Fighting Trail Stank and Dirt Tans

Twenty-plus miles of mud and sweat every day can leave a hiker smelling worse than a locker room's lost-and-found

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Thru-hikers are dirty, dirty creatures. We go without showers for a week at a time, and between the dust and dirt—not to mention the sweat—we are a stinking mess by the time we roll into towns. There’s a reason some thru-hikers call each other “hiker trash”: at least part of it has to do with our smell. And when it’s super hot, like it’s been in the last couple of days, that smell is nearly overwhelming at times.

So we take great joy in getting clean, however we can make that happen. Socks, and sometimes feet, are a necessity—cleaning your socks in a ziploc or in a larger stream can make the difference between blisters and no blisters—but everything else is optional. So when we come across a river ripe for swimming in, it’s hard to keep any of us out of it. It’s as close to bathing as any of us get between towns, and it’s so, so nice to have an excuse to rest, let alone in water.

So it was that the Middle Fork of the Feather River became our playground, complete with waterslide, for those brave enough to bodysurf the rapids. Hikers lounged about with their feet or bodies plunged inside, did trail laundry, scrubbed the dirt off, and enjoyed the morning sunshine while it was still bearable. It was such a lovely break after the long dry stretches of yesterday.

The only trouble is that when you’re wet—as most of us still were, to some degree or another, after walking away—dirt and dust sticks to you even more readily than before. So after climbing today’s 7-mile hill, finishing the 28 miles I’d planned for the day, and taking a look at my feet again, they were just as dirty as they’d been before. Oh well: Only 1,400 more miles of dirt to get through.