A hundred is better

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep”

– Robert Frost

There’s an old abandoned railroad grade called the Iron Horse Trail, the old railbed of the Milwaukee Road, that winds up to Snoqualmie Pass from North Bend along the northern flanks of Mount Washington, Change Peak, McClellan Butte and Silver Peak before running into what was in its day the longest tunnel on the Milwaukee Road system, then to emerge at the west end of Lake Keechelus at the top of the pass. This blog post is not really about that trail.

“A Taste of Old Monroe”.

Pictures of the Iron Horse Trail online now show repaired trestles that have no rails across them but instead smooth, walkable, bikeable, joggable paths, but when my friend Rich and I hiked along the railway there long ago, it was still physically a railroad, with rails and ties, and there was one trestle that we walked out on whose middle had collapsed many years before. We always saw it from the highway going up into the pass. It looked like a disaster waiting to happen, but it was the crumbling infrastructure of a world long gone.

The day we hiked along the rails we heard gunshots, someone shooting a rifle, but didn’t worry about it until we emerged from a wooded section of the railbed and saw a man standing next to a pickup that was parked next to the rails and looking sheepish. When he realized we were not authorities of any kind he told us he’d been target practicing along the tracks, hadn’t expected anyone to be walking up here, and was surprised when he saw my tee-shirt in the cross-hairs of his scope. My tee-shirt was blue and had a big rooster on it. Both the marksman and I were lucky that day, to say nothing of the rooster.

Trillium.

I had hoped my hiking buddy Scott and I might hike part of the Iron Horse Trail this past Saturday. But a sick man allegedly shot his wife and his daughter in their North Bend home the previous Sunday, then burned down the house by setting a can of gasoline in a skillet on a lit stove and headed for his bunker in the woods, where he had stockpiled food and ammunition for a last stand. Scott, who lives in North Bend, didn’t want to hike anywhere in the Snoqualmie Valley while the manhunt was going on. I agreed. The night before our hike, news reports were quoting forest experts who said that the man, a well-equipped survivalist, might be able to remain hidden in the mountains for months or years, which left us with the future prospect of hiking where we ran the risk of running into this desperado, or forsaking the Snoqualmie Valley completely and using up precious hike time on the highway to places further away.

As it turned out we needn’t have worried; the police work on this case was executed very swiftly. Images on the man’s computer, which survived the fire, practically put an X on the map for those in pursuit, and by the time I was driving to meet Scott the next morning I heard that special police teams were watching the man’s bunker, and before our day of hiking was done they would find him dead inside it, leaving us all to realize over and over again that even if they’d taken him alive there would have been no use asking what he was thinking.

Salmonberry. The lower woods were spangled with them.

Bridal Veil Falls.

Our wives had only given us shore leave until one o’clock, but we started early and drove up to Highway 2 to hike the Lake Serene trail, figuring if we didn’t have time to get all the way to the lake we could go as far as the Bridal Veil Falls Lookout.

We stopped for breakfast at the Hitching Post Cafe in Monroe, old Monroe, Main Street Monroe, which most people driving through Monroe don’t even know exists because it’s across the tracks from the main highway. I love Monroe’s Main Street because you can drive down the street and when you see a cafe you want to eat at advertising “A Taste of Old Monroe” you can just tug the steering wheel a little to the right and angle into a wide space, which is what we did.

I’m not sure if this is “stream violet” or “evergreen violet”, but it’s a violet okay.

“A few good years left in us.”

A day like this would not be complete, would not start well, without a good hungry man breakfast. I had the French Toast combo — I always do — and Scott got a similar arrangement with griddle cakes. The old men of the town were already there, having finished breakfast and now chatting over coffee. We sat in a booth painted with a little mural of a steam engine, “Pat McCoy’s 4-4-0″. There were other, larger murals covering all the surrounding walls, one depicting the street in the 1950s. Wood models of Conestoga wagons lined the shelves, and there were several old pistols, a guitar and a long logger’s crosscut saw hanging on the walls. The food was delicious and plentiful.

The trail was adorned with trilliums, yellow violets and salmonberry (I took pictures, naturally) and as far as the fork between the falls lookout and the lake it was fairly easy going, which fooled us into thinking we could make the lake in another hour. If this were an official report, I would note that there was a fair amount of downed material lying athwart the trail and that the trail was pretty much a streambed after the turn-off to the falls. Had the trail not been chiefly composed of crumbled granite rocks it would have been muddy going. And it was very steep. In many places there were wooden stairs that might as well have been submarine ladders.

The trail would have been muddy if it weren’t so rocky.

This is what the back of Mt. Index looks like.

During a water break near the top I called Angela on my cell phone. I don’t normally do this. I like to leave technology behind me when I’m in the woods. She had walked with the girls to a restaurant near the house and they were eating brunch, which made me glad. I knew that at a certain place on their walk home they’d be able to see Mt. Index, and I asked her to point and tell the girls that that’s where I was, and have them wave, which she did. She told them that even though I would not be able to see them waving I would feel it in my heart.

A snowfield lay over the last quarter mile of the trail, and Lake Serene was covered in snow and ice. We were way behind schedule now so we only stayed at the lake’s edge long enough to snap some photos, watch a few avalanches high up on the rock walls that rose from the lake’s far shore — the northern face of Index — and eat our lunches. Then we bolted back down the trail. The only wildlife I saw was a single chipmunk because the trail was so difficult, each step so full of potential for a twisted ankle, that I could never lift my eyes from the trail ahead of me.

A hazy stripe of sun lies across frozen Lake Serene.

Scott and I are attempting to plan and execute a hike — a no-kids, just-us-fellas hike — every other month this year, the even months minus December, so just five hikes. After we met a man on the trail who seemed in his seventies at least, Scott said to me cheerfully that we still had a few good hiking years in us. I got to thinking. That’s just twenty years for me now — Scott is a little younger. If we hadn’t committed to these five or six hikes every year (and we missed February because of bad colds and scheduling mishaps) then realistically I might only do one hike every year, if that. Twenty more hikes only? In the whole rest of my life? It reminded me of the lines by Paul Bowles in his novel The Sheltering Sky:

Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”

Twenty hikes. The thought made me very sad and I said so.

Scott’s happy retort, “but a hundred is better!”, went ahead of us like the call of a trumpet, seemed to be picked up and amplified by the forest.

Scott and parties unrelated picking their way across the snowfield. By the time we headed down the footholds were getting slushy.

Faithful Scott. Yes. I’ll take a hundred, please. A hundred more hikes in these rolling fir hills that hatched me. And I’ll be grateful for them. I don’t like it that we get old. That death comes for us all. I hope someday to find a grace and a rhythm and a dignity in it, but right now it just bums me out, as it bums me out that a man can go round the twist without his neighbors knowing it, without them knowing that he’s spent six years building and stocking an underground munitions bunker in the woods, and that he will be willing to kill his family when he has decided the end of the world is at hand.

We have so far to go and it feels to me like there’s so little time.

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29 Responses to “A hundred is better”


  1. 1 leatherhead109 May 3, 2012 at 09:08

    As I sit rubbing my sore knee, which has barely survived recent attacks of “life” this winter past, I contemplate your musings and think “A hike? With my knee? Nothing doing….” but really I feel the point of your sword. We cannot stop the passing of the glacier, crawling its way to the sea.

    • 2 Matt May 3, 2012 at 09:42

      Sad the more then, because you’re a good hiking partner (I still recall fondly our assault on Half Dome from the bottom of Yo valley). Well at least you’ll always be younger than me. Take care of that knee, Youngblood.

      • 3 leatherhead109 May 3, 2012 at 10:18

        Yes, I’m hoping it is only a flesh wound, …fell on it years ago, it healed, then this past Feb. fell on it again, this time with full equipment, airpack etc. straight down onto a chunk of debris. Causing me fits. But I do so like hiking. Half Dome was a pinnacle, never to be forgotten. I have been higher, and certainly wearier. But that was one for the books.

  2. 4 James May 3, 2012 at 16:27

    Almost makes me want to hike. As it is, I’ll probably just keep measuring out my life in coffee spoons.

    • 5 Matt May 3, 2012 at 20:09

      James, thanks for nudging me to reading that poem. I had to google the reference, though I knew that it was a reference, that much I knew. A fun poem, in a dismal sort of way befitting my morbid post. “Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—”. Hmmm.

  3. 6 aplscruf May 9, 2012 at 16:44

    The last major hike I went on with my dad and brother was to Goat Rocks. That was in 2002! A role reversal took place. All those years hiking with Dad in the lead…and then, what seemed like a sudden occurrence, we had to take care of Dad. Getting old ain’t for sissies!

    • 7 leatherhead109 May 9, 2012 at 18:21

      aplscruf,

      That sounds so familiar. Matt and I took our last hike with our Dad just prior to my leaving for the Marines. That was a coupla’ decades back. We too found the roles reversed. We went up high slopin’ on Mt. Rainier and at a point where the trail crossed a rock slide and snow cap, Dad lost his hat in the wind. I don’t remember exactly how or what but it was at that moment in time that both Matt and I realized Dad was growing older, tired. We would be taking his place. How unsettling it felt. But natural as well. He seemed okay with it. Matt wrote about it once, though I don’t remember the instance.

      • 8 aplscruf May 9, 2012 at 18:33

        Unsettling indeed. Our dad fell on shale and rolled. He was steady as a mountain goat for all those years. Thought for sure he broke a hip. He was a little bruised. Later that evening, he became dehydrated. I forced him to fill his canteen the next morning before we left for the hike out. Ugh. It was a tough one.

        • 9 leatherhead109 May 9, 2012 at 18:48

          Yes,..sounds about right. Our Da’, he lost his hat and it landed just out of reach on the shelf of snow above us. I could see that he was of a mind to get it back (men of that generation never did take losing a hat lying down) and I began to offer myself up in an effort to keep him from doing so. Matt was the clear thinker, enlightening us both with the value of the hat versus the value of a ride down slope with or without hat in hand. Unsettling, but a moment in life to be forever remembered and held onto as a monument to those who carried us aloft on their shoulders.

          • 10 Matt May 9, 2012 at 19:15

            @aplscruf,
            The thing I’m loving is hearing that you were hiking with your dad as an adult, although it sounds like you incurred much stress doing so. I hope my girls will want to do that, and I’ll be even older than the characters in these reminiscences. I pledge to stay properly hydrated, though I won’t be able to see the shale-rolls coming.

            @Ben,
            My memory is full of holes, I’m the first to admit, but the way I remember it and the way I wrote about it, you moved immediately to climb up to fetch the hat — it had been blasted upward and perched twenty feet or so above us on the slope — and it was not I but dad who called you back, saying it was just a hat, not worth losing your footing and getting killed for. And yet I recall that you and I both knew it was his favorite hat. I’m going to see if I can post a photo of us in these comments, since it is germane to the thread.

  4. 11 Matt May 9, 2012 at 19:33

    Here is a photo from that hike. I didn’t have my belly to keep my pants up back then, obviously, and I must have been going through a no shirt phase. Sorry. The hat is in dad’s hands.

    “Burroughs 1984″.

    • 12 leatherhead109 May 9, 2012 at 19:41

      I’m thinking it was my memory full of holes. Now that I have been reminded, I do believe you are right. But I maintain my position as far as his desire to retrieve it. I’ll wager he was pondering the worth of the venture when I bounded up there as you say.

      What a beautiful photo.

      • 13 leatherhead109 May 9, 2012 at 20:02

        There we are…I’m wearing my civil war kepi, (completely inadequate for a hike) and Dad has his Egyptian headdress in place of his summer weight Fadora.

      • 14 Matt May 9, 2012 at 20:10

        Yeah, you sure couldn’t beat Ektachrome slide film for color, eh? And you’re right, Dad did pause and consider about fetching the hat. So we’ve got our story straight.

  5. 15 aplscruf May 9, 2012 at 19:41

    Awwww! That is a great pic. Thanks for sharing and remembering.

  6. 17 Matt May 9, 2012 at 19:59

    Here’s another, just because I can. Feel free to go back to your regular lives while I trip down memory lane here.

    “Burroughs 1984″.

  7. 20 Matt May 9, 2012 at 22:17

    Burroughs Mountain is that flat-topped ridged that we hiked to. We were on the Burroughs Mountain Trail. See here:
    http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/burroughs-mountain.htm

    • 21 leatherhead109 May 10, 2012 at 07:47

      Right. Suspected as much. Don’t remember a whole lot b’cept the C-130 transport flying low across the mountain and thinking “my word, but we are very high up” and “gosh, …its hard to breathe at this height!”

  8. 22 aplscruf May 10, 2012 at 08:00

    So I was thinking this morning. Although that hike to Goat Rocks was tough at times (I also realized I was not in teenager shape anymore, so that was a whole ‘nother type of struggle), we had fantastic weather and took away some fond memories and good laughs as well.

    Dad still hikes at least once a year, although no more overnighters. And the last two years, we’ve had the pleasure of hiking Big 4 Ice Caves with my teenage son! We take it slow, have a nice lunch on a rock with the icy breeze blowing off the glacier, and saunter back to the car.

    • 23 leatherhead109 May 10, 2012 at 08:06

      I am somewhat envious of you down there. Here we are surrounded by the most rugged wilderness and to go out anywhere for a hike, you really have to plan on getting lost or attacked by bear. Packing a gun is part of the game here and in the end, unless we drive for several hours. The view isn’t that great and being a flat lander now-a-days, I really appreciate a good view.

  9. 24 aplscruf May 10, 2012 at 08:24

    …and you’re up where??

  10. 25 Matt May 10, 2012 at 08:41

    How I never heard about Goat Rocks before, being a hiker in the northwest all my life, I’ll never know. But I just Google Earth’d it and looked at some photos…I am SO going there someday. Planning begins now. Thanks for the tip, aplscruf! My daughters will curse your name when they have to carry me out on a litter made of fallen pine branches.

    • 26 leatherhead109 May 10, 2012 at 08:47

      @aplscruf – I’m up in the Arctic..long story. We have lots of trails that wander off to nowhere and although we have incredible mountain ranges, they aren’t designed for the casual weekend jaunt with your children. There are no nicely lacquered park signs pointing to the Loo..It is “roughing” it to the extreme. I have gotten plenty of it during brush fire season and find I’m content with a fishing expedition upriver for my hiking.

  11. 27 aplscruf May 10, 2012 at 08:45

    LOL, best place to hike in the NW, hands down. Stunning views of St. Helens, Adams and Rainier, and that’s from the “restroom”!! Give yourself at least 2 nights and a full day-hike day.

  12. 28 kiwidutch September 28, 2012 at 11:40

    I’m wishing for the day when I can hike again… it’s a way off since I’m still on crutches… well one of them as one piece of damage in my foot refuses to heal (actually it is, just ultra slowly).
    Great photos and fabulous piece… I love how you “weave” the story and bare the facts… like you I have too much to do for “just’ *one* lifetime… and getting old would’t suck so much if we were free to use every day just as we wanted to rather than the necessity of earning the daily bread!

    • 29 Matt October 12, 2012 at 08:11

      KD,
      I’m sad to hear you’re still off your gams. Thanks for stopping by again and commenting. YES!!! There is just too much to do in one lifetime, and most of life is taken up doing stuff that isn’t on the list! You get it.


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