Survivors: 5 Similarities Between Thru-Hikers and The Walking Dead
If you’ve ever gone on a long distance hike, you may enjoy AMC’s horror series The Walking Dead. When I returned from my hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, the first thing I did was binge watch the show. I appreciated the lengths to which the writers went in order to nail the ways and means of a life of constant travel with few modern amenities. In a way, it made me feel at home. Here are 5 reasons why.
1. Survival: The Great Equalizer
Often times in a survival situation, we get to know the level of honesty, toughness, caring, strength, and leadership skills of our peers before we even know their names. And we often find out that a person’s occupation in their “past life,” whether that means pre-zombies or pre-Springer, doesn’t hold as much weight in the outdoors as it did in their tax bracket.
In the show, for example, minor characters struggle to peg the occupation of hero Daryl Dixon before “the Turn.” Even though “drunk redneck” makes sense in hindsight, his leadership, compassion and survival skills had them guessing much nobler careers like homicide detective.
One of my personal favorite memories is of a retired cop flipping me the bird as I, apparently a sweet and incapable young woman, lit a fire after a rain storm when he, an all powerful policeman, could not. We’ve all got our talents. Currently employed as a cashier for a retail store, I personally cannot wait for the Turn.
2. Foraging for Food
The characters in the show treat cars and houses like I treat hiker boxes: Free? And it’s for me?? Then yes please, Carl, pass me that 112 oz can of chocolate pudding! It’s high time for a feast!
While chocolate pudding sometimes seems like a meal for a king, you may have also been so low that, like Carl, you considered eating dog food. Your mindset turns, and your thought process may look a little something like this:
Denial: Haha, I’m hungry, but I’m not “dog food” hungry.
Anger: Who ate the last of this massive can of chocolate pudding??
Bargaining: I mean, it’s gotta be some kind of meat, right? I think there’s even some salt and pepper in there. Smells pretty good… I mean… it can’t be that bad.
Depression: I’m… so… hungry…
Acceptance: Ok, Daryl, I’ll take you up on that squirrel.
And if you’ve done a thru-hike, you have probably met that guy who lives off the land, or at least thought it necessary to bring a crossbow, even though he really doesn’t have to.
3. A Shower
It was during a shower scene that I truly learned the meaning of empathy. In the first episode, the actors masterfully depict the feeling of a warm shower after who-knows-how-long of surviving, especially the young boy who whoops and hollers at the sensation. If you thought he was overacting, you haven’t spent long enough in the woods!
4. Encountering the Other
Over the course of the show, we learn that zombies are a looming threat, but still not as threatening as our fellow man. This is shown as our heroes battle the cutesy traditional community of Woodbury and later, the supposed safe zone of Terminus (where they eat people!!!).
As a thru-hiker, I know I’ve felt “othered” by day hikers (hence forth to be known as Day Walkers), but after so long, they become the others to me. Like zombies, you can smell Day Walkers a mile away. And they just stare. Staring all the while. But they don’t want to eat you… they want to BATHE YOU. And not in their nice warm shower at home. No, they would rather hose you down with ice cold water in their yard and then spray you with perfume!!! Terrifying. And when you enter a town, there are scores of them. You find yourself with an increasing distrust of traditional communities. They sell you ice cream and burgers, depleting your wallet and fattening you up – for what purpose? Who can say?!
Eventually, you break back into the woods, which may have felt like a scary place when you began, but now gives your soul, and your wallet, sweet, precious security.
5. The Look
Finally, we come to that rock and roll look of a hiker/zombie killer. Who has time to shave, nevermind a mirror to see oneself? One detail I think the show lacks is that the survivors aren’t walking around with boogers on their faces and crust in their eyes. Regardless, we do see Rick Grimes develop a pretty homely beard as the show progresses. The characters’ wardrobes also get pretty far out, down and dirty. There is a serious lack of denim on the Trail, which I tried to make up for on the PCT. That’s where the show and us filthy hikers differ: they are able to update their wardrobes when they get too nasty. Still, what a ragtag bunch of hiker/zombie trash!
BONUS: 5 Ways Thru-Hikers Relate to be Zombies
Truly, there is another perspective here. In as much as I like to think I am some kind of a survivalist babe, I relate to the Walkers best.
1. Hershel’s Point of View
Hershel is a Trail Angel among Walkers. He sees the condition of zombies as being temporary and fixable, much as some good Samaritan non-hikers see thru-hikers. Once we get to Katahdin, we’ll be regular people again! Right? However, the majority of Americans most likely think there is something inherently wrong in our brains and we ought to be put down.
Regardless of Hershel’s beliefs, he lets us stay in his barn and feeds us chicken, and for that, we thank him.
These two terms for zombies could easily be used for hikers. I mean, what do we do but walk (a freaking lot) and eat (a whole freaking lot)? We have a hunger for protein, and frankly, even if you don’t tell me what animal it’s from, I’m probably gonna eat it. The curse of the zombie is that of the hiker: we eat and eat and never feel satisfied. So we just walk from one town to the next, eat as much as we can, and move on.
3. The Ramshackle Shuffle
Also called the shamble. Whether your legs are stiff from five 20 mile days in a row or good old fashioned rigor mortis, the result is always the same. Just keep an eye out if your on the hunt for zombies that they aren’t wearing zip-off pants. That may just be a hiker on his way to the Dollar General.
4. The Look
To townsfolk, we don’t look “hiker chic.” We look filthy and possibly bleeding. And much as zombies generally look the same from one to the next, so do hikers. You’ve seen one hiker, you’ve seen ’em all. If it wasn’t for the fact that we never change clothes, I wouldn’t be able to recognize one hiker from the next.
5. The Mud
Don’t even get me started on the mud. Ugh!
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This is genius
Ummm this was amazing. Two of my favorite things in one post.