One of the most asked questions I got about my trip was: How did you stay clean? The short answer: I didn’t.
My research shows a week without a bath is the limit for civilized people. Grandpa Grumm told us in all seriousness that as a kid he, “took a bath every Saturday whether I needed it or not.” He was a civilized person after all.
The backcountry is not a civilized place though.
As we approached Deer Meadows, it having been more than a week since my last proper shower, I couldn’t stand myself. I couldn’t stand to touch my greasy hair, couldn’t stand wearing my filthy shirt, couldn’t stand the stench coming off of my sweat soaked pack. I made a valiant effort to clean up that involved Prell Camp Suds and even a razor. While it had no lasting effect, I believe it made me feel better at the time.
It was initially uncomfortable, but eventually I made the transition and succumb to my own filth. Eventually I did not worry about any stenches, odors or foul smells. I didn’t fret when I took my ponytail holder out and my hair stayed in a perfect ponytail. I learned to hold my breath when pulling my shirt on over my head in the morning to avoid passing out from the stench. I didn’t even notice all of the hair that was . . . . well, everywhere.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still made some general efforts. I used hand sanitizer after using the bathroom, I picked out my nails at least once a day, I did my best to get in as much water as possible with as few clothes on as possible on a daily basis, and I brushed my hair sometimes as often as twice a day. But eventually I succumbed, which is to say I was perfectly happy. And that’s what led to this unfortunate scene.
We had made it over Mather Pass the day before, and I’d be on top of Pinchot Pass for lunch in a few hours but at the time I was slogging up a hill somewhere between these two 12,000 foot passes. And there was a trail junction. And hiking in from the trail junction were some weekend hikers. And they were gorgeous.
I was pushing up this hill, trying to catch up with Rich and Karen who had gotten out of camp earlier than I had. These fine young men were bounding down the hill smiling and laughing. As I passed them I unwittingly uttered the one thing that was going through my mind,
“You smell good.”
I said these words.
I said them out loud.
I said them within hearing distance.
They laughed and we all kept hiking in our own directions without so much as a pause. But it was true. One of them was wearing a white shirt and it was, well, white. I hadn’t seen a white item of clothing in weeks. And there was an unmistakable sent of detergent and deodorant wafting around them. It was remarkable. Literally. It was so fascinating and enthralling to me I had to remark on it, out loud.
Luckily I don’t think any of them was supposed to be the man I would marry – no I had met him a few days earlier and botched that episode in an entirely different way. But that’s another story for another day.