Friday, July 19, 2013

Hotdog Magic In The Heat

I love to hear about all of the infinite and wonderful variations of approach that our species takes in order to wander our meandering way through embodiment.
Matthew, a man I met in a pickup truck on the side of the road on 7/14/13

The air is the same temperature as our bodies, so we'll be invisible on any heat signature devices. If it gets any hotter we'll show up as cold things.
- Whistle, on the top of a mountain in 98 degree heat on 7/17/13


7/16: 16.6 miles to Wiley Shelter

7/17: 12.7 miles to camping outside Kent, CT

7/18: 13.7 miles to Caesar Brook Campsite

7/19: 11.4 miles to Falls Village, CT

Current AT mileage: 1,488 miles


Whistle woke up in the middle of the night, blinded by electric light. She blinked, hardly able to open her eyes for the sudden change from pitch dark to flooding brightness. She had been sleeping in her tent, which was set just off-trail. Dumptruck and I were tented close by. The day had been close to 100 degrees, and the night wasn't much cooler. There is no air conditioning in the woods. There is only suffocating humidity, incredible sweat and stickiness, and the constant low-level drone of 100,000 mosquitos desperately clawing at the mesh of your tent. You have only two choices: sleep naked or die.

Whistle was naked. Consciousness crept into her sleepy mind, and with it came the dawning horror of understanding: there was a night hiker standing at the foot of her tent, unabashedly staring in at her nude form. The bright flood of light blocked out all of his identifying features except for a pair of gangly hiker chicken legs. She understood that the likely scenario was this: she was camped less than a foot from the trail, the hiker had been going by in the darkness, had caught a glimpse of lady leg, and had been understandably transfixed. Nevertheless, it can be a bit off-putting to be roused from sleep by a spotlight of perversion.

The entire encounter lasted for less than 15 seconds, as Whistle's movements startled her admirer out of his reverie, and he stumbled away down the trail. He did swing his headlamp back for one last quick look and was greeted by Whistle's incredulous face with a look that could translate to: dudeyou're wearing a headlamp. It is very dark except for said headlamp. I can see where you are looking. 

The next day, Whistle crossed brief paths with a stranger. He had gangly hiker chicken legs. 

"Hey, how's it going?" She asked nonchalantly as he walked ahead. He turned to look at her, immediately turned tomato red, and mumbled a confused response before sprinting away down the trail. Lest you are worried: Whistle found this entire experience to be hysterical and not at all upsetting. She has a high tolerance for the fact that many hiker gentlemen have not seen a naked lady for close to 4 months.

Before leaving the next morning, Whistle and I (properly clothed now) took a hiker smoke bath. This involved standing over or near the smoldering remains of the previous night's campfire, such that our sweat stench could be nicely covered up by a layer of campfire smell. We call this "hiker perfume." Hiker perfume smells like summertime barbecues. This perfume lasts for only so long as we don't start sweating, but with this particular heat, we begin sweating with the exertion of standing completely still. 

On the day that the temperature outside was the same as our core body temperature, we beat the heat by hiking up mountains via endless rock stairs. 

I want to take a break from this narrative and qualify something very important: I am sincerely not at all bothered by heat. I can't say that I seek it out or necessarily like it, but it registers as completely neutral for me. It doesn't frustrate me, annoy me, or cause me any grief. It simply is. I describe it for you because I want you to have an understanding of the fact that hiking the trail is as easy as sprinting through a flood of molasses; It's very physically difficult. But mentally, the heat has no negative impact on me. This was not always the case. The heat used to turn me into a nightmare monster.

I did a therapeutic intervention on myself to overcome this, because the summers in NYC were leaving me exhausted with rage. I would come home after an hour of my face pressed into someone else's armpit on an un-air conditioned subway train, my hair plastered to my forehead and my heart beating like a war drum. I would kick open the door to my apartment and totally Hulk out, roaring and stomping, sending my cat skittering away into a dark corner somewhere to hide and contemplate the meaning of her existence. She was probably confused why her mostly hairless owner was complaining about the heat when she had to spend her entire life in an unescapable fur coat. Or more likely she was just thinking about being a cat. 

It took me several seasons, but I was able to completely overcome this frustration. I realized it came from my lack of control over my bodily sensations. I hated being hot and sweaty and I was enraged that I couldn't do anything about it. Humans in general like having some degree of control over their life and environment, and when that control is taken away, it can be maddening. I would try to push away my fury, and it would only come screaming back, hotter and stronger. I began giving myself a mantra:

I hate this. It is awful. There is nothing I can do about it.

And one day it really clicked: there was nothing I could do. I had no control over the heat. I just let it in. I let myself be hot. I let myself dislike it, but I didn't get angry at myself for my lack of control. I couldn't control the weather. Once I actually, truly accepted that, then it couldn't control me either. 

The anger and frustration went away and it's never come back. When I'm dragging myself up these mountains radiating with heat, I am happy and at peace. I'm still damn hot, but I let it be. The sweat pours off my eyebrows and soaks absolutely everything. I have to drink water constantly and pee every 15 minutes. I can't walk as fast as my usual pace. My face is red and hot and my hair is frizzing in every direction. But there's nothing I can do about it.

So it's okay. Everything is okay.

I guess (for me) being at peace isn't about stopping myself from getting frustrated. It's forgiving myself for the frustrations, and allowing myself to let them be. Then they have no power over me.

On the top of the mountain, Dumptruck tried to sit as still as possible to try and cool down. He sat so still that a spider began to build a web on him. He still didn't move. That boy knows how to commit. Later, he came across a fellow hiker, cooling off at a river. He was sitting in a small waterfall, drinking water straight from the falls and through his filter.

"Hey! Pretty hot, huh?" The other guy asked.

"Yeah," nodded Dumptruck, "I think cooler-ness is in the morning, but then the sun makes it hotter, and it heats up more, then cool-ness happens slower than the heat-ness happened to begin with, eh?"

"...maybe you should sit down."

"Maybe you're right." 

And that's how Dumptruck sat in a creek and made a new friend.

Later on that same day, Dumptruck and Whistle were teasing each other about something, slightly delirous in the heat. Whistle was hiking directly behind Dumptruck.

"You know," said Whistle, "If you want to win this argument all you have to do is suddenly stop walking."

He did. And Whistle smashed headlong into his backpack, crushing her nose. She stumbled backward as her eyes watered with pain. Dumptruck tried to apologize, but Whistle commended him on their team effort commitment.

That night, as I started drifting off to sleep, I woke up to a soft plok plok sound. I looked up to see a squirrel in the treetops. I thought at first that his explorations had simply dislodged an acorn. Not so. It was the first shot in what became a campaign of acorns, all aimed at our tents. I suppose we had set up directly in his territory, and he chittered with frustration while launching a barage of nuts at us. It felt a bit like an elderly man brandishing a long disused shotgun and hollering "Yeh damn kids!" He gave up after about 10 minutes, probably retreating to his squirrel nest to drink a beer alone and sulk.

The next morning was the start of what would prove to be one of the best days on trail so far. The 4 of us all woke up and were hiking by 5:45am. Most of the morning was along a beautiful river, and by 9am, after 9 miles of hiking, we came upon:

HOTDOG! AND A WILLY WONKA WONDERLAND! There was an unbelievable amount of food, drinks, joy and good cheer. She has been doing trail magic for several days, and she spent the whole, boiling hot day with us. She had set up in a perfect shaded spot on the trail, free from mosquitos, and right at a small path down to a gorgeous river. We spent the day with her, as well as several other hikers (Lost, Catch and Mess mostly, as most other hikers walked on after eating some snacks). Whistle and I went for a car ride with Hotdog into town and she bought 4 giant fancy pizzas for everyone. It was so grand to spend the day with her.

After our foray into town, everyone got into the river to cool off. The river had a mean current, so we stayed close to shore. The only way to keep from being swept away downstream was to cling to the large slippery rocks just under the surface of the water. These rocks happened to be completely overrun with crawfish. If you don't know, crawfish are like tiny lobsters. They're completely harmless, and their pincers are relatively weak. I hate them. The story is not interesting enough to tell, but suffice it to say, as a child I HAD A BAD EXPERIENCE. This did not keep me from going into the water, though I was a bit wary. 

I was, of course, pinched aggressively on my right buttcheek by a crawfish who was clearly upset about the big human rear end in his path. I screeched like a banshee and shot straight up out of the water, letting go of my rock. Freed from my anchor, the current immediately bore my flailing body downriver. Luckily I only made it a few feet, as I was immediately caught by Grim and Whistle, who proceeded to mock me mercilessly. I deserved it. I'm mostly brave, but I have my limits. Tiny, harmless crustaceons are apparently one of my limits. I'm a Hufflepuff!

We stayed with Hotdog until 5pm, then we hiked out another 5 miles. I was sad to see that beautiful face climb into her car and go, but it was goshdarn amazing to see her. She's a goddess. 

Clever Girl

My friends Vanessa and Lara sent me fancy, amazing therapeutic sports tape to wrap my foot. It is incredible, and I owe them the world. It looks so professional now!

THANK YOU to Chris and Eby for our care package! The food was gone in a second.



Whistle for dinner!

Section hiker Flax- excellent fellow!

Smoke bath

Whistle struggling with a pump. Do we help? Nay! Photos!

Grim somehow lost both lenses of his sunglasses

Strongest current!



Boulder squish


  1. Hooray for Hotdog! Our hero! Plus she got to go swimming with you. Awesome. Stories per norm are fabulous. Bears and snakes are great but really appreciate hearing about creatures like squirrels and crawfish. The little guys deserve a shout out now and again! (Lots of Hufflepuffs here...) Pictures are great as the OWU theme with hair and "swimsuit". We miss proud of all of happy to see pics of dear Hotdog. Love, Mom and Dad

    1. Hotdog is pretty spectacular, I must say. The childhood crawfish experience I am referring to is the terrifying critter that would nestle itself in the roots of the water lilies that we had in the garden pond. You never knew which one it would be in when you had to lift them up to clean the pond, and it would swing it's evil little claws at you when you picked the right one. Not as scary as the mud puppy though *shiver*

  2. Where do I start......? It's too much. Love to you all.
    Mama Whistle

    PS Whistle would NEVER keep her clothes on. That's why we couldn't ever live in town.

    1. It all makes sense now!
      Love to you too Mama!

  3. Well done! Great account of some adventures on the trail. The simple joys of a pizza and some moments of mosquito free time.


    1. Thanks Sean! It really is amazing how much we appreciate the little respites :)

  4. Hooray! So glad you enjoyed the snacks!! I was sorely tempted to send 5x the amount of food, but didn't want the package to be too heavy for you to carry. Such is the conundrum of a person whose loved ones are hiking the AT.
    happy hiking!!

  5. Yea Hotdag! Yea all the rest of you! Btw, If you pull the head off Crawfish and suck out their brains, they die and you are nourished. Happy Trails....

    1. I had read this comment aloud to everyone who will listen. It brings me such great joy.

  6. So so so much fun spending the day with you guys! Miss you already!