I read her comment while I’m holed up in Tehachapi healing from the latest crop of blisters and recovering from a cold.
“OMG, sis, is this permanent … forever?!”
The transformation to Hiker Trash begins innocuously. Among aspiring long trail hikers early in the walk, conversations are about gear. And maybe: where are you from, is this your first thru hike, and what’s your trail name.
The hiker hobble soon follows. With a loaded pack you walk straight and true. Sans pack, you walk with a macabre, stilted gait.
But you don’t hobble for long without a pack. You stop walking just before dark if your day went well. After dark if not. After necessaries, setting up the tent, and eating, you are laying down. All of which generally take less than ten minutes. Sometimes you are laying down while you cook and eat. Writing in journals, reading, laughing about the day are in the sleeping bag activities.
Those awake after the first stars appear are considered nocturnal. And shunned if they are noisy.
Pre dawn light and bird song become your alarm clock. And there’s no snooze button.
Everyone notices when the topic of trail conversation becomes almost solely about food. Maybe slightly interposed with where are we, how far to water, or how far until we stop to eat again.
The five second rule for dropped food? Ten seconds? One day? None of the above. Edibility is solely in the taste buds of the dropper or finder. A calorie found is a calorie consumed.
Personal hygiene is somewhere on the to do list. Hands are usually kept clean. Teeth are brushed if there’s water to spare. Sunscreen is body art – patterns of dirt swirled on the face. Hair is styled with a hat. Those who have bathed recently can be smelled. Those who haven’t are just part of the normal olfactory background. Modesty and privacy are attempted. Not always successfully.
Trails are for walking on. And sitting. And sleeping. It is perfectly acceptable to be stepped over or around while napping. Or to courteously step over or around a napper.
Shade is for sharing.
Laundry is a social event. You usually get back what you put into it. The outside of your pack becomes a clothes drier.
You talk to lizards, squirrels, ants, birds, and flowers more than you do to people.
You become proficient at bits of songs that play over and over in your head. Maybe you sing these abbreviated lyrics out loud. The flora and fauna will never tell.
The trail is animate. A presence. A line of rock and sand sometimes worthy of praise. Sometimes cursed.
Hiker Trash. Blaze, Dances with Lizards, our hiker trash friends, and I look at each other and laugh at all of this. And we look into each others eyes. And we see. Metamorphosis.
PCT Day 61: No miles hiked. Stayed at the Santa Fe Motel.