August 17, 2021
Grateful for the Luggable Loo
It takes no special talent to see what’s ugly, numbing, depressing, and death-dealing in our world. But staying aware of what’s good, true, and beautiful demands that we open our eyes, minds, and hearts, and keep them open. —Parker Palmer
I won’t list all there is in the world to be depressed and anxious about as summer winds down; your list is probably pretty much the same as mine. And if we live there all of the time, our health will suffer. I urge you to get outside. Look up at the clouds, look down at the slugs. Look anywhere but at the news for a while every day.
I went to the mountains, with no cell service.
It was going to be a peopley weekend, my fiftieth-plus-one high school reunion; with house guests. I was glad the week after was one of three available weeks this summer for camping.
As it turned out, only one of my guest beds, rather than all three, was occupied, but it was a stressful event anyway, what with the uptick of Covid cases, the low vaccination rate in my county (the hospital is reportedly almost full), the unwillingness of the event planners to encourage masks (just under the wire of the governor’s re-institution of a mandate) and of the event-goers to wear them. On Monday, I headed gratefully out for some days in the wild and a few days to quarantine after the weekend before I may or may not be on Gigi duty before school starts. That was where the adherence to plan ended.
I’m off ahead of my 6am goal to the first-come, first-served White River campground near Sunrise in Mount Rainier National Park. The sign at the entrance says it’s full, but it’s Monday. Surely the sign just hasn’t been changed from the weekend. Still, I’m a teensy anxious. I drive past loops A, B, and C, heading first for D loop by the river. I pass many already vacated spots before finding one across the road from those bordering the glacial river thundering through the Emmons Morraine, Herself at the head.
Leaving a chair on the picnic table, I head back to the registration kiosk. I grab my bag to get my pen, and it’s not there. Nor is the notebook I had out to bring. I have left home for three days without a notebook! All I have is the tiny Poppin pad I keep in the car. Also the pen I keep in the car and the one in my purse are MIA! What the heck? I get the crappy pen from my back pack and head to the kiosk cursing myself.
I fill out the envelope, then realize there is no line for a credit card number. WTH? I look up at the board over the payment box: cash or check only. I have neither! At the Olympic National Park campground last month, it was credit card only. It never occurred to me to bring a check, and I haven’t carried a checkbook with me for years. It was a fluke I didn’t have the $30 cash.
I go back to the campsite, put the tear off end of the envelope in the clip on the post, grab my chair in case I don’t come back, and drive the winding ten miles up to Sunrise to see if there’s an ATM in the gift shop, hoping I get back before the ranger notices there is no payment. I get behind a slow driver who won’t pull over. Damnation. Usually I’m patient. Not today.
At the parking lot, the Mountain has a cap and is in the shadow of another cloud. It’s a beautiful day, it’s 8:30, I wish I were here for a hike instead of in a panicky mess.
I walk to the gift shop and cafe and stop cold. “Closed Wednesday and Thursday.” But it’s Monday. I’m pretty sure I have that right at least. I walk up to the visitors’ center, past the restrooms, which I need and which are also closed. Two rangers are sitting at a table in front of the visitors’ center. Well, damn. It dawns on me now the place is Covid-shuttered again.
Everywhere in the park is cash only, the ranger informs me. (I know that’s not true, but it doesn’t matter today.) Probably the closest ATM is Enumclaw, she says. Enumclaw is fifty miles.
I return to the campground to think, trying to focus on being in the mountains. It will work out. Somehow.
On the way, it occurs to me I only need $10 for tonight (thanks to my half price senior pass); that would secure my site while I drive to Enumclaw. I grab my wallet as I pull into the campground. Nine dollars and fifty-eight cents. If I hadn’t tipped the barista . . . Maybe someone will give me fifty cents. I think I have a tin cup. Maybe I could put what I have in the envelope and pray for mercy.
I go check on my spot first. Someone is in it, setting up a tent. What the holy hell!? I tell them I’ve already claimed it, pointing out the stub on the post. They argue with me. I know, I should have left my chair. They should have looked at the post! They finally start loading back up and I return to the kiosk.
A MIRACLE! The ranger is there! I explain my dilemma and she informs me I can pay with a card at the park entrance! (Why doesn’t it say that on the board? Surely I am not the only person who doesn’t carry checks.) I return to my now empty site and put my chair back on the table, then drive the six miles to the entrance and pay for it. I make the gate ranger’s day because she has never done that transaction and figures it out. “Thank you!” she says. “I’ll put it on my resume.” Glad to help.
When I get back to the payment box, the ranger is gone again. It really was a miracle.
I set up my tent—after thinking I had forgotten my poles because I never manage to fit them in the bag with the tent and they aren’t in my bin; but last month I did get them in the bag. The wind has picked up and I have trouble getting the rain fly on. One of the three young women at the next site comes to offer help. She tells me when I came back and found the interlopers, they were preparing to move because the squatters had a barking dog. “We were so happy you came!” she says. Glad to help.
I go in search of water and facilities. There are neither in this loop. I’m glad I have a Luggable Loo. And remembered it. I forgot my pillow. Geezus. I have realized as I age that stress causes forgetfulness. I wonder what else I don’t have. Glad I remembered wine. And a six hundred-page novel that will be engaging, if not edifying.
Camp set up, I abandon my plan to drive back to the Owyhigh Lakes trailhead after lunch, where I saw the bear family last summer. I don’t want to be in the car any more today. Instead, I don my boots and pack and head for a return hike on the Emmons Glacier trail at the end of Loop D, where I find the bathroom and water.
Part two: Emmons Glacier. (Teaser photo.)