wordage on the trail 2.0

wordage on the trail 2.0

off trail location, washington dc, 24 june 2013

this is the recap edition: part 1

In my first entry I explained some of the hiker jargon, some official and time honoured and many just made up on the spot and idiosyncratic to whatever bubble with which one happens to be hiking for a time.  On that note:

The Bubble: the group of people you hike with, sometimes semi-permanently (which can me two whole days or weeks and even months) until it bursts for a myriad of reasons.  Sometimes con-fused with the trail family, the bubble is a more tenuous arrangement of hikers who are bound to it for a number of reasons ranging from the social to convenience and coincidence and of course safety. The largest bubble I’ve been part of thus far numbered 28 hikers, and it lasted two days.

The words: Refers to guidebooks, typically AWOL’s guide. I have come to realize and accept that guidebooks are not always correct. AWOL, I hear, is currently working on an online version that allows for live updates as they happen on the trail, particularly regarding mile markers. I currently carry the guide as well as a set of waterproof, ultralight maps I won at raffle held by the good people at the Appalachian Trail Conference at the Damascus Trail Days. These maps have only a few things going for them: portability, accessibility, all weather, and quick reference. Minimalist at heart, the Anti Gravity maps are not for those who want to know every piece of land mark on the trail, even if it happens to be the only round in a 5 mile stretch. The folks at Anti Gravity perhaps feel that a thru hiker shouldn’t be distracted with too many details, even if some of such useless trivia will help him better orient himself to the terrain, gauge his mileages or even plan out a rest or water break. The words are not reliable but that’s all we have.

Aqua Blaze: Less scorned by purists than yellow or blue blazing (taking a car to trail heads, taking short cuts, respectively) perhaps because aqua-blazing is almost limits itself entirely to taking a canoe trip down the Shenandoah river to Harper’s Ferry, the unofficial halfway point on the AT and the home of the Appalachian Trail Conference, where one receives his official hiker number after completing 1000 miles on the AT and have your picture taken in front of the ubiquitous stone walls of the ATC, exhausted but brimming with happiness and confusion. Mine is 687; apparently the one I received at the start of my hike at the foot of Amicalola Falls in Georgia doesn’t count.  Habitual torrential downpours this year had made aqua blazing somewhat of a hardcore mission–several of my hiker friends, many of whom are seasoned veterans of the canoe– who have attempted to aqua blaze have lost their canoe and nearly their equipment because of high waters. No casualties this year, fortunately.  I hear that in some bubbles aqua blaze miles (roughly a 100 or so) counts as part of your thru-hike, fascinating. I haven’t the gonads or the swimming abilities to attempt this…yet.

Hiker aidsThis one is special for the 2013 edition AT Thru hike, thanks to–the word on the trail, at least–a South Bound hiker (cheers, buddy). In medical terms, it is called the Norovirus. Wikipedia describes it thus:

A genetically diverse genus of single-stranded RNA, non-enveloped viruses in the Caliciviridaefamily.[1] The known viruses in the genus are all considered to be the strains of a single species called Norwalk virus. The viruses are transmitted by fecally contaminated food or water; by person-to-person contact;[2] and via aerosolization of the virus and subsequent contamination of surfaces.[3] Noroviruses are the most common cause of viral gastroenteritisin humans,[4] and affect people of all ages.[4]

Norovirus infection is characterized by nausea, forceful vomiting, watery diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and in some cases, loss of taste. General lethargy, weakness, muscle aches, headache, coughs, and low-grade fever may occur. The disease is usually self-limiting, and severe illness is rare. The virus affects around 267 million people and causes over 200,000 deaths each year; these deaths are usually in less developed countries and in the very young, elderly and immuno-suppressed.

Hikertrash is a hiker conglomerate hanging out and doing nothing at ubiqitous spots such as sunny balds, gas stations, laundromats, hotel lobbies etc. This set of hikertrash is sunning at Siler Bald, North Carolina

While I was fortunate to have not been struck down by hiker aids, it was, sadly, an omnipresent threat for all of us hikertrash who ‘live’ on this trail in close proximity to one another. Many fell victim to the Noro—a painful sight to witness, I assure you, and those of us who are not yet afflicted secretly thanked trail deities for sound health. There were warnings posted between for hundred miles from Hot Springs, NC to Erwin Tennessee, urging us to avoid staying in shelters or using privies where the sick had bee, to maintain hygiene and distance; filter and treat all water.   

The threat, as I type, hasn’t dissipated yet for we hear that strands of it, albeit weak, still persists further north. However, I remain healthy even though I haven’t always filtered my water—I judge my water sources carefully, still carrying the same aquamira bottles with which I started the trip) nor have I really used any of the privies. In fact, I did not use a privy until I saw a magnificent privy at the Big Barn shelter (almost 460 miles in)—oh it was gorgeous and I had to unburden myself in the open air, gazing at the valley. Secretly, I must admit I have been doing my business atop lonely, out of the way cliffs. Which brings me to the next wordage.

Cliff hanger/ Surfie Norovirus had forced many of us to, well, need I spell it out? Do bears shit in the woods? Well, thru hikers certainly do! The cliff hanger is a practiced and potentially smelly, messy affair. One precariously positions oneself on the side of the cliff and relieves himself to the abyss below. It is liberating and nearly orgasmic, particularly if you had just ate some bad hiker-slop for dinner.  The sufie and cliff hangers are linked because a cliff hanger inevitably becomes a surfie as it falls down to the surface and just lays there, even if it is hundreds of feet below into some unknown, inaccessible part of the mountain. It is called surfie because, well, it stays on surface—unlike typical shits in the woods that end up few feet underground.  Though clandestine in nature—and thrilling because of it—some cliff hangers and surfies have become infamous. One of the more famous ones I’ve heard of that actually have photographic records are of a thru hiker, held on by two friends, one holding on to each arm, leant back over the famous McAffee Knob in Virginia (the most photographed spot on the AT) and let his nuggets drop as his friends held onto him for dear life.  Several of my hiker buddies have also left surfies and cliff hangers at McAffee knobs at less ubiquitous but no less daring manner. Some even construct intricate stone cairns at sites of cliff hangers and surfies to mark their passing.  I only managed to pee off the edge of the world, but i prefer pooping in the woods to some privies.  The humble rattlesnake, the vicious copperhead, the pesky nettles and poison Ivy are forever trying to thwart this growing community of secretive mile-high shitters on the AT, however.

Always practice Leave No Trace principles in the wild!

i would like to stress that while soil bacteria on the AT is quite rich that hikers should practice leave no trace practices and good outdoor conservation ethics when doing their business in the woods. this means: no surfies or cliff hangers! carry and use a trowel. as one of my favourite signs on the trail from te araroa proclaimed: go far, dig deep. that should be a good mantra to recite in general but especially for human waste on the trail:

here are some basics: use a trowel + dig a cat hole + if the bacteria content in soil is rich burying your waste away from water sources should suffice. otherwise, either use water or urine to help the composting

use privies where available; do not put your trash in composting privies; pack it in & pack it out

pack out your tp & burn it in existing fire rings

if you are truly hardcore: do as the birds and the bears do: broadcast your feces in a wide spray pattern so that it can degrade faster.


sometimes a marathon hike must yield to unforeseen hot cocoa…

sometimes a marathon hike must yield to unforeseen hot cocoa…

rocks and rattlesnakes, magic and mushrooms, people and places: one thousand miles across america

rocks and rattlesnakes, magic and mushrooms, people and places: one thousand miles across america