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Our first day of hiking was long. We walked for five hours, taking breaks off and on. I didn’t think we were every going to make it. We crested a hill and walked down the trail and started hearing the tale-tell signs of our destination. We could hear the hustle and bustle of camp life. We caught a glimpse of bright yellows and blues of tent fabrics every now and then. Finally, we trudged into camp and surveyed the situation.
The shelter at Muskrat Creek was full. A man was showing his two young sons how to filter water. Several others were milling about, boiling water for meals, messing with gear, and lounging. We shuffled down to the tent site and find spots for our tents. My tent is a single man tent, a claustrophobic thing even for one person. There is no headroom and barely enough room to roll over. But it’s lightweight and easy to carry, plus not too difficult to put up, which is good because I’m not the most mechanically inclined person. I’d love to have a tent that you just pull out of its little bag, press a button, and have it just pop into shape. Voila! The three-second easy up tent. I’m sure it exists somewhere.
After setting up our tents, Hillbilly and I wandered back into camp. We had gotten lucky- this was a deluxe shelter complete with a picnic table underneath the shelter. We lounged around the picnic table and watched a woman struggle with her stove.
“I’ve been out here for two weeks and still can’t figure this thing out,” she said in disgust. Her name was Janet and, although she had never backpacked a day in her life, decided that she would walk the entire 2,200 some odd miles of the Appalachian Trail. She sighed gratefully as Hillbilly took over the operation of her stove.
Strangely enough, Janet complained that she didn’t have an appetite. Two weeks into a six-month backpacking trip, and you should be a starving fool. Hikers burn an average of 6,000 calories a day. Many eat as much as possible and still end up losing weight on the trail. And here Janet was, with no appetite. Perhaps it was just her adjusting to the trail.
We also met Buzz, an easygoing middle-aged fellow. He was a well-spoken guy, fun to be around, who was always looking up college basketball scores on his Blackberry Buzz was always taking these little “trail baths” whenever we got to a water source. He’d take out a rag, get it wet, put a little soap on it, and essentially give himself a sponge bath. Hillbilly would see this and just shake his head. “There ain’t no bathin’ on the trail,” he’d mutter and walk on.
It’s true, you do get used to the smell. Body odor becomes a certain eau-du-toilette at a certain point. It increases your hippy powers, for sure, and everyone starts to get their own brand of funk on the trail. There is no avoiding it. Buzz could try all he wanted, but there was no way to fake the funk. It almost became a badge of honor, your smell. I’d pull my shirt away from my chest, take a deep breath, and just revel in my nastiness. Ahhh. That’s what a man smells like.
When you’re on the trail for so many days, you just get used to the smell of dirty backpackers. When you start meeting hikers who smell really nice, you know that you are close to a road. Just like sailors on the open sea would watch the skies for birds, we would keep our noses trained for the tell-tale sign of civilization- that sweet, clean smell of day hikers.
Adam Rambin is an ESOL-teaching, kayaking, hiking, bass playing, Sasquatch-writing adventurer. And he has more writing adventures on the way. Stay tuned for the next exciting installment in Adam’s A.T. hiking saga!
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