Never 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 and 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.I 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.
That 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.Misery 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.You 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.
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.
Our 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!”And 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.Look for a dog kissing a pig with tiny frog on its back….aaaaand go.
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