HAE logo Wilderness Hygiene,
From Bad To Worse

From the Half Ass Expeditions Wilderness Guide Series

by Tim A Novak, your cybah-spaced mountain correspondent

In the showerless world of winter hiking, one thing is certain; hike long enough without bathing and you smell incredibly rude. "The lack of soap combined with strenuous hiking, campfire smoke and layers of deodorant can make one smell worse than a mountain goat," explains Dr John V. Bellantoni, the formost authority in the field of wilderness hygiene, three time Speck summiter and the founder of the HAE Wilderness Survival Research Cooperative. "Simply put, go hiking, don't wash and it's stench city." Herewith a closer look at exactly what happens to the mind and body as you ripen from that first day in the woods to that last day into what is so aptly called "The Retch Zone".

Day 1: Its early in the game, but already the sweet smell of Ivory soap fades from your armpits as you shoulder your pack. You are experiencing mild waves of body odor mingled with deodorant -annoying but not incapacitating. The start of the hike and you find you're sweating, opening your parka then closing it again as the cold seeps in, endlessly repeating the cycle as you chuff through the snow. And even during these early miles of the hike, things can get much worse, especially if you hike too quickly and overheat. These odors can afflict the strongest of backpackers at anytime during the expedition.

Day 2-3: "You feel like one giant fart, as if your stench was the only odor in the entire world," says Bellantoni. The reason is that you're now inhaling four times faster than normal and much of what you're inhaling is pure stink. A deep, rib-cracking gag may also set in and your digestive tract will vent great volumes of foul gas from the white trash trailer chow you've been consuming. You gulp a breath hoping it is less contaminated than the one before, but its hopeless. The airmass around your body is polluted with your fetid stench, notes Bellantoni, " so much that you are afraid you'll have to throw out all of your gear." Wierd dreams and hallucinations about hot showers are signs that things are falling apart upstairs, too. "Your brain is like an engine with carburator trouble. When it doesn't get enough unfouled oxygen, it starts to slow down and judgement goes out the window," explains Bellantoni. "Sometimes," admits Tim Novak, a top American vagabond, "I find myself spending a half hour thinking about how I can improve my breathing just to avoid the horrible smell."

stench victims
Debilitating stench at the Retch Zone.

Day 4-6: Welcome to the "Retch Zone", where things go from bad to worse very fast. Supplimental oxygen, which many weak stomached hikers use after Day 4, can mitigate the affects of body odor somewhat, but inevitably you will run out. When you do you become careless and lightheaded, so overwhelmed that you stagger ten or so steps before lurching over to ralph. To conserve untainted oxygen, your brain is putting the brakes on some muscle activity, turning you into a klutz. You're also probably experiencing "backwoods butt-hole" from the rapidly growing racing stripe on your overworked cotton underwear, since the lack of clean skivvies make it impossible to keep your asshole clean. Even if you so far have managed to avoid throwing out your underwear, immediate descent into town is a must to extricate the enormous turd that requires genuine porcelain facilities to effectively remove. The good news? Within a few days after returning to town, says Bellantoni, you'll probably smell OK - though some new studies suggest you'll probably bring home some lasting stench in a rolled up sleeping bag and you may have to wash your gear 3 or 4 times.

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Copyright 2001 Tim Novak and HAE