On Saturday, I decided a general retreat from humanity was in order, and rather than huddle in my apartment with the shades drawn, I elected to go hiking with Tristan. We decided to go to Melakwa Lake, and ne’er again shall I deride the importance of actually reading about the trail beforehand–over the course of my quick skim, all I gleaned was “three miles” and “oooh, pretty!”. Forewarned is forearmed, but forewarned with half-ass knowledge is akin to suiting up in a chain-mail bikini for battle–when reality strikes, it will be a shot straight to your delicate exposed guts. Suitably outfitted in this bikini, I furthermore decided to wear everyday shoes as specialty hiking shoes are for pansies, and brought one bottle of water with me, which made up the brunt of my supplies. I suppose if necessity had called for it, I could have fought off a wild animal with my car keys. If the motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be Prepared,” my motto is “Ehhh….it’ll be ok.” Tristan decided to continue getting used to his new toe shoes, and brought a few more things with him, but overall, we ran off into the wilderness nigh-utterly unprepared. The first mile or so took us under I-90 and eventually brought us to a wide stream. Apparently there used to be a proper bridge crossing, but that washed away, and now visitors must either hop over a series of rocks or prepare to wade through icy-cold water.
Past this point, the trail turned into a series of switchbacks, through increasingly rocky and overgrown terrain, up to a viewpoint where we could see Keekwulee Falls. “This trail is proving quite easy!” I enthused, yet quite full of pep and positivity.
I spotted some bold chimpmunks nosing around, clearly looking for handouts, and reminisced about all the time I spent plotting on family vactions to Eagle River about how I was going to catch a chipmunk in a tupperware container, bring him home, and make him my adorable pet. Of course, during these plotting sessions, I was also utterly convinced that merely capturing an animal domesticates it, and that surely this chipmunk would be performing tricks within a week and riding upon my shoulder like a tiny chipmunk Magellan, experiencing civilization, or the modicum of civilization southeastern Wisconsin had to offer. All of those teachers who sent home report cards which said I was not working up to my abilities really had no grasp on the vivid fantasy world I inhabited. I could do math, but how much time would that leave for training as-of-yet-uncaptured chipmunks?
No matter how bold these chipmunks may have been, I lacked tupperware and was less certain about domestication of species–less certain to the point where if I captured one, I don’t know that I would have been comfortable tucking him into a pocket or my bra. We continued on through some more switchbacks, and the terrain grew increasingly difficult to navigate. The ground was composed of chunks of rock, some of which wobbled when stepped upon, the majority of which had sharp edges pointing upward, forcing one to step at awkward angles in order to place a foot on a flat surface. We had to scramble over larger rocks, cross slippery streams, and even hike up a goddamned waterfall. It was at this point that my spirits started to flag–I was becoming tired, I had finished my water long before and was growing quite thirsty, the going ahead didn’t appear to get any easier, nor the lake any closer. Random passers-by would tell us, variably, that the lake was approximately a mile and a half away, an hour’s hike away, not far, twenty minutes away, which only served to inform us that people’s sense of time and distance is not to be trusted. If I ever see the ‘not far’ lady again, I will kick her squarely in the knee. Three miles my fucking ass. I must have mis-skimmed the website, and surely enough, I had. At any time around this point, had either Tristan or myself sincerely suggested turning around and going home, the other would have proffered no argument. However, Tristan looked to me to call it, and I have an absurd sense of pride when it comes to quitting or admitting defeat, as if I’ve got something to prove to someone, to everyone. When my feet were bleeding toward the end of that half-marathon, and I was hobbling my way through Bellevue, I saw a little old lady pass me and it galled me to no end. Injured as I was, I wanted to run her down. This lake, this goddamn out of the way fucking asshole mountain lake, would not beat me. I would see it. I would photograph it. I would dominate it through pooping in it if it came down to it. I would not lose.
We began to have to climb over fallen trees–most small, one enormous. The trail was variably muddy and snowy, some of which was quite hard-packed so you could pass lightly along the surface like one of Tolkein’s graceful elves, and some of which gave way, leaving one slipping, floundering, arms flailing and helicoptering madly to avoid a humiliating fall. The trail continued on to descend onto wet rocks and yet-deeper mud. Bugs had begun to pester us in earnest, swooping for an eye or an ear whenever one was making a critical leap from rock to rock. I would like to declare forevermore my lasting emnity with insects and their games of “try and kill the human”.
We began to grouse with renewed vigor, saying that this lake had better have water nymphs distributing magic swords or be the fountain of youth or something equally fantastical and worthwhile of the journey. After twenty more minutes of slipping and cursing and praying the lake would be just over the next ridge, it finally appeared before us–not magic, but beautiful. “I’m gonna put my face in it!” I crowed, up until the point where I realized it would be impossible to do so without falling into its freezing waters. We also shot some video on Tristan’s camera that mostly consisted of us shouting “FUCK NATURE! FUCK IT IN ITS NATURE HOLE!”
However, I was faced with a choice. Here I was, with no water left, a huge amount of trail to descend, and a body of maybe-questionable water in front of me. If I had once upon a time felt an urge to dominate it through feces, who was to say that no one else had felt that urge and acted upon it? I paused with my water bottle above the surface. I posited, “On a scale from one to ten, where one is ‘You have died from dysentery’ cryptosporidium-riddled and ten is ‘magic healing waters’, how safe do you think this water is to drink?” “I’d put it at an eight or a nine. But, you know, don’t blame me if you die.” I decided to take the chance–without any water, I wasn’t feeling good about my odds of making it back down the mountain. The water was very clear and tasted fine.
We sat for a minute, swatting away bugs, but realized that the hour was growing late and we couldn’t afford to linger, lest we have to descend in the dark. We hurried back as quickly as we could, but had only reached as far back as the snow-areas when we hit the golden hour, when the trees lit up with gorgeous reddish diffused light. We began to get concerned, as this meant we really only had an hour before darkness would begin setting in quickly and things would begin to get really dangerous for us. We pushed as hard as we could, not stopping to rest, but my motor skills had begun to decrease from exhaustion and legs were so tired that my ankles had begun to wobble and roll dangerously whenever I hit a rock at a strange angle, so I couldn’t go as quickly as I knew I should. I kept picturing falling and breaking an ankle or smashing my head open on a rock and my head became the Paranoia Network: All Fear, All The Time. I had never so honestly or openly hated inanimate objects as much as I hated this rocky terrain. I wished fire and plagues and ice weasels upon them. I loudly stated that this mountain could suck my balls. Tristan replied that it would be difficult, considering it was already busy sucking ass. My feet hurt from constantly getting the points of rocks jabbed up into my soft sole through the shoe. Tristan was in yet-greater pain as toe shoes provide even less protection than my foolish fashion sneakers. I brought up the subject of the Richard Bachman novella ‘The Long Walk‘, mainly because I felt like I was on a death march and the idea of getting my ticket began to sound appealing. We were the Hans Christian Anderson little mermaids, not the wimpified Disney version, with each step like walking on knives, feet bleeding, save that we still had our voices so we were free to complain. I began to have a series of internal tantrums, fueled by exhaustion and hunger, thinking “I won’t go any further. You can’t make me.” and trudging along nonetheless. I started to trip over things and catch my feet more often–I couldn’t make out the ground as well and even if I could, I wasn’t able to lift my feet as high as before. We rushed over that first wide stream as the last vestiges of light bled from the sky. I slipped off the last rock, fell to my knees, and was a hair’s breadth from having a screaming, cursing, water-bottle-throwing hissy fit, but somehow managed to pull myself away from the edge by insisting to myself that it would solve none of our current problems, namely, that the light was gone and we had a least a mile more to traverse. The pitch-dark was not kind to my paranoia. I focused on the ground in front of me as intently as possible but had difficulty making out where to place my feet. To complicate matters, I had begun to hallucinate, my eyes first swimming with spots, and then quite vividly seeing objects which Tristan insisted did not exist but of which I was as certain of as I was of my own life. I edged around man-eating holes, bears waited patiently near the edges to snatch me up, and I saw my life flash before my eyes. Tristan pulled out his phone to illuminate the path in front of him and turned to help me across yet another rocky stream while attempting to encourage me with statements of “It’s not much farther” to which I responded, voice quavering on the edge of tears “I just don’t think I can.” When we finally made our way to the trailhead, I almost burst into those hysterical tears because I had given myself over to the notion that I might actually die. When someone is being an asshole and you tell them to ‘Go take a hike’, this is the hike you intend them to take. A seven hour ordeal that ends with them stumbling through the dark, praying for death and/or Batman.