementioned deluge from the sky.

Though it is only 4 in the afternoon, the sky is as dark as night, lit only by the lightning exploding around us. The ground shakes with each reverberation of thunder. Rain smashes itself against my exposed skin, my arms, my belly, my legs. I laugh hysterically. A madwoman. Soaking wet in the woods. 

"YOU'LL NEVER KNOW DEEAAAR..."

The rain turns to hail.

"AAAIIEEE MY SKIN! IT STINGS AAAAAGGGHOW MUCH I LOOVE YOUUUU."

Whistle and I are splashing up the mountain with no regard for avoiding the water or hail. There is no point. There is no avoiding. The world is water. But in this world, there is no Kevin Costner to bare-chestedly lead the way. There is only us. Us and the boys. Grim and Dumptruck. They are behind us somewhere, lost in the darkness. We are alone, our ears filled with the inescapable white noise of the rending of the sky. Only our singing propels us forward. We cannot see the trail. All is obscured in 6-18 inches of pouring, flowing river water.

We were on a part of the trail called The Rollercoaster. It is 13 miles of densely packed steep cuts up and down mountains. A show of trail-maintenance bravado that leaves all us hikers weary but proud. Based on our particular experience, we are calling this section THE LOG FLUME. Or, if you're feeling American, THE BOSTON TEA PARTY. In this scenario, we were not the liberated patriots flinging off the shackles of oppressors from on high. We were the tea.

Thursday was one of the most insane and exhilarating days of hiking I have had. We passed mile 1000, but were unable to make a dance video because if I had taken out my iPod it would have immediately short-circuited. There was water, you see. It was coming out of the sky. We did 60 miles in 3 days, and capped it off with nature's best shower. Herbal Essences ain't got nothin on thru-hikers. Except we don't smell like flowers. We smell like garbage water. And we like it.

At Keys Gap, my wonderful Uncle John (my mom's brother) picked the four of us up. We were 7 miles south of Harper's Ferry, WV. He then dropped Grim and Whistle off in downtown Harper's Ferry, and brought Dumptruck and I to his house in Lovettsville. We had a phenomenal evening with John and my aunt Julianna, and their 3 awesome kids Kate, Russell and Nick. I was assaulted by nerf guns but I totally deserved it. I was so happy to see them. I was also happy to see a shower and a dry bed. But mostly my family. They even gave me hugs before I showered. Medals of bravery all around.

On Friday (6/14) we are going to Harper's Ferry by car, spend the day there, and then hitch-hike back to Keys Gap by Friday evening. Then we are going to hike 4 miles to the Virginia/West Virginia border and camp there (this will then be 3 miles south of Harper's).

On Saturday morning, Whistle, Grim, Dumptruck and I are going to wake up at 4am and then: hike 44 miles, across 4 states, in 24 hours. 

The 4-state challenge: Virginia through West Virginia through Maryland to Pennsylvania. 

Some questions don't have satisfactory answers. Why is the sky blue? Why is the country bi-partisan? Why does stinky cheese smell like death but taste like heaven? Why the bloody hell would you hike 44 miles in 24 hours?

"SO PLEASE DON'T TAAAAKE MY SUUUNSHIIINE AWAAAAAAAAAAY."

The song crescendoes as we cross an actual river, now up to my upper thighs in rushing dirt brown water. I am laughing, I am happy. I am here. Here is where my feet take me, and here is where I'm meant to be.







Love,
Clever Girl

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

63. Hot Chocolate

On the second day of hiking the Appalachian Trail, my lungs were still coated in an even, thick coating of New York City grime. I wasn't out of shape, but I wasn't in shape either. I was simply occupying space in a roughly human shape. After five years of smoggy oxygen, I had grown accustomed to the lack of space in my lungs. I biked and ran on an irregular basis, and generally ate healthy. The one thing in my favor was how I walked everywhere. I didn't understand how much I walked until people would come to visit me, and I would drag them all over the city until they dropped to the pavement, begging for me to just take them to the nearest bagel shop and leave them there to nap. For days.

The first day wasn't so hard in terms of the physical demand on my body- partly because I was floating a few inches off the ground with excitement, and all Dumptruck had to do was give me a good push every once in a while and I would just drift down the trail, like a helium balloon almost out of air, bobbing along, dragging its yellow string on the ground behind it. The second day though- phew! The second day was HARD. We went over 12 miles, and I wasn't physically prepared for that at all.

By nine miles in, I had to stop and wheeze every few minutes, coughing like I'd been smoking for years. My backpack felt emormous and heavy, more and more like a small child trying desperately to wrestle me to the ground. I was having a great time (sincerely, no sarcasm), but it was a hard great time. I was chipper and determined, but also very aware of the long months I'd spent leading up to the trail not training. I knew that my body had a lot of metaphorical (and maybe literal) crap to work its way out of its system. The second day made me keenly aware of this.

We made it to a road crossing called Woody's Gap, and there a previous section hiker named Fresh Ground had set up a small banquet of hiker food for passing thru-hikers. There was boiling water, little cups, and many different packets of differently textured things to pour into boiling water (oatmeal, grits, coffee) but hopefully not all at once.

One of those packets was Hot Chocolate. Specifically, it was the type of hot chocolate that has those tiny marshmallows. Those tiny marshmallows are really more of just a general reference to marshmallows, rather than actual, functional marshmallows. They're rock hard and the size of jujubees, and immediately melt away into a sad, tasteless, white film on the surface of your hot chocolate that serves no other purpose than to just remind you how nice it could be, if there were actual marshmallows.

That's my favorite kind! Seriously! It's like a game to see if you can wait juuuust long enough for the water not to be scalding, but juuuust before everything melts away. And if you don't win the game, your consolation prize is still hot chocolate. THAT'S A WIN IN MY BOOK. 

I remember standing in the southern winter chill, a cup of hot chocolate nestled in the cradle of my two hands, holding it close to my nose so I could be breathing in the beautiful chocolatey smell even when I wasn't actively drinking. I remember the crisp, clean wind blowing through the gap between mountains, grounding me while also trying to wisk me off my feet. I remember the warmth in my hands, and in my heart, and knowing with all of me, that I was ready walk on.

Love,
Clever Girl


Monday, October 6, 2014

64. Daydreaming

This is going to be a difficult post for me to write, because my mind is now more than a year removed from hiker mind. A hiker mind has no to-do lists, has no bills to pay, has hardly any gossip. A hiker mind, therefore, can drift like a car with no brakes across the intersection of imagination. 

While hiking, I would spend hours, hours, inventing entire fantasy worlds with fully realized characters and internally consistent physics. These worlds would exist for only an hour, or a day, or longer, and I could revisit them whenever I chose. One particular invented world was so fully developed that I was able to discuss it for two full hours over brunch with Dumptruck, Whistle and my dad, a few days after finishing the trail. I have notes from this brainstorming session still folded in the front pocket of my old cordorouy jansport backpack that I use for day trips.

Daydreaming could also take me to ideas for the future. Hiking actually allowed my mind to be clear enough to envision future goals that were not only motivated by escapism from my current reality. In other words, I think a lot of times we can get disenchanted with our current lot in life, and will therefore start picturing ourselves in the future, doing something more fun. But hiking was like a stasis, a way for my mind to be able to be perfectly happy with what it was currently doing, while simultaneously looking forward to new adventures. Adventures in buying a tiny house, for instance.

I remember learning about free association writing when I was a teenager, and thinking it was the coolest thing ever because it allowed me to understand that brains and language are awesome, literally. They cause me to be full of awe. The free mind of a hiker is like free association writing, all the time, without the time pressure.

If you've never had a language arts teacher full of whimsy, it's possible you may never have done a free association writing piece. 

How it is done:
1. Get a piece of paper and a pencil
2. Set a timer for one or two minutes
3. Start the timer
4. Write whatever comes to your mind, as fast as you can, without self-editing at all
5. Read, and be fascinated and/or confused and/or disturbed by the results
6. Call yourself a poet

The idea of the timer is that it allows you to pressure your mind into freedom from all other responsibilites, for only two minutes. Your brain will rescind control because it knows it is only temporary. Writing as fast as possible keeps your brain from editing itself, which allows full expulsion of everything in your brain, both beautiful and icky. People like you and me, with jobs and responsibilities, have a hard time accessing that part of ourselves without doing an exercise like free association. In the woods, the long distance hiker's mind does this on its own at a leisurely pace.

Because I have reminded myself of free association writing, I have decided I will do one for you.

2 minutes on the clock (Dumptruck can verify this), aaand, GO.


Yep.

Love,
Clever Girl

Friday, October 3, 2014

65. Hiker Boxes

If you've read Harry Potter, seen the movies, or at least have the distinct pleasure of being friends with someone who has read all the books or seen the movies, then you may have heard of the Room of Requirement. If you don't know what it is, I will give you a quick description: The Room of Requirement is a magical room on the third floor Hogwarts (the wizarding school. Spoiler alert: Harry Potter is a wizard). The door to the room is completely invisible, unless you walk back and forth in front of a particular blank space of wall, thinking very hard about something you want or need. If you have done all of these things correctly, then a door will appear, behind which will be a room that has exactly what your heart desired. In the books, Albus Dumbledore (wizarding chief of staff), makes an allusion to at one point needing to use the bathroom very badly, and stumbling upon a room entirely full of chamber pots.

In case Harry Potter is not your chosen nerd-verse, then a rough approximation would be the Holodeck on the Enterprise. The Holodeck is a big room that can be programmed to be just about anything/anywhere/anytime, thus fulfilling the same purpose of the Room of Requirement... that is, if your heart's desire was to be able to see Sir Patrick Stewart in full 1920's detective garb acting out some version of the Maltese Falcon. And lord knows, that's my heart's desire.


If you're not a nerd at all, and you'd rather I quit it with all the alienating geek-speak, then I will say that a final rough approximation would be the chalk sidewalk drawings created by Dick Van Dyke's character in Mary Poppins, and then subsequently leaped into by all the characters. Bert could draw any scene he wanted to imagine, including fox hunts and penguins, Mary Poppins could make it real, and people could spend time there. Or at least, people who were on Mary's good side. Mary probably wouldn't have let Mr. Dawes in any chalk drawing. Definitely not one with any whimsical singing or cupcakes.

Hiker Boxes are the hiking equivalent of the Room of Requirement, or the Holodeck, or the chalk drawings by Bert.

Hiker boxes come in many shapes and sizes, and they are almost always on the front porches of hostels and post offices in trail towns. Inside a hiker box could literally be anything.

The idea of a hiker box is that hikers who get a mail drop with too much stuff, or who are carrying things they don't want anymore, or if they simply are feeling charitable, they can leave anything/everything in a hiker box. Anyone can leave things, and anyone can take things out for themselves once it's been put into a hiker box. Sometimes they are full of treasure, and sometimes they are completely empty. Every day their contents change.

Hiker boxes "early on" in the trail (down in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee) are typically stuffed to the gills with awesome booty. There are tales of people finding entire stacks of Mountain House meals (a hippie version of MREs), that typically cost about $10 a pop, just abandoned for free scavenge. Catch needed a long sleeve shirt at one point, opened a hiker box, and found a bright pink half-turtle neck with a zip-up collar that was clearly designed for a 14 year old girl. Catch was very enthusiastic about this discovery, and wore the shirt unironically for several weeks because it was free, and because it was just what he needed. Sometimes there are batteries, or tums, or brand new Smart Wool socks, or unused ziploc bags, or gallon bags of fresh homemade cookies that someone's mom mailed to them, and they don't want to carry 36 cookies... for reasons beyond my understanding.

I have heard many beautiful stories about people needing something in particular, opening a hiker box, and finding exactly the thing they wished for. It's true that hikers are highly subject to harmless historical revisionism, as it usually makes stories better. So it's potentially more likely that people open a hiker box with no expectations, and then happen to find something inside that they didn't know they needed or wanted, but were super happy nonetheless. Regardless, hiker boxes are magical, and I'm pretty convinced that they're just portals to awesomeness.

The best thing I ever found was a Honey Bun. That's not sarcastic. It was before I ate myself sick of them, and they were the perfect calorie-laden brick of preservative horribleness. It wasn't any different from any other Honey Bun I'd ever eaten, but it was better, because it came from magic.

Love,
Clever Girl