Scent of a Day Hiker

It is no secret that thru-hikers smell bad. After living in the woods for some time, and especially once the warmer seasons arrive, we are all ripe. The plus side is that we grow accustomed to it. Everyone smells, therefore no one smells. The AT brings us all to the same humble level.

You eventually find yourself in this situation: it’s been a while since your last stop in town. You know there will be a road crossing today. You are casually strolling through the woods, imagining both of the meals you will order as one dinner. You consider the possibility of doing laundry, but only if it will not impede the excessive food and beverage consumption that will no doubt occur. The day is gorgeous and the trail is fairly quiet. Then it hits you—sniff sniff—your nose practically begins to hunt. You are instinctually curious about this out-of-place scent that has permeated the forest. Before anything is in sight, you have identified it by smell alone: it’s a day hiker.

The first time this happened, I was in awe of my acute sense of smell. If I hadn’t already felt like a wild animal, this newly developed ability solidified the feeling. From that moment on, whenever I was hiking near civilization, I would recognize the scent of day hikers long before I could see or hear them. When the day hiker and I were close enough to pass each other, my impression of her (or him) was this: she must have soaked in a bath of perfume that morning, then applied every single scented product on the market to her entire body before hitting the trail. The reality was probably this: she took a shower (at least once within the past few days) and applied deodorant (at least once within the past few days). She is just clean.

For a very brief moment I felt sorry for the day hiker, who almost certainly had the exact opposite experience while passing funky hiker trash. Though my guilt quickly and permanently turned into pride, for I had become a creature of the wild, I belonged in the woods, it was my home.

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