Tag Archives: oregon

Tom Dick and Harry Mountain

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.

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seriously

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.

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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.

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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.

Trail Stats:

Trailhead

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)

 

The Kings-Elks loop that didn’t happen: apparently crying in the woods is a thing I do now

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.

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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.

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At the top I said a prayer to the winds for peace. Not for me. For her.

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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)

Trailhead

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.

 

It was supposed to be a rest hike but I ended up crying in the woods

Rest hike (n): coined by friends, these are the hikes I take on weeks where I’m decreasing mileage because I want to give my legs a break but still want some time in the woods. In general, they are no more than 5-6 miles at the most, are an actual hike and not my patented run/hike/death shuffle combo and don’t have significant elevation gain. They are also the only hikes those friends will go on with me because apparently I’m ‘crazy’.

As I drove towards the coast and my decided rest hike at Cape Lookout trail, I randomly started thinking about the dark times I’ve had on the trail. Those times when I’ve been in pain or fatigued or just beat down by the heat and how I have had very few moments like that since moving to Oregon. I guess it’s kinda hard to fall into such a negative space when you still are new enough to the area that everything seems like some magical Rivendell to you. The fact that it’s not 85 degrees by 6 am also probably helps. And I fully expected this hike to be in the same vein. Beautiful, enjoyable, maybe I see some whales.

Oh expectations. I should know better by now.

The hike to the Cape was wonderful with the requisite outstanding views and big, old trees that remind me how small I really am in the grand scheme of things (no whales but I did see a bald eagle).

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On the way back, I texted a happy birthday greeting to a friend back in Texas and he responded with some very good news regarding he and his significant other that had happy tears stinging my eyes because I could clearly remember holding his hand 2 years ago when his world was falling apart, helpless to do anything but remind him to keep hanging on because I’d been there too and the roles had been reversed then as he’d been the one that helplessly watched me crumble.

Haha. Oh there you are dark spot.

We moved to Oregon because I’d felt the calling in my soul for years to move to the mountains. The calling started as just a ping, a ‘wouldn’t it be nice’, and slowly grew over several years. By the time we started seriously looking into a move in the summer of 2016, the calling had increased in volume and grown insistent. It was time to go.

Paulo Coelho said: When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.

In our case, the universe didn’t conspire so much as it came clambering, rushing, tripping over itself to greet us. The time between when we started looking for jobs and the time we landed in Oregon was 3 months. The time between when I accepted a job and the time we started driving across the country was 17 days. SEVENTEEN DAYS to pack up our entire life, get the house ready to sell, sell the house, find a new place to live and somehow say goodbye to the friends and family that have been hard fought constants in our life.

My family moved all over the country when I was a kid. Including Oregon, I’ve lived in eight states and on Guam (a US territory). The roots that were planted in Texas took years to grow for someone unused to consistency and almost a year after our move to Oregon, standing amidst 300 year old fir trees, I felt that same grief and confusion at how quickly I pulled them up.

cape lookout 2

How could something felt so right to me also leave me so conflicted?

The tears were no longer happy so I finished the hike as quickly as I could and headed into town to get some food (I am notorious for being calorically underprepared on my excursions).

After a valiant attempt at consuming a slice of pizza bigger than my head, I knew I wasn’t quite ready to go home so I headed to the beach.

Standing there with my feet in the cold pacific ocean, I remembered the other times in my life when the universe had pinged me and I’d ignored it, even when the soft whisperings had turned to desperate screams. How I’d scrabbled and clung to the way things were despite blatant signs that life as I knew had fissures getting closer and closer to my heart every day until finally, they gave way and the ground beneath me caved and buried me alive. How I still wonder sometimes how different things might have been if I’d listened and how I still sometimes feel like I’m scrambling to make up all the lost ground from having to dig my way out of the aftermath.

And how we are all so short sighted while the universe plays the long game and that every transition I’ve ever had in my life, no matter how painful, has lead to something better and deeper and stronger that I never in a million years would have guessed and that I’d committed to myself years ago that I wasn’t going to ignore the callings of my soul anymore which meant I am where I’m supposed to be, even with the confusion and longing for the people I’d left.

I do love this place.

cape lookout 5

Trail stats per the internet:

Trailhead

Trailhead bathroom situation: Porta-potties. I’ve been spoiled, apparently, with the luxurious chemical toilets at other trailheads. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.

Length: 5 miles round trip

Elevation gain: 930 feet according to the internet but maybe that’s how high is above the ocean because I know I didn’t climb that much. The trail head is at 840 feet so maybe there’s a couple hundred feet of elevation change or something.

Difficulty: the internet says moderate. I probably need to learn how the grades are determined. It felt easy to me.

Mud level: Yes.

cape lookout 4

 

 

Indian Point loop: basically just 8 miles of switchbacks

Alternative title: nothing says good morning like clearing cobwebs with your face.

When I first started running* in Texas, the majority of the trails in my area were managed and frequented by a local off road biking club. No matter how early I was hitting the trail, I almost always saw other cars in the parking lot which meant the biker guys were already out there to clear the cobwebs for me.

I really missed those guys last weekend.

The Herman Creek trailhead is a tiny parking lot that doesn’t seem nearly as popular as some of the other hikes in the Gorge AND it has a bathroom** which earns it huge points in my favor.

The thing you need to know about this trail is that if you hate switchbacks, this is probably not the trail for you. After a very short initial decline, this trail starts climbing up and continues pretty much the entire time you are on it.

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Per the internet’s instructions, I took Herman Creek until it connected with Gorton and then started climbing in earnest. Gorton is entirely within the tree line so you don’t really get any views but I stayed cool as I swatted away cobwebs and tried to keep my mouth shut so I wouldn’t swallow any bugs. Once at the top, you hop on Ridge Cutoff trail which literally just crosses the top of the hill before connecting you to Nick Eaton (take the trail heading down and to the right) where you catch those promised amazing views on the other side as you head back down to Herman Creek and heading home.

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Trail tip # 1: Love all the crap that isn’t an instagram worthy view. The sore quads, the cranky IT band, the dehydration, the heat or cold or rain, the fight with your brain once it gets bored 15 minutes into the excursion and tries to get you to turn around and go home so you can sit on the couch like a normal person.

Because if you don’t love that stuff first, I kinda feel like the views won’t mean much.

Anyway, after taking a break in the sun, I started down and soon encountered several hikers on their way up. Nick Eaton is a bruiser of a trail, super steep even with the switch backs to help you out and my quads were shaking by the time I made it back to Herman Creek.

Trail tip # 2: Take the harder trail up. Yes, I know that sounds counter intuitive but I promise it’s always easier to take the steeper portion up than it is down. Your knees will thank you.

Once back on Herman Creek, I caught up with another hiker and chatted with her the whole way back to the car. She was a wealth of info and super nice (I find that most people you encounter on the trail are) and left me with tons of ideas and feeling super inspired.

Trail tip # 3: Always pay attention to the people out there old enough to be your parent. They have the best stories, the most insider info and can kick your ass.

I’ll end with this little bit of info which I think tells you everything you need to know about this trail: that nice hiker I ran into at the bottom said it was her favorite trail to use as training for mountain climbs. So there ya go.

Trail stats (per the internet, not a GPS system or anything because I don’t even wear a watch):

Length: 7.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 2800 feet

Difficulty: Strenuous

*Not that I was ever very fast to begin with but thanks to several injuries and a body that is still getting used to trails that go up, what I do these days is less running and more ‘running’. Meaning sometimes I run, sometimes I hike, sometimes I stand around and curse switchbacks.

**It was a chemical toilet but it was in a building with a door which is luxury accommodations as far as I’m concerned.