Friday, February 27, 2015

13. Fresh Air

This is a current photo of the window in my office:
Desert succulents and a WALL of snow.
This does not occur in nature.

I spend anywhere from 8 - 10 hours a day in my office, and the window, as you can probably surmise if you have basic deduction skills, does not open and has not opened for quite some time. I work in a mental health clinic with lots of children, all of whom have all your basic winter illnesses. The same air is circulated, day in, day out. I got horribly ill several times this autumn, but I've been taking probiotics since January and it hasn't happened again, Even if it's just a placebo, it's a pretty great placebo. The bonus of being really gullible is that I can be cured of illnesses just through stupidity! I could treat a broken leg with the sheer force of my dumb will if someone just gave me a couple tic tacs and called them "Leggy-All-Better-Pills."

For comparison, this is the air that I could be breathing:

Have you ever heard someone describe fresh, chilly air as "crisp?" Let's break this down a little bit. Air cannot be hard, because it is air. Air cannot be soft, because it is air. Yes, there is moisture in air, so it can have a bit of a texture, but it is in essence a gas, so it cannot hold very much physical texture without tipping over into being a solid. So why can we call it crisp? That word is a bit of an onomatopoeia* because it's the sound of biting into a fresh, perfect green apple. It sounds hard to me. It sounds like something that breaks perfectly along the seams of juicy cells on the first pull, like cracking ice, the molecules separating along a clean, sheer cliff. 

That's what fresh air is. Fresh air is startlingly, perfectly clean. Each breath feels taking a bite of the atmosphere, way back before our atmosphere started getting pretty messed up. There aren't a whole lot of places left in the world with truly fresh air. It's possible that someone could argue that there's very few places even along the Appalachian Trail where the air is truly, completely clean. It's true that at any given moment you're not all that far away from cars and civilization. But if you're somewhere that has a long distance hiking trail, it has to at least flirt with the idea of being in wilderness, more than half the time. Otherwise, it's a different type of adventure. There are plenty of backpacking trips that take you through towns and across cultures and into the great unknowns of love and community. Those are equally wonderful and important but just different from being out in the woods. 

If you've had the supreme pleasure of taking a deep, full breath of truly fresh air, then you know what it feels like. Now imagine that you can do that every single time you breath, for days, weeks and months on end. 

I never took the fresh air for granted... except when it was a billion degrees and the fresh air felt like trying to swallow whole sticks of half-melted butter. I did take the air for granted a little bit then. But even then I was grateful that it wasn't whole sticks of half-melted butter that had been rolled around in city grime and pollution before I had to eat them. There's always a bright side! 

Why do we hike? Most people would list "fresh air" as pretty high up on their list of compelling reasons to take on the arduous task of climbing a mountain. When you're up there you can see the air for miles around, and finally you're allowed to just be present in your body and take all of it in. 

One breath at a time.

Clever Girl

*Holy crap, I spelled onomatopoeia correctly on the first try without looking it up! Thanks, utterly insane honors English teacher I had in 7th grade! 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

14. Not Going to Work/School

My first job was as a bagger in a commissary on the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Commissaries are the military base version of grocery stores, and really they're no different than regular grocery stores, except that they employ young teenagers to bag groceries for no paycheck and only cash tips. I was 13 years old, had long scraggly brown hair, and had never made eye contact with a pair of tweezers in my life. 

I would stand at the end of the conveyor belt, dutifully organizing foodstuffs into paper or plastic, loading it into a cart, and dragging the cart out to the person's car. I would carefully place the groceries into the car, and then stand there awkwardly for a moment, hoping maybe they would give me a couple of sweaty dollar bills I could jam into my pocket. Some days I'd make $15 an hour, and other days I'd make 75 cents in an hour, depending on the volume of customers. Regardless of how much I made, it all went into buying anything/everything with dragons on it, because I was nothing if not a young woman of taste. 

One early summer afternoon I was standing at end of the cash register, chewing bubble gum silently and staring into the middle distance. There was hardly anyone in the store, and because it was a really slow time of day, there was only me and the one cashier, who I think was named Diane. Tinny music played half-heartedly over the store's PA system while fluorescent lights hummed above us and the four other abandoned registers. There was one customer, a woman with a 2-year-old buckled into the front of her shopping cart, and my mind had drifted idly to focus on the squeaking protestations of the cart's one disobedient wheel as the woman made her way up and down each aisle. It was definitely a 75 cents kind of day.

My gum had lost most of its flavor, and my spaced-out daze focused in on the woman and her child, who were now about 30 feet away, in the aisle parallel to the register. The woman left to walk back down the aisle to find something, and left her cart and her toddler sitting alone. The toddler made a few little burbling sounds, then picked up the full gallon of milk sitting next to him in the cart. Diane and I watched in silence, doing absolutely nothing to intervene, as the toddler clearly made the conscious choice to hoist the jug over the edge of the cart, and hurl it onto the ground as hard as possible.

The jug hit the floor and exploded. Milk utterly defied physics as it rocketed up from the carcass of the ripped-apart plastic jug, spraying milk all over the shelves, the floor, and the child. I've never seen liquid behave that way before or after, but there's no other way to describe it: that milk was JOYFUL. It danced and spun through the air like the happiest festival dancer celebrating a bountiful harvest. On and on and on it sprayed and gurgled all over the place, as though propelled into the atmosphere by sheer mania. The toddler laughed hysterically as milk flew into the air and then rained back down upon him, a never-ending white thunderstorm. The mother screamed and came running back to her cart, whose contents were now thoroughly soaked in thick, white cow's milk.

I blinked and blew a slow, large bubble in my gum. Diane let out a small sigh, picked up the PA system walkie and announced in a deadpan across the crackled speakers,

"Dave, we're gonna need a clean-up on aisle 3."

I didn't learn very much at that job, except how to be quietly seething and furious whenever I go to a grocery store now and see someone put canned soup in the same bag as the eggs. 

I've been in school since I was a toddler, went straight from high school to college to graduate school, and then straight into the work force. I did odd jobs all through my teenage years, and ever since I started graduate school, I started my career as a full time child and family therapist. I had four jobs when I first moved to New York City, and I currently have a full time job and two part time jobs, so I've got three jobs now (four, I suppose, if you count blogging, which is totally silly). I work over 60 hours a week, and often on weekends.

This is a choice. I like working, I really do. I love my job(s), and I love the direct positive impact I have on my community. But I realized recently that other than summer vacations as a child (which were maybe 3 months), I haven't had more than a month without doing some type of work or school since I was an infant

Except, of course, when I was hiking the Appalachian Trail. I had SIX MONTHS where I was obligated to no one other than myself. Granted, this level of freedom happened because DT and I saved money for two whole years to be able to have enough in savings to justify flat out not working for half a year. I had a hiking family, yes, and I had a goal. But I couldn't get fired. I didn't have to worry about dress code or remembering to make myself look semi presentable. I didn't have anyone depending on me, other than my friends, and we all were equally depending on each other. I didn't have deadlines or threats of audits. I didn't have to worry about being late. I was my own boss, and no one had any expectations of me.

Here's the thing: we have to work. Either we work in a job, or we work as a student, or we work as a full time parent, or we work on our physical and mental health. Whether or not we get a paycheck for what we do is irrelevant. Whether or not other people judge us for our choices or how we choose to have meaning in our lives is irrelevant. We wake up, we work, we fight, we love, and we fall asleep to do it all over again. Even though it's important, we all feel trapped sometimes in our work, and sometimes we wish for that freedom, even if it's just temporary.

I've had vacations, week-long excursions and adventures. But there was always a job on the other end, or school. There were always more expectations. Regardless of where you are in your life, I'm sure you remember the feeling of the end of summer vacation, the daunting feeling of all your freedom evaporating overnight. Even though ending the AT was kind of like the end of summer vacation, there wasn't the same pressure. I had started over, in a brand new state, in a brand new community, and I had infinite choices about what I wanted to do next. 

It wasn't the end of summer vacation. For once, the end of an adventure wasn't an end. Not at all.

Clever Girl

Monday, February 23, 2015

15. Soap

They say that middle class Americans are overly hygienic. I don't know who "they" is, except that "they" probably live in the internet. I could maybe look up some source material to support my random opening statement, but it's 10:15 on a Monday night and the inside of my eyelids are looking miiiighty fine. Let's just take everything I say at face value without thinking too hard about it, eh? I'm not writing a thesis. I did that already, it was 60 pages long, and I haven't looked at it since my defense. My thesis was unfortunately not about Americans being overly hygienic, which is why I don't have any source material for this. Here is a list of some other things that my thesis was not about: puppy adorableness quotient, ostensibly illegitimate children of the midwest circa 1950, pickles. 

As far as I know, "they" are getting at the fact that a lot of middle class Americans take 20 minute long showers every day after doing nothing physically strenuous enough to warrant more than a quick rinse-off. We are apparently obsessed with being clean, which is why we are so keenly aware of when things are not clean, which leads to us cleaning things even more. It's a Never Ending Cycle... Kind of like the Never Ending Story, except without any luck dragons or terrifying wolf monsters that work for the Nothing. At some point we all just became infatuated with being flawlessly dirt-free all the time. I just tried to write "dirtless" but apparently that's not a word. It should be! Here is a list of things that are dirtless: surgery rooms, the inside of a space station, pickles.

Hikers don't have the problem of being overly hygienic. But that doesn't mean we don't pine for it. I've written about being able to smell day hikers' cloud of soap smell, but what I failed to mention is how keenly it makes one yearn for being able to scrub one's entire body with the stuff. Not just watery Dr. Bronner's, but real, solid bar soap. Also, to be clear, I'm not talking about anything fancy. Once you're a hiker, you learn to love whatever meager soap-like substance gets within 5 feet of your filthy body. 

If you've ever stayed in a cheap motel, you know the type of soap you get. It's thin, hard and plasticky, and is indistinguishable from a flat, rectangular crayon. It's the best.

Now that I can stand for hours in a Whole Foods, staring at the endless selection of $15 bars of soap and fluffy body cremes and foot meringues, I am overcome by how silly it all really is. Underneath everyone's sink right now is at least one bottle of goo that never gets used, but probably cost as much as four pairs of perfectly functional pants from Goodwill. Think of all the pant wearing you could be doing in exchange for that bottle of forgotten goo! 

But soap really is grand, and whatever body cleaning regimen you have is perfectly wonderful and you shouldn't change a thing. All we hikers ask is that you love your soap, and don't take it for granted. We'd do just about anything to spend just 10 minutes with that soap, but you have access to it all the time, whenever you want, and you hardly ever have to worry about Noro Virus. You lucky duck!

Clever Girl

Friday, February 20, 2015

16. Hiker's High

People talk about "runner's high," that elusive moment where, during a run, suddenly everything becomes light and free and easy. In scientific terms, it's when your body reaches maximum saturation of a certain amount of mind and body chemicals that elevates your brain momentarily above feeling pain. In metaphorical terms, it's like being carried on an the back of an elephant like a maharaja. It's like achieving liftoff, except you stay on the ground.

This weird body high can occur for any strenuous physical activity, though I would imagine that certain physical activities could be more terrifying than others. For example, I have never done any ice climbing, but if I were halfway up a cliff face and suddenly lost all feeling in my body and became inexplicably euphoric, the possible consequences could be more dire. Generally speaking, one's face is a lot farther from the ground when ice climbing than when running. This isn't to say that people experiencing runner's high immediately fall over. But one's senses are numbed for a bit, which means that falling down is possible... but maybe that's only true for Clever Girl, who is apt to run into things and fall down on a regular basis. 

Just like runners, hikers also experience a certain high at times, where all the pain and heaviness and world-weariness suddenly evaporates, and nothing has any weight. I hiked for 6 months, and only achieved "true" hiker's high a few times. I wish I could tell you what triggered it, but I can't. Sometimes it would happen while I was on mile 2, and sometimes it would happen when I was at mile 24. It was completely random, and maybe lasted for only a few minutes. I already used up my good similes to describe what it feels like to get an athlete's high, but I'll use one more: It's like having fully functional jelly legs and a brain full of circus peanuts.

You know those moving walkways in airports, those flat escalators in the long hallways between terminals? Using those is like being in a high school relationship. You go from walking slowly, completely absorbed by the doldrums of your existence, dragging your baggage behind you, then suddenly you are just FLYING. People on either side of you who aren't on the walkway seem to be moving through molasses as you walk at normal speed but are somehow propelled through space. You feel superhuman, your bags are light, you aren't expending any extra effort but you are achieving ALL your GOALS! And then cruelly, horribly, it stops without any warning at all, and you stumble off the end of it, disoriented and confused, but mostly just really embarrassed. And you wonder if, in the immortal words of the indomitable Taylor Swift, was the "high worth the pain"?

Coming down from a hiker's high is a bit like crash landing, but it's absolutely worth it. It's a random gift from the hiker gods, who reach down and carry you for a few moments before gently putting you back on earth to continue your journey. But really, like I said earlier, it's just a face-slap of brain chemicals making everything feel a little bit delightfully wonky for a while.

Moral of the story: Bodies are the weirdest!

Clever Girl

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

17. Getting a Care Package

If you went to college, and you had the pleasure of having a parent who was willing put things in boxes and hang out in the post office, then you know what it's like to get a care package. A care package is a box of love. It could have anything in it. It could have cookies, or new wool socks, or a forgotten childhood teddy bear. I had a roommate whose boyfriend once sent her a 2 gallon glass jar of maraschino cherries. She and I sat on the floor with the jar between us ate so many of them that our mouths were stained red for days and our lips burned like hellfire. But I learned how to tie a cherry stem in a knot in my mouth! Spoiler alert: it's not sexy, and mostly involves a lot of drooling.

I loved getting care packages from my mom in college, because they were always so well thought out, and completely random. I got maybe one or two a year, and they always seemed to miraculously appear when I was having a particularly crappy week. I have never been good at phone communications, and I would often go months without talking to my folks*. So I have no idea how she somehow just knew when to send me a care package. Man, college is brutal, but those rare, random care packages made it all better. Seriously, you could send me a care package with just a wind-up jumping frog and I would be floating in happiness for days. It's great to live life easily amused. It's also great to have a mom who sends you wind-up jumping frogs in the mail for no reason. THANK YOU MOMMA YOU ARE ZE BEST!

Before DT and I left for the AT, folks were asking us how they could send us things along the way. We found a great list of post offices near the trail on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's website, and we put that up on this blog. We let people know they had to tell us beforehand, otherwise we might not check the post office. What was really great is that these hardworking post office workers would to hold onto mysterious packages addressed to literal drifters, and never complained. We got packages from my parents, my sister, DT's family, and several different friends. It was always such a treat, and we appreciated it ENORMOUSLY. It's amazing what an impact just a shoe box with a couple freeze dried snacks and bubbles can have.

B-Line, one of our hiking buddies, once got an unexpected care package sent to him in Virginia. He signed for the package, and when he picked it up, he was confused but also excited by the weight of it. How many cookies could there possibly be in this magical box of goodness?! He lugged it over to a counter top, peeled back the tape and gingerly pulled the cardboard flaps open to reveal...
A 12-pound regulation bowling ball. He apparently carried it for a few days out of pure chutzpah before eventually abandoning it.

If you've ever sent a care package to a hiker: THANK YOU. You have given the gift of happiness for just a few dollars and some time in a post office. It made it feel like Christmas, even in the middle of boiling hot July.

Hotdog got a care package of cookies!

Apparently if you package fresh baked cookies with marshmallows,
they don't get stale as quickly!

Care package pileup at a hostel

In that package Apple Butter is opening are SIX WATER GUNS

She gave us each a water gun, which were put to very good use.

This is actually Whistle getting her new backpack in the mail from her parents!

A note on the lid of a care package we got from our friends Chris and Eby!

Clever Girl

*The best example of this is when I went on a month-long train voyage across the united states, all alone, when I was 18. I didn't have a cell phone, and I had only a couple hundred bucks for the whole trip, so I didn't want to spend money on pay phones to call home very often. But when I was in California, I decided to go sky diving. I called home, and my sister was home alone. I told her to tell our parents that I was going skydiving, but that I would call later that day so that they would know that I wasn't splattered on a rolling California hill somewhere. 

The glorious experience of skydiving drove all coherent thought from my brain, and I completely forgot to call until two days later.

Blooper! Sooo... sorry, mom and dad. Thanks for being supportive of me and my nutso adventures, even though I am clearly extremely accident prone and really bad at letting you know what's going on. But think of all the character I've built!

Friday, February 13, 2015

19. Never Having to Hold It

There is one trick to surviving New York City, which I learned during my 5 years there:

You have to know where the free bathrooms are.

There are very few, and they are incredibly distant from one another. For the most part, every single establishment has a key and a lock for the bathrooms (including McDonalds!) and you have to buy something before you can use the restroom. The only establishment that has reliably free bathrooms is Starbucks, but unfortunately everyone in the entire city knows that. Therefore, the line for the Starbucks bathroom is usually at least 10 people long. When you get to about 7 people back, you pass the event horizon of "the stench cloud", a circumference of horror from which you cannot escape because by now 15 minutes have already gone by and your bladder is scuh-reaming. By the time you finally get in there, there will be absolutely no toilet paper, and every single flat surface is impossibly, totally wet. I don't mean like little splashes of water. No, it's like someone put a kink in a firehose, dragged it into the bathroom, closed the door, and then let the kink loose. But you don't care, because there's nowhere else to go.

Why not just go to a nicer place with a keyed bathroom, order something for $3, and then pee in peace? That's a very good question that I have no reasonable answer to, soooo.... New Yorkers are cheap, what can I say?

Pro tip: The best (only) place for a clean, free bathroom is on the 2nd floor of the Columbus Circle shopping mall. There are even Dyson Air Dryers in there! And TVs in the mirrors above the sink!

If you don't live in a city, you might not understand how powerfully important it is to know where the nearest bathroom is. I live in a little town now, and if I'm in need, I can walk into practically any shop, ask nicely, and they will direct me back to the employees only bathroom. This is because when you live in a small town, there's no anonymity and everyone knows where you live. So if you mess up the bathroom, they won't need Hercule Poirot to solve the crime because everyone already knows it was you. Therefore, you can be trusted not to drag a kinked firehose into the bathroom and set it loose, like those crazy New Yorkers do.

But even in a small town, there's still instances of having to hold it. My commute to work is 45 minutes long, and sometimes 20 minutes into it I am made suddenly aware that the remaining 25 minutes are going to be a lot more painful than usual. 7am on a back country road is definitely a weird time and place to see a woman in professional clothing sprinting away into the woods from her haphazardly shoulder parked car.

If you've ever gone camping or hiking for any period of time, it may have been a bit of an adjustment to using your environment as your bathroom. It's weird, you have to off-road into the woods off the trail to be decent and not leave stinkiness near the trail, there's a 50% chance that a stranger will see your butt, and it's hard to get good at the balancing act. However, once you're used to it, it is one of the most freeing things in the world.

As Dumptruck would say:

"Being a hiker is great, because the amount of time between realizing I have to pee and actually peeing is less than a minute, no matter what."

Clever Girl

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

20. Shelter Sardines

There's a game called "Sardines" that's basically a reverse Hide and Seek. In Hide and Seek, everyone hides, and one person tries to find all the little hidden people. But in Sardines, only one person hides, and everyone looks for that person. When you find the hidden person, you have to try and squish yourself into their hiding place with them, as quietly as possible. Each additional person has to try and cram into the hiding place, which gets harder and harder with each additional person. For example, if someone is hiding in a cabinet, then each extra person has to just squash into the cabinet, probably unsuccessfully. There'll be legs and arms all over the place.

This means that eventually the hiding place is no longer secret at all, simply due to all the humans crouching in a pig pile of suppressed giggles. Whoever is the last person to find the sardines becomes "it", and they have to hide for the next game. You have to play this game with people either you know really well, or are ready to get to know really well. Once you've had your head jammed in someone's armpit for a sustained period of time, you're either going to be friends forever or you will never speak again.

We've spoken a fair amount about shelters, and how they're basically really great. They're nothing but three drafty wooden walls in the middle of a bunch of trees, they're cesspools of disease, and they're full of mice. But when there's terrible weather outside, shelters look like palatial oases fit for a king. Or, to be more accurate, a whole bunch of kings, all showing up at different times and trying to fit into the palace. With each new person, there's less and less room, and everyone gets to know each other better and better. You haven't lived until you've genuinely appreciated the warmth and security of being in a line of 15 strangers all spooning one another against their will. 

Here's the lovely thing about the Appalachian Trail: I never encountered someone being obstinate about their space in the shelter. Sure, when hikers first set up their sleeping bags and sleeping pads, they spread out a little bit, holding on to the initial vain hope that perhaps the shelter will only have 3 or 4 occupants that night. It's possible that this could happen, and in fact later into the summer this gets more and more likely. After the bugs come out people start opting more regularly for their tents, not wanting to have their skin exposed to the open air and mosquito feasting. 

However, when it's cold and rainy or snowing, people want the shelter and they want it BAD. It was really quite lovely to see that every hiker understood this, and wanted to be able to make room for as many other hikers as possible. Each one of us has been the last person to show up at a shelter in a rainstorm, hoping against hope that there's just enough space for one more skinny hiker body. 

If this was the real game of Sardines, no one would ever become "it", because there would always be room.* 

Clever Girl

*Except for when there's not, and you and Dumptruck have to tent outside in an ice storm!

Monday, February 9, 2015

21. Waterfalls

Before we get on to the waterfalls, I just want to share this photograph I somehow overlooked all this time. I think this is from Trail Days. It would belong in the Hiker Fashion post, but that's long past. So, instead, I will put it here. It fits in with the Waterfall theme because it gives me waterfalls of laughter tears from my eyeballs. VELCOME TO ZEE ART HAUS LEG HAIR TIRE SHOW.
When I was in middle school, I was not easily influenced by my peers. I was much more concerned with wearing the exact same black velvet cardigan every day and never showering. This isn't to say that I was immune to middle school peer pressure. Quite the opposite, in fact! I wanted very badly to be able to fit in! But I just did it all wrong. It was a little bit like an octopus trying to fit in with a group of dolphins by flailing its tentacles around manically and flopping in and out of the ocean surf. No matter how gloriously all those tentacles windmill in slow motion against the backdrop of a setting sun, it will never be as majestic as dolphins jumping. 

I have a vivid memory of bringing a Smashing Pumpkins cassette to a sleepover, where all the other girls were taking turns playing New Kids on the Block and TLC. I remember telling them "This is gonna blow your mind!" and then I put on "An Ode to No One" and I was politely asked turn it off before it even got to the chorus. I didn't do it to be subversive! I sincerely thought the poetry was really beautiful! 

An octopus is not a dolphin.

I also remember being subjected to listening to TLC's "Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls." Of course I was hypnotized by the beat, and due to the aforementioned desperation to fit in, I decided that I liked it.  But I also remember thinking quietly to myself "These words make absolutely NO SENSE." I just assumed that it was some sort of cool, popular kid thing that I would understand once I was cooler.


The words literally make no sense.

But let's give TLC the benefit of the doubt, shall we? Let's pretend that chasing waterfalls is a metaphor for never being happy with what you have, and constantly looking for something better. It's another way of saying "Yeah, maybe the grass is always greener on the other side, but don't fall for that crap!" Just stick with the rivers and the lakes like you're used to. JUST BE HAPPY THAT YOU ARE NOT DEHYDRATED. JEEZ.

However, there is something to be said for a waterfall versus just a river. I already wrote about having access to beautiful, clean mountain water. But my delight at coming across a nice water source was very different from my delight at coming across a waterfall. The substance is the same... it's still just water. However, a waterfall is just epic. What makes it epic? It... falls down really fast through the open air! It's a visual representation of the power of gravity! Also, sometimes there are rainbows!

When you spend all your time in the wilderness, you are just more likely to run across a waterfall than in your daily life. Maybe your office building has a little decorative fountain, and sure, that's good for staring at blankly while you eat your lunch. But it pales in comparison to the sheer, raw, literally awesome power of a waterfall. 

I'm sure there are long distance hikes in which waterfalls are not as plentiful, but a super cool one happened at least once a month along the AT. I never tired of them, and I was always enchanted. 

Also, I was invariably compelled to stick my face in them.

Will this make my hair wet?

Why, yes it will!

If you glance at this one really quickly you can convince yourself that the rock
 in the foreground is a giant, coiled up boa constrictor. YOU'RE WELCOME.

Tiny Clever Girl!

Slightly larger but still tiny Clever Girl!

No Clever Girl

Frozen waterfalls... My face sums up my feelings about the color of this water.

DT loves that long exposure!

"I will harness the power of this water...

Whistle says: "Mpphhrggle."

Clever Girl

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

22. Trail Maintenance

Before we get to the real writing, I thought I should tell you a little bit about our current life!

CG Update:
OH MY WORD I made a gigantic fire in the wood burning stove in Tiny House, and I am SWEATING LIKE CRAZY. It's snowing outside, it's the middle of winter, Tiny House is basically half-buried in a gigantic snow drift, and I feel like I'm trying to write a blog on the precipice of a volcano. Hyperbole, you say? You would be correct! But it's hot. I'm not complaining, I'm just updating you on my current state of being. All you ever get are my typed words and photographs of my past self, so the least I can do is tell you about my current body temperature. Also, my hair is long now!

DT Update: 
His shoulder is dislocated! And he's in Canada! We both work at a truly fabulous little democratically run high school here, and DT is the photography and outdoor leadership teacher. He is in Canada for a few weeks for a learning intensive, and he has dislocated his shoulder again. I wasn't there for all the excitement this time, but you can always learn about the last time he dislocated his shoulder, while we were hiking in Tennessee! Also, DT's hair is long now!

Tiny House Update:
Our friend Mike took a fun video tour of our house when he was visiting at the beginning of January, and you can watch it here!
Fair warning: DT uses the "s" word a few times when discussing compost. Other than that it's all copacetic. 

On to the writing!

Now that I've told you about the awesome people that maintain the trail year after year, I'm going to do my best to convince you to go out there and do it! At least once. I cannot tell you to do it more than once because I have not yet done it more than once. But I paid my dues! It's a heck of a difficult job, but it's also great fun, and a wonderful way to bond with your fellow humans. 

After Trail Days, Dumptruck and I went to do Hard Core, which is a 2 day trail maintenance explosion that has happened traditionally every year. It is (or was) organized by Bob Peoples of Kincora Hostel in Tennessee. Half of the crew are the AT legends, older folks that have hiked the trail numerous times, and who want to give back every year. The other half of the crew are all the young whipper snappers scooped up from Trail Days. In order to be able to be part of the crew, you had to be one of the first 30 hikers to sign up eeeaaarly in the morning at Trail Days. We were there at the break of dawn.


Kincora volunteers responsibility for a lengthy section of the trail through Tennessee, and each year they fix up sections that need fixing. When I went, we were transforming a straight ascent into a switchback. Everyone donned their hardhats and tromped up the mountain with tools to leave our mark on the AT.

Dumptruck literally got to leave his mark, as he got to paint one of the new blazes on a tree for the trail reroute. How awesome is that?! Getting to paint a white blaze is a big deal, folks. Almost as big of a deal as shaking the president's hand, or getting a 3" tall plastic Donald Duck figurine in your frosted flakes. These are the kinds of things that goes into journals under the heading of "BEST DAY OF MY LIFE."

My favorite moment of hardcore was when my friend BearSnack, a 5'2" tall professional bodybuilding female, got to quietly and unobtrusively show up all of the boys. There was a giant boulder in the way of the new trail being cut, and it had to be dug out and moved. After it was unearthed, three thick trailer tie ropes were wiggled underneath it, to allow for 6 people to each take an end of the rope, lift up the rock and move it. There were 5 guys already working on this, and when they looked up for a sixth, they saw Dumptruck and BearSnack.

Now, let's paint this picture a little bit more. We all know that Dumptruck is a tall, skinny beanpole. He's adorable and I think he's the handsomest man in the world, but he's also a tall, skinny beanpole. Meanwhile, this is BearSnack:

SHE'S AMAZING. That's 315 lbs.
So these five guys glance right past BearSnack to Dumptruck and say,

"Hey Dumptruck, can you help us with this?"

I asked BearSnack about this later. She is incredibly kind and sweet and thoughtful, and she expressed that she understood how the mistake could have been made (she wasn't standing there flexing, after all), but that it was mildly frustrating, as this sort of gendered nonsense happens a lot. Dumptruck's response was to laugh and say,

"Uh... pretty sure you should ask BearSnack for help with that."

Luckily these guys' gendered silliness only lasted as far as the initial question, and they were more than happy to accept her help. All six of them lifted the rock, and BearSnack kept having to sheepishly lower her section to meet the level of the guys. After several steps they all needed to stop and take a rest, and BearSnack would rest with them, but didn't look even a tiny bit fatigued by the process. She's a stone cold boss, and she wears flowers in her hair.

Clever Girl

Monday, February 2, 2015

23. Trail Crews

The Appalachian Trail did not simply spring into existence like a daisy from the snow. It took an immense amount of work, and continues to require continuous work every single year to keep it walkable as well as healthy for the surrounding environment. The real heroes of the Appalachian Trail are not the ones that hike it, but the ones that keep it alive.

Each season brings new growth and erosion. Every weather event brings with it the possibility that the trail will need to be rerouted. New switchbacks are being put into the mountains all the time, to keep the natural health of the forest. When the trail was originally created, most of the routes took hikers straight up and down mountains, with no curves in the path. This made for some truly beastly hikers, but in the long run this type of trail design has the potential to really hurt the land.

When it rains, if there is a trail running straight down a mountain, the water will naturally funnel itself down the trail, pulling down surrounding dirt and foliage quicker. Furthermore, even though hikers mean well, if they encounter a trail that is just a waterfall, they will walk on the edge of the trail to avoid getting their feet soaked, which just further serves to widen the path of erosion. Therefore switchbacks are actually better for the health of a mountain, even though it technically covers more ground.

If you haven't ever done any trail maintenance, it can be incredibly easy to take it for granted. Before I did any of my own maintenance, I knew that it probably took a lot of work, but I didn't know exactly how MUCH work. It takes A LOT. Trail maintenance is entirely voluntary, unpaid, backbreaking work, done by people who get hardly anything in return except the simple satisfaction of a job well done. The workers hike in all their own tools, work in the sweltering heat covered in bugs, and receive no thanks and no reward. Unfortunately a lot of people who hike the trail don't know how much work goes into keeping the trail functional, and they take it for granted.

If you live within striking distance of the AT, I highly recommend doing some research in regard to your local trail crew. If you can't volunteer your time (which is totally understandable!!), then at least donating some money to the cause can really make a world of difference. Or, if anything, just hiking in a box of donuts to a trail crew while they're working, and then taking the box away when they're done.

How wonderful and beautiful is it that something like the Appalachian Trail exists solely due to the unfailing kindness and goodwill of people?

I like to remind myself of this when I encounter doodooheads.

Clever Girl

P.S. You can find a great listing of all the crews for the AT here, on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Website!