Tuesday September 29, 2009
The World's Worst Hiker: Rachel Lake
Within five minutes of hiking to Rachel Lake in the Snoqualmie Pass, I lost the trail. Wait, it was worse. Saturday morning, Patricia and I drove east on I-90, then for five miles next to Kachless Lake, then four miles over an uneven dirt road to the half-full parking lot, where a few campers and their dogs milled about. Geared up, we saw a sign, “Welcome to Rachel Lake Trail,” and headed down that road. “Down” should've given us a clue: It led to another parking lot. P: “I don't think this is the trail.” Backtracking, P shouted to two campers: “You guys know where you're going?” and laughed. Generally I'm not shy about asking directions, but at that moment I felt about a gonad short of a pack. I'd lost the trail before I'd found it.
Eventually, after signing in at the trailhead, we passed those dudes and their dog, and five minutes later I stepped over a group of branches in the middle of the trail. Some part of me was thinking, “It's as if someone put them there on purpose,” but the more insistent part of me kept going. About 150 feet later the trail diminished to nothing. More backtracking. Were we backpacking or backtracking? Oh right, the branches. As a warning. Now I get it.
Twice on one hike. Could I go for the hat trick?
Much of hiking, though, is pacing, and P and I are unfortunately ill-matched here. If I go at my pace, she gets left behind; if we go at hers, I get resentful, and even when I don't, even if I'm feeling magnanimous that day, she assumes I'm resentful and resents back. Or maybe she resents the magnanimity more. Who wouldn't? The loftiness of spirit to bear me calmly? Who the fuck do you think you are? We had that friction early in the Rachel Lake hike. Plus her threshhold of beauty is lower than mine. She's often stopping, arms akimbo, going, “My god, this is beautiful,” while, slightly ahead, I stop, look around, shrug. “Isn't this beautiful?” she insists. “Yeah, it's beautiful,” I say. I'm assuming she's stopping just to rest. She's pissed at me for going so fast as to miss all this beauty. Not to mention the trail. And that's how we hike.
But at some point, generally during steep ascents, she lets me off-leash and I go bounding up. Rachel Lake is four miles one way: a mile of gradual ascent, a mile a half of relative flat next to a creek, and a final mile and a half that takes you up 1600 feet over big rocks and huge, twisting roots like out of Tolkien. P let me loose early in the ascent and I quickly passed a couple that had passed us on the flat. “We downshifted to granny gear,” the husband joked. I smiled and made a magnanimous remark about being less burdened with my half-full daypack, as opposed to their full backpacks, but it sounded overlong and hollow even as it left my mouth. (Lesson for the day: Magnanimity sucks.) A minute later, I was still ruminating on the idiocy of the line when I wondered: Is this the trail? I convinced myself, Yeah, it's the trail, but it kept narrowing and narrowing. I didn't want to backtrack because a) it still might be the trail, and b) if it wasn't, I'd be behind that couple again and I'd have to repass them, and I hated repassing people. Although in retrospect it might've been fun—like those old Tex Avery cartoons where Droopy Dog keeps turning up, impossibly, again and again and again, and, with a lugubrious “Hello,” makes his antagonist's eyes bulge out and his mouth drop to the floor.
Then I heard the couple ahead of me. Which meant I wasn't on the trail. Which meant I'd lost it again.
But I kept going forward. I'm hard-wired for forward. Maybe, I thought, this trail hooks back up with the main trail. It was worth a shot. Until the trail disappeared completely.
At that point, 20 yards downhill, I saw Patricia's white shirt gleaming through the pine trees and yelled down to her. She looked up—but not at me. Ahead on the trail. Which is where she assumed I was. “Yeah?”
Even though it was a gross violation of hiking etiquette, I went off-trail—purposefully, this time—in order to get back on trail.
“Why am I waiting?” she yelled uptrail. A second later I came crashing through the trees to her right. “Oh,” she said.
After that, we stuck together.
As tired as she was, Patricia kept complimenting the hike and its views, but overall I wasn't enamored. I don't need to do this one again, I kept thinking. Until we got to Rachel Lake.
I mean, c'mon.