Friday, August 29, 2014

All Growed-Up

There will be no official post tonight because tonight is my 10-year high school reunion. Yep, I just revealed my age: I am an ageless time wizard.

So tonight I am going to go listen to a bunch of ska music and reminisce about being written up for having an ice cream fight in the parking lot. 

I'll be back on Labor-Daybor. 

Love you all,
Clever Girl

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

73. Spitting Off the Top of a Mountain

Fair Warning: This post describes spitting, which is generally pretty gross. If you don't want to read about it, then you should skip this one, and I will respect you all the same.

When I was very young, my dad would occasionally roll down the window of the car while he was driving, and expertly hawk a perfectly executed loogie out into the open air. He didn't do this to be gross, he just needed to spit, as humans typically do. I never really understood how "hawk" could be used as a verb to describe pawning valuables while also being used to describe "making an effort to raise phlegm from the throat," as the dictionary so colorfully describes. The phrase "I need to hawk this loogie" takes on a very different meaning if you happen to be standing in a pawn shop, and definitely calls into question the taste level of the owners of said pawn shop.

When I was an adolescent, there was a brief period of time where every girl in my middle school couldn't stop talking about wanting a dashing young boy to teach them how to spit, just like Jack taught Rose in Titanic. None of them actually put forth the effort to learn how to make a good loogie. I guess they were just waiting for the right boy. I thought this was pretty stupid, so I just taught myself to spit all by myself. Mostly, I taught myself how because I played soccer on several different teams, and I needed to know how to spit so I could keep playing without choking on my own saliva. It's a wonder that I didn't smooch anyone until I was in my late teens.

Four years ago, when I was living in New York City, I had very strong feelings about spit. They were negative feelings. I saw folks spit on very crowded subway trains (as in, directly on the floor, not out the open door at a station), into open manhole covers, and off of the sides of buildings. One time I was approaching an intersection on a sidewalk, and a gigantic glob of spit launched from around the corner of the building. I stopped abruptly, and the missile splattered on the ground mere millimeters from my sandaled feet. Looking up, I saw the conjuror of the spit, continuing on his forward path as though he had not just narrowly missed giving my toes the most nightmarish bath of all time.

People in New York City have a bad relationship with spit. Some people just do it all the time, in public, in the open air, while the rest of us are silently (or very verbally) horrified. I saw someone slap a stranger across the face for spitting, and there was no ensuing fight. Just a slap and a reprimand. It was a much older woman chastising a young man in his 20's, who then muttered an apology and shuffled to the other side of the subway to hide his shame. I gave that woman a mental high five, because I can't say I've ever had the courage to slap a stranger.

While hiking the Appalachian Trail, I found that spitting occasionally was not only normal, it was necessary. So much physical activity paired with nearly constant water drinking just made a lot more saliva and phlegm. All that phlegm had to go somewhere, and I sure as heck wasn't gonna just swallow it. This is NOT to say that hikers should just paint the entire sides of the trails with spit. No, of course not. Step off the trail, or use all your skills to launch it at least six feet or more into the trees.

Have you stopped reading this post yet?

If you've made it this far: Congratulations! You have the type of iron stomach and acceptance of the gross-eries of human existance that all thru-hikers need to be successful.

Standing on the top of a mountain, or on the edge of a cliff, taking in the beautiful vista and then hawking the perfect loogie is something that makes you feel very big and very small at the same time. The loogie launches out into the open air, and sails to freedom, eventually traveling far enough away to become just a tiny white speck. You're on the top of the world, and below you are endless possibilities. One of those possibilities is to spit.

And so you do.

Clever Girl

Monday, August 25, 2014

74. Finding Something You Thought You Lost, Part 3

I have neglected to explain exactly why the concept of finding lost things is so important. I think perhaps I have mislabeled this little 3-part set. Really, I should have called it "Owning Less Than 30 Items" because that's really what makes it a terrific part of long distance hiking. But just the simple fact of owning such a small number of things isn't inherently terrific. There's really nothing wrong with owning stuff. There's a little capitalist inside me just like every other American, in spite of my best crunchy hippie efforts to pretend otherwise. However, having less than 30 possessions with you at all times and being unemployed definitely helps you to actually appreciate everything you own.

And thus, when you lose one of your few possessions, it feels like losing a friend. Like when Tom Hanks (14-YEAR-OLD-MOVIE SPOILER ALERT) lost Wilson in Cast Away. I felt for him at the time I first watched that movie, but now I really feel for him. That muscle-bound loin-clothed Forrest Gump owned nothing except that bloody volley ball and by god it was important to him. I think I finally understand that. Not that hiking the Appalachian Trail is anything like being marooned on a desert island for 4 years, but I have caught myself in a metaphor loop and the only way out of it is to go through.

Losing One of Your Only Possessions is number 5 on the nonexistent sister list: "200 Things About Hiking That Totally Suck." I will never actually write that list, because I'm pretty sure that would be mightily depressing naval-gazing garbage writing. But if I did write that list, I imagine "losing stuff" would rank pretty high. Just ahead of Perpetual Dampness and just behind Being So Nauseated By Your Inescapable Body Odor Cloud That You Almost Vomit.

Due to the fact that losing something is one of the more terrible things about hiking, when you find something you had thought was long gone, it's like Christmas morning, except you're just opening presents that you already owned. Wouldn't that be a wonderful thing? I heard a statistic that only 1% of non-consumable products that people buy in the United State are still being used 6 months after they're bought. What if instead of buying people more stuff for holidays, we just wrapped up the stuff they already owned but had forgotten about?

Who am I kidding? One of my greatest pleasures is finding the perfect gift for someone for Christmas. I couldn't handle just finding something in someone's attic and sticking a bow on it. Mom and Dad, please don't wrap up my dragon figurines from when I was 12 and re-gift them to me.

Or maybe do?

I can't decide.

There are a few more things that Dumptruck and I lost over the course of the trail that turned up later. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. We left our cat-hole digging trowel on the side of the trail (nowhere near a dug cat-hole, it just fell out of Dumptruck's pack). The Dude picked it up, knew it was ours somehow, and carried it for 2 whole days until he crossed our path again and gave it back to us.

2. Hotdog, Apollo and Whistle stole one of Dumptruck's socks. This was particularly horrifying, because socks are like the undercarriage of your car. Without it, the whole mechanism just breaks down. Dumptruck had only two pairs of socks with him, and our friends stole just one sock out of his backpack, thus very easily convincing him that he had lost it. He was heartbroken, especially because they were new backpacking wool socks (that cost something like $25). Later that day, they then stole one of each of my socks out of my backpack when I left my pack briefly. That evening as we were setting up our tents, I was flabbergasted to find that I had also lost one sock from each pair. We were bemoaning our stupidity and irresponsibility to take care of our possessions when our friends finally took pity on us and revealed their ruse.

3. Dumptruck thought he had lost his Speedo for a while. Yes he had a speedo. I don't know why. His legs are like bright white birch trees; seeing Dumptruck in a speedo gives one vertigo. Regardless, he thought he'd lost it, but it was just jammed in the bottom of his backpack for several days.

4. Whistle stole Apollo's spork from him secretly, and he was very sad to have lost it. In Damascus Virginia, he went into town and then came back, sighing loudly about how he'd spent $20 to buy a brand new spork. Whistle, red-faced and guilty, immediately confessed that she'd stolen his spork and would pay him back for having wasted money. Apollo then revealed that he'd been lying because he was almost 100% positive that someone had stolen his spork, and that he was hoping that by pretending to have bought a new spork, the thief would fess up. It worked.

5. I thought I'd lost my little baggie o' underpants, after doing laundry and hiking away from a town, but it turns out that I had (for reasons beyond my understanding) packed it into my food bag.

Clever Girl

Friday, August 22, 2014

75. Finding Something You Thought You Lost, Part 2

Whistle has a red woolen, knit hat. It is very nice, and she carried it with her for the entire Appalachian Trail. I want to tell you the story of how Whistle lost the hat in Tennessee, and then went on an epic adventure to retrieve the hat. I will henceforth just call the hat, Hat, like a proper name, because it has such a dramatic pull on Whistle that it is clearly its own character.

I would like to make sure that you all know that all of this is completely true. Even the bit about the soup.


Once Upon A Time,

A man in Peru had many hats. Each day he woke up and sold his hats, his special reversible hats, to tourists and locals alike. He had a very unique selling style, one that involved standing directly in the path of someone walking by, thrusting the hat into her face and shaking it around a lot, yelling a lot about the positive, reversible qualities of the hats.

A young lady was visiting Peru, and she was so startled by the hat man that she bought a hat. She bought a red one. This young lady brought it back with her to the United States, and gifted it to her friend Whistle. And so it was that Hat belonged to Whistle.

Hat was very excited, because Hat had never had a friend before, just lived in a box with lots of other hats, and only got to come out to play when it was being forcibly thrust in the faces of startled strangers. But now Hat was going to have a home! A head to live on, and to keep warm through the cold winds of life!

Hat learned that his new owner, Whistle, was going to be going on a very long walk in the woods. At first Hat was sad, because he thought he would miss Whistle terribly while she was gone. Would he have to spend that time in a box with all the other hats, just like his childhood? Would he get along with the other hats, or would there be more hat fights about knits versus synthetics? Would he ever know true love?

But then, as Whistle prepared for her journey, she gingerly picked up Hat from his napping place and declared, "I will take you with me!"

Hat was very happy.

At the beginning of the long walk, it was very cold, and Hat bravely sat upon Whistle's head, protecting her from the wind and snow. Hat did his best to stay as dry as he could, and to keep Whistle's noggin nice and warm. Whistle felt that Hat was very special, and saved her brain from hypothermia on many occasions.

Clingman's Dome, in Tennessee
One day, in Tennessee, it was a little warmer, and Whistle plucked Hat from her head and tucked him into the waist belt of her backpack. Hat swung his little braids back and forth as Whistle hiked, happy to be close to her even though she did not need his warmth on that day.

But then something terrible happened.

Whistle stopped to drink some water and eat a snack, and she took her pack off. In doing so, Hat fell to the ground, no longer held in place by the hip belt. Whistle was talking to her friend Dumptruck, laughing and happy. Hat waited patiently on the ground, sure that Whistle would notice him and pick him back up.

But that's not what happened.

Whistle put her pack on her back, picked up her hiking poles, and walked away, leaving Hat behind.

In the dirt.

All alone.

Hat would have cried, but hats, as a general rule, do not have any tear ducts.

A few hours later, a few strangers came by. One of them stopped and bent down to pick up Hat. Hat was elated! Maybe this strange man was his rescuer, here to take him back to his beloved princess!

Alas, no. The hiker hung Hat upon a tree branch, and walked away. Now Hat was alone and uncomfortable.

Well, thought Hat, sighing in the silent put-upon way that hats do, I guess I live here now.

The day slowly faded into night, and little stars peeked their twinkling eyes out through the dark blanket of the night sky. Hat felt cold without Whistle, and wondered if maybe a mouse would come by to claim him, or else a family of birds would use him as a nest. He wondered if bears ever needed hats, but then he got sad again, remembering that bears are very well insulated and usually don't need hats.

Eventually, he slept.

In the morning, many miles away, Whistle sat up in her tent, stretching and well-rested. But something wasn't right. It took only a few moments of searching before she burst from her tent, declaring,

"My hat! My hat is gone!"

Her hiking family, knowing how important Hat was, felt very sad for Whistle. A few moments later, a couple of other hikers came marching down the trail.

"Have you seen a red hat?" Whistle asked them, her eyes wide and full of sadness.

"Why, yes we have!" One of the hikers declared, flashing a grin of helpfulness. "I picked it up, and put it in a tree!"

Whistle's face fell.

"Why didn't you bring it with you?"

"Well," the hiker answered, "it looked like it was waiting for someone to come and find it."

Whistle turned to her hiking family, her face set. She told them that she was going to go back to find Hat, and that they didn't have to wait for her. Her hiking family laughed and told her that of course they would wait! There was a hostel very nearby, and they would wait there until Whistle's return, whether successful or not.

And so it was that Whistle began a new journey.

In this part of the mountains there were many dirt roads, and Whistle remembered that where Hat must have fallen was near one of the road crossings. Leaving her pack behind, Whistle took off at a run down one of the dirt roads that wound around the mountain.

She did not run far before she found a pair of nice-looking people, a man and a woman with a car, giving food to hikers.

"Would you like some soup?" they offered.

"I would! But I am on a journey, looking for something I have lost."

"Oh my!" declared the man,"can we help you find it?"

"Yes!" exclaimed Whistle joyously. "It is my hat, you see. And it is somewhere on the trail, near one of these roads."

"Excellent!" said the man, "I have a map! You can read it and take us to the place you need to go!"

Whistle climbed into the man's pickup truck, and they started off down the road.

"Which road should I take?" asked the man.

"I can't read maps."

The man stared at her.

"But... you're hiking the entire Appalachian Trail?"


"And you can't read maps."


"Well how about I just drive around until you see something you recognize?"


And so they did.

After some time, Whistle declared that they had found the right spot, leapt from the car, and told the man that she would be back in a jiffy. She leapt onto the trail and ran down it as fast as her legs could carry her. At some point she had to shout "Excuse me!" to sprint around a sour-looking hiker, who gave her a disapproving look that seemed to say you should not be running so.

"I have to find my hat!" Whistle hollered over her shoulder, and continued on her sprint. The man was not amused. But this story is not about him. Good stories are rarely about grumps.

Hat, meanwhile, was dangling from his new tree home, thinking about life and the inevitability of mortality, when he heard the sound of running feet.

"MY HAT!" Whistle cried, plucking Hat from the branch and hugging him to her chest.

Hat's heart jumped for joy! He was not going to be slowly eaten by rodents after all! He was back home, because his home was with Whistle.

Whistle had run about a half of a mile, and thus it was that she had to run a half a mile back to the truck where it was waiting for her on the road. The grump grumped at her again, but his grump-energy had no power over her, as she was full of happiness. The grump-lasers just boinged right off of her, ricochetting up into the trees where they eventually caused an argument between a pair of squirrels.

Whistle got back to her hiking family, her belly full of soup and Hat on her head.

And what became of the pair of them, the girl and her hat?

They continued on their journey together all the way to Maine.

The End

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

76. Finding Something You Thought You Lost, Part 1

"Where did you hide my tent poles, Grim?!"

Whistle is standing next to her backpack, all of its contents spread out in a nimbus around her. It looks like her pack is the epicenter of a recent, small explosion. Dumptruck walks up to them with his pack, looking curious. 

"What's going-"

Whistle whips around, her hair flying over her shoulder, looking appraisingly at Dumptruck and demanding,

"Did YOU take my tent poles?"

Dumptruck hoists a convincingly concerned and confused expression onto his face and shakes his head. 

"What? Did you lose your tent poles?"

Before Dumptruck can even finish his sentence, Whistle has directed her laser eyes back at Grim, clearly now feeling a lot of conviction that her first accusation was the right one.

"Give them to me, Grim."

"I don't have them!" Grim splutters, shrugging his shoulders and offering his hands out palms-up, a comical expression on his face that looks like the emoticon D:

Whistle is not angry at all, she is laughing, but she is also clearly not going to put up anyone trying to convince her that she lost her own poles. She will not have that nonsense, no, she will not have any of it.

While all of this is happening, I am hiding behind a nearby privy, shaking with barely-contained silent laughter. Tears are forming at the corners of my crinkled eyes. I do not have the tent poles, but I do know who took them, and thus I must hide. I have no ability to keep a straight face when pranking. I have a good poker face, but only specifically when playing poker. Apparently this skill is non-transferable.

Whistle notices my absence and raises an eyebrow, looking around the shelter area. 

"Where's Clever Girl?"

"Still hiking," says Dumptruck, a little too quickly.

Whistle, her forensic sleuthing skills kicking in, sticks one hand out to Dumptruck, a sly smile playing around her pursed lips.

"Hand 'em over."

Dumptruck breaks into a wide comical grin, the emoticon :D, and removes Whistle's tent poles from his pack and gives them to her. I collapse into view from my hiding place, laying on my back in the dirt, kicking my feet in the air and laughing.

Whistle deftly snatches the poles away from Dumptruck in a mock-huff, and starts setting up her tent.

"We stole them when you guys left your packs at the turn-off for the side trail to the waterfall," I reveal, walking over and wiping my eyes with the backs of my hands. "We were hoping you'd think you'd lost them."

Whistle makes a fart sound at me.

The previous day, Whistle had told us all that she often panicked halfway through the day while hiking, convincing herself that she had forgotten her tent poles at the previous camping spot. For it to have been an actually effective prank, Dumptruck and I probably should have waited more than 24 hours to immediately take the thing that Whistle told us she was worried she'd lose. But apparently we are not very good at hatching schemes. 

Or rather, I am not good at hatching schemes. Mostly because I laugh too much. 

Clever Girl

Monday, August 18, 2014

An Open Letter to The Tiny Black Hairs Growing In All Over My Face

Dear Little Hairs,

What up, jerks?

I bet you thought I'd never address you directly. I bet you thought that I'd just continue my silent, frustrated assault upon you each morning. But clearly the plucking has no lasting impact on you. Like a drunk forcibly ejected from a Wild West Saloon, it doesn't matter if I throw you out the door or through the plate glass window, you'll still stumble back in first thing in the morning, as though nothing has happened.

Well I've had just about enough of that, so I've decided that it's time for us to sit down and actually talk about your full-scale mutiny across the pirate ship that is my female face. I'm not sure if you noticed, but I'm a lady. Not a very ladylike lady, but a lady nonetheless. I am a full supporter of all gender expressions, and I've worn my fair share of suits and beards. But, I feel at home being feminine. And yet you, tiny, thick, dark man hairs, are popping up all over the place with the same spontaneous vigor of daisies in the snow.

I noticed the first one of you when I was maybe 21 years old. Just a rogue hair to the left of my chin, almost cute in its uniqueness. I have always found plucking my eyebrows to be a somewhat satisfying experience, so when I yoinked the first of you out of your follicle home, it was like embarking on a fun little adventure. I had heard that most women have one or two little black hairs that start growing on their face after a certain age, so I felt pretty normal. In fact, it felt like a little rite of passage. Like the singular tiny dark man hair was my initiation into being a grown woman.

But that wasn't enough for you.

Maybe I was too kind, too encouraging. Maybe you thought since I hadn't really put up very much of a fuss, you could invite some of your friends to come over and, y'know, hang out. On my face.

Over the course of the past seven years, you have multiplied and spread. You are like rabbits, if rabbits were evil. This is the bane of my Greek heritage: I have this handsome olive skin, and ability to tan in the sun. I probably smell like laurels and olive oil all the time, and my blood runs thick with Olympic endurance, but these gifts come with a price. The price is hair.

Now one of you grows directly out of the center of each of my cheeks. Some of you grow in on my neck. I even found one on my ear lobe. These are all in addition to the 8 or 9 that have taken up residence on the prime real estate of my chin and upper lip. Luckily I have cottoned on to your game, so I scour my face every morning for any new buddies, doing by best get rid of all of you before any civilized people notice you.

But now you're doing this amazing, physics defying thing where you send out a scout in the middle of the day, and where there was no hair, a mere two hours later, there is a thick black hair a few millimeters long, just waving around in the wind all day long while I talk to Clients and try to pretend to be professional.

And another thing! As the years have gone by, your physical properties have changed. You are just as thick and black as ever, but now you are brittle in addition to being firmly rooted in my skin. This means that if I don't get one of you out exactly right the first time, you'll break off right at the surface, leaving a little black spot that is long enough to be seen, but not long enough to get a good grip with the tweezers, thereby rendering yourself a permanent fixture on my face for at least two more days. Your favorite place to do this is directly between my eyes.

I'm only 28, and I used to believe that this sort of thing wouldn't start plaguing me in earnest until middle age. But now I can only assume that by the time I'm 40, my entire face is just going to be a carpet of scraggly black hairs. I bet it'll all be growing out of my eyeballs and my nose, and my mustache will be the envy of hipster boys everywhere.

I was starting to feel badly about this, but then I had a revelation: Maybe MOST women in their late 20's start suffering from the same assault from you, Tiny Black Hairs Growing In All Over Our Faces. I think it's some part of our bodies deciding to just give up on the ghost on the whole offspring thing and settle in for a long life of hairy-faced oblivion. But none of us feel like it's okay to talk about, and we all just pluck away in shameful secret. Well it is secret no more!

Well, you know what? You can try as hard as you want, little hairs, but you won't be the boss of me. I'm gonna pluck you out every day, and I'm gonna like it.

Any of you ladies out there who feel like you're a freak because you're not even 30 and already your face has started creating a beautiful field of hairy daisies, I want you to know that you're not alone. We'll never beat this monster, but by god, it won't beat us either.

Clever Girl

Friday, August 15, 2014

77. Sleeping Next to a River

On the day we hiked out of Hot Springs North Carolina, we didn't make it very far. At this point in our journey Shanty Town consisted only of Dumptruck, Apollo, Hotdog, Whistle, The Hunger (though at the time he was still Donny) and myself. The six of us started walking out of town and made it less than a mile. Though, earlier in the day we had slack-packed six and a half miles from the place where we'd been picked up when Whistle had the Noro Virus, so really, it was like we hiked 7.5 miles. Whatever, our legs moved, we were propelled forward in space by the force of our legs, and we were in a different physical location at the end of the day than we were at the beginning. This is all that matters.

The trail went along French Broad River, and then it came to a fork. The left fork led up the mountain, northward along the Appalachian Trail. The right fork continued another quarter of a mile along the river along a narrow path to a dead-end flat area, the perfect camping spot, with the mountain jutting up on the left, and the water rushing by on the right.

We made a decision that it was a day we needed to "hike our own hike," which in this particular instance translated to, "be very lazy and camp next to this really beautiful river."

It was the first hiking say that actually felt like spring, as literally two days previously we had been caught in the middle of a murderous ice storm that sent chunks of ice pinging off of our skulls like our heads were Plinko pegs. We had survived a month of winter conditions, and the taste and smell of the changing season was all around us. There were no leaves yet on the trees, but there was a palpable sense of nature shaking off the frost and stretching back to life.

Donny, Apollo and Dumptruck collected an excess of firewood, and we had one of the first campfires on the trail that was made for fun, instead of being made specifically to stave off hypothermia. We stayed up until the stars were winking overhead, and then all crawled into our tents to be lulled to sleep by the white noise of the perpetually moving water. Sleeping on the ground with my head mere feet from that river was one of the most comfortable sleeps I've ever had in my life because I felt safe, and because I felt the electricity of being alive.

Something about a river has always felt, to me, like the perfect representation for all nature. It is constantly changing, shifting and flowing. It follows a logical progression that can nonetheless seem chaotic and unpredictable. Water can give life and it can take it away. It can be peaceful and it can be violent, depending on the weather. They say time flows like a river, but really, a river flows like time.

Tempting fate by climbing out on a dead tree over a rushing river.

Whistle and I looking down at the river from a rock perch.

Dumptruck hiking shirtless for the first day of spring. As you do.

Clever Girl

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

78. Being at the Mercy of Nature

Right now I am sitting parked in my car (The Outback's name is now "The Rattle Box") in Portland Maine, because I drove up here for trivia, as I do every Wednesday. Now it is 9:50, and I literally cannot leave town because it is raining so hard that it has flooded the town. Every street I could take to get out of town has bottomed-out flooded cars stuck in the intersections. There's probably a way out, if I looked hard enough, but then I'd have a 30 mile drive on the highway through this to get home, so, y'know, this parking lot seems nice.

Dashboard Velociraptor in a downpour.

I like rain. I like thunderstorms. I think I like them even more now that I actually know how to appreciate just how frickin' miraculous it is to enjoy rain from within a solid structure. 

When you're in the woods you have to learn to be at the mercy of mother nature because there's nothing you can do about it. Sometimes when we don't have control over significant portions of our lives, we can start to feel frazzled and overwhelmed, which can lead to us being sourpusses. When all you do is hike and spend time outside, the weather truly plays a big role in your day. At some point you have to make one of several choices. A few reactive options are: 
1. Freak out and try to outrun the weather
2. Try to change it by the sheer force of your misery. 
In my experience thus far, neither of these strategies have been effective. But I'm also not a super human who controls the weather.

Not yet anyway. Maybe if my car gets struck by lightning right now (like the building 300 feet away from me that just got stuck by lightning when I was looking RIGHT AT IT), I will be imbued with powers, and then all of you get to be part of my superhero origin story. 

Instead of trying to control situations with hyper misery, I made choice #3 when I was hiking. I let it in. I would let in the rain, accept my soaking wet state of being, accept the suckiness of it, but accept that at the moment, changing my physical state of being simply wasn't possible. But I did have an ability to make a choice about my state of mind.

A rat in a maze could bemoan his rat life, shake his tiny paws at the sky and squeak curses to the heavens. Or he could just find himself some mother-truckin' cheese. 

And now as I sit here in this car, waiting for the rain to let up and wanting to be at home with my cats in my tiny house, I find that I'm not bothered at all about once again finding myself at the mercy of the weather. In fact, my state of mind is so permanently accepting of the rain that my first emotional reaction to the insane downpour was only to be disappointed that I didn't have an inflatable tube in my car that I could use to raft down the river-streets.

Clever Girl

Monday, August 11, 2014

79. Belching

I don't know when it became unladylike for women to belch, but I consider that moment the beginning of the slow decline of humanity. 

Everyone burps. I have the fortune of being friends with the sort of people who reward particarly robust burps with high fives and praise, but I think it's because I only rarely do it, and thus it's startling and makes people laugh. Forgive me for generalizing here, but I feel like a lot of the guys I know can just burp without anyone feeling the need to comment on it. But when I, as a female, let loose, it's either a triumph or a horror, depending on who I'm standing next to at the time. One time I accidentally burped when I was in my art history professor's office, in the midst of discussing my 30-page research paper on Artemisia Gentileschi. She kicked me out of her office. 


This is not to say that I feel that we should all belch constantly. Even I, a purveyor of all bodily functions great and small, would eventually get a little annoyed if everyone marched around all day letting stinky air trumpet out of their faces. It wouldn't necessarily make conversation more difficult, but communication would take on a different sort of shape... The sort of shape that has to work its way around the regular yet unpredictable expellings of face gas.

When you're on a long distance hiking or camping trip, the first few hours are characterized by people still clinging to the general mores of civilized society. In other words: everyone's trying to just be cool, man, don't be weird. 

But the longer you stay out there the more you are able to differentiate between social rules that are legitimate (e.g., don't steal from others, don't bite others) and ones that are just unnecessary (e.g., don't eat food off the ground, don't scratch your butt). Burping is one of the latter group. There's no reason not to belch, especially if you're in the woods. Other hikers don't care, animals don't care and the trees don't care. 

The greatest is when you get one of those really satisfying belches that starts deep in your belly. You can feel the rumbling beginning like distant thunder rolling up the landscape of your torso, growing in strength and velocity until it erupts from your echoing throat tuba in pure basso profundo. You don't even need to be standing on the edge of a cliff for it to echo, this burp is so powerful that it echoes off the walls of itself.

And this is much better received when you're standing at a campfire than when you're standing at Sunday mass.

Clever Girl

Friday, August 8, 2014

80. Hike Naked Day

Let me just answer the most important questions immediately: Yes, there are photographs of when we did Hike Naked Day last year. No, they will never be put on the internet. Maybe, one day if you're sitting on the front porch of my tiny house and we're drinking tea, I can dig out those photos and show you just exactly how hilariously nightmarish a naked body looks when it is strapped into a 40 pound backpack. But until then, you'll just have to content yourself with knowing that no matter what someone looks like with clothing on, if you get them naked and make them wear something that wraps around their waist and supports the weight of four bowling balls, they will look like a melting candle. There's something very communal and beautiful about that, I think. Inside of all of us is a weirdly shaped person just waiting to waddle down a trail in Pennsylvania somewhere, feeling justifiably worried about chaffing.

Hike Naked Day is celebrated on the Appalachian Trail on the Summer Solstice every year. If you have small children and you aren't keen on having them ask awkward questions, I would recommend that you avoid any stretch of trail between Georgia and Maine, anytime in late June. We're only supposed to hike naked on that one day, but who knows how dedicated some hikers might choose to be. Hike Naked Day is exactly what it sounds like. Put your socks and your boots on, put everything else in your pack, and head off down the trail. Depending on what stretch of trail you are going down, I also highly recommend sunscreen. If you've never experienced a sunburned bosom or buttocks, I pray that you will never have to know the pain of learning that lesson firsthand.

Grim, Whistle, Dumptruck and I celebrated Hike Naked Day, but we didn't fully commit. We were naked for the first part of our hike, but we were trying to hike 15 miles that day. It wasn't for any level of embarrassment or shame that we put our clothes back on, but for the honest to god horror of potential chaffing. My lower back/upper butt was starting to feel raw and awful from the lumbar support on my pack after only a few minutes of hiking with no layer of protection between my pack and my wimpy european skin. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will also admit that we were hiking a section that contained a lot of road walking in neighborhoods and over highways, and I wasn't terribly keen on being arrested wearing nothing but hiking boots. Therefore, the chaffing was a good excuse to avoid a censored mugshot.

But we were planning to, at the very least, end our day in full Hike Naked Day glory, by striding down the 0.2 mile side trail to Darlington Shelter in our birthday suits. When we arrived we were greeting by whoops, hollers and cries of delight from fellow thru-hikers. One woman, Little Sass, was overcome with joy, expressing that she had been hoping that she would see at least one of the class of 2013 honoring Hike Naked Day, but that she had been unlucky until we arrived.

We also completely scandalized a weekend hiker who was clearly not expecting something like this to happen to him on his peaceful solo wilderness overnight. He wasn't mad per se, he just had a lot of difficulty making eye contact with Grim or Dumptruck after we'd all re-clothed ourselves. When he headed out into the woods he was probably expecting to see wild animals, but got a little more than he had bargained for.

A fellow hiker named Invisible Man, from Australia, fully committed to Hike Naked Day for the entire day, but he wore a small Australian Flag as a loincloth. If that's not national pride, then I don't know what is.

Clever Girl

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

81. Meteor Showers

When I was 17, I attended high school in a very northern part of Maine. This part of Maine was so very Northern that we weren't quite sure whether we were the United States or Canada anymore, and frankly it didn't really matter. The upshot of being so far North was that we got to fully allow ourselves to revel in the Northern Lights. The Northern Lights, for the uneducated, occur when the sun vomits excessively all over our atmosphere, causing a beautiful rainbow of sun-star bile barf. It's enchanting.

There was one instance in the fall of 2003, when the sun must have eaten somethig particularly upsetting to the basic star digestve system. I was in Northern Maine at the time, and not only were the lights absolutely beautiful, it also happened when I was 17, which meant that it was imbued with all sorts of intense meaning as everything is wont to do when you're 17. As a teenager, a tiny bit of mold on the corner of your ham sandwich can easily be interpreted as a harbinger of the apocalypse. This is the crux of the glory and horror of being a young adult: everything is exciting... and everything is stressful.

I found an old livejournal blog entry from that night that I wrote as a 17-year-old, and I will include it at the end of this post, so that you can be sure to exercise all of the muscles in your skull from the resultant eye-rolling. 

The reason I bring it up is because: although long distance hiking affords one many beautiful views of the stars and our galaxy, last year during my thru hike I got to experience something that even my teenage emotional slam-poet self wouldn't have been able to describe.

We were on the top of Smarts Mountain last summer, which was the tallest mountain for many miles in every single direction. The horizon enveloped us like an upside-down bowl. There was a fire tower on the top of the peak, raising our tiny human bodies even above the reaching fingertips of the trees, allowing us an unimpeded view of the world in 3D. And this was the night of the Perseid meteor shower.

As each meteor hurled itself against the atmosphere, burning up more brilliantly than a Disney child actor, my hiking family and I sat in silence, watching the sky fall around us. There were so many that I couldn't hope to see them all, I just had to pick one direction and stare intently that way, to see all the streaks of descending light falling in that part of the sky.

I'd never felt so small and so big at the same time. 

Not even when I was 17.

If you're the sort of person who might judge an adolescent's feelings-soaked ramblings, please do not proceed further. But if you can take this sort of thing in good humor and allow all your mocking to be exercised in the aforementioned intense eye-rolling, feel free to proceed.

I want to include this because in spite of its silliness, I think it captures the sort of indescribable adolescent joy that comes from being in the presence of something that reminds us that we are not actually the center of the universe.

Clever Girl


Maybe there is something to be made of all the typical awe-inspiring aspects of the world around us and yet we turn our backs to them saying how pisshaaw, how perfectly predictable,

how incredible

and in the back of our eyes the sky is reflected upside down in the way of lights we never thought were supposed to be there, but are, you see, so very much are spanning the entire expanse of this endless upside-down world above our heads

and we crane our necks to look for the source

and it just doesn't end

it's reds and greens and blues and it's a curtain rippling so slowly in a wind I feel whistling though these holes in me ears but I can't hear it, all I hear is my breath and the one two one two one two beat of a rhythm of a heart that might not even be mine but belonging to nothing but this but these but Oh! 

I turn a full circle, I'm still exhausted from running, but it just keeps on going and it all comes together from a culmination in the center where the fingers meet and the black sky is only black for a speck of moment in [neverchanging] time but constant above me, I'm scared too, I don't want to know the future, I don't want it to be certain, and don't want anything but this, I reach up like a child for a balloon and I reach with fingers that don't belong to me and I reach and I laugh and the forgotten space between my bones is crying and I can feel it echo in my jaw and vibrate the 


ground beneath my feet

There are no words to form this anticipation to exultation of this exhalation to this syncopation of some alternate creation for which I'm always somehow seeking for a certain way to step 

I can't feel it but I know it I know this I know you

they say you can never go back

but I've never seen them like this.

Monday, August 4, 2014

82. Golf Balls

If a non-hiker were to look through my backpack when I arrived in Massachusetts on my thru-hike last year, they would have found what appeared to be a huge collection of utterly useless items. They may have found a dodgeball, a deck of cards or a velociraptor toy, among other things. But as we have established, these things are not actually useless. They're just useless to the untrained or unwilling eye. This is similar to how some people feel about tiny dogs. Some people think they're awesome, and other people feel confused about why you would want to carry something like that around in your bag.

Something that would have seemed particularly out of the ordinary would have been a red golf ball. Well, the ball wasn't completely red, as there were many spots where the paint had chipped away to reveal a strata of other bright colors, the evidence of decades worth of repainting. Why would a hiker need or want a golf ball? Is she waiting for the perfect mountaintop off of which to hit it? She would never be able to retrieve the ball, unless she's the sort of person to hike with a Caddy. More importantly, what would she hit it with? In my experience, very few hikers carry a 9 Irons with them. But frankly it wouldn't surprise me if I met one that did. 

Sometimes I like to think about an archaeologist 1,000 years in the future finding my backpack and trying to make sense of all the crap inside. Would they see the golf ball as some sort of religious artifact? A talisman to represent the weight of the world? Or maybe they would think the golf ball was some kind of inefficient firestarter. Or maybe they'd think it was used to hunt grouse, by knocking them out if the air with one well-aimed whack.

No, the golf ball was actually a sort of first aid device. TAKE THAT, FUTURE SCIENTISTS. I'd carried a plain golf ball with me for a lot of the southern states, but I traded it at a mini golf course in Great Barrington, Massachusetts for the mostly-red-kinda-multicolored one that still sits in a pocket of my mostly empty backpack to this day. 

At the end of the day, I'd take off my hiking boots, put the golf ball on the ground, and roll the ball, heel and arches of my feet all over it. This felt like a somewhat painful massage, but served the purpose of stretching out the tendons and ligaments in my feet! They sell hard knobbly ball-things like this at fancy stores for 30 bucks. You could spend that money, or just use a golfball that you secretly pocketed from a run-down bowling alley/mini golf franchise in the middle of a tiny town. Either way, your hiker feet will love it.

Clever Girl

Friday, August 1, 2014

83. Soup

So- I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned this on here before, but I have three jobs. One is a full time job, and two are part-time jobs. I work between 55 and 60 hours a week. I also believe in devoting a lot of my time and energy into dancing around, playing with friends, being on trivia teams, doing volunteer work and running from one place to another for miles and miles and miles. Keeping this blog updated is entirely separate from all of that, and I absolutely love doing it. However, sometimes I literally don't have enough time in the day to be able to write a thorough, well-written post. On those days, I try to choose one of the Terrific Things that requires less explanation. Frankly, all the things are terrific, but not all of them are equally funny/inspiring/touching/gaseous. Some things can't be captured in words, and I have to make videos to try and wrap all the feelings into one place. 

And then sometimes I leave from one full day of work to travel an hour to do an insane science show for kids, and I get back home to make a campfire in front of Tiny House, and have friends over to tell stories and connect through the harmonizing chorus of our laughters, and then it's almost one in the morning and I realize I haven't written anything at all. But I have to wake up tomorrow morning at 6:30am to do 10 full hours of work on a Saturday. I'm also on the board of directors for a high school, and every once in a while I need to snuggle my cats, and maybe sleep. I was going to list some of the other things I do, but I'm going to stop because I have to sneeze.

These are not complaints. These are all excuses for why I can't always dedicate time to the blog.

I love you, my beautiful, nerdy, enthusiastic audience, and I always feel guilty when I can't give you a fully realized, drafted, edited and produced piece of writing. But I hope you can forgive me, and still come back on Monday, when I will give you all that writing you're looking for.


When we were making this initial list a year ago, someone shouted out "SOUP!" to add it to the list. I put it down without thinking about it, and now I'm a bit stumped. I'm not really sure why soup made the list, because other than Ramen, hikers don't eat a lot of soup. I feel obligated to include it, because it has just been sitting there on the list all this time, staring at me, daring me to remember even a single interesting story about it.

...But it's soup.

I'm going to guess it has something to do with eating something warm and delicious that requires no chewing effort to eat at the end of a long rainy day(?)

Chicken Soup for the Hiker Soul would just be all of the food left at the bottom of a food bag boiled together in one ridiculous mess and eaten without a trace of irony.

Begging your forgiveness,
Clever Girl