Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Long (as hell) Trail

Author's Note: Before you tell me to HTFU or STFU or any other precious acronym, let me first say that I hiked 54 miles in thong sandals after the boots I borrowed gave me hellacious blisters and made my big toenails look like those of a mummified corpse with nary a complaint.

Behold some unfiltered and uncensored thoughts about hiking:

Hiking is fucking terrible. I'm sure there are stand-up bits from comedians about how ridiculous it is and why white people need to stop kidding themselves playing Russian roulette with Lyme disease or West Nile virus or a bear mauling and stay in the 21st century where we belong. Whatever possessed otherwise sane and rational human beings to make their life as miserable as possible for an extended period of time should have evaporated around the time of the Oregon Trail, but day after day people stuff an unnecessary amount of items into an unnecessarily large backpack, and proudly march into the wild. The glow of adrenaline lasts maybe 15 minutes, before the harsh reality of hiking sets in: it is fucking terrible.

To clarify, day hikes and camping are wonderful-hell, even a jaunt into the woods can be therapeutic. When you are carrying more than a tent, food and beer, the fun quotient takes a nosedive. Carrying a full hiking backpack is a bit like carrying a heavily sedated 2nd grader on your back. You futilely loosen and tighten straps to alleviate painful jabs into your back and shoulders. You carry 4 pounds of water that scarcely seems worth it. Mosquitoes and deerflies dive bomb you from all angles and you have no recourse but to swing languidly at them. They have locked on a target and will follow you for miles until you stop for water or die. You have to physically restrain yourself from checking your watch every two minutes and the map every thirty seconds.

You may be able to distract yourself by the scenery, but beyond the ninety seconds a day you are above the treeline, the rest of the sights range from heaping piles of moose poop and large piles of mud. It occurs to you at some point that hiking is probably an incredible workout (my heart rate held steady around 180bpm from 8-4 every day), but who works out for eight hours a day? It is at this point when it dawns on you that hiking is no longer an act of leisure and has become your job. You wake up at daybreak on a wooden floor within a mesh cocoon to keep out the bugs, which still have the audacity to stab their tiny proboscises into anything in contact with the fabric. You eat a piece of jerky for breakfast and wash it down with a bag of fruit snacks and a granola bar. Everything tastes terrible. You want salt and fat and grease and sugar. Not protein and Xanthan gum, 200 calories you will burn off before your first water break. You no longer derive pleasure in things you used to enjoy and sympathize with that Zoloft rock. Your shoulders are sore and you have a crick in your back that you can't crack out. When you finally make it to a shelter, you roll out a sleeping bag, eat a bag of tuna fish and a handful of peanuts and go to straight to bed for 12 hours. You smell terrible and other people somehow smell worse. Sometimes it is so bad it wakes you up.

After a few days, the callouses start and you think you might survive. When you cross roads, you feel a primal urge to flag down/hijack passing cars and check into a hotel. Somehow water has become all you can be bothered to care about, but you still play "stream roulette", always looking for a cleaner, nicer one until you realize you are out of water, 3 hours from the nearest shelter and haven't seen so much as a juicy puddle in hours. SS and I did this twice. You find yourself sharing food for the selfish aim of shedding a few extra ounces from your backpack and suddenly feel a camaraderie with those Tour de France ninnies who insist on biking without their valve caps.

Hiking brings out the best and worst in a person. If you do it long enough, you will be reduced into survival instincts that are not glamorous but do what they are supposed to do: keep you alive. Alive so you can return to the real world and warn others. And also to call "bullshit" whenever anyone says how much they love hiking.                    

1 comment:

  1. MD,
    I like hiking. I also like Deet and will eat anything happily (ex. tunachos). Heavy packs make me feel like doing something - as opposed to a stroll in the woods. As for the water issue - my best advice is to avoid giardia = not cool. Tang powder is good on everything, in water, and straight up.