Thru-hiker vocabulary is filled with many pieces of creative and useful slang -- starting with the word "thru-hiker" itself, someone who hikes through the entire length of a long trail at once instead of doing it in pieces (a "section hiker").
When hikers congregate, you may overhear terms like slackpacker, yellow-blaze, or shwacking. They will describe their day as "I did a 20" (hiked 20 miles) without blinking an eye. Some acronyms are words unto themselves -- experienced hikers might have the AT (Appalachian Trail, eastern United States, ~2,100 miles) under their belt; and someone who has hiked the CDT (Continental Divide Trail -- longer, more rugged, and more remote than the Pacific Crest Trail) is likely a Triple Crowner, meaning they've thru-hiked the AT and PCT as well.
I figured I had all the slang down, but I learned a new word today. "Nero." It's brilliant in context, so let me backstep through the etymology.
Thru-hiking is such a demanding pursuit that sometimes you've just got to take a full day off of the trail to recover. This is known as a "zero," in much the same way that a "15" is a 15-mile day; since most zeroes are spent in town, this means a day of real food and little movement, bookended by a full two nights of rest in an actual bed.
And "nero"? An elegant contraction of "near-zero". If you camp a mile before town, and heading in to the restaurants before finding a hotel is all the hiking you do, you're not taking a literal zero but you might as well be.
I didn't nero today; I merely overheard the term from a fellow hiker. I hiked a half-day (9 miles) into Warner Springs yesterday morning, then deliberately took a full zero today. I did this so I could mail out a box on Monday morning on my way out of town, but more importantly, to make certain that I hadn't done as much damage to my feet as I had feared with a few days of walking on an opened blister. They look pretty good and have healed well, but all the walking is making them grow, so I may have some entirely new foot problems soon -- and I desperately hope not -- finding a pair of Size 15 shoes.
If one has to take a zero -- and pride usually prevents us from admitting it, but we all do -- Warner Springs is a good place to do it. It's got that quaint country charm. By which I mean, it's got a gas station ($3.89/gallon regular unleaded) with convenience store stocked with snacks and hiker supplies; a manufactured-home trailer next door bedecked with American flag and handicapped ramp, that's been converted into a post office; a golf course; a sprawling many-square-mile ranch converted into a hot springs resort; and not much else.
The real reason it's a great place to stay is that the ranch owners love thru-hikers. We get a special per-day rate at the resort, are allowed to wedge up to six people into a room to further save money, and at the peak of the hiker wave can practically take over the pool (there were as many as 30 of us on the lawn, sprawled out surrounded by backpacks, blister kits, and newly-washed clothes, on Saturday afternoon).
Internet Explorer ate my post, and I'm trying to hurriedly retype the highlights, so suffice it to say that my zero wasn't quite the relaxation and luxury I had hoped for. Homesickness drove me to read a golf magazine in an attempt at self-distraction, but that was a predictable failure, with uselessly boring articles and endless pages of ads touting clubs made of Brand New Technology GUARANTEED to add 20 yards to your drive or outperform all other equipment if your swing was under 105 mph. Then there was the two-page spread on Donald Trump's new SoCal golf resort, which cost over $200 million, including $63 million for the last hole alone. Ecch.
But I felt better after a talk with kadyg and a hot springs swim. (I thoughtfully packed a swimsuit in my "bounce box" -- something you repeatedly mail yourself, or "bounce," from town stop to town stop as you hike.) Then the Shari mentioned in the previous voice post, who was here at the resort with a Volcan Mountain preservation group holding its big fundraiser for the year, introduced me to Mei Ling, who interviewed me for the ranch's newsletter. She took my picture, and I ended up pointing her here and giving her some of my trip photos; she let me take over her laptop long enough to upload one, hence the earlier-posted shot of Eagle Rock. It's about three miles south of town, is a natural rock formation, and was apparently sacred to the natives way back when.
Now I get to finish cleaning up and reorganizing my backpack gear in an attempt to save a few ounces. Considering I'm adding the missing cell phone and some necessary foot care items, I'll about break even. Then I'll wash my socks and get to bed before hiking out in the morning.
That's how the life of a thru-hiker goes in their days off the trail. Some recreation, some necessary chores, and a few moments of minor fame as the rest of the world realizes what the story is behind those scruffy, stinky folks who just drifted in.