A Walk in the Woods

I really have to stop reading the Title Nine catalog because it makes me think I’m all buff and that I need to be wearing clothes that wick moisture away from my sweaty body. (In passing, I would like to register my loathing for the word “moisture.” Thank you). Makes me think that I can just hop on the mountain bike or into the kayak or up the icy rock wall with no consequences at all. It’s inspiring, thinking about this…in fact, you’ll be happy to know I’ve got my outfit for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail all picked out. I decided on a striped Coolmax shirt because, quote, “it would cheer me up while I was hiking.” Right. Good thinking, me.

You might not be surprised to hear that I’m not exactly the athletic type. No. No I’m not. I’m more the sit-in-the-house-with-a-good-book-and-a-nice-cup-of-hot-chocolate type, as a matter of fact. I grew up on an island, where people dived off things and sailed things and jetskiied around like there was no tomorrow. Not me. I had to take PE all through high school because I didn’t play a sport and they didn’t count drama club for some reason (“But honestly, Mr. Parris, it’s really strenuous when we do the intro to ‘Day By Day!’ It is! You should see my lung power!”). This was a school populated by two kinds of girls: that golden tan, blond-hair-in-a-ponytail, staying-late-for-soccer-practice, had-to-clip-their-fingernails-short-during-water-polo-season kind, and me. That’s it. Two kinds. But I didn’t care because I listened to Sinead O’Connor (because I was edgy) and wore high top sneakers with long skirts. Right? Right.

So, anyway, yes, not athletic by any stretch of the imagination, and with the physique to prove it. The past two summers I’ve been in the Fremont Solstice Parade as a bellydancer, and my single favorite joke during that time is always: “Well, I’d better have seconds. I’m in training, you know!” Ha ha! Yes! Training my belly for the bellydancing, get it? Ha HA!

Like everyone I go through times of you know, absolutely loathing my body. In fact I vowed yesterday never to go into the Gap ever again, so as not to have to deal with the Snippy Salesgirl Factor. But I think what’s even worse than the you-want-what-size? eyebrow lift is the heartbreaking enthusiasm of my Very Outdoorsy Boyfriend for Very Outdoorsy Activities that require the aforementioned wicking action.

Okay, at college, did you have tall skinny guys who wore Tevas and socks a lot? And they went on a back-country ski trip every Spring Break? And they used their climbing gear to climb their dorm walls? And they made a climbing wall in their dorm rooms? Yes? Okay, that was and remains Carl. He has three packs and two sleeping bags (he just gave his old one away) and about eight hundred pairs of long underwear and two balaclavas and a rain hat and hiking boots and special gloves to keep his hands from getting sunburnt to hell when he’s “at altitude,” and, needless to say, a very generous patronage refund at REI. When everyone else was spending their last summer before college writing tortured poetry about how they weren’t children any more and making out at the beach with their best friend’s ex (okay, that’s what I was doing), Carl was spending many weeks in Alaska skiing around on a glacier. Let me repeat that: a GLACIER. See what I mean?

Well, at some point after getting to know and developing a crush with the intensity of a thousand suns on the aforementioned Carl, I began to get suckered into going on some trips with him and other various very earnest granolas. Always a disaster. Always always always. This is the monologue you will hear from me if you go on a hike with me, my friends…those of you who have, in fact, hiked with me will no doubt recognize the refrain:

“I’m tired! I don’t like it! I’m hot! I’m cold! I can’t sleep on the ground! I don’t like Russian Tea! This pack is too heavy! I’m tired, can we eat? Slow down! My lungs are about to explode! Can we stop? This is so stupid!” Repeat for the entire length of the trip. Vow to wait to kill me once we get home only because you don’t want to have to pack my body out…remember, take only pictures and leave only footprints! Or whatever.

But somehow I’ve gotten a little more into it over the years, as I’ve known Carl longer. I’ve found that I can do outdoorsy stuff a little more my way and that I can see some really beautiful stuff. In May, right before I graduated, we took a spontaneous-because-we-had-free-tickets trip to Alaska for a weekend and we got to hike up this muskeg valley to a Forest Service cabin where we spent the night, and it was truly incredibly gorgeous. Plus the entire trail was lined with swamp cabbage, and I dare you to say “swamp cabbage” a couple of times without laughing. Sounds kind of dirty, don’t it? We took a great trip to a hot springs once, and another time we went to the Olympic Peninsula and camped on a very windy beach underneath a tree. We camped on another, less windy beach in the Everglades and made a little shelter out of a bug tent and our kayak paddles, and we got to see tiny horseshoe crabs all over the place. So that’s pretty cool.

All this is to say that I really wanted to go on a day hike this past Saturday. It was snowing in Seattle, a rare event that has lasted until today and is quite novel for me. It’s funny for me that there can be snow on the ground yet the air can be kind of warm…like I wore my super heavy jacket today to work and was WAY too hot. Anyway, Saturday I loaded up my pack, just to practice carrying it, and we headed over to Tiger Mountain for a couple of hours.

I have to say I think it’s a little funny to drive fifteen miles in order to take a five mile walk, but that’s what we did. Tiger Mountain is relatively close, and I’ve been there lots of times. It’s becoming the place I take out-of-town people for a little walk because there are lots of different trails and a lot of them are really easy and if you’re from Florida, as many of my out-of-town guests are, the whole soaring-pines-and-ferns-and-moss-and-salmonberries-and-slime-mold thing is really different and strange and cool. My friends Ashley and Tom went there with us when they came to visit last Thanksgiving, and I went there with Mom when she came last summer. If you come to visit me, there’s a good chance I’ll take you there too.

The upshot is, I’m getting to know a couple of trails there pretty well, and it’s been a lot of fun to go in different seasons. I’d never been in the winter before, and certainly never with snow. It wasn’t actually even super cold, so I was fine wearing just two layers of pants and running shoes. You laugh, but I have toughened up considerably since I got here, temperature-withstanding wise.

So it was gorgeous. Like Narnia except we could hear running water. The snow was soft and powdery and came fluttering down out of the trees. We climbed up to some big boulders where bats apparently like to roost, although we didn’t see any. But guess what we did see?

Well, actually, I don’t know. All I know is that we came to a section of trail upon which no people had walked since the last (light) snowfall. Maybe two inches of snow. So we’re walking along, walking along, when all of a sudden we see prints in the snow. Sort of out of nowhere, although I guess they must have come from the woods adjoining the trail. Big prints, like a big dog’s. Except, guess what we didn’t see? Shoeprints next to them! Dogs are supposed to be leashed, and we just couldn’t imagine what had happened. We thought maybe it was a big dog that had gotten lost and was trying to find its person, or maybe a tracking dog of some kind? Just a stray dog, maybe? The prints went right straight down the trail, so it didn’t look like it didn’t know where it was going…although it is a very obvious trail, and maybe a dog would know to follow it anyway. So we went on, speculating about “the dog” and how big it was and what it could be doing, and where would it go, and maybe it was that big Doberman Carl saw but I didn’t, except where were its people if it was that dog? And so on. And then all of a sudden, right when we reached the point in the trail that would take us back to the car, the prints went up away from us and got all muddy so we couldn’t see them. And that was the end of the mystery dog.

And now we think we may have seen mountain lion prints. Cougars I think they call them here. Anyway, there have been some sightings on Tiger Mountain, and it’s maybe possible that one would have briefly used one of the less popular trails. The prints were so big and so spread out, it could have maybe been running and so wouldn’t have been long on that bit before it went up higher away from people. I don’t know. Maybe it was a big dog. But it was so delicious to be there, and feel safe, but still not quite know what had come there before us. And it was a great day, because of fresh air and a yummy lunch and my sweet Very Outdoorsy Boyfriend, but the picture in my mind of the big cat on the trail before us, all alone in the snow, would have made the entire trip worthwhile.

1 comment

  1. […] Now, you all know how I feel about the outdoors. I’m okay with it. In general. For the most part. But, as you also know, I am nothing but devoted to my boyfriend (right?), and dang but if he doesn’t love him some mountains, and so off we went to the lovely and amazing Mt. Rainier National Park on Friday morning. Well, make that Friday afternoon. I was all gung-ho to leave at the crack of dawn, but first there was some last minute packing to do and then we had to go to Safeway for raisins and M&Ms and then we forgot the peanut butter at home and then something else happened that I don’t quite remember what it was, and then we were finally off. We got all signed into the park by a charmingly incompetent ranger who typed with two fingers, squinting and holding his breath after every keystroke, and drove up to the trailhead and were worried about the weather and I yelled at Carl for bringing a summer sleeping bag (I was afraid he’d get cold!) and then we hugged and made up and then we set off, and then we walked up, and then we walked down, and then we made it to our campsite, and then we set up the tarp, and then we slept, and woke up, and walked some more, and camped again, and swatted eightythreemillion mosquitos, and slept, and got up early, and walked up and down some more, and then it started to snow and hail, and then we got to the car, and then we had some chili, and then we drove home. It was a very nice camping trip. The End. […]