Saturday, August 06, 2011

Journey to Wood Creek

Dawn is breaking through the darkness of tall evergreens. I am nestled comfortably in the warmth of my sleeping bag, somewhere in that drowsy, contented place between dreaming and waking, when I become aware of two things: Kent is stirring beside me, and our tent is MOVING. “Yikes!” Kent yelps. “The tent is sliding!”

Last night we pitched our free-standing Big Agnes Seedhouse 2 in a very small not-quite-flat space near the edge of a 20-foot drop down to the rocky edges of a waterfall, and we are slipping toward that edge with alarming speed. I have visions of us falling, zipped inside the tent, crashing down against the rocks. Adrenaline kicks in, and I come fully awake, wailing incoherently, bracing myself and jamming my foot against a rock in an attempt to pin the tent to it, while Kent grabs hold of a tree root, trying to halt our downward slide. Gravity is not our friend at the moment, and I am very scared.

It seems a bit ironic, because up until now we have been having an idyllic adventure. We left Issaquah yesterday early in the morning, with our camping gear loaded on our Trek Allants. It was a picture perfect summer day, with beautiful sunshine and clear blue sky. I had actually managed to make it up the hill out of Issaquah without stopping for the first time ever, and we rode comfortably to Preston, through Fall City, then turning right on SR-202. We stopped to buy a small bunch of Rainier cherries for $1.00 at a roadside stand. After a short stretch along 202, we turned onto the quiet and pleasant Fish Hatchery Road, where we were greeted by a lady with her pug, and caught a glimpse of kangaroos. Fish Hatchery Road parallels the Snoqualmie River and then turns to rejoin 202 for a very steep climb up to Snoqualmie Falls. I stopped a couple of times to walk, while Kent pedaled along behind me all the way up.

Snoqualmie Falls is worth the climb. The waterfall is magnificent in the sunshine, and we are close enough to feel a bit of the spray from the overlook. We watch for a while, then find a bench in the shade to rest and refuel with trail mix and cherries.

Leaving the falls we turn onto Mill Pond Road which has a short, busy section. Big trucks roar by, and I am relieved when we come to a lovely quiet section beside a small lake. A bit past the lake, we arrive at the bottom of stairs leading up to the Snoqualmie Trail. I am doubtful about my ability to carry my loaded bike safely up the stairs, and Kent volunteers to carry both bikes (chivalry is not dead), handing me the camera so I can take pictures of him “being rugged and manly.” We enjoy the view of the river from the small bridge at the top of the stairs, then roll forward onto the Snoqualmie Valley Trail -- packed gravel and very pleasant riding -- all the way to North Bend. We stop at Scott's Dairy Freeze for lunch – a burger and chocolate milkshake for me, clams and chips and a chocolate malt for Kent, and an order of onion rings to share. Then we're back on the trail, arriving a couple of hours later at Rattlesnake Lake.

This beautiful green lake, set against the backdrop of Rattlesnake Mountain, is a popular spot for families in search of summer fun. Kids and grown-ups alike float on inner tubes and other inflatable toys in the water, or stretch out on quilts and beach towels, enjoying picnic foods and drinks. We rest in the shade of a tree, watching a cute little girl in her pink dress and sun hat wander around clutching the leash of her equally adorable Basset Hound named Lily. It's a bit of a toss-up as to who is taking whom for a walk, but they both seem to be having a good time. Eventually we get up to walk around the edge of the lake, stopping to read about the wildlife and the submerged city of Moncton, and to take pictures by a waterfall at the edge of the trail.

Rested and refreshed, we head up onto the Iron Horse Trail and ride along the gravel surface in search of a place to camp. The climb is not steep, but it is pretty relentless, and after an hour or so I am really starting to hope we will find a campsite soon. We explore the grassy open space at Ragnar, which is pleasant but has no water nearby. It's a very warm, sunny afternoon, and we've used up quite a bit of the supply that we started out with, so we were hoping to find a site with water along the trail. Kent thinks we'll find something “just a bit further up” around Garcia, so we head back to the trail and ride on. As the climb continues, I keep on gearing down until I am barely moving forward at all. I am trying to be a good sport about this, but it has been a long climb and there is no part of my body that is comfortable at this point. My shoulders ache, my hands ache, my butt aches, my legs ache, my feet ache.

We pass several groups of rock climbers, and I suddenly find myself riding out onto a trestle overlooking an impressive chasm. At least, I would be impressed if I were not terrified of heights. I'm rolling across, trying to follow the classic piece of advice, “Don't look down,” but unless I shut my eyes completely, the “down” hovers at the edges of my peripheral vision. Vertigo sets in. I cannot orient myself in space or feel any connection to the ground beneath me, and I start to scream. Kent assures me I am safe, and I know this in my head, but I can't feel it. I focus on his rear wheel and manage to make it across, where I collapse and try to breathe deeply, apologizing profusely for freaking out. Kent reassures me that it's fine, that “the trestles are freaky.” He also assures me that Garcia is “just a bit further up.” So on we go. There are more trestles, and I get off and walk across them. We finally reach Garcia, but there is no place to camp, no place at the side of the trail that is not steep rock. We ride on, and Kent moves further ahead to scout out possibilities while I plod, and plod, and plod, along in my low gear.

The trail is beautiful, my mind can barely hold all the richness and beauty of the day's experiences, and my bike is generally a joy to ride. But it's been a long day of riding for me nevertheless, and I am rapidly reaching a place where I can barely keep turning the pedals. My mind's soundtrack is playing an African-American spiritual:

It was inch by inch that I sought the Lord;

It was inch by inch that he saved my soul . . .

Keep inching along, keep inching along,

Jesus will come by and by.

Keep inching along, like a poor inchworm,

Jesus will come by and by.

We'll inch and inch and inch along,

And inch by inch till we get home . . .

Oh, trials and trouble on the way,

But we must watch (for a campsite!) as well as pray . . .

It's perhaps a bad thing for a lifelong Christian to be looking forward to supper and sleep more than the coming of Jesus, but I have to admit, I am getting to that point. This poor little inchworm is tired, and – did I say tired? – make that “exhausted” -- and running out of energy to inch forward any further. Finally I come to a stop, get off my bike, and start walking. Exercising different muscles for awhile helps, and at least I am continuing to move.

Kent rides back to me a few minutes later, and reassures me again that we'll find something “just a bit further up.” “This is why so many of your friends don't want to go camping with you,” I mutter darkly, smiling to take the edge off my words. “Your definition of 'just a bit further' is different than any normal person's.” He offers to go back to camp at Ragnar, but I tell him firmly that there is no way I am going over those “freaky” trestles again tonight. No “freakin'” way.

Eventually, we arrive at a little sign for “Wood Creek” where it appears that we can actually get off the trail. We venture into the woods up the hill (of course, it would be “up”) and find a small, sloping space with just barely enough mostly flat space to pitch the tent. I'm a little concerned about the steep terrain, but it has taken us so long to get here, and I'm really not anxious to hit the trail again. And in a weird kind of way, this place is beautiful. Impossibly tall trees surround us, giant silent sentinels that I imagine Tolkien's Ents would find congenial, somehow sinking roots into the steep slope. And there is a waterfall tumbling over the rocks to the ground far beneath us, and a short climb over a log to a spot where we can actually reach it. The idea of camping by our own secluded waterfall is enchanting. Kent hauls the bikes in from the trail and sets up camp while I move gingerly along the slope collecting fuel for the Kelly Kettle.

Kent fires up the Kelly Kettle while I open packages of Easy Mac into a small plastic container. The water boils quickly, and Kent pours it over the macaroni. “I need something to insulate this,” he announces, so I move carefully over to my bike and dig my wool hat out of a bag. It works perfectly. While I'm at it, I extract my spork from my Camelbak to stir in the cheese sauce. In a few minutes, we're digging into mac and cheese, a tin of smoked trout, the rest of the cherries, and chocolate. It tastes wonderful, the view of the trees and the waterfall is magnificent, and the company can't be beat. I am a blissfully happy inchworm, and amazed that I have actually inched along as far as we have come today.

The space for the tent is so small that one of us is going to have to sleep with our head over a tree root that is sticking out under the tent. I don't mind taking the root, but Kent insists (as I said before, chivalry is not dead). Darkness falls quickly in the forest. We settle into our sleeping bags, and are soon asleep. I wake up occasionally during the night, hearing the sound of water and thinking it must be raining, then I remember that wonderful waterfall . . .

“Yikes!” “Eeeeeeeeek!” -- that wonderful waterfall that we are starting to slide down into, as early morning light filters through the trees. I've got my foot jammed against a rock, fighting panic and clinging to Kent, and Kent is holding tight to the tree root.

“I think you have to get out so we can move the tent,” Kent says. “I'll hold onto the root.”

I don't want to release my hold on him or take my foot off the rock, but I know he's right. We have to get out of this predicament, even if it means risking further slippage. I nod, trusting him to hold on for both of us, and scramble out of my sleeping bag to unzip the tent, pitching my jacket and sandals out ahead of me, climbing out, grabbing the tent, bracing myself against a log, digging my heels in, and holding on tight to the tent. Kent climbs out after me, and we secure the tent back in its semi-flat space. We carefully crawl back into our sleeping bags, joking about falling for each other and inclinations and so forth, and Kent eventually dozes off again, but I'm wide awake, and happy just to rest, looking out at the sunlight filtering through the trees, and giving thanks that we've survived a bit more excitement than most folks prefer on a camping trip.

Eventually we get up, fire up the Kelly Kettle, and enjoy hot beverages, bagels, and granola bars. We break camp and are back on the trail by 9am. It's another beautiful day, a really good day to be alive and not crushed against rocks at the base of a waterfall. I am determined not to be such a weenie about the trestles today, and as we approach the first one, I take a leaf from Jan Karon's Mitford books, and invoke “Philippians 4:13!” Her main characters are all good Episcopalians who know that this Biblical citation is for “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me,” and when confronted with any challenge from the sublime to the ridiculous, they go around chirping “Philippians 4:13!” at each other. It is actually fairly annoying, exceeding my saccharine tolerance at times, though I generally enjoyed the books. So I spice it up a bit as I roll across the trestle by punctuating my Scriptural citation with a bit of profanity. With each turn of the wheel, I settle into a rhythm. “Philippians 4:13, damn it! Philippians 4:13, damn it!” It certainly won't put me in the running for sainthood, but it gets me across the trestle! Yes! And every trestle after that! Woo-hoo!

We continue on down the trail, and catch a glimpse of a raccoon scurrying across, pausing to perch on its hind legs and look at us curiously. He seems to be out late for a raccoon; these nocturnal critters are normally back home fast asleep by dawn. I wonder if he's been out partying, maybe sneaking in after curfew? “But Mom, it was so cool; I saw two humans on the way home, riding funky two-wheeled machines! And the one with the mustache, on the black machine, pointed a little shiny rectangular thing at me, but I got away.”

Speaking of the funky two-wheeled machines, the Allants have performed superbly on this trip. They handle fine with the added weight of our gear, and are very comfortable to ride on the packed gravel trails. And in case anybody is wondering, Trek isn't paying me to say so. We just really do love and enjoy our bikes, like lots of other people. And the fact that they are so similar makes it easy for us to ride together, despite the fact that Kent is a much stronger rider.

We coast along happily on the trail, enjoying the downhill trip home that is the sweet reward for all our climbing yesterday. I don't think inchworms really undergo metamorphosis. But as I zip along on my Allant under the trees with Kent beside me, smiling, and sunlight shines down on us through the green canopy overhead, my spirit soars, and I think that I just might be flying.

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