August 9-10 /
9.4 mi / 83.9 of 101 / New #5 of 7
The Musing Part
It’s been ten years since I left my paid job and moved across the country to companion my 96-year-old mother. People and forms asked if I was retired, and I was at a loss as to the response. I couldn’t even define the word (“having left one’s job and ceased to work”). I’d never had career work, I’d been a job hopper, and this move didn’t feel like a completion of anything. I was just rearranging the furniture.
Over time, in addition to whatever it was I was doing for my mother, I also had three part-time jobs, facilitated a writing circle, was writing a memoir, and running an Airbnb. But I wasn’t getting up every morning and going to work. So was I retired? One synonym is “rusticating.” I was definitely not doing that!
My mother died, I quit the part time jobs, the Airbnb closed so I could host my family and help my grandsons with Pandemic School, and I was getting up in the morning to go to work again. Was that retirement? I wasn’t feeling it.
Now, at 70, the Airbnb is blocked for a day between bookings for cleaning on my schedule. My memoir is about to be published and I’m supporting its journey into the world—a hella lotta work. I’m a volunteer meadow rover at Mt. Rainier National Park, and I have hiking goals for my Summer of 70 (one mile for each of the 101 summers of my mother’s life and seven new trails). I’m busier than I’ve ever been.
And, finally, I feel retired. Or something. There should be a better word. Retired implies leaving something, and I have entered something far better. For the first time, my schedule and activities are entirely my own. I like it. I like it a lot. This is shaping up to be a very good decade.
The Roving Part
I have always, in the past years, scheduled my hike days with flexibility, always choosing sunny days. Now I am requesting rove days in advance, not knowing what the unpredictable PNW weather will bring in two days, let alone two weeks. I could cancel if the weather turns out to be iffy, but that doesn’t feel right. One of the gifts of this adventure is to see the mountain in all her moods.
This week the forecast was changing constantly, and I had scheduled two days with a “camping in my car” the night between. A day or two before, the forecast said 39º at night and chance of thunder storms by day. I packed a rain jacket, a down vest, and a warm sleeping bag.
Day One: I arrive Tuesday morning to start my rove at 7:30, answering questions outside the visitor’s center until I can check in and get my radio. There are clouds.
Radio attached, clicker in pocket, rain jacket and poncho in my pack, I hang out a bit at the steps chatting, then head up to Dead Horse Creek enroute to Glacier Vista.
I didn’t quite make it all the way last week, but this time I do. I didn’t bring my poles. I should have. The last bit is steep, and the trail—which is being rerouted, a work in progress—is a challenge. I use my hands a couple of times; I slip a couple of times. And the last bit to the viewpoint is snow-covered, with postholing (sinking through the surface) going on. I don’t do that bit, just warn people coming up to be careful, and to try to step on bare rock to skirt it, rather than step on plants.
“Favorite” interactions, by which I mean “people are crazy”:
- The woman who went under the rope at the edge of the trail to take a photo. I hated to call her out in front of her teenage daughter, but not really.
- The not-young woman in walking shoes (not boots) who wanted to know where the “trail” to Camp Muir was. Then lamented that she had missed it (a steep distance back up to Panorama Point), but at (only) ten o’clock guessed she had time to go back. “Um,” I said, realizing finally it wasn’t just curiosity, but that she really thought she was going there, “it’s a mile of ice.” She didn’t back off. “Do you have crampons, at least?” She did. “Okay,” I shrugged. “Drink plenty of water, use sunscreen, be careful.” She headed back up.
The cloud cover sticks around, but so does the mountain. It rains a bit, but not enough for a jacket. The marmots are out and there are several queries about what they are.
And I get a new trail! I always travel to Pan Point via Dead Horse and then over the top and down east Skyline. Last week I returned on the ever-popular west Skyline. I have never understood its popularity; it’s straight up and paved, and crowded. I’m not the only one, it turns out, who thinks it’s the most difficult trail in the park. But it’s the one right in front at the top of the stairs. I’ve been suggesting Dead Horse to some visitors, and they are grateful. I also don’t suggest it to everyone.
Today I return on Alta Vista. Though I still wouldn’t want to go up it, it is a different and beautiful view along the side of the ridge overlooking Myrtle Falls and the Golden Gate trail, which is my preferred route to east Skyline.
I head back to the campground at Longmire for a shower, and return to Paradise to meet a sister She Writes Press author, whom I’ve not met in person before, staying at the Inn. We talk books, then I have dinner with her and her party, which is lovely fun. I follow the setting sun down the mountain, which I never see up here what with my usual early morning visits. I sleep well in my car bed!
Day Two: 8:30. It’s socked in fog at Longmire, but begins to clear halfway to Paradise.
I find Paula, with whom I roved some last week, in the rover room and we decide to hike together. I want to go up Golden Gate and across Mazama Ridge on east Skyline, and she agrees to it. The fog from Longmire has risen up and briefly socks in Paradise.
There are far fewer people yesterday and today than last week, no doubt due to the iffy forecast. I heard thunder while I sat on the Inn porch with a very expensive, but pretty good latte. I’m glad to have a companion. She hangs out at Myrtle Falls for 30 minutes, and I at the trail intersection below. The inevitable question is which way to go, clockwise or counter, to Pan Point or not. We are told the snow bridges are melted (or shoveled) out and the trail is clear on the ridge.
Halfway up the switchbacks, we see people playing in the creek below. We wave our arms, Paula blows her whistle, we ask the hikers we had been chatting with—now on the switchback below us— to “ask” them to stay on the trail and out of the water supply. There is no fun to be had up here.
The snow bridges are not melted out. What the heck? Not only was information incorrect, it’s almost the middle of August! We hook up with Tasha from California, who is on a western tour of national parks, and she stays with us the rest of the hike. Paula imparts a lot of information to her, which I am the recipient of as well; except when I hang back in favor of quiet.
At the bottom of Golden Gate we halt traffic for a mama grouse to cross the trail, then wait for her six chicks to gather courage to cross after her. She waits patiently in the grass, calling to them. They take forever, running up and down in the ditch beside the trail, finally one at a time scurrying across.
Tasha shows me her DIY-outfitted truck in the parking lot. It reminds me of “Orange Crate” the VW van Ed and I converted and toured the country in in 1976. It’s got it all, temperature control, a booster so she can do work calls from wherever she is, screens on windows and reversible reflective panels, extra water and propane, storage. And national park stickers! I’ve got work to do to make the Roguester ready for a longer trip. (It was great meeting you, Tasha!)
The weather changed every few minutes all day. The mountain comes out, shouting “Look at me!” then slips away saying, “I’m peopled out, taking a break.” As I walk into the visitor’s center, under blue sky, fog rushes up again and obliterates everything. By the time I come out, it’s gone. That’s the way it rolls here.
Fewer people on Tuesday and just 162 contacts on my clicker. A less traveled trail on Wednesday and only 57.
I stop for a salmon burger in Ashford and head for home. Next week, a roving break and a favorite trail I said I wouldn’t do again because it was long and hard. But telling my mother about it turned out to be a pivotal point in our relationship and in my memoir. It seems like a good thing to revisit in the Summer of 70 before publication. I’m going with a friend, another pivot from normal practice. But I’m retired, I do what I want.
Ten weeks to publication! Exciting book news will be rolling in often in coming weeks (e.g. an awesome trailer, pre-ordering information, special offers, contests for a chance to win a free book or other cool stuff). Subscribe to my e-letter (on my website) so you don’t miss any of it! (And read the first two chapters immediately with your subscription!) The next e-letter is out this Sunday, 8/14, so subscribe today!