Wednesday, March 5, 2014

134. Hiking Fast Enough to Generate Your Own Air Conditioning

I am writing this post in the hope that if I am able to remind myself how oppressive summer can be, it will help me to appreciate this lingering winter. Hold up, "lingering" isn't even the right word. Lingering is the thing that you do around the now-empty free samples table at Costco, trying to look casual. You think you look convincing, seriously contemplating that giant 50-count box of Fruit By The Foot, but you're not fooling anyone. You're not fooling anyone because everyone else around you is also lingering, and they're trying to make themselves feel superior and sneaky by judging other people's techniques.

This winter does not linger. This winter is more like the person who follows the Costco employee back behind the bakery counter saying "Please more, please more, please more, please more" until the Costco employee picks up the new basket of thawed frozen raspberry tartlets and chucks it at the person's head. 

I want to appreciate this winter, because it's not winter's fault that it's this way. It's a genetic thing. Passed down through eons of problematic weather family dynamics. I also don't really mind being cold. The problem is that I was going to write about more wintery things that are wonderful about the trail, and I couldn't bring myself to do it. I think that I have to write about the summer, so that I can try and put myself there, instead of here. Here being in my apartment in a 200-year-old house on the coast of New England, with the thermostat set at 40 degrees, and sitting in a tiny room, wrapped in a gigantic down comforter, with a space heater sitting on the desk 10 inches from me, pointed directly at my face. HEATING OIL IS EXPENSIVE. 

Let me take you on a journey to a time when the word "cold" was nothing but a distant, far-away idea. It was so enigmatic and unattainable that you might wonder if it had ever even existed in the first place. There are no air conditioners in the woods. There are no iced drinks. There aren't even any loose papers around to fold in half and use as half-hearted little fans. There is no evidence that things could be anything other that permanently, stiflingly boiling.

It's summer now, and it's possible that you've been hiking for a long time at this point. You might have strong enough legs to hike at a 4 mile an hour pace without even noticing how awesome you are. You are on a flat stretch of trail, and you pause for a moment to take a drink of water. You feel drenched in sweat, soaked to the bone, and simultaneously dried out the crispiness of a dead corn husk. How can you be so wet and so devoid of hydration at the same time? This is confusing. And uncomfortable! 

After catching your breath, you start to move again, and you move just fast enough to generate a small, noticeable wind over your skin. 

And here is where the magic comes. Sometimes in the face of difficult physical circumstances, if you are really, truly determined to have a good time, you are able to latch onto teeny tiny victories and they feel like winning an olympic medal. Let's be honest: hiking fast enough to generate your own air conditioning isn't actually terrific, it's kind of alarming. If you are hot and delirious enough to think that feeling a 1 degree change in temperature on your skin because of your 4mph pace is really awesome, it is probably too hot to be hiking.

What's actually terrific is your brain's miraculous ability to recognize that small, tiny, 1 degree change in your circumstances, and to see it as something grand and awe-inspiring. So often we get so numb to beautiful, small things in our lives, constantly seeking things to be more interesting, more compelling, more quickly digested, more exciting, more heart-attack inducing, MORE! MORE!! MORE!!!

But when you're all alone in the woods, and you suddenly cackle in mad relief and happiness at your magical air-condition-producing abilities, something inside of you changes. You realize that you love being able to be happy with the one slightly positive part of a day that could have been horrible. You chose to latch onto the good part instead, no matter how small. You realize that an ordinary day is actually jam-packed with countless tiny miracles that we have long-since forgotten to appreciate. Like toast, for example. THINK ABOUT TOAST FOR A SECOND. IT'S BREAD. THEN IT'S TOAST, LIKE, 2 MINUTES LATER. TECHNOLOGY IS AWESOME.

For a long time after this, after you go back to your regular life, you will be able to find those tiny joys and victories, and they will be just as satisfying.

The downside of this is that whenever something actually amazing happens, your heart is more likely to immediately stop beating because it's just too much to handle.

Clever Girl


  1. Initially I read ' dead corn husk ' as dead cork husk. Either way it's another really great addition to 200 TT. Sorry to hear it's so darned cold there...Bern in Fla

    PS you really don't get enough comments, these are great. Ya'll need to show CG some love. Think of the dedication, creativity, whimsey, natural talent....Bern in Fla

    1. Bern, you are so right! The blog continues to be the highlight of our Mon/Wed/Fri evenings! We get to see her regularly and tell her in person how much we value her writing but we must send more comments! This is really good stuff...even with the Mom and Dad filters in place! John and Liz

    2. Thanks guys!! So much love!

  2. I did 27 miles in the Big Cypress Swamp in Florida last weekend. I drank 9L of water on Saturday alone. Totally get the completely soaked with sweat and unable to quench the thirst for water. still had a headache from it.

    1. It's awful, but if you're lucky you get that nice life-threatening delirium that can so often accompany dehydration. Nice job on the 27 miles, and well done drinking 9 liters!

  3. I had a scary moment when i was so hot and thirsty I was shivering. I was so confused because i knew that shivering would only make me hotter. Luckily i was on my way into Port Clinton to the hiker pavilion which was well stocked with gallons of water.