Friday, July 25, 2014

85. Your Friend Reading To You

When I was a child, my parents would tell me stories as I fell asleep, sometimes singing the words and sometimes making the voices of all the characters. Some days were good and some days were not so good, as it is with being a child. No matter whether I had a good day or a bad day, their voices would float me on clouds to playful dreams. I loved it when they would sing me "Teddy Bear's Picnic" a story-song about teddy bears playing and dancing in a clearing in the woods. It was my favorite because there's a line that goes "Watch them, catch them unawares," and I would always yell out "Underwears!" to cover up the word "unawares." And then I would laugh and laugh and laugh in that breathless way that only children have, until I hiccuped myself into sleep.

When I was a teenager I knew a beautiful girl. She had long red hair, and the perfect arrangement of freckles on her nose, a nose that was so often wrinkled in laughter. I had a book of short stories called The Girl with the Green Ear, a book from when I was a small child. I can't remember a lot of the stories because I haven't read it in 10 years, but it was the book that opened my eyes permanently to seeing magic in nature. Some days were good, and some days were not so good, as it is with being a teenager.

But on the days that were not so good we would curl up together on a picnic blanket, taking turns reading aloud from the book until the other drifted off into sleep, borne on those clouds of forgetful imagination. We knew the words so well that we eventually didn't have to read from the book itself, and instead we'd both gaze up at the sky, spinning the stories back together with our combined memories. In this way the stories took on a life of their own, a life that twined with ours. When our adventures took us in different directions, I gave her the book to keep, a place to preserve the memories we put there.

When I was a grownup, I took a long walk in the woods. I met a beautiful girl along the way, a girl who loved to eat honey straight from the jar and taught me about the patterns in birdsong. She whistled songs and delighted in nonsense and science, a perfect combination. We met others along the way, people who would become part of a forest family, a traveling band of gypsy fairies, singing and dancing our way North. Some days were good, and some days were not so good, as it is with being a hiker.

But every night we would set up our tents mere feet from one another, so that we could whisper ideas and connections to one another. Sometime during our journey, this beautiful girl started reading aloud to us every night from a series of books she loved, and I had loved as a child. Every night she would read a chapter, taking on each voice with the ease and performance of a professional storyteller. Sometimes if the story was funny, she would have to stop reading mid-sentence, her words choked by her laughter and our ears clogged with our own laughter. Sometimes if the story was sad, she would cry as she read, and we would all cry silently in our own tents, all of us adrift in the same river of an imagined world.

Many nights as the chapter came to a close, she would look up from the book inside her tent to perfect silence, and she would know that she had read us all into wonderful, dream-filled sleep. The perfect antidote to a weary body and soul.

In the midst of eating a bunch of honey.

Clever Girl

P.S. I know that this experience is not typical of a long-distance hiking experience, but I can only hope that in your travels you find yourself a Whistle, who will not only offer to read you to sleep, but will love to do it. Maybe you can be a Whistle for your own hiking family.

In either case, humans are meant to tell stories at nighttime, and I think we lose sight of that sometimes. Being in the woods can help us remember.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Who Have I Become?

This has nothing to do with hiking, but it's how I spent my day, all day Sunday.

Sometimes you just gotta put on all your costumes and make a statement.

My statement is: I'm a ball of goof.

Clever Girl

Monday, July 21, 2014

86. Taking Your Rainfly Off

Huh, I didn't expect that my computer would recognize "rainfly" as one word. Maybe I always thought it was two words, and all of us hikers just squished it together because we're lazy have other things to do! Like hike and stuff! I guess even us grunting nomadic cavemen get it right sometimes.

As a general rule, it's great to sleep without getting soaking wet. Ask any 5 year old! I think we take our roofs for granted. Most of us sleep inside, somewhere, and if we sleep outside while it's raining, we figure out some way of keeping ourselves as dry as possible. Have you ever actively tried sleeping while water is being poured on you either from rain, a hose, or from a bucket launched by your mother because you're a teenage boy and you DO NOT WANT TO GET UP FOR SCHOOL? Successfully willing oneself to nap in any of those situations is very difficult.

I was living in New York City during both Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene, but during Sandy, I went to my friend Jessica's apartment in Harlem to ride out the storm. Her roommate, and our good friend, Meredith, happened to be out of town for the night so I slept in her bed. Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up to my pants and shirt being completely soaked in horrible brown water. After the first few seconds of blind, insane panic that I had somehow wet the bed so thoroughly that even my shirt was wet, I realized that the water either must coming from somewhere else or I was having some sort of cataclysmic medical problem. The water was coming from the ceiling, to be precise. I leapt out of the bed in the dark, fumbled around for the painter's tarp I had seen earlier in the evening and threw it over the bed to protect the sheets and mattress.

Somehow in my bent-limbed sleeping floppiness I had perfectly arranged my body to catch all of the water that was pouring down from the ripped-out bubble of paint in the ceiling, and nary a drop got onto the bed. I wish I could take credit for this, but I can only credit the burrito I had eaten for dinner, as I'm sure it allowed my body to thrash around (in the epic throes of digestion) just enough to put itself into the exact right orientation.

As it turns out, the epic rainstorm raging outside had not actually caused the rip in Meredith's ceiling that led to the waterfalls of brown water. It was the batty upstairs neighbor who'd accidentally left all of her taps on all night long. The crashing storm had kept her from noticing that the sink was running, it overflowed and soaked through the floor and down to the room below (where I was sleeping). It's hard to say whether it was Hurricane Sandy that caused the brown water river, or outrageous New York City apartment prices leading to disgruntled tenants taking out their wacky revenge on the downstairs neighbors, but in either case, I was very wet.

Other than that time, there have been very few times in my life when I've had to wonder if perhaps a thunderstorm will soak me in my sleep, except of course, when I've been hiking and camping. Rainflies are a fabulous invention: a simple lightweight waterproofed canvas sheet that perfectly covers your tent and allows you to sleep as snug as a bug in a tugboat. The downside of rainflies comes during summer thunderstorms.

Imagine, if you will, a long summer in which every day is blisteringly hot, damp and humid. This thick humidity leads to nightly thunderstorms, but every night when you get home, you have to close all of your windows and lay down underneath a stifling tarp in the tiniest room of your house, with no air conditioning and no air flow whatsoever, while a cleansing rain falls outside, but you can't open any windows or get any breeze or you'll get 100% soaked in water. As you lay there and sweat, your sweat evaporates and collects on the underside of your tarp, coalescing into drops that gather enough moisture to become victim to gravity again, and rain your own sweat down on you while you try to sleep.

That's what having a rainfly on your tent in the summer is like.

Right after a thunderstorm at night, the humidity drops dramatically, and a delicious cooling air will usually settle over the forest. But unfortunately, I'd usually already be fitfully asleep at this point and miss this little window of perfect temperature. But once or twice I got really lucky. I'd wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning, realize the rain had stopped, and poke my head outside my tent to see a dark sky with a blanket of stars, indicating that the storm had passed. I'd crawl out of the tent, slip on my camp shoes, and shuffle around in a little circle, unbuckling the rainfly and hanging it up on a tree branch to air out. Then I'd climb back into my tent, dry because the rainfly protected me from the storm, but wonderfully chilly, because I'd been able to take the rainfly off after the storm. It was like turning on the air conditioning.

Clever Girl

Friday, July 18, 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

88. Having a Home That Stretches for 2,000 Miles

In June I went camping with four friends of mine up in The Forks in Maine, on Moxie Pond. It was a great camping weekend, but it was weird because it was the first time I had slept in my tent and sleeping bag since finishing the AT. The first night I couldn't sleep because I was too excited. But then second night it just felt normal. It felt like I was home. I guess I was, because I was basically on the Appalachian Trail. We didn't camp right on the trail, but we hiked up Moxie Bald and Pleasant Pond Mountain. Those are places that I've been before, but it was like I was somebody different then. I'm still the same person, but this is someone who has showered in the past couple of days, and who has a job.

Growing up in a military family, I had the opportunity to live in lots of different places, go to lots of different schools, and feel like my home wasn't any one place, but it was where ever my family happened to be. The upshot of this is: I think of many different places as being my home. When I think back on my childhood, I can think of the military bases, the backyards, the fish tanks and skinned knees, and know that my home is all of those things. I lived in California, Seattle, Key West, Cape Cod, New Hampshire New York, Ohio and Maine, and lots of places within those places.

Going on a long distance hike, my tent was my home... along with the 15-foot circle of ground that all of my hiking family would cram themselves into. Every night we slept in a different place, and maybe it looked different, but it was all connected through my heart strings to the night before and the night after, one long thread of a home reaching with outreached fingers from the South to the North.

This is probably cliche to say, but I'll say it anyway. I think sometimes people think of "home" as being a place. After many years of adjustments, I know without a doubt that for me, "home" is a feeling.

Clever Girl

If you are wondering why Dumptruck isn't in this video at all, it's because we had planned a month in advance to go camping and paid for our reservation, but then he had a photoshoot scheduled last minute for that weekend. He bid us GO ON WITHOUT HIM! And so we did, but we were sad he wasn't with us. I went with my pals Genevieve, Sarah, Brandon and Jose.

Monday, July 14, 2014

89. Lying Down

I want all of you to know that I just spent the past 15 minutes researching the grammar of "lay" versus "lie" (along with lying, lain, laid, laying, et cetera) and pulling out all my hair. I am not going to try to explain what I learned to you because it will just make you want to hit yourself in the face with a water balloon filled with that exploding ink they put on stolen money so that you can walk around for weeks with a face stained blue and when people ask you,

"What did you do to your face?"


To save you from that awful fate, I will not attempt to explain. Just rest assured that the title of this post is grammatically correct, and that it doesn't really matter if you use those words correctly in real life, because no one cares.

If you DO care, then I wish two things for you:

1. That you are an editor and you get paid enough money that your exasperation with our culture's butchery of the English language doesn't go to waste.
2. That you never get involved in any text conversations with a teenager. Ever.

Someone told me once that we shrink ever so slightly throughout the day from gravity pulling down on us and compressing our spines. When you go to sleep (assuming you don't sleep standing up like John Travolta in that 90's movie Michael or hanging from the ceiling by your feet like a vampire in gravity boots), your body has a chance to loosen up and stretch back out to its true height. If this is true, then it makes sense that folks who carry extra heavy things would be more impacted by gravity. Therefore, backpackers must compress a little bit more than the average person, a little bit less than astronauts, and about the same as avid mall-shoppers, diner waitstaff who can carry two full trays of food to a table of 12, and parents with baby bjorns. Baby, we were bjorn to run.

When a backpacker gets to LAY DOWN THEIR BACKPACK and then LIE DOWN ON THEIR SLEEPING BAG, they get an extra hit of reverse-accordian-ing. The uncoiling of that spring is immensely satisfying because the contrast is so much more apparent than in regular life, when one is not carrying 30 extra pounds in their shoulders. When I was backpacking and would finally go to sleep at night, I felt like how a kitten must feel when they get all crazy stretched out. I like to think that backpackers get the full stretch-out every night, but I feel certain there was a permanent accumulated loss of height over six months. I'm positive I am a quarter of an inch shorter than when I started. 

This will be my excuse for not getting things off of high shelves for the rest of my life.

Let me give you just a taste: The past tense of "Lie" is "Lay", but the past tense of "Lay" is "Laid." WHAT THE HECK, 15TH CENTURY ENGLISH OLIGARCHY, WHY YOU GOTTA BE LIKE DAT?

Friday, July 11, 2014

90. You Can Probably Fit Inside your Huge Backpack

Well hello there fashionistas, Upper East Siders and bored celebrities! Welcome to the first annual Hiker Cat Walk, held right here, in the middle of Clever Girl's childhood bedroom in her parent's home in rural Maine- the veritable epicenter of today's fashion industry. We all know the story of how Clever Girl, renowned hiker/fashion designer/cat hole expert, finished her long walk and then unceremoniously dumped all of her backpacking gear in a corner of a room in her parents' house, because she is a responsible, moral adult! And there the hiking gear was left to molder, germinate, mutate and eventually blossom into the incredible fashion you will see tonight!

We know you all have traveled here from far and wide to witness this celebration of art and the human form, and to most assuredly gasp, hyperventilate and possibly asphixiate in admiration for the perfect design quality of these pieces. 

As you well know, the design challenge this year was The Backpack, an unusual choice, bound to be fraught with complexities and, we can only hope, a huge payoff that will leave Tim Gunn shaking in his well-curated boots!

Without further ado, we humbly present The Gregory Deva, being used with the utmost homage to taste and frank stupidity!

The backpack is first seen here worn as a skirt. See all the pocket spaces that can be used for carrying all of your fashion necessities, like bars of gold or diamonds the size of softballs! Our model and designer is seen here using the new innovation, the zipper to open and close these discreet yet indispensible pouches.

Next the Deva can be progressively inched higher over your impossibly womanly hips and rump (this is a sample size- who let this regular human in here?!) to magically transform into a beautiful one-shoulder gown!

As you can plainly see, there are many straps and dangly bits hanging off the back, which can be used to strap all manner of necessities to your backside, such as: a kitty cat, several folding chairs, or your infant child.

When you find yourself in danger, simply lift up on the main strap! This will activate your "Rocket Propulsion" system, which is at the cutting edge of fashion and travel. Please use caution when activating the propulsion system, as it has a 97% chance of killing you instantly.

Having a bad hair day? Worry not! The Deva can be easily used as a subtle and eye-enhancing head scarf! Catch the eye of your sweetheart while your face is almost entirely hidden by the dark, pungent cavern of what used to be the rear-end of a backpacking pack! Alluring! Fresh! Accentuating!

And last but not least, for the male alphas among us, if you're looking for a new suit that just screams "white collar," have we got the solution for you! Simply unzip the bottom portion of our luxurious, German-designed Deuter, and just wedge your whole skull and torso in there as far as it can go. Can't see anything or use your hands? Excellent! This gives off the message that you are rich enough that you can pay someone else to do the seeing for you.

And that, my friends, is what it's all about.

Clever Girl

I spent all this evening going through the storage unit at my parents' home, getting rid of all my old things. By the time I sat down to write a post, I was a bit physically and emotionally exhausted from going through all the old relics of my life and saying goodbye to them. I tried writing 3 different posts before I gave up and decided to try and see if I could fit inside the backpack that I used on the AT. Turns out the answer is an enthusiastic affirmative.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

91. Your Sleeping Bag

"I still sleep in my sleeping bag even though now I have a bed." - Whistle, in a message to me, 5 minutes ago.

Before I started the trail I was very worried about finding the right sleeping bag. My worries ranged from the practical (At what temperature will I still be warm? Is it down or synthetic? Will it still function if it's wet from rain?) to the impractical (Does it have a double zipper so that when I do sleeping bag fights or sleeping bag races, I can still breathe?*), but I had one main concern:

I needed to be able to bend my knees. I'm one of those people that when I sleep my body contorts itself into roughly the same shape as someone who has recently been stampeded by a horde of wildebeast (I'm so sorry Mufasa. IS IT TOO SOON?!). Most legitimate backpacking sleeping bags are constricting; they're called "mummy bags" for a reason. I was anxious that I'd have trouble sleeping without being able to assume that "just trampled" look my sleeping body so desperately desired.

And so it was that I spent many an hour laying on the floor of an REI, having the bemused employees zip me in all the way and then wait for a few minutes while I flopped around ineffectually. I did eventually find the right bag for me (more on that in the Gear Reviews) and once I did, I loved it fiercely.

I think most people have a kind of loyalty or at least kinship with their bed. We all spend an average of 7 hours a day laying flopped over on our beds, completely comatose. We are at our most vulnerable in our beds. We have to trust that the bed will not suddenly burst into flame or become hungry and swallow us. This is why I never understood the appeal of waterbeds. If you can't trust your bed, WHAT CAN YOU TRUST?! 

Nothing. That's what.

My sleeping bag kept me warm and happy. It literally saved my life after I had late stage hypothermia. My sleeping bag was my safe place, my entire bedroom rolled into a burrito of fluffy perfection. It could compress down to the size of a honeydew melon, then expand to be just wide enough for my knees to bend.

Down-filled sleeping bags are also magical because they can dry your clothing and socks for you. It's true!! It won't work with soaking wet clothing, but if everything is damp from an earlier rain, or your socks are damp with sweat, you can wear them in your sleeping bag. As you sleep, you warm up the inside of the bag and the down feathers pull the moisture up and away from your body to the outside of the sleeping bag to evaporate. It sounds like voodoo but it's real. I would usually wimp out with wearing my damp clothing to sleep, and would jam it down in the foot of the bag. This still worked, though not nearly as well.

A few months ago I went on a skiing trip with Whistle and some other friends. She and I were sharing a futon, and at night she pulled out her sleeping bag for us to share. She hadn't washed it since the trail, and I'm absolutely certain that "thru-hiker sleeping bag smell" would make anyone else a little nauseous. But to me it was like the entire trail suddenly coalesced into a giant fist that punched me right in the face. All of the smells of the trail were trapped in its soft squishiness. Campfires and sweat, tears and laughter, it set all my neurons firing with memories. I buried my face in the sleeping bag and couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry. It just made me so happy

Everyone has a unique relationship with their own bag, but if you get the right one, it will be a pal for many years. You can decide whether or not you want to wash it, but you may find that this decision may have a somewhat polarizing influence on your friendships.

Lastly, at the end of the day, instead of saying, "I'm going to bed,"

I would say, "I'm going to sleeping bag."

And that was a good place to go.

Clever Girl

*This ended up being important when River Guard challenged me to a sleeping bag race down the hall of Fontana Dam Lodge, and I totally kicked his butt.

Monday, July 7, 2014

92. Camp Shoes

At the end of the day
After miles of hikes
The hiker sits down
Removes her boots and says "YIKES!"

"My toes are all squished
Like chicklets together,
My skin wrinkled like raisins
From all this wet weather!"

But there's much left to do
For this hiker's not done
There's tent set-up, dinner,
and dishes, that's fun.

All these things that require
Walking around
But the boots have come off
And there's rocks on the ground!

Her skin is not delicate
Her feet are like leather
But still she wishes for comfort
A little way to make it better

From within her pack
She removes just a pair
Of dollar store sandals
No worse for the wear

They look quite simple
Just some foam and a strap
But they are like heaven
For let us recap:

All day her feet stayed
Trapped, wrapped in wool stockings
In water-logged boots
And did all that walking

But now her feet are free
Finally tasting the air
And she can do his nightly chores
Without the slightest care

For though those flip flops
Are not at all fancy
They allow her to be mobile
And maybe a bit dance-y

If you are a hiker
I wish this for you
That you bring some camp shoes
And carry them thru

Let those toes be free
Just take it from me
You just have to be more careful
If you squat to pee.

Clever Girl

Friday, July 4, 2014

Hoppy Fort of Julie!

When I was an adolescent, while watching fireworks with my family, my father turned to me and asked,

"Do you think they have the Fourth of July in England?"

As I was a proud 7th grader who knew all about American history, I was struck by how unaware my otherwise brilliant father was acting. I laughed nicely (so as not to hurt his feelings before I gave him what was sure to be a beautifully crafted verbal dissertation on American independence) and shook my head, "Of course not!"

"Ah, okay," he nodded, looking thoughtful. A moment passed, then he looked at me with genuine concern and asked, "So then what day comes after the Third of July?"


We are in New York City for the wedding of some dear, dear friends of ours, and we had the incredible pleasure of being able to watch the NYC fireworks from a tall rooftop in Brooklyn. I hope that your Independence Day was wonderful, and that you got to hear at least one good Dad joke.

Photograph by Michael "Dumptruck" Wilson
Clever Girl