Wednesday, April 16, 2014

119. Required Reading

WARNING: THERE ARE A FEW (SOMEWHAT) INAPPROPRIATE THINGS IN THIS POST. You have been warned. You may now swim at your own risk. Feel free to clutch your pearls and cross yourself as needed.

I think that for most of our lives we don't notice how inundated we are with the written language. It's around us all the time. It's in front of you right now. It's in your pocket, on your phone, waiting to be read. It's on the side of buses, on billboards, on food packaging, on signs in the waiting room at your dentist's office that you read over and over again because your phone doesn't get any reception in there. It's on the backs of shampoo and soap bottles that you read when you get stuck sitting on the toilet for too long and have no way to entertain yourself.

Thus, when you suddenly find yourself in a world where there is very little written language, with the exception of shelter logs and trail signs, the presence of the written word can be somewhat startling. Usually this only happens on ventures into towns, but sometimes it's along the trail itself. After a little while on our journey, Dumptruck started taking photos of signs that he found particularly interesting or funny. And without further ado, here they are for you, in no particular order... except that they start out tame and then get increasingly inappropriate.




I can only assume this was done by the same person... or two like-minded people.
I hope they found each other, and that they're in love.

Clever Girl

Monday, April 14, 2014

120. Finally Giving Proper Respect to Modern Plumbing

One day, you'll be at work, having a terrible day. Maybe your boss yelled at you, or you didn't collate that spreadsheet properly, or your pungi flute gets clogged and that cobra you're charming goes on a rampage. You will sigh dramatically, feeling like there's nothing good about your life. You will stare out the window and wonder if your ancestors are looking down at you from heaven at night when you stand over the stove, eating macaroni and cheese directly out of the pot. You will finish your cup of coffee and, staring at the dregs of coffee grounds at the bottom of your cup, decide to take a break and drag your feet to the employee restroom.

On the long, slow, foot-dragging walk between cubicles, your mind will wander back to your time on your last long-distance hike. You will be struck suddenly by how much you miss it, an infinite list (give or take 200) of things you loved about hiking will explode through your mind. Your heart will be struck by the same deep, unattainable yearning that adolescents at boys-only catholic schools feel when they realize they have a crush on the nun that teaches 5th period math.

You will wonder why in the world you ever returned to regular society. Your brain will start to make a list of checks and balances, pros and cons of just grabbing your bag and bugging out. At this point, you will have reached the bathroom. Suddenly you will be standing at a stall, looking down at the toilet, at the exact moment that you ask yourself "What in the world is keeping me here?"

In that moment, the flickering, horrible florescent light will reflect off the porcelain throne in front of you, and the commode will glow. And then you will know the answer. You know what will sustain you between now and when you can finally get back out there into the wilderness again. You will remember that modern plumbing is a gift from every god ever. You will finally give proper due respect to modern plumbing, because you will remember.

Oh yes.

You will remember what you endured.

A privy in Virginia.
Clever Girl

P.S. Most privies are actually like oases in a desert, and they will have their own post, because they're actually really awesome. It's hard to know just how nice it is to sit down to relieve yourself until you spend a week squatting. But sometimes privies are worse than cat holes, my friends. Sometimes.

Friday, April 11, 2014

121. Eye Contact

am back in New York City for the weekend, the city that was my home for 5 years before I got all flippant and did something completely different. I visited one other time, back in October (2 weeks after finishing the trail), and the culture shock came very close to giving me a panic attack. I was so used to being completely open to absorbing the energy of everyone I passed, that when I was struck with attempting to absorb the energy of 1,000s of people at once, my heart felt like it was going to stop from the sheer intensity.

In spite of this, I went for a run in Prospect Park. I made the mistake of making eye contact with an amorous young gentleman who was so taken by my figure that he literally chased me for a block, begging me to stop and JUST LOVE HIM. But I have monstrous hulk legs, so I outdistanced him immediately. The only trouble was that I was laughing so hard that it was hard to breathe and run at the same time. As we have established, my reaction to "danger" is either to freeze or dissolve into inappropriate laughter. Don't worry, if I ever hike the Continental Divide Trail, I will laugh those grizzlies right back into their caves.

This time, I was better prepared for the city. Today I have been wandering around on my own, as my friends are working. Before I left the apartment this morning, I slipped into my invisible New Yorker cloak and mask. It's an attitude costume that I haven't had to wear in a long time, but I melted into it without any trouble. Nestled inside is my soft, loving, outgoing hiker, small-town self, humming quietly to itself. On the outside is a fast-walking, no-nonsense sidewalk stomper with impeachable reaction time, who wears sunglasses, impractical footwear and gives zero hoots.

There is something satisfying about being able to access my New Yorker self. The years I spent in the South Bronx give this attitude costume an added flair of badass, which just feels kinda cool. As I was getting off the bus last night, I could almost feel my brain re-organizing itself into a grid, preparing to subconsciously navigate me anywhere I want to go without having to even glance at the map on my phone. And as I fly down the sidewalk, blending in with the best of them, I can keep my eyes pointing straight forward, just above the eyes of everyone else.

But it's happened a few times already, where my mask slips just slightly, and I find myself accidentally seeking the eye contact of strangers. I want to see them, to acknowledge them, to have my human experience be one of connection rather than hovering indifference. But we can't do that here, in this city, because there are just too many eyes to see. The aloof attitude of New Yorkers is not born of rudeness or elitism, it is born of practicality. We cannot see everyone, and so we see no one. I let them blur together and slip by me because if I allowed myself to fall into the stream, I would drown.

I once lived in a world where I would see, at most, 20 new strangers in a day. At the end of that day, I would know the name, story, and yes, even the smell, of every person I saw. Unless it was a troop of boy scouts, in which case, I would just nod politely while hiking away as fast as I could. Don't get me wrong, boy scouts are awesome. But, trying to pass them could be an hour-long investment, simply due to their sheer numbers, variable hiking speeds, and impressively gigantic backpacks from the 70's that took up the entire width of the trail. 

I liked seeing only a few new people a day. Each person became part of a spiraling galaxy of experience and stories flinging out from the central point of the trail. Every pair of eyes was a new solar system, twin suns burning with heat and life. 

There is love in eye contact. Love of those closest to us, love of the adventure of meeting someone new, love of the way that our interactions with others change us constantly and imperceptibly. The trail gave me the ability to feel that. Being here in this city, I have to wear my sunglasses to blend in like Cyclops from X-Men, because otherwise my eyeball love laser beams would be causing all sorts of chaos and destruction up in this hizzy.

Clever Girl


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

122. Having People Over for Dinner in Your Tent

There are entire industries and businesses built on the idea of "entertaining." At least 1,000 forests have been leveled, pulped, and turned into paper specifically to print catalogues showing beautifully arranged photographs of artfully placed things on tables. I feel like every other commercial on TV is trying to sell me something to make my house look presentable enough to be worthy of decent human guests. Even though I tried not to buy into consumer culture, I would still find myself standing outside the window of the Container Store, gazing longingly in at those funky glass carafes that would make Welch's grape juice look so classy that it would just instantly transform into 100 year-old wine.

But shouldn't having guests over be about the guests themselves, not about how decoratively arranged your things are? Would a real friend really care about fine gold filigree along the edge of your fine dining china, or the order in which your utensils are laid out? I think that most, if not all, of my friends and family don't really care about things looking perfect when guests come over. But even so, we can't help but imagine the gorgeous, perfectly arranged layout in our minds when we're dropping $75 on a tiny throw pillow at Anthropologie. "But think of how cuuuuutteeee," we hiss in our minds, our eyeballs spiraling in opposite directions, "I neeeeeed iiiiiiitttttt."

But in the long run, every little piece that we buy, hoping to assemble our living space into a whiz-bang knockout showroom of perfectly calculated excellence, just ends up collecting like loose puzzle pieces scattered around our house. We never completely put the whole shebang together. Who are we kidding anyway? We all know that we're just going to end up ordering pizza that we'll eat with our hands standing in a circle in the kitchen. Graduating college and becoming an adult isn't about becoming more dignified. It's becoming more comfortable with the idea that we will never be dignified, and no one cares.

I think that long-distance hiking cured me of the catalog and window-shopping hypnotism. Almost every night that it rained, I would have people "over for dinner." This meant that instead of us all sitting around in the dirt eating food out of our laps with our hands, we would all sit around inside of the tiny 2-person tent eating food out of our laps with our hands. The mere suggestion of such a dinner would probably set the Dowager Countess to properly vomiting into her fancy hat. And you know what? This close-quarter scene of complete societal flouting produced some of the most thought-provoking conversations of my life.

The 4 or 5 of us would all be damp, having dived into the tent out of the rainstorm one by one, climbing over each other and huddling down to make room. We'd sit cross-legged, our knees resting on each other's knees, reaching across the small circle to eat food out of other people's cooking pots without asking because the answer was always yes. The rain would drum on the roof of the tent, and our faces would be glowing under the circles of headlamps. And we would laugh, and listen, and absorb the presence of our dinner companions. There was nothing to distract us from each other. No fancy baubles, perfectly arranged houseplants and curated art. We had only our words for entertainment.

Eating dinner during a rainstorm... somewhere in Virginia
I really liked this type of dinner, where we could all just return to our roots and be satisfied simply with the pleasure of one another's company. I like to think that it's a little bit like being cavemen.... before Grog dragged some burnt wood across the wall of his cave to draw crude stick figure drawings, and Urgalie was all like "How cuuuuuuttteeeee. I neeeeeed iiiitttttt."

Clever Girl

Monday, April 7, 2014

123. Ultralight Backpacking

In the world of long distance hiking and backpacking, there are many different approaches when it comes to gear. Some people do it standard, with a big ol' backpack filled with all the necessities, no matter the weight. Some folks go ultralight, carrying the bare minimum and hoping that they just have good luck. Most hikers find a balance between those 2 extremes, aiming for backpacks that are approximately 30 - 45 pounds. 

Some other people, intent on doing things in the vintage fashion, will carry a hobo stick (the stick with the bandanna at the end, which Whistle taught me is technically called a "Bindle." THERE ARE WORDS FOR EVERYTHING). Just kidding, that was a whimsical lie, based on the fact that I wish there were people who carried hobo sticks, because then we'd all be just that little bit cooler.

I was not an Ultralight backpacker, but along the trail, I met a few folks that managed to survive this way. One such person was my dear friend Catch 22 (Lucas), whose pack was 10 pounds at base weight. I asked Catch to write a guest post about the wonders of Ultralight backpacking, because it really is a truly terrific facet of long-distance hiking. As though living out of a backpack wasn't minimalist enough, Ultralighters are hardcore devotees of finding a multitude of purposes for every single item, and thus carrying the fewest things possible.

Catch really was an incredibly swift hiker. He could basically trail run for 15 or 20 miles, lay down to take a short nap, then keep going. There are definitely benefits to going ultralight, and there are also downsides, which Catch has elaborated upon. 

The one thing he didn't say, which I think is important, is to note that Catch was (and is) one of the most easy going, calm, take-it-as-it-comes people I've ever met. I think this type of attitude is frankly the only way to be an ultralight hiker. He was never a mooch, and always took full responsibility for his choices in regard to what he chose to carry or not to carry.

Without further ado, take it away, Mr. Catch:


On the Virtues and Vices of Being Ultralight

In the quest of ultralight, I went to some reasonably idiotic extremes. However, it was part of the fun of the mighty quest.  Being ultralight is a game unto itself at times. There is a point where you can achieve a happy medium of comfort and lightness that is ideally efficient. Then there is the obsession with ultralight that is contracted like a rabid frothy head cold that strips the infected of all self preservation.

The virtues of being ultralight are comfort and safety while in motion.  Imagine waking up every morning knowing that a 60 pound pack must be thrust upward and onto your back for the next 6 hours. Sounds unpleasant, right?  How about a 15 pound pack. Es muy bueno.  It is less gross stress on your joints and muscle tissue.  This allows greater distances to be covered with the same aggregate workload.  Another factor to be considered is that your probability of  falling is lower because your core will be more stable and the chance of recovery mid fall is higher as well.  On a bit of a side note the less things you have to carry the more room you have for a 10 liter of bag of Franzia. Just saying.  

The vices of being ultralight are the potentially unpleasant and dangerous moments you could encounter while not hiking.  Being stationary, your body isn't generating heat so you are going to get cold.  And say you are jumping around in a river and you fall in wearing your only set of clothes.  Guess what.  You are now wet and will remain so until some AWESOME people build a fire.  For a short while I was hiking with two twin bed sheets and it was sub 30 degrees a few of those nights. More cold. Less comfort.  

A lot of Ultralight backpacking is just a game of trade-offs.

Some suggestions and tips for the ultralight inspired folk who are looking to save some money:

1. If you are cold while sleeping, wear your backpack on your feet. 
2. Socks = Hobogloves. 
3. Hiker boxes* have free clothing.  Enough free clothing = layers.
4. Blue Tarp, Poly Cord, and Tent stakes. Total cost $15 - $25. Also makes hammock.
5. Gatorade bottles are cheap. Smart water bottles can be converted into bladder systems.
6. Novelty toilet paper.  Read a novel while feeling ripe. Rip. Wipe. Walk.
7. Do not carry toilet paper.  Learn to identify poison ivy/oak/sumac.  Go Green ;)
8. Rain jackets make bad rain jackets but make good pack covers.
9. Make friends.  Friends carry important things you may not carry. True story.
10. Do not carry a first aid kit (I know this is horrible advice, but this is how I did it). My thinking goes that if a small first aid kit is all you need, then bleeding is fine.  If you have a situation that requires more help than a small first aid kit provides then you should get medical attention.
11. Learn to evaluate water sources.  Bleach is cheap and weighs less than any other treatment.
12. Trail runners over boots.
13. Blue tarp = Rain poncho
14. Grab a spoon.  Body heat can make up for lack of insulation.
15. Take many naps.  This is all.  


*Hiker boxes are a delightful part of trail life that will have its own entry at some point. Basically they are big plastic tubs at hostels, full of a mish-mash of random items. Hikers can leave unwanted items in the box, and other hikers can grab things as they need/desire.

Catch, on the left, demonstrating tarp as raingear

Catch's tarp hammock?


Friday, April 4, 2014

124. The First Bloom of Spring

Though I have always been an outdoor creature, my majority of my life has been spent indoors. That's a funny thought, right? Living in my privileged middle class existence, I have been able to spend most of my existence in a climate controlled box. People who fall into a similar Socio-Economic Status to me will still complain about the weather. But, surprise, dudes! We only have to endure the weather for maybe 10 minutes a day! We just have to get from our homes, into our chosen method of transportation, and then out of that vehicle and into the building of our destination.

Granted, some jobs might lead to you spending more time outside than others. If you are a farmer, you might be sorely tempted to reach through your computer screen and give my ear a firm, deserved tweaking right now. I recognize that a lot of people work outside, and all of you are way more prepared for the apocalypse than all of us soft-bellied office jockeys. All I ask is that when you find me zombie-fied, that you give me a good, swift death.

If you're like me, though, you might have spent a lot of your life letting the seasons change around you without really noticing the first signs. Yes, it's getting somewhat warmer now. It's 36 degrees outside! IT'S SUNDRESS WEATHER. But as the Earth slowly tilts on its axis, bringing us in the Northern Hemisphere to an angle more amenable to direct sunlight, we don't notice until we're surrounded by greenery and all the snow is gone. We look around one day and suddenly notice that our face doesn't feel like would shatter into a thousand ice pieces with one good sneeze.

"When did winter end?" you quietly ask yourself, wondering if maybe you blacked out for a couple of weeks and everyone's just too polite to tell you that you're still wandering around in your hospital gown, the hospital gown that you're utterly convinced is your remarkably breezy sundress. But then you shrug and start categorizing all the complaints that you'll have at hand once it starts getting really hot, completely forgetting that winter was ever a thing that happened.

Last winter, I was very aware of the brown and white landscape, one endless swath of hibernating earth. There were a few clumps of resolutely green rhododendron bushes, and maybe an evergreen tree or two, but for the most part it was all a sepia-toned monochrome. My eyes adjusted to the 70's-themed color scheme of browns, occasional burgundies, mustard yellows and avocado greens. It was as though someone turned the saturation down. And now I have officially run out of photography-related hogwash-jargon.

But then, quite simply, spring arrived. Quietly, unassuming, gently working its way northward from under the Earth. And for once, I was aware of the change. The first blooms, the first smells of spring, it was all-encompassing. And I was so glad to be part of the change.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

125. Strangely Fabulous Skin

Who knew that being completely filthy and unwashed would finally cure me of my residual adolescent acne?

I know that I'm not alone in the fact that, as a teenager, I had the shiny, bright oily skin of youth. You aren't alone either. Girl, I feel you. Or should I say: gender-non-specific humanoid cohort, I feel you. I find it funny when advertisements aimed at older women talk about products designed to promote "youthful" skin. I don't know whose youthful skin they're talking about, but I'm pretty sure they don't mean actual youthful skin, that is to say: a crater-filled moonscape.

To me, I began to understand what "growing up" meant when the sparkling dots began to migrate across all the fun landscapes of my body. No longer were the bright red polka dots confined by the boundaries of my forehead and chin. No, no! Avast, ye pimples, we will sail the skin of the back, shoulders and chest! And if we're feeling full of gumption, we'll crop up all over the vast rolling hills of the Grecian rump! Our colonization knows no borders, nations or conflicts! We have only one creed: TO CONQUER!

There were endless staring matches between me and my reflection, which inevitably ended in me feverishly finding and destroying all of the offensive colonies. This, of course, would just make everything worse, because then my face and body looked like I was having some sort of rash from a complex allergic reaction. I did not learn from this. Instead, I simply learned that "harvesting time" would only happen at night, just before I went to bed, so no one would be able to see the havoc that I had wrought.

I went through every type of topical acne medication that was on the market (proactiv, neutrogena, pleading with the almighty), but nothing seemed to help. I simply settled into an understanding of myself as a person, a person with skin that would eternally produce the rich olive oil of my ancestors.

For me, I never gave in to the temptation of makeup. This is not because I am strong willed. It is because I have strong pockets, pockets that will squeeze the daylights out of every single penny to my name. Makeup was (and is) expensive, and I had decided that my money was far better spent on ridiculously cool Doc Martens and Magic The Gathering cards. I was a young woman with priorities, and makeup was not one of those priorities. I also had figured out the math, in that if I didn't have any sort of proper morning routine involving makeup, I could sleep up until 10 minutes before I had to hit the ground running.

After college, when I actually entered adulthood, my skin got slightly better. You might think that this was because I had grown out of the hormonal roller coaster of young adulthood. To that I say: RIDICULOUS! No, I still produced just as much oil. Instead, my skin enjoyed the nurturing effects of the smog-filled chemical-dry air of New York City. This acid air would routinely suck all of the moisture out of my skin and hair, leaving me with oil-free skin and hair like a bird's nest made of old hay. My evidence for this is that anytime I would travel away from NYC to visit other places, I would break out like there was a party on my face and all the zits of the world were invited.

Before I started the Appalachian Trail, I asked Dumptruck if he would still find me attractive when (not if) all the zits on my unwashed hiker face merged together to turn into one giant pustule of horror. He said he probably wouldn't even notice. This inevitability was something that I was fully prepared to accept. I was going to be away from my nutritionally-poisonous New York City air. I would only be able to shower at most once a week. I would never be able to wash my face, except maybe occasionally with my water bottle that still had residual Gatorade floating around inside.

But then, as you can probably guess from the title of this post, something amazing happened: my skin never broke out. In fact, it was practically flawless, aside from all the dirt. By the time I got one tiny zit, somewhere in Massachusetts, it was so unexpected that I assumed it was an infected bug bite.

I'm not sure what it was. Maybe it was all the water I was drinking. Maybe it was all the exercise and healthy eating (HAHAHA, JUST KIDDING, HIKERS EAT LIKE CRAP). Maybe it was the truly fresh air. I'd love to say that it was because I'd finally grown out of that aforementioned hormonal roller coaster, but since returning to regular life, I get somewhat regular break-outs. Not as bad as when I was a teenager, but right now I have a monstrous "under-grounder" (one that cannot be popped), directly in the middle of my right eyebrow.

Something about long-distance hiking gave me strangely fabulous skin. It's a mystery, to be sure, but it was also quite wonderful. I'm not sure if this happens to all hikers, but I can't be the only one.

Clever Girl

Monday, March 31, 2014

126. Learning that the Hardest Way Can Be the Easiest Way

I can see the back parking lot of the Burger King, clearly visible, about 150 feet away. I am standing at the edge of a grocery store parking lot somewhere in New Jersey, my pack  slung heavily over one shoulder, several plastic bags of recently purchased groceries hanging from my hands. I have 2 choices for my adventure:

1. Directly in front of me is a tangled mass of brambles. Behind the brambles is a steep 6 foot slope to a river, 10 feet in diameter. There are a few large rocks in the river, and on the other side of the burbling water, the slope is also very steep. There is no clear path, because this is not a place that people are meant to walk.

2. To my left, the parking lot stretches for about 300 feet before it comes to a short paved car bridge over the river. All of my hiking partners have already started walking across the parking lot, headed for the logical river crossing.

But my brain, so used to following one cardinal direction, cannot possibly go so far out of my way when my goal is directly in front of me. The Burger King gleams in the hot summer sun, light glinting off the several overflowing dumpsters in its neglected back lot. The only thing between me and a $1 ice cream cone is my own sense of dignity and some wet trash. Distantly, I hear someone call my name, confused as to why I was not following the group. 

It's far too late for that. I have tied the plastic bags of free-swinging groceries to the straps of my backpack, and I am already pushing aside brambles. I step over the low concrete threshold and immediately slide forward down the steep rocky slope. Why in the world would I walk all the way over there, when I could cross this potentially dangerous suburban cesspool and get to Burger King in half the time?!

I have entered into the strange, otherwordly dimension of "nature in the middle of suburbia." This creek has probably been here for centuries, and the rocks under the water have shifted only slightly as the world around it was paved. Small birds and discarded fast food cups live in begrudging harmony. Here, a little brown lizard scurries away from my clumsy monster foot steps, and hides inside a styrofoam container with the moldering remains of what could only be chinese food. There, a sparrow pulls threads out of the lining of a discarded shoe. 

This is the unsettling, strange marriage of my two worlds. On one hand, I have been living in the woods, traveling through pristine landscape, kept trash-free and beautiful by all the hikers that have come before me. People who will carry a small wrapper for 100 miles rather than drop it on the ground. And on the other hand, there are the towns I hitch-hike into for supply runs, places where there trash cans abound yet no one can seem to actually throw anything away properly. And here, in this little creek, is a little bit of both. Earth going on, striving to be Earthly, and humans going on, trying to crap all over it. And little ol' me, being ostensibly lazy while also taking the hardest route possible. This is the human condition.

Meanwhile, I am indelicately making my way to the creek's edge, and then hopping across several large rocks. Though the water laps around the rocks, the exposed surfaces are bone dry because of the stifling summer heat. The plastic bags of groceries swing wildly around, throwing my balance off and making me look like the drunkest tight rope walker in the world. I hop-scotch my way across the creek, and then scramble up the far side, grabbing onto the posts of the hot guard rail to hoist myself up. I throw a leg over the railing and then drop down into the back parking lot of the Burger King. I drop my backpack outside the door, and wait for everyone else to show up. 

They do, a few minutes later, confused as to how I got there before them.

I guess I could have also put this entry into the "Loss of Standards" category, because I am completely certain that if any non-hiker saw my Oregon-Trail-Eqsue ill-advised river forge, they would assume that I was insane. Or, at the very least, a bit of a moron. 

Anyway, my $1 ice cream was delicious. And for posterity, here is a photo of Whistle from that very same day, trying and failing to properly eat a hamburger:

Clever Girl

It's possible that Whistle also crossed the river with me (??) I honestly can't remember. IT WAS TOO HOT.

Friday, March 28, 2014

139c. Shelter Logs, Part 3

I know this is going back out of order, but I have received an amazing email from EarthTone, a delightful and supportive gent who runs the Appalachian Trail Museum in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. This has necessitated that I add another entry to the Shelter Logs list, which is technically back at #139. I would not recommend that you be eating while you read this entry, because there's a lot of glitter.

DT and CG,

From time to time I receive a large envelope from the ATC [Appalachian Trail Conservancy] that contains a shelter log that has been filled up and has been retired.  We save each of these shelter logs in our storage unit for future reference and maybe use at the museum.  My boss will take anything and a used up shelter log is one of those anythings.

So, today, I get one and it is the Walnut Mountain Shelter log just outside of Hot Springs.  Of course, when I get one of these I must page through it so see if any of the trail names are familiar to me.  Lo and behold, not three pages in, with a date of 4/4 I find a Shanty Town entry.  The drawing immediately drew me to it as something I might have seen before.  

The attached picture is the log entry.  I'm sure you remember the circumstances.  Falling ice and breaking limbs everywhere. It was when you decided your group was cursed or jinxed.  :)

So, I start paging through some more and all of the sudden remember that Hot Springs was the hotbed of Noro Virus last year.  And looking at your entries from this time, it was when Whistle was suffering from the dred illness.  I quickly reminded myself to wash my hands after looking through, but continued on.  It was a fun read.  I saw lots of trail names that I recognized as I keep track of a lot of hikers and also to see the transition of the entries throughout the year.  From Spring time NOBOs to summer time college students and other hikers to the SOBO crew that comes through in the fall.  I Love My Job.

I wrote him back and informed him that he should indeed wash his hands as thoroughly as possible, as Whistle began upchucking bright orange vomit exactly 4 hours after she wrote the shelter log entry below. This one is in Whistle's handwriting, but I drew the gravestones.

I also want to point out that this was almost 2 weeks before we met Apple Butter, but apparently she was RIGHT BEHIND US! Her entry is at the bottom of the page below ours! How cool is that?!

I spoke with Whistle about this last night, and we had an interesting discussion about LNT (Leave No Trace). She had been using a large, gallon-sized ziploc bag to hurl into while she was ill on that April night. It was quite literally too dangerous to go outside to vomit, due to the ice storm and the falling trees. 

The next morning she was not keen on hiking out a squashy ziploc bag of barf, which was kind of like... Never mind. I just tried to think of a good metaphor for a squashy ziploc bag of barf, but then I realized the truth is the only way to describe it. However, the ground was completely frozen solid outside. So she used a rock to smash her way through the top layer of ice,  dug a hole in the cold dirt, and then poured the neon orange rainbow into its final resting place. Then she kicked dirt back over it. 

Because she is a very good person, she then gingerly zipped the top of the empty, though thoroughly disgusting bag closed, folded it up, and packed it out of the woods, where it would subsequently be thrown away in a public garbage can somewhere in Hot Springs. 

I would love to say that the garbage can then became the epicenter of all Noro Virus, simply because it would make Whistle into Typhoid Mary and then we'd all be (in)famous. However, we cannot claim to have that level of plague power, as there were already several reported instances of Noro Virus from other places on the trail before Whistle got the bug. She was just very early on in the domino chain.

I hope that was not altogether too quease-making for you, and if it was, I hope you are sitting near a ziploc bag, that the ground outside is not too frozen for you to dig a grave for your glitter, and that you are mindful of Leave No Trace, even when you think you might be dying.

Clever Girl

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

127. Jumping Off Bridges

The trail pops out onto a road, and the tell-tale double blaze bids us to take a left turn. As we descend the hill, walking on the left-hand side of the small country road, we see a large river up ahead. There is a person standing on a tall bridge over the river, his feet on the small ledge on the opposite side of the thick concrete railing. His arms are held behind him, like winged victory, and he leans out at an angle over the open air. He hesitates, watching the water rush by far, far below him.

Then he lets go.

Cries of excitement explode from somewhere underneath the bridge, where our hiking companions are all sitting on rocks, drying out in the sun after their own launches. He is in the air for only a few seconds before he crashes into the water below, his body disappearing into the swiftly flowing green depths. Dumptruck and I get to the bridge crossing just in time to peek over the railing to see Grim swimming robustly over to the rocks to meet everyone.

I cross the bridge and make my way down to the gathering of damp hikers, following wet bare foot prints back to their origin. Without a word, I drop off my backpack, remove my shoes and socks, and head back up where I came from.

As I round the corner to start making my way to the center of the bridge, my body still hasn't quite figured out what's happening. It is blithely doing its job, putting one foot in front of the other, following orders like a good body should. My mind knows that I cannot give any indication to my body that I am about to do something dangerous. My mind knows that given the chance, my body will spring into action to protect me, releasing a flood of hormones to cut off access to my frontal lobe, allowing my lizard brain stem take over and send me fleeing back down the road and barefoot across Vermont.

The trick will be giving my body the order to jump before it has any awareness that it's jumping. That means that I will not be able to stand on the edge of the bridge, holding onto the railing and giving myself time to "make up my mind." Because then it will already be too late, and I will never let go. They'll find me, 10 years from now, a desiccated mummy, and they'll have to pry my skeleton fingers off the railing.

Isn't so much of our lives this way? Before that first kiss, before that interview, before getting up on that stage. We can spend all the time we want beforehand, making the decision, weighing the options, but there's that "do or die" moment. If you don't leap right then, then you'll never leap at all, because your body and your mind will get locked into a battle. And unfortunately, when that battle ends in stalemate, the only option is to retreat.

I reach the middle of the bridge, and Dumptruck raises his hand to say hello to me. He opens his mouth to say something, but I have already grabbed the railing, and I am practically hurling my body over it. My toes have only a second to touch the ledge on the other side, because I am using the same momentum that took me over the railing to take me out into the open air. I push off on one foot, deciding in that split moment that I want to spin.

And I spin... out into the weightless atmosphere. Just as my toes leave the solid bridge, my body becomes very aware of what I have done, but it cannot do anything about it. In a last ditch effort to regain control, it forces a scream from deep within my lungs, and the animal sound explodes out of my mouth. I spin nearly 3 full times, my scream spiraling out around me, the siren of my voice Doppler-Effecting its way all over the valley below.

The drop takes just long enough for me to wonder if perhaps I have fallen into a wormhole, and I will fall forever, like Alice down the rabbit hole. I open my eyes just as the impact into the surface of the water SLAMS my mouth shut.

Then there is nothing but silence. The green blue water is everywhere, and the weightlessness of the air is replaced by the rushing, insistent weightlessness of water. I am motionless for the tiniest fraction of time after the impact, my body plunging deep below the surface. Then I begin to kick, my body furious at me, but relieved to be unharmed.

Popping my head out of the water, I hear the cheers of my hiking companions, and I swim over to them, laughing and happy. I reach the rocky outcropping where everyone is sitting, feeling confident and proud, grinning from ear to ear.

And as I pull myself out of the water, I notice a tiny, 2-inch long crawdad crawling on the rock near my hands, just beneath the surface of the water. I SHRIEK, I SHRIEK LIKE I AM DYING, and I launch out of the river like someone lit a waterproof stick of dynamite under my butt. I am halfway across the rocks before I can catch my breath.

Isn't so much of our lives this way? That we can be fearless enough to do something like fling ourselves off of a bridge extremely high in the air, but we are scared silly by a harmless* tiny lobster?

Clever Girl

* Crawdads are not harmless. They are the WORST.