Wildland Urban Interface

Wildland Urban Interface, or WUI,  is a term used in forestry sciences that describes the juxtaposition of private homes and lands to designated forests and wilderness areas. However, it makes a great descriptor for the times when a hiker emerges from the bush and enters into a bustling town for resupply. One could say that WUI is the juxtaposition of the smelly hiker to the civilized town folk.

Resupply day  is always an interesting event, you never really know what you are going to encounter. A few days ago we hiked into Waynesboro, PA. I could hear the sounds of the cars in the distance. As we approached the road I emerged triumphantly from the trail, crossing the road eagerly to begin my next important task- securing a ride.

Hitching is a science; there are several methods and approaches to securing a safe and acceptable hitch. The most important thing to remember for women hitch-hikers is to NEVER hitch alone. When one waits on the side of the road they should look amiable, patient, and smile. Typically, Tiger Lilly and myself will stand by the road whilst the men wait behind some bushes. It is a known fact that female hikers get rides much more easily then the men.

You never know who is going to pick you up- just be courteous. Normally people are used to thru-hikers going to-and-fro and it is a part of their normal routine to pick up hikers. Still, say thank you, introduce yourself, and politely apologize for the cloud of stinky funk that is floating around you.

Hitching is just one of the many oddities of thru-hiking WUI. The moment I walk into a store, Wal-Mart for example, I find myself instantly overwhelmed by the sensory overload of people, colors, and sounds. When the thru-hiker enters a store they must exercise caution when picking out their food and various sundries. One doesn’t want to purchase too much food and have to carry a seriously heavy burden. Stay focused, have a plan, and don’t let your hunger/excitement overrule you.

Meanwhile, the hiker must also change their mannerisms to jive with “civilized folk.” I have to remind myself that people aren’t quite used to the stench of a foul thru-hiker that hasn’t bathed in a week. When we were in Wal-Mart last, we received some pretty funny reactions from people in response to our deathly odor. Some people are aware and understanding….others just turn and walk in the other direction. One lady almost seemed angry about our smell. She walked by with her small child and said “Oh my goodness that smells so disgusting!” We all looked at each other and could only laugh. I mean, when you spend as much time with other stinky thru-hikers as we do, you get used to the stink and forget about it.

Sometimes thru-hiker WUI occurs outside of the city or grocery store. Here in Pennsylvania, the AT dissects many state parks. Tiger Lilly and I came upon a beautiful stream on a particularly hot afternoon. We decided that it was high time to strip down to our skivvies and a take a bath. We smelled so bad! So we waded out to the center of the stream and took a most-needed, most-wonderful bath. However, we failed to realize that we were in the middle of a very crowded Michaud State Park on Memorial Day Weekend. People started walking by and staring at us. Little children asked their parents why there were girls taking a bath in a stream. We incited much ruckus and was so funny! I honestly didn’t care what any of those people thought of us because we really needed to take baths!

The point is that thru-hikers illicit some strange responses from the civilized world. It is a funny sight to see when a grungy hiker interfaces with polite society. I cannot wait for the day when we summit Katahdin and head to an airport. I feel bad for the airline worker that has to handle my hiking pack. I feel bad for the other luggage it sits next to as it will indefinitely adopt some of my hiker stench. I feel bad for the people that have to sit next to me on the plane. I’ll just smile politely and say “sorry for the stench–I just finished hiking the Appalachian Trail.”

We are now in Palmerton, PA, battling intense heat. The updates are as follows: my pack broke yesterday, but the folks at Osprey are sending me a new one in 2 days, my Leki trekking poles broke, but I am having them fixed in Delaware Water Gap. Oh yes, and I am now down 30 pounds since I started the trail.. looking a little scrawny. haha. We were also reunited with some of the original member of the 2 Shelters Down crew.

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