Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Appalachian Impressions

I just got back from a screening of Appalachian Impressions, a documentary about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT), that is, hiking all 2000+ miles of it. I have a lot of fantasies about one day hiking a long distance trail like the AT or our very own Pacific Crest Trail, but I recognize them as being fully unrealistic--given the fact that I am me.

Seeing the documentary simply gave me even more confirmation that were I to lose my head and set out on the AT, I would be one of those people who quits after the first day. I detailed why this would happen in an earlier blog entry, so I won’t repeat myself here.

Anyway, the documentary was excellent and jam-packed with facts and “impressions” from various hikers. Here’s what left the deepest impressions on me:
  • Fairly early on, there’s a hostel where hikers are encouraged to let AT experts rifle through their weighty packs and toss out all but the most essential items, leaving most people with little more than what they’re wearing, a spare pair of socks, and a couple of bandannas. The rest of the space in the pack is taken up with Pop Tarts, Little Debbie Cakes, Top Ramen Noodles, and cans of cake frosting (at least that was the impression I got).
  • Hiking the AT wrecks your feet. I think it’s possible to develop trench foot from slogging through mile after mile of waterlogged trail. There were also plenty of shots of blistered, bloody toes “bandaged” with tattered duct tape and--the absolute worst--a close-up of a hand examining a full complement of blackened toenails and then casually flicking one of the black toenails right off the toe and out into the wilderness.*
  • Everyone on the trail adopts (or is given) a “trail name.” Some of the more memorable names of the hikers featured in the documentary: “Loser” (Did he choose this name or did someone give it to him? Either way, you have to wonder about the guy.); “Toothpick”; “Homer” (as in Simpson); “Dharma Bum”; and “Nimblewill Nomad.”
  • There are some breathtaking vistas in New Hampshire's White Mountains (they remind me of the Alps), but they are often obscured by some of the worst weather on the planet. The highest wind speed anywhere--ever--was clocked on Mt. Washington. It regularly snows up there in the summer. I want no part of that.
  • The favorite topic of conversation for thru-hikers revolves not around nature or the idea of the quest or spiritual journey but FOOD. The first thing thru-hikers do when they get to a town is order pizzas.** Ah, wilderness! At one hikers' hostel, there’s a standing challenge to thru-hikers to eat a half-gallon of ice cream in one sitting. One guy snarfed a carton of peanut butter ice cream in 17 minutes! I was impressed (and appalled), but then it occurred to me that my dad could probably do that without taking one step on a hiking trail.
  • And get this. Male hikers (despite inhaling entire pizzas and half gallons of ice cream at every turn) usually lose dozens of pounds while out on the trail, but women hikers gain muscle mass, which we all know means that they actually gain weight. That ain't right. If women are going to put themselves through the ordeal of the AT and the indignity of having to change and dispose of a tampons in mosquito- and bear-infested forests, the least they could get out of it is a svelte, Olympic-class figure.
*Have I made it my mission to include at least one really gross thing in each blog entry?
**After seeing pizzas being ordered and devoured with gusto maybe seven or eight times throughout the film, imagine my dismay when the film ended 15 minutes after Pizzicato Pizza closed. Probably a good thing really.


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