Lily (who now goes by Lee) and I drove to the Teanaway river valley on the east side of the Cascades, stopping at a Safeway in the small town of Cle Elum for junk food. I didn’t bring the guts of the tent, just the rain fly, poles, and footprint, opting to go light since we’d be climbing a couple thousand feet and I was carrying basically everything. And I regretted that both nights as it was hard for me to keep warm, but it wasn’t so much for Lee.
And both nights Lee got scared by the dark and the sounds outside our tent because she couldn’t see what was going on, and that frightened her. She asked me to check things out, which I did with the flashlight, but that always makes things worse, with the light cutting through the bushes and trees, making strange shadows and shapes. We tried to cuddle but it was hard in our sleeping bags. Then Saturday night she nearly had a panic attack, with footsteps of other campers and the clip-clop of mountain goats outside…the occasional wind coming up the valley, making the trees creak…and I worried about being so remote and without cell service, what would I do if she really freaked out?—so I got angry and tried to make her snap out of it, and it worked—but it only made her feel sad and bad about herself, and she sobbed and buried herself in her sleeping bag until she drifted off.
Then in the middle of the night I had to pee but I couldn’t get out of my bivy sack, the zippers were stuck, and it made me feel claustrophobic and panicky, and I thought this must be how Lee feels with her anxiety, trapped inside her mind.
When I came back to the tent her small face seemed to glow in the pale, half-dark, and I thought what a tender soul, my heart ached for her. And how hard it can be, to relate.
In the morning I wandered out on the trail in the dark and made my way through the rocks and dirt to the pit toilet, sitting in the quiet of the mountains and pre-dawn gathering myself for the day, rehearsing a presentation for work on Monday, wanting to enjoy my time with Lee, to make it the best for her. I quietly closed the lid and returned to our camp, to boil water for coffee. Lee was making sleeping sounds in the tent and shifting: I wanted her to get as much rest as possible, but I also wanted to get back down the trail, and on the road. It didn’t feel as cold so I removed a layer and took my coffee to the rocks with the view looking east, where the sun was making the cloud cover pink and starting to soften over the valley.
When I came back to the tent Lee was stirring, and agreed to come to the rocks with me to watch the sun, wiggling her way over in her sleeping bag. We sat there for a time and I asked if she was ready to head back and she said no, let’s stay a little longer. It had been two years since we last came and it could be another two, she said.
At camp, Lee sat on a log watching me systematically break everything down. When I was done I pointed to the flat patch of dirt where we camped and said it always makes me a little sad to see it like that, empty and bare like when we started…but it’s good to make room for the next people, to make their own memories.
We climbed back up the pass and down again, sharing our filtered water, stopping for other hikers on their way up, asking how it was, last night.
When we got to the car, Lee had a bottle of Coke and we finished the Doritos, debating where to stop on our way back (lunch or breakfast?). We picked the pancake house at a ski area by Snoqualmie pass, and were back home by 1.
On Monday I texted Lee a link to the song we first heard when we were on the rocks Saturday, and wrote I’m thinking about you and missing our time, and wished her a good Monday—I said I was looking forward to dinner, just the four of us. And I kept that song in my head, thinking it meant more now.