When I was a senior in high school, I had the opportunity to tour a few college campuses as a way to help me select where I wanted to attend for my undergraduate education. This is back in the day where we researched our potential schools in catalogs – actual paper catalogs. Websites were a new thing and even if a college had one, the visuals were poor and there were no videos or 3D tours. One of the colleges I picked was the now defunct Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, AK. I flew to Alaska and spent a couple of weeks on the campus, living in the dorm and touring the island. It was amazing and I was in love. My old school film camera photographs of my time there are tucked away in a box somewhere. One of the most memorable parts of that trip was a small hike I took in the Sitka National Historic Park Trails to see the Tlingit Totems. It was a peaceful, spiritual walk, and I felt so at home in a place vastly different from the home I grew up in. Unfortunately, because this was before the time of Instagram and Facebook, I didn’t take a bazillion pictures. All my memories of my time in Sitka are in my head. I ended up not attending that college due to issues with their accreditation, but I’m forever grateful for the chance to briefly explore and get a quick glimpse of a land so stunning it took my breath away.
After my visit to Sheldon Jackson was done, I flew back to Seattle and spent one night and one day at the University of Puget Sound campus in Tacoma, WA, where I eventually attended and earned my Bachelor of Arts in English. I missed many opportunities available at school to explore and enjoy the outdoors for multiple reasons. But living in Washington state gave me new opportunities after graduation to hike in weather and terrain completely new to me.
Some of my favorite hikes were up forest service roads along Hwy 410. I still couldn’t tell you which roads I took, because I was still fairly inexperienced and unprepared for hiking, but the call of the mountain was like a siren in my ear and I just went to where it led me, without prior planning or knowledge of the trails I would take. I ventured to one particular mountain several times, nearly falling of the edge at one point as I tried to back up to have my picture taken. My reaction turned out to be one my favorite pictures.
My favorite hiking partner was my dog, Roxy. She was a cattle dog/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix with probably a little pit thrown in for good measure. She was a muscular dog with a lot of endurance. We hiked so many mountain trails, many with some steep incline. One of her least favorite was Mt Pete (or Mt Peak, or Pinnacle Peak) in Enumclaw, where we lived, because we were there almost every day after I finished work. Another after-work favorite of mine was near White River Mill Pond, toward First Lake. A fellow hiker and local Highland Cow Farmer, Bonnie, had introduced me to the trail. We took our dogs out there and let them run. It was a quick ten minutes from my house, and easy to get a good work out in, but away from town and, like I like it, in the woods.
I did a lot of off-trail hiking, which wasn’t always the safest. But the potential to get lost, or, more importantly, find some hidden gem of a building or secret passageway, was the fuel that kept my heart racing, pushing for more. I explored Boulder Cave in the winter season, which I now know is a big no-no due to the environmental impact on the native bats that winter over in the cave. The solitude of being on the trail and in the cave with snow all around gave me an adrenaline rush, but not like one you might get with skydiving or race cars. It was as if I was standing on the edge of a fantasy and could just barely touch the other side, as if I could be transported to a whole other world at any moment. As you can see, I was still sorely unprepared, wearing all the wrong clothing and shoes, none of which were meant for cold and wet weather.
It’s almost mandatory that a person living in Washington visit Mt Rainier a few times. I foolishly chose to hike to Palisades Lakes. Alone. During a rainstorm. It was a beautiful hike, but I think this was the first time I realized that my style of hiking was dangerous and downright stupid. I had a tree fall down in front of me, blocking the trail. I had to find a way around it, and I was forced to run uphill back toward the trailhead in order to avoid becoming hypothermic or being injured. I somehow managed to take some beautiful pictures, but I never went back. I think it had more to do with my own humiliation than not wanting to see the trail again. I hope one day I can go back and spend the night. Safely.
I was smart enough to join the Washington Trails Association, a phenomenal group of people working to conserve and restore the trails in Washington. I did several trail building projects with them and met some incredible, adventuresome folks. It is definitely work that I would like to get back into someday soon, possibly an activity that I can share with my daughters. I also did enjoyed time with the Washington Outdoor Women organization where I learned more about safety, survival, and preparation.
Living in and exploring Washington helped fuel the fire inside me for adventure and time in the wilderness. The forest, especially the pine forests of the Pacific Northwest, has a pure, crisp, comforting fragrance that I became addicted to. To this day, I will ask my children when we are out in the woods, “Do you smell that? Isn’t that wonderful?” They just look at me funny but I hope one day they will wander out into the wilderness long after I’m gone and smell the trees and think of me.