I know you’re out there. You’re a woman (or maybe a man, but most likely a woman) who has questions that are a bit too personal to just flat out ask another female hiker. Well, some women we met on the trail weren’t afraid of getting too personal, and they just asked away, and I was always glad to answer.
First, the parts about living outside that I dreaded and thought that I’d absolutely hate were actually some of the easiest and most comical parts of hiking. Though going pee and poop outside wasn’t hard, women are definitely at a disadvantage compared to men. There would be so many times that I’d just hold my pee in for as long as I could because I hated taking the time to take my pack off, because as soon as the pack came off, it was so hard to want to put it back on. Men just walked to the side of the trail and stood there with their pack still on, completing the job in under a minute, when my pee brakes often took much longer.
Pooping outside was a little bit harder to get used to, but I made it easier on myself by buying a 1-ounce, bright orange potty trowel, for just $1.75 from REI. It was one of my favorite pieces of gear, as I never had to dig a hole with my hand, and it had a handy-dandy ruler on the trowel, so I always knew I was digging the proper, forest-friendly 6-inch deep hole. Aiming for the hole was a bit difficult at times when I was in a hurry, but for the most part I was pretty damn proud of my accuracy. There were even competitions to see who went the most often in one day, and there were even rules enforced so you didn’t falsify the count!
As for that monthly visitor that only women have the pleasure of dealing with, I actually had enough planning and foresight in the spring time before the hike to have my doctor prescribe the kind of birth control that allows you to only have a period 4 times a year. So while on the trail, I only had to deal with Aunt Flow for 4 days while in Oregon in August. I can’t complain about 4 out of 109 days being a little more uncomfortable than the other 105 days. It was one of the best decisions I made that affected my quality of life along the entire trail.
There were a lot of parts of the trail that I found to be glorified among people that have never thru-hiked. One of those things is bathing…bathing in gurgling creeks and crystal clear lakes, with the sun shining on you to dry you out on warm rocks or sandy banks, while trout swim freely downstream. There was definitely an abundance of creeks, lakes, and other sources of relatively clean water, but it was rare that I ever jumped in to clean off “au natural”. We honestly just didn’t have time for that. We really did use all of our daylight each day to hike, except for snacks and lunch time, so taking time to bathe in a stream each day just couldn’t be justified. And I really didn’t mind being that dirty! Matt took advantage of the water for bathing and laundry much more than I did; if we were camping by water, he’d usually wash off most of his dirt, and would occasionally rinse out his shirt and shorts.
Don’t get me wrong; I’d take any hot shower or load of laundry once we got to a town, but I just had no desire to bathe once we got to camp. All I wanted to do was eat and sleep, so the thought of extending any more effort for the day made me tired. After time, I will say that I paid the price for not staying as clean as Matt. There was so much salt build-up on my hiking shorts that I got a painful, burning, bright-red and bleeding rash on my lower back/upper butt where my pack sat. My body was actually so covered in dirt most of the time that when I would shower, people would say to me, “I thought you were a lot tanner! You’re actually really pale and white!” Though I was so covered in dirt each day, I still managed to lather on the 50 spf sunscreen each day. It moved the dirt around quiet a bit, so that it looked sort of swirled on my skin. Sometimes I’d laugh at my dirtiness (Matt cringed at it a bit), thinking to myself, “Right now my skin is covered in layers of sweat, dirt, sunscreen, and oftentimes deet for the bugs. At least people could probably tell I was a thru-hiker because I looked like I’d been out there a long, long time.
This may be the most unmentionable of all the unmentionables, and I admit only one woman ever had the bravery to ask about it…sex. I bet you just read the last paragraph, and said to yourself, “If Stopwatch was so dirty all the time, with EVERYTHING being dirty, did they ever have sex?” Well, let’s just say the frequency went waaaaayyyy down for those 109 days on the trail. And it wasn’t always because we were so dirty; that didn’t really bother us all that much. What made it difficult was that we were so tired by the end of the day, that all we wanted was sleep. The thought of extending any more energy than we needed to was tiring in itself. Couple our tiredness with the fact that we camped with people more often than not, and those tent walls are mighty thin. Much to Matt’s chagrin, the cycle of Walk, Eat, Sleep was only broken on rare occasions.
I’ve learned a lot from the trail, many things being quite practical. I now know that if I REALLY have to go to the bathroom, #1 or #2, all I need to do is find some bushes to hide behind and dig a little hole if need be (of course picking the leaves from ABOVE my head). On our first night off the trail, we spent the night outside the Greyhound bus station in Vancouver, BC (Canada), and were visited by quite a few interesting people over the course of the night. One was a woman who was pretty drunk and talking gibberish, and who really needed to pee. She wouldn’t stop talking about how bad she had to pee, and that none of the bathrooms were open any more at 3am. After a while I wanted to say, “Look, just go over behind that bench, squat down among the bushes, and shut up about it!” It’s amazing how the things that seem so foreign and uncomfortable to you at first become second nature when it’s your lifestyle for months.