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


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