So yeah it’s been a rough few weeks.
But writing out last week’s post allowed for some closure and I was ready to do some exploring.
First, a word on how I decided which trail to explore: I dunno. Whatever sounds good and fits within whatever I’m feeling for mileage and elevation gain.
And something in the Mt Hood National Forest sounded good.
The good thing about the trailhead is that it’s right off highway 26 right before you hit Government Camp. This also makes it a popular spot, especially since about half way up you hit mirror lake which is one of those spots so picturesque it doesn’t even seem real. So get up and get your coffee early to get ahead of the crowds.
It starts switchbacking through old growth forest fairly early on but since you gain about 1700 feet in about 3-ish miles, the grade is enough to get your lungs working but not make you feel like you want to punch yourself in the face.
I started thinking about labels as I continued my uphill trek. I like labels. I like defined situations and starts, middles and ends. I like plans and bullet points and steps. The last four years of trail running/exploring/climbing have taught me more flexibility but it is still a default setting to seek defined parameters in most aspects of my life. Especially when life feels unsteady.
What was on my mind that morning was who and what I am these days. You know, nothing major. When I found trail running, I found not only a missing part of myself, I found an identity and a community. Thanks to a knee injury that’s sort of been up and down for awhile now, there’s been periods of no running and now a sort of mixed bag of running/hiking/shuffling that has me trailing behind most runners but outpacing most hikers and doesn’t really seem to allow room for me to fit comfortably into either category or community. And the truth is, I don’t know if I will ever race again, something that at one point was pretty damn important to me.
I was contemplating all this just past the lake when the trail gets less switch back-y and more gradual uphill grade. The trees gave way to slide of talus and Mt. Hood came into view. Maybe one day I’ll stop being amazed by the sight of mountains looming over me but…actually I hope that never happens. I stopped and breathed and smiled, loop in my head broken for the moment.
A little further up the trail, you hit a big pile of rocks that I’m sure has some sort of purpose or meaning. Look for the arrow that will have you hanging a sharp left and continue on. Once you’ve reached that point, you probably have a half mile to go before topping out on a talus-y, treeless peak. From there you can see Hood looming large with St Helens and Adams on either side, Rainer peaking out in the back and Jefferson in the other direction. It was brilliantly sunlit and blue and open on the peak. I feel weightless in that environment. Groundless and floaty.
But not unsteady, despite the lack of definitions to orient me.
Huh. Interesting. The thing about being in the mountains is that for me, it is effortless joy. My limbs and lungs may feel all sorts of effort but all the defined edges of my soul disappear and becomes part of a deep current of joy. Joy that feels like it is as old as the mountain. Joy that doesn’t need a label. That just is. I just am in that environment. Part of that same current, no beginning or end. I’ve been there as long as the mountain has too.
That’s the answer I always come back to, every time I visit these questions. It doesn’t matter what I call myself (or what anyone else calls me for that matter). Just go where your soul goes and forget the rest.
Length: about 6-7 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 1700 feet or thereabouts, with the high point being 4900ish feet
Difficulty: not super douche-y
bathroom sitch: porta potties at trail head (yet another reason to get up early and beat the crowds)