I asked Dawn if she wants to pet the dog to please do it outside because she’s shedding again and I have to vacuum like every day, and though it’s only the den, it fills the canister in just one go and I marvel at how much hair comes out, an old man’s beard or handlebar mustache, a cartoon capitalist with a top hat and cane.
Ginger’s body must be screwed up, it’s sending signals to shed when they’re supposed to do that before summer I thought, but it might have something to do with our year in Europe; it loosened her up to pee in public at least (she seemed too shy to do it in our neighborhood before), and now she goes like a normal dog, in the same spot I go in the back yard or on the trail, it’s like she’s covering our scent or trying to communicate something to me by the way she looks at me sideways.
For the hundreds of miles the Pacific Crest Trail goes from Canada to Mexico, Brad invited me to join him on the same leg I did in 2009, about 40 miles with some decent elevation gain and a sketchy river ford, which I did in four days but was in better shape then, seven years can be a long time.
I had a bottle of tequila for that trip and drank more of it than I planned to on the first night I was so distraught, and when I got up in the morning I resolved to take the route the ranger expressly warned me against, the ford at South Fork she said was too high, but you had to cross it to get to the alpine lakes I romanticized on the map, all those exotic names and places buried deep in the wilderness far, far away.
It was that trip I learned that athletic underwear loses its wicking properties over time, and the hell of inner-thigh chafing that rubs and scrapes with each stride. But when I got to the other side of the river I found a rock I could sit on and tend to my wounds without fear of discovery, and went several miles and a couple thousand feet higher, got listless and confused when the trail disappeared in a talus slope at a mountain pass and I had to get out my map to navigate, got down to the lake with no one else there on the shores and had it all to myself, set up my bivy sack and sleeping bag and sat on the bear canister and thought now what.
I did that trip in July 2009 before we left for Germany on sabbatical, our kids just 1 and 4, and trained for months getting up before dawn on local peaks off I-90, wanting to be that guy you pass on the trail going up first thing in the morning, and he’s already coming down.
But I got what I asked for with the solitude, the soul-searching: heading north from that alpine lake on the third day the bugs were bad, I’d look down at my shoulders and there’d be a dozen mosquitoes perched on either side like crows on a power line, which just made me go faster — and I found a lonesome camp my last night that was mostly snow-covered still in July, got up around 3 and broke camp, hiked out and drove back to Seattle and burst in to greet Dawn but she was heads down in her laptop working, so stressed out she hardly looked up.
The kids slept over at Beth’s last night and Dawn and I went to our favorite Mexican place but drank too much, tried to walk it off in the used book store across the street the same as we always do, came out with armfuls of books and used CDs and went home, sat out on the front lawn and waited for the house to cool off so we could go back inside.
I got the Volvo checked, a 1990 wagon but the rear hatch won’t stay up so I have to use a broom handle, a plastic spatula to close the sun roof right: and the underside of the glove compartment bulges like a broken lip, the exhaust hangs so low it broke the parking brake cable — and the finish was red at first but now it’s faded like the spine on a used CD, more pink and orange than red. (They noted it’s leaking fluids and the tread’s going, too.)
But it made it up the mountain passes in 2009 and next week, when I go back to do the same stretch with Brad it will stay here in Sammamish as Dawn taxis the kids back and forth to theater camp.
I pulled out my favorite records I was listening to before that last trip to the North Cascades: it’s like I’d discovered some meaning in the songs intended just for me that gave a voice to what I was going through then — not as much the words as the sound and the feeling it evoked, the thrill of the unknown.
Dawn and I got up for the Perseids but there were no shooting stars, the moon made the sky all milky and there were no wishes to be wished, and all I wanted to do was go back to bed.
The cat climbed up and sat like she was doing me a favor, reluctantly — and I recalled that copy of Tea for the Tillerman at the book store they wanted $20 for used, but they’d taken the original album artwork and shrunk it down on the cover to the size of a postage stamp on black matte and tagged it Digitally Remastered in bad, 80s font — and if it’d been the original album artwork, I might have gone for it I thought.
At the Y in the gym, a girl who looks like Cat Woman next to me on the hanging strap thing kicking and twirling and hanging upside down with red hair she lets fly loose (and looks like the girl from a Whitesnake video), and as I’m doing the Stair Master I can’t help but watch her (because how couldn’t you), and kick up my own game and start grunting and note how others are doing the same, and wonder if there’s some kind of communal hormonal gym-thing that happens like the way bees work themselves into a froth, that collective consciousness — and outside by the library when I’m done, there’s a clock at the city hall that tolls 12 times at noon like the ones in my mom’s village in Germany, that’s not the same medieval sound but close, like those 12th century clocks that toll every quarter hour, a logic we never fully understood, how time revolves around us, and vice versa.
I got down to ford the South Fork and stood there looking at the river — I’d heard if it bubbles and froths when it hits the rocks and goes white that’s a danger sign it may be too strong to ford — but I calculated the number of steps I’d need to cross and estimated the depth of water mid-thigh, strapped my boots to the top of my pack, breathed a few deep breaths, remembered what my yoga teacher said (use your core) and tightened myself, plunged out barefoot and cold, quickly numb, careful each time I stepped to protect myself against the current, thought it would knock me down once but pushed through, making it safely to the other side.
When I got across and found a rock to sit on and dry out I noticed a safer place to cross just a bit downstream to the west which would have been no problem, and also no story. And I guess that’s how I see things now: for all those times we had in Europe, those trails I climb, between what we do and what I write about there’s not much difference. It’s true when people say this is the story of your life, what comes up next in the cards, it’s a game of chance made better not knowing what’s on the other side.