Chicken Fried Laundry
“Four quartors for a worsh” Keith said as I stood in the open doorway of the laundromat. I haven’t heard someone say “wash” that way before so I asked where he was from. “Florida,” he said. The pungent aroma of my armpit wafted up to my nose. “I’ll be right back.”
It had been six days since our tramily had done laundry and showered; we were at peak ripeness of body odor. It was an easy decision to take a short detour into a Shenandoah Park campground to use the laundromat and showers.
The sun was shining bright and strong. We plopped our bags down on picnic tables and began digging around in them for our soiled articles. Headbands, buffs, socks, shorts, gaiters, microfiber towels, sports bras, shirts, boxers, puffers, and sleeping bag liners were scattered on the lawn and tables like a flea market after a wind storm.
We loaded two washing machines to the brim. I closed the lids and loaded the quarters. One hard shove of the coin slot mechanism and the machine shuddered into life. The sound of soapy water gently soaking our items gave me a sense of ease. Knowing the smell and grime were being washed away was intensely satisfying.
With the washing machines churning next up were the showers – the best public showers we had seen on trail. Eight or so individual locking shower rooms made up the facility. The light aroma of bleach signaled they had just been cleaned. After some run-ins with shower-dwelling bacteria, a disinfected shower is a relief.
I entered the shower room and closed the door. Flipping the light switch turned on the exhaust fan and an overhead heat lamp. This shower needed quarters fed one at a time through a slot on a box. Four more for a worsh. I cranked the hot water knob and felt it heat up with my hands, involuntarily sighing as I stepped in and let the hot water flow over my head. My tangled hair released the smell of several campfires as I massaged my scalp. The shower would only last five minutes so I scrubbed my body quickly to enjoy just standing in the flow. The shower clicked off. My towel was in the machine so I air-dried under the heat lamp for several minutes.
Stepping out into the sun, now clean, felt euphoric. I sat down on the lawn, naked except my Patagonia shorts and basked as the others finished up their showers. A park ranger passed by and pointed out an apple tree around the corner. We shook the tree and gathered the fallen fruit. The apples were small but sweet. I took long breaths of air and gazed at the surroundings. I felt utterly relaxed.
When the washers finished we took turns fishing through the communal pile of laundry. I put my hiking outfit on. It was dry, soft, and smelled strongly of laundry detergent.
There was a wayside food stop down the hill. We slowly sauntered over feeling clean like day hikers on a weekend trip. At the wayside, we ordered a big box of fried chicken and grabbed a few tall cans of beer. Sometimes you just need a break.
Mile 1918, Smokey Mountain Diner, Hot Springs, NC
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