Applied MicroBio: Hiking and the Human Skin

Metaphors become claggy, oafsome vehicles of sensory stand-ins when faced with the heroic and heady aromas of several hundred miles of sweat, smegma, and suffering. Most self-respecting similes just pack it up like a tourist who has contracted giardia and double diphtheria. Allusions fall to the depths of places better left to the imagination.

This photo is totally out of context: Wet Wipes and Honey Badger getting to the top of Max Patch.

All that to say that any literary technique employed below falls short of the true olfactory potpourri that takes place when a gathering of long distance hikers (henceforth known has a through throng) rolls into town.

Also unrelated: a resupply at a general store in Gatlinburg, TN. Note the high calorie content, but mediocre nutrition. Check out the instagram @forgetthetp for creative uses of some of the above products!

I’ve been on trail for about three weeks, so while I’m not yet capable of inflicting lasting damage on some unsuspecting bystander’s schnoz, I like to think people can smell me coming should the wind be in a cooperative mood. We’re also at that delicate stage where we (hikers) can still smell ourselves. This unwelcome skill should soon disappear. There is a sick sense of pride in the stench of a through hiker. You all know I’m not one for over-dramatizations, or romanticizing something better left in the bowels of hell, but the smell of the men and women I am traveling with is otherworldly. I truly believe that the secret to enlightenment lies somewhere in the culture of Brevibacterium linens currently calling my skin home. The number of S-methyl thioesters (think the smell of sulphur but with a little more odor du fromage) sloughing off my person is audacious to say the least. I kid you not: the microza we hikers are carrying around is the same stuff used to give Limburger and Raclette its punch.

I have taken three showers and spent 45min in a hot tub since hitting the trail. It’s gotten to the point that single showers are not really capable of making a dent in what is currently wafting off my body’s largest organ. Honestly, the only reason I’m still washing my hair is because I don’t want my it to turn into one matted mass.

More important than our odor control is maintaining proper personal hygiene. The biggest thing to combat (personally) is salt residue. As sweat dries is leaves behind salt which will literally tear its way through your skin if you’re not careful. I usually wash all lower extremities each morning to prevent any lasting damage to the parts of my body that legally need to be covered in public. As usual you also need to make sure you are washing your hands, using hand sanitizer, not letting people stick their hands into your bags of food, and giving through hiker fist-bumps instead of handshakes.

In short: we smell bad. Part of me hates it. The other part still wallowing in 5th grade and fart jokes thinks it’s awesome.

Wet Wipes and I set up in “porch mode” our first night out of the Smokies. Not shown: the breakfast I cooked while still laying in bed that morning. We literally sat for an hour this morning just wallowing in comfort before walking 17 miles (no longer wallowing in comfort).

(I’m also out of GSMNP and taking my first zero in Hot Springs, NC for those of you concerned with, like, progress and stuff).

2 thoughts on “Applied MicroBio: Hiking and the Human Skin

  1. Ken Williams (Dad) says:

    Hey Pat,
    What a treat to wake up to your posts this morning. I’m wondering if the owner of the hot tub drains it after through hikers leave a layer of Limburger. Or, do they have disposable tubs? A picture of the scum would have been wonderful to show Nobleboro middle schoolers because (FYI) the odor and body noise humor lasts into 7 & 8 grade and beyond…..but you knew that. Keep on truckin’ and can’t wait to chat again soon. Love, Dad


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