Friday, October 22, 2010

Not Just Whistling Dixie

So, I’ve decided to write a little about Phyllis and our one hike together.  Phyllis is one of those people who continually shocks me with her life stories, mostly because I’m so apt to categorize her in my ‘mom box’.  (in other words, I think she’s spent her life changing diapers and cleaning toilets like me, with no great stories to tell except those that involve poop)  And she always just nonchalantly throws these bits of information about herself out there like it’s nothing much to talk about… “oh yeah, I backpacked through Australia”, or “well, when I was nine months pregnant I caught a 265 pound halibut”…that type of thing. So of course I was excited to go on a hike with her in hopes of hearing one of these offhand stories come leaking out. 

We chose Anderson Lake trail, a five-mile hike up in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.  This was back in 2008, when I was even more clueless about hiking than I am now, but I did at least have a description of this trial.  What I didn’t realize is that a description is not super helpful if snow is covering everything.  (who would of thought there would be snow in the middle of July?  Ummm…apparently smart hikers who know to check trail updates do, but I was quite surprised) Fortunately Phyllis was cool as a cucumber and comfortable just sort of ‘feeling it out’, which we did and eventually found our way ok.

Our only point of real panic was when we heard what sounded exactly like someone blowing a whistle, which was the oddest thing to be hearing out there in the middle of nowhere.  We couldn’t figure out why anyone would be blowing a whistle, unless they were trying to call for help.  We were searching for the source of the sound, (the thought of coming across some bear maimed body was really staring to make my stomach turn), when the whistling culprit finally came into view.  I knew what a marmot was because we came across them often when we used to camp at Lake Chelan (I’ll confess I thought it was a beaver when I first saw one—until I noticed it had no tail) but I had never heard one whistle!  So now I know there is such a thing as a ‘whistling marmot’, and if you like a little trivia it’s rumored that is how the town of Whistler in B.C. got it’s name. 

But anyway, back to our hike.  After this little scare of having to possibly rescue someone, one of Phyllis’ “Are you serious?” stories started spilling out.  She told me of a friend of hers who was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and decided to take a little ‘short cut’ that was off the main trail.  This person starting seeing scattered hiking equipment (a sure sign someone had taken a spill) when they stumbled upon this person.  Except this person was now just bones.  Yes—bones!  That’s where I say, “Are you serious?” and yes, Phyllis was not just trying to spook me with some forest ghost story.  She told me of how the fallen hiker had wrote a ‘last will and testament’ explaining how he had broken his leg so badly he couldn’t move, and because he was off trail nobody had come across him to send for help.  The note went on to add if the person who eventually came across his remains would please contact his family so they could know what had happened to him and give him a proper burial—which of course is what Phyllis’ friend did. 

Now I ask you, what kind of crazy fool, after hearing that tale, then becomes interested in a multi-week hike alone in the wilderness?  Realizing this is quite possibly the time when the seed was planted in my brain makes me wonder—do I have some sort of weird death wish?  I have to conclude that on some deep level I very well may, especially when I recall an exchange with my friend Hilary when we were talking about my Appalachian plan.  She asked me, “Aren’t you afraid of being eaten by a bear?” to which I replied, “It beats getting cancer and suffering for months, possibly years, and then dying. How long can it take to get eaten by a bear?”  So, these are the ghastly thoughts I was so eager to share…next posting will be on a lighter note, as I finally describe my overnight hike—with tales of fart filled tents and illegal fires.

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