Whether you are swapping Pokémon cards on the playground, scoring cigarettes in prison, or trading trillium ore in Azeroth, commodity money still serves a practical function in groups around the world.
Thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail are no exception.
Let's say you have been on-trail for four days. Almost one hundred miles separate you from your next resupply, and you could really go for a Coke (whether or not you normally drink soda, many hikers become soda (or sugar) fiends on-trail).
I can't speak for everyone on the trail, but I can clearly remember times when I would have traded an entire day's worth of food for a cold (maybe even a warm) 12 ounce can of Coke. Like I've said before, thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail really helps you to appreciate the little things.
As your hiker food grows dull, the encountering of trail magic becomes increasingly exhilarating. I never thought I would be so excited to find a garbage bag on the side of the road (the garbage bag has beer, water, or soda inside).
The paradigm shift evoked by a thru-hike is remarkable. You enter into a world where Snickers bars and cans of Coke become more valuable than diamonds and gold (an admittedly bad example since neither diamonds nor gold hold any true value, but I suppose they are just the Snickers and Cokes of the “real-world”).
Stumbling into town and seeking out a glowing cooler of flavored ambrosia typically took precedent over both eating a hot meal and paying my respects to the porcelain gods.
The mythical vending machine becomes somewhat of a running joke on the PCT. “Sure, there's a vending machine right over that ridge,” those SOBO sons of bitches will tell you. But chasing that vending machine is as fruitless and as reckless a pursuit as chasing that dragon. Sadly, you never catch it (trust me, I've tried).
So what are the most valuable trail commodities? I would rank the following among the most sought after (in no particular order):
- Soda (nothing diet, people)
- Beer (cans since they are easier to pack out)
- Marijuana (with papers for good measure)
- Snickers (although these become less sought after farther down the trail)
- Cookies (double stuf, please)
- Pizza slices (for experts only)
- Charge left in a battery pack (because porn)
No matter how much money you have in your mattress or that Ziploc bag that you now call your wallet, once you find yourself days deep in the wilderness, all it will be good for is burning.
Once water and food are both accounted for in your pack, then your luxuries become a flat piece of ground under a tree or a bag of grapes from a day hiker. Nothing is taken for granted as you find yourself surrounded by genuinely inspiring people.
When your party gets dominated by weather in Washington, you won't be wishing you had more money, more fame, or more things; you will be wishing you had shelter. Shelter and maybe a dry pair of socks.
…and a Coke.