Wednesday, February 19, 2014

138. Hiker Language

There are a lot of mysterious slang words known only to long-distance hikers, friends of long-distance hikers, and traveling hobbits. At the beginning of my hike of the AT, I didn't know any of these words, and yet they were tossed around by all the hikers around me like they were normal lexicon. It made me feel very much like an exchange student, lost in a country where the language sort of sounds like English, but is actually some form of highly evolved Pig Latin. Or perhaps it was a little like being a muggle overhearing a bunch of wizards talk about Quidditch. Erd-Nay Ert-Alay!

Once I started understanding what people were saying, and could use the words on my own without having to riffle through a mental dictionary or sound like a big dumb idiot, it actually felt pretty cool. It was like being part of a secret society that spoke in code words. Or like being James Bond, if James Bond didn't spend so much money on suits and instead of living a life of luxury and beautiful women, he dug holes to poop in the woods.

The only way to learn this language was via full immersion, i.e., I just had to hope that things were said enough times that I could start to figure out what they meant by contextual cues. For example, the only way I figured out what "Banana Blazing" was, was by first learning the meaning of "Pink Blazing" and then using my smarty-brain to work backwards. Come to think of it, there are a lot of different types of "blazing" that people talk about. Let's start there, in our hiker dictionary!

Here is a short list of "blazing" definitions, by color:

White Blazing: Following the Appalachian Trail. Named as such for the white "blazes" of paint put onto trees by trail maintenance folks to mark the trail.

Blue Blazing: Side-trails were often given blue blazes instead of white blazes. Therefore, Blue Blazing was taking a side trail, perhaps to go on a fun side-quest adventure like visiting a pond or a national park campground where nice people will take pity on you and give you food, before you hike back up the blue-blazed trail to the AT.

Yellow Blazing: The fact that this exists is a point of great contention and debate among long-distance hikers. But it's something that is spoken about on a regular basis, so it's only fair to let you in on the knowledge. To put it simply, Yellow Blazing is hitch-hiking past a section of trail, i.e., you skip miles via a car, semi-truck, helicopter, horse carriage, teleportation, etc. etc. Basically, it's the use of anything other than the strength of your own body to get down the trail.

Aqua Blazing: Taking a canoe or kayak down a river that is parallel to the trail you were traversing. A fair amount of people will Aqua Blaze through the Shenandoah Park because there are easy entry and exit points along the way, and it's a lot of fun. Dumptruck and I did not Aqua Blaze because it was too expensive for us, but a lot of other people did.

Pink Blazing: Hiking faster that your usual pace in order to keep up with, or catch up to, a lady who you happen to fancy.

Banana Blazing: Hiking faster that your usual pace in order to keep up with, or catch up to, a gentleman who you happen to fancy. .... I suppose that one's a little luridly blush-inducing.

Black Blazing: Hiking with determination directly off a cliff, into the dark, black abyss. This was not encouraged.

I think that's all the typically used forms of Blazing. I don't know of a common usage of orange or green, though I suppose someone somewhere probably has come up with a definition for those colors.

Let us continue down the merry path of hiker language, and my own definitions!

Slack Packing: When some kind soul with a vehicle offers to take your heavy (30 - 50 pound) backpack from you and shuttle it down the trail, so you can hike for a full day carrying only the essentials (water, water treatment, snacks, headlamp, rabid armadillo, Faberge Egg collection, rain jacket, map).

Zero: A day when you don't hike at all. These are the days that reveal that hikers are actually, counterintuitively, the laziest bags of bones on the planet. We will lie in our motel beds, whining about how far away the TV remote is (2 feet) because we can't move a single aching bone to get closer to our desired object. Zeros are spent dedicating a lot of energy trying to become telekinetic, have go-go-gadget arms, or using all of your skills trying to convince other people to do things for you.

Nero: A day in which you hike comparatively fewer miles than usual. Near + Zero = Nero. At the beginning of the trail, a "Nero" was thought of as a day in which you hiked 2 or 3 miles. Later on, a "Nero" might be 6 or 7 miles. Hikers are a bunch of weirdos.

Trail Angel: Miraculous, generous souls who hang out at trail crossings and give free food or other necessities to ever-indebted hikers. There are some famous trail angels that are on the trail ever year (Miss Janet, Beth + Bernie!), and those that might only help once or twice or every once in a while. Regardless of the amount of time they spend helping out hikers, they are all angels. Or angles. Or anglers. Catching a fish on the trail would be like a miracle.

Flip-Flop: Some hikers hike directly North to South, or South to North, if they are hiking the Appalachian Trail. Some people Flip Flop, which means they hike a section of the trail going one direction, and then flip around to hike the other direction. The most widely understood Flip Flop is wherein someone will hike North from Harper's Ferry, WV, to Katahdin, then go back to Harper's Ferry to hike South to Springer. Flip Floppers don't necessarily wear Flip Flops, but they might. Also they might flippity-flop around a lot like a jumpin' bean, but this is not a requirement.

Trail Magic: This is food from the real world, magically transported onto a trail. Sometimes there will be a trail angel there to hand out the magic, but sometimes it's just a large cooler at a road crossing, full of treats and a note of love.

Vitamin I: This is Ibuprofen, which is eaten on such a regular basis early on in the trail that it's just like  a vitamin. A vitamin that could eventually cause stomach bleeding! This fact did not stop me from taking probably 8 a day for the first 2 weeks.

Yogi: This is just like it sounds. This is when you "Yogi Bear." Meaning, you look as adorable as possible, and hope that someone will give you food, or a different hiker's visiting parents will give you a ride into town and back so you can do your laundry. This is when you get a bit out of someone else's pic-a-nic basket, with their permission of course.

AYCE: ALL YOU CAN EAT. Some daring restaurants in trail towns have AYCE buffets, which are descended upon by hikers like locusts descended upon Egypt. I do not know how these restaurants stay in business with all-consuming food vacuums (hikers) as patrons. I suspect they're probably all fronts for the mob.

Bounce-Box: Nonsense, you say! That box can't bounce! Well that is accurate, my friend! But it can be bounced ahead from post office to post office via the USPS. I just tried to think of a clever acronym phrase for USPS, but apparently acronyms are not my strong suit. My strong suit is clubs, at least when I'm shooting the moon in Hearts. A bounce box is a priority mail box with several essentials in it (extra batteries, extra ziploc bags, extra supplies for fixing your tent, extra underpants, extra googly eyes) that you can continue to mail ahead to yourself at post offices in trail towns. If it's a priority mail box that hasn't been opened, you can continue to forward it for free!

Cat Hole: This is the hole you dig in the ground to leave your creations inside of!

ME-GA GA-ME: Mega Game! This stands for Maine to Georgia or Georgia to Maine, depending on your direction of wandering.

LNT: This stands for Leave No Trace, which means that you respect the environment ALL THE TIME. You clean up after yourself, you leave a campsite looking better than how you found it, you leave no trace that a human has been there. This does not stand for Leave No Trees, or Leave No Tigers. You should always leave trees and tigers where you found them.

Clever Girl

P.S. I'm sure there's more than I have listed here, but some of the other ones aren't as fun!

P.P.S. A lot of these will probably end up being their own entries at some point.

P.P.P.S. If you make those sounds really quick "puh-puh-puh-essss" you can pretend that you know how to beat box! You're awesome.

1 comment:

  1. This is what it's like feeding hungry hikers up on Newfound Gap a bit understated perhaps....