Saturday started in South Bend, Indiana, and ended 20 hours later with a long hike off of an alpine meadow (and over Grant Creek!) under Rainier, through massive pine stands and into the slowly deepening dark. The catalog of Saturday’s experiences only compounded upon themselves in difference and scope. As I’m sure they’ll continue to do in the coming days…
The first blow to my well-practiced Midwestern equilibrium was in flying not over but past Mt. Rainier on my first trip to Seattle. I met up with my friend Kristen—a mountain veteran with the boots and knowledge and stories to prove it. We talked through a quick and delicious lunch of salmon, blueberries, and potatoes and then drove into Mt. Rainier National Park for a long solstice hike up and through the alpine meadows of Spray Park.
Witnessing the horizon’s shadow creep up the side of one of the Western Hemisphere’s great peaks, watching a bear pick its way across meadows far below us and later, high above us (thankfully the crossing was well-timed and mutually unknown), finishing a long upward hike into a field profusely full of glacier lilies, lupine, and many more wildflowers I’ve yet to learn: all of these graces were so densely packed into a day full of travel and reunion and a bit of exhaustion that the only small failure was my latency in adjusting to the enormity of The Mountain.
Saturday was also a perfect practical preparation for the approaching journey. Kristen and I shared a laugh when I struggled to tear the shopping tag off of my new wind & rain jacket. I was able to put a good 8 miles on my new-and-unbroken Italian, all-leather, double-E backup boots. They performed so well that they quickly surpassed my cheaper but more broken-in pair I had planned on using. We learned that maybe (just maybe) a snack of smoked salmon in a meadow which had been only recently un-peopled for a goodly stretch of the winter and spring may have toed the line of full-on provocation for our neighbor bear’s olfactory nerve. I learned some great taping & blister assault strategies from Kristen, a fellow “wide-footer”. I felt the satisfying burn of the dozens of small muscles around my hips, knees, and ankles that pull so much weight in balance and stability—the self-same muscles that go downright neglected through the previous months of uphill treadmilling and step-upping (the only mountain training a busy hoosier could manage). I got many, many lung-fulls of the thinner and cooler mountain air. I laid the foundation for what will be a 3-week long buildup of DEET on my skin and clothes.
Finally and most importantly, I started the slow process of reining my eyes and senses into a slower pace and into a smaller frame. While we may be chasing down a world record in the next three weeks, I will have to continually tell my eyes to always work slower. I will have to throw off the habit of chasing the rabbit to and through endless quick visual fixes, of artistically hyperventilating through the coming days and weeks. This trip may be the visual and experiential equivalent of joining the polar bear club, but if it’s going to be anything of a success, we’ll all have to breathe deeper and longer through the shocking preponderance of “The Everything”—from the sublime to the mundane—we’ll be seeing all around us.