Friday, October 25, 2013

182. Loss of Standards, Part 1

I have thought long and hard about how to capture the way that a hiker's worldview will shift over time. I've discovered that it really can only be demonstrated through a series of vignettes that show the slow, inevitable descent into behavior unfit for normal society. It doesn't happen all at once. But the question is: why? Why do hikers become such heathen hobos? What compels us to forget the very basics of societal upbringing? Why do would we walk into a movie theatre and try to pay with several crumpled, filthy one-dollar bills out of a ziploc bag? And when the cashier gives us a questioning look, why do we feel like the correct response to explain our behavior is,

"Oh, this? It's great because it's light and waterproof!"

No, hikers, most people don't select their wallet based on the wallet's ability to withstand being thrown into a river or easily carried up a mountain by someone who's being chased by a bear. Most people spend money on their fancy wallets because they believe it can be a statement about what kind of person they are. Black leather wallet? Cool and edgy. Brown leather wallet with dark embroidered edges? Rich. Duct tape wallet? College kid with free time and an ability to follow instructions on YouTube. Dirty, crinkly ziploc bag? Insane person.

There are so many things that we take for granted in regular life and so many things that might feel obnoxious or bothersome to us. I feel like the reason that we have pet peeves is because we have the choice to remove ourselves. In regular life there are so many more choices, which means that we can find so many more ways to be picky. If we can choose to leave or change our circumstances, than we can spend a lot more time being annoyed, grossed out or bothered by something. We know we could technically get away from it, so there's no reason to be at peace with it, so its presence is grating.

For example: someone clipping their fingernails on the subway during your morning commute. You can be furious about it for 30 minutes because you know your stop is coming and you're going to be able to get away. If that same guy was on every single subway you ever went on, not only would he have terribly short and probably painful fingernails, you would probably learn to ignore it, and eventually it wouldn't bother you anymore. Or, at least I hope so for your sake, because you seem nice, and I would hate it if you ended up going to jail for jamming someone's nail clippers up their nose. 

When you can't remove yourself from a situation; when you can't fix a situation, you find ways to simply accept your lot. Instead of being bothered or grossed out, you simply let it be. Thus how it goes with being a hiker. We have so few options for ways to change our daily circumstances that when things go awry, we have no choice but to accept it and keep moving. Furthermore, when little gifts come our way that give us some extra choices or extra potential for happiness, we do not shun or ignore these things. Even if, from an outside perspective, our actions would be crazy.

My first vignette comes in the form of Outside Dog (Odie), a hiker who is a truly spectacular human and who hiked with Whistle for the beginning of the trail. Trying to describe Odie is a little like trying to describe what your tongue is doing while you are talking: it's impossible, but you just know it's super cool, and kinda weird, and way more complicated than you could begin to imagine. 

In Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Outside Dog was walking alone down the sidewalk, wearing his backpack, beard, and american flag headband. There were a lot of locals and tourists milling the street. Outside Dog was making his way along, all alone, on his way to meet some other hikers (us), when he passed a park bench. On the park bench was a cheeseburger, still wrapped in its Burger King wrapper. There was no bag, no person sitting near it, and no clues as to where the burger could have come from and into whose mouth it was destined to go.

Outside Dog stopped mid-stride, picked up the cheeseburger in his hand and held it over his head.

"IS THIS ANYONE'S CHEESEBURGER?" he called out to the group of people at large. Some people turned to look, most people shrugged, and no one claimed ownership. Distantly, an unidentified someone in the crowd called: Eat it!

And so he did. Standing there in the middle of the sidewalk, as people moved around him like water around rocks in a stream, he ate that cheeseburger.

He said it was delicious.

Clever Girl


  1. "When life gives you them"

  2. What a great story, had me in tears laughing haha!