The Trek to Oyster Doom

“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness; that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” -Theodore Roosevelt

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A friend of mine, let’s call her “Dawn”, often spoke of the wonders of a certain hike.  Dawn and I even had plans to travel the route with a group of our coworkers.  But as these things often go, plans fell apart.  A year or two passed without me ever seeing this mysterious Oyster Dome.  All I knew of this mysterious land was that Dawn and several other friends spoke of the plentiful joys that this scenic escape had to offer.

Now, given those accolades and emotional urgings to explore said land, what could I do?  Early this week I finally made the trip out to Oyster Dome.  However, after my adventure I have found a more appropriate name.  I choose to call that most “exciting” of places, Oyster Doom.

The warning signs were plentiful; I just chose to ignore them.  Caution flag number one was the drive there.  I tend to be a little frightened by detours.  I am sure that the folks who place those imposing and unyielding orange signs know what they are doing.  However I like my roads to run in a straight line.  Therefore, I had some trepidation about driving down a stretch of freeway where there existed an infamous gap in the road.  Oy.  I have issues driving where chunks of the road is missing.  Sure, it worked for Speed, but I was alone.  Sandra Bullock was not behind the driver’s wheel encouraging and coaxing me on to victory.  (A point which I happen to think is a cruel injustice.)

Oops.  But it's getting better?

Oops. But it’s getting better?

To be fair, the detour was just fine.  Personally I think a few more signs would have been helpful.  But when in doubt, follow the semi-trucks; works every time.  Thanks to those multi-wheeled behemoths, I was able to get back on the highway with no problems and two exits later I was cruising down a quiet little paved road looking for a place for the trailhead.

The guide book claimed that there would be parking along the side of the road.  The book and I disagree on the term “parking”.  When I think of parking, I like to have bold white lines spray painted on the ground.  Ideally, there are concrete blocks on the ground or some sort of barrier to ensure that one’s car doesn’t go out of bounds.

The “parking” here was a strip of gravel.  On the edge of a cliff.  With a speed limit of 55.  I’m sorry, what?  In every story I’ve ever heard of a car parking along the side of a lonely road, it tends to end up with some guy carrying an axe and chasing them into the uninhabited woods.  (Showing their courteous side, the planners of the park even gave the crazed woodsman a way to hide the evidence; simply shove the innocent hiker’s car off the road.  No railings to get in the way, just a nice steep drop and tall trees to cover it up for ya.)

You're a lumberjack?  Okay, but explain the mask...

You’re a lumberjack? Okay, but explain the mask…

Now, folks that know me will attest that I am a might stubborn.  I had already driven out to the park.  It was broad daylight.  And I had managed to find the tiny little path of dirt that was to be the start of my expedition.  I figured I’d roll the dice and take my chances.  That was when I came upon the next sign of impending danger, which was an actual sign.

The short version:  "Dangerously dangerous danger!"

The short version:
“Dangerously dangerous danger!”

After reading the entire notice I realized that I had no intention of hiking along the closed route.  Why would I add wet rocks, another cliff, and the threat of angering thousands of bats to the already treacherous day?  Still, the words, “close this area” effectively concerned me.

Having considered and dismissed all warnings, I hit the trail.  It hit back, hard.  I am a tall fellow, but those hills are not for the faint of heart.  Or knees.  Or ankles.  Or lumbar.  Uphill the path led and uphill I went.  As I crested the first ascent, I was greeted by another mighty mound of dirt.  Things tend to happen in threes and so another hill presented itself.  Of course, the more the merrier, right?  Bring another order of steep earth to table one!  Apparently Oyster Dome is one big block party and the hills are only too happy to RSVP.

To the park’s credit, there were plenty of trails.  At least, I think they were trails.  The first few miles were dotted with white splotches on trees.  I can only assume that those white blobs were meant to identify the route as correct and safe.  Of course, those markers were utilized when there was a massive hill or glacier rock on one side, and a steep cliff on the other.  It was much like walking down the grocery aisle and having a staff person ask that you refrain from taking your squeaky-wheeled shopping cart and leaping and bounding over the high shelves.  Further into the woods; when

For all I know, it was just bird poop.

For all I know, it was just bird poop.

the trails started to get confusing?  That’s when the white splotches conveniently disappeared.  (I maintain that the mystery guy from the horror movie is to blame, but I haven’t yet figured out how.)

With or without markers, the routes appeared regardless of my desire for them to c ease.  There was the aforementioned closed trail that didn’t need the professionally-made signs to ward me off.  I think there was a glacial view trail, but the word “glacier” invokes two mental thoughts to me; slippery and sharp.  Needless to say, I declined the invitation.  And then there were the little paths that sure looked like trails.  A patch of dirt here, a wide expanse of forest there; my fear of getting lost only increased the higher up I journeyed.  I prefer not to take the Lord’s name in vain, so I did my best not to mutter, “Dear God I’m going to die”, “Dear God this is terrifying”, and “What in God’s name were these people thinking?”  However, I assure you that statements very similar in tone to curses ran around in my head as I looked at each intersection with concern.

In the end, I did the only logical thing I could think of.  I followed the slugs.  Come on, what animal looks like it prefers the safest path possible?  Slugs, that’s what.  A cougar, a bear; even snakes would have been wildlife that might have sent me packing.  But I am a Washingtonian.  Slugs are our friends.  If a path of dirt is deemed a suitable strolling area by a slug, then I am going to follow along.  Scoff if you must, but much of the success I had in getting up to that summit was from a slug pointing the way with its antennae and sage wisdom.  (And yes, a trail of slimy goo.)

At the end, I would say that I would make this trek again.  It really is not all that far from where I live and now that I know that the terrain’s grade is equivalent to trying to climb out of a well, I am prepared for the climb.  I have an idea of which trails will not lead me to my demise.

Also, I firmly believe that the view is worth it.  Or rather, I choose to believe that what should be the view is majestic.  I could not say myself.  When I got up to the top; when I finally broke free of the tree line?  I was met by a 180-degree view of clouds.  Add in a smattering of trees, some clouds, and then really smother that sucker with another layer of clouds; that is the sort of “picturesque” moment I experienced.

Obligatory scenic photo from early in the hike.  If somebody lugged a bench up that trail, you -must- take a photo there.

Obligatory scenic photo from early in the hike. If somebody lugged a bench up that trail, you -must- take a photo there.

I shall try again.  I was almost attacked by a non-existent axe-murderer, my knees are still sore, and I have never been so afraid of being lost in the woods as I was that day.  The moral in all this is that hiking buddies are highly underrated.  Take someone with you to take in all that nature has to offer; even if it kills you.  Because of Dawn’s recommendation, I have just the person in mind.  What better way to thank her than by taking her along?  No good deed goes unpunished, y’know.

A Better View

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

A Better View

As one who has often felt this need, and who has found refreshment in wild places, I attest to the recreational value of wilderness.” -George Aiken

Marie had called it quits for the day.  The constantly ringing office phone, the boss who had a seemingly endless pile of projects for her; and then there was the commute.  She rolled her eyes at the thought of her drive.  It wasn’t just the traffic; it was also the construction that had eliminated half the lanes for what she thought were pretty cosmetic upgrades.  Marie was done.  She needed an escape.  She only had so many vacation days left but her mental health demanded that she take one.

Thus, early on Tuesday morning, Marie climbed into her car and revved up the engine.  Her normal business attire had been shirked for shorts, tank top, and shades.  The cup of coffee that she usually guzzled down by eight a.m. had been replaced with a bottle of water.  She had already sent an e-mail to her boss that something had come up and she wouldn’t be able to make it into the office.  Marie purposefully neglected informing him of the details.  Vacations were meant to be taken, she decided.  She’d worry about the consequences some other time.

Driving down the interstate, she giggled at the rows of cars.  They were all heading towards downtown while she was driving speedily in the other direction.  As the vehicles became less and less frequent, the mountains in the distance grew closer.  Even on the warm sunny morning, she could still see plenty of snow on the majestic peaks.  Marie’s car bounced and bumped along the gravel road.  An hour after she had left her house, she had arrived at the park of her choosing.

A cursory glance at the lot revealed only three cars.  Marie nodded in satisfaction.  That meant that the trails would be almost entirely clear and that the park was, in theory, open for her boot-clad feet.  She signed in, paid for her parking, and took herself and her backpack into the woods.  She left the real world and her cares behind with the car.

The longer she spent on the dirt path, the more life seemed to make sense.  What did it matter that the blind date from last week had been shockingly incapable of chewing with his mouth closed?  Who needed a successful date when there was a perfect waterfall that could sooth and relax her?  Did it matter how many voicemails were on her phone when there were chipmunks to chuckle at and watch as they skittered from tree to tree?

The petty everyday tasks and annoyances were put into their proper place.  Mighty trees that had withstood centuries passing and forest fires showed her that there was more to the world than a week’s “to-do” list.  The world kept turning, the trees kept growing, and the mountain snow would still melt and feed into the cascading rivers below.

As if to further punctuate the point, a doe scurried up the hillside.  It had no need for trails.  It leapt, bounded, and bounced between the trees and over any rocks in its way.  The doe stopped for a moment on the path.  It glanced calmly at Marie, blinking once, and then twice.  Marie wanted to step forward and get a closer at the animal, but she knew it would dart away.  The two female creatures stood there for a minute, each measuring up the other.  The doe’s ears turned up the hillside, obviously aware of something.  Just like that, the doe changed course and took off up the mountain.  Marie gave the doe the thumbs up gesture as it left.

The two hour hike gave way to a breathtaking view.  The sound of waterfalls had died down.  Marie wondered just what this lake was going to look like.  Then it came into view.  “Holy…”, was all Marie could manage to say.  In front of her was a panoramic view of a dozen peaks.  The lake, having thawed just recently, lay cool and calm with small chunks of snow dotting the surface.  The white covering still dominated the terrain.  That didn’t stop the rocks from trying to break through.  As the sun glistened in the clear blue sky, Marie beamed in response.  She spread out on a giant rock and lay down, using her pack as a pillow.

Bring on the sun, bring on the warmth, bring on the freckles, Marie thought to herself.  This is the life for me.  Marie knew the scene was too perfect to last.  She refused to acknowledge that truth quite yet.  Her batteries simply needed a recharge and the best power source in the galaxy was happily obliging.  With sunglasses on her face and heat waves rippling off her skin, all was well with the world.

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