I looked up and my family was gone, lost in the folds of Powell’s bookstore, Portland, the litmosphere they call it, and I wandered the displays sniffing cakes of handmade soaps, glassware designed for gluten-free beer, branded. All the Portlanders in their tatts and backpacks, polite when texting even, patient with my driving, everyone smiles. The look of the bar on a Saturday night before the show with Loren, the soft light glow and the pool tables, everything slanted from old fashioneds and cherries, orange twists. I stopped counting the number of songs the band played at 25, they kept going two hours before taking a break. Loren and I couldn’t hear each other on the drive home, found it hard at the bar to make conversation before. He brought up the feeling of disassociation, wondering what he’s doing, why he’s here, and I told the story about floating outside myself in a conference room at work, distracted by bird shit on the window and cranes in the shipyards below, thinking there has to be more to life than this, but maybe there isn’t.
It seems hippies are like venereal disease, you think it’s gone but it keeps coming back. They are at the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood even, that famous ski get-away an hour outside of Portland. What’s worse, they’re all hiking the PCT and it’s like a fucking reality TV show in the lobby, at the bar, in the hot tub, the bathrooms: everywhere I go it’s the same crusty characters with trail names they’ve assumed to make themselves new, imagined.
We go to the Timberline for the outdoor pool, the fact you can run the circuit between swimming, the hot tub, the sauna, warming up, cooling off, goofing around — and our first night we meet the through-hikers, a girl with a dragon tattoo scaling her bikini briefs, some skinny guy from Boise with a bushy beard, shaded spectacles and a hat: then the cutie with the Bruce Jenner shorts who starts bad-talking anyone who does the PCT in sections, like why would you, that somehow the only way to do it is to take five or six months off and just do the whole thing, all 2,600 miles.
Lazing around the lobby fireplace on broken in cushions with fat arm rests, the finish long gone. Carvings above the entrances, Indian moon symbols for the month of year, mine the Ice Forming month, November. Posters from the 1950s, the idealized American skier, Caucasian through-and-through with goggles and angular grins, all that’s cool and fashionable about alpine sports in Hemingway, fondue, hot toddies, wool turtlenecks and bushy beards, snow bunnies, cocktails, cigarettes: the fact you get off faster at altitude and fall that much harder, and the sun’s five thousand nine hundred feet closer, the UV rays work the skin like a catcher’s mitt, creased and pliable — and life’s so good you can’t help letting it go trying to trap it.
The fashion of the PCT through-hikers, that well-crafted look of spontaneity and go with the flow, that woo woo shit in phrases you hear exchanged like knowing handshakes, “The trail will provide” — or, “I’m taking a zero today” (which I assumed as some pain medication or recreational drug but refers to mileage counts, which most of them were taking the whole time we were there, zero).
The guy from Boise gets into the hot tub and says we’re like pie man, sweet on the inside but oh-so-crusty out…and I tell them about my time with Brad for five days but no one’s interested; they’ve got their ice wrapped in bath towels and cans of beer, sort of their own thing happening.
At the bar there’s sours, barrel-aged porters, knowledge of hop differences and strains, and the bartenders carefully drying glasses as the radio plays Boston, I hide in my music, forget the day…and all the through-hikers are hanging onto it diddling their phones, keeping the tab open. One has two feathers criss-crossed in his hair, some pony-tail nub tied on top that makes him look like a chicken, a pinched face and matted beard, nut brown legs pink along the edges, a nice cut of meat.
How the sun lights the liquor in the bottles like a painter’s palette with all the possibilities, letting them screw me sideways for the price of a single malt: a woman at the bar spills some and says that’s the angel’s share, and I compliment the reference, toast them.
The pretty boy with the Bruce Jenner shorts emerges around the corner with a trekking pole he bought at the gift shop and climbs the stairs throughout the lodge with a look of wonder, unaffected by his self-fascination, the sheen of The Now.
And I sit with Dawn drinking beer watching our kids make sock monkey animals out of yarn, wrapping fork tines and tying off the loose ends, some kit they got at Powell’s, somehow Dawn has the patience to assist them. And the guy with the feathers in his hair holds his smart phone like a globe, transfixed. Off the decks outside in the morning with the mist, how the hills are folded and ribbed and give the impression they could go on forever, the same as the clouds.
The hikers leave their packs leaned against the fireplace, their water bottles and sun hats: some walk right into the restaurant with their packs still on, carabiners, poles, tribal ink on their wrists in stripes or claw marks. Our server’s named Dakota, the bartender Tatum.
And the idealized men in the oil paintings are looking stern in their patterned sweaters, erect, a good six feet tall. The odd rules of engagement with cell phones now, what’s rude, what’s not — everyone just seems so aware of themselves. And we kind of sit here drinking beer, watching our kids with the yarn and the fork tines. The look of unhappy couples passing by together too long, the constant rubbing. All the hikers’ legs look like elk.
In the morning when it’s time to go, the Bruce Jenner guy is making a show of packing his things up so anyone can see he’s really leaving now, it’s time: it’s a reality TV show and the tape is always running: look at me, isn’t this amazing!
With an hour to go until checkout time the kids have the pool to themselves and play some game they’re being chased by imaginary sharks, pretend names, everything on the count of three. And I go off to the hot tub on the other side, taking myself out of the frame to regard and admire it, a sheet of stationery from our room before we leave folded in fours, tucked in my vest pocket to look back upon some day and smile.