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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