The imagined superhero complex | Field notes from the Pacific coast

Cottonwood Lake, Washington (June, 2017)

This is a series of posts I started in late May and plan to continue for 40 days, with a goal of hitting 50,000 words by July 5 (now about 50% complete!). It’s inspired by a three-day solo trek on the Washington coast, with side-story memoir scenes wrapped by a few themes. I’m writing each post live, pulling in stories I’ve drafted before or I’m writing for the first time, for this project. You can come and go (it’s non-linear) or start at the beginning here, which is really the end.

I loved my mountaineering boots so much, I took turns taking them off and holding one in each hand, then the other. I held the boots like they were in a museum with restrained awe, and caught myself mid-awestruck; I had to laugh, why—why do I love these boots? Are they some me I imagined for myself but thought dead until now, ’til I’d put them on again—or did they really allow this other identity I imagined for myself? Like in yoga, I could transcend my sad, uninteresting self, could swing from vine to vine or leap across rooftops, still land on my feet. They were made in Italy, Vibram soles. I put my hand in one and held it like a puppet, a boxing glove, a weapon. They had scale, could really cut in when you kicked steps, real tools. Tools you could wear, to extend yourself. Guns, foot-guns.

And the boots were heavy and stiff with a gap up front to clip the cramp-ons or strap-ons or step-ins, and then, with jagged sharp teeth they made icy, firm sounds on ice. They bit, they grabbed. That, with the ax, felt substantial. There was no amount of bullshit in a stance like that (beyond the bullshit that made you think that way). You couldn’t smile in photos like that, garbed up with Gore-Tex and goggles, hoar-ice, +50 SPF sunscreen, duct tape…it was a real man’s man affair, mountain climbing. You had to look cool doing it because it was cool: not a smirk or a smile, just a look, a look you’re glad you’re still alive, and doing everything you can, to.

It was just me and Brad, fixing dinner at camp by the iced-over lake, a sub-alpine lake, a few cans of beer we jammed in the snow alongside our axes, that we’d launched like javelins, the satisfying way they stuck straight up. The pick on my ax was so long and curved and perfect it looked like a toucan’s beak, proud, capable.

My boots were black and yellow with gray accents, a decorative webbing in the yellow that was starting to flake but still looked bad-ass, drew comments on the trail: they were hard to find and unusual, and I fancied the webbing gave a Spider Man vibe and me, similar superhero powers as I leapt from rock to rock. You could over-tighten the elaborate lacing and bruise your inner calf they were so heavy and tough but I’d learned to lace them kind of slack.

Brad used my knife to scissor the vacuum-packed smoked salmon on its side, and did so over the boiling kettle with the Ramen noodles so the oils would get in there—and I mixed mine with the remains of the pesto pasta I brought, and after we finished the solids and it was just the broth we drank it fast while it was still hot so you had to blow it, and were bloated as ticks, and passed my flask of rye whiskey with a brief half-nod, pleased with ourselves.

Brad said with the lake melting along the edges, the frogs were coming out of the mud croaking, mating like crazy: and what a thought, to just power-down all winter, to avoid all that psychic pain and bullshit without the sun and wake to sing, and screw.

Brad said he was going back up to the ridge, pocketed a beer, and I noted the time, said be back by 5—then wondered was it the same for him, that bloodlust feeling to keep going, like what we talked about earlier at the waterfall, that addiction-thing, that paradox of the emptiness and never-ending consumption to fill it, that leads nowhere (that perhaps consumes you, instead)—the same drive that led me up the mouth of that creek on the coast, following the bends further and further, inland. That made me think of the Lotte Reiniger films we used to play for the kids, before we moved to Germany. The stark, eery quality to the shadow play movements in the characters charmed by a witch in the forest, leading ever deeper to some dark conclusion. Those journeys, those walks I took, weren’t as much physical as mental.

There were nails stuck in the trees Brad used his ax to loosen and hammer back in lower, to tie the tarp over our bivy sacks: and my trekking poles in the middle to give it height…it really looked like we knew what we were doing, but that was all Brad. I normally brought the music but he’d taken that on now, and it was an REO Speedwagon tune that grabbed me and hung on well into the night, cycling through into morning, when both of us woke and remarked our eyes were so puffy, we couldn’t see.

Brad said they were called hobnails, they used to stick in their boots before cramp-ons: actual nails they tacked into the boots he’d seen in museums in New Zealand. And before they optimized the ice ax, they were called alpenstocks, long poles with an iron tip. Technology, our ability to optimize, crept into every seam. We both had blow-up mattresses that packed down to nothing, Brad, a down, ‘go-light’ quilt with a footbox that strapped to the blow-up pad and created an ultra-light system with the bivy and sleeping bag.

I went back to the river crossing where I’d fallen on the log, and those mossy rocks…was actually glad for the moss, they gave some traction…and took off my shirt and my glasses and held my head under the cold, running water…and came back to camp where Brad was sitting half-lotus in the morning sun…and everything was done, we were all packed up, some coffee still for the hike out…I took the empty Tequila bottle someone left beneath a log, the empty beer cans we crushed…and coming out, I replayed the time I went to Morocco, then back to work at Starbucks. There were all these places to go, geographical and temporal, so much better with a good friend.

We went back to the Pancake House for my car, where I left it when we started, and Brad bought me a breakfast sandwich at the little shack that looks like an espresso stand but isn’t: they had to put up a sign saying we don’t do that. The aluminum trailer had dents on the roof like dimples from the weight of the snow they said, it caved in in spots over the winter.

And we tried to make plans because the summers go fast; Brad said let’s get a coffee and we did, and when I got on the highway I moved to the slow lane to take my time, looked up at the peak we could have climbed but didn’t: it looked angry and harder from a distance, I thought there was some lesson to that. Things are easier step by step, you just have to get up on it and go.




Categories: hiking, identity, Memoir

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

18 replies

  1. You’re Spiderman. I am Batman. Always have been. You know it’s true.
    Love your description of your boots and the way you feel wearing them. That little piece of childhood wonder and imagination that has stayed with you. We all could use more of that in our lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. baby steps in those cool boots.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve noticed in more and more photos I take at school the boys smile less and less. Maybe it’s the final “manly” thing that’s acceptable.


    • Yes, smiling’s not cool. Or hard to make it, so. Hey, thanks for sharing my post man! “That’s really super, supergirl!” Seriously, thanks. Have fun, a good day! Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I just hope the REO Speedwagon tune was “Ridin’ The Storm Out” and not “Keep On Lovin’ You.” Either way there’s an apostrophe, though.

    These boots were made for walkin’ baby!


  5. Really enjoyed this after the setback/rupture theme of the previous one. Questioning-slipping to traction-hero. Real nice.


  6. Fabulous things are made in Italy. I was made there too 😉


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