Monday, September 30, 2013

193. Going to the Movies is so Much Better

You stand very still, an industrial-sized bucket of popcorn clutched in your hiking-pole calloused hands. You are staring down at the mountain of white kernels, tinged with an artist's gradient of yellow. You can't believe that something as beautiful as popcorn could possibly exist. It's been a longer than you can remember since you held warm food that didn't have to be boiled on your stove. Every kernel is like a miracle. You lift one up, holding it gently in your fingertips, and examine the little exploded universe; constellations of yellow butter splattered across the white expanse of space. 

You feel like you are moving in slow motion, a world of fast-moving locals blurring around you. Everyone is moving so fast, so intent on getting from one place to another. Even here, in a refuge of relaxation, regular people seem so rushed. Their feet beat a pattern of hurry across the 80's patterned carpet common to all movie theatre lobbies. They are so interested in getting the right seat, thinking that little particularities will make or break their movie-going experience.

But you, you hiker you, have evolved whether you realize it or not. You don't care what seat you get. Where ever you manage to sit down in the theatre, the screen will seem impossibly huge. You haven't watched any television in weeks, let alone seen moving images flicker across a 20-foot-tall projection screen. It doesn't bother you if your seat is squeaky, or if someone tall sits in front of you. You are just grateful to be inside somewhere that is air conditioned. It might be freezing cold outside, or horribly hot and humid, but here in the movie theatre, it is always a consistent 65 degrees. 

A bonus of going to the movie theater when you're a hiker is that the odds of someone tall sitting in front of you is slim. That is to say: the odds of anyone sitting near you is slim. If you are in a hiker group of 2 or more, your collective stink cloud ensures that you sit in a neat bubble of empty seats. You don't mean to be rude, you do your best to be as politely hygienic as possible. Luckily movie theaters are so pumped full of popcorn smell that the hiker perfume only wafts at most 5 feet in every direction. Also, because movie theaters are always slightly chillier than they need to be, your sweat production is given a lucky rest. Thus, if people sit just a few rows away from you, they'll be safe. 

Sometimes, due to your complete lack of understanding regarding regular work days, you usually end up in the movie theatre at 1:30pm on a Tuesday, meaning you are sharing the theatre with at most 5 other people who are retired or have bizarro work schedules. If you're really lucky, you and the other hikers will be the only people in the theatre, meaning that you can spend a lot of time heckling each other and the screen. At particularly excellent moments of action-movie heroism, you can throw your fists in the air and holler happily, without worrying that the movement of punching the air will cause people around you to pass out. 

The sound system in the theater seems too good to be true. You have only been encountering the surround sound of nature, which is hardly ever loud, unless it's a cicada day. On the cicada days, it feels like you are in the middle of a constant alien abduction, with space craft landing just out of sight in every possible direction. Other than the invasion of brightly colored insane-o bugs, the loudest it ever gets in the woods is during thunderstorms. In the movie theatre, you get the excitement of thunder without the ensuing dampness and shivering.

You shovel handfuls of popcorn into your mouth like cookie monster, pieces of it spilling everywhere. For the first time in your life you can eat as much popcorn as you want, coated with a veritable river of syrupy molten butter. In fact, you sort of need these extra calories, because as much as you try to consume enough calories on trail, you simply can't carry enough to keep you from wasting away into a hairy skeleton. Thus, on your rare forays into regular society, you have to eat as much as you can as cheaply as you can. With the endless free refills on popcorn and soda, you are guaranteed to leave the movie theatre feeling impressively bloated and gassy. 

Every movie you see is great because you have lost all basis for comparison. Anything you choose to see will make you happy because it is an excuse to give your body a much-needed rest. You are completely involved in the show because you have nothing else to occupy or distract your mind; your suspension of disbelief is solid as a rock. You are no longer a critic, you are simply letting yourself enjoy the experience of being immersed in one of humanity's most incredible and taken-for-granted inventions. 

Love,
Clever Girl


Friday, September 27, 2013

194. Gear Preparation

This countdown post is published in conjunction with the newly put-up Gear Review page! You can find our AT Gear Reviews on the top part of this blog (Between the 200 Things link and the About link). Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about gear, and our process for choosing things!

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When you began the trail, most of your gear was new. You had a few things that you had re-purposed, like that swiss army knife you'd had since Boy Scouts and probably wasn't sharp anymore but made you feel brave. Maybe you had a trusty bandanna or a pair of pants that seemed like they were up for the trip. But for the most part, as you laid out all of your old hiking gear, you realized that you were going to have to buy a few things before your epic adventure. Maybe you only had to get a few things, or maybe you were starting from scratch. Regardless, you knew that you had some shoppin' to do.

You remember walking into outfitters several times over the course of many months leading up to your trip. Every time you walked in those doors it felt like walking into Santa's Toy Shop. Everything looked beautiful and strangely sexy. Clean, soft hiking clothing. Thick, fuzzy socks. Brightly colored shoes that have no idea what they're in for. Random gear that feels totally unnecessary and simultaneously essential. Ooo, a plastic container just for backpacking with eggs? What will they come up with next!? You remember having a brief moment of wondering if this is what all those women who like shoes feel like when they go into a shoe store. But that seems ridiculous! Shoes can only serve one function! In an outfitter, you remember thinking proudly, all problems can be solved.

You walked down the aisles, spending hours reading all of the specs on all of the possible things you could buy. You've never been so excited to pick out a spork before. Will it be a green spork or an orange spork? DOES IT MATTER? You don't care! It's so much fun to pick all of this stuff out. You touch all of the miniature models of tents, imagining yourself as a tiny pocket-sized person living in this teeny tent, making a fire out of a few pine needles and cooking soup in an acorn top. You become delirious with the excitement of decision making regarding getting a tent versus getting a hammock. You spend hours lounging in the hammocks strung up around the outfitter, reading gear books and trying to decide if you like the feeling of weightlessness.

There is one wall that has 50 sleeping bags all hung up for you to touch and examine. You look around surreptitiously to make sure that no one is looking, then you fling out both of your arms and lean forward into the wall of squishy down fluff, hugging as many of the bags as you can at once. You are drunk with power, delirious with the idea that you could choose any of these bags. You have been saving money for months, and you know that there are some things you're going to splurge on. You are intoxicated with the possibilities. 

But, as ye olde spiderman always says, with great power comes great responsibility. You don't want to splurge on the wrong thing. You don't want to blow all of your money on a 5-inch thick self-inflating air mattress that is way too heavy anyway and now won't fit inside of the tent you chose. Everything feels connected. Where do you start? How do you decide what you should buy first? The aisles of beautiful products look like a fast-moving river of colors and choices. Where you do jump in? 

You decide to approach this puzzle like the book "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie." You pick one random thing to focus on first, knowing that all of the other gear will naturally follow. If you buy a spork, you're going to need a cooking pot. If you buy a cooking pot, you're going to need a stove. If you buy a stove, you're going to need food to cook, so you'll have to buy a dry-sack for your food. If you buy a dry sack, you'll have to put it in something, so you'll have to buy a backpack. If you buy a backpack, you'll need something to keep it dry in the rain. If you buy a rain cover for your backpack, you need a rain jacket for yourself, etc. etc. etc.

There's no right or wrong way to buy gear, but you are going to have people who will want to tell you that the things you got were WRONG and you are DEFINITELY GOING TO DIE because you got the incorrect pair of socks. But those people are silly and they're just jealous that they're not going on this adventure with you. You've done all of your own research, and you've thought a long time about all of the different gear. Whatever you get is the right thing for you. 

It doesn't matter if you got a hammock or if you got a tent. It doesn't matter if you are hiking in chacos or boots or trail runners. The only real way to test some of this gear out if to go backpacking with it. If you're on your trip for a week or two and something doesn't work out, then find your way to an outfitter and replace it. You decide to set aside some money you've saved specifically so you have a few extra dollars if you have to buy something new.

Love,
Clever Girl

P.S. I would totally recommend getting a membership to an outfitter like REI, EMS, or any of those. You can get a lot of discounts and great options for returning things if something breaks or doesn't work out.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

195. Massage

I have spent 2 hours this evening trying a bunch of different ways to write about how unbelievably amazing it feels to get a massage when you're a hiker. It was all in vain. No matter how matter-of-factly or innocently I worded it, describing the feeling of a massage looked like a plot summary on the dust jacket of a dime-store romance novel.

So I've given up on this one. Suffice it to say: you could get a massage from a professional or from a some other hiker; someone could barely touch your spine with a feather or whack your muscles with a ball-peen hammer; you could get smacked in the shoulder by a low-flying woodpecker or rub your back up against a tree like a bear. It doesn't matter.

It'll feel like the best thing that has ever happened to you.

Love,
Clever Girl

Monday, September 23, 2013

196. Never Having to Pick What You're Going to Wear

Before you left for the trail, your morning routine consisted of at least 5 extra minutes of staring at clothing. Unless you're fancy and have a personal assistant whose job it is to make sure you don't look like a doofus, you are just like the rest of us regular folk. We all need to spend a little bit of time each morning making sure our pants are, at the very least, on the right way. 

Even in regular life you spend a lot less time on picking your outfits than when you were younger. If time spent looking at clothing was mapped out on a graph over your life, it would be a bell-curve peaking somewhere around 17 years old. When you were a kid, all you really cared about was picking out clothing that your mom wouldn't freak out about you wearing while you played tag in the muddy field and climbed trees with your neighborhood friends. Somewhere around adolescence, most of your peers started figuring out how to be insecure and rude, so you became somewhat more attentive to your wardrobe for survival. It was like picking out the right color camoflague; you didn't want to be wearing zebra stripes in a field of lions.

When you were a teenager, you figured out that one day you might have to dress professionally, so you made the most of it by wearing the most ridiculous and extravagant things possible. Why not?! Giant banana yellow bell-bottoms paired with a heavy metal t-shirt? Sure! Khakis and a cardigan? Whatever! To each their own! Ripped jeans with plaid flannel underneath another plaid flannel? Absolutely! You just have to go to school! The world is your oyster! 

Then, somewhere along the line, you had to start buying clothing that was appropriate for your line of work. Whatever that is, it comes along with its own uniform, stated or unstated. Some folks get to wear jeans and a t-shirt, other people get to wear a jumpsuit, some have fancy suits and high-heels, and others have corduruoys and button-downs. Regardless, it's generally frowned upon to wear the same outfit every day. Who knows why? I don't necessarily think it should matter, but I guess people don't like it when you dress up like a giant blue monster every day. Unless you're a baseball mascot, in which case, good on you, man. It's gotta be hot in there.

You sometimes have fun picking out what you're going to wear, but sometimes, it's a chore. Sometimes nothing seems to fit quite right. Sometimes it all looks ugly for some silly reason. Sometimes you're just tired of having to worry about what other people might think about what you're wearing. 

But on the trail?

Fashion is DEAD, and NO ONE CARES.

You only have enough space in your backpack for extra rain clothes and cold weather gear. Odds are likely that you don't have an extra pair of pants, or an extra shirt. Every morning you wake up and put on the same exact thing you wore the day before. And so does everyone else. There's no decision making time wasted, no hemming and hawing. It's either what you've got, or naked. There's one day a year when this is legitimately an option, and it's called Hike Naked Day. It is a beautiful day.

All your friends wear the same outfit all the time, which makes it feel a little bit like you live in a cartoon, where everyone is always drawn with the same clothing. Every once in a while things may change slightly; someone might get a new shirt when their old one is finally more holes than fabric. But for the most part, you are free to put back on the same stuff you wore the last 35 days. 

There is a downside to this, as for example when it has been really hot and everything you own is sweaty and gross. But there is also a calm level of acceptance that you reach in regard to this. You have no other clothing. You are going to put that outfit on. And it'll be fine, because you won't even notice it after 5 minutes. And the beautiful thing is that no one else notices it either. Hikers are immune to others' body odor. No one will judge you.

And hey, you get to use that extra 5 minutes that you might have spent picking out clothing on sleeping instead. 

Sweet.

Love,
Clever Girl

I wore this exact thing every day for months and months. I threw the shirt away at the end. After the trail, Whistle set fire to her shorts. We sang taps.

Friday, September 20, 2013

197. Soaking Your Bandana

It is hot.

Not just kinda hot, like the hot that people experience when they have a 5 minutes walk between their air conditioned house to their air conditioned car. You wonder how you could have ever complained about the heat before in your whole life. Sure, you've experienced sweltering days before, where a 10 minute walk leaves you soaked in your own sweat and you arrive at work looking like you were just run through a boiling dishwasher.

You remember being 10 years old, your slick and clammy adolescent hands gripping the handlebars of your bicycle, as you peddle madly to catch up with your friends. You felt like your eyes were going to pop out of your head, you were peddling so fast and hard. You remember the air conditioning breaking when you lived in the South, and being completely incapable of sleep, your sheets sticking to your body like saran wrap.

This heat? Right now? The one you're experiencing in the middle of the humid, dank summer of the mid-Atlantics? It's approximately 3 - 10,000 times worse than any other heat you've experienced before. It might not even be the hottest you've ever been, but here's the difference: there is no escape. You are outside, all the time. There are no fans. There are no air conditioners. The water you drink is luke-warm, having baked in the sun all day as it ran gurgling down muddy, quickly drying creeks. The humidity makes it feel like you are trying to hike through a square mile of cookie dough.

You find yourself day dreaming about saunas, the inside of an oven and being a log inside of a fire. You try to fantasize about things that are cold, but though you have a robustly strong imagination, your physical symptoms are currently too strong. The dancing penguins, ice luges and Shaun White are just no match for the heat death of the universe. As you hike, your mind is consumed with an image of the sun expanding, expanding and expanding until it swallows the whole planet like a blue jellybean.

You keep hiking though, trying to make sure you drink enough water to keep yourself from shriveling up into a giant, tan, human-sized raisin. You look down and notice that your water bottle is empty, but luckily you have just stumbled upon a shaded creek, burbling up from the inside of some rocks just off the trail. Your heart begins to beat in happy anticipation, but you check yourself, trying very hard not to get too excited. Sometimes these rock-springs are chilly, because the water comes from deep underground.

You make your way down the side trail to the spring, and kneel down next to it. It glitters amongst the moss, looking delicious and amazing. You tentatively dip a finger into the water, and you shiver in delight. It's cold. This is an incredible treat. You resist the powerful urge to just drink straight from the stream, and instead fill up your water bottle to be treated. But you have one thing you can do while you wait for your water to be drinkable.

You take your sweaty bandana off of your head, and push the entire stinky square of cotton into the water. It absorbs the sweet liquid, becoming a thin sponge of wonderfulness. You do not wring out the bandana, but instead, drape it over your head.

It feels like someone has just dumped a bucket of ice water over you. Rivulets stream down off of your bandana, soaking your hair, running down your face, finding its way down your shirt and to your bellybutton. You stand motionless next to the stream, looking like a Grade A Crazy Person, your bandana covering your whole face like a funeral shroud. The wet stain spreads out over your shoulders and shirt, making it look like you sweat more than a Sasquatch in miami, but you don't care. A chill creeps down your body from the bandana, bringing you a sweet moment of relief.

You do this several more times before you hike on. As a last act, you soak the bandana, then wrap it around your forehead like Rambo, hoping it will retain some of the water in this rolled-up state to slowly leak out over the next hour. It is terrific.

Love,
Clever Girl

P.S.
Remember to wash anything at least 10 feet downstream from the spot where people collect drinking water!

Whistle with not one, but two soaked bandanas, and her blissful, eyes-closed revelry. Side note for the skittish: She's not shirtless under the blue shirt, she's wearing a very light-colored sports bra.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

198. Macaroni and Cheese

You sit cross-legged on damp, chilly ground, and stare at your cooking pot in defiance of the old phrase pertaining to pots, and their refusal to boil when watched. It seems to stare back at you with the cool unconcern of a hipster store clerk who may or may not come to your assistance when you get thoroughly trapped in a pair of skinny jeans in the fitting room of a store that is way too hip for you.

"Who, me?" Your pot seems to ask, shrugging its titanium shoulders and lazily looking around, "You need my help? It seems like you got yourself into this mess all by yourself, and it's not really my problem. I'll boil when I feel like it."

You grind your teeth quietly, knowing that its always taken this long to boil, and that you'll eat eventually. You are so hungry though, and its your fourth or fifth day since you've been in a town and anywhere near fresh food. You've saved this particular bag of boilable food for the hardest hiking day that week. Over the past few nights you ate your way through your instant mashed potatoes, rice and ramen, saving the best treat for when you really earn it. You're not really sure why you don't just eat what you really want every night, except for that nagging fear that you might get sick of it. 

The water finally boils in spite of itself, rolling over in somewhat begrudging cheerfulness. You peel open the ziploc bag, into which you had painstakingly poured 3 individual EasyMac (or Velveeta) packets earlier that week. You gingerly pick out the 3 anonymous white bags of neon orange "cheese" powder and set them aside. With delightful anticipation, you upend the bag all at once, dumping the uncooked macaroni into the water. It sounds like the rainstick you made in 2nd grade, that one made out of a paper towel tube and decoupaged with cut-outs from NatGeo Kids, because you like nature and stuff. 

The noodles are swallowed up by the water, wiggling and dancing. They slowly expand, turning from crunchy noodle rocks into soft yummy gooeyness. You watch it boil, refusing to be distracted by anyone or anything during this sacred process. This is your favorite meal. You just hiked 20 miles and you want this to be good. There's not many other ways to reward yourself in the woods, as you are restricted to what you already have in your backpack, or possibly, what you can steal out of your friend's backpack while they are in the privy*.

Finally the noodles are done. You are an expert at making this concoction at this point; you are a connoiseur of the mac. College was just a training ground, the microwave a handicap for the less experienced. You're in the big leagues now, and you've used exactly the right amount of water, such that no draining is necessary and there's the perfect amount left to absorb the cheese powder.

What you have not become an expert at is getting all of the cheese powder into the pot without getting at least some of it on your fingers. On the plus side, you are a proud, gross hiker who has no problem whatsoever just licking that radioactive dust right off those dirty digits. You stir the mix with your spork, humming to yourself with happiness. 

There is a legend that every day, when the sun sets over the horizon, it comes to rest on the other side of the hill, where it is left to cool. From there, the giant yellow ball is harvested to make margarine, and in special cases, grated into a fine filmy dust to be used on instant macaroni. 

This is what the first bite tastes like. It tastes like the sun, like all of the world's joy rolled into one sticky goo-ball of cheese. Lucky for you, the second bite also tastes this way. In fact, all of the bites do. It does not matter that what you are eating is so unnatural that it could probably also be used to absorb plutonium spills. It is glorious. It is terrific.

Love, 
Clever Girl

*I would not recommend this. You think you can run faster than your friend, but you can't. You just can't.

Oh my god you just ate this.

200 Terrific Things

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

SUMMIT

Clever Girl and Dumptruck NoBo Thru-Hike: 3/7/13 - 9/13/13










Love,
Clever Girl


Monday, September 16, 2013

Windows into the Last Weeks




In the darkness I tend to move slower. This is not a quality unique to me as an individual. Indeed, I would only hope that when you wake up in the middle of the night to find your way to the bathroom in the darkness, leaving the light off in kindness to your sleeping partner, that you do not sprint through your house, crushing legos, cats and all manner of other painful things underfoot. We as a species are not actually significantly well-adapted to living in the wild, as we can't see in the dark, have no claws, and are generally just big soft fleshy hairless dumb-dumbs. But we have opposable thumbs and the FoxP2 gene, so there's that.

As I navigated my way out of the front of the shelter, I was struck by how truly the night enveloped me. There were a few other folks sleeping in the shelter, and I didn't want to turn my headlamp on and wake everybody up. I realize that this was not particularly forward-thinking, as the possibility of tripping over a rock and breaking my leg would probably cause a more thorough interruption of people's sleep than a brief flash of light. However, I cannot ever claim that I have ever been a purveyor of good decisions when I am awoken from sleep with a dire need to relieve myself. The brain takes on a laser-beam lever of focus. There is only one goal, and it will be accomplished.

I made my way around the shelter, moving so slowly that I was silent. The night was cloudy and starless, and the forest slept in eerie silence around me. I walked 20 feet away from the shelter or so, and then set to business. Suddenly, the sharp crack of a breaking stick rang out in the quiet. I turned on my headlamp and looked to my right. About 75 feet away was a pair of large eyes reflecting in the glow of my headlamp. The eyes were a few feet above the ground, but I could not see the rest of the critter because it was hidden in shadows. Only the eyes reflected back at me, curious, immobile and green in the light. Based on the height from the ground, I would guess that it was a raccoon on its hind legs, a coyote, a fisher cat, or a bear. None of these critters are high on my list of preferred voyeurs. 

I didn't move. The creature didn't move. On the plus side, due to my initial order of business, I didn't have to worry about wetting my pants in fear. All I could imagine was that giant black nightmare dog from the Never Ending Story. Since I didn't know what kind of creature it was, I decided against trying to scare it away. I had no weapons but my hands and feet, which are sadly bereft of claws, as noted earlier. I decided instead to back away slowly, which took about 5 minutes to make it back to the shelter. I quietly turned my headlamp back off and climbed into my sleeping bag. 

This is ordinarily the part of the story where the heroine would lay awake in fear, her brain pumping potentially life-saving adrenaline in the possible oncoming event of an attack. Instead I immediately fell back asleep. This is not bravery. It is inoculation. If you spend enough time walking over venomous snakes and sleeping in the company of big beefy animals who are long in the tooth, your body just gets plain sick of worrying about it. Whatever fearful thing might be happening, it could always be worse. Case in point, some days after that, Whistle accidentally peed on an active bee's nest in the middle of the night and was stung 8 times. She also then immediately went back to sleep.

The real moral of this story is: turn on your headlamp before doing your business. You won't regret it.

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During our Southbound sojourn, we finally crossed paths with M3OwZ3BA! We got to spend an evening with Grim, Whistle, The Hunger, Sunshine and Pretzel. By some stroke of luck, this conjunction in journeys occurred at the site of some truly spectacular trail magic. A small group of M.A.T.C. (Maine Appalachian Trail Club) maintainers, who have all previously thru-hiked, set up each year at a spot approximately 20 miles north of Stratton, Maine. They had all manner of grill food, and they even had a propane-powered fridge to keep the cheese and milk cold. One of these previous hikers was named Fig, and we had the pleasure of meeting him once before when we took a zero with our heroes Bill and Cathy Hine (the ones that made us so much amazing food that we were full for days!). 

The 8 of us youngins' stayed up quite late, singing along to ukulele playing and watching the stars rise over a chilly lake. In the morning, we hugged each other fiercely, knowing that the next time we'd see each other, we'd be meeting at the bottom of Katahdin to climb up and high-five the sky together. Everyone had different plans for hiking speeds, which is absolutely understandable, but we made solid timing plans with Grim and Whistle so that the 4 of us could summit together. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to the other hikers, but we knew we'd probably see them again someday. The hiker universe works in mysterious ways, that is to say, no one else can stand how we all smell so we really just have to hang out with each other. 

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For the first time since the first day, I awoke on my own before the sun came up. When Hotdog was figuring out the appropriate 7 dwarves monikers for our group back in Damascus, she was a bit prophetic in deeming me "Sleepy." I don't remember ever needing this much sleep in my life. Upon reconsideration, I've also never hiked for 10+ miles over mountains on a daily basis. Throughout hiking the trail I tried to resist the temptation of instant coffee, mostly because I didn't want to carry the weight of it. 

The upshot of this lack of constant low-level caffeine saturation is that if/when I do actually consume caffeine, it has a curious effect on me. I look a little bit like a looney tunes version someone drinking coffee: my hat blows off my head, steam pours out my ears, my eyeballs spin in different directions and then I run so fast in place that I burn a hole in the earth before finally exploding off in one direction, flames shooting out from underneath my feet. At least that's how I feel. From an outside perspective I look exactly the same, except that people can't quite keep me in focus because of my barely perceptible constant full-body vibration.

As we were packing up for the last time, it was with excitement that I poured some powdered, "fruit" flavored taurine/caffeine into my water bottle. My water turned a radioactive shade of yellow. The color of champions! We were going to hike Katahdin, and I didn't want my lack of sleep to get in the way. In retrospect, the giddiness of summiting would probably have provided ample energy. All day I felt like my torso was a giant room with trampolines for walls, my heart bouncing wildly and unpredictably around inside. 

We had camped at the Birches Campsite at the base of Katahdin with Grim and Whistle, as well as an excellent hiker named B-Line. It was phenomenal to be reunited with Grim and Whistle, and we felt beyond lucky that we were going to be able to summit with them.

Having trampolines for guts luckily did not throw off my center of gravity, as a solid third of the hike up was technical climbing up slick rocks. It had rained like the end of the world the night before, and the entire first part of the trail was a veritable river, sometimes ankle-deep and splashing all over us. For the first time on the trail, I truly and completely didn't mind getting wet because I knew that my future held a world of accessible laundry. I had dreamt of floating down a warehouse lined with wall-to-wall washing machines, my body born on a cloud. The entire fantasy was shot in soft focus while Barry White played sensually over a crackly PA system. My dreams were not deep. Hikers are not complicated. We're the sort of people who like socks for christmas. 

I had another dream that before I was allowed to summit Katahdin I had to fill out some paperwork at the ranger station. Here were the first 4 questions:

1. Real Name:
2. Trail Name:
3. How many fluid ounces are in 1 cup?
4. If you die while summiting Katahdin and come back as a vampire, may we stake you?

There were more questions, but as is the way with dreams, I cannot remember them. Luckily the real paperwork for getting into the 2,000 miler club for the ATC doesn't include caveats for one's supernatural demise. 

The hike up the mountain was arduous, dazzling and very satisfying. I felt like a superhero hiker, climbing up to the secret meeting place of all of the other superheroes. It was overcast and foggy, the clouds rolling in over the stunning landscape. We could see for what seemed like 100 miles, and then the thick mist would creep over us and turn everything into a white-out loading screen. 

Up on the top there was Grim and Whistle, as well as Apollo, who, by some trick of fate, was able to summit on the same day as us. It was perfect. We also got to hang out at the top with B-Line, who turned 30 that day. Why Not was there as well, and she gave B-Line a clif bar with a candle in it, and we all sang happy birthday while the candle had to be lit 15 times because of the wind. We also summited with Srocket, Beetlejuice, Candy Pants, Soul Shine, Noodle, Still Here and Wilson.

I wish I could tell you exactly how it felt to be on top of Katahdin, but for once, I am at a complete loss for words. There are some things that are good, and there are some things that are very good, and then, even more rarely, there are some things that are very, very good.

Being on Katahdin was none of those. It was something more than that.

It was everything.

Love,
Clever Girl

P.S.
These photos are from our last week or so of hiking. For SUMMIT! Photos, Click HERE.
























Descending Katahdin! 

199. Taking Your Boots Off

You've been walking all day. 

One foot goes in front of another. Up steep rock ledges. Down slippery, muddy descents. You move, you progress, you make your way through the world by way of one simple mode of transportation: your own 2 feet. 

You've already been hiking for 17 miles today, and your feet are screaming at you from inside your boots like a pair of sassy, angry and entitled people at a returns counter, and you are the costumer service agent who has to calmly and deliberately remind these idiots that no, if they disassembled their xbox and cleaned it with a wet sponge, it is simply not covered under warranty. They wail and claw at their hair and cause a general hullabaloo, their cries growing to a pitch that makes dogs 10 miles away sprint directly into brick walls just to escape the horrible nightmare sounds. This is what it feels like inside your boots. It is not a happy place in there.

Fortunately for you, your feet have to do what you tell them to do. you are still physically capable of moving forward in space. You are a hiker, and though you do your best to take care of your body, there's simply no way around the fact that to undertake this journey your body will have to sustain some level of abuse. So you move on. Before you started the trail, you somehow got the idea that your feet would quit hurting after a while. The "while" was never really defined well in your brain. A few days? A week? A month? 

After 2 months had passed, you began to wonder if your feet would ever stop hurting. Who was that knucklehead who told you that you'd have no more pain after you got past a certain point? You fantasize about finding that person and giving them one good solid slap across the face with one of your mangled feet. It does not bother you that the physical act of slapping someone with your foot would be quite difficult and awkward and probably not at all effective. This does not keep you from daydreaming about it with relish. 

Every hiker experiences foot pain or irritation differently. Some symptoms are acute (shoes being wet from a river crossing, mud collecting around your ankles, getting a rock in there) and some are chronic (blisters, and a veritable pantheon of muscles and bone injuries). There are solutions and remedies for each one of these, and they can be discovered through trail and error, scouring WebMD, or politely asking another hiker what the eff to do about these crazy feet, seriously, what the heck, amputation seems like the only survivable option. 

There is one universal antidote for all of these things, and lucky for you, you can do it at least once a day.

Taking off your boots.

Your fingers get all tangled up while trying to untie your shoes in their excited anticipation. You don't care how muddy or filthy your laces are, you dig your fingers in there all the same, transferring some of that trail dirt to your fingernails, where it will be later transferred to your mouth when you eat dinner. It doesn't matter. You're going to get those shoes off your feet if it kills you. The laces finally come undone, you pull up on them to loosen their hold on you, and the shoe finally slides off of your foot.

You've never worn a legitimate Victorian era corset before (or perhaps you have, in which case, you are very brave), but you imagine that this is how it must have felt for those short-of-breath fancy women to have their ribs finally unbound at the end of the day. A stink cloud explodes outward and washes over you like tear gas, but you grin blissfully through the fog of smelliness. Your sense of smell is not at the top of your senses list right now. Right now it's your sense of free feet. Your foot seems to expand in front of you, relaxing and making some movements toward returning to its rightful shape. 

You gingerly peel off your soaking wet socks, which, depending on the last time you did laundry, may retain the shape of your feet, like a ghost is wearing them. You toss the socks aside. You'll deal with that nonsense later. At this moment all that matters is the sensation of freedom. You gently massage the bottom of your feet, easing them back to their proper temperature. They might have been boiling hot a moment ago, or freezing cold, depending on what your hiking weather was like that day. But now they are perfect, like a pair of baby birds resting in the nest of your hands. You think about that metaphor for a minute, and realize that if baby birds looked like feet, it would be a very strange world indeed, but you let it slide, because you are delirious from how great it feels to have your shoes off, and thinking of perfect metaphors just isn't important right now.

You let yourself bask in your stinky relaxation cloud, knowing that you have other tasks ahead of you for the evening, but letting them slide away for the bliss of letting your feet air out and rest. Your feet need this rest. They need your love. You forget for a minute that tomorrow you are going to cram them back into those shoes again, because it doesn't matter. 

You are living in the moment, and in this moment, your feet are kings.

Love,
Clever Girl




200 Terrific Things

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

NoBo Yearbook

Here are all the NoBo thru-hikers we managed to pass on our way South through Maine! This is absolutely not a comprehensive list, as there were plenty we didn't walk right by (I tend to wake up around 9am, after most hikers have already been walking for 3 hours. What's the point of being unemployed if you can't sleep in?), likely hundreds that already finished, many more who were still on their way North, and some who I just plain forgot to snap a picture of. These were taken in haste with my iPod. Dumptruck has been taking marvelous portraits of thru-hikers, and these are decidedly not those professional photos. He'll put a book together at some point with the good stuff. In the meanwhile, here's all 95 hiker trash we ran into, presented in the order we ran into them:

Invisible Man, Army Ant, Jacko and Rollin' R

Smiley Virgin, Holler and Railsplitter

Goat

IceT and Frosh

COOLIE McJETPACK

Goose and AllTheWay

Pippin

StarChild

Funny Bone!

Dutch

Lush

HotFoot

Tracker, HeartRock and Bane, with Dag the Dog

Mojo and GT

Abraham, Papa Bull and Two Ducks

Heavyweight, Mr. Gigglefitz, Humen and Paisley 

Robin Hood

Skyline

Carbon

Shweasel

Whistler and Strawberry Donut

Barbarossa

Rainbow Dash (with Barbarossa)

Sycamore and Mama Goose

Nory

Muffins

Mr. Dallas

Goodfella

Sherwin, Flavor Saver, Shine, Fire Hazard

Kokopelli

Cruise and Corndog

APPLE BUUUTTTEEERRRRRRR!!

APOLLO!!!

Steamer

Skinny, Rise, Dayman and Firework

Trooper and M80

Lentil and Pfieffer

Jabberwocky, HandMeDown, Cascade and Carpenter

Hugs and Mess

Button and Beast

Sunshine, Grim, The Hunger and Whistle Ralph!!!!!!!! (Most of) M3OWZ3BA! (Missing Carpenter and Catch).

Sherpa and Buddy Backpacker

Oz

Still Don't

Little Sas

The Florida Flip Floppers (CoMOMdo, Cub and Badonkadonk)

Surfer Dude

Cash

Grinch and Monk

Swami and RiverSong

Sprouts and Angus (at the NoBo 2,000 mile mark!)

And last, but most certainly not least, Mongoose jammin' out with Dumptruck.

Love, 
Clever Girl