Wednesday, June 19, 2013

There Are No Stupid Questions

Only a lot of inquisitive idiots.

Q: I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada — can I take a cab on the days I don't feel like walking?

A: Sure, but backcountry cabs are all coin-operated, so bring lots of quarters — maybe a 15-pound bag to start with. You don't want to be stranded in Las Vegas without a ride, or money to play the slot machines.

Q: Is it safe to run around in the bushes?

A: If you go in a clockwise direction. (This is important.) Unless you are very experienced, then going the other way could make you dizzy, which might attract unwelcome attention from rangers, and you stand a good chance of getting cited for being "under the influence". Also, keep your pants on. Even if you aren't showing any signs of dizziness, but are running around in the bushes without pants, this may trigger a "red flag alert", during which television crews are called in, so make sure your hair is combed.

Q: So it's true what they say about backpackers?

A: Some of it, but it's hard to say which parts those might be.

Q: Are there any ATMs along the trails?

A: The ATM, or "asynchronous terror moment" may occur at any time or location, regardless of what you might be doing, hence the "asynchronous" part. Say, for example, that you are awakened in the middle of the night by a loud snap, followed by a crash, and then a deafening, wordless wail. Immediately you begin thinking that you should have spent a few moments calculating the smallest limb diameter on a douglas fir tree that could support a 350-pound (159 kg) black bear, because obviously one has just climbed up to your food bag and snapped off the limb you hung the bag from, bringing the food, the limb, and the bear back to earth, including enough injuries to instigate a blind fury incident. This is all normal, and you have been through it many times. What you don't expect next is having something heavy crash into your tent, fall on top of you (trapping you inside your mummy-shaped sleeping bag) and hearing it begin to swear with a pronounced Scottish accent, especially since you are backpacking (and camped) alone. As a side note, the ATM is also an international scientific measure of fear equivalent to about 146.959488 pounds per square inch (1,013,249.958604 pascals) of lung pressure produced during the average panicked scream. And, needless to say, when you finally do emerge from your tent to find out just exactly what is going on, everything is normal, and quiet, your food bag is still where you hung it, there is no one else in or near your camp site, but your tent is, of course, trashed.

Q: Which direction is North?

A: Whenever you go hiking or backpacking, there are certain essential things you should always carry. One of these is a map. Maps are handy because they show landmarks, topography, fast-food joints, and car washes. But that isn't all. By convention the top side of a map is defined as north, so, if you are ever confused about the finer points of compass directions, simply turn your map right side up, and peek over its top edge. You will be looking due north, and if you walk in that direction, then after some time you will return to exactly the same point that you started from, so you can't get lost either. These features have been a standard part of all maps since at least the days of ancient Greece, when Homer of Simpson laid down his 17 Cartographic Principles in 384 BCE, following a collision of two ox-drawn vehicles whose drivers became confused over the right-of-way at an intersection of six rural pathways in the southern Peloponnese. If the Greeks could figure it out, then you can too.

Q: Can I bring my monkey? I'm getting a marmoset monkey soon and was wondering if I can bring it backpacking. Any thoughts?

A: Like most things, context is important. If you plan to be hiking the Appalachian Trail, and you have a small pack that the monkey can carry, probably no one will notice. You find all kinds of people on this trail. Typically, men let their hair and beards grow, while women shave their heads. Some even hike naked, so a furry monkey carrying a pack is likely to be mistaken for a family member, possibly your son or father. If, however, your monkey is quick to anger, and delights in flinging feces at strangers during one of its hissy fits, then it may be best to bone up on your mediation skills before hitting the trail for the summer. And don't forget to carry a supply of moist antiseptic wipes — they can be really handy for rapidly defusing cleanup situations. And one more thing..."monkey butt". Monkey butt is a highly contagious disease afflicting, as you might guess, monkeys. And those who love them. If you find yourself troubled by soreness, itching, and redness that occurs "back there", or in some cases "down there" as well (especially if you are really tight with your monkey), and if the discomfort causes you to walk bowlegged like said monkey, then you may indeed have monkey butt. But if you are a backpacker you probably have these symptoms even if you hardly ever get within feces-hurling range of even one monkey. It's par for the course, as they say, along with having your own personal cloud of flies. So you might as well bring that monkey, because it can't really make things much worse.

Q: My mama did not raise her boy to sleep in no damn dirt with bugs and creepies crawling all over him. What's wrong with you people anyway, to want to go and do something like that?

A: Swift as wind. Quiet as the forest. Steady as a mountain. Conquering like fire. Able to inhale banquets. Impervious to bugs. Laughing at monkey butt. We are hikers.

Q: Do you eat stuff?

A: No. The Backpacker Code prevents the ingestion of any food for the duration of a hike. This is why most packs are so big. You might think that backpacker's packs are loaded with food, and that's why they are ginormous, but since backpackers are not allowed to eat (not only by sworn oath, but by law in most places), they need something to do while on the trail, so they bring lots of toys. Toy trucks, life-size dolls, board games, playing cards, musical instruments, firearms, medical implements, textbooks, knitting tools, you name it — anything that might relieve the boredom and take a person's mind off food gets tossed into a pack. Food porn too. Lots of that. If you pay attention at any trailside campground, you'll notice that many backpackers (especially thru-hikers who may be on the trail for months at a time) tend to retire early. You'll see them discreetly slip into their tents one at a time until the place seems deserted, but eventually you may hear the gentle rustling of a food magazine's pages being turned one after another, plus some heavy breathing. No matter how curious you might become about exactly what is going on in there, it is considered extremely rude (and may be dangerous) to disturb one of these people in the midst of their private activities. Best to observe only from a distance, or to go elsewhere and leave well enough alone.

Q: What happens if you see an animal?

A: Like all of nature, animals were placed here for our use and enjoyment. Anyone familiar with backcountry ways is also familiar with animals, and knows how to put them to good use. Take moose, for example. Moose are common everywhere, even in the very centers of cities, though most people are not aware of this. The reason is that, despite what you may have heard about the moose's aggressive nature, the creature is actually extremely secretive and shy, and able to blend into its surroundings by changing the color of its pelt at a moment's notice, and a moose, even a large one, can simply vanish from view without even moving. There is an excellent chance that you have walked right past moose all your life without even noticing them. But if you do notice a moose, be sure not to make any comments about its appearance. They are muscular but sensitive and insecure animals, and their feelings are easily bruised. The most common reaction of a moose teased about the size or shape of its nose or ears, for example, is to charge and gore its tormentor, or trample him to death, only to regret the action after it is too late to do anything about it. This is where all the nonsense about aggressiveness comes from. It's really only self-defense. A much better course of action if you do see a moose is to coo softly and talk about how inspiring it is to finally encounter a real moose and recognize it for what it is — the largest and most magnificent species of deer on earth. This is sure to get you on the moose's Christmas list, or better yet, may get you a ride on its back, as happened to Theodore Roosevelt, a man who was, you may recall, once President. It doesn't get any better than that, except for snake juggling, but you have to join a church to do that.


Thread: Non Hiker Stupid Questions & Comments

Questions about the trail - Part One

2010 Winter Olympics: Crazy tourist questions