The smell permeated the woods, every breath becoming an exploration into a world of flavor. Each breath inhaling particles that once interpreted and understood by the brain caused a chain reaction. First, a tickle in the throat that turned into uncontrollable gagging. Then a shiver that trembled through our body as the wrongness of the situation was felt in every pore. Third, a clammy sweat that broke out across our skin. Then the final piece, as the brain knew now for a fact it was smelling rancid hot dog meat brought about a deep desire to eat a few combined with the instinctual knowledge that if we did, problems lay ahead. What do you do when everything you know and love has betrayed you? When what once was comfort, joy and happiness contained within a tubular piece of meat, becomes your own death and destruction?
, The moment of truth!
If you take a look at Magpie's face you will see already the decision was questionable at best.
If it was not hinted at strongly enough, let us go ahead and directly and heavily recommend against packing out hot dogs. Well, at least hot dogs during summer, that have sat in your pack for 180~ miles. We would and have packed out hot dogs to consume the first day or two on a section, which is already itself somewhat questionable when eaten without cooking, but in no reality should you ever push the limits. Well, it ultimately is your choice, but let us take you upon a little story that may or may not help your decision next time you glance upon the hot dogs in the grocery aisle and think fondly to bring them along on your backpacking trip.
It was summer. Late May creeping into early June. My partner and I had an aggressive itinerary ahead for our next week or so. We were on our NCT thru-hike and needed to make up some miles after going slower than anticipated while in New York. These thoughts rumbled around my brain as we began shopping for our next food carry that would last for about 6-7 days. What could I carry that would be compact, dense in calories, dense in shape, and bring me a lunch-time pick me up mentally and physically. As I wandered down the refrigerated meat aisle, my eyes fell upon the rows upon rows of hot dogs. In that split second my brain knew instinctually to keep going and in fact carried my bodies momentum past the hot dogs, desperately trying to break the gravitational pull that I could feel heavier and heavier every second. A step or two past, and I paused, again using a split second to have an internal argument with my instincts, and being the stubborn person I am, refusing to budge, so as my body swung around and once again faced my destiny, I had won the argument. As my hand clasped around a pack of 12 circular meat tubes of happiness, I felt joy, yet a deeper and animalistic place in me echoed with dread... Won is a funny word, we would ultimately find out I lost, not only lost, but spectacularly failed.
The first day hiking into Pennsylvania was glorious. Emotions were bountiful and feelings were running high crossing into our next state. Finding a wonderful log to place our own bountiful backside upon, we quickly and efficiently assembled together a sandwich. Yes, a hot dog is a sandwich! Cheese, tortilla, hot sauce, and then the piece that really brought it all together, the hot dog. As we pulled the meat sack out of our lunch bag, it had been close to 48~ hours since we purchased them, and while they didn't contain the shine they once did, they still looked "edible." Anything becomes edible when you are hungry enough, so as we opened the package, breaking the seal, a smell permeated into the woods, breaking the serene and peaceful setting. We should have known then as the air crackled as if spiderwebbed glass, that if an item of food could cause such a shift in the very essence of the woods themselves, what destruction could it possibly wreak upon a singular body. Yet, our joy overrode our instincts and we slapped the slimy hot dog into its blanket of cheese and tortilla, plugged our nose, and happily chowed down.
The face of someone who not yet knows what is to come...
In all honesty, we do not believe this is where the mistakes were made. Our stomach felt as it usually does after lunch, tight and a little queasy, but that is every lunch we eat on trail. With the high output of miles we tend to do, eating is more so obligatory than chosen. We know we have to fuel our bodies, and it makes us more sluggish immediately afterwards, but in the long run we know it is energy. So, the initial hot dog, was consumed as any lunch is, quickly, efficiently, and without much thought.
Another day or two went by, and we had believed at this point we would have mowed through many if not all of our hot dogs. Yet, due to many factors, such as limited hunger, acclimation to high mile days, and many snacks eaten, the hot dogs remained untouched in our bag. Until, either the 3rd or 4th day in the section, when we once again excitedly remembered we had those beautiful cylindrical meat collages. Looking back, this is where the mistakes were made.
The first tell tale sign that we were on a journey to pain, was the consistency of the meat bag we still carried with us. As we extracted it from our lunch bag, the juices were yellow, overflowing, and had a consistency not unlike Jell-O. That combined with the smell when we cracked the seal, should have sent us running. If you have yet to smell 4 day old unrefrigerated hot dogs, count yourself successful in this life, count yourself lucky, count yourself sane. It was pungent, sweet, sickly, aromatic, and rotten all rolled into one. Well, you know how the phrase goes right? Hikers hike... but an unspoken one right alongside this is, hikers eat. So, we ate.
The queasiness after the initial consumption, was again normal, a queasiness to be expected when fueling on hard mile days. Yet, after the initial 5 minutes, a new story started to unfold. Indigestion, burps, and bodily noises and fragrances that wreaked havoc upon my body and my partners olfactory senses. My body was not comfortable with what it had just ingested, but it also wasn't extreme levels of discomfort... at least not yet.
Packing up lunch we resumed our daily tread up and over the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. About 20~ minutes or so into our resumed pace, the skies began to open fully and rain pelted our bodies. Usually I am akin to a cat when it rains, grumpy, upset, and will claw my way up the closest tree for cover. This rain was different, well I should more so say my bodies reaction was different, the rain was just rain. My body however had begun to heat itself like a furnace. Again, not uncommon for an aggressive pace over hills, but the uncommon came in the ever increasing temperature. My bodies heat wasn't capping off, instead it was drastically increasing. Thus began an interesting hour - 2 hours of my life.
Beautiful, isn't it?
The storm was on the inside... with the occasional fear of it becoming on the outside
As the hot dog was processed by my stomach juices it began its journey of destruction throughout my body. A headache was a pleasant effect as the meat juice ran up my spinal column. Extreme fever or heat, honestly I do not know which since it was so extreme and so brief, burned my body. There were moments as the rain fell down, that I imagined I could hear it sizzle against any exposed skin. A fever dream for sure, but one I believed fully. My stomach issues and nausea were impressive to feel, and there were multiple times I questioned whether or not a change of underwear was in order. Suffice it to say my body was not reacting kindly from the ingestion of the hot dog.
Looking back on it now, I know for a fact my bodies response while aggressive was necessary, I was lucky. I can only assume the scalding hot temperatures internally and externally was my bodies response to try and kill off any sickness that could have fermented upon this diggity dog. Later as the videos of this incident were made public, I began hearing the word "Listeriosis" thrown around, and that brought me into a deep Google dive. Simply, it is a potentially fatal disease that can be transmitted through rancid meat, which unfortunately my hot dogs fell into this classification.
After that episode my body remained fragile but nothing near the degree it initially experienced. My stomach remained tender for a few days, exhaustion was more upon the forefront, more easily reached, and in general I just felt more frail. It was a mistake I was not likely to make again.... until the next days lunch rolled around.
Luckily my partner watched as I pulled the hot dogs out again the next day, and almost smacked them out of my hand. She would not let me eat them, thank everything holy! So, instead of snacking upon those munchable meat by-products I consumed cheese. Yet, I would not be dissuaded from having the potential to snack in heaven, literally and figuratively, if the opportunity presented itself, so I carried them for the rest of the section. Instead of throwing them out at a trail-head trash can, it became my badge of honor. They would survive with me until the next town stop, if not in my belly, in my heart and my pack.
As we arrived at our next motel, I recited a silent prayer, as I began the ritual of ceremoniously laying these more liquid than solid meat soups to rest. The smell in that motel room is still spoken with hushed whispers around campfires to this day. The smell alone could make a healthy person sick, a sick person deathly, and a dead person roll in their grave. It was not for the faint of heart, yet it would make your heart faint.
I will never be ashamed of how fully I loved those hot dogs
To some they are just rancid, to me they are everything it means to love!
Those hot dogs fought the valiant fight, yet even though I would carry them spiritually for the remainder of the trail, physically I had to let go. Well, at least out of my pack, physically their stomach issues would be carried with me for much longer. What a beautiful gift to have, I could never thank them enough. When I needed strength, I found it in their slimy embrace. When I needed sustenance, I found it in my stomachs nausea, when I needed them the most they were always there with love. They loved me not for what I was, nor who I was, but they loved purely and freely, they loved me fully. They became a part of me so deeply, I could never decipher where one of us started and the other began. If you find that type of love in life, hold onto it! Don't let it go like I did, the tremors and ghost pains of those rancid hot dogs that I lost haunt me still today.
If I can only ever love a fraction of their pure love, I would consider myself beyond lucky.
To those rancid hot dogs, I love you.
DISCLAIMER: It is heavily recommended against actually eating unrefrigerated hot dogs, it can actually be quite dangerous. Listeriosis is very real and while unlikely can be deadly.
The metaphor we made near the end, was just for fun, please learn from our mistakes.