Hiking on the Appalachian Trail has certainly taught us humility. Learning to live with only what we carry on our backs is a lesson in simplicity. In addition, we have realized a need to be more grateful for the comforts in life especially when quality of life is severely compromised.
This week, Chief and I hiked through a portion of southwestern Virginia, a beautiful ecological area, but with no place for a hiker to shower or clean up. We were somewhat prepared for this six-day stretch in the woods until we could arrive at a hostel nearly 100 miles away. We weren’t prepared, however, for six straight days of rain. Add in the sweat of 10-hour hiking days to everything that is already wet and mildewed and it equals an odorous disaster of epic proportions.
Keep in mind that over the past seven weeks I have been meticulous about spraying our gear with Febreeze at every stop. Regardless, our soaked shoes were the first things that began to smell on Day 49 so they stayed outside the tent at night. We brought in the inserts with hopes they would somewhat dry overnight. The damp, sweaty backpacks started to reek about Day 50. Imagine wearing something all day that carries a gut-wrenching odor AND holds all of your food and water. The packs have to go in the tent at night so the stench was inescapable. We experienced some really cold temps so the big question was whether to zip the tent up tightly or keep air flowing to mitigate the horrendous smell. Great options – either we freeze to death or suffocate on the inside of a garbage bag.
I will tell you that over the years Chief has lost a bit of his sense of smell, which turned out to be a blessing this week. I, on the other hand, have very effective olfactory senses that have contributed to more nausea this week than I care to share.
The crap really hit the fan on Day 52. We were then five days into the rain. Chief and I each have three pair of socks and I calculated that I would have to wear each pair of socks two days before putting on a clean dry pair. I was looking that wet morning for my last pair of dry socks but to no avail. I asked Chief if he took my socks because he has the same type only in a larger size. He emphatically denied having my socks and said I must have forgotten them at the last stop. I was forced to put on the same wet cold dirty stinky foul socks for two more days. Each day the stench grew stronger. Every morning I put those socks on and every evening that I took them off my gag reflex kicked in. On Day 53 Chief was packing up HIS dirty clothes and I counted an extra pair of socks – MY socks that he had worn! He said it was a “simple error” on his part but by my calculation he had four pair of clean dry socks in six days. In his defense, Chief is battling some major blisters on both feet and a deep sore on his left heel, all of which has been exacerbated with the wet weather conditions.
To make matters worse, Chief found a tick crawling up his thigh while we were in the tent. Ticks are known to crawl to dark body areas before burrowing in. This was enough to freak out anyone and Chief “felt stuff crawling on him” the rest of the night. It makes no difference whether it was real or perceived. I had fallen into a deep sleep only to be awakened by Chief frantically telling me there was something crawling up his groin. He gave me the head lamp and told me to take a look. Now this isn’t a great way to wake up anyone. I saw no bugs but the experience made my stomach lurch.
Our baby wipe baths became less and less effective so that by the end of the week even Chief said he got a whiff of us. “We stink,” he said grimacing. “Are you JUST noticing this?!” I asked, already resigned to the fact that we had stunk to a new low.
To Better Times, Chief and Toad