Wednesday, November 26, 2014

45. Foggy Mornings

Something about fog in the mountains always makes me think of Tolkien. I think it has something to do with the surreal unreality that mist brings. It settles like a cloak, the edge always just out of reach. There is a bubble of visible landscape around you, and that bubble moves as you do, but you can never quite reach the wall to pop it and unveil the world. Fog is hovering water, playing tricks on you as it gently rises to the sky or settles to the ground. 

Sometimes while hiking I would come to the edge of a cliff, look out, and see absolutely nothing at all. Just a cold, blank, grey nothingness. I often called this "the loading screen" as it reminded my forcefully of when I played old video games from the 90's. Sometimes if my character moved too quickly, the landscape became grey blank, until the graphics engine could catch up and fill in my world around me pixel by panicky pixel. I liked to pretend while hiking that I was just in someone's game, and if I waited long enough, the graphics would coalesce. 

But in real life, fog doesn't render. Eventually it will, if you stand still long enough, the fog will lose its density and the environment will begin to build itself back into place around you. But that could take hours, or days, depending on the tenacity of the fog. And so I had to content myself with knowing that I would never see what was on the other side of the fog, because I had to keep moving on.

Even though views are beautiful, and absolute treasures for hikers, sometimes the lack of a view was equally breathtaking. In our regular lives we are constantly bombarded by visual stimuli, constantly having to integrate what's important and what we can ignore. Maybe sometimes we space out and stare into the middle distance, but it's quite rare that we will be staring a literally nothing. But with the fog, you can lose yourself in a literal nothingness. Though, really it's figurative nothingness, because fog is a thing. It's just a thing that makes everything else (the trees, the rocks, the sky and the horizon) go into temporary hiding.

Foggy mornings on the trail made it easy for me to tell stories in my mind of grand adventures gallivanting across fantastical landscapes, with magic and dragons and princesses saving other princesses in distress. Because if the horizon is invisible, anything could be out there. The mist, coupled with the vibrant silence of the wilderness, was a perfect recipe for infinite possibility. My imagination is pretty powerful, but it becomes unstoppable when given a truly blank slate. 

It looks like I'm talking on a cell phone, but I didn't have a cell phone.
So either I'm scratching my face, or talking into an invisible cell phone.

Clever Girl

Monday, November 24, 2014

46. Clear Fresh Water

In 2006 there was a heavy rainstorm in Bethel, Maine, that caused an overflow in the town reservoir. Dumptruck, at the time, was working at a summer camp (the same summer camp that I would work at in 2007, where we would meet). The town was suddenly bereft of water, and they had to reach out to the closest nearby reservoir to ask for water to be trucked in.

And so it was that Dumptruck showered in Poland Springs water for a week. I still cannot justify buying bottled water, under any circumstances.

For six months I drank nothing but fresh mountain water, collected by my own two hands, made
Yay Giardia!
potable by me. We used a product called Aqua Mira (tiny drops that render any microscopic critters in the water dead AND sterile. What a combo!). Other folks used squeeze filters with charcoal. Some others used these awesome UV pens that lit up like light sabers and also magically de-critter-ified water. And lastly, some folks didn't treat their water at all, and those folks ended up with Giardia. What fun!

No matter what, when you long distance hike, you will become absolutely spoiled by mountain water. Whenever you go into towns and have to taste tap water, it's hard to get over the feeling that it tastes exactly like someone else's used bathwater. That's because it was someone else's bathwater that got processed at a water treatment plant. Don't worry, once you re-integrate into society, you won't notice this taste anymore, or think about how nightmarish it is! Until some jerk lady with a blog points it out and you feel all icky inside.... Oh my word I can't finish my water now. What have I done!? Damn me and my inescapable addiction to visceral analogies!

Anyway, now that I have probably sufficiently alienated you: Wouldn't it be great to just drink water that's straight from the sky or from a naturally formed reservoir? If you go long distance hiking, you get that. You get that ALL THE TIME. 

You may notice that a lot of these photos have hikers in the water, which more or less kinda makes it like bathwater again(?) Except the difference is that we'd never splash around upstream from a marked drinking source, and only ever in swift moving rivers. I promise. 

Clever Girl

Friday, November 21, 2014

47. Drying Gear Out in the Sun

I recently put a gigantic photo album up on facebook of 400 photographs that Dumptruck took along the trail. After I put them up, and people started commenting on pictures, I was feeling like a pretty cool cat, and I decided to look back through the photos again to see what people were enjoying.

There was one photo that at first glance looked pretty cool. It was a shot of me walking away from the camera on some of the rickety log-boards of New Jersey, surrounded by lush green wilderness. The boardwalk curves around and off the left edge of the frame, leading the eye out and away. But if the viewer focuses back on me, on my backpack, the viewer will notice, stretched out across my pack to dry: a pair of neon green underpants.

I immediately took the photo down, and no I can't show you, because I blushed so hard that the photo vaporized straight out of existence.

Now, you might be curious: why would I be perfectly fine parading through the woods with a pair of rain-soaked, dirty underoos stretched out across my pack for all the world to see, but now I have become modest to a fault? I'll tell you! It's because when I lived in the woods and only saw 20 people per day, it didn't really matter who saw my skivvies, because every other hiker I passed had some indecent article of clothing hanging off their pack to dry. But when my neon green underwear becomes immortalized in the hallowed halls of the internet, where it will remain for all time, I get a teensy bit prudish.

Some days I'd get completely soaked. Observe:

But what was truly wonderful was when a day of rain was followed immediately by a day of sunshine. That's when everyone became mobile clothing lines. Soaked socks, tshirts and bandanas would swing merrily from every external strap on everyone's backpack. I'm sure we all smelled like a troop of dogs who'd gone swimming in the East River. Our clothing would slowly stiffen to salty planks on our packs, but it would be dry! And it sure was nice not to have to stuff soaking clothing into our packs, where it would be left to molder until the next trip into town.

It was particularly excellent if we also had time to lay out our tents to dry in the warm sun. Having to pack up a wet tent is unpleasant, but having to get into a damp tent again at the end of the day is even worse. 

Pro tip: 

If you have a down sleeping bag, you can use your body heat as a simple dryer. This only works for slightly damp or wet clothing, it won't work if you've been in a torrential downpour.

Wear your damp clothing to bed at night in your sleeping bag! It will be uncomfy at first, but as you sleep, your body heat will cause the moisture to travel away from your body, into the sleeping bag, to the outer layer of the sleeping bag, and then eventually out into the air to freedom! 

I was too put off by the tactile sensory input of wearing damp clothing to bed, so I never quite pulled this off with any level of expertise. However, I would always put the damp socks I'd worn during the day at the foot of my sleeping bag, and in the morning they were super dry! It was like a miracle, except it was science!

Yay science!

Clever Girl

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

48. Getting to See Dangerous Wildlife Up Close

Let's be honest here: How many times have you actually had to grapple with dangerous wildlife? I think most folks get to have an encounter with something dangerous and breathing at least once or twice in their lives. If you survive the day, that encounter will likely become one of your favorite stories to tell, because you go from being a regular dude to being a certified badass. In general, we only get to see truly life threatening animals while enjoying the relative safety of a zoo or aquarium. It's not often that we have to actually figure out how to react appropriately to a wild animal that could kill us for funsies.

On the trail I encountered several large black bears, one of whom was less than 10 feet away from me. A couple of my trail friends literally got chased by a mama black bear, after accidentally setting up their tent pretty close to a den with a couple of cubs. Another trail friend got a dry bite from a rattlesnake (meaning, he was bitten, but the snake didn't release any venom). We saw a Copper Head snake in the middle of the trail, calmly devouring a mouse.

I bet you probably want to see some of the other super dangerous wildlife we got to see up close on the Appalachian Trail. Well, you asked for it. I hope you can handle it.

Clever Girl