Why I’m Choosing to Wear the Same Smelly Clothes for Five Months

As weeks pass by and my countdown until “go time” continues (41 days, what what!), someone new discovers my plan to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. And without fail, every open-mouthed smile and bewildered pair of eyes newly attuned to this information is accompanied by one question. Why? Valid question. And every time I think I’ve finally mastered a logical, rehearsed response that proves that I do, in fact, have all my marbles, I still end up finding myself scratching my head, tying my tongue in knots, and spitting out nonsensical word vomit. So, after reliving this situation one too many times, I finally came up with the most simple, honest response I know to be true.

It’s just something I need to do.

 

This is usually followed by a furrowed brow and a slew of questions.

“Where do you sleep?”
“How do you poop?”
“Will you see bears and snakes?”
“Will you be alone the whole time?”
“So you pretty much just walk?”

These are the easy questions. “In a tent. In the ground. Yes. No. Yep,” I respond straightforwardly and respectively, based on information I’ve gathered from hours of gluing my eyes to blogs and books and trail research. These are all valid questions, of course, to the unfamiliar inquisitor, as I was asking the same ones myself a couple years ago. Still, my personal favorite was hearing, “So you live off the land and eat berries and leaves and tree bark and stuff?” as I recalled the numerous posts I’ve read about the consumption of an extra large pizza, 5 lb. stack of pancakes, or entire carton of ice cream by a single hiker.

 

After a year of contemplation, I think I’ve finally discovered why I’ve failed to formulate a concise response. My desire (ahem, obsession) to attempt a thru-hike of the height of the western United States stems not from a single reason, or even a handful of reasons. Instead, it is a culmination of many reasons and needs and realizations. And it’s not that the person asking the burning question hasn’t been worth my time to give them this hodgepodge of answers, but rather, I’m trying to spare them all of the “ums” and “uhs” and “hms” as I try to pull together a list from my scattered brain in a matter of seconds. So I continue to tell them the most honest, simple response I know to be true.

It’s just something I need to do.

 

But for my sake, my clarity, my sanity, and, most importantly, to answer the question that you asked me approximately 400 words ago (I know, get on with it already) I think it’s time to put that list to paper. Oh, you’re wondering why I’m quitting my job, potentially settling for a gross income of precisely zero, so that I can put myself through physical and psychological torture and discover new and offensive smells (ones, I hear, I did not know could emanate from my body) for 5 months? Well, let me tell you.

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I’m hiking the PCT to have an adventure.

To breathe a billion breaths of fresh air.

To wake up when the sun rises.

And go to sleep when the sun sets.

To hear stories.

To create stories.

To tell stories

To walk with an old friend.

To walk with new and interesting human beings.

To walk alone.

And camp alone.

To walk together.

And camp together.

To sleep in a tent every night.

And learn to appreciate my pillow-topped bed.

To laugh through the good times.

And the bad ones.

And probably cry at some point.

To eat whatever I want.

But mainly to maintain an endless supply of candy.

To wake up in the mountains.

And in a forest.

And in the desert.

To walk in rain.

And in snow (probably lots of it).

To walk under the sun.

To be hot.

And to be freezing.

And to just deal with it.

To be in so many places.

But to leave no trace.

To have the tolerance to fight through physical pain.

To have the psychological strength to fight through mental battles.

To hitch-hike.

To not be afraid in the dark.

To learn a new language.

To read books.

To write.

To think and reflect.

To not think at all.

To take some pictures with a camera.

And some just with my mind.

To think about where I want to live.

To think about my job.

To think about my family and my friends.

And to write them letters and postcards.

To discover new music.

To improve my map and compass skills.

To see wild animals.

And to not be (too) scared of them.

To be calculating and prepared.

But also be spontaneous and adventurous.

To go with the flow.

To have side adventures.

To prove my independence.

And my confidence.

To feel the highest of highs.

And the lowest of lows.

And to still follow through.

To stress about things that really matter.

And to not stress about those that don’t.

To be less anxious.

To have a mental reset.

And maybe a little bit of mental clarity.

To do something kind of crazy.

To be in nature.

To live simply.

To make my family proud.

To be proud of myself.

To be myself.

To do so much.

By doing so little.

To just walk.

And to live simply.

By wearing the same smelly clothes for five months.

 

That’s why I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I think. And maybe some of these things will happen. And maybe they won’t. There is one thing I know, though.

It’s just something I need to do.
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Comments 24

  • Zach : Mar 18th

    This was a great read, Abby.

    Reply
    • Megan : Mar 19th

      You are incredible and deserve to have the most amazing experience. I am so excited for you! Please don’t forget me in the list of people to send a post card to. <3

      Reply
    • Abby Rachwalski : Mar 23rd

      Thanks, Zach! I really enjoyed writing it!

      Reply
  • Trevor DC Gamble : Mar 18th

    Hi there, Abby. Inspirational writing, but I thought that no one needed to wear smelly clothes on long trails anymore, as was why folks choose to wear baselayers of Merino wool, thus you do not pong even after many weeks on the trail without regularly washing them.

    Reply
    • Abby Rachwalski : Mar 18th

      Yes, you are totally right! I’m planning on wearing merino wool base layers for just that reason and more. Personally, though, I have found that even the anti-stink merino wool has its limits, and after wearing it for a week on my last backpacking trip it started to smell. But I do know of people who say that it works miracles for them, and I’m jealous! I am hoping to do laundry semi-regularly though to help get rid of any dirt and smell.

      Reply
      • Dave Truesdale : Mar 19th

        Saw an ad in backpacking magazine for a clothes washing thing don’t remember name

        Reply
  • Ruth morley : Mar 18th

    Beautifully said, Abby.

    Reply
    • Abby Rachwalski : Mar 23rd

      Thanks, Ruth!

      Reply
  • Arnold Guzman : Mar 19th

    The last section of your piece, the ‘To’ & ‘And’ section, where almost every verse begins either with the word ‘To’ or ‘and’, is very poetic and could be turned into such a nice song

    Reply
    • Abby Rachwalski : Mar 23rd

      This made my day! Thanks so much!

      Reply
  • Tim : Mar 19th

    Enjoyed the read. Excited for you and hope to hear more of your adventures. Thank you for not letting this world steal or kill your desire to live. May God be with you!!

    Reply
    • Abby Rachwalski : Mar 23rd

      Thank you so much!

      Reply
  • Kristin : Mar 19th

    Be sure and visit Stehekin…it will be a most wonderful treat right near the end of your trip. Be safe and may your adventure be everything you are expecting and more!

    Reply
    • Abby Rachwalski : Mar 23rd

      I’ve heard wonderful things about Stehekin, so I will definitely visit! Thank you!

      Reply
  • Bruce : Mar 19th

    Good luck on your adventure! My wife and I hike and camp. There’s nothing like the solitude and serenity of it! Hope you can make it through the Sierra’s with all the snow there is this year!

    Reply
    • Abby Rachwalski : Mar 23rd

      Thank you! There really is nothing like finding peace in the outdoors. I’m crossing my fingers for a semi-passable year in all of the snow, but I guess I’ll have to wait and see!

      Reply
  • B. Moore : Mar 19th

    I look forward to reading all about your big adventure! Please post a lot of photos!

    Reply
    • Abby Rachwalski : Mar 23rd

      Thank you, thank you! Absolutely! 🙂

      Reply
  • Annette : Mar 21st

    Exactly.

    Reply
  • David Tucker : Mar 22nd

    Amazing! You said that beautifully. Best of luck and who knows, maybe I’ll see you on the trail. I depart 4/21.

    Reply
    • Abby Rachwalski : Mar 23rd

      Thanks so much! I’ll be leaving about a week after you. Yes, maybe I’ll see ya somewhere along the way!

      Reply
  • Colleen Brady : Apr 18th

    ABBY! You are amazing! I saw Andrea’s post about this, and I am simply intrigued. I can’t wait to follow your adventure! Best of luck to you! Talk about reaching new heights! ❤️

    Reply
    • Abby Rachwalski : Apr 20th

      Aw Colleen thank you so much! This made my day! I really appreciate it. Hope all is well with you!

      Reply
  • John Drew : May 14th

    Abby;
    Mom told me of this just a couple hours ago, and I had to find this right away, and catch up with you. As an avid hiker, such am endeavor may only be the faintest of dreams. However, I shall watch your journey with interest…Just so you know-your reasons brought tears to my eyes, as I, too have found some wonderful solace in those magnificent outdoor places-where the presence of God feels real, and profound, as that presence seems to be removed from the day to day in this brave new world that we all live in. I wish you Godspeed, all the way to Canada!

    All The Best To You:
    Uncle Jack

    Reply

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