Mile 566. Day 22.
I am a 21-year-old who uses diaper rash cream daily. I have disproportionally tan hands (thanks to my long-sleeved sun shirt), and I rejoice when I consume over 2,000 calories by 9 a.m.
I crossed the 500-mile mark earlier this week, which supposedly makes me a true thru-hiker. Sometimes I feel like I’ve really got this whole hiking thing down, but then I look around me and realize I can’t accurately name one plant. I have a lot to learn, but here’s what I can offer with my 500-mile wisdom.
I’ve always been a good eater. My brother has told me that I’m a “ferocious eater” as a term of endearment, and my dad used to hide an “emergency food bag” from me on backpacking trips just in case I ate all of our food too quickly. But that doesn’t even to compare to my incredible consumption habits these days. I’ve eaten more snickers bars in the past three weeks than I have in the past three years. Sometimes I eat half a jar of peanut butter, 2 candy bars and a pack of ramen, but somehow hunger strikes again 15 minutes later. On a daily basis, I usually eat some combination of the following: breakfast essential drink mix, cold instant coffee, clif bars, other protein bars, triscuits, dried fruit, trail mix, tuna, ritz crackers and fake cheese sandwiches, kit kats, peanut butter, nutella, instant refried beans, instant Idahoan mashed potatoes, chips and jerky. Also, I’m stoveless, so all food is cold. Mmmm delicious and nutritious. In towns, I load up on burgers, burritos, fresh fruit and salads.
It’s hard to care about hygiene when your body is caked in dirt and you look like you have dirty-styled-French-tip nails. But hygiene is important. Little things like brushing your teeth can make you feel like a queen. The diaper rash cream is for these crazy sweat rashes that everybody seems to get. Nightly baby wipe baths are divine. And I now have a handy dandy pee rag.
Trail magic is true magic. I stayed at a trail angel’s house who let us sleep in REAL beds and lent us bathrobes. An 11-year-old trail angel named Grapes waited on trail at the top of a huge climb to greet hikers with fresh grapes, apples, oranges, cookies and juice. Another angel named Coppertone pops up around trail to greet hikers with root beer floats and pies. And another named Legend (who I have yet to encounter) serves trailside pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners. I’ve never experienced so much love and selflessness from strangers, and I’m constantly overwhelmed, floored, boggled, moved, inspired by their kindness.
The Real World
There’s now the trail world and the real world. The trail world is vast and open and freeing. The real world is full of little luxuries and confining buildings. It’s not when you get back to this real world that you realize what you’re doing is completely absurd. One instance sums this up pretty well: Mittens (the best hiking pal) and I were near the trail along a gravel road. A tour bus drives up, and the driver announces to the tourists, “Here are some thru-hikers. We leave out water for them.” The tourists were fascinated. We stood there (dirt stains and all) while they drilled us with questions: Where do you sleep? What do you eat? You’re going to CANADA????? People often ask to take our photos, so I sometimes feel like a super smelly celebrity.
All in all, my wisdom isn’t so vast. Despite the 500+ miles, I’m still not sure what it really means to be a true thru-hiker. All I really know is that this life is strange. Strange in the best of ways. There’s a great Edgar Allan Poe quote that I keep thinking about: “There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness.” So maybe that’s where the true beauty of the trail lives. In eating multiple Snickers bars for breakfasts. In the fellow hiker who has started calling the moon his “baby girl.” In the diaper rash cream and the surprise root beer floats. It’s all so strange and all so beautiful (excuse my cheesiness).
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