Saturday, May 25, 2013

Zip-Lack of Foresight

Some footage from the past month!

5/21: 3.5 miles. Troutvill to Fulhardt Knob Shelter.

5/22: 16.6 miles. Fulhardt Knob Shelter to Bearwallow Gap.

5/23: 15.3 miles. Bearwallow Gap to Cornelius Creek Shelter.

5/24: 19.9 miles. Cornelius Creek Shelter to US 501


There are some moments that are only complete with the addition of "Taps" being played on a trumpet. I don't have a trumpet. Trumpets are heavy. Also, blowing into trumpets and/or other wind instruments makes my lips tickle awfully. I just can't do that buzzing-duck sound. It makes me feel like there are a bunch of bees in my sinuses. In middle school I tried to join the school band, wanting to learn how to play the drums. I was crippled with dorkiness as an adolescent, and I thought that perhaps learning how to smash sticks against big round things to make thumping sounds would make me cooler. The band teacher allowed me the join the band, but only had one instrument available: the tuba. Contrary to what you may imagine, playing the tuba did not make me any cooler. Furthermore, as I mentioned, I can't do that buzzing-duck thing with my lips, so not only did I play the tuba, I also played the tuba badly. This only served to ostracize me even from the dorky band kids. Thus, my wind-instrument career was over. Therefore, sadly, there was no trumpet playing "Taps" available for the following scene:

Dumptruck throwing away 10 pounds of uneaten food.

He marched forward, cradling the food in his slightly quivering arms. The trash can sat under dancing shadows, as the gusting wind blew the trees overhead in whipping circles. The trash can was unaware of what was about to happen to it; the trash can was better off not knowing. When we had emerged from the side trail that led to the parking lot a few minutes previously, the boxy brown trash can had looked like a monolithic gift from god.

We staggered toward it, blinded by desire, and threw our packs to the ground. Tearing open zippers we ripped our food bags out and upended them, sending sacks of uneaten meals spilling to the ground. We tore through the bags, hissing and spitting curses at the sky like seething angry pirates pouring gallons of spoiled rum overboard. Like a furious hive of fire ants, we were of one mind and had only one driving thought: DESTROY.

When Dumptruck stood up in the middle of the wreckage, his right eye twitching with the subtle consistency of a madman, his arms were filled with our food. I sat and watched him go, and with the lack of a trumpet, I could only hum "Taps." Dumptruck pulled open the door to the trash can, emptied his arms, and closed the door, letting the food fall inside with a deep thud of finality.

I cheered and whooped, leaping to my feet, kicking the air and spinning around.

"What... the... hell?"

We looked up, and sitting nearby was another thru-hiker who had paused to watch this insane dance unfold. Watching a pair of unemployed, homeless hikers throw away 10 pounds of ostensibly perfect food was probably similar to watching a Wall Street banker set fire to a pile of money while cackling madly and pulling hair out his perfectly coifed pompadour. Food is like gold to hikers, so why would we throw out so much of it?

It was the bags. The ziplock bags.

A week previously when we had resupplied at Walmart, Dumptruck had picked up a box of Walmart "Great Value" brand ziplock sandwich bags.

"Look at these!" he said, triumphantly, "They're 2 dollars cheaper!"

Little did we know that saving those 2 dollars would end up costing us 50 dollars worth of food. Typically, to save space in our backpacks, we take all of our new food out of the packaging and put it all in ziplock bags. Everything packs down exceptionally well after this, and we have been doing things this way the entire trail. Never did I think that buying brand-name Ziplocks would be important. We hadn't really paid any attention to the type we would buy - we had just never gotten Walmart brand before.

It came on slowly. Like laying on the beach in the rising sun; you don't notice that perhaps you should put on sunscreen until you are burned to a crisp. The first thing to go was the Cheetos. I had eaten a couple of them, and then offered them to Dumptruck, asking if they tasted funny to him. He had replied that, no, they tasted fine. I continued to eat the Cheetos out of the ziploc bag a little suspiciously, thinking that perhaps the ones I had purchased had just been sitting on the shelf for too long.

The next day, my fruit snacks began to taste strange. Dumptruck had conceeded that the ziplock bags did have a slightly strange odor to them. But we are hikers, we'll eat anything. I ate my granola in the morning, and only when I began to burp back up the taste of the bags did I start to worry that something might be wrong. And yet we soldiered ahead, eating because we had to eat.

The next day, everything had taken on the bag flavor. It was getting more and more intense with every meal we ate. Dumptruck and I spoke for a long time about how to describe the flavor. First I will say that as soon as I would taste it, I would get that achey-sore feeling in my jaw that often preceedes vomiting. Dumptruck agreed that he had the same involuntary reaction. This is what we settled on for the flavor description.

Nerf gun darts boiled in a gallon of baby vomit and served over a bed of rotten scrambled eggs.

By the fourth day of hiking, I was consistently "Thurping" which is what I call "Throw-Up Burping." This translates to: every time I would burp (which was every ten minutes or so), I would throw up in my mouth and have to swallow it. I was also thoroughly nauseous and dizzy. Dumptruck was having the exact same symptoms. As we have both had the hiker flu, we could correctly diagnose that we were not suffering from that particular malady.

The flavor had even leeched into un-infected bags. I had a bag of trail mix from Apple Butter that had been in a perfectly safe Zip-Lock Brand bag, but because it was in my food bag next to the other noxious bags, the flavor got into the bag and INTO THE TRAIL MIX. It had become so potent that even opening my food bag caused immediate Thurping.

Whatever chemical was in those bags was piling up in our system and impacting us negatively. I hesitate to say it was poisoning us, only because that seems dramatic. But I will say that I thought about the play Aresenic and Old Lace more frequently than usual.

And thus, on Friday, we knew we would have to hike a 20 mile day to be able to get into a town because we HAD TO THROW ALL OF OUR FOOD AWAY. Those 20 miles were painful as Dumptruck and I were overwhelmed with nausea and had nothing to eat. But we made it. It did take us an hour and a half to hitch hike into the nearest town (Glasgow). I think I've had my lifetime supply of grumpy older ladies giving me the stink eye and driving all the way over onto the other side of the road to avoid me. I like to think that I don't look that homeless, but perhaps my judgment of visual perception has shifted as I have been living in the woods. Once we got into town Dumptruck and I ate an entire pizza, and delighted in our good fortune.

In spite of having to eat radioactive food for the past week, the hiking has been fabulous, we've been with our lovely folks Hotdog, Apollo and Apple Butter and things have been beautiful. Though it seems like we've had a lot of bad luck, Dumptruck and I wake up each day with laughter, and we are so incredibly happy to be doing this. We're luckier than weevils in a cotton barn.

Clever Girl

I meant to mention before that my sister Nelle (Helga the Amazing Toad Woman) sent Dumptruck and I the most INCREDIBLY AMAZING care package in Daleville. It was perfect.

Thank you to Carol in Troutville for bringing us to the Kroger and then to the trail head!! You're wonderful!

A postcard I drew to send to my sister's high school students!

Dumptruck with the food to be thrown away.

Would you like to use a toilet with a rat snake living in it?

Tiny salamander!!


  1. Hooray for videos! We want more! So awesome to be able to see everyone. Wonderful compilation and perfect music. Such a bummer about the food. Alas...makes a stop for pizza compulsory, though, so silver lining and all that. You'd have been proud of your Mom...she picked up some hikers and gave them a ride an hour out of her way! She got a sense of thru-hiker aura...we've been putting the wet dog in the car to eliminate some of the residual memory. We love and miss you! Your stories are 1st rate. Keeping hiking safe! Love, Mom and Dad

  2. Did you know that Hot Dog played the trumpet in her middleSchool band? Love, love the video. Ask Hot Dog to link it on her blog. As being told i am a "ziplock bag queen", yes you need name brand bags (Glad bags also work) to keep food fresh. Off names only non-perishables. Happy Hiking~ Margie & Maurice

  3. Ahh good old Walmart! Sometimes lessons are learned thru a Walmart beating. Your video is beautiful. Can't wait to see you all in a few hours. Much love Mom and Dad

  4. Yikes! Well your "perfect" care package had some off-brand baggies too, so I'm so sorry for any role I may have played in the Great Food Purge :(! The next one will be better!

    Of course I adored the video - lovely lovely. What an amazing journey. I'm thinking about a "Trail Walkin" mix for you, look for that email soon. Can't wait for that amazing POSTCARD!!

    So much love, Helga.

  5. Love the video too. It's so great to see you all smiling and enjoying the journey. Apple Butter too played the trumpet and the drums. She did both things in Middle School for about a year. I tried to get her to play the piano too, but it was not to be, so I gave in.