Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Ant Hill

Friday September 9th, 12:15 p.m:   I run out the door leaving my edamame spaghetti half eaten on the counter in an effort to hustle. Chewing on protein and veggies these days has welcomed healthy eating habits back into my diet after nearly 5 months of eating sugar, starch and carbs on the PCT. But today, I ignore my wasteful nibbling routine and all that comes with it and consciously decide to be a slob.  I'll clean up later. I grab my water bottles, pack, snacks, jacket, and keys, then hop in the car.  Before long, I’m at the crowded parking lot.

12:20 p.m: I drive in circles looking for a place to park amongst over 150 cars. I strap on my Altras in an effort to huff up the trail.  I’m here partially because I enjoy this lovely treadmill, and partially because I don’t want my trail-shape from the PCT to disappear.  Huff and puff with gusto, I must(o).

12:21 p.m: I pass the first of many groups of people. I usually enjoy seeing people getting outside and exercising their hearts, lungs and spirits, but this is a massive amount of hikers and part of me feels saddened by the quantity.  It’s no longer a trail, it’s more like an ant hill.  I’m here on a Friday afternoon, it’s one of the most popular hikes in the Seattle area and most of these folks are taking it easy and enjoying the day.  There is nothing wrong with going slowly, but today I’m trying to get my heart rate buzzing and push my athletic thresholds. I tuck a smile on my mouth and remember the words to a Zac Brown song that helps me put things in perspective. “Keep your heart above your head and your eyes wide open, so this world can’t find a way to leave you cold, and know you’re not the only ship out on the ocean, save your strength for things that you can change, forgive the ones you can’t, you gotta let ‘em go.” The lyrics and melody make me feel better and I feel my shoulders drop a little.

12:26 p.m: I get stink-eye from a group of older women who are somewhat disgruntled that I am passing, despite my attempts at kindness, smiles and comments on the beautiful day.  What is happening?

12:27 p.m: Blue dog poop bag, trailside left.  Gross.

12:35 p.m: 32 people passed and I’m only 1.1 miles in.  I’m not running, just going my PCT pace, which is about 3 miles per hour. Somehow I'm feeling guilty about going this pace.  Suddenly, an older man announces my arrival to his friends with “Speed-Demon, coming up on our heels!” I smile and thank him for offering me some space to pass.  As I walk away I hear him mumble to his friend.  He thinks I’m out of ear shot but unfortunately for me, I have the hearing of a owl, “Some people just don’t know how to enjoy these hikes slowly.” I didn’t have the energy or the sass to tell him that I’ve been on this trail many times and I AM enjoying it, just at a different speed. It feels hurtful.

12:42 p.m: Trail runner cruises by me!  YES!  Now he can be the bad guy. I feel my shoulders drop again.

12:45 p.m: Green dog poop bag, this one old and worn.  “Beautiful knot at the top, though,” I think.  Still, gross. Why aren’t people picking these things up? The trails are decorated with them every where I go these days.

1:15 p.m: Arrive at my destination feeling tired of feeling guilty. “I have a fast pace, let it go.”  Some self-talk helps me rationalize my mood and I settle in to a very secluded spot that I’ve worked hard to find.  It’s away from hikers who are talking loudly, away from the hoards of people, away from the commotion and common areas.  I just want it quiet.  I open up my lunch and start nibbling. 

1:16 p.m: Two girls arrive on my rock, trampling through the back way- a restoration area- to get there.  To be fair, they probably didn’t see the tiny sign.  Two happy, but loud young gals park themselves within a foot away from my picnic and start yapping about their problems at work. I learn all about their co-workers and their boss without ever saying a word. “I just need to go home,” I think loudly in my head.  Seriously?  I catch myself saying that in THIS place- this gorgeous, rugged, mountain-y, perch with a crystal blue lake in view. What is happening to the Northwest? What is happening to me?  I’ve heard it said that too many rats in small spaces will eat each other. Is that happening here?  Have we officially reached the rodent-eats-rodent phase of hiking in Washington? Sure, I could have hiked elsewhere, but this trail is close to my home.  This is my treadmill and the number of people at my outdoor "gym" seemed to have spiked recently bringing in what feels like busloads of people.

1:35 p.m:  I move to a different spot, get out my camera and start taking photos which makes me happy. I still feel guilty about my pace, my attitude, my solitude search, everything except taking pictures. Today is just that kind of day. But, I’m happy.  In this moment, I’m very happy and so glad to be here.  Sigh.  Finally.  My spirit is lifted, despite it all.

1:50 p.m: I traverse down a talus slope when I step aside to let a group of 8 teenagers, seemingly drafting off each other, pass by.  One decides to go straight up the talus field, abandoning the trail for his own route and sending boulders crashing onto the trail below him.  He’s cutting the switchback and showing off. Now he’s endangering everyone underneath these giant rocks. I shout up and politely ask him to stay on the trail.  It falls on deaf ears.  He has a Bluetooth speaker blasting out of his backpack.  He’s that kid. I feel disheartened, again.  Is having tunes cranking out of your backpack necessary for hiking these days?  I guess I didn't get that memo. Your beat are better with headphones and they don't disturb anyone else.  "Sheesh...I'm getting to be a cantankerous, ol'-duff," I think.

I’ve lost track of time…I’m deep in thought:

I walk back the way I arrived and smile at everyone I see in an effort to make myself feel better about the stampedes of people on the trail. They too are here seeking solitude and I too, am contributing to the ant hill. I pay special attention to give the uphill hikers the right-of-way, as it should be. Folks don’t know the rules, but why?  This weighs heavily on my mind and I wonder why we don’t have a local non-profit to help hikers understand some basics. The closest non-profit I can think of is the Leave No Trace Foundation.  But, they are national and spread out all over the country- we need them here and now. “I wonder what resources they have?” I almost say this out loud. A booth at a trailhead on a busy weekend would be awesome!  Oh how I wish they could do that on Seattle-area trails! Problem, solution, problem, solution, my mind is racing…I need to volunteer…what can I do to make this better…how can I help? There are so many new hikers, that don’t understand outdoor ethics and no one wants to be the wilderness police on their enjoyable romp.  But, a non-profit with a gentle voice might be the answer. Education is the solution. 

I find my way back to my car and think deeply all the way home. I won’t give up.  I won’t. I feel my shoulders drop to their normal location and embrace my endorphins.


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