Lizards to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right, Here I am, Stuck in the Middle of Oregon

58233352Never let brand spanking new friends drive you to the trailhead. Don’t do it. If they go schizo on you out there in the woods, you’re trapped in the backseat of Christine with the Joker at the wheel for the return trip. That’s 152 miles of making out your last will and testament while mentally pricing new deadbolts for your front door because now they know where you live. Always drive.

Three years into Oregon residency, I explored some local hiking clubs. Most were obnoxiously elite but one hit all my price points: Free. You get what you pay for. The meet up dot com group I found turned out to be the drain hole cover for society, collecting all the repressed introverts, bitter divorcees, and substance abusing hairballs Portland had to offer. But I didn’t figure that out until after the trip to Smith Rock State Park.

The introvert drove. By “drove” I mean she pressed down hard on the accelerator, then let up, pressed down, let up, pressed down, until my vital organs were lurching back 1324539951429124and forth in my body with all the subtly of a washing machine agitator. Talk about your unbalanced load: I hadn’t been that carsick since the back of a station wagon in 1979. The divorcee kept us abreast of his latest illnesses, complete with prescriptions and side effects. It was like being trapped in a “Trauma: Life in the E.R.” episode for three hours. I counted roadkill.

The golden cliffs of Smith Rock State Park appeared on the horizon like the magical spires of Oz. I never exited a vehicle so fast in my life. I encouraged lunch before hiking as a gambit to give my insides time to normalize and we spread out on a ledge overlooking the Crooked River.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI noticed the introvert didn’t smile much and never laughed. A big, red flag flapped in my brain. A good conversation is like a miniskirt–short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject. Hiking is made for happy banter but you can’t pry dialogue out of a repressed introvert with a wet crowbar, it’s like singing karaoke with a mannequin. But as we chewed in silence, the wildlife became evident…reptiles, geese, teenagers…so I perked up briefly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat forced march down Misery Ridge Trail (I know, right?) that you see above looked like some sort of rehab program for underage ne’er do wells. Not one of them looked happy, but that’s pretty much any teenager on a trail without Wi-Fi.

In so many ways, we started with Misery. I felt like I was already tired tomorrow. The trail’s 636′ rise delivered instant gratification via the grandest view in the park coupled with the cathartic desire to puke: It was hot as hell. April in Oregon is supposed to be cool and overcast; today was somewhere in the high 80s and clearer than a Windex commercial. A dry wind sucked the sweat out of our shirts while an angry sun baked the moisture from our lips. I must’ve gone through half a tube of Blistex. Rationing water was tricky. After half a mile, I had built a mini-water truck in my mind with an all terrain baby stroller and a 5-gallon Igloo cooler. I still think it can be done. GoFundMe.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMisery Ridge’s other claim to fame was a straight shot to the world-renowned and much-feared Monkey Face. Climbers from across the globe flock here to do the Monkey and sit in his mouth. Stay with me.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAccc117f19f1a1294949b08634b470610You see, Smith Rock is where rock climbing got started, it’s like a Mecca for the taut and bendy. At any given time, dozens of bodies are creeping all over it’s pale volcanic faces like spiders on your bedroom wall. Obnoxious, self-important spiders. They’re not shy about looking down on the rest of us. (See what I did there?) The Monkey boasts the first rock climb rated 5.14c in the United States and the rest of the park ranges from 5.6 to 5.14 on popular routes. If you don’t know what those numbers mean, this short video oughta drive the point home. WARNING: If you abhor heights, skip the video. Seriously.

How hysterical would it be if his name were actually Waldo? Find him.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI could see how Monkey Face acquired its simian moniker but from a certain angle it resembled something else altogether.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA








As I am not blessed with acrophobia, I followed the introvert right out onto a ledge of the main buttress that would’ve induced all of Dixieland to clutch the pearls. We chatted up (She actually spoke!) a few unnecessarily tan young men with carabiners and ropes hanging off of them while the divorcee hung back and pretended not to be terrified. I missed Colorado somethin’ awful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsmith-rock16Our entire party relaxed the closer we got to the river. We found a spot among the sagebrush not occupied by seventeen biting ant hills and assumed the Snack Position. Since we had a moment, I asked my cohorts about meet up dot com, what was their experience, did they like it. They regaled me with happy hiking tales and new friends.

This account differed wildly from my own. From the guy who wore jeans and a baseball cap for eight miles of pouring October rain; to the hike leader who abandoned a pregnant woman and her husband in the dark on an illegal route; to the man who took off all his clothes to hike next to me in winter, it was hard not to form a certain opinion of that establishment. (Well, okay, Naked Guy kept his boxers on, because layers, but I can’t shake the sight of him shivering uncontrollably in my truck seat [You’re damned right, I drove] while explaining through chattering teeth, “It keeps me fit.” Fit for what, exactly, a straitjacket?)

I kept my mouth shut and went lizarding. The place was festooned with herpetological points of interest. Western Fence Lizards were the most adorable. Their body language was cool as a cucumber while their eyes said, “Provoke me and I will remove your spine like the goddamned Predator!”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd I took pictures of rocks. A lot of those rocks were famous, and not just for the athletes, scaled and unscaled, scrabbling all over them. Big name actors have made numerous pilgrimages there in the name of art. Kevin Costner rode a horse through there in The Postman. Uma Thurman waggled her big ol’ thumbs there in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. That scene in Swordfish where John Travolta buzzes Sam Shepard in a helicopter before offing him in the river? You guessed it. Even John Wayne and Kirk Douglas have tasted the dust of Smith Rock’s volcanic welded tuff. Think: Rooster Cogburn and The Indian Fighter. All the plotlines seemed to be filled with conflict and suffering. I was suffering imagining the ride back home.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALook for a dog kissing a pig with tiny frog on its back….aaaaand go.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


In the end, we only racked up about four and a half miles of actual hiking but after the motion sickness, the heat exhaustion, and the repression, I was legally counting it as eight.

There would be beer tonight. Oh, yes, there would be beer. Not with these people, though. Back at home. Alone. After I get that deadbolt installed.

April 27, 2008




16 thoughts on “Lizards to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right, Here I am, Stuck in the Middle of Oregon

  1. Well, you made my day, (always) although your view of male anatomy is somewhat limited. 🙂
    I think that forever after I would have been a solo hiker.
    And i wonder if a woman walking next to me in her underwear in a rainstorm would have elicited a similar response. Hmmm.
    With all of that said, and certainly not relating to the latter, I think you would have enjoyed hiking with the groups I used to lead. –Curt

    • I pretty much have been a solo hiker since then, with one or two exceptions. I got better at ferreting out the nutballs in life so fewer of them wound up next to me on Cascadian trails. Today, my favorite group size is one, second favorite is two. Everything larger than that ain’t a hike, it’s an expedition.

      As for undies in the rain, you could try to broach this subject with your wife but I recommend identifying several escape routes beforehand and making sure they aren’t blocked. Safety first.

      • Once upon a time, when it was my job to take people out on the trail, I met a whole world of strange people, especially in the 70s. But I was willing to face a lot of strangeness to be paid for hiking in the woods. And I doubt seriously Peggy would hike in her underwear, although she is pretty flexible when it comes to new experiences. Like you I have come to enjoy hiking with one or two people. Or solo. But there was the time I took 60 people aged 11-70 on a hundred mile backpack trek… 🙂 –Curt

        • I’ve been a hike leader as well. I’ll regale you with a few of those adventures in the future.

          I learned two things about myself from marching humans into the undergrowth. One, I love people. Two, I love getting away from people into the backcountry. Keeping those two separate with the rare exception has saved me thousands of dollars in medication.

          Also, I ran out of places to hide the bodies.

          • I bet… having been there, myself. It’s hard enough ushering Curt up and over mountains. One of these days, in the not to distant future, I am going to write about the first hundred mile trek I led. It was enough to curl your toes… and give you blisters. –Curt

              • Well there was the first night when a conservative physician came in from Sacramento and camped next to us. One of my trekkers came scurrying overt to me the next morning and reported that the guy was going back to Sacramento and telling the Sacramento Bee that the Lung Association was running a pot smoking orgy in the mountains…
                But, I have promised myself that I will finish writing about my 10,000 mile bicycle trip before I jump into the next series. So you will have to wait… 🙂 –Curt

  2. I think that every single solitary sentence made me laugh! Or maybe it is that I just haven’t laughed in quite awhile….I’m not sure. Your writing is brilliant! For people like myself who are very close to being housebound, the type of content that you write is essential to me not flipping out and running across the street wearing only a black plastic garbage bag. Not only did I feel like I was right there (the pics were a luxury), but I got a much needed endorphin rush. Thank you for sharing!

    • I understand cabin fever all too well. In fact, my next post is about just that. Well, that and wildflowers.

      Thanks for the kudos and the unshakable image of bare legs pumping furiously down the road beneath the flapping edges of a Hefty 2-ply.

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