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This man mapped every bathroom break on his AT – Outside thru hike | Gmx Pharm


Brian Garner started a new job the day I first emailed him. Garner, a 19-year-old thru-hiker, was training to spend his first season cooking and cleaning at the legendary mountain cabins of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, so he didn’t quite understand his schedule. That afternoon, when he asked his boss for some free time for an interview, she understandably balked—why was her new employee interviewing again? No, he assured her, he was only speaking to one journalist about how and why, under the name brianfromshitboro, he had recently mapped, verified, and numerically scored every bowel movement he had along the 2,194-mile Appalachian Trail, using the social media App Poop Map. He even analyzed his efforts for hiking website The Trek. He watched regret flood her face.

“She told me if guests are having dinner at the cabins not to tell them anything about the app, which I think applies to dinner, but not in general,” Garner said, laughing during a 30-minute break from work. “She was just confused. She didn’t get all the joy of Poop Map.”

Garner’s transcendence of enthusiasm can be forgiven: Just a month before arriving in New Hampshire, he was surrounded by fellow hikers, an audience that already spends a significant chunk of their days contemplating food and toilet breaks at the same time. As silly as it may seem, Garner’s 134-day curvilinear path of mapped poops from Georgia’s Gooch Mountain Shelter (‘very small pebble, three stars’) to the Katahdin Stream Privy (‘AT’s last poop in AT’s last privy, four stars ’) represents perhaps the most honest index of the trail I have ever seen.

“Knowing I was going to get a lot of poop on the east coast was just so exciting.”

Not only does it show the intense intimacy that passage hikers — many of whom were recent strangers — develop over a matter of days, but also how a hiker’s body movements affect the actual movement of their body. Scrolling through Garner’s Poop Map means seeing the gastrointestinal distress and attendant sluggishness that comes with an indulgent stop in a city or the meager rations of a stroll in a place as desolate as Maine’s 100-mile wilderness, where he registered only two entries. Looking back at Garner’s defecation journal, I immediately recall the physical lows (one non-stop month of stomach upsets) and emotional highs (lifetime best friends in less than a week) of my own time on the AT, the surreal wonder and pain of it all .

“On the go, the app popped up relatively quickly because there’s so much talk about poop,” Garner said. “But in real life, I can’t bring that up or just go up to random people and tell them about Poop Map.”

Garner joined the scatological-media network in early 2020 when he was a junior in a Massachusetts high school. It was a lark shared with friends who giggled it cheaply for a month and then gave it up. But Garner — who repeatedly told me, without irony, “This is the best app I’ve ever seen” — stuck by, even logging all of his poop while hiking Vermont’s Long Trail after graduating in 2021. His devotion to Poop Map — with 4.25 million registered users and 60,000 daily, uh, “loggers” — even drove his college plans. After spending a semester at the University of Vermont, he decided to take a gap year and hike the Appalachian Trail. “Knowing I was going to get a lot of poop on the east coast was just so exciting,” he said. “It’s just so funny to me.”

This is all incredibly silly, I know, and Garner is a willing joke on behalf of Poop Map. He points out scatological puns where they hardly exist (“duty” always gets a laugh), and he once sent me an Instagram message simply saying, “It’s all about the shit.” But I guess , he’s unlocked something crucial about through-hikers. Whether out of boredom or the need to constantly re-evaluate our physical and mental state, hikers spend a lot of time thinking about the waste we create – what it says about our bodies, where it goes, how far from the water source it is is someone will be used soon.

We carry multi-colored trowels for digging “cat holes”. We carry extra toilet paper for days. (But never too much, because who needs all that three-layer weight?) We attach portable ultralight bidets to water bottles. And then we talk about it with new friends, without shame or social inhibitions.

“Usually you just go to the bathroom and then flush the toilet and then go and go eat some cookies,” Garner said, laughing so little at that last bit that I forgot to ask if he was really doing it. “But what is usually a basic thing that nobody really thinks about becomes something you think about a lot on the trail. Do I want to stay in this cubicle for ten more minutes so I can use a toilet or dig a cat hole later? Digging a hole is hard work.”

This recognition of our most basic common biology humanizes us.

Anastasia Allison laughed when I first told her about Garner’s card, and let out the kind of “Oh, wow” that a guy tracking his poop tracks is probably familiar with. But she got it right away. In the four years since Allison launched Kula Cloth, she’s sold over 200,000 pee dresses, many of which are dangling from backpacks that now bounce down the trail. These imaginatively illustrated rags have curbed the stigma of using the outdoor bathroom, especially for women, trans men, and non-binary people. It’s a small but profound transformation.

During her first backpacking trip in 2005, Allison — who later became a backpacking instructor herself — was so intimidated by asking her guide, an elderly man, about outdoor bathroom etiquette that she sneaked into her tent neighbor’s pocket to steal toilet paper. “I was ashamed to talk to him about how to use the bathroom, because of my upbringing, because of my beliefs about the human body,” she said. “Body functions were what we had to hide, what we didn’t talk about.”

For example, not long after Kula Cloth started, Allison received an email from an early customer who said the company had transformed her outdoor life because she stopped dehydrating herself before hiking for fear of peeing in public. It may sound absurd, Allison admitted, but these are the puritanical boundaries we sometimes put around our bodies and around each other. Visible pee rags, public poop maps, and sharing nature together cut against these barriers. “We’re all human and we all pee,” Allison said. “We can do that normally in the process.”

This recognition of our most basic common biology humanizes us. And I think it also has the power to make us think a little differently about our role in the world. This summer I was living above a cave in South Dakota and laughed every time I heard a park ranger tell a shocked tourist that if you use the bathroom in the cave, you’ll have to carry it to the surface yourself. Toilets, trash cans, and recycling bins—we so rarely think about the mess we make that there’s an explosive nursery rhyme about pigs, sharks, and even elephants all shitting down a toilet, which they then flush. But it’s hard to hand off responsibility for your litter when you’re in the woods or underground for days when nothing magically makes it disappear. Only you are responsible for your waste.

Of course, there’s a good chance I’m making a fuss, well, you know. Perhaps Garner’s 2,194-mile poop pilgrimage is just hilarious and not really meaningful or potentially transformative. If so, that’s ok too. Finally, while covering this story, I downloaded Poop Map just to follow Garner — or, sorry, Brianfromshitboro — and read his on-trail reviews: “Last pennsylshit!” “That poop was green. I also went through Superfund sites. Coincidence?” “I regret this pizza.”

But now that I’ve gotten to the last paragraph, I don’t think I’ll be deleting or unfollowing the app. Every morning when I wake up, I’m told that somewhere in the White Mountains, Brianfromshitboro has “dropped a new poo,” as the app puts it. I think of him laughing as he calculates a random score, and I smile involuntarily even when his new boss doesn’t.

Updated: September 17, 2022 — 12:32 am

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