Monday, December 30, 2013

157. The Year You Hike Will be One of the Best Years of Your Life

Well folks, this is the last post before we give 2013 a proper hiker burial by digging a cat hole, dropping 2013 into it, and covering it with moss and dirt and stuff.


I wonder if I have changed.

I think that a lot of folks wonder about these sorts of things at the end of a year. We follow this Gregorian Calendar, a vague approximation of our understanding of time, and at some point the numbers have to start back over again at 1. Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks and Months are measurable mostly by the tilting and spinning of this tiny blue ball. We tilt toward the sun, we get summer. We tilt away and winter reigns. There's nothing we can do to change how time goes by, and yet at least once a year we wonder how time has changed the way we go by.

For all the other years of my life, at least since I learned how to get food successfully from a plate into my mouth and how to stop drooling all over myself, I quantified the change in me each year by specific events. I knew that I had changed because something had happened that was empirical evidence of lessons being learned. Reading my first book all by myself. Leaping off the sled at exactly the wrong moment and accidentally sending my father hurtling into an icy mud creek. Ending Elementary School and starting Middle School. Getting my first job. The first time I kissed someone. Standing up to that teacher who told me I wasn't allowed to hold hands with girls. Every year that was defined by completing another step in learning and education. Having a sudden and startling all-encompassing understanding of the theory of relativity. Realizing it was okay that I was completely incapable of ever explaining relativity to anyone else because I didn't actually understand it as well as I thought. Seeing my first Client as a full-fledged family therapist. Crying so profoundly that I couldn't remember if it was for joy or for loss.

But how am I supposed to summarize this year? A year that had staggering life lessons and realizations nearly every single day? A year in which I slept in at least 250 different places. I hadn't thought about the fact that my physical being has only been stationary for about a third of this entire year, but Whistle pointed it out. Sometimes people can identify change based on a physical move. Throughout my child and young adulthood I have technically lived in 15 different places. That is to say, the census bureau could say I lived there. But even 15 seems pretty small compared to 250. It's completely ridiculous. It's like comparing a baseball thrown at 90 miles an hour to an elephant launched out of a cannon at 90 miles an hour. Both would hurt pretty bad if they hit you in the head, but one is significantly higher on the danger index. On the plus side, being taken out by a high-velocity pachyderm wouldn't be the worst way to go.

Humanity has this amazing capacity for goodness. If that goodness is like the sun, then this year has ended with me basically sun-burned to the point of being a cooked turkey. The kindness and generosity of people has never been more evident to me than during my hike, and afterward. I love to write, but I wouldn't have been able to feel as inspired to continue writing if it weren't for you. I wouldn't have been able to continue hiking if it weren't for you.

Yeah, you.

Whoever you are, on the other side of this screen, reading these words, you have given me more than I can say. Maybe you're a member of my family, maybe you're a friend, maybe we met on the trail for only 5 minutes, or maybe we've never met at all. I am who I am because you kept me going. If I have changed this year for the better, it is because of you. Saying thank you isn't enough.

I think the best way to qualify, put together, summarize, squish, and otherwise wring all the excess words out, is to just put it like this:
First I learned I needed to breathe. And then I learned. And now I do it without noticing.

I loved you 2013. And if you've taught me anything, you've taught me that every single year from now on will be just as good, regardless of the adventures therein.

Clever Girl

(this is actually a photo from a few years ago,
but it seems like the right thing).

Friday, December 27, 2013

158. Realizing the Glory of the Sandwich

"What is that?" I asked, confused, looking at the lumpy, misshapen ball of aluminum foil that Grim had just pulled out of his pack. We were sitting on some rock somewhere in Virginia.

"This..." he breathed deeply, "This is a liverwurst sandwich."

I wrinkled my nose at the liverwurst, which looked like a fluffy pinkish-brown meat sponge but then... I was drawn in to the idea of a sandwich like a floppy disc being thrown into a black hole. All intellectual thought was broken apart and whisked away, and all that was left was heat. The heat of desire for two pieces of bread with stuff in the middle. It was my first experience of sandwich entropy. 

"How?! How did you get a sandwich?!" 

"I bought it this morning when we were in town before we hitched back out to the trail. I got it just for lunch today, because it won't last any longer than that. It's pretty squished, but it's going to be delicious."

I watched him unwrap the soggy, flattened sandwich with my mouth wide open. I probably looked like a half-stupid goldfish, struck dumb by what I was witnessing. The image of him stuffing it into his mouth was simultaneously the most beautiful and the most disgusting thing that I'd ever seen in my entire life. He just looked so perfectly happy. His eyes rolled back in his head and he made that "MMMMmmpphh" sound that only escapes involuntarily from someone experiencing something truly transcendent.

Somehow over the course of the first 3 months on the trail, it had never occurred to me that I could buy just one ridiculously heavy or non-preservable food item before I left a town and just eat it that day. I have no idea how this never crossed my mind. I have a master's degree and everything. They just don't teach you the things you'll actually need to know. Like how to fix a flat tire or how to figure out ways to eat 4,000 calories of bread and cheese in one sitting when you're stuck in the woods. Where's THAT math word problem?!

Something about the idea of a sandwich was so perfect because it was otherwise so unattainable. There was no way we could ever carry bread and sandwich fixings. We would sometimes carry flattened bagels and tuna fish packets, but it always lacked the spark of something with, I dunno, flavor? Later on we got creative with carrying avocados and spreading those into our tuna, but it was still never quite as good as a real deli sandwich. 

And so it was that we all got into the habit of getting one perfect sandwich to place gingerly in the top of our packs before we left town. Sometimes when the moment would come to eat the sandwich, it would have exploded everywhere, mayonnaise staining our packs like blood staining the ground after a terrible war. The victim of a sandwich explosion would always eat it anyway. It was too precious. And the joy factor would be none diminished.

I asked Whistle what she had to say about sandwiches, and all she said was "Sandwiches = LOVE."

Forget giving your girlfriend roses on Valentine's Day. You have to give her a sandwich. It's a much more practical, realistic and romantic gesture of true love. Here is why:

1. There are a bunch of different parts, different qualities that work together to create something amazing. Roses are all just a bunch of the same thing! What are you trying to say, that your girlfriend is monotonous?!

2. Because the ingredients are never perfectly laid out inside a sandwich, each moment has a slightly different flavor or experience, but it's still exactly what you want. 

3. Even when it's a little over toasted, and things get a little hard, it's always worth the extra work.

4. A sandwich never dies. Roses just wilt and turn brittle and brown. But if you leave a sandwich for long enough, it starts growing things! Just like mold will slowly take over the entire sandwich and plate, your love will grow and spread across the world.

5. There's no such thing as a ruined sandwich, just like even after a big fight, all the good stuff is still there. It just gets kinda smushed, and all the toppings might spill out and be all over the place, and maybe it's kinda messy sometimes and not perfectly put together. But then you really gotta work for it, and you appreciate it so much more.

6. A sandwich is practical and yet adventurous. They all carry the same basic lay-out, but can be so dramatically different. When you find your soul mate sandwich, nothing can bring you down.

7. Roses have thorns! Sandwiches have cheese! YOU DO THE MATH.

Clever Girl

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

You should totally click on this image to see it full size.
It's the only way to see the horror on our faces.
Photo Taken: 12/7/13
Air temperature: 26 Degrees Fahrenheit
Water temperature: 45 Degrees Fahrenheit

This is the holiday card for my roommates and me! From left to right: Whistle, Dumptruck, Clever Girl, Cory (MapleLeaf Thunder is his honorary trail name) and Loch Ness (my friend of 9 years, and also a section hiker of the AT).

We hope you are having a wonderful holiday full of toys and cake!

Clever Girl & Co.

Monday, December 23, 2013

159. Finding the Trail After You Lose It

This post is directly related to the previous post in regard to the comfort, safety and assurance that comes along with blazes. Though our AWOL AT Guides were excellent, they did not provide topographical maps. Thus, unfortunately, if one found oneself completely off the blazed trail, it could be very difficult to figure out how to get back. The few times this happened to us, we were able to find our way back pretty easily without incident, but the flood of relief was still pretty intense.

When Dumptruck and I flip-flopped at the ME/NH border and did Maine Southbound, we were feeling terribly separated from Grim and Whistle. We handled this the best way we could, by all of us having an app on our cell phone that allowed us to leave group-voice messages for each other. It's like a walkie-talkie. In this way, we could leave voice messages for each other that we could all hear at some point (when we had cell service). It was comforting to be able to hear each others' voices.

Below is a transcribed series of Voxer (the app) messages from early September.

Whistle Ralph, 9:19am:
So uh, I'm up on top of Moxie Bald right now, um, been here for a while because sadly it does not seem as though there is a way down in the Northward direction. Uh, I thought I saw a blaze, but it was... lichen... So it's lookin' like I'm gonna have to live here, which is unfortunate, because it's pretty cold. There's a lot of fire pits of the other lost people who've had to live here. So I just wanted to tell you guys that I love you, and I'm sorry that I'm going to die on this mountain. It's been cool. Uh... O.. kay.

Grim, 9:45am: Don't worry guys, she found her way down.

Whistle Ralph, 9:46am: And by "found" he means, "Grim texted me directions."

Dumptruck, 10:44am: I appreciate that returning from the direction you came was not an option for you. I like that you waited for texted directions to get down instead of going South to find your way back to the trail. But it's beautiful up there, isn't it? If you're going to get lost anywhere, the top of Moxie Bald is probably the best option.

Whistle Ralph, 4:22pm: Uh, some of us do not Southbound. Also, if you can remember, please bring my unitard when you come back to Katahdin. I have to summit in it. Thank you!

Clever Girl

Friday, December 20, 2013

160. Blazes

I can't say I've ever had a good sense of direction. It's not terrible, but it's not great. I can figure out cardinal directions based on the location of the sun, which I suppose will be a helpful skill if the world ever ends and I have to "GO WEST" for whatever reason. However, I have specific trouble with understanding how to get somewhere specific, even I have been there multiple times. This is particularly difficult if someone else is leading me. I get baby-duck syndrome, wherein I retain nothing about my surrounding environment but remain completely transfixed in engaging with the person who is leading the charge. On the plus side, time passes quickly while I am going somewhere, because I am having lively conversations. On the negative side, as soon as I am left alone, I look just like how you'd imagine a baby duck would look if separated from its mama: confused, and very likely to get run over by a car.

This was somewhat worrisome for me while we were preparing to go on the trail. There would be no GPS, no way to find my way to safety if I were to be separated from Dumptruck, who is very good with direction. However, after about a day on trail, I realized that the AT was the first time in my life that I was actually -less- likely to get lost.

When else in my entire life had the path to my destination been frequently marked with big, clearly defined swathes of paint? NEVER. I'm sure that I never would have gotten lost in my previous life if there was always someone a day ahead of me, marking the path I needed to go with big painted arrows. Don't get me wrong, there are innumerable places along the trail that are very confusing, and there are a lot of ways to get terribly lost. Seriously, a lot of ways.

I began to appreciate the blazes. They were my safety. They let me know that I was doing the right thing. There are so many times in our lives when we're not sure that we're making the right decision. We don't know if the choices we're making, or the philosophical direction we're taking with our lives will bring us where we want to go. Even if we are heading in the right direction, we often don't know that we're doing it correctly until we get there. There's no omnipotent person on the sidelines cheering for you, "Yes, you did the right thing to quit that job, it's a dead-end! Take that job, it'll be rewarding! Make friends with that person, they'll be a perfect person for you!" No one can tell you the future, thus it's impossible for anyone to push you back onto the correct path every single time you start to stray. But the blazes know the future, at least so far as Katahdin.

I hesistate to say that the blazes encouraged mindless compliance, but in a way, they kind of did. They took all of the second-guessing out of my general behavior. Of course I still had plenty of choices and ways to completely make a buffoon of myself, like choosing what towns to go into, how many miles to hike in a day, or whether it was safe to sleep with my food inside my tent.

But in general, I had a single pursuit: go North. And I had a reminder every 50 feet or so that I was doing it right. The blazes could tell you that even if what you were going through was hard or difficult, it was going to be worth it, because you were headed in the right direction There was something extremely comforting and good about that.

Now I still find myself looking for blazes sometimes, and maybe the trail taught me to find them in other ways and places in my life.

You will go through this boulder now.

You will go up.
Clever Girl

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

161. Grocery Stores

You know that moment in the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, when Gene Wilder brings the children through the front door for the first time? There's a sustained camera shot of Charlie's face, and the slow accumulation of incredible exuberance and joy. It's like all doubt, all sadness, all shame and regret melts away, leaving him with nothing but pure sublime happiness. There is such possibility in that facial expression, such hope and trust in this man, this magician of the fantastic. Let us nevermind the plot of the movie, which involves the systematic one-by-one offing of horrible children, the slave labor of little orange people and a grown man suffering from burn-out leaving control of his nightmare factory to an adolescent child. These things are not important. What's important is the look on Charlie's face, and all that it implies.

This face:

That is the look I would get on my face every single time I went into a grocery store while on the Appalachian Trail. When the trail crossed a road and I stuck out my thumb, it was like buying a chocolate bar. When some kind soul actually pulled over and consented to give me a ride, in spite of how I smelled or looked, that was like getting the golden ticket. I guess in this metaphor, Dumptruck would have to be Grandpa Joe. And Willy Wonka is probably Otto (LOVE YOU, OTTO!).

When I was in a constant state of vaguely starving, the inside of a grocery store was a wonderland. There were so many possibilities. Was I tired of eating hard, dry biscuits for breakfast? How about this week I buy an ENTIRE POUND CAKE, stuff it into a ziploc bag and eat out of it like a horse eats out of a burlap sack strapped to its face? Was I tired of that Pound Cake from last week? How about I eat tuna fish for breakfast! THERE WERE NO RULES. The only rule was that I had to be able to carry it refrigerated. So yogurt was out, for me anyway. Maybe it could work for you, if you like it moldy. And hey, if you're a long-distance hiker, your bowels could probably handle it. They've handled worse.

I would walk down every single aisle, regardless of whether or not it seemed like it would have something I wanted. I'd even walk down the dog food aisle, because hey, who knows?! I would go in with a basic plan of how many days I had to be able to feed myself. Then I would systematically go down each aisle and evaluate. I started getting very good at knowing where things would be in grocery stores, even though every single one was new to me, and I'd never go back to that particular store again. They weren't all laid out in the same way, but navigation just started making sense. The grocery store was an untamed ocean, my cart was my ship, and my taste buds were my compass.

There was always a sense of grandeur and space inside a grocery store. It's strange, because one might think that being on the trail would be so much more grand. But to the contrary, I was usually in a tunnel of trees and wild plant growth, such that if I were to stick my arms out to both sides, I would likely break my wrists on the trunks of pines. Of course there were frequent places where the trail might open up to a view, but for the most part, hikers spend their lives in thin corridors. But in a grocery store, there's a solid 8-10 feet between the aisles. I could grab bags of candy, throw them in the air, and spin around in slow motion with my arms outstretched like I was a full-blooded Von Trapp. Glorious.

My favorite thing was the looks we would get from folks at the cash registers, as they rang up our insanely unhealthy food. They would look at the piles of candy, little debbies and easy mac, and then look up at the 2 ostensibly athletic-looking young people in front of them. I could always see the quickly-masked confusion. This did not happen in regular trail towns though, where cashiers ringing up your food could tell you were a hiker without even having to look you in the face.

Everything always looked nice on the shelves, too. Once it was all re-bagged into ziplocs and then bounced around inside my backpack for a few hours, things would lose a bit of their splendor. But in the grocery store, ah the grocery store, things were always perfect and appealing. Food looked real again, even if only for a few minutes.

Oh, the desire to be able to pack out fruit.
Clever Girl

Monday, December 16, 2013

162. Day Hikers' Cloud of Soap Smell

"Wait, stop," I put out a hand and grabbed the back of Whistle's backpack. She stopped hiking and turned around to look at me.

"What ith it?"

"Don't you smell that?" I breathed in deeply, my eyes closed, a gentle breeze ruffling my hair back away from my sweaty forehead. I opened my eyes and saw Whistle looking at me. There was a moment where she surveyed me, then slowly brought a hand up to her face.

"I don't know if you wemembuh," she said gently, then waved her hand across her face to indicate her nose and the sinus explosion she'd been having over the past week, "Aww uf THITH. I can't smew anyfink."

I grinned a little sheepishly, "No, I'm sorry. I forgot. Maybe I forgot because you... are so good at handling it that I just keep assuming that you are perfectly healthy?"

Whistle gave me a look that clearly read Nice try, Bubba, and then smiled, "What ith it that you thmell?"

Little stars sparkled in my eyes as I stared up at the beautiful blue sky and sighed like a princess in love, "Day hikers."

"Ah," Whistle nodded.

Less than 30 seconds later, we passed a group of young women and men clearly out for a day hike. Their smell had preceeded them. At first it was just a little tickle, a little foreshadowing on the breeze. Like when you're in the mall and you suddenly understand that the Yankee Candle store must be just around the corner. You follow the inticing tendrils of wafting loveliness, floating on your tiptoes like Bugs Bunny being drawn to the smell of carrots. And then...


It's like a punch in the face, if the fist doing the punching was clutching a bunch of cinnamon sticks covered in baby powder. There are 17 different smells that all assault your nose at the exact same time, sending your brain reeling with neurological electricity as your neurons attempt to place all of the different scents. Random memories explode across your brain as signals dance across the axons of your mind. You gasp for air, and in that moment of weakness, you are one-two sucker-punched by a different set of fists, one white-knuckled around a stick of Old Spice and the other wielding a couple of free-swinging coconuts. While all of this is going on, your eyes watering from the sheer explosive force of this brick wall of cleanliness, you smile politely at the day hikers and exchange a few trite pleasantries.

"Lovely day!"

"Absolutely, when we woke up this morning, we just knew we had to get out here and hike for a few hours!"

"Ah yes," you smile genially, "I know the feeling!"

You all laugh in that nice way that strangers do, and as each day hiker passes, you feel like you're going through a gauntlet of chemical flower bombs. The most staggering was when we would pass entire girl scout troops completely drenched in body spray from Bath & Body Works. It was a little like being trapped in the girl's bathroom during a middle school dance. We were warned by some previous thru-hikers about the soap cloud phenomenon, and that we should resist the urge to tell a parent, "I like the way your son's shampoo smells." Apparently, they do not take the compliment as the intention.

If you hike for more than a week, and then pass folks that are only out for the day, showered that morning, and are wearing deodorant, you will KNOW IT. And although it may sound a bit overwhelming, let me assure you: it absolutely is. But because it happens so rarely, it's like riding a terrifying rollercoaster that's actually super fun. You endure the blast wave, and then get to follow the scent that they crop-dusted up the trail as they hiked toward you.

What is also fun is the later realization that Day Hikers are not the only folks that bring along a bouquet. You also emit a fun cloud of hiker fumes that those Day Hikers have to walk through. Just like you and I, they are putting in just as much effort to be polite in spite of their sensory overload. Everyone does their best, and because the encounter is brief, everyone survives. It also seems a little unfair, as clearly, long-distance hikers get the better deal.

Clever Girl

Friday, December 13, 2013

163. Wildberries

In New York State, the Appalachian Trail goes Bear Mountain State Park. For one of the few times on trail, the path actually brings hikers through a picnic-area park. There are playing fields, a carousel, a swimming pool, a snack bar, and even a zoo. I have written about the zoo before, but I will say that it is one of the more mightily depressing places on the planet. I think the juxtaposition of seeing wild animals living in the wild for months, and then having to see them behind bars was a bit of a downer. It's like seeing a clown at the circus or seeing a clown in jail. One is creepy while the other is creepy AND depressing.

We were there on a gorgeous summer day, and the park was filled to the gills with a bunch of different summer camps out for a trip day. All the children were wearing bright neon-colored tshirts to match their pack of origin, and so that the camp counselors would have an easier time collecting them all at the end of the day. There were numerous school buses parked by the carousel, and also a few picnic tables. Whistle, Grim and I were sitting at one of the picnic tables, eating a snack and watching children carefully avoid our stink cloud.

A group of children clad in safety-orange shirts began to file onto one of the school buses.

"Look at that guy over there!" one of the kids suddenly called out, pointing across the parking lot at a tall scarecrow of a man with a patchy beard, standing waist-deep in some bushes. The man in question was too far away to hear the children, but they were all quite concerned, wondering why that strange man kept bending over and rustling around in the ruffage.

"Don't pay any attention to him," one of the young counselors said sagely as she helped the kids get loaded onto the bus. "He's just a thru-hiker. They can be weird sometimes."

None of the kids knew what a thru-hiker was. The last thing we heard as the door to the bus closed was the counselor trying to explain to a bunch of children from New York City why a grown person would choose to be a wandering vagrant.

A few minutes later, Dumptruck came running back over to our picnic table, covered in thousands of tiny scratches, but clutching a bowl full of beautiful, brilliantly red berries.

"Look at these raspberries! There are so many raspberry bushes over there!" he cried delightedly, picking up his water bottle to wash all of the cuts on his arms from digging into the thorny raspberry plants. Some of our friends from NYC were on their way traveling up for the day to visit us while we were on the edge of civilization in Bear Mountain, and Dumptruck suggested that we could save the berries and give them to our friends to impress them with how lovely and bountiful the trail was. We all agreed, and then immediately ate the entire bowl in about 3 minutes.

We surmised that our friends would be just as satisfied if we just showed them a photo of the berries instead.

We were incorrect.


Look at that face!

On a different day, I got a pretty significant sunburn on my back from spending 30 minutes straight bent over a patch of tiny blueberries, collecting an entire bowl's worth to give to Dumptruck as a declaration of my love. About half of them made it to the bowl and the other half only made it as far as my mouth. This does not mean that I do not love Dumptruck. It just means that I have terrible impulse control.

However, I am not the only one in this partnership with terrible impulse control. When we lived in New York City, sometimes I would turn around to see Dumptruck chewing on something mysterious.

"What are you eating?" I would ask, confused, and mostly wondering if he had a snack that I could puppy-dog-eye him into sharing with me. Instead, he would just open his mouth to reveal a beautiful, partially masticated purple flower. I would glance over his shoulder back down the sidewalk to see a nice little restaurant with outdoor seating and several hanging plants. These hanging plants inevitably had suspisciously purple flowers.

The first time this happened my jaw dropped and I was completely incredulous.

"You just ate a flower off of that bush?!"

"Yeah, they're edible."

"We live in New York City! That probably has the pee of 7 different rats on it!"

"Maybe," he would shrug, "but it's tasty!"

Eventually I just got used to Dumptruck snagging flowers off of decorative Upper West Side floral arrangements and jamming them in his mouth as he passed by unsuspecting doormen and went on his way down the sidewalk. However, though he offered me flowers many-a-time (not to put in a vase, mind you. To eat.) I could never muster the courage to eat something that just existed free-wheeling in my environment.

But once we got on trail, I ate all of the things. I would always default to Dumptruck's strangely abundant knowledge of flora before I would eat anything, not wanting to end up like Fox Face. Through New Jersey and New York there were endless raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and mulberries. We would often stop for several minutes at a time to graze. Each of us reaching up into branches or down into bushes, noisily stuffing our faces with the berries that would always stain our fingers and lips. It made me feel a bit like a giraffe, my tongue purple, my head in the branches of a tree, methodically eating everything in sight.

And oh, what a happy giraffe I was.

Mulberry staining

Clever Girl

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

164. Teenager Hair

This is the photo story of my hair, and how the Appalachian Trail got me to revert back to being a teenager. Brilliant ideas, when they strike teenagers, are often not quite as brilliant as the teenager would chose to believe. Or to be honest, any age at all, ever.  

With that being said, I do not regret the hell that I wrought upon my own head throughout my adolescent years (and, again over the past year). I had a lot of other things to deal with. I had terribly crooked teeth, eyebrows as thick as a grizzly bear on testosterone, and a mouth that just wouldn't stop talking about dragons when people had clearly moved on to talk about cooler things. Like wrestling or the Spice Girls. After several years of geek endurance in middle school and as a supremely dorky freshman, I decided that something had to change. Specifically, I had turned 14, I was going to get braces, and I needed a new 'do to go with my rubber-band-metal-face. 

Up until that point in my life, I had been unconsciously practicing to be a thru-hiker by only showering once a week and wearing the exact same clothing every day. My long, scraggly hair was actually a nice light brown color, but was rendered a deep chocolate hue over days of grease buildup and unconscious self-neglect. I was too busy drawing dragons all over my math homework and trying to teach myself sign language from a giant textbook I had found in the library. Sometimes I spent hours staring with all my will-power at a white wall in order to convince myself that I was moving the paint molecules around at the atomic level. The only reason there was no visual evidence was because it was all white. I WAS TOO BUSY FOR HYGIENE.

But once I was accepted into the Maine School of Science and Mathematics (read: NERD SCHOOL) starting my sophomore year of high school, I knew that I was ready to finally learn how to turn on a shower and how to own more than 2 shirts worn on heavy rotation. My mom took me to a hair dresser, I got my hair trimmed, and my mom even let me get a couple of super cool blonde highlights in the front so I could pretend that I was Rogue from X-Men. If you'll direct your attention to the below, you will be granted a special audience with me as a 14-year-old.

As high school progressed, I began drifting farther and farther away from the nice, tasteful little blonde highlights at the front of my hair. This was mostly because instead of going back to a hair dresser, I went to a pharmacy and got a box of bleach which I then dumped all over the front of my head in my dorm room at school. At that point, things started to get weird. I had grown attached to a certain cartoon character who had a A-Line short haircut in the back, and then long blonde bangs in the front. Like a reverse mullet. This was enormously appealing to me. 

So I sat in the hallway of my high school dorm with a ninja turtles sheet draped over the front of me, while a 16 year-old in gym shorts and sparkling platform heels cut off most of my hair. I was delighted with the results:

Sometimes you like to think that you're the pinnacle of modern cool. But you're not, not until you have a haircut that matches your inner awesomeness. Then, and only then, can you pair your corduroys with a fairy shirt and TOTALLY PULL IT OFF.

At some point, I got fed up with trying to manage all of the coolness involved with dying my hair all sorts of crazy colors. It was a fried mess. I had enough. 

That is me with my friend Melissa, and I think I was actually going in for a jump-hug. But I appreciate that it looks like aggravated assault.

I didn't want to wait for my hair to grow out! What's a girl to do?! 

I did what any reasonable, well-adjusted and intelligent young woman would do, and made an impulse decision to completely shave my head. Don't believe me?


If you're wondering why I have my hand on top of my head, it wasn't to strike some sort of edgy model pose. It was because I had a stripe of brown straight across of the top of my scalp that I was attempting to hide. It's the tan line from the part in my hair. If you look closely, in spite of my 17-year-old self's best efforts, you can see a tiny bit of it. My friend called this my "POWER STRIP" and posited that perhaps this was the place from which all of my superpowers were generated.

I decided to let it grow out, and spent a few winter months looking like a pink hedgehog.

Me and my friend Josh. We're wearing dresses because we're classy.
I started college with a shaggy mop of hair, about ear-length. After 2 months in college, I attempted to give myself a haircut and failed miserably. In order to cover up the evidence, I shaved my head again. For the rest of college I allowed my hair to vary in length, but continued to dye it different colors because I was a teenager and the only job I had involved getting paid under the table to serve baked potatoes to drunk undergrads at 2am. That was a legitimate job. The place was called Hot Potato, and it was revered, hallowed ground for Ohio Wesleyan students. At least the drunk ones, who I got to interact with on a nightly basis while I was painfully, painfully sober and delivering baked potatoes on my bike all over campus. 

Then, friends. I had to grow up. I spent several years living in New York City, first as a graduate student and then as a legitimate professional. I never spent money on haircuts, but I allowed talented friends of mine to trim my hair when it seemed appropriate. I had grown up. My days of having ridiculous cartoon hair were finally over, because no one wants a marriage and family therapist who looks like they just escaped from ComiCon. 

I dealt with my feelings as maturely as I was able.

Keepin' it together: Clever Girl style.

Is this how the regular people do it?

But then the day came that Dumptruck and I decided we were going to quit our jobs and live in the woods. I realized that I was going to be able to spend almost an entire year not having to be professional. I still had 3 months left of work, but I went out, bough hair dye, and turned myself into a cartoon character again. Luckily, my job already liked me well enough to put up with this. Also, I work with children, and my hair dye led to an 8-year-old boy saying "Your hair makes it look like you're made out of rainbows."

My friend Dmitry and I. He has a good thru-hiker beard.
Throughout my time on the trail, I let my hair grow out crazily and only re-dyed it every month or so, so it was generally a faded bubble-gum pink color. Whistle put a hair-wrap in my hair, just like when I was a kid at summer camp. But we were hiking the Appalachian Trail. SO IT DIDN'T MATTER.

I got to be a teenager again, at least in regard to my hair.

As of last week, my hair is back to being a brown/auburn color. I finally dyed the pink out. But I know that teenager hair is under there, just waiting until the next time that I get to be ridiculous again.

On the train ride down to Georgia
At the hospital with Hotdog
The hair-wrap
Dumptruck and his swanky wife somewhere in New England.
Clever Girl

Monday, December 9, 2013

165. Meeting Big Goals

I tried to write a crackerjack post about what it felt like to meet a long distance goal, but nothing I could come up felt like it actually captured the depth of those emotions. Luckily, on trail, my hiking family was always game for creating ridiculous videos to commemorate our accomplishments. Three of these I have posted before, and one never actually made it online until today. I'm not sure why I didn't share it with you before, except perhaps because it is a lot shorter and a lot less well-thought-out than the other ones. There's definitely a progression in regard to our lip-synch quality.

1. 500 Miles

2. 1,000 Miles

3. Halfway Point

4. Summit
Clever Girl

Friday, December 6, 2013

166. Squirt Guns

Another guest post brought to you from the beautiful minds of Whistle and Dumptruck.

In Waynesboro, VA, Apple Butter got a mail drop with 6 tiny squirt guns, and she gave us all one of each of them. Whistle, Dumptruck and I carried them on the outside of our packs, and on supremely hot days, we would squirt each other in the face and try to pretend that the water was cold. Regardless of the temperature, it was always quite satisfying. I offered "Squirt Guns" as a potential topic, and the cumulative minds of Whistle and Dumptruck came up with this cartoon. It brings me great joy.

166. Squirt Guns

Drawn by Whistle
Edited by Dumptruck

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

167. All the Future Money Saved on Hotels

Grim opened the door to his room, immediately closed it again, and then walked back to the motel office. He dropped his backpack on the sidewalk in front of the screen door, then stepped inside. The little silver bells attached to the door were rusty and faded, but made a few merry jingling sounds all the same, as though robustly attempting to give some life to the faded, smoke-stained interior of the tiny office.

A woman emerged from the back room, extinguishing her cigarette in a small dish on the counter. She picked up a discarded newspaper, glanced at the headline, apparently found it uninteresting, dropped it back onto the counter and then looked up at Grim.

"Yeah?" she growled in a voice like grits dragged over gravel, raising an eyebrow.

"Hi," said Grim, politely, "I just paid for room 14?"


"Well... There's no bed."

"Right," the woman glanced around the small office and coughed. "So, you want a discount or something?"

"Or something."

The woman pondered for a moment, then suggested that perhaps Grim would like 15 dollars taken off the price of his 30 dollar room. Grim accepted the offer, later remarking that it was worth it just for a shower and a dry floor to lay his sleeping pad on. This was before we knew Grim, but Dumptruck, Apollo and I stayed in the same motel a few days later.

We were luckily given a room with a bed, along with a television that got only 4 channels and looked as though it had come off worse in a few magnet fights. It was a gigantic cube TV that had probably been dragged into the motel room in 1983 and never moved since.The images wobbled upward on the technicolor screen, distorting faces into Rorschach tests. The sound quality was great, though.

The shower had a floor space of 3 feet by 3 feet, and the entire ceiling was coated in a thick layer of fuzzy black mold. The mold was thriving at such a level that there were several mini stalactites growing down from the ceiling. There were no little shampoos to use, only a single, minuscule bar of soap that had to be shared between the 3 of us for each of our showers and for washing our hands after using the bathroom.

The carpet had a perfect large bullet-shaped burn from where someone had clearly left a clothes iron to smolder. The true curiosity for me regarding the burn was: what sort of person who stayed in a place like that would need to iron anything? Perhaps they were ironing a sheaf of money after laundering all the blood out of each individual 20 dollar bill.

We spent most of the time sitting in our rain jackets and rain pants on a few lawn chairs in front of our room, while our clothes were laundered in a decades-old washer/dryer set on the other side of the parking lot. The dryer made occasional loud startling BANG and CLANG sounds that would make us jump a little in our seats. I liked to imagine that it was simply reminding all of us to be appreciative of the fact that it was still functional.

But as I sat there, sipping at a grape soda while a few stray dogs started fighting over a discarded piece of fried chicken somewhere behind the office, I felt perfectly at peace. The sun was shining brightly down on us, and it was exactly the right temperature. My body was exhausted from hiking, but grateful to be resting. None of the aforementioned things bothered me in the slightest, because I had access to running water, and there was going to be a roof over my head for the predicted rain storm that night. I was with light-hearted peopled who were happy and good-humored.

I feared that perhaps this complete absence of standards regarding hotels would go away after the trail, but it has not. So many more vacations now seem possible to me, because I will have no trouble whatsoever with staying in motels that cost $30 a night (or less). I'll have the money that would otherwise be spent on a hotel room to spend on other fun things like Ferris Wheel rides and cheese. Being a long-distance hiker, living in the woods, being super dirty and having to treat my water before I can drink it, has made me realize that I need very little amenities for me to view any place as my own personal version of paradise.

Clever Girl


Monday, December 2, 2013


Alright folks, dear readers of mine:

Dumptruck's book is finished, and he has started a crowdfund for it. Dumptruck has been working nonstop on this since we finished the trail. Insider info: I have seen all of the photographs in the project, and they completely blow my mind.

You can preorder a special edition of the book, see the fundraiser, and contribute anything you are able, here:

We would appreciate any way that you can help support this project. This is also the only way for you to be able to get a copy of this edition of Northbound. With every financial contribution there are awesome perks. I will also do whatever I can to hug each and every one of you that helps out.

Even if you can't contribute financially, please share the IndieGoGo site with friends, family, facebook, etc. Any little bit helps. This is the only way for the book to be published at the level of quality it deserves.

So much love,
Clever Girl