Or: I Lack Even the Most Basic Survival Instincts
Welcome to the second edition of the Weekly Peakly, a chronicling of my adventures in hiking. This week we built off the lessons we learned last week and made some new, fun mistakes!
For this week’s journey, I set out on the illustrious Licorice Fern Trail, located somewhere in between Issaquah and Renton, WA (I’m not great with maps, so 90% of the time I have no idea where I am). I selected this trail because the elevation gain was a measly 200 feet, which meant it should have been leagues easier than the first trail that I tried to tackle. It was supposed to be 3.8 miles round trip, though my mileage varied a bit. I ended up with a 2.8-mile hike, but my Fitbit says I climbed 45 flights of stairs in that time. I think this was because the trail was pretty up and down, so the elevation gain was probably more than 200 feet, it was just not all at once like the last trail.
The first thing to note about this trail is that it was NOT parking friendly.
The trailhead itself is like, right next to somebody’s very large house, and the parking is just, like, a ditch on the side of the road! I almost didn’t go because I was concerned about leaving my car there and it made me a bit uncomfortable to just trek across someone’s driveway. Still, I didn’t have another hike planned, and I’m a stubborn fool when I get determined to do something. So, I pulled my car into that little divot on the side of the road and headed to the trail.
The woods surround you quickly on this trail, so I soon forgot that I had to pass that massive house to arrive. I felt like I blinked and was absorbed into the wild, nothing around but the tall trees and the rippling river. It had a witchy kind of aesthetic to it, as well. The moss on the bark looked like it held just a bit of magic, and the gnarled branches of the pines stretched overhead as though they had grown that way through dark and ominous winds. It would have been very on-theme if I had been out and about around Halloween, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if a grizzled woman had leapt from the brush to offer me a suspiciously shiny apple.
There were no other hikers out and about today. I’d gone after work, so I arrived at the trailhead at about 4:15pm. This meant that I didn’t have much light left, but I didn’t think this would be much of a problem (spoiler: I was wrong). It was also a bleary, rainy day. It drizzled steadily from the moment I set out, the drops increasing in size and pace as the light died. Still, the trees kept most of it from reaching me, so I was surrounded in a chilled mist, but never actually soaked. I did end up taking off my glasses, though, because they kept fogging up and blocking my view.
This time, I was determined to push myself and try to make it to the end of the trail. I was very focused on pacing myself and trekking through the mud, making sure I wasn’t trying to climb to fast or place any step carelessly that could send me tumbling into the twigs below. I found myself quite taken with the sights, enjoying the shapes of the trees and the growth that lined the edges of the trail. I found that I enjoyed the fact that I had the trail all to myself, feeling like I was on my own medieval adventure.
I made it to a point in the trail where it crossed the road just as I started losing the very last bits of the light. I wish that I had more pictures from the return, but my phone wasn’t really cooperating by that point. I’ll cover this more in the mistakes section, but in case you didn’t know, it gets very dark in the woods when the sun goes down. Still, I celebrated the completion of the trail (or what I thought was the completion) with a selfie in the dark. Victory achieved!
I must say, I was very proud of myself to reach that point. I think the trail might have continued another half a mile on the other side of the road, but I wasn’t certain, and I was out of light, so I was counting it done and headed back. I’d come much farther than I had with my first attempt, and it felt really, amazingly good to have done so.
Mistakes and R E G R E T S:
1. Dark is fucking dark. I set out late in the afternoon, so I did have some inkling that it would be dark by the time I got back to my car. I didn’t really anticipate how quickly the light would disappear, though, nor did I understand just how dark it gets out there. I, in my infinite wisdom, did not have a flashlight. Now, I didn’t think this would be a problem (infinite wisdom and all that). I had my phone, after all, and a spare battery pack for the phone that would have charged it back to 100% twice before I’d be out of luck. I figured if the worst happened and I couldn’t see, my phone would be bright enough.
The thing is, darkness like that can’t really be grasped properly until you’re in it. It isn’t like walking across a dark house, turning your light on to help you find your shoes. I do that almost every morning, and it works like a charm. I often find my phone light too bright in these situations, so it never occurred to me that it wasn’t going to be too bright in all scenarios.
Darkness out in the woods…that’s a different thing altogether.
It feels like it’s alive. Part of that could be the constant rustling in the trees, the soft patter of the rain all around you, the rush of the river as it fades in and out of the trail. More than that, though, and more importantly, the way it devours light made it seem like an entity that had joined me on my hike. Unspoken, unseen, it was a creature that had wrapped itself around my shoulders, lingering at the edges of my steamed breath. I didn’t know if it was there for luck, for laughs, or adventure. I didn’t know if it meant good or ill. It was there all the same, consuming the waves of light that I needed to see, leaving me only just enough to get by.
That phone light that was too bright indoors became a poor, weak glimmer out in the forest. It illuminated just enough for me to see where to put my feet, but little else. The fog that rolled in didn’t help. I found myself in the middle of the woods, all light sucked away from me, barely able to see anything beyond my own face.
It was terrifying. It was exhilarating.
There was a moment where I stopped, covering the light on my phone and extinguishing the only source of it that I had, and I had never been in such total and complete darkness. I could see nothing, no illumination from any point. I could hear the world around me, feel it below my mud-caked boots, but there was no other proof that it was still there.
The logical part of my brain kicked into high gear, reminding me that I needed to hurry to get back to the car, that I was now working on limited time because if I ran out of battery life while still out there, then I’d be stuck. There was no way I could navigate without the light because I’d walk right off the edge and into a ditch. The only thing between me and a cold, bitter night in the middle of the forest, was this small blue glow encased in glass and circuitry. I knew I had to book it.
Still, there was something amazing about it, as well. I reveled in the darkness, in the pumping of my heart as it rushed blood and adrenaline and oxygen through my veins. I was exhilarated by the lonely murk that surrounded me, feeling adrift in something bigger than myself. I’m sappy enough to believe that there are still types of magic left in this world, things that inspire awe and take our breath away without us being able to explain why. Things that make our minds grow broader, opening unknown depths within ourselves where we find meaning and purpose that we might not have expected. There is magic in the way these things work, and I believe that I found magic on this trail, trapped in the threads of the dark. Even though it scared me, even though I knew that if I dropped my phone or the rain shorted the battery I would be toast, I was glad to have found this magic.
No matter how things turned out, no matter what came next, I had been, for this one moment, part of the unseen elements that guide this world. Part of the things that we cannot understand. Part of a little bit of fate, lurking in the places where we cannot see by light of day.
It was an adventure, and while next time I’ll make sure to have a flashlight, nothing will make me forget how amazing it felt to be free for this one night.
2. SHOELACES. FUCK. Okay, so I think the laces on my boots are not quite long enough because I have a really hard time pulling them tight enough. On my first hike it took some doing, but because I never had any issues I was lax about it this time around. I tied them a bit looser, and they came undone about four or five times, making my boot threaten to slough off and stick in the mud on more than one occasion. I had to stop and re-tie them, which was annoying. I regret not double-checking my lace length and making sure they were on tight before heading out.
Hot Takes for Hikers:
A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words
If you’re keen on taking pictures of your hikes, I recommend getting a camera. I had initially thought that my phone would get the job done, but after hiking in low-light conditions I’m realizing that it doesn’t quite do the trick. Since I plan on keeping up with these posts, at least for the next year, I want to be able to have lovely pictures, so I’m intending to invest in a nice camera to take with me. This will have two benefits that I can see. One, I’ll be able to take the quality pictures that I would like to have and share them with all of you, and two, I won’t waste my phone battery by taking photos, so that I have it ready to go in case of an emergency.
Also, I think I want to get one with night vision, for reasons.
The Greatest Goddamn Banana I’ve Ever Had
I don’t know if it’s because I was very hungry after my hike or because it’s actually a secret, delicious wonder that I’ve never before discovered, but I ate a bag of trail mix when I got back to the car and it was the most delectable thing in the universe. Maybe the air from the trees makes you more inclined to enjoy nuts and dried fruits than you would normally be, but I scarfed that fuckin trail mix like it was the only thing I had ever eaten. The mix I have has dried apricots and banana chips in in, and I think dried banana chips might be my new favorite thing to eat? So damn good.
In any case, I recommend finding a trail mix that you enjoy and packing some in your hiking bag. You may or may not eat it, but when you do it will be the fucking amazing.
Song of the Hike: All Time High, by Def Leppard. It definitely captured the exhilaration I felt throughout the hike, plus there’s a lyric about mountains or some shit. This is also one of my favorite Def Leppard songs, so it made me happy when it popped up on the playlist.
Animals Seen: 3 fluffy cow/bull/buffalo (?) things on the drive over, one squirrel, and a moth friend that followed the light on my phone. I named him Gershwin.
Mood: you better watch out, you better watch out, you better watch out, you better watch out, you better WATCH OUT, YOU BETTER WATCH – oh wait, I’m fine. VICTORY.
Trail Rank: Very witchy, river was A+. Would let the darkness consume me and make me a kindred spirit of the forest.