Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Zero Day

Zero Day

A day in which no miles are hiked, usually because the hiker is stopping in a town to refit or resupply or rest, or all of the above, or maybe just to screw off for a while, while eating a lot. It can get to be a habit, something to look forward to.

Example: Ed took so many zero days it was like he was hiking backward.

Or a zero may be spent in the woods to just relax for awhile.

A day without hiking. When zero miles are covered. A day dedicated to bathing, laundry, refitting, resupply, screwing off, mindless sloth, and gorging on town food. Definitely a no-hiking day.

But it's a complex subject. For example, what is this zero thing anyway? Is it a thing or a non-thing? How much does it weigh? What color is it? Does it have a telltale aroma? Is it only for the educated, or can the rest of us learn to use it, and will use of the "zero" make us smarter, or will we just feel smarter? Or will we feel dumber? Dumber? Is that a word? Have you looked at it lately? How odd. Isn't it odd? How should it even be pronounced? Dumbr?

From Proto-Germanic "dumbaz", right? Sounds about right, doesn't it? Dumbaz. Even farther back, it's from the Proto-Indo-European root meaning "confusion, stupefaction, dizziness". Yep, and going back even farther, it came from an expression about "dust, mist, vapor, smoke", also expressing related notions of "defective perception or wits".

Another yep. Thanks, Online Etymology Dictionary, but I'm still hungry.

So, the story goes that by 1770 BC, the Egyptians had a symbol for zero in their accounting texts. The symbol was called "nfr", and it meant "beautiful". Beautiful zero. Kinda fits. Beautiful lovely zero. Hike a while, get pooped, drop in for a refreshing taste of zero. Beautiful.

Beautiful, and you get to do your laundry while you're at it. No actual calculation needed, just wave your hands a bit and declare a minor truce. Say that you need it, really need it, so you're going to claim it, and do it.

The ancient Greeks had no symbol for zero, and did not use a digit placeholder for it. They seemed unsure about the status of zero as a number. They asked themselves, "How can nothing be something?", leading to philosophical and, by the medieval period, religious arguments about the nature and existence of zero and the vacuum.

Thanks, Wikipedia. It's always nice to imagine ancient Greeks arguing about the nature of zero and the vacuum. Helps me get to sleep at night. It's like taking a no-credit class in something that no one cares about, a class that will make no difference in your life at all, and then sitting there and gently losing consciousness while no one notices. Or cares. And with no repercussions, no after-images, no echoes, no regrets. Zero.

Nothing. Zero to none.

Zip, zilch, zero, nothing, nada, bupkiss. All the same, to no effect, just like thru-hiking.

Yes, thru-hiking is an achievement, a fundamentally transforming one for many, but also, in the end, amounts to nothing. Only a vague series of fading memories which always in the end reduce to zero. Just like life.

So nice.

Gently zero me out then. I can handle it. I'll be grateful, and happy, forever and after.


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Me? Recently amounted to nothing whatsoever.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021



A garment worn on the upper body. It is made of cloth, has a collar, sleeves, and buttons down the front, unless it doesn't. For example, a T-shirt is also a shirt but there is no collar, no buttons, and the sleeves are only stubs. How can this be?

Also, a shirt is a cloth garment for the upper body, originally an undergarment worn exclusively by men, now almost any upper-body garment other than outerwear. OK fine.

And torso camouflage, since most of us look funny without clothes, so shirts let us look less like jokes. Some of us.

But then "shirt", as we know it now, is a garment that used to go by the name of "scyrte", but that was a long time ago, and later they changed the name to "skirt", but we don't go with that one anymore either.

Manly men wear these garments on their upper bodies and now call them shirts and are proud of them, and women wear the skirts, and shirts too, by the way, and not just manly women either. So.

But men don't wear skirts except for someone like Dean Peterson, a non-lady mail carrier in Washington State who liked the feeling of his Male Unbifurcated Garment (MUG), what some like to disguise under the term "kilt", as if, right?. Anyway, Peterson owns 15 of them things, or did at last count, which was a while ago. "Please open your hearts — and inseams — for an option in mail carrier comfort!", he said at a National Association of Letter Carriers convention around 2008. Well no.

His enthusiasm got voted down, enthusiastically, but the "berserker" (bear shirt) option is still available if you feel like you want to go there. Really. "Berserk" = "bear shirt", from the olden days when men were men and bears were bears and men who wore bear shirts were seriously nuts. "In battle, the berserkers were subject to fits of frenzy. They would howl like wild beasts, foam at the mouth, and gnaw the rims of their shields." According to Wikipedia, which knows such things.

How does my backpack go with this bear shirt, hon? 'Nuff hair on it? Wuff-wuff? Want to get a little berserk this evening? Maybe? Work up a sweat or something?

Even if you wear your ursine fuzz as a kilt, no one is likely to mess with you, especially if you go bare on top, and gnaw on stuff. And howl. And so on, though some like that sort of thing, we hear. Only a rumor for now.

So "shirt" probably covers more ground than you thought then, right? Most things do.


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Me? Not howling that much any more. Not really. Not enough to notice.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021



This thing called "Layering" is generally accepted as the best way of dressing for outdoor activities. (But you know what they say about conventional wisdom.)

There is the Base Layer, the Insulation Layer, and the outer Shell which all work together, all three of them, to provide maximum protection against cold temperatures, moisture, and weather in general.

Layering in clothing is one thing, but if you stay home layering around you don't get tired at all. In fact, you can actually catch up on your sleep while layering around. And you don't have to wear any clothes at all, or even maintain consciousness.

Well, back to the outdoors and that layering thing...

This is the approved and officially-sanctioned method of wearing all your clothes at once. Get this down and no one will point at you and snigger. Better yet, they won't throw rocks either. Get it perfect (while wearing new, fashion-compliant clothing that still reeks of petrochemicals) and you may even be asked to teach a class on wilderness survival.

Since Layering, if done according to established practice, is a buzzword-dependent technique, we can't call these layers "one, two, and three", or even "inner, middle, and outer". Nope.

Instead let us use these terms: Thermal Underwear, Insulation Layer, and Outer Shell Layer. Hot damn — now we're talking. Can't tell how you feel, but I'm starting to get tingly already.


Next to your skin you wear a thin layer of reasonably warm, reasonably fuzzy stuff — your long undos, or Thermal Underwear. This keeps your skin warm and helps to wick moisture away from it. Fair enough.

Next up, the Insulation or middle layer. This mainly preserves what heat you have by holding in place an even layer of still air near your body. Still air is a pretty good insulator. Keep that in mind and you'll do fine, if you also add the third and final layer, The Shell.

The Shell keeps your fuzzy stuff from direct contact with the outer world and form a barrier that traps that bubble of still, warm air inside where it belongs, next to you. The Shell also deflects wind, rain, snow, and flies. And mosquitoes. And those other, even bigger flies that have pointier teeth and electric drills and tiny but sharp chain saws. Them. Deflects them too.

This shell layer should also be reasonably breathable if possible. What this means is that water vapor should be able to diffuse through it from the inside to the outside so that you don't end up all clammy, or even worse, stuck to your underwear by another layer, a layer of ice.

On a cold, cold night, you should go to bed by adding the very final layer, your sleeping bag. It's a layer. Think about it.

So stay warm. We're counting on you.

Special bonus postscript section, if you care.

Layering is also how to make a decent sandwich.

For traditionalists, just put a bunch of sliced cold meat between two pieces of bread and eat while playing poker.

For the average person, buy one.

For hikers, put layers of anything edible between layers of anything else that's edible (definitions may vary, but bread is nice on the outside, if you have any of it), add spicy goop in the middle if you have some of that too, and eat while scanning the landscape for anything that might be gaining on you.

If you get even a bit of the goop on your clothes you'll have to peel off a layer and bury it or else something is all too likely to come out of the dark of night and eat you back. Or at least give you a good, thorough snuffling, and do you really want that? Think it over carefully before proceeding.


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Me? Still trying to lick the goop off my $600 waterproof-breathable fantasy jacket.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Back Stepping

Back Stepping

(1) Walking backward, usually while descending. This can lessen pressure on tired or injured knees.

Some do it only while stepping down, by placing one foot on top of the step, at a right angle to the trail, pointed toward the side of the trail, then twisting around while stepping down to land backward on the other foot. If not done with great care though, this method can result in a person getting those legs so tightly knotted together that only surgery can separate them again.

Overall this operation is in the same family as backpedaling and backsliding, though the last is most often done in a supine position, while in the office, or by politicians, few of whom actually know how to walk anyway.

(2) The second of the three elementary foot steps of backpacking. It produces a retrograde movement.

The others are fore stepping, or moving in a mainly forward direction, and side stepping, which one typically does to avoid unsavory underfoot substances.

This latter maneuver comes in both left and right versions, which may prove confusing to some. Fore stepping conveys a sense of being in control and of having a destination, whether true or not. Side stepping is sometimes called waffling because of the waffle-like patterns left in soft ground by lug-soled footwear as it hits tender off-trail virgin soil. Waffling can also connote indecision because for every possible step to the left there is an equally plausible case to be made for stepping to the right.

A backpacker loaded with too much indecision may be vulnerable to excessive waffling and can even incite an attack by his companions, who are likely to strip him of his goods and to eat all his snacks. Or hers. Not all women are perfect. Could be her snacks too.

(3) There is a third category of back stepping. It comes into play if a person should, for example, unknowingly enter into the personal space of a large, grumpy, and endlessly hungry organism, such as a grizzle bear.

If so very unlucky, such a person does not hear the distinctive grizzle sizzle in time, or pick up on the equally mesmerizing and unique "eau de grizze" while there is still time to do a useful back step or two and to quietly and respectfully depart in the direction of safer locales. Some enter into such a situation through a deficit of luck and others are merely stupid. This is how life works, though it has been proven that more often it is the stupid who become lunch.

But in fact anyone entering a grizzle bear's private zone may involuntarily provide sudden calories to such a beast, and not in a fun way. If you need more help with the concept of being lunch, then ask a tin of sardines.

As always, watch your step.


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Me? Still hiding.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021



Undergarment worn next to the skin and under the outer garments. From "under" + "wear", so called because it is worn under one's clothing. (Someone spent decades figuring this one out for you.)

Synonyms: shreddies, underclothes, undergarments, undies, undos.

Example: "My underwear is what I wear under there, everywhere."

Clothing that's EZ-On, EZ-Off. Whatever that means, really. Could be good, could be not good.

It depends, but if you're home alone, as so many of us are, all the time, forever, with nothing to do anyway, that could be an advantage. Probably especially OK for those pre-season training days when you decide to pull your Exer-Haggis out of the freezer and do a bunch of lifts and stuff to try getting in shape again. If you are really that motivated. (Not all of us are.)

Other things you can do in your underwear:

  • Wonder what diseases you never heard of that water might cause.
  • Think about what to say to someone who has cancer, if you can't just avoid them.
  • Decide whether thinking positive thoughts or drinking more beer is ultimately better for health.
  • Resolve to be a better person, or learn how to fake it. And some other handy tricks.
  • Wonder why so many people laugh at you, or if it's only that invisible person who's always there behind you somewhere.
  • Make up your mind once and for all about dog toothpaste.
  • Plan to take a course on how to use bath salts, because you never know. (See item # 2. Could be useful there too.)
  • Try to remember the seven sleeping positions for couples who aren't talking this year and if it might just be better to get an inflatable cat.
  • Plan to do laundry soon.


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Me? Still wondering about that underwear-replacement tattoo.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021



A mysterious being that appears whenever any two stones are laid together. Chinks were first noticed by volunteers while armoring trails with flat stones.

The rule of chink: A chink never attaches to a lone stone, but instantly materializes when that stone is set next to another one, or another one is set next to it.

A chink, if left alone, will collect insects, spider webs, fallen leaves, and dirt but does not alter or eat them. Moreover, chinks are where skinks like to hide. (Look it up.)

If disturbed by motion of the stones around it, a chink will instantly and soundlessly vanish.

Chinks are also always solitary — no two chinks ever come into contact, and of course, given this, no chink has ever been seen breeding. Neither has any free-range chink ever been sighted.

Chinks inhabit only walls, walkways, and similar structures, and remain forever silent and motionless, instantaneously appearing and disappearing seemingly at random but never changing position.

Watching chinks appear and disappear is an essential element of the magic that is trail building, and why so many devote their lives to that practice.


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Me? Recently found a nice hole to hide in.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Seismic Wave

Seismic Wave

Did the earth move for you? Well that was a seismic wave. They are complex buggers so we'll lump them all together here in one definition to make it even more confusing. Give you something to work out on your own, so you don't get bored with life.

OK then.

First, you got yer body waves and then yer surface waves. The body waves travel through the earth's body like lunch travels through yours. Surface waves on the other hand are more like creepy caterpillars inching along your skin.

Body waves not only travel through the inside of the earth but they move in every possible direction, all at once. They get called a lot of names. You have yer p-waves and yer s-waves to start. And maybe some others, unofficially.

"P" is a primary, longitudinal, irrotational, push, pressure, dilatational, compressional, or push-pull wave.

"S" is a shear, secondary, rotational, tangential, equivoluminal, distortional, transverse, or shake wave.

Now for yer P think of a slinky toy on a table, with you pushing it back and forth, away from you and toward you. Compression and rebound. Fine and dandy.

For yer S, think of a wave on water, only real s-waves can't travel through liquids or gases (or the liquid core of the earth), but they would look like water waves if you could see them. Hot waves. Real hot waves. Prolly spicy too, as far as rock goes.

Now then that leaves surface waves. They are different from body waves. They don't travel through the earth but stay on top where it's more fun and they can watch stuff happen if they get bored.

Oddly enough, surface waves and the s-wave type of body waves are the strongest, at least at the surface, and cause the most damage as they vibrate around and do what-all. This is how buildings fall down. Good time to be somewhere else, as so often happens in life.

And if you're wondering what the heck this has to do with backpacking, well it doesn't, unless you get (un)lucky and wake up on top of an earthquake. This is so you know. You get to decide if it's fun or not, your ownself.

So if you wake up and it feels like the earth is one big snake wiggling around underneath you, that's a p-wave down there, coming up for air. On the other hand if it feels like you're getting booted in the gut or the butt (depending which side you sleep on), and you seem to be bouncing all over, and you actually are all alone, and it's the earth what's doing stuff with you, well that's an s-wave or an uppity surface wave dropping by to say hello and give you a few kicks just for fun. I can still do that part.

Enjoy if possible.

As for me, all my references have gone dead, so I can't prove any of this. Time to sit back, have another beer and do some kitty tickling, I guess. I can still do that part.


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Me? Recently bumped by something that went by real fast. Think it said "Wheeeee!" But maybe not.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021



(1) Entrenchment. Furrow. Beaten path. Cut. Footpath. Gouge. Runway. Track. Trench. Trail.

(2) Also known as groove, channel, or trace — a feature, euphemistically-speaking, which is worn or cut into the trail tread in the direction of travel by wheels, hooves, feet, or even the flowing of water along the trail. Yep.

(3) Animal or hiker mating season. If this happens on the trail (not while hiking, but actually on the trail itself), it's one of those Oh, jeez! moments that (a) you do not want to see, (b) you will not forget, (c) you will weave into a great story anyway, and (d) will prompt you to buy and always carry a camera just in case something like this ever happens again. Even though you said that you don't want to see it.

(4) Sunken track or groove worn into the tread surface cut in the direction of travel by the passage of trail users or water. For example: "I'm in a rut up to my knees, which is a serious rut. This is why I don't like hiking in rutting season."

(5) Lines on the face. Something you developed while working, and something you take to the trail in the hope of removing. They have other causes too: "There was a lady in France, that having the small-pox, flay'd the skin off her face, to make it more level. And whereas before she looked like a nutmeg-grater, after she resembled an abortive hedgehog."

From "The Duchess of Malfi" a Jacobean revenge tragedy written by English dramatist John Webster in 1613. "Begins as a love story and ends as a nightmarish tragedy." Sounds about right for this topic.

So sometimes you can't win. Have to stay in that rut if you know what's good for you. Make the best of it. Put your head down and keep moving until it's over. Which it will be. Some day.


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Me? Trying to keep away from nutmeg. Nutty Meg. Something.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Dry Wash

Lonesome By Moonlight

This is also called a sandwash (think about it). Anyway, it's a streambed that carries water only during and maybe immediately after rain storms. Intermittently. Every now and then. Often over-enthusiastically. "We camped in the dry wash to get out of the wind but had to move to avoid the flood."


Also one way to wash your car. If you don't especially like the paint. And, given that a wash is the dry bed of an intermittent stream, a dry wash must be on the severely scary end of dehydrated, right? But life turns out that way sometimes.

At least sandwash is a nice smooth word. You can do something with a word like that, given a tad of imagination. Could be a rodent bath, maybe? They like sand. A cozy rodent bath, in a protected nook, warm but shady, at least until the flash flood hits. Then it's all outwash. Flush time. Bye-bye.


Outwash, rat wash, applesauce, balderdash, baloney, bilge, blague, blah, blather, blatherskite, bosh, bull, bunk, bunkum, bushwa, claptrap, cobblers, codswallop, crock, double-talk, drip, drivel, drool, eyewash, fiddle-faddle, fiddlesticks, flapdoodle, flimflam, flummadiddle, fudge, gas, gook, guff, hogwash, hokum, hooey, horsefeathers, hot air, humbug, jazz, jiggery-pokery, malarkey, meshuggaas, moonshine, piffle, pishposh, poppycock, punk, rot, rubbish, slipslop, tomfoolery, tommyrot, tosh, trash, trumpery, twaddle, whangdoodle, and windbagger. They all work. Stuff that goes through your head while you're still wrapped in your sleeping bag, being swept downstream to your doom.

And the moon laughs, silently as always.


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Me? Trying to take it in only small sips.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Nansen Cooker

Nansen Cooker

Devised in the 19th century by the Norwegian Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen, this may be the most efficient stove setup ever.

Heat passes up from the burner and around the outside of the cooking pot. This is normal, what you would expect from any stove, but in the Nansen Cooker the cooking pot is surrounded by a ring-shaped container holding cold water, ice or snow, and the combustion gases also heat this.

Then, when these hot gases have risen above the cooking pot, they hit another container sitting above it. This next container contains cold water, ice or snow, so some heat is absorbed there as well. Finally, the gases are forced to flow back down the outside of that ring-shaped container, giving up the last bit of heat they contain.

This arrangement is said to be 90% to 93% efficient at extracting energy from the burning fuel. Who said nineteenth-century technology was only about slabs of pig iron and lumps of coal?

As Nansen said: "The hot gases from the combustion of the kerosene, before they escape into the outside air, have to circulate along a tortuous path, passing from the hot interior to the colder exterior compartments, losing heat all the time. Thus a hot hoosh is preparing in the central vessel side by side with the melting of snow for cocoa or tea in the annulus. By the combination of 'Nansen Cooker' and primus stove one gallon of kerosene oil properly husbanded is made to last for twelve days in the preparation of the ordinary ration for three men."

A Nansen cooker is indeed highly efficient but also highly specialized. I think you need to be Norwegian and need a note from your mom or you aren't even allowed to touch one.


Stove Evolution


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Me? Still cookin'

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Wood Pussy

Wood Pussy

This is in fact a venerable term used mostly in New England by old-timers. Care should be taken when using the term around those with a limited vocabulary, or lacking in knowledge of its appropriate usage. You never know what people like that might be thinking.

A Skunk. The skunk is an American musteline (stinky) mammal typically ejecting an intensely malodorous fluid when it is startled or threatened, or just feeling ornery. Appearance ranges from species to species, from black-and-white to brown or cream colored.

A stink weasel. A critter in fact related to weasels, ferrets, and minks, not all of which are especially stinky, but look out anyway because teeth. Skunk, right? We were just there, right? OK then. Other definitions too interesting to mention.

A critter not at all related to "Busty Granny Having Fun in the Forest". Makes you blush just hearing about it, doesn't it? And not only because of the fuzzy parts.


But really, if you want to know it all, well take a look at: 'Your Skunk FAQ.'


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Me? Recently nominated for something by someone, somewhere.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021



(1) Dryness in the throat and a craving for liquids, produced by deprivation of drink. (Duh?)

(2) What you get from not drinking enough water. Similar to lust but occurs higher in the body and is not as much fun.

(3) What gets slaked by drinking some water. Again, not as much fun as slaking lust, but as with many things in life, it depends on who you're with at the time and what they're up for.

(4) What my hamster suddenly developed the first time he encountered beer. Since he was an adult, and it was his choice, I let him have as much as he wanted. The little sucker wouldn't quit. It was his night out, and he had free run of my bedroom. Who was a drunk little hamster going to hurt anyway? I later found him asleep in the closet, curled up in a cozy little ball, snoring quietly. Never happened again, which proves once again the magic of beer.

(5) The craving for fluids, the basic instinct of animals to drink, an essential mechanism involved in fluid balance. Thirst is what I have when I'm hungry for water. Maybe you too. So anyway, if you see animals lying on the ground all over, unable to get up, they're either unbalanced by thirst, or they got into someone's beer, which has similar effects. Hard to tell. At this point It's best to call in the experts. You can never really know what's going on out there.


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Me? Trying to stay out of trouble, yet again.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021



(1) The way Ray Jardine does things.

(2) The one and only right way of doing anything.

(3) My way or the highway.

(4) All of the above. Ray Jardine and his wife Jenny revived lightweight backpacking and changed it from something that a few reclusive, unorganized lunatics did in secret to something that lots of bold, organized lunatics now do in public.

The Jardines advocated

  • Taking only the things needed
  • Making one item serve several purposes
  • Using lightweight footwear
  • Traveling fast by putting in long days at a moderate pace while carrying light packs
  • Stealth camping
  • Sleeping under nearly weightless tarps while covered by bottomless sleeping bags they called "quilts"

Since the 1980s and 1990s when the Jardines refined their season-long backpacking trip techniques, their redefinition of backpacking has revolutionized the sport and inspired many. Originally "Ray-Way" was a descriptive term applied to Ray Jardine's methods by others, but was later been adopted by Jardine himself.

(5) The founding principle of Golite, a manufacturer of lightweight backpacking gear. Golite attempted to incorporate Jardine's philosophy into its products but parted ways with Jardine (or vice versa, depending on who's right) in 2004, after Jardine posted a "Golite sucks" diatribe on his web site.

(6) Prickly.

(7) Exceedingly prickly.

(8) Insanely prickly.


Ray Jardine at Wikipedia
Ray Jardine web site
GoLite at Wikipedia
Whiteblaze discussion of "GoLite Sucks".


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Me? Still preferring Fay Wray.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Zero-Mile Mark

Zero-Mile Mark

(1) The official point at which a measured trail officially starts.

This is another way of saying the spot where a trail begins, sort of.

This point may or may not be the trailhead.

Figuring out if the trail is measured from one end to the other, or from in the middle somewhere to some other point not the end, or how to get on the thing, or if it actually matters or not is your own damn problem.

Some people like to play games.

Some of us just like to hike.

(2) Your hiking partner who always calls to bail right before the time you agreed to meet to start your hike.

This is the kind of person who if he was doing a thru-hike, would do nothing but zero days.

And would have a story prepared ahead of time for every single one of those days.

He's got stories.

Endless stories.

All kinds of stories about where he's been, what he's done, who he knows, who knows him, all his connections to the rich and famous.

All people you have heard of.

Whom everyone has heard of.

That's the point.

But you've never heard any of them connected with backpacking, or even day hiking, or even walking around the block, but Zero-Mile Mark is a close personal friend of each and every one of them without exception, and is telling you this secret story about Famous Person X, who does not want it to get out that they do something as dirt-poor ordinary and sweaty and low-class as backpacking because it would ruin their image, and Zero-Mile Mark really shouldn't tell you, but finally gets you worn down so far you're almost ready to strangle yourself just for something to do other than listen to this guy go on and on, so he drops the name.

Maybe one name, maybe a bunch of names.

Britney Spears.

Bill Gates.

Michael Jackson.

The Pope.

All secret backpackers.

All intimate friends of Zero-Mile Mark, but he can't really say more than that, and you have to keep it quiet, OK? He shouldn't have said anything.

So he starts to talk about gear.

His eight backpacks, and which one is best and which one isn't the best, and which one attracts more chicks, and which one is more gnarly-manly looking, and then he goes into waterproof-breathable jackets and tells you everything you didn't want to know about Expanded PTFE Membrane vs. EVENT Laminate vs. Entrant GII XT Laminate vs. Nextec vs. Membrain vs. Sympatex vs. Conduit vs. Omni-Tech.

And a whole bunch of others. All of the others.

And how he's going to buy a new jacket made of this stuff, as soon as he figures out what exactly the best stuff is, if he can find a jacket that fits, which is always a huge problem given the size of his pects, not to mention getting the right colors, which is a whole nother class of mental exfoliation for him to get into.

And at first you fight to keep all this out of your brain because you know it's all made up, aside from the brand names, and maybe them too, and if it gets into your brain it will only stick there like used chewing gum, or like when you're learning a language and get a word wrong the first day and then you can never change it back to what it really is, and here is this guy shoveling this stuff straight into your head, and fighting it as much as you can fight it, you still finally have to give up and let it come in through one ear and roll around and dribble out the other ear if possible.

But despite that, some of it sticks to the inside of your head and you're never quite the same again anyway.

So when Zero-Mile Mark says the two of you really should do a shakedown trip next week to get all sorted out and tuned up for the upcoming season you say Sure, and set a date, and a time, and you know that's the end of it, and all you have to do is be certain that your voicemail is working because as close as he's going to get to hiking is calling you six seconds before you're due to roll up in front of his place to pick him up, and telling you he's got a sore toe, or his wife is scared about it, or the dog's hemorrhoids are flaring up again.

Now if you could figure out a way of never seeing him again, well and good, but he is your boss, so...

(3) An arbitrary point where you decide to start something.

Because every good story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end, you have to pick the beginning or you have no journey, and hence no story to lie about.

Because beginning sounds so ordinary you choose to make it big-scary and call yours the zero-mile mark.

Due to an unusually felicitous conjunction of forces (and possibly due to a plot hatched by those really behind everything that happens) the zero-mile mark is also the zero-kilometer mark, the zero-furlong mark, the zero-parsec mark, zero-light year mark, the zero-fathom mark, the zero-league mark, the zero-Smoot mark, the zero-verst mark, and the zero-li mark.

In fact, no matter how you slice it, zero is always zero, which seems like an incredible coincidence unless you understand that the entire game is rigged, after which it all becomes much simpler.

No need to go backpacking then. Just lie and say you did.

Tell them how you slid one foot under the fence at the border, touched foreign soil on the far side, and then turned about-face and relentlessly slogged for months and months, suffering all sorts of indignities and starvation until you reached that other, equally pointless border and slid another of your body parts under, over, around, or through the barrier there, and then go home and buy or rent someone else's photo collection to show off at parties and family gatherings.

Works every time.

Meanwhile, instead of doing all that nasty and sweaty hiking you could really be off to some civilized beach, contentedly napping in a hammock and being brought drinks by a flock of sweet agreeable things with what is called "loose morals" as they quaintly used to describe a tendency toward agreeable fun. And so on.


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Me? Learning to count backwards while chewing and walking gum.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021



(1) To carry, as in "I'm gonna pack these here groceries out to the car now, Ma," which is the way true natives say things in Washington State.

(2) The little gemlike world you carry behind you while you are engaged in ultralight backpacking.

(3) The monstrous evil demon clinging to your back with six-inch claws while you are engaged in traditional backpacking.


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Me? On the road to success with a broken axle, two flat tires, and a stray weasel.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Oops Bag

Oops Bag

(1) A plastic bag carried in case of unanticipated bowel excitement. A whoopie-whoop swell foop scoopy-scooping human-poop feedback looper. Use it, tie it, fling it.

Also known as a flyaway toilet or helicopter toilet, this is a simple hobby that everyone can take up. Not biodegradable or anything, but a fun way to interact with people you dislike, as long as they're close enough to nail in the head and yet far enough away to give you a decent running start.

Gastro Girl does it so you can too. ( ) Plus, she has suggestions about how to handle those oily stains.

(2) A bag kept in reserve for dealing with memory-related incontinence. A catch-all container for any last minute or almost-forgotten items you need.

Forget something, only to recall it at the last moment, after you're already packed? Just droop and drop by leaning over and dropping said thingy into your oops bag, then put off worrying.

Once you reach the trailhead, then you can worry about how you're going to carry the damn bag. If you are really slow upstairs (no, don't write in to share your stories, please) you can lash the bag onto your pack and later hang it overnight right with your food. Sort things out the next day when you need to repack your pack in the first on-trail morning's early light.

Some people in fact live their whole lives this way.

(3) Yo head, dude. The place where you keep a record of your dumbs, so you don't have to invent them again later. It's like, science 'n all.

(4) An emergency package of the little things you might need while you are out and about. It covers oops moments that arise.

(5) Etc:


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Me? Guess.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Definitions: Hantavirus (Mouse Death)


Like being sick, but worse.

(1) The sound that death makes when it has you by the tail.

(2) A respiratory disease spread by bushrats and deer mice and such, one that you get a from bites or after breathing aerosolized urine, saliva, or feces. (Aerosolized feces — think about that for a while.)

First you get exposed, and then between one and five weeks later some flu-like symptoms begin. And then the hemorrhagic fever and pneumonia. Hemorrhagic fever is, euphemistically put, leaking blood vessels, as in when they disintegrate, if you can call that "leaking".

Kills your kidneys too: sixty percent fatal.

If you want to try this one on, you can find lots of mice in trail shelters.

(3) Or...

Hanta baby, slip a disease under the tree, for me
So sweet, you see
A raging red hemorrhage, for me, for me
Hanta baby, hurry down to the shelter tonight

Think of all the fun I'll miss
But all the ghosts I'll kiss
Next year I could be oh so dead
If you check me off your list
Boo doo bee doo

Hanta honey, I wanted a yacht, not really a lot
I was an angel all year, but now death is so near
Hanta baby, hurry down to the shelter tonight

Hanta cutie, there's one thing I really do need, the deed
To a cemetery plot
Hanta baby, hurry down to the shelter tonight

Hanta baby, my lungs are filling with goo
I think it took my kidneys too
Hanta baby, hurry down to the shelter tonight

Come and trim my funeral tree
With some decorations bought at Tiffany's
I really do believe in you
Let's see if you believe in me
Boo doo bee doo

Hanta baby, forgot to mention one little thing,
A ringing in my ear, so clear
'Cause death is so near
Hanta baby, hurry down to the shelter tonight

(After, but presumably not infringing on the original lyrics:

(4) In other words, a respiratory disease, one carried by little skittering critters.

The disease that the virus causes is more formally called "Hemorrhagic Fever With Renal Syndrome" (HFRS), after the Hantan River area in Korea, where the virus was first isolated.

Symptoms are indeed flu-like and do take one to five weeks to appear, except that unlike flu, this disease has a fatality rate of 60 percent, as noted. (And never forget: Life is uncertain, so eat dessert first.)


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Me? Trading in my mouse-racing team for a set of sanitized tapeworms. (Better safe than sorry, or, um...something?)

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Hi! My Name Is Glob!

Hi! My Name Is Glob!

Definitions: Glob.

(1) What is a glob? A small drop, a globule, a round, shapeless lump of goo, typically semi-solid, as goo prefers to be. But hey! That could just as well be a description of me! Especially early in the morning. Any morning. Any morning whatsoever.

(2) The kind of thing that comes out of your nose, often hanging onto your finger, in case you somehow found your finger burrowing into a nostril. (Which, however one might feel about this sort of thing, is ever so much better than finding someone else's finger up one of your nostrils. Or inserted into any other accessible orifice you might have. Right? Am I right?)

(3) A droplike thing, semi-solid though moist to some degree, and not a turd, usually. Another thing, usually not identifiable, except that it's not a turd. No turds. Except occasionally, by accident probably. Who can say? Life is complicated.

(4) A thing that could be alive but has no discernible eyes, ears, feelers, or legs, and so is incapable of running you down, though globs can sneak up on you at night. Luckily, most globs these days are too small to eat backpackers but they do enjoy crawling into ears or up noses, where they can be found and removed betimes by proper application of appropriate finger technique. Close relatives of eye boogers. Near but lower-class relatives of eye boogers, we could say, and messier besides.

(5) Hiker food. (Been there?)


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Me? Trying very hard to get my finger out of my nose. (Don't look just yet, 'K?)

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Oya, Photography These Days

Oya Photography These Days

Fingers. Fingers are all you need. No finicky expensive machinery.

Look. Make those fingers frame what you want, blink once if it makes you feel better, and remember what you see outlined by your fingers.

No shutter to jam, no memory card to overflow, no battery to fade out. No extra weight or bulk. And you're waterproof and dustproof by way of evolution, the real intelligent design.

Want to print a shot? Difficult of course, but that's something done these days only by old guys who drive Buicks. Not backpackers. So let it slide. You'll be fine.

Uploading to Twittle, Facebork, FensterGram? Can be problematic too, but you've got permanent memory right there in your head, and a mouth, and a the ability to use it, so recall what you saw and share your stories. One word is worth a thousand pictures anyway.

As a last resort of course, all your images can be recovered during the autopsy. Don't worry — nothing is ever really lost.


Eric Mencher "Some People I've Seen"
"Eric Mencher: From Photojournalist to Master iPhone Street Photographer"


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Me? Have a set of alpaca bath roses for sale. See me at the Black Anger Bar Steakhouse & Fight Club any night.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021



"'Fastest Known Time', sounds impressive. Didn't know that time could actually go fast", said Eddy Tredsucker, famous trail personality, who has gone ever so far in his day, in practically no time at all. "But I did it," he adds. Check.

In case you care. Some don't. Most don't. And the rest don't know what it is. Usually it's called "FTK", and signifies a speed record.

But as the great Yossarian said, "the idea of pennants as prizes was absurd. No money went with them, no class privileges. Like Olympic medals and tennis trophies, all they signified was that the owner had done something of no benefit to anyone more capably than everyone else." -- Joseph Heller, "Catch-22"

In this case it's faster.

For some, that is important. For others, it's delusion. Especially for backpackers. But then again, a lot of them eat it up because backpacking, the least glamorous sport, is still, when you get right down to it, a bunch of walking. Yesterday. Today again. And then more tomorrow. Often not even a little fun. And after a while the monotony gets to be a whole lot more than just a loud annoying hum. Gigantically more, and if you know about this "FTK" stuff, at least you can pretend that it has some importance, some significance. That you are a part of something, even if it is entirely and completely pointless.

But no one knows what backpacking is, mostly. No, not really. Only backpackers. Some backpackers.

If you start talking about backpacking, then if anything, anyone within earshot who might possibly maybe have heard of "backpacking" once upon a midnight dreary will think that you are a 22-year-old derelict, college student (or both), who is mindlessly traveling the world, sleeping in bug-infested hotels stinking of stale urine, lustily gobbling any and all drugs, collecting infections, covered in scabs, and endlessly scratching. And maybe that is you.

Only backpackers though, only backpackers know that backpacking is really about sleeping in the dirt, trudging mud, shivering though rain and cold, feeding your blood to swarming mosquitoes and flies, eating vile food (if any), stinking, doing more stinking, and endless scratching. See the difference? Maybe.

Some, in addition, knowing full well what backpacking is, having done some, even a lot, and knowing full well what the challenges are even if they themselves have not whacked the wasp's nest that record setting is, think of "FTK" as "Frothy Knackered Twits". And who is to say that they are wrong? Who? Eh?

Take Hester "Anguish" Anderlass, who established an FTK on the Amazing National Scenic Trail (AZT) in 2016. Desert sunshine. Spiders. Some rain. Well-marked trail. Stunning views. Easy walking. Dust. Difficult trail. Ups and downs. Eyes in the grass. Strange noises. Odd encounters. Cow shit water. A Norwegian. Deer, skunks. Grasslands. Cool. Hot. No. Yes. Realizing that one day she would die. Days up to 50 miles long.

Then blinking a few times and wondering what had just happened.

Typical. Pretty typical backpacking, except for the 50-mile-days, and the excessively blurred memories due to the speed effects and all.

Miles — you want to do them, have to do them, can never stop or even slow down, in pursuit of doing nothing at all better than everyone else, except quicker, and you've just about got it.

She also gave a FREDx talk about it. I didn't go. Fred neither. We were thinking about Rees, Howard, and Jim and how they finished the Pacific Crest Trail in 35 years. New record. Try beating that one.

"Breaking the PCT Speed Record", by Rees Hughes
From "The Pacific Crest Trailside Reader"


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Me? Still pointless.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

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 taxi on the days I don't feel like walking?

A: Sure, but backcountry taxis 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.


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Me? Me too.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Sounds Like A Disease

Sounds Like A Disease

But one that is both sweet and crunchy.

Traditionally, scroggin is a combination of dried fruit, grains, nuts, sometimes chocolate, and other random elements, informally developed as a snack food taken along on hikes by those who dare.

1. Gorp? Right. Gorp. Right?

You may know this stuff as "gorp", or you may know "gorp" only as a sound that your body makes when it is happy, sad, angry, a bit under the weather, or simply when it is operating normally (sad but true for some of us).

Yeah, well.

2. Scroggin is New-Zealand-Speak for chocolate, nuts and dried fruits mixed together and coated in sugar. Sugar.

Sugar. Coated in sugar.

The name (scroggin) may have come from the list of supposed ingredients:

  • Sultanas (white grapes, presumably dried, i.e., raisins)
  • Chocolate
  • Raisins (again, but this time appearing as dark wrinkly things)
  • candied Orange peels
  • candied Ginger
  • Glucose (sugar, more of it)
  • Improvisation
  • Nuts

And then again maybe not. Who can say?

Scroggin is in fact probably a "backronym", a word created to explain the term "scroggin" long after that same "scroggin" came into use (note that raisin-like things appear twice (veeery suspicious), and that even though the supposed etymology contains "improvisation", you can't eat improvisation, no matter how clever you are, because it is a technique, not an ingredient .

3. A scroggin could also be one of those little things that crawls around on your skin, under your clothes or in your hair, makes you itch, and is too small to find, but continues to drive you nuts. A cootie. Often imaginary. Works for me.

Fear of cooties stands in for fear of bears in those places where you know there are no bears, because what is life without fear?

4. Maybe a scroggin might be anybody who has cooties, or whom you wish would get them. Because that would work too.

So, how about a scroggin as a pariah, an outcast, crackpot, crank, exile, kook, oddball, solitudinarian, nut job, maybe even a former friend or loved one.

This latter attitude can develop among the best of friends who spend too much time together in a proximity that is simply too close, too tight, too airless. (Long distance backpacking trips are not recommended for honeymooners. By those who have found out the hard way.)


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Me? Still waiting to get unvaccinated, because contrary.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Definitions: Fall Line

Fall Line

Fall line (wet phase), Mt Adams, upper Big Muddy valley, 2016.


(1) The fall line is the track that your pack follows when you get pooped, stop for a break, let it slide off your back onto the ground, and which it then tumbles along as you watch it head off on its own, downward, over the edge, ever downward, toward some hidden evil that sucks it deep into the brushy darkness where it is consumed by dirt monsters. Bye, pack. So sorry, but I'm not going there, 'K?

Fun fact: If you have a basketball with you, and drop it, or even just set it down, it will follow the same route as your pack. Why you'd be carrying a basketball on a backpacking trip is a great question, but one that no sane person can find a reasonable answer for, so think about it if you want, but on your own time, please.

(2) The fall line is the most direct route downhill from any point. This is why building a trail along the fall line is so great. It immediately shows you the effects of soil erosion since water just loves to run along the fall line, and as it does so, giggling madly, it rips out great swaths of your new, carefully-crafted trail. So more repair work for you then. Job security and all that as well. (See? Even the stupid can find a certain kind of tedious success in life.)

(3) Another kind of fall line, a sort of horizontal one, separates upland and coastal areas. The upland part may be rocky and generally lumpy, with the coastal bits being flat and goopy. This fall line can often be dramatic too, in its own way.

Say a stream crosses it. Fine.

If so, you'll usually see at least rapids, and maybe waterfalls, sometimes dramatic waterfalls. In the eastern U.S. the cities of Boston, MA, Pawtucket, RI, Troy, NY, Trenton, NJ, Washington, D.C., Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Petersburg, VA, Raleigh, NC, Columbia, SC, and Augusta, GA are all at the fall line, but on the flat, goopy side where it's easier to build cities.

On one side there be dragons, jersey devils, the wendigo, your sidehill gougers, scattered wild haggis, wandering wapaloosies, sliderock bolters, snoligosters, mosquitoes, and tourists, while on the other, goopier side, well, you have civilization (such as it is these days): parking lots, airports, traffic jams, smog, and random gunfire.

(4) The fall line is the steepest line across a given contour, which is the direction water flows down a slope if left unmolested, as noted above. This is sometimes called "the path of least resistance", usually defined as straight up or straight down a slope, though in the real world that "least resistance" thing is never up a slope, ever, in any way, shape, or form. (Figuring out why is left as an exercise for the reader.)

(5) A root that trips everyone in a line of hikers naturally forms a fall line — it's like a chorus line but uglier, with more swearing, and is composed wholly of the inept and stinky. Just as amusing though.


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Me? Still trying to remain upright.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Pasayten Bush Bear

Pasayten Bush Bear

come around bush
right there
big one
big bear
munching grass
clueless yet
so far
so now
what to do?

Pasayten Bush Bear

watch bear munch
munch munch unaware
now what?
use camera
use camera
and, well? a good day
a good day to die

Pasayten Bush Bear

time is up
one of us
one of us moves
bear goes
or I go
a long way home
way long way
click poles
click click
click click
bear hears
step up one step
and now bear sees
little alone me

Pasayten Bush Bear

your move bear
go off or go off
run away or attack
the little guy
attack the little guy
with clicky sticks?
bear runs
up way up
higher up
so no grizz
after all
black bear, brown phase
lucky boy, me
lucky little dumbnuts me
lucky, lucky, lucky



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Me? Just sitting here, trying to get the fur out of my teeth.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Definitions: Giardiasis


(1) Free time off from work, possibly involuntarily if they kick you out for displaying unprofessional behavior (fever, chills, vomiting, explosive diarrhea, foul gas), if your workplace is on the fussy side.

(2) An intestinal illness consisting of fever, chills, vomiting, explosive diarrhea, foul gas, and abdominal cramping caused by the protozoan parasite Giardia duodenalis (also known as Giardia lamblia and Giardia intestinalis). See the unwanted poster down by the post office for more information, and wash your hands after just to be safe.

Beavers get it. Weavers get it. Even some bleeping fuzzy sheeps get it. Don't get it — it's nooo fun. (La-la-la.)

(3) Common slander spread about Giardia lamblia, a tiny, quiet and shy protozoan who just wants to get to know you, whoever you are. It's not fussy either — if you're a mammal or can pass for one, and are identifiable as still alive, you'll do.

(4) Nastiness that they say you get "via the fecal-oral route", which, to be honest, is way outside our comfort zone, but we don't judge. (Yes we do, if you want honesty. So don't invite us over for dinner, and stay far away, 'K?)

And there's more: "Primary routes are personal contact and contaminated water and food." Personal contact? As in OMG, no, don't tell me any more. Some innocent accident with water or food, maybe: OK, got it. Accident.

Personal contact? Nope. Halt. Stop. Freeze. Go away. Die whimpering in the corner — anything, just leave us out.

The nominal culprit, Giardia lamblia, is a parasitic protozoan (single-celled creepy thing) that infects and then reproduces in the intestines, causing you-know-what. It hangs out there for weeks or months, mucking around and inspiring all sorts of internal microbial imbalances but doesn't infect the bloodstream or other parts of the body. And that's the only good news. Eventually, in most cases, most of the time, the body manages to kill it off. But don't count on that either, if you're a realist.


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Me? Just now found my other leg. Handy.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Great Hikes I Have Never Done (And Don't Care About)

Great Hikes I Have Never Done (And Don't Care About)

I once read M.J. (Nimblewill Nomad) Eberhart's "Ten Million Steps". This is a good book. Not great literature, and not excessively well written, but I didn't expect a diary to be, and this is essentially a trail diary. He has spirit though, and I learned a lot. It would have been good to hike with him.

Even if the book isn't great literature you can't fault the man. He did what almost no one else could do. Go ahead. Raise an objection here. Lift your hand and wave it. Stand up and shout. Tell me about others who have hiked farther in a lifetime, or in a season, who have gone faster or lighter. Tell me something, and then watch me ignore you. All of that is good. That's all good, but irrelevant.

In 2007 Andrew Skurka hiked the The Great Western Loop, "a 6,875-mile footpath that links together five existing long-distance trails — including the Pacific Crest Trail, Pacific Northwest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Grand Enchantment Trail, and Arizona Trail — and a trail-less segment through the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts."

OK. I will never do that. That doesn't mean that I hate anyone. I am incapable of it.

I admire the determination and mental toughness needed, not to mention the insane level of physical conditioning required. That said, I still say that Eberhart did what almost no one else can do. There are some like Skurka who have done "better" (farther, faster, flashier, with better public relations — categorize it any way you want) but they haven't really, I think. The pool of those who can hike from Florida to Quebec in one year at age 59 is so vanishingly small that I have to consider all of them as superior beings, members of a clan comprised of superhuman entities I can barely comprehend.

I'd like to see those who are now in their early 20s to mid 30s pass by about 30 years from now, heading out on 10-month trips that no one else has done. Given the way that people are leaping at new things every minute, virgin backpacking trips will be scarce as 60-year-old transcontinental trekkers by then.

Maybe what's most important is not major league sports or the extreme niches within a sport but what people do of, by, and for themselves, on their own. In other words, if you're looking for something to do, it might be that the way to go about it is to do what feels good. To you. I think so.

Sleeping in feels good, but only on some days, and only for a while. I'm not saying you should aim for that. You need a challenge, something useful for defining yourself and making you feel good about life while you're doing it and after you've done it. In the middle of it though, maybe not quite so much, not that often. Not everything that is good or worthwhile is always fun while it's happening. As an aside here, you've probably learned by now that it's many of life's little disasters and minor calamities that make the best and funniest stories, but only later, often much later, following an appropriate amount of reflection. And healing.

OK, challenging and interesting. After that, what then? Be specific. Trust your innards. They will let you know.

If you decide something with your head, it's probably wrong. If you think about something that you heard about, that's probably wrong too. Take Andrew Skurka. He finished The Great Western Loop. If you hadn't heard of it earlier, you have now. It's an impressive accomplishment. Does that mean that you should go and do it too? Probably not.

Notice that Skurka eventually began referring to himself as a "professional backpacker". In other words, though he may have liked his work, he ended up doing a job. The bigger and flashier he was able to make something, the more likely he could get sponsorship and be able to earn a living. OK for him. I'm not saying that it's bad, but as another example consider whether you want to be a government employee because the attorney general of your state just broke up a price-fixing ring. How much sense does that really make? Same with choosing the right backpacking trip for yourself.

If you hear about something, and if you've always kinda-sorta had it in the back of your mind, and this is the last shove over the edge and you can't help yourself anymore, then I'd say you have a winner. Go for it. Not necessarily elsewise.

Kick back. Give things a rest for a while. Ruminate. Let something come to you.

Assuming that you have experience at backpacking, and are comfortable with backpacking, and know about what you can handle, and have a feeling for places you have been, then you have a good base. Let those experiences talk to you. An idea or two will come along. Reading is good, and talking to people you know is good. If someone like Skurka is speaking nearby, go have a listen. Keep an ear open for the small sounds, the little mouse-like ultrasonic squeaks that everyone else misses. Look for the door that's open only a crack, letting a bit of intriguing light in. Investigate those things.

Look for the oddball, out of the way place, the trail you hear about that everyone seems to pass by, saying they'd maybe like to get back there some day, but don't. Feel your way into it. You're looking for yourself in the world, for a place that needs you and where you will feel at home. It may not be the famous trail where everyone else goes. The best experiences after all are the ones that tell you the most about who you are and what life is all about, and the less overhead the better.

I've always wondered about people who hike one of the really big trails. The Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Pacific Crest Trail. What are they after? I understand the idea of international borders. An international border is a useful concept, but I still don't quite understand the idea of starting at the Mexican border, touching it, and then hiking for months to go and touch the Canadian border. For those hiking the two westernmost of these three trails, that is the story, but why, exactly?

The Appalachian Trail seems to make more sense. It is still arbitrary but is also much more focused on actual geography: Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin, no political boundaries really involved. It is all about place. Going from Atlantic to Pacific makes sense too, or traveling the same route in the other direction. Loop trails make sense to me, as do trips to experience particular seasons. Political boundaries and timetables do not.

True, if you want to do something you have to plan, and schedule, but scheduling down to the minute destroys a trip. Racing is wrong. Racing is a thing that I'm not talking about here. Racing is complex and done for other reasons. Backpacking is done for itself, in its own time, in its own way. There are hours and days and weeks and resupply points and there is always a limited amount of time, and you have to obey the limits but marching along the dotted line with a stopwatch in hand is going too far.

FTK kills the experience. Dead.

Keep it simple and you will be right. You get up in the morning, and after that you do the right things in the right order to get home again, but other than that you don't need to play along. Don't give yourself over to the rules of the game for the sake of the rules, or of the game. Steer an easy course while remaining in control. Maintain an even strain.

I used to know someone who scheduled things a year or two in advance, and hiked with a guidebook and map constantly in hand. She was precise about always hiking the "official" trail. She had been a lot of places over several decades and yet her life didn't seem to have a soul. Not to me. Maybe I'm too small to understand, but her experience on the trail seemed to be a lot more about bagging things in the proper time in the proper order by the proper, official rules than about finding joy.

And as I see it, that's what this is really about, the joy, and to find joy you have to keep things simple, and open, at least a bit.

I'm not in the big leagues, and not headed there. Maybe I truly am an idiot, but here's an idiot's advice if you want it: look for the small stuff. Go where others don't. Be quiet. Make yourself tiny. Move slowly. Stay humble. Keep your eyes open. Listen. Wait.

Some of my best times ever have been the unexpected ones, in places other people just don't go. Sometimes this is only a few feet off a trail. Cut away from the trail, get out of sight, sit on a log and have lunch, then see what happens. If you're patient and quiet, things do happen. You can have the same sort of experience while hiking on any non-name-brand trail. Simply follow the same ideas.

I haven't been able to explain this to anyone, not really — they don't want to listen. No one knows what the hell I'm talking about. They are blinded by the bright flashing lights and the dayglo colors. But many of my small trips have felt like they were the culmination of a dream long gestating, and that tells me that they were right. I haven't had to fly between continents or hire guides. I just go somewhere that might maybe be interesting and see what happens. If I try to stay light then I almost always come out ahead.



Nimblewill Nomad web site

Ten Million Steps

Nimblewill Nomad, the perpetual hiker (Wikipedia)

Andrew Skurka web site

Andrew Skurka (Wikipedia)

2007 Adventurer of the Year: The Walking Man (National Geographic Adventure)



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Me? Amounting to nothing. As usual.