Friday, October 11, 2013

188. Unitards

I will be honest, this one is not necessarily pertinent to all long-distance hiking. I suppose it is pertinent to a previous entry, regarding clothing on the trail. That is to say: You can wear whatever you want.

There is a magic to living on a trail. I aim to explain and explore all the types of magic, whether they come in the form of food, hugs, or a warm place to sleep. Sometimes this magic is logical and sometimes it is completely bonkers and makes no sense whatsoever. Regardless, we as hikers have to appreciate the magic when it comes, no matter the form.

As winter began to turn into spring and then hurtled headlong into summer, all of us were desperate to find new ways to be able to manage the onslaught of heat. One of the ways was finding new sleeping arrangements. Most of us had winter sleeping bags, meaning they were rated to be effective at 20 degrees or colder. Our previously beloved cocoons had become useless saunas of misery. Dumptruck and I combated this problem by sending our sleeping bags home and replacing them with a pair of fleece blankets (one with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the other with Batman). This would have been perfect if we hadn't jumped the gun about 2 weeks early, leading us to spend 14 nights shivering underneath neon-colored superhero faces.

Whistle had been traveling with a zero degree bag, which was far too hot as of May. A well-loved older summer sleeping bag was in storage at her parents' house, and she called her mom to arrange an exchange of hostages via the postal system. At the post office she happily collected her summer bag, sent her old one home, and packed her backpack to continue on her adventure.

That night, as she unfurled her new bed and set to snuggle inside, she felt something lumpy at the foot of the bag. Curious, she reached down and grabbed what felt to be a bundle of fabric. She pulled it out, confused. When her eyes set upon it, her mouth dropped open in flabbergasted delight. The smooth, silky fabric ran over her fingers in a waterfall of silver and gold. She stretched it in her hands, testing if it really was as she truly remembered. Somewhere, distantly, angels began to sing.

It was a unitard.

As the story goes, many years ago Whistle wisely spent $5 on a "bag o' unitards" from the local collegiate theatre department. The bag contained a set of 5 different, yet somehow bizarrely cohesive, used dancer's unitards that looked like they were snatched right off the set of a Pat Benatar music video. She handed each of these gems out to her friends, saving one for herself. The one she chose was a beaut' of silver and white, with golden yellow streaks and a strange sweater-material leg warmer on one of the arms. Truly a testament to the fashion prowess of the species.

The unitards went on many adventures together, individually and as a team. Those were the glory days of hoop earrings, bright colors, hair perms and jelly shoes. Yes, it was somewhere around 2010, and Whistle says she's not ashamed at all. With laughter and excitement, the unitards lived a hay-day of glory, until one by one, they were forgotten. Passing from the minds of their owners like so many toys cast aside by maturing children. Sad and lonely, the unitards faded from history, falling into the rivers of forgetfulness, like the One Ring.

The last time Whistle had been in the company of her unitard was on some camping trip in which she had brought it along for laughs. When she changed into her camper PJs that night (she wasn't a thru-hiker then, maybe she had PJs! Who knows?!), she left her unitard at the bottom of her sleeping bag, where it was left in storage for many moons. She had completely forgotten about this until she saw the unitard again, and had to dig through distant memories to understand how the universe had delivered her this magical present.

It rested in its sleeping bag tomb until it was unearthed once more during a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, brought forth from the depths to reign again. Whistle carried this surprise unitard with her from Virginia all the way to Katahdin, where it was worn on the summit. Whistle can be seen dancing in this gem in our summit video. She hiked it in several times but only on special occasions, mostly because she needed assistance to get in and out of it, and this became a problem when she needed to relieve herself.

We can ask questions about the workings of the universe, about spirituality, about coincidence or fate. We can shake our fists at the heavens and demand answers. Or we can just accept that sometimes gifts come in the form of long-forgotten unitards with several large holes, and that there is no answer to the question: why?

Clever Girl

On Katahdin

Aquablazing in the Shenandoahs

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