Talk to golfers and you hear about birdies, bogies and par. Talk to a bird watcher and you’ll hear of passerines, accipiters and puddle ducks. Talk to a long-distance hiker and you’ll need a dictionary to decipher their language too.
Rich and I recently returned from The Gathering of the Appalachian Long Distance Hiker’s Association in West Virginia. It’s an annual affair where people afflicted with the burning desire to spend months on end in the woods following a ribbon path to mountaintop after mountaintop, gather to regale each other with tales of glory and visions of another mountaintop to scale. It’s where I go once a year to renew my spirit and feel there’s somewhere on this Earth that I belong.
It’s also the one time in the year (unless I’m actually following one of those ribbon paths) that I get to speak a beloved language – the long-distance hiker language. It’s not a secret but it is a language spoken by very few and understood by even fewer. ‘Tis a shame – it’s such a pretty language. Here are some basic terms to get you started:
Hiker box – a box placed in a hostel, shelter, or post office where hikers deposit stuff (food, gear, supplies) they don’t want to carry and other hikers rifle through and claim stuff they need or could use. it’s a mutually beneficial trading system.
Mail drop – a box of resupply items that a helper mails to the hiker at post offices along the trail. It might contain items such as toilet paper, new map sections, iodine tablets, and lots of dehydrated food.
Slack pack – to hike without your full backpack. Usually someone transports your pack farther up the trail and meets you at a road crossing. Meanwhile you hike light-footed carrying only minimal equipment.
Purist – someone who unfailingly follows the designated trail from one end to the other and probably doesn’t slack pack. Also called a white-blazer – someone who follows every white blaze.
Blue-blazer – a hiker who sometimes takes side trails (which are often blue-blazed) as a shortcut.
Yellow-blazer – a hiker who hitches rides to jump ahead to a new section of trail. He or she is following the yellow blazes painted down the middle of most roads.
Flip-flop – to hike to a point along the trail then take a ride to the end and hike back to the point where they stopped hiking. This means the hiker has hiked the entire trail and usually has escaped severe weather at the far end.
Yo-yo – to hike an entire trail then turn around and hike the whole thing again in the opposite direction. These people are truly afflicted.
PUD – pointless ups and downs – what many trails offer when they repeatedly take you to the top of every successive hill or mountain.
Thru-hiker – an afflicted person who hikes an entire long-distance trail. They are usually scarred for life.
A pump – a water filter used to purify water.
Vitamin I – Ibuprofen pills taken hourly to mitigate the aches and pains of long-distance hiking.
Personally, I’m stockpiling Vitamin I and preparing mail drops in preparation for my next thru-hike. I’m not sure where I’m going yet. Maybe the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the Florida Trail, the Finger Lakes Trail, or one of countless others. I’ve already completed the Appalachian Trail, the Bruce Trail, England’s Coast to Coast Trail, the Camino de Santiago Trail
in Spain, and portions of others. It’s in my blood. I’m afflicted and proud of it.
by Sue Freeman