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Bare Country

One year ago I started documenting my life. To find ‘my narrative,’ to see ‘what I was all about,’ to find something—anything… I’m not quite sure why. But nonetheless I started looking, and that’s all that mattered.

I drove up in the mountains today and hiked down to Hermit Falls. It was going to be a pleasant easy hike, but the catch is that I parked my car and started marching down at 6pm when the sun had cast half the canyon in a shadow already. Everyone was climbing back up the steep path and I was the only one walking down. I stopped here and there to look at the view. Someone was talking a quarter mile away down in the canyon, and I could hear them like they were right around the corner. You can hear people long before you notice them. By the time I reached the falls it was very dark. I didn’t stop and stare too long because quite honestly I kept imagining that a bear would come for a drink and notice I would make for some nice evening hors d’oeuvres. I figured the sun would set in about fifteen minutes, so I’d have to move quick if I wanted to make it back in time.

I ran back up using as much night vision as I could muster and ended up getting lost on an unfamiliar trail. I thought about the bulletin board I glanced at near the trailhead that read “bear country” and other stuff about wilderness. Every ounce of bear survival knowledge I knew rushed through my head. The hills were steep and there were little rocks jutting out of the trail every now and then, and were very hard to see once the sun had set completely. There was a constant buzzing and chirping of bugs, but I didn’t get any bites. I kept thinking about how bears might go down to the creek for a drink at this hour because they know no humans would be on the trail. I just kept my eyes glued to the trail, focusing on where to place my feet as I jogged uphill one step at a time. I crossed the creek four times on the way back, and that’s when it felt suspicious. I thought I’d only crossed it three times on the way down. I felt the unfamiliar crunching of leaves beneath my feet that I hadn’t felt before, and I knew I was off track – but didn’t admit it because I didn’t want it to be true.

I came to a clearing with a sign that told me I was .75 miles off course. So much for that. I could either continue on a new 4 mile trail back to the parking lot, or backtrack through the unfamiliarity. There are a handful of secluded, and now abandoned cabins along the trail and creek, which might be why it’s called Hermit Falls. I thought if I couldn’t find my way back I could smash a window and stay the night next to a lonely skeleton in a house full of bats. I thought about how relieved I’ll feel when I finally find my way back… I always do. Soon after I found the correct trail after being forced to slow down due to the dark and rocky nature of the, well… nature. I crossed back across the river and ran uphill into recognizable territory. I had run too fast before with blinders on and thus I had wandered onto the wrong path, forgetting to stop and look up every once in a while to check where I was. You lose your depth perception in the dark. For a while I thought if I looked up I would see a bear. A part of me wanted the blinders on.

The moon was a little more than half full on a clear night, which after being in the shadows of shadows under the trees, made it delightfully easy to see. I stared at the moon and had to squint, which in a roundabout way brought a smile to my face as I ran the rest of the path out of the canyon. The shadows cast by the moon through the trees made it near impossible to tell where any rocks were jutting out of the ground from. But I just kept running with the expectation of tripping and falling, which somehow made it easy to keep on, because every second that I didn’t fall I was very grateful. Occasionally there was a rustling in the bushes above me or a bat that silently whizzed by my head, but I just kept to the trail, grinding up the steep gradient; right, left, right, breathe, left, right, left, breathe…

I finally reached my car with a full appreciation for moonlight, and just stood there for a while, catching my breath and looking over the canyon. A few things crossed my mind:

That was fun. It reminded me of when I would forge trails through the woods at the house I grew up in whenever I wanted to get away and de-stress. That brings me back.

Does that mean I’m stressed or want to get away? Maybe I just needed a thrill. It’s been a while. Why would I need a thrill? Am I bored of normal life?

So much could have gone wrong, but it didn’t. I can only think God for that. Who else would pull me out of a dark canyon without a scratch on my body?

Why did I do this? I didn’t need to go run through a minefield of ankle sprains, but I did. I knew full well it would get dangerous and could hinder my career as an athlete, but I didn’t even consider the possible dangers.

I did this alone. No one saw what just happened, or needs to know, or probably will know; but I know. Does that matter? To who?

I started at my car and finished at my car, back where I started like nothing ever happened. This trek was just a side trip. It won’t change the overall course of who I am or where I’m going, but at least now I have a better understanding. I start and finish every day asleep in my bed, but I have different dreams every night.

I think this run was an allegory… I think I get it now.

…At least I think I do. I just can’t tell if that’s good or bad—I need help.

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High Up

Snoqualmie Pass had installed a terrain park at the foot of Bonanza face – a black diamond. As the popularity of the park grew, so did the jumps and wipeouts.

“Woah.” said my brother, a ninth grader, old enough to know when something was broken. He didn’t need to point or tell me to look over the side as our chair lift sailed over the terrain park. A snowboarder received attention from two ski patrolmen at the foot of a 30 foot tabletop jump with crossed skis on it. He was laid in a sled-type backboard, and stiff. His face matched the red ski patrol jackets, puffed and swollen against the confines of the neck brace, pressing to break free. It reminded me of when a friend from the accelerated program in elementary school put a yellow ducky peep in the microwave. It popped – but not all at once. The first time I ever saw EMTs is when I was waiting for the principal because I dragged a kid away from a fight. He was calling the peep-popper’s mom to let her know her son had landed on his eye out on the playground. I thought about how that was possible, but the blood and the words “I can’t see! I can’t see!” distracted me. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and now I was the lone audience to The Bleeding-Eye Show. Apparently the EMTs thought in front of the waiting room chairs was the best place to perform. I wasn’t allowed to leave my seat. I can’t remember what the principal told me—probably something about being careful.

I didn’t talk much to the bloody-eye friend after third grade because he stopped talking. Our teacher explained to keep our distance from him because his mom passed away of cancer. Someone had to ask what “passed away” meant. I think my motherless friend would have preferred a car crash so he could have someone or something to blame, but instead he had to slowly watch her disappear with his childhood. Nothing provokes life more than death. Now he fights for what he still believes in and cooks his own meals after working hard. I eat out every day and believe in anything because I haven’t learned otherwise. All my experiences have been secondhand, listening to stories of success, failure, and a plethora of examples on ‘how to be good.’ Without having ever done it, I could show someone how to put on chains and drive uphill on two inches of ice, or give a job interview without ever having received one. From what I’ve gathered I could do death, too, but I wouldn’t be confident in my ability to properly show someone else.

For me something is possible even if I’ve only heard about it; it doesn’t need to have actually happened. I’ve never seen anybody die. I’ve heard it from people close to me, about people close to me, but I’ve been protected from it my whole life. When I’d watch the news they’d report that someone died in a shooting, a car crash, or a freak accident. I listened to see if it was anyone I know – it never was. I feel like everyone watches the news hoping they’ll see someone they know.

My senior year in high school two girls in my class made the news. One died and one didn’t. The one who survived said she couldn’t remember anything, probably because of trauma and partly because of choice. I didn’t know them well enough. I can’t imagine being the camera man for channel 5, knocking on the door to the house where all of her friends were grieving, crying; trying to remember and forget. “I’m sorry for your loss, but could you step into the light so we can see your face?” One of my classmates was interviewed and smiled at one point. I knew he was excited to be on the news.

That same week five other high schoolers died within a hundred mile radius of my school. Two years prior, three high schoolers died in a crash three miles from my house. One went to my school, but I didn’t know him either. I attended the funeral of my dad’s best friend, who died of a heart attack running on a trail in the woods. He was very healthy, and if someone would’ve been nearby at the time, he would have survived. I only knew him through my father, but I knew more about him than how he actually was as a person. He built his own house from scratch. His second wife took all the inheritance and split for Florida. My middle school orchestra teacher was killed in a freak boating accident. She was on a sailboat in the middle of a lake with some friends when a speed boat plowed straight through her at full throttle. The bow of the boat was raised due to its high speed so the driver assumed nothing was there. Cancer killed my physics teacher’s wife and one of the preachers at church’s husband. When I started college I got a call from a friend crying about how her boyfriend, a friend of mine since grade school, had cheated on her. I happened to be in a fraternity with him at the time and knew this probably wasn’t true. Regardless, she grabbed as many pills as she could that night, but woke up in a mental institution so I didn’t have to deal with her death. She had moved to the east coast for school, but the distance had gotten the better of her. Another close friend of mine moved to Philadelphia to be a professional cello player and stopped eating for a while, drank too much, then blacked out to the point where he couldn’t remember when it all started. We were only sixteen, and I laughed along with him as he told me he almost died. Someone fell to their death at a fraternity party – someone too drunk to know what “don’t” means. They want you to say “fraternity” instead of “frat” to respect the brotherhood and its traditions. Someone falls or jumps off of something every year. A man burned himself alive. I walked by the grounds crew worker who drew the short straw that day and had to separate the scorched flesh and blood from the rough concrete with a brush and a mask. A girl hanged herself in the back stairwell of the fraternity I attended, but I had left a year prior. They found her limp during the recruiting BBQ. People littered her facebook page with remorse. One post read, “Hey, let’s catch up! Haven’t heard from you in ages [smiley face].” Winters get cold and dozens of hobos die in the streets. I think we’re still at war with someone.

I looked directly down on the puffy red snowboarder, waiting for something to happen; something exciting. Our chair passed the scene, following the example of the hundreds that had passed before us. I looked back over my shoulder, realizing the puffy man had no friends watching on. I wondered if his family was close to him, friends, or coworkers nearby, or possibly a girlfriend. “Ladies first.” He winks at the top of the run, “I’ll be right behind you.” Those could have been his last words as he wasn’t allowed to speak in the neck brace, and his face swelled shut soon after. I figured he’ll have a crazy story to tell at some cocktail party months down the road, so I faced forward at the end of the ride and slid off with ease. The next day the paper said the puffy man had broken his neck, been paralyzed, and died that night while I was sleeping.

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