Sunday, June 17, 2012

Giardia and Other Trail Vocabulary

In conversations with friends and family back home, we've found that the trail has its own vernacular, which sounds like Greek to anyone outside of the trail community.  So we thought we'd take a blog post to familiarize you with some of our trail lingo.  

We'll start with Giardia, because it's particularly relevant to us these days.  Giardia is a water-born intestinal bug common on the AT, with symptoms akin to what might happen if you ate street food in Mexico or drank water from the Ganges.  It's also something that I picked up about two weeks ago, despite the fact that we treat every drop of water we drink (you can also get it from hand contact).  Needless to say, we've been taking a lot of breaks during hiking and had some pretty rough days.  Don't worry, we finally made it to a clinic and got antibiotics, so in a few weeks I should be as good as new and Giardia-free.  Haha, AT, another foiled attempt to take down Bearcub!

Our first blue blaze - the Virginia Creeper Trail
With Giardia out of the way, we can move on to some less graphic trail vocabulary.  First, there's the "blaze vocab":

  • White Blazing - following the white blazes that mark the AT
  • Blue Blazing - following side trails that intersect or run parallel to the AT (marked with blue blazes); we blue-blazed when we took the "Virginia Creeper Trail" out of Damacus.  We're glad we did it, because it was flatter, prettier, and because Guyline is a creeper (just kidding).
  • Aqua Blazing - canoeing rivers that run parallel to the AT rather than hiking that section; we are considering doing some aqua-blazing in the Shenandoahs since Laun instilled a love of canoeing in Bearcub at a young age.
  • Yellow Blazing - driving, shuttling, or hitching past a section of the trail; we have not done any yellow blazing but a lot of hikers do, which makes them hard to keep up with!  There are also several large trails that intersect the AT, some of which are marked by actual yellow blazes.  
  • Pink Blazing - hiking after a girl (we're in very high demand out here)
  • Brown Blazing - here's a hint, it goes hand in hand with having Giardia!
  • Ghost Blazing/Retro Blazing - hiking old sections of the AT after the trail has been relocated
  • Slack packing bonus - loaner Batman day pack
  • Rainbow Blazing - a hiker who follows all types of blazes on their hike (blue, yellow, white, etc.)

There are also names for different types of hikers:
  • Thru-hiker - hiking the entire trail in one calendar year
  • Section hiker - hiking the trail in small sections
  • Flip-flopper - flipping directions on a thru-hike, usually because of time commitments or weather (e.g., if we don't think we'll finish before Mt. Katahdyn closes for winter on 10/15, we could shuttle up to Maine and start hiking South)
  • Leapfrogging - skipping large sections of the trail with a plan to return and hike them later (sure you will, buster)
  • Slack packing - hiking with a day pack while a support crew shuttles your pack to you or you back to your pack.  We did slack packing about a month ago; a hostel shuttled us ahead and we left our packs there and hiked back to the hostel. It was a rainy day and we were glad to be ending it somewhere warm and dry.
  • NOBO - North-bounder
  • SOBO - South-bounder
  • Blaze kisser/purist - a hiker with an unwavering commitment to hike past every white blaze
  • Hike Your Own Hike - a phrase/attitude that any kind of hiking is welcome
Hiker aqua blazing on an unstable craft
Hikers are always concerned with pack weight, so of course there is a set of vocab dedicated to that:
  • Base weight - also called dry weight; weight of the pack and gear, excluding consumables like food, water, and fuel
  • Pack weight - weight of the pack, gear, and consumables at the start of a trip
  • Skin-out base weight - base weight plus what the hiker is wearing
  • Light backpacking - base weight close to 20 pounds
  • Ultralight backpacking - base weight close to 10 pounds (I haven't weighed my pack in awhile, but with the purchase of a new 2 pound pack, I may be flirting with ultralight now!)
  • Gram-weenie - hiker who is obsessed with cutting weight, down to details like sawing off the end of a toothbrush
  • Gearhead - a hiker obsessed with gear
Finally, here's some miscellaneous terminology for you:
  • Hiker midnight - our absurdly early bedtime (usually shortly after dark)
  • Gorp - "good old raisins and peanuts"
  • Bouldering - free rock climbing; most of the good bouldering sites on the AT are up North
  • Bushwhacking - making your own trail
  • AYCE - All you can eat!!
  • Blowdowns - fallen trees from storms and high winds; Guyline and I have encountered new blowdowns and spent upwards of 5 minutes figuring out how to get through, over, around, or under them
  • Zero - day off from hiking
  • Nero - "nearly a zero"; a day when you hike very short miles, usually into or out of a town
  • PUD - "pointless ups and downs"; sections of the trail with huge elevation changes for no apparent reason such as water, roads, or views
  • Stealth camping - camping where you aren't supposed to camp
  • Trail magic - random acts of kindness toward hikers on the trail
  • Trail angel - someone who does trail magic
  • Triple crown - a hiker who has hiked all three of America's longest trails: the AT, the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), and the CDT (Continental Divide Trail)
  • 2,000 Miler - someone who has hiked the entire AT (although I feel a little cheated out of the other 186!)
  • Vitamin I - nickname for ibuprofen
  • Yogi-ing - begging without begging (e.g., arriving at a busy tourist parking lot sweaty and collapsing in a heap, proclaiming to yourself how hungry you are and how badly you need a ride), when you come visit us on the AT, you'll be all up to speed, right?  



  1. Sorry to hear about your sickness. Glad you are sticking with it!!

    You forgot buffet, big, ugly, fat folks eating together! Where would be be without Ron Haven's words of advice? He saved you $300 in Damascus!

  2. "Virginia Creeper" sounds like a symptom of giardia.

  3. Bearcub,

    We continue to marvel at your strength and courage! Keep up the good work! We anxiously await every new post - we are so proud of both of you!

    With much love!

  4. Giardia is also somewhat common in FL water (depending on the source). don't drink tap. our cats got it where we used to live, and ever since then we (all) only drink water that's been filtered.

    glad you're on the mend! i love all the trail vocabulary! though some i'd learned from documentaries like National Geographic's special on the AT. very cool (and on netflix instant streaming!)

    hope you dont' have to flip flop your hike. sounds like you're doing well so far!

  5. Sounds like a trail guide book/memoir is in the works post hike. Or perhaps an musical? Aa a non-heights fan, I suggest you keep off those dangling ledges (although it makes for quite a pic) -Steve

  6. Oh man this post proved to be SO helpful. I felt so much more legit than LockStep. :)

  7. Your blog is so Bill Bryson-esque. I've been telling other hikers about it, and right now we are sitting at a hostel in Andover, ME reading it and laughing about it. Can't wait to see you guys in Chicago and celebrate! And Minutes and Serial, too!