So, Kyle and I have been back home in North Carolina for about a week now and of course, like most thru-hikers, we are having a hard time adjusting to normal life. We are both terrified of gaining weight with the abundance of food around us and we have been working hard to run or swim every day. We have also made some rash decisions in moments of post-trail insecurity. For example, when Kyle trimmed off his beard. Kyle’s beard was magnificent, grown in sweat and more sweat, seasoned by dirt and dust, hiding small crumbs and maybe even a peanut or two. No really, one time I looked up and Kyle’s beard had a peanut in it. What I am saying is Kyle’s beard was like another being, our third wheel, getting in the way of kisses and eating ice cream cones. And then after being home for two days Kyle panicked and decided he was going to “trim” it. What caused this panic? A fear that the beard was out-of-place in everyday life, that it looked weird with normal clothes, that it was freaking people out. Could all of this be a deep-seated fear for how we feel about ourselves in normal society? Who knows, I’m not a self-diagnosing psychiatrist.
Anyway, what it comes down to is Kyle decides to “trim”, I support it and he comes out of the bathroom some thirty minutes later with very little beard left. The full ramifications of his actions didn’t even sink in until days later. We had plans for that beard, Halloween costume plans, hat buying plans, all sorts of plans… and suddenly it was gone. But there were worse consequences that were about to make themselves known.
So the day of Kyle’s foolish hair removal incident we went for an early morning run on the outskirts of Kyle’s town. One of the negative side effects of hiking is that your bowels become very spoiled. When you’re on trail you can go to the bathroom wherever you want, whenever you want. When you get back to real life your bowels don’t like being told, “No, you can’t go to the bathroom right here in the middle of the Canal trail, we aren’t on the AT anymore, you will have to wait until we get back home”. So Kyle and I are running along, or more accurately limping along because our bodies have yet to recover, when the poop hits. Now Kyle is not only fighting a side ache but a poop cramp as well. With another mile and a half until the car Kyle has no choice but to hobble off into the woods and dig a hole. Considering that this is second nature for us it didn’t bother us the way it would probably bother some people. Kyle was done in no time and we continued back to the car and then home. When we got home Kyle defaced his face and that was when it happened: he lost his mojo.
A fun fact about Kyle is that he is extremely allergic to poison ivy, oak, sumac, you name it, if it’s green and leafy and poisonous he’s got an allergy to it. He can’t stand down wind of one of these plants without getting covered in itchy, puffy blisters. Now, we were fully prepared on the trail for the worst, carrying poison ivy soap and hydrocortisone cream and acting like paranoid crazy people around any plant we didn’t recognize. Miraculously, Kyle went the entire five months, 2,185 miles without so much as a spore irritating his sensitive skin. I now know that the reason he emerged from the AT unscathed was because his beard was protecting him. It was his mountain man shield, his hairy protector, making him strong against the woods many perils (except ticks, nothing can protect you from ticks). Then he acted out being Delilah to his own Samson and he sealed his fate. He lost his magical mountain man powers and the poison sumac spores, which would have normally just bounced off his skin, soaked right in. Seven hours later it was apparent that the leaves Kyle had chosen to wipe with were poison sumac. The pores spread from there, all over his arms, stomach, sides and face (giving you an idea of all the places Kyle itches). When his face started to swell up and I thought I had traded in my boyfriend for the hunchback of Notre Dame we knew it was time to seek medical help. When we took him to the doctor for a steroid shot in the butt and he had to divulge that he was on antibiotics for Lyme Disease the doctor remarked that he might want to avoid the woods from now on. No exactly what your intrepid outdoorsman wants to hear.
Luckily, as I keep saying beards grow back. I know that no mountain man is measured by his beard is alone and I have faith that in a few months it will be back. In the mean time Kyle has been practicing pooping before we leave the house and I get to have mustache free kisses.