Day 56

The group we camped with made plans to hike into Damascus and straight to a place called Mojo’s for breakfast. The extra motivation pushed me through those 2.5 miles real quick. By 8:45 we placed orders for plates of pancakes and eggs. The food came out with unexpected sides of mixed veggies and we ordered fruit smoothies for a rare healthier meal. The freshness tasted nice.

For most of today, we relaxed under the garage awning at a hostel. The place is simply called “Hikers’ Inn” and it’s run by an incredibly hard-working and kind lady whose name is pronounced “Lee.” No idea how she spells it. A large glass table sits under the awning and provides the social hub for the hostel. So we spent a good amount of time in chairs around the table talking to Mellow, Lee #2, Tyler, Blue, and Carey. They’re a funny bunch. There’s also an old Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce in the driveway followed by a VW bus. What fun!

More and more as I hike, the importance of meeting basic needs stands out to me. What I mean is, clean water and good food are very hard to find. I have more time to think about it because those are the only things I think about acquiring all day. When the essentials, like food, water, and shelter take utmost priority for one’s ambitions, it becomes obvious how difficult they are to actually get. Only by hiking up into the mountains can I find water sources uncontaminated by chemicals from industrial runoff and municipal treatment methods. Even then it’s difficult to find water untouched by human bodily waste due to careless practices. We even recently saw a pile of human poop next to a shelter because the hiker didn’t bother digging a hole. Water that is genuinely clean and safe to drink seems like such a rarity. I’d always assumed that city water must be safe to drink, but the more I learn about what goes into it the more I find information on its risks. For example, some hikers use chlorine or chlorine dioxide tablets to treat their water, and they argue that it must be good and safe to use because municipalities use chlorine to treat tap water. So I researched if chlorine was safe to drink in trace amounts and found pages of articles correlating chlorine use in water and rises in some cancers. I know correlation and causation are easily confused and even if most of those articles were poorly cited and false, I researched the risks behind iodine use for comparison. Iodine tablets are the other chemical treatment option available to hikers. Nothing. Not one article linking iodine to cancer. In extremely high doses over time, it has negative side effects such as thyroid issues. It just makes me realize how precious and rare good water is. And makes me angry that public water providers don’t care to produce safe water. Maybe they can’t if everything is too polluted. Maybe properly treating water costs too much money and cancer makes too much money.

This applies to how I think about food, too. I used to eat way less junk food before hiking the trail. That was a good thing, of course, but eating lots of junk food allows me to experience the consequences. When I would rarely eat bad food, my body processed it easily and I never felt a negative effect. Eating enough highly processed food allows the fake ingredients to take their toll. My stomach felt irritated and uncomfortable. So this time at our resupply at the Dollar General, I read every package that I bought and tried my darndest to find foods that didn’t include as many preservatives, chemicals, and other suspicious ingredients. Like car wax. Some snack cakes include carnauba wax as an ingredient. This is insane to me. I mean, it’s too expensive to buy food with decent ingredients but too risky to eat the fake food. I don’t even care how caloric the food is. I’d take being overweight to eating chemicals any day of the week. But we live in a society where it’s bad to be fat but totally okay to eat car wax and known stomach irritants. Crazy. There have been fat people and skinny people and everything in between since the dawn of humanity and we been fine. But how well has eating fake, non-food substances worked out? Hm.

Tomorrow we leave Damascus. So sad! It’s been my favorite town so far. It’s adorable and full of outdoor fun. And I don’t know about Trail Days, but when it’s not that time the town is peaceful and spacious.

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