Happy Naked Hiking Day!
Happy Naked Hiking Day!
Ah, the first day of summer… the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, a time to relax, reflect and start planning how to while away your days. And for some Appalachian Trail thru-hikers it’s also the time of year to strip down and walk naked.
I think it was a week or so into June during my Appalachian Trail thru-hike when I first heard hikers start to ask each other if they were going to hike naked on the first day of summer. At the time, I dubbed it a ludicrous idea. Are you kidding?! What about pack chafe? What about all the mosquitoes?! I’d already been slathering my exposed skin with enough deet to last ten lifetimes. Sometimes I’d accidentally get a bit of it on my lips and they’d go numb. Imagining what that might feel like on my more sensitive areas, I opted out.
But my dad didn’t. He decided to bare it all – at least for a few hours with a carefully placed bandana tied to his hip belt. Thankfully he informed me of his plans ahead of time, so I hung back a bit longer than usual before departing camp that morning to give him some alone time. Other hikers walked naked too – or so they claimed when I saw them (re-clothed) at my lunch break and later at camp that night.
I’m not sure when this “tradition” first started or who the first hiker was who walked naked on June 21st. Maybe it has some actual pagan-y solstice roots, maybe it’s just a silly thing to do. I’ve now learned that loads of thru-hikers participate every year as a kind of right of passage and I have to say I have a twinge of regret for not disrobing too.
What I did do was eat an entire half-gallon of chocolate ice cream at a State Park in Pennsylvania for the half-way, half-gallon challenge. I, and six others, were told to leave the premises of a motel after the owner realized we were all taking turns showering in the one room that just one hiker had paid for. I had countless rides into town from strangers end up with them rolling the windows down because the sweaty, mildewy stench coming off of us was. All serious rights of passage for thru-hikers and recalling these experiences brings me so much joy and laughter, that I can’t think about what hiking the AT would be like without having done them.
So even though I didn’t “bare” down that day, what I did see was an actual bear! A 400 pound black bear right on the trail, coming right toward me. Immediately I froze, then had enough guts to reach for the camera around my neck. I took a photo then felt my brain scrambling to figure out what to do next. Before I could put the camera down, the bear hung a left, walked into the woods, walked parallel to trail for 20 yards or so, then hooked back onto the trail and kept going behind me, not stopping once.
My guess as to why it just kept going? It didn’t want to “bear-witness” to my naked hiking dad either.