I am sitting in the bar sipping a mojito whilst writing. Okay I actually despise when people start out their stories with either what people are wearing, eating or drinking. I mean, really who cares—unless you’re Ernest Hemingway—what does your drink have to do with the price of rice in China? But because it is summer, because I have my bathing suit on underneath my clothes in prep for an impending swimming session and because I am atop a mountain I felt like it could be said. Also it most certainly feels very Hemingway-esque, as I have never written in a bar before. Much less while drinking. So salud Hemingway. This one’s for you.
This is all to say that mountain life suits me. I don’t know that it could suit me forever, as I miss great big bodies of water, but maybe I will find myself someplace where the mountains meet the sea and then I will marry the sea and the mountains can be my mistress.
I went on this hike yesterday with this fella I enjoy, let’s call him Francis, or France for short-ish. Francis has become my new hiking counterpart. Nearly every day after work we go find some undiscovered part of the mountain to traverse and explore. Yesterday’s hike was Black Mountain Lookout. Perched atop mounds of rock 9,500 feet in the air stood an old fire tower lookout. That was our destination. There is a forest road that goes up most of the mountain and then you take a trail the last mile upwards. Unfortunately, or fortunately for my cellulite, the forest road was washed out by a river and so we had to park the car at the base of the mountain. Well. We were already atop a mountain, so not the literal base as that would be a hike for a much fitter gal. But anyhow, we were heading higher into the mountains.
When Kirst and I first accepted this job we were told it was atop a mountain, but maybe we didn’t really believe it as we were slightly dumbfounded when we drove up the side of a mountain to get to our new lodgings. But when we saw how far the mountain stretched, peaks this way and that, it seemed the mountaintop was never-ending. I told Kirst how the mountains seemed to go on and on, even when on top. She confessed that she too was perplexed by this and when she considered living on a mountaintop she thought it would be more like living at the top of a jagged point. I asked her if she meant like where the Grinch lived—in a cave on a high, high snow-capped peak—and she said, “yes, just like that. I thought where we lived would be just like the Grinch.”
Where we live is nothing like where the Grinch lives. Though there is a Grinchy-Grinch on our mountain, but I won’t mention names, she just likes to scowl a whole bunch and snap orders at people. But that’s the only similarity.
I digress of course.
So our hike. We parked at the base and got out in order to scale the flowing rapids that took out the entire road—okay I kid, they weren’t rapids and the whole road wasn’t taken out, it was more a babbling brook that ever so inconveniently crossed the road because it could. And Mother Nature does what she wants anyway, so we were happy enough to oblige her.
The forest road up didn’t feel too taxing though naturally the moment I started exerting myself I was perspiring. We came upon the trailhead feeling good. Feeling strong and capable. Maybe even a little cocky. Then we went further into the forest and up. And up. And up. And where was this fire tower? Wasn’t a mile supposed to be easy? Not a mile straight up a mountain apparently. Okay to be fair we weren’t going straight up. We were on switchbacks, but it didn’t feel much better. I felt hot liquid pooling down my face and instead of making the natural and logical conclusion that I was sweating profusely—my usual M.O.—I panicked and thought I was bleeding from the skull. I touched the liquid and inspected my fingers. Nope, not blood, definitely just copious amounts of sweat.
We went left and went right. Climbed higher and then a little higher still. We made the assumption we were close. But with every turn, we only saw more forest and more rocks. Then through a break in the trees we saw the tower. You would think the heavens parted and I burst into euphoric bouts of symphony but when I saw how high up the tower still seemed to be the only word that came to mind was, “fuck!”
I turned to France who looked startled and I apologized for my profanity. And we trudged on. Switchback after switchback. He asked me if I needed a break as I huffed and puffed. I felt I could use a break to keel over on a rock lounge, but feeling a little pissed and determined, I declined the offer of rest and insisted we keep on keeping on until the top.
Soon we were near the summit and it required a little rock climbing. Or to be fair to rock climbers everywhere, rock finagling. But when we came around the last of several bends, all we saw was an outhouse—well and stunning 360 degree views of pine laden mountaintops in every direction—but the fire tower seemed to be out of reach, perched atop a pile of jagged grey rocks. Now, if it weren’t for the jaw-dropping views in every direction I would’ve let out a stream of F-bombs for my frustration at all that and still not being able to set foot on the fire tower.
We climbed some rocks and I sat attempting to enjoy the view, but itching to get to the fire tower. Francis surmised that maybe this was as far as we could get. I fumed. Not so. I would sooner break my neck rock climbing to the tower than admitting defeat after all that. So as he began to work his way back down the rocks I lingered and inched toward the towering rocks to my left. He caught me and issued warnings about how if I broke my leg he’d have to give me a piggy back ride all the way back down the mountain. I don’t think he was as worried about carrying my heft down an entire mountain of switchbacks as much as his worry about me breaking my neck instead of a leg and then having a corpse on his hands.
I had a hard time heeding his warnings though and told him I needed to suss out the situation and see if I could indeed climb the rocks. I climbed a few and then looked at the straight wall of imposing rock looming large and daunting in front of me. I wanted to do it. I wanted to get to the fire tower. And most times in my life I was willing to risk life and limb for adventure but I glanced sideways at my fall if I lost my footing—which would be precarious at best—and it would definitely result in my being maimed or worse. I lingered a beat longer while I could feel my pal’s tension behind me. And then I turned around and said, “fine. I won’t risk breaking my neck. But we are getting to that fire tower.”
He agreed and then moments later he discovered a rock path right up and around the seemingly impossible rock faces. And just like that we were up and on our way to the tower. And in a few breaths we were there. I could not rightly fathom that people actually lived up here in order to keep watch for forest fires. Now this was the exact top of the mountain. The tip-top. The pinnacle. Where the Grinch would probably reside because no one would want to make that trek to bother him. I was speechless. Or maybe I was breathless. Who could even tell?
And then I needed to lie down. Not exactly from sheer exhaustion, but perhaps because I had convinced myself there would be a hammock at the top, and I was dismayed to find there was not. After a spell of enjoying the mountain vistas on the deck of the fire tower, we made the trek down. Maybe it was the exertion. Or maybe it’s the fact that I always want to blaze new paths, but I kept finding myself off trail. Suddenly I was in the midst of a gorge of rocks looking about for a safe way down and I glanced behind me and Francis smiled and asked where I was going.
“Is this not the trail?” I asked.
Oh. How weird.
I accidentally went off-trail three more times while Francis patiently waited for me to re-route myself.
“Where are you goin, Ms. Adventure?” he would ask. I chuckled and then turned myself around. I did not know where I was going; it just seemed right. Hmmm. Isn’t that a grand metaphor for life though? I mostly don’t know where I am going, but it seems right. And somehow despite rocky terrain and many, many missteps, I always make it back down the mountain safely.