The lick of wind on my ear whispers to me, keeps me mesmerized, and I can’t go inside just yet. I need these trees, the moss, and the giant clovers of the shady forest hiking trails. I need to scramble over rocky hillsides, sometimes in the snow. This woman yearns to taste the outside as long as she can stand it, because it is magical. So I wait another few minutes in order to keep the feeling from leaving too quickly.
I am so grateful to live in the Pacific Northwest. I moved here eight years ago not particularly caring about the wilderness. I didn’t want to harm it, but I didn’t want to be out in it, either. I didn’t like walking through spider webs (To be fair, I am still terrified of spiders!), was not a fan of mud-encrusted shoes, and never had the urge to hug a tree. I liked all sorts of other things about Portland, but the outdoors was not of much importance. I was not really aware of the big “green” movement and what it meant to the environment the way I am now, although I do remember being stunned at the amount of trees below the plane when I flew in to visit before my big move. That completed my impression of Oregon’s wilderness until about three years ago. My love of the outdoors started because my friend and I wanted to do something that didn’t cost much money. I wanted to go to a Lumberjax game. He was in grad school at the time, and was low on cash. I asked him, “Well then, Ben, what do people do around here on the cheap?” He asked me if I liked to hike. I wanted to impress my new friend so I told him I did. In truth, I had never done anything other than Multnomah Falls, an easy and short but steep hike in the Columbia River Gorge. It is the most popular hike for tourists, it is never quiet, and would not be considered wilderness under any circumstances, although it is extremely beautiful. We ended up doing a five-mile loop that involved crossing a couple small creeks, walking over more than a few patches of snow, and viewing two gorgeous waterfalls. I fell in love. At the end we felt amazing. Only later did I tell him that I hadn’t ever really hiked before and that after that hike I saw myself as a total bad ass. Since then we’ve upped our mileage and elevation. Last time I checked we are still total bad asses.
For me, there is no hiking season; there are only more layers of synthetic clothing. My weekend uniform is generally cargo hiking pants, a sweat-wicking shirt, SmartWool socks, and a bandana. I don’t care if I look pretty or not. I just want to be at a comfortable temperature and be able to move easily. I now love spring hiking in the Gorge with the wildflowers and the mucky muddy hikes. I can’t wait until the deepest snow finally melts so I can get to the Mt. Hood hikes. Summer hikes are sweaty but fun.
One of my favorite things about hiking is that it’s a time to let go of any unnecessary emotion. I feel awe at the enormity of the trees and the sky; I almost always feel uncertain when the trail splits and I don’t know which way to go. These feelings are part of the experience. The emotions I want to let go of are the ones that make me feel less than whole: guilt, fear, anger. Emotions like these have a tendency to creep into the day and overshadow the positive. They shouldn’t, but they do. These emotions disappear when I am out there; it’s an amazing salve for any pain I have in my life. They literally flow out of me like the rivers I so adore for their propensity to make waterfalls, which are my absolute favorite thing about hiking. Rivers can be turbulent and dangerous things, but out of them come remarkable beauty. On the trail I can just Be, shedding the societal baggage of ego and all that comes with it.
I wasn’t going to write a post this week. I was going to let this week slide, let myself recover from a long holiday weekend and the remnants of my birthday celebration. Instead I felt compelled to write this particular post, just in time for my last birthday hurrah—a nine mile hike tomorrow at a new trail. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate me.