Sunday, May 15, 2011

Soundtrack to a Hike

   When I was a kid, my parents and grandparents took me on numerous hikes, ranging from a few hours to a few days in length. I was allowed to bring all sorts of things in my backpack, but the one piece of technology I wasn’t allowed was my tape or CD player. This was before cell phones, personal gaming systems and mp3 players; in other words, this was the dark ages. I remember my friends, who weren’t as adventures as me, not being able to understand how I could survive for a few days without cable TV or a phone. I never understood their worries, at least not back then.  Now, I can’t be found without my IPod, my GPS, and my cell phone, even when I am standing on top of a 10,000ft peak. Yet, with all these uses of technology and a steady stream of 80’s rock, rap and techno hits filling my ears, it isn’t the same as when I was less than five feet tall. I miss the hikes as a kid. No music, no GPS, no phones, just each other to serve as the trail's entertainment.
            Instead of music to listen to during the hikes, we told stories. Listening to and learning these stories always made me feel like I lived hundreds, if not thousands of years earlier. Walking through the woods, no sign of humans, experiencing the joys of good story telling still makes me smile, and as a child, opened up an imaginary world of adventure and innocence. These stories took my brain away from the monotony of left foot, right foot, left foot and repeat. They also served as a way for bonding through the generations, allowing me a chance to get to know my grandparents even better.
            I listen to the rain hitting the window as I look at my computer screen, longing for the yarns my grandpa would weave as we trudged down a trail, exhausted from the day’s miles on our legs. The weather has pinned me down inside, but it is days like this where I can reflect on just how lucky I was to have the experiences I had as a child molding me into the man I am today. My favorite memory is as follows, so I hope you enjoy this on a rainy day, and pass down stories to your friends and family next time you are out on a hike.
            Years ago, back when Seattle still had a basketball team, the University of Washington was a football power house, and when Clyde Drexler was leading the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA finals, I lived in a house on a hill in Vancouver Washington. Living in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens, but too young to have witnessed it’s eruption (I was born 1 lousy year too late), I was always curious what it looked like up close. Lucky for me, my grandpa lived just across the Columbia River, and agreed to take my sister and I to climb an active volcano. The route was 9 miles round trip, and heading up was a curious adventure into the many landscapes that surround an erupted volcano. We started in a young forest, with smallish trees interspersed with volcanic rocks and a clean, clear trail. After that, we maneuvered through a solidified lava/boulder field and started to quickly gain elevation. To be honest, I remember the scenery, but not the hike up, that is, until the last quarter of a mile.
            The last quarter mile of the trail is ash, which is like hiking in quicksand, since you are walking up a 60-degree angle. The ash is so deep, that you never see what is below it, and each step you take, you slide back half a step. It is slow, monotonous, and extremely difficult when you are 9 years old. We made it to the top, peered over the edge and had our lunch. It was great to look around from the ridge, see Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier. It was at this moment, standing at the “peak” of my first mountain that I was hooked on climbing. The feeling of being on one of the tallest things is sight is a drug, and I am addicted. My sister, my grandpa and I had a great time at the top, and after hearing the tails they told about the eruption, we started out trek down the mountain.
            Now, I don’t know if you have ever hiked with a 9 year old and a 12 year old, but my grandpa was a trooper. My sister and I got tired not more than 20 minutes down, so my grandpa had to get us distracted enough to keep walking. This is where the soundtrack of my hikes came in to full effect. As my sister and my energy wavered with each step, my grandpa regaled us with a tale of a child who was lost in the mountains because he didn’t listen to his parents. After years of searching nobody could find him. The child was a Native American with the unique name of Falling Rock. Years went by and eventually, his parents started putting up signs all over the country telling people to keep their eyes open for their missing child. The signs read, “Watch For Falling Rock”, which is pretty obvious from the get-go.
            My sister and I were so tired, my grandpa had to stretch the story over 2 hours long, making up random details, pulling from his own childhood adventures to keep us motivated to keep hiking. We eventually got back to the car, got home and collapsed from 9 miles of hiking. Years later, I asked my grandpa about this, and he admitted it was difficult to keep the story going. He continued out of love, and out of the instinctual desire to keep the family unit together. The story of Falling Rock is forever ingrained into my brain, and any time I glance at Mt. St. Helens, or am surrounded by large boulders, I drift back to the days of hiking with my grandpa, and the stories he told to keep me from complaining about being tired.  
Now, I mainly hike alone, rarely having anyone to serve as my storyteller. I listen to my IPod, and sometime catch myself losing touch with the very nature I am trying to experience. Stories told by fellow hikers will always trump music, and I hope to someday share my stories with my family and friends, as we trudge on in some unforgiving, yet uniquely beautiful scenery.
Keep Hiking, stay safe, and keep your eyes peeled for Falling Rock.

Douglas Scott