Embracing the Dirt

Starting off your first thru-hike you are filled with thoughts about what your journey will be like and all the ways it will change you as a person: like becoming mentally stronger or more independent. But few imagine the transformation they will undergo as they become "Hiker Trash". 

Just because you started a long trail doesn't mean you are hiker trash, yet. It is a process that takes several weeks to reach even for hikers who have done multiple long trails. But once the dirt builds up a layer that takes a serious scrubbing to remove and the hiker hunger has really set in, you know you are well on the way to becoming hiker trash. 

You can usually smell hiker trash well before you even catch a glimpse of them. That pungent scent is earned from hiking many miles while wearing the same clothes without a shower in sight. Some things you might hear hiker trash say that will sound bizarre to you but completely normal to them would be:

Dirty Hiker 1: "I heard the Y has free showers."

Dirty Hiker 2: "It's only been a couple of weeks since I showered so I'm good."  

Dirty Hiker 3: "Thanks for the info but I swam in a lake a few days ago".

Only when the BO reaches around type 4 and gets so bad that you can actually smell yourself does a shower becomes a priority to hiker trash. Check out Dirtbag Diaries podcast for the other types of BO.

Photo courtesy of Bill Eason

Photo courtesy of Bill Eason

Saving money is a key for hiker trash. Since the only place to spend money is in town, they have cleverly derived plans to save as much as they can during their time there. One of the biggest ways to save money is by squeezing as many hikers into a motel room as possible. You'll feel like an American Ninja Warrior just trying to reach the bathroom. After checkout I am sure housekeeping is blown away by the amount of pizza boxes, beer cans, and over all dirt that has built up over just a night or two. 

Pro Tip: Use the motel bathtub to wash your clothes since they will be gross in a day anyways. And then you can avoid wearing the dreaded sultry rain gear tux to the laundry mat. 

Another favorite way hiker trash save money is the All You Can Eat (ACYE) restaurant. Naive AYCE owners think they have just hit the jackpot when they see the scrawny hiker trash enter, but after the first hour murmurs of "how can they still be eating" can be heard coming from the kitchen. Another key for getting plenty of food is perfecting the art of Yogi-ing. Many long distance trails pass through parks where weekend picnickers can be found grilling out. Some strategies that have been proven to work are the direct approach: "Oh wow that looks/smells so good." Or the indirect approach while walking by:"I can't believe we have walked over 1,000 miles! I am soooo hungry." 

Pro Tip: Take as many hot sauce packets from Taco Bell as you can to spice up your trail food.

Hiker trash don't worry about holes in their clothes and shoes. In fact, they wear them as a badge of honor until they quite literally fall off. More advanced hiker trash become proficient using a needle and floss to repair their clothes and gear to make them last even longer.  

Pro Tip: Duct tape

The best part about being hiker trash is cowboy camping (sleeping in the dirt). Yeah, there is the convenience of not having to set-up or take down your shelter. But why it's the best is because of the sense of family you get in those moments. Whether it's with your closest trail friends or complete strangers, you are there lying on the flattest ground you can find, staring up at the night sky, talking about your day, how to save the world, or just the most nonsensical things you can think of, as one by one you drift off to sleep only to rise with the sun in a few hours to do it all again. 

So, the next time you are driving past the trail and see those dirty hikers standing on the side of the road, know that they are not just giving you the thumbs up--they are looking for a ride because they are in desperate need of some food. Well, and maybe a shower.