The "Stank" of the Appalachian Trail. Why is the S in Stank capitalized, it is not a proper noun is it?! Yes, yes it is in many more ways than just one. There is the physical and tangible Stank of you, the Stank of a group of hikers, and our favorite manifestation, the dog that we came to call Stank and bonded with so deeply. Not to say Stank is a bad thing in any of these forms, it just simply is. There is a special smell that only comes to a AT hiker. As we have done more trails, the PCT, CDT, PNT, IAT, etc. we of course have began to Stank as the miles, dirt, and sweat accumulate. Yet, there is no Stank like that of an AT Stank, it is a sweetly special smell, one that we remember fondly, and one that is filling our nostrils as we speak. Let us all breathe in together, and be wrapped in this Stank as we tell you of our favorite form of Stank, in the manifestation of a wiggly chocolate lab.
Appalachian Trail = STANK!
Before we touch on Stank our friend and companion, we want to quickly touch on the smell of the Appalachian Trail. The environment on the AT is wet, humid, moist, almost everyday. You are blanketed in foliage and old growth from a mountain range that is millions of years old. There is a beautiful smell to the forest around you. Sadly, that beautiful smell does not transition to you smelling beautiful. Well... in a way you do smell beautiful because you are doing something so amazing and epic, yet this form of 'beauty" is truly in the eyes and more so the nostrils of the beholder. We have never smelled worse on any trail system and paralleled with that we have never smelled "better." The dampness of the mountains seep into every pore of your body, while you hike, while you eat lunch, while you sleep. The dirt accumulates and becomes a second skin to trap in all this moisture. Then as your body internalizes your sweat combined with every other smell around you, the smell is turned into something special, something pungent yet beautiful. Instead of being released and cycling through your body, now the Stank can not get out due to the layer of dirt. It begins to fester and grow inside of you. Slowly, ever so slowly, just like the millions of year old mountains around you, the millions of year old stank begins to seep out through the dirt caked cracks of your pores. It is quite an experience to be a part of this and quite another experience to be the bystander that smells this. The Stank is so special on the AT, there is no comparison!
At least that is our theory. A theory based in reality and based in experience, but a theory nonetheless. Not proven to be the cause, but the result has been proven time and time again. Whether that was ourselves tasting an especially pungent smell in camp one night, or chatting with a member of our trail family and having to physically begin to distance ourselves the Stank was so overpowering. We do not mean to paint it in a bad light. In fact if you asked us do you miss the Stank, we would exclaim with great fondness and excitement, "Of Course!" No other trail system has this constant companion, this deeply internal feeling, this partner in your journey. Embrace the Stank, as we tell you how we embraced that wiggly puppy that we came to deem the manifestation of The Stank!
There is a term for people that do not have this Stank, and it involves a flower. Again, not bad, not good, simply is! How we miss the Stank in all forms...
We were somewhere in Virginia, a non-descript bald mountain, after crossing a non-descript road. It had been wet, it had been humid, it had been some damp days. The sun had finally decided to grace us with its presence, and in this grace we found a sunny spot to rest our burdens. On the other side of a barbed wire fence the trail continued through open hillsides, but we would rest for the time being, and eat lunch as our trail family caught up. The lunch became 30 minutes, an hour, two hours, as not only our trail family arrived but extended trail family arrived as well. We knew everyone, and chatted away with tales of the trail as we all enjoyed some well earned sunshine. It was beautiful, and with 10+ hikers all sitting together, the Stank upon that hill was already quite pungent. There was lightness to the air as we joked and ate, but also a heaviness with the smell that combined and formed into a powerful Stank. It was beautiful in every way.
As we continued to bask in each others smiles and smells, two dogs crested the hill above us. Not aggressively, but you could see from a distance they were quite friendly, and they yelped with happiness as they came charging down towards us. As they burst into our hiker bubble, they excitedly made their presence known to every hiker with smiles and nudges of happiness. The first dog was an old Pyreness Mountain Dog, big in stature, and bigger in heart. Its fur was matted down, littered through with twigs, dirt, and sweat. It bumbled from hiker to hiker saying hello, and while the stank was noticeable on this giant dog, it was a common stank, no capital S. So common in fact it was negligible, it paled in comparison to our collective hiker Stank. Eventually it became tired after its many hellos and what appeared the journey it had been on to reach us, and collapsed into a content and happy pile at our feet to take in the sunshine and break with us. The second dog however... the second dog, was our heart animal, the manifestation of who and what we had become, our manifestation of smell and hiker in dog form. Welcome into the picture, STANK!
We hope that the ratio of that is mostly dirt... more likely than not the ratio is not great...
Stank was a big and boxy chocolate lab. All smiles and all wiggles. It ran from hiker to hiker with endless energy, and then would plop itself into your lap and smile and nudge itself completely into you. One of our friends was the first to notice the specialness of Stank. He was the first one that Stank had embraced fully. First the noises began to escape him. A slight cough, a small exclamation of surprise, and then finally a larger exclamation of disgust. He let everyone know in our group that this dog did not simply smell, but it was the worse smell he had ever experienced. Stank's face never lost his grin however, completely oblivious and happy to rub his smell and combine it into other hikers. Why wouldn't he be? Stank believed he had found his companions, we looked dirty, and we smelled just as bad as him if not worse! We were the same!
As Stank ran from hiker to hiker and plopped themselves in each lap accordingly, every hiker would playfully shove Stank away. The smell was too strong they said, the smell made them cough they said, Stank was too Stanky they said! As our big lovable heart animal began to make its rounds closer and closer to where we sat, we could not ignore the smell that was becoming heavier and deeper. Even 20ft away we knew there was a specialness to this smell, a power that we had not known possible. Yet, we laughed and patiently waited our turn to embrace our friend, albeit with a little trepidation of the power of the stench when it was fully sitting on our lap. Finally it was our turn with Stank, finally he wiggled his way on top of us, and hugged us like only a happy lab can hug a person. We were overwhelmed!
The power of the Stank is not to be mentioned lightly here. We have yet in all our travels to meet a comparable version, even meet a version that could be anywhere near this power. Every other smell has only ever paled in comparison. Smells are no longer smells, they do not even register. The power of this Stank, has overwhelmed our senses outside of a normal human's power to comprehend, it has broken us and yet fulfilled us. So, what did we do? Did we push away Stank as all our other companions had? Of course not! We embraced Stank fully, hugged him back, let him wiggle his happiness into our body and into our hearts. We were one and the same. There was no distinction between dog and human. We both were on a journey, we both were immensely happy, and we both had a smell to us that surpassed any animal/human barrier. Stank had found his companion, and we had found our heart animal of the AT.
If we could be half of what Stank saw in us and smelled on us...
So, we let Stank hang out with us as we continued to eat lunch. As we chewed not only through our tortilla wrap but also chewed through the physical smell around us. It had a peculiar taste. Every single one of our trail family was completely perplexed and astounded that we did not push Stank away. They could not comprehend how we could handle this physical weight of the dog in our lap, and the physical weight of the smell around us. But, you see the equation was quite simple. We smelled, in fact we STANK! The dog smelled, and in fact it STANK! It was easy, two Stank's are better than one, right?! We relished ourselves in the happiness around us, dog and human alike. If the smell was a part of this joy and freedom, so be it. We were here for the long haul.
Maybe there was something deeper than just having our smell manifest itself into a big and wiggly chocolate lab. Maybe there was a reason we loved Stank so much, and continue to love him wherever he may be. Maybe we saw much of ourselves within that dog and within that smell. Bumbly, happy, oblivious to the thick bubble of pungent smell around us. Maybe we also had a deeper internal feeling as well. Maybe how we treated Stank, was how we in ourselves were wished to be treated as a thru-hiker. Yes we were dirty, extremely so. Yes, we were boundlessly happy, and even drooled much of the time at the thought of food. And, yes the smell around us was on a level all of its own, we did not just smell we STANK. Yet, when you take away all those layers, it was still us underneath. A thru-hiker, a person, a human finding ultimate freedom. Look past the smell, see the spirit. The Stank is a constant on the Appalachian Trail, embrace it, become a part of it, hug it and internalize it as we have. Let it seep from you the way it only can on the AT. Yet in that smell there will be more. Let the joy, the wonder, the awe, and the pure happiness seep through you as well. Whether you have a small Stank, or a Stank as massive and as tangible as the manifestation of Stank itself, we love you and see you. Love yourself, love your AT Stank!
With Stank in our nostrils, our minds, and our hearts, we miss you in every form!