It was about the third switchback, not even that far up from the Kings trail head when the tears started.
My dog is dying.
We are almost two years past the cancer diagnosis and the surgery that took her left front leg. We knew then that we were borrowing time and it seems to have caught up to us. Cancer in her remaining front leg has metastisized to her lungs. The vet said we’d know when it was time and all that’s left for us to do is keep her comfortable until then.
I’m already sick of crying and she isn’t even gone yet.
For anyone who thinks that because there aren’t any tall peaks in the coastal range surely no trail could be that challenging, come hang out with me sometime. The trail up Kings gains 2500 in only 2.5 miles making it’s grade somewhere between this shit is ridiculous and kiss my ass hard.
I’d originally set out to do the loop from Kings to Elks mountain, a total of eleven miles and about 4000-ish feet of gain between the two mountains. It’s on my bucket list of stupid hard crap to do and right about now, I’d really like to experience something physically uncomfortable enough to get me out of my own head.
I don’t think there are enough switchbacks in the world to do that right now.
With every pounding heart beat, I thought about Keely’s journey. From skinny, starved, abused shelter dog on the kill list that I met in December of 2007 to cancer survivor in Sept of 2015 to where she is now. Her life has been unfairly difficult. And I worry, always worry, that we haven’t given her enough good moments in between to make up for what she’s had to go through.
Dammit, now I’m crying again.
The thing about the trail, that I’ve heard plenty of people say, is it’s a metaphor for life but I think it’s a little more than that. I could escape my life pretty easily if I wanted to. We humans have found so many ways, many totally legal, to distract us from ourselves. I think the trail is a fun house mirror of life that you can’t escape. Even if you decide to bail a few miles in, you’ve got to get back to your car somehow so you are forced to face every crappy thought your scared little brain throws at you. It’s not pretty.
And that’s why I like it. Because it doesn’t give me easy. I’ve had too much of easy and never gave me anything but an ache for what was missing. So I go out there and find stupid hard things to do because then I can live completely in myself and every time I’ve face the scared, mean, angry parts of myself and managed to get back to the trail head, I’ve also found a little more empathy and compassion and forgiveness. Peace. I could use some peace right about now.
But my time with Keely is shortening by the minute.
So I decided to shorten the hike and only get to the top of Kings and back so that I could spend more time with her, even if that meant just listening to her snore. One day in the very near future, I am going to desperately miss those snores.
Right about then was when I looked up and noticed the 2000 ft elevation sign nailed into a tree. That meant I only had about a mile and 1200 feet of gain to get to the top of the mountain. The last time I was there, it was raining and the entire area was shrouded in mist which gave the sense that the ground just dropped away to nothing once you get out of the tree line and I wanted to see what it looked like when it was clear. I can now comfirm that is absolutely true.
At the top I said a prayer to the winds for peace. Not for me. For her.
And then I went home and sat in the sun with my dog and didn’t miss the trail for a minute.
Trail stats: (Kings trailhead to summit only)
Difficulty: So this is funny. Tillamook state forest calls this trail ‘challenging’. Oregon hikers call it ‘moderate’ which is complete bullshit because they also called Cape Lookout moderate and having been on both of those trails, I can assure you, they are not even remotely the same grade. I’m sticking with my personal grade of ‘this shit is ridiculous’.
Distance: 5 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 2500 feet in 2.5 miles
Bathroom sitch: chemical toilet at trailhead.