10 Things You Should Never Say to a Thru-Hiker
Eight hundred and twenty three (point two) miles from Springer Mountain, someone told me how to make oatmeal. Not Muesli. Not steel cut oats that they boiled for half an hour over the fire. It was not an exotic or complicated recipe. It was a packet of instant oatmeal made by Great Value (which is neither).
The conversation (and my day) began with the unmistakable, irritating noise of a camp stove firing up at 7 AM sharp – next to my head. The hiker, who noted my consciousness with pleasure rather than chagrin, was overjoyed to have someone to talk to while he made his breakfast.
“I just love oatmeal. I can’t get enough of it. You know how I make it? It’s so easy. You can just boil water and then pour the hot water right into the packet.” He looked at his amorphous brown goop like Harrison Ford looked at the Holy Grail in Raiders of the Lost Arc. “Then your pot stays clean! Sometimes I even eat two!”
As grateful as I was to have not only the coveted recipe for instant oatmeal but also a stranger’s permission to eat multiple servings of the thirty-cent ambrosia, I was nonplussed by the situation. Why? Because after two months of hiking, I had eaten and excreted enough oatmeal that it reminded me more of Norovirus remnants (from either end – the human body is wondrous and contains many browns) than real food.
On the whole, thru-hikers are a pretty friendly group. They are outside all day working up endorphins, after all; Bears and bum knees aside, we can’t complain too much. Still, in the same way that the ‘answers to thru-hiker questions’ sticker exists, I think that a list should also be made concerning the things that should simply NEVER be said to a thru-hiker. Such as:
1. Are you going to finish that?
Yes. I am going to consume everything I am holding in my hands, including the inedible foil packaging on my food. I will then lick my hands while ignoring the mounting urge to eat my fingers. Then I will look greedily at your fingers. Are you going to finish those?
2. You’re carrying that?
Yes. I’m carrying this . Why? Does it make my decision to exchange my job, friends, and roof for a squalid life of relentless physical pain seem impractical?
3. You don’t need to hitch a ride – town is only x miles away! I thought you liked walking?
You’re right! I love it so much I’m going to hike an extra four miles today on pavement while I suck up exhaust fumes! At least it’s great exercise!
4. You have poop on you.
This was said to me by Little Spoon after he handed me the food bag that had been accidentally bear bagged above, apparently, some animal’s poop. He couldn’t just let me believe it was oatmeal.
5. There’s no room in the shelter
Oh, don’t worry – I’ll make room in the shelter. I will spoon your crusty sleeping bag like it is my long lost lover. I will gladly inhale the mouse poop from where I am crammed against the corner. The Hentavirus is preferable to spending my night with a thin piece of cordura separating me from a severe thunderstorm.
6. Oh man, you just missed some trail magic.
Well you just missed a rainbow. With a unicorn riding it. A unicorn made of Nutella.
7. It’s just a vacation.
In that case I’ll go lounge by the pool. Do you have any body butter I can smear on myself while I indolently read celebrity gossip?
Alright, so thru hiking is a vacation, but it’s not a normal one. If you start treating it like one, you’ll get frustrated or fall behind schedule pretty quickly. To get up and walk day after day, sometimes you have to think of it as work – while remembering that it’s ok to really love your job.
More importantly, it’s not a ‘break’ from your life; it’s a commitment to living your life. These are very different.
8. I think it’s going to rain today.
GREAT! I am so excited about it, I’m going to pour water in my boots RIGHT NOW!!
The woods are full of Nostradamus weathermen who will pre-emptively rain on your thru-hike. Many hikers (who are wiser than I am) do actually want to be aware of the upcoming weather, but I prefer to wait until the clouds are dark and the leaves are wobbling like Keith Richards at closing time to face the inevitable. Otherwise, I’m just adding dread and anxiety to my overall pack weight.
On the other hand, you get plus two karma points for telling me the rain is going to stop soon (even if you’re lying).
9. Do you ever think about quitting?
No, and I don’t want to. But thanks anyways for sowing seeds of dissent in my mutinous brain. That’s just what I need right next to the haunting perma-images of ice cream and beer in my head. Maybe you could follow me around with a banner and a megaphone continuously broadcasting this question.
10. You’ll never make it to Katahdin.
…You might find something resembling oatmeal in your car.
Chances are good that if you’ve spent a lot of time on or around the AT, you’ve been on either the giving or receiving end of one of these statements. I know I have. But I’m working towards a better world here on Appalachian Trials – one where privies never overflow, shelters have plenty of space, and everyone thinks before they speak.
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