(Mis-) Adventure Log: Sunrise Peak

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I had an uneasiness about Sunrise Peak in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, that the last review on the Washington Trails Association website was two years ago (virtually to the day). Gone are the days of choosing a hike from the description in a 10-year-old book (or 60 years, if you live in your parents’ home). I’ve grown accustomed to up-to-the-day information about trail conditions, snow and wildflower status. It sounded like a great hike, though, and it was to be a beautiful day. And it was the first day of my 67th year; an adventurous spirit was called for on this of all days.

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Isn’t not knowing where the road will take you the very definition of adventure? What twists, turns, redirection, and road blocks might reach out to meet and challenge you? This day, as it turned out, would meet the criteria.

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The day before the day, a friend dropped off a birthday gift that included a gift card for my favorite adventure latte coffee kiosk! Sweet!

On the way down the hill at 6am (30 minutes behind my hoped for start time), a dear friend from Raleigh calls. I pull into the drive of Avenue Espresso, but not up to the window, to finish chatting with her. When I get to the window, the barista has my 16-oz-extra-hot latte, ready to hand me. I feel known and special. The day is off to a great start!

The forecast is for a hot day, and I’m eager to get to the trail ahead of the heat, so I take I-5 south to Hwy 12 rather than the more scenic route. I must say, I love the interstate’s 20 miles either side of Centralia where the sun rises with Mt. Rainier driving north and St. Helen’s driving south.

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Mayfield Lake bridge

US Hwy 12 is a deadly stretch of two-lane, for no real reason other than cocky drivers on the long straightaways through the verdant valleys of Lewis County. But it’s one of my favorites. The long bridge across Mayfield Lake—a major water source for the area—the strawberry and blueberry fields, the now fallow fields of the DeGoede Bulb Farm, taciturn cows munching breakfast, the misty foothills in the distance and peek-a-boo Rainier.

Addicted to my camera, I take a play from a friend’s book and see what I see through the lens without the lens, forming word pictures in my head. It’s harder not to write down the words than it is to let go of the desire to take a picture while I’m driving (see previous paragraph about cocky drivers).

The clouds look like the uneven patches of lettuce in my garden, then morph into more neat even rows like my overachieving friend’s garden. (Next year I’m going to have neat even rows.) There are three bent pickers with wide-brimmed hats in the vast strawberry field. I feel their pain. Commercial strawberry picking is hard work. I did it for three days in junior high, then quit getting up to catch the bus to the field. It’s a lesson in concentrating on what is right in front of you and not looking too far into the overwhelming future. We live this life one day—or one strawberry—at a time.

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This is the first year ever my mother, who was there to hear my borning cry, hasn’t told me happy birthday I realize with a stomach-clenching, eye-watering jolt. I play it in my head: “Happy birthday, my smiling daughter!” I hope she has forgiven me for asking her to stop calling me that. I haven’t forgiven myself.

I turn off the highway at Randle and a mile down the road take the left fork into the Gifford Pinchot. The right fork goes to the east side of Mt. St. Helens and is still closed by snow on the road. I’m immediately plunged into the forest with bouncing brooks, roadside waterfalls, primitive road surfaces. Where the road narrows, the vegetation leans into the single (but paved!) wavy lane. It could use a good buzz cut.

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I chose the Gifford Pinchot for the day because I want to check out the sight-unseen campground at which I have a site reserved for next month. I decide to save it for after the hike. I miss the cut off to the road to the trail and turn around in the middle of the road.

Five miles on this? My initial skepticism about this choice of hike returns.

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Barely a 10 of a mile in though, my plans for the day change. No wonder there were no trip reports. Why the WTA had no alerts is more puzzling. I was not prepared to add ten RT miles to the hike, especially with no trip reports. I’m adventurous, but I’ve never been foolhardy.

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There’s not really a place to turn around, and I am not a good backer. I move a large rock out of the way, then maneuver Flutterby up the berm on one side and jockey her around and head back out to the paved road. I don’t want to go back to the campground yet, so I decide to go to Trout Lake, thirty some miles on down the road; reigning monarch: Mt. Adams. I’ve been on the road it’s on before, when I camped at Takhlakh Lake in 2013, but I hadn’t been to the lake.

Flutterby is turning out to be a good adventure partner, and we soldier on as the odometer hits a milestone.

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I continue on Forest Road 23 through where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the road, and see two women in the shade next to a bridge, their large packs beside them. I vaguely wonder if they want a ride somewhere, but they don’t move so I drive on.

Ahead of me I see two more people who had been sitting near the road with their packs, scramble to their feet. Briefly the man sticks out his thumb. I drive by then see his hand drop in my rear view mirror, not sure it was really up. I put on my brakes and back up, knowing that even as I do so without really making a conscience decision to pick them up, I am committing myself. A man and a woman, they don’t look like ax murderers.

They hustle up to the car. I power down my window, not really believing I am doing this. But it’s an adventure, right?

“Is this the right direction to Trout Lake?” he asks.

“I think so,” I hesitate. Is it? Yes, of course it is, but maybe I don’t want to fully commit.

“Great. Thanks,” he says, they look both relieved and crestfallen as they back away.

“Do you want…” I say.

“Can we get…” he says turning with resolve back toward the car.

“A ride?” we say in unison.

Oh my god. I’m picking up hitchhikers.

“I’ve never in my life picked up a hitchhiker,” I say through the window. “But you don’t look like ax murders.”

“I’ve never in my life hitchhiked,” he says.”

“We’re definitely not ax murderers,” she says. “I was hoping you weren’t.”

“I’m definitely not,” I say. “It’s my birthday, and it seems made for adventure.”

They are effusively grateful as they put their packs in Flutterby’s roomy rear and climb into the seat. They were hiking the PCT from Walput Lake to Mt. Hood while their boys toured Europe. (They don’t look old enough to have boys touring Europe. A fourth grade field trip maybe?) They kept getting thwarted by snow, and like Cheryl Strayed were a bit unprepared with no snow cleats and not enough food for as long as it was taking. Two days (three?) to go 18 miles, during which they saw three people. Crossing snow-covered rivers, not knowing the first was a river until they saw the “DANGER” sign on the other side, hearing water rushing under their feet as the crossed the other.

They finally gave it up and were going to the Trout Lake café where his parents would drive them to another part of the trail. Their feet were burning and they had just taken off their shoes when they heard Flutterby coming on the not-well-traveled road and slammed their shoes back on jumped up, grabbing their packs.

“He told me to stick my thumb out,” she said. “I told him I’m not sticking my thumb out! And no one is going to pick us up!”

I save them ten boot miles to Trout Lake. I am really loving how this day is turning out. I didn’t get my hike, but I rescued desperate hikers. Best. Birthday. Ever.

“Where are you from?” I ask.

“Chehalis,” they say. Five miles from where I’m from.

I go into the cafe for directions to the lake. When I come out Trisha hands me $20.

“Happy birthday!” she says. “Get some lunch on us.”

“Thank you so, so much,” Shawn says.

I go to Trout Lake. It barely qualifies as a lake, more of a wetland. I don’t stay.

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I ask about hikes in the ranger station then decide not to go on a hike. I return to the café and sit outside with lunch. I had been wishing I had packed more than granola bars—and I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t. And then lunch came to me.

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Drama queen

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I visit my favorite place in all the land—Takhlakh Lake—dreaming of my stay there in September. I haven’t been back because of a road washout they didn’t fix for two years (and a forest fire in the area the year before that). Not only have they repaired the breach, but the road has been improved from the bone jarring washboard and axle clunking potholes.

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My home for four nights in September. I picked a good one. Presumably the new table will not be in the tent pad by then.

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I promised myself a rubber boat next time I came. I better get on that.

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Flutterby’s first snow.

I stop at the July campground before turning toward home; it’s the worst I’ve ever seen. When I get home, I cancel the reservation, losing $20—$20 in, $20 out. I’m looking for a new destination, and I had done so well getting an early reservation.

All in all, not a misadventure at all. It was just what it was meant to be.

Happy Solstice! Here’s to another trip around the sun. My mother has been gone for two months today, it seems longer; my father for 23 years, also today. My sister says I’m a story gatherer. Christina Baldwin uses the term Storycatcher in her book of the same name. I am gathering my family’s stories and catching my own. I love sharing them with you; mostly I love writing them.

Cheers, Mama. Thanks for borning me.

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Homeward bound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from Three of Earth Farm

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It was one of those mornings when you’re just glad to be alive: cool and fragrant, birds singing, flicker pecking, doves waking up, owl calling goodnight. With the promise of way too much heat, the last two days I have left my chair in the living room corner early after my 5:00 (or so) bed-leaving, staying only long enough for coffee.

Yesterday I took the second cup of coffee to the barn door in the just-risen sun. I haven’t done that for a long time. Of course then I noticed the blackberry vines still cruising into the barn, and the bramble around my sitting log, and the trail on each side of the barn I still haven’t cleaned out.

I tossed out the rest of my now-cooled coffee—the second cup is never as good anyway—and went down to the mailbox in the garden to get my leather gloves. I pulled the native blackberry vines out from in and around the barn, my mother would be appalled, and cleared enough of one trail at least enough to walk through, and the other one more thoroughly. Not done yet, there is still the pile to haul off, but I’m checking it off my list.

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Off course, by then, the sun was shining on the house gardens and I had to do the planned activity in the sun after all. Also not finished. Need to get the St. John’s wort beaten back. Maybe after it sheds its sunny little personal fireworks display that are just beginning to pop.

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Today, up early again, I did not ignore the voice telling me I would be so happy if I cleaned the Airbnb suite for tonight’s guests before I went out to work. I should have ignored it. The target was the garden my sister created when she moved back to the homestead sixteen years ago. By the time I got out there it was already too hot for pulling run-rapant thyme, euphorbia, and creeping Jenny; and wandering sweet peas and more blackberry vines that will take over the house if not beaten back. I persevered and reached my goal of cleaning out and mulching half of it.

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Rebecca and I have each had our gardens to create, while letting our mother be in charge of her pet area. My garden, dubbed “the garden where nothing will grow,” because that’s what my mother said would happen if I wasted my money trying, is looking good. It could have used a few more plants from this year’s Master Gardeners’ sale. Next year.

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Now I’m having to care for hers too and she would not, I think, be happy with what I have done—or, in truth, not done. I tried, finally, on Sunday, to get it under control after ignoring it all spring—pulling out all the ^@#* lemon balm and buttercups I could get my hands on, and of course, the blackberries—but quickly discovered I can’t fix it this year. It needs a professional, and a make-over. Maybe I’ll just let it go rogue.

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As I finished for today, I had one of those moments while hauling the wheelbarrow full of detritus to the dumping ground: my mother is gone. Forever gone. What about the questions I hadn’t asked? The ones I don’t know yet I wanted to ask? She’s gone—two months on Thursday. My father is gone—23 years on Thursday. I can’t ever ask them anything. Never ever again. The answers died with them.

It’s inconceivable to me.

I can only guess, and watch for clues on this property they poured their heart and soul into for half a century. It will also ask the questions.

One of the questions I did ask my mother, just a few weeks before she left, was if my father did all this work himself, even as his body began to betray him. “Yes,” she said.

That is also inconceivable to me.

Tomorrow I’m taking the day off from work to celebrate my birthday on a hike in the Gifford Pinchot NF. A short one, with minimal elevation gain (Flutterby will do the bulk of it). My body is tired.

And now the sun is setting on my favorite garden and I’m heading toward my last sleep before my 66th anniversary.

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The sun has set on my mother too, and some moments I am overcome with, not grief exactly, but disbelief. And nostalgia. Nostalgia for the halcyon days of my childhood, heightened by caring for this place where I set down roots, pulled them up, transplanted them, and brought them back to their native beginnings.

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Adventure Log: Mount Zion

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It was a long week. My mother’s memorial service was Saturday and there were guests in the house for a week. When everyone left, I knew I would have to turn my attention to the abandoned house and garden projects. I needed a break, so I took a friend up on her offer of the family vacation spot on Hood Canal, offered when my mother died six weeks ago.

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The weather wasn’t great so I just did what my body told me it needed: three naps in one day. But before I left for home, I went to Mount Zion.

The hike in the Olympic National Forest just north of Quilcene has been on My Backpack list on the Washington Trails Association site for a long time. It’s claim to fame is rhododendrons and I’ve been waiting for them to be in bloom. There hasn’t been a WTA trip report since mid-May, when they were not blooming yet.

It was an overcast day, and I’m a fair weather hiker, but I was halfway there from home, so I decided to go for it. It was the rhodies that was the draw after all, not views.

The trail head is 10.5 upward miles of Forest Service road from Hwy 101. The potholes weren’t too bad; Flutterby took them with ease. I saw no other cars as I climbed into the clouds. I did start seeing rhododendrons along the road though, a good sign. But I was feeling increasingly isolated, and I had forgotten to tell my sister where I was going. “Maybe,” I thought, “I’ll just go to the end of the road, eat my lunch, and head back down.”

But when I arrived, there was a car in the lot! It never occurred to me that the sole party on the trail might be an ax murderer, because I don’t think that way. I just knew I wouldn’t be alone. The long-abandoned pickup truck hanging off the edge of the parking area was a little ominous, I admit.

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I suited up: boots (I’d forgotten my boot socks, only had shorties and wasn’t sure how that would work), knee straps, poles, driver’s license in case my comatose body needed to be ID’d, and camel pack and headed across the road to the trail head. It was chilly. I have never taken my jacket on a hike, but I left it on. As it turned out, I never took it off.

Of course the trailhead signage included the cougar warning and what to do in a rare sighting. Tell that to the hiker who was killed by one a few weeks ago, a story I chose not to read. I took my newly acquired can of bear spray out of my pack and put it in my pocket.

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There were rhodies right away! And, true to the WTA report, the trail headed “up” right away. It’s a short hike, just 2.3 miles to summit—another half mile if you go beyond to a vista overlooking Puget Sound, the Olympic mountains, Mt. Baker—with a 1300 foot elevation gain. People use it for quick workout, the WTA says. People are nuts.

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Did I mention it was chilly and damp? Mist hanging about in the dripping-lichen trees. And quiet; very, very quiet. “Maybe,” I thought,” I’ll just go for a little ways, then turn around.” But the rhodies were oh so pretty next to the trail and through the trees, just short of prime with some still-closed buds. My feet kept walking. “I’ll turn around a half hour in,” I thought.

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I came upon a view point over the valley, but low hanging clouds obscured the horizon. Maybe it was the damp—I’m used to sunny hikes—that gave it a creepy vibe. I started thinking about cougars, forgetting the part about how rare it is to see one. And where was that other hiking party? I started thinking about ax murderers.

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I checked my watch. The half hour had passed. It really wasn’t as steep a trail as I’d anticipated; I’ve been on far more strenuous. The socks were good, my knees were good (they’ve been bothering me a bit lately). And it really was pretty. Lots of rhododendrons. “Okay, I’ll turn around at the one hour mark,” I promised myself. I’m not a quitter when it comes to hiking. And I was feeling a little less uneasy.

Then I heard them. Voices. I rounded a corner, hoping not to startle them. My bear bell was tinkling, but it’s not very loud.

Two young women. Not ax murderers! We chatted. I asked them if it was much farther to the summit, said I had never been anxious hiking alone, but was a bit today, thinking about turning back. They said I was brave, and agreed that the weather cast a bit of a creep factor. “It’s not much farther at all!” they said. “The rhodies are beautiful. There’s not much view, but the shifting clouds are pretty. Maybe it will clear for you.”

Their “not much farther” and my “not much farther” are different. But I arrived. I did not use the outhouse. I walked most of the way out the point, beyond the summit. The rhodies at the top were short of prime, another week maybe, but beautiful in the mist.

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There was going to be no view though, so I finally turned back. I’ll have to come again in the sun for the view. But this time, there were rhododendrons.

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IMG-0083.JPGThe parking lot was empty when I got back to Flutterby. And I met no one on the road going down. I was very glad not to have to worry about my car breaking down. When I got to the highway I started breathing again. I think I’ll stick to sunny day hiking.

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A Life Well Lived

There’s a new post on Daughter on Duty: my mother’s memorial service.

If my mother’s celebration of a life well lived was any indication, she was beloved on the earth. Scores of people filled the sanctuary last Saturday: family, friends of my mother, friends of mine and my sisters, Girl Scouts who earned badges under her leadership in the 1960s, my father’s work colleagues or children of those who were, neighbors, church friends, friends of Seminary Hill, her caregivers and property helpers over the years.