It takes nearly two hours for me to zip out of my cozy sleeping bag, drink coffee, eat breakfast and pack my belongings before I finally step foot on the white-blazed trail. In truth, I don’t see how I can move much quicker, nor do I actually wish to try so early in the morning. Before my morning cup of coffee, nothing seems urgent enough for me to exert extra mental or physical energy. Being more of a night owl than a lark can be attributed to the line of work that kept me up long into the night. At times, I would arrive home just before sunrise and other times I would crawl into bed well after the sun had shined its first rays of light onto New York City. My day would start around midday.
So getting up, functioning normally and having a coherent thought at sunrise, when I’m normally in the midst of a dream, is not my forte. There’s no need, I’m out here hiking, not hurrying to work or racing to catch a train. Stressful mornings are not what I came out here for. So, it’s easy-does-it for me while the shelter and camp area drains empty of all hiker presence. There’s a shift in the atmosphere when I’m left alone. I have come to anticipate the wilderness sounds that were hidden by hiker voices and their rackety morning activities. The wild finally has a chance to be heard when the last of the hikers leave camp.
All that being said, this morning is different; I’m moving with swiftness and my thoughts are clear, not blurred with fragments of fading dreams. I’m the first one up and the first one out. Joy, excitement, eagerness and all the feels fill the air.
“I love me some Wally World,” I announce to my little trail family as we prepare to receive a ride into town.
In the small towns along the Appalachian Trail, the locals instantly know where we want to go for a resupply. Many times, when hitching a ride into towns, we’ve been taken straight to Walmart. The superstore is near and dear to many hikers. Even if you’re all for supporting local markets like Shanti, who I can see leading a march through Washington, DC for peace, veganism, organic food and small local farm businesses, you can’t deny the benefit starving thru-hikers get from Walmart’s super cheap prices and multitude of items that are worth more than its dollar value out here on the AT.
Before hiking the trail, I rarely set foot in a Walmart, but now I find myself getting giddy with thoughts of roaming the aisles full of Pop Tarts, instant oatmeal and Nutella.
Am I a supporter of Walmart?
I’m more like a supporter of an affordable resupply, which Wally World provides for us, unlike the very few so-called hiker friendly places that boost their prices knowing that we’re in need and may have no choice, but to pay.
Exploitation like this reminds me of the New York City blackout in the summer of 2003, when a few small stores and vendors jacked up their prices of bottled water. They were aware that this would be the number one necessity during a power outage in the midst of a heat wave. Then again, wise to their loss, some stores gave away their melting ice cream.
Damn, now I want some ice cream.
“I don’t think it’s love you’re feeling, Mr Fabulous. What you have is a case of Stockholm Syndrome,” is Babes response to my new affection for Walmart.
“Whoa, I know my feelings are real,” I feign distress.
I’m a bit confused by his statement.
“Listen, Walmart lured you in like a seductive predator and when your guard was down, it kidnapped you. You then formed feelings for your captor, making it seem less of a threat to you. It’s a type of traumatic bonding,” Babe psychoanalyzes.
“What… that makes no sense, Babe,” says Voice of Reason, the wise one.
But, Babe kind of makes a point… somehow… I think.
“Walmart tricks you into loving it. I’m telling you it’s a real mental occurrence, Google it,” Babe adds with a sly grin.
“I sort of get what he’s saying. Walmart makes me think it’s good for me, but it’s not. It’s like an addiction. It gives you what you need, makes you feel good, and yet leaves you wanting more. Shoot… Walmart’s a helluva drug!” I say with wide eyes.
“We’re here,” announces our driver.
“Let’s do this,” I gleefully say.
When we approach the Walmart doors, Babe says, “Look how the doors slide right open, inviting us to come right in.”
“Stop making it sound like that, Babe,” Shanti says.
“Like what? I enjoy being inside Walmart,” Babe teases.
“Babe, it’s bad enough that I’m here, even without your sexual innuendos.”
Babe gives her his best-shocked look.
“Why Shanti, I have no idea what you are implying,” is his nuanced response.
I know how much Shanti would prefer to be at a small local grocery… it’s tough for her to shop at this place.
“Walmart gives me good feelings. This just feels right. You know Shanti,” I say, with my arms stretched out as if to take in all that Walmart has to offer.
I can’t help teasing her by exaggerating my feelings of joy at being here.
“This is just an oversized superstore that drives small local stores out of business. How can you support that?” Shanti grumbles.
“Support? We’re in need and you know it. Oh look, here’s an XXX-Large SpongeBob t-shirt on sale.”
“You don’t need that, Fab.”
“But, look at the price – they’re practically giving it away.”
“Fab, that’s because no one is willing to buy that crap,” she says, and then moves on to the food section.
I follow and as I walk through the aisle of energy and snack bars, I express a thought to Shanti.
“Hey Shantirooni, what’s one of the first items thru-hikers look for here at Wally World?” I ask.
And without missing a beat, she says, “Snickers,” as she grabs a 6 pack of the chocolate and tosses it to me.
“Exactly, it’s as if Snickers and Walmart are sponsors of the AT,” I proclaim,
“The Appalachian Trail – brought to you by…
SNICKERS… Do you have a hiker appetite, then grab Snickers and take a bite.
WALMART… it’s a helluva drug,”
I say in my best television commercial announcer voice. Shanti just stares at me, and then shakes her head, “Fab, you’re weird,” she concludes.
At the cashier line, scanning my surroundings, I realize how safe we would be here if there was a massive storm or a planetary crisis.
“You know, this would be the best place to be during an apocalypse.”
“Oh, how so, Fab,” Shanti asks.
I know she doesn’t take any of my catastrophic, zombie-eaten talk seriously, however she does go along with my delusion of an action-filled end of days adventure.
“Well, there’s enough food and weapons to keep us alive for a while. These walls are probably nuclear bomb proof. Also, imagine how much fun it would be stuck in here with all these goodies. It would be like being trapped in an adult funhouse.”
“Fab, what is this?” Shanti exclaims, ignoring my banter and pulling a packet of Miracle-Gro seeds out of our shopping cart.
“What… it was only 20 cents.”
“But, you don’t need it. What will you do with seeds on a trail that has naturally growing plants? See you’re being brainwashed into buying this junk.” Shanti says, snapping me out of my trance.
“You’re right… damn you Walmart!” I cry out.
I make a fist and shake it at the rafters (the brain section of Walmart).
“Damn you, you’re abusing your power over me. STOP IT!” I feign anguish and try forcing a tear, but it doesn’t happen.
Shanti gives me a confused look. “This place is making you crazy. We need to get you out of here and fast.”
“Look what I’m buying,” Babe says, waving a travel-size Lego set.
“You don’t need that,” Shanti and I say in unison.
When we reach the cashier, I pull out a small ziplock bag containing my ID, credit card and cash.
“Hiker wallet,” I say to the cashier observing my contents, “it’s light and waterproof,” I explain.
“Okay, cool. Well, here’s your receipt,” says the cashier.
“I don’t need it, it’s too heavy,” I say with a smile.
As soon as we exit the sliding doors, Shanti and I waste no time. We lay our shopping bags on the ground and go to work. We take everything we just bought out of its package and make a quick job of organizing it into our food bags. The speed in which we transfer everything into our backpacks reveals how many times we’ve done this.
“I can tell you guys have been doing this for a while,” says our driver, “there’s no hesitation, you know exactly what to do.”
“That’s what five months on the trail will do to you,” says Shanti.
“I’m assuming that’s dreadlocks under there?” a passerby says while pointing at my buff full of hair.
“No, actually that’s my food bag,” I respond fighting a smile.
I then grab a Snickers and jam it into my buff.
“See?” I say, pointing to my head.
I stand there with the candy bar sticking halfway out of the side of my buff, waiting for her reaction. I must have looked like Carmen Miranda, but instead of a fruit-laden hat, I sported a chocolate filled hiker buff.
She studies my headgear for what seemed like an extended period of time, and before I could relieve her confusion, she finally realizes the jest, “Ha, very funny.”
So glad she finally got it… the long silence was getting a bit awkward.
My backpack is now heavy with a Walmart resupply, yet I wonder how much of the weight can be attributed to items I could have done without. Was I tricked into thinking I needed more than I got? They say don’t do your grocery shopping on an empty stomach, because you’ll buy more than you need. How does that apply for always-hungry thru-hikers? Add that we can get so much for so little; Ramen noodles are 20 cents, the same price as the Miracle-Gro seeds, but much more filling.
What, a 20-cent meal… I want 10 packs, please! Oh Walmart… you’re a hell of a drug.
If you’re interested in reading more about my wacky, yet adventurous AT experience, check out my memoir, ‘The Unlikely Thru-Hiker‘.