Monday, April 4, 2016

The Benefits of Being Lost

While on my way to Table Rock Wilderness Sunday, I took a wrong turn. Instead of continuing straight on the somewhat paved mountain road, I went right, onto a gravel road which quickly deteriorated to a mud road. Immediately, I felt I was in unknown territory, but I doubted my memory — one tree lined road looks so much like another, after all. Soon I came to an old narrow bridge, my car rattling its loose planks, then the road started climbing, up and up and up. I skirted around fallen rocks and oven sized bounders. I inched around an area of road which has been bitten off by a healthy sized landslide. By this point. I was 85% certain I was nowhere near where I had planned to be. 
But what the hell? It was a beautiful day, the last of several. A storm was coming. I could tell by the high thin clouds, and prism like halo circling the sun. Rain was on its way across the Pacific Ocean from somewhere near Alaska, but it was still hours off, so I went on, around bends, over huge pot holes, telling Waldo the dog to hold on. Unfair, I know, given the whole lack of thumbs deal. I scanned the trees for any hint of where I might be, but all I saw were more trees, and the occasional glimpse of far off mountains. Then, eleven miles into this decidedly wrong way, I saw another vehicle.
I always have a bit of trepidation when encountering vehicles in the middle of nowhere. It’s the Deliverance effect, and I wonder how many people have kept their boots clean and dry, unwilling to test just how wild the wilds are. And this vehicle, an old trailer, nearly green on its sides from Oregon mold and moss and lichen, looked particularly sketchy, like it has been in that spot, or one much like it for near forever. There was a porcelain bulldog sitting on its hood, two empty dog food bags lying by the back door, a chair with a radio on it, and a fire pit thick with soggy coals. But instead of driving by, I was forced to stop.
Eight feet behind the trailer a creek ran straight across the road. At that point I was dead certain I was not in the right place, and the only thing to do was either squeeze in behind the moldy rig, and then make an 11-point turn, or go through the creek. To do that, I had to get out from my car and check out the crossing (I’ve had experience with creek crossings, not all of them good — another story.) So I stop my car and get out, and just as I did, a dog starts barking from within the trailer. A moment later, the trailer door squeaked open and out emerged a pot bellied yellow lab and a wizened old man whose skin looked about the texture of some of the old growth firs I’d been driving by. 
The dog runs up, sniffs, wags his tail. Well how are you doing? the old man asks. I tell him I'm doing fine, but that I think I took a wrong turn. I mention where I was headed, and he shakes his head sadly. Ah, Honey, your a ways off from there. The old guy then spends the next fifteen minutes telling me how to get to the trailhead, and he didn't stop there. Next came descriptions of many of the traces that run through these hills, deer and elk trails, turned native trading routes, turned logging roads. I asked him where he was from, and he mentioned a town in the valley, but really what he likes, he tells me, is just coming out here to the woods. I don't ask how old he is. I do note his teeth were worn down to nubs. He says people call him Camper Dave. After we talk, he retreats back to his trailer and I make the 11-point turn, and head back down that long road. 
I did make it to Table Rock. Waldo and I hiked in earnest, determined to reach the peak to see the magnificent view. You can see the the entire valley from up there, the Cascades, too. And on a day like that one, the sky still mostly clear, I might have been able to see from Mt. Rainer to Diamond Peak. A distance of some 350 miles or more. But there was snow at the Trailhead and it only got deeper as we climbed. Two and a half miles in, the route got treacherous over the mountain's boulder field, so Waldo and I stopped in a sunny spot, split a sandwich then turned and hiked back to the car
Now I am home, dry, warm. The rain has started. And the wind. I hope Camper Dave and his dog are doing alright up there in the hills. I wish I had asked to take his picture.
-Naseem Rakha 4/4/16

Almost back to the car after prodding through thigh deep snow.