Zero Day

Zero days are some of the busiest and most exciting days of your hike. After all, when you’re out in the woods all you’re doing is walking, right? Pretty much. Walking, eating, and sleeping. All day long you’re burning precious calories. Even when you stuff your food bag to capacity, it’s never enough and you find yourself looking forward to each upcoming town a little bit more than the last. You can’t remember the last time you or your shorts saw soap. It’s time to relax, you think. I’m going to take a zero.

Right away you’ve got some decisions to make. Do you do a big day and get into town around dinner? Try to find food and a place to stay at night? Or, do you hike a normal day, camp near town and stroll in around breakfast the day after tomorrow? Are either of those things even possible? What do you know about this place? Oh great, you think. This was supposed to be relaxing, and now you have homework.

Much to your delight you learn that there’s a reasonably priced motel between the trail and town. Just close enough that if you walked with your thumb out, you might get there before you even see a car. No cell phone reception either. You walk. It’s one of those drive up places where your door opens to the parking lot. There’s a bed, the shower has hot water and the laundry room also houses the owner’s cat’s litter box. One dollar per load, but it looks like three other hikers are ahead of you. You opt for food instead.

Hungry Hiker.

I’ll have what he’s having. Now.

After a forty five minute shower, you and two people you just met hop into the back of a pickup for a ride to town. One of them only drinks craft beers and the other won’t eat anything that has legs. When you can’t agree on a place, the driver dumps you all in front of the post office. It’s closed. I don’t care, you think. I’ll go tomorrow after breakfast. You ditch the weirdos and find a pizza place where you eat and drink until your belly hurts. You walk back to the motel. The washing machine is available but you’re too tired to do anything. The sun has been down for two hours now. It’s way past your bed time. You take another shower and pass out.

Thanks to the heavy curtains and your food coma, you wake at 9:30. You slept through the continental breakfast (an orange and a hard boiled egg) and the washing machine’s full. You find a ride to a diner where you and three other people you just met share a booth. By the time you finish your second round of pancakes it’s almost noon. Time for lunch.

You were smart enough to bring your pack, so you walk to the post office and on your way discover a laundromat that wasn’t in the guide book. Jackpot! Great, you think. I’ll go mail this package and then backtrack here. I’ll sit around in my rain coat and flip-flops for an hour or two, nothing creepy about that at all, and then . . . ah crap! Resupply. There’s a small general store, but it’s closed at five. Bah! I’ll figure it out on the way to the post office!

Laundry Day.

High fashion in the hiker world.

You spend the entire day walking from one end of town to the other, putting in nearly the same mileage as a day on the trail, running into people you know or meeting new ones. There’s a guy in his seventies at the laundromat who used to keep bees and homing pigeons. He tells you stories while your clothes bounce around in the dryer. You never want to leave. You’re in the vortex.

While you’re in the bathroom putting on your warm shorts you overhear talk about a Walmart run. “I’m in,” you yell, hopping on one foot while pulling a hot sock onto the other. Once again you find yourself in the back of a pickup truck. Someone hands you a beer. Now you’re inside the store. You had a list but you took it out at the laundromat and now it’s in the bottom of your pack. You’re hungry again, which makes this even worse. You wander through a maze of bright colors and flashing lights, scrambling to fill your basket with the things you need while not losing sight of the guy who knows the guy with the truck. You remember that you were supposed to send your aunt a card. You just want to be back in the woods.

Into the fog

I’m done being in town.

After gorging yourselves on meat and beer you return to the motel. While you’re taking food out of boxes and putting it into bags you start to get tired. Once again you’re somehow still awake at ten. Your parents and everyone you know back home are probably all dying to hear from you. You decide to make a quick status update instead, letting everyone know you’re okay, maybe upload a photo or two. You have one hundred and eighty seven messages. You learn that two of your trail buddies will be in town around midday tomorrow. Somehow it’s now midnight. You’re hungry again. This is getting ridiculous. It’s time to relax, you think. I’m going to need . . . a double zero.

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Comments 4

  • Gary Sizer : Mar 23rd

    That’s Megan Thompson, also an author here, sitting in the road. She took the picture of me walking into the fog at the bottom. Big Bald, that was. Still never seen it. The curly headed fella in the dress is legendary hiker known ’round the world as Lemmy.

  • James Adams : Mar 23rd

    It took me 191 days to hike the trail in 1990………………..I had 79 zero days.

  • Campbell Troup : Mar 29th

    As I am preparing for my first through hike the one thing I have looked past is zero days. Good reminder that even when your off the trail there is no time for rest.


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