Thursday, February 21, 2013

It's Hairy Out There!!

Have you ever given any thought to why we use the slang phrase “It’s hairy out there?”  Apparently the British are the ones who originated the terminology of events or experiences being “hairy”.  The meaning, of course, implies that some situation is frightening, difficult or hazardous and “out there” is any area outside the safety of our own home.  The mind rather naturally extends the origins of this definition to the probability that it came from fear of some hairy beast outside.

Beauty and the Beast, 1987-1990

Was there some large, hairy, terrifying beast loose in Europe somewhere in the past?  The legendary children’s story of Beauty and The Beast comes out of France and the stories of the werewolf originated in ancient Germany.  Could this be what the Englishmen were afraid was outside their door?  Or maybe it was something else.

Here on the North American continent, we also have legendary, hairy beasts that terrorize the imagination like the Chupacabra and Bigfoot.  While the official existence of these creatures continues to be debated, there are plenty of individuals who either claim to have seen these creatures or who believe that they exist.

There are also the animals of the fields and forest such as the bear, wolf, wild hog and mountain lion, all hairy beasts in their own rite that can strike fear in the heart of men when they are confronted outside the safety of our homes.  But I have come to believe that there may be another creature that can be added to the list of scary, hairies and that my friends, is the long distance hiker.

It is trail tradition for the male hiker to grow a beard during the length of his hike which at the end of four to six months on the Appalachian Trail gives this hiker the appearance of the rugged mountain man.  At least that is the plan.

For 37 episodes in 1977-78, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, based on the true story of James “Grizzly” Adams, aired on televisions and was quite a popular show. Dan Haggerty played Grizzly Adams and many women fawned over the hairy mountain man.  While Mr. Haggerty may wear the beard well and attract the admiration of many women, I’m not sure all our hiking men are so fortunate.  Many end up looking more like Harry from the 1987 film, Harry and the Hendersons.  Scary hairies!
Now, before the men revolt on me here, let me say that I’m a traditionalist at heart and believe that the guys should continue the hair growing habit and finish their hike furry-faced regardless of whether they turn out to be a Grizzly Adams or a Harry.  Beards are making a comeback in fashion right now and who knows, maybe the look will prove to be a good one for you or at the very least it will be good practice for playing the grandfatherly Santa Claus.

For many, this will be the one and only time that they will sport such a look and we all know that shaving on the trail can be quite a hassle.  Who wants to carry a razor and shaving cream around?  That’s extra pack weight and we can’t have that.  And let’s not forget that a beard can provide decent insulation against cold and wind.  So there are some practical purposes hidden behind the hair.

Oh, but what about the ladies on the trail?  You didn’t think I was going to pick on just the men, did you?  Although there are men who preen and fuss over their hair and body builders and athletes who shave themselves smooth, generally speaking, when you think of people who spend lots of time on their hair, you think of women.  I mean, come on, we have to shave, shape and style everything from the hair on top of our heads, to our eyebrows, armpits and everything from our waist down to our toes.  Hair, for women, is a full-bodied issue.

So, let’s start at the top.  The number of ways in which a woman can style her hair are phenomenal, but basically, as a hiker, women will end up in one of three categories—the ponytail or braid, the short cut or the shaven. 
The ponytail, which we know was developed by early cavemen as a handle to carry their chosen mate home, is simple to maintain, can keep the neck cooler and allows a woman to keep her long hair in a manageable fashion. The same can be said for braids which can be worn as a single or as multiple strands.  Hopefully, if braids are chosen, the hiker won’t end up looking like Pipi Longstocking in the morning which could easily be classified as another scary hairy.

The short cut, on the other hand, is another relatively easy hairstyle for maintenance purposes and I kind of like the word association of taking a shortcut on the trail.  Could this be the blue blazer’s preferred style? (Blue blazers are hikers who follow the “blue-blazed” side trails vs. the “white-blazed” official Appalachian Trail.)

Finally, we have the shaven category.  For a woman to shave her head is considered a very brave act by many women.  I have to agree that making the decision to shave your head takes a certain amount of courage.  Of course, this G.I. Jane approach makes for very low maintenance on the trail. I don’t know if men experience the same kind of anxiety that a woman feels when confronted with the buzzing blades of a razor, but I do know that I am not willing to go quite that far.

I spent some amount of time going back and forth between the ponytail and the short cut styles for my hike.  Unlike my two daughters with their thick hair that they can grow down to their waistline, my hair has a very fine texture and has never been longer than a few inches past my shoulders.  For some genetic reason, it just will not grow any longer without disintegrating into a tangled mess of split ends.   

While I generally try to maintain some length to my hair, mostly to please my husband, I typically prefer to go with a shorter cut and finally decided to keep it simple and cut it instead of pulling it back into a ponytail.  I’m not sure if my decision has anything to do with the many hours my mother spent combing the “rats’ nests” out of my hair when I was younger or the reported stories of mice climbing through a hiker’s hair at night in the shelters, but at any rate, I figured I wouldn’t be hunting for hair ties in my gear or waiting for long periods of time for my hair to dry.  

Remember, there are no electrical outlets to plug in the hair dryer and we certainly won’t be carrying all the mouse, gels, sprays, curling iron or brushes that a lady may use on a typical day.  So, with just a little of two weeks until I head out for the trail I took the plunge and got it cut.

All of this hairstyle talk may end up being a very moot point though since most of the time I will be wearing one hat or another on my head.  I am literally taking two hats, one to keep my head warm and the wind out of my ears and the other to shade my eyes from the sun and just because I like to wear a hat. 

As a matter of fact, I had a special hat made just for this hike.  The cold weather beanie does a great job but I’m hoping to not have to wear it very often.  No, the hat I prefer to have on is my trucker ball cap. Typically, I don’t wear this type of ball cap, but the mesh on the back side of the cap will help to keep me a little cooler and besides, it reminds me of my grandfather who wore this style of hat for years.  Either way, these hats will definitely help cover up the “bad hair days."

Victor Melling in the movie, Miss Congeniality, while prepping his beauty pageant contestant (ah-hem, that would be scholarship contestant) makes   the remark, “Eyebrows, there should be two” and I’m willing to wager money that the set of tweezers carried by most every hiker for the supposed purpose of the removal of ticks and splinters will be used by the women on the trail, along with their emergency signal mirror, to maintain the shape of their eyebrows.  For those of us in the slightly mature crowd, I’m sure we can find some other plucking uses for those tweezers as well.  I, for one, have no intention of trying to compete with the men in the facial hair department and plan try to keep my menopausal moustache and grandma goatee under some form of control while out there.  No, I have no desire to become the bearded lady and begin a career in the carnival after my hike.

As for the rest of the body hair, namely the pits and legs, most women hikers “go European.”  I don’t honestly know that the American assumption that European women don’t shave their pits or legs is true, but it certainly is what most Americans believe and have been told.  This shouldn’t be surprising as again, shaving in the forest can be a bit of a hassle. I’m sure most women hikers will be looking for those opportunities to catch a shower at a hostel or hotel when they can tame the wild, hairy beast they have become and once again, if only for a short while, feel like a lady.

So, as a non-hiker, if you happen to come across a large, hunch-backed, smelly, hairy creature coming out of the woods in the early evening hours please don’t freak out and report to the police that you’ve spotted a Big Foot.  In all likelihood, it’s just a long distance Appalachian Trail hiker coming into town for an evening meal, a shower and a shave, because it really is hairy out there.


Gotta love this one!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lady of Luxury

“Son, calling me ‘Sir’ is like putting an elevator in an outhouse; it just doesn’t fit.”

                                                                                    -- Emmet, Roadhouse, 1989

 Anyone who knows me can tell you that I have never been mistaken for a supermodel and I’m not exactly what we call a “girlie-girl”.  I didn’t enjoy playing with dolls as a child, never could get used to carrying a purse and make-up rarely graces this face.  No, I was the girl you’d find out on the ball field with the boys, wandering through the weeds examining bugs and wildflowers or digging in the dirt for fishing worms.  Most summers my legs looked like I’d been in a fight with my razor from all the cuts I’d have from running through the briars and the rash of sores from itching at poison ivy.  Yep, I was tomboy through and through or as my friend, Sonya says, a real Dirt Barbie.

Now, I’ve always admired those women who seem to have flawless beauty, graceful moves, the lovely clothing and fancy shoes, but I just don’t fit into that category.  Most attempts at trying to wear make-up or dressy clothes just leave me feeling uncomfortable and irritable.  It feels like trying to wear someone else’s skin.  My husband once saw me attempt to put on a pair of high heels in a shoe store and promptly remarked, “Get out of those before you hurt yourself!”  See, I wear a size 11 or 12 woman’s shoe depending on how they’re made and at 5’8”, I run to the taller side of most women’s sizes.  Add to that, the extra pounds I carry around and it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see why I’m out of the running for Miss U.S. A.  So, give me a pair of denim jeans, a cotton T-shirt, sneakers or flip-flops and I’m good to go.  
However, these clothing choices, while acceptable for a short day hike, are not going to work on a long distance, multi-month hike.  While years ago, everyone went hiking in denim jeans and cotton shirts, now we know that these are not good fabrics to protect you from hyperthermia situations which can occur anytime of the year.  A hiker on the Appalachian Trail is especially prone to this danger after walking along rain-soaked trails in those notorious thunderstorms that are so common in the spring and summer months.  So, I had to invest in a new wardrobe for this trip and clothes shopping is not one of my favorite activities, but I was in for a bit of a surprise.

For those of you who have been involved in sports or physical training of any kind over the last 5-10 years, I’m sure you are quite familiar with the current active-wear line of clothing, but for someone like me, who hasn’t had a gym membership or participated in any organized sports, aside from bowling, for decades now, these apparel choices are all new to me.  Terms like “wicking fabric” and mid or base layers are new to my vocabulary.  Companies like Under Armour, The North Face, Patagonia and Columbia have joined the ranks of the old school names of Nike, Adidas and New Balance.  Maybe they have even been around longer than I realize, but these brands are not normally included in my clothing purchases.  And of course, there is that taboo fabric of spandex that should never be stretched over some figures; mine included.

Well, after educating myself and receiving a lot of advice from experienced hikers, I have overcome my ignorance and am thrilled with my new hiker wardrobe.  It turns out that while there may be new terms for the material and there may even be some technological advances in the strength or durability of some of the fabrics, most all of this “new” athletic gear is nothing more than a combination of nylon, polyester and spandex blends.  Here’s a breakdown of my very fashionable hiker attire:

Pants:  I will be sporting Cabella’s Guidewear GXII convertible pants that are listed as 100% nylon performance fabric online and the tag reads 100% nylon shell with 100% polyester lining.  As convertible pants, the lower leg zips off to become a pair of shorts and they are equipped with a side leg zipper from the hem line to about mid-calf so that the pants can be converted without having to remove muddy boots. 

Shirts:  The shirt that I will wear is by Columbia and is listed as 100% polyester double piqued fabric with Omni-wicking technology.  Ok, yeah, sure….it’s a polyester shirt, very light and very comfortable and I love the color…teal for my first one, with a mint green one in reserve at home.  I am also carrying a spare shirt that is a Patagonia capilene 2 made of 100% polyester to wear if I need another insulating layer or in case my main shirt is wet, in the wash, etc.

Socks:  Two layers here.  The first is the Injinji Performance Toesock Liners which are supposed to help with moisture wicking and prevent blisters.  They are made of 75% Coolmax, which is an enhanced polyester fiber, 22% nylon and 3% Lycra, which is another word for spandex.  The second layer is the Smartwool PhD crew sock of 72% Merino wool, 26% nylon and 2% Elastane.  I will be carrying 2 pair of sock liners and 3 pair of Smartwool socks. 

The Unmentionables:  Ok, so I’m mentioning them anyway.  I’m doing something in this department that I never thought I would and am wearing men’s Adidas Climalite boxer-briefs with an 8” inseam.  These are surprisingly comfortable and are made of 91% polyester and 9% spandex.  The 8” inseam helps prevent thigh chafing and the material will wick away moisture.  There’s nothing like a good case of chafing to slow a hiker down.  These briefs are more like biking shorts than underwear and can be used for swimwear as well.  

As for the upper half, I will be wearing a good ole Fruit of the Loom full back, colored (either dark blue or a striped multi-blue & white) sports bra.  While this item is the only thing in the wardrobe with 95% cotton and 5% Lycra/spandex, it serves its purpose well, is comfortable and will double as a swimming top when needed.  Although, if and when I decide to dip into the water for a cool down and some relaxation, I don’t think it will be in a very public arena and I wouldn’t count on getting any pictures posted online either.  Some images just aren’t meant to be implanted into the brain.

Long underwear/thermal wear:  Columbia Omni-heat reflective thermal wear (pants and shirt) also made of 85% polyester and 15% Elastane/spandex.  My son says I look like I work at SeaWorld when I put these on, but this material is cool just to look at with its space-aged, shiny, silver lining that is supposed to reflect your body heat back to you.  Think of wearing an ultrathin car windshield shade covered in polyester.

My other cold weather clothing is all outer wear items such as a Patagonia down jacket, a Mountain Hardware fleece hat, a Marmot Trailrunner windbreaker jacket (100% polyester), a set of leather gloves and a pair of Thermasilk glove liners made of 100% silk…yes, you heard me right, silk.  I have never owned anything made of silk, which in my mind, is the ultimate in luxury fabrics.  On top of the glove liners, I also have a silk sleeping bag liner for inside my big, fluffy down sleeping bag which can add another few degrees protection in the cold and also will serve as my summer sleeping bag on its own. 

Down, there’s another item that is new to my wardrobe.  The only down item I have ever owned is my down pillow.  Now, while out in the wilderness, I’m going to have the pleasure of wrapping myself inside this wonderfully full, down cocoon every night for the first couple of months.  And around camp in the evening, I’ll have my Patagonia down jacket to insulate my body.  I don’t know about you, but I get a real sense of comfort when I wrap myself inside a nice, warm, soft blanket and these down items definitely fit the bill.

So, here I am, about to embark on probably the dirtiest, smelliest and most rugged trip I will ever take, one that I thought would appeal to my tomboy nature and instead of durable denim and my common cotton tee, I’m going to be wearing silk, polyester and nylon; all materials that are soft, slippery and the most sensual of fabrics.   I keep shaking my head in disbelief and trying to make sense of all of it.  I wonder…should I pack a little black dress and heels too?  Nah, that might be taking things a bit too far, but I sure do like this luxurious new wardrobe.