Location: Quinault, Olympic National Park, Washington
Level: easy / Beginner Level: challenging Round trip/Gain: 5 miles/500ft Type: round trip Permit: Olympic National Park entrance fee or America the Beautiful pass
I guess all trails in ONP are big backpacking trails and I’m super bummed that another summer has gone by where I couldn’t get my shit together in time to take my first backpacking trip. People make it look so easy, but I literally could not afford to A: get gear and B: take off enough time. I only went car camping once! It is really hard to not feel woe-is-me, but what the fuck am I doing wrong?!?!?! (Do not answer this. You don’t know about my life and yes, I am being super defensive.)
A month prior, I’d stayed in Quinault for a modeling job for Columbia Sportswear (lolz, I’m serious and it wasn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds). The shoot happened at nearby Graves Creek campground, which is a beautiful overgrown, mossy forest next to milky turquoise Graves Creek and the Enchanted Valley trailhead. It put a bug in my ear and I was dying to go back.
Level: Moderate Round trip/Gain: 9.2 miles/100ft Type: Loop Permit: Olympic National Park entrance fee or America the Beautiful pass
This trail is so cool! It’s a perfect triangle 3x3x3 (& some change) miles. 6 miles of boardwalk trail through forest and meadows and a sandy, rocky ocean-side stretch. It’s mostly flat, but the sand section, with log scrambles, killed my feet. I saw a lot of people suffering through it.
Another popular backpacking trail, ideal for a new backpacker. I definitely wanted to post-up after the sand part. There are petroglyphs, too! Of vulvas!
Location: Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington
Level: easy / Beginner Level: challenging Round trip/Gain: 5.8 miles/300-ish ft Type: round trip Permit: Olympic National Park entrance fee or America the Beautiful pass
Brie and I arrived after about four hours of sleep and four hours of driving. I know how popular this place is and I thought I was ready for the onslaught, but my depleted resources could hardly handle the amount of people around the ranger station, especially on the Hall of Mosses trail which we did first as it’s right next to the Hoh River trailhead.
The Hall of Mosses is famous for a reason. It’s less than a mile, mostly flat and while I live in mossy, wet rain forested Portland, it truly is remarkable.
I was an indoor kid, a city kid, and I remained so into my adulthood. I didn’t even think about the outdoors. In the first six years I lived in Portland, Oregon, the most outdoorsy thing I ever did was drive up to the famous Multnomah Falls. Once. I struggled with PTSD, depression, self-hate and self-medicating. Being wasted all of the time was a huge PAUSE button on my life and as the years ticked on, I grew more confused about my place in the world; who I was, where I belonged, what I wanted.
Five-and-a-half years ago, I met my partner and one of our first dates was a hike. I didn’t know “how” to hike or what to wear (photo on the right!). I was self-conscious of my heavy breathing and sweating, but when we reached the top of the hill, I felt something bloom, a reckoning. Shortly after, hiking became the thing I did instead of filling the void with substance abuse and distractions. When I hiked, I felt connection. Connection to my body, earth, nature, my truth. It became a symbol for all I needed in my life: one-step-at-a-time thinking, forward progression as a metaphor, learning from the pain and discomfort and how to push through it productively.
The trail couldn’t tell me what to do with my life, but it’s lessons led me to connecting and building community with other unlikely outdoorspeople. In turn, leading to new, exciting opportunities. It feels like a future. It feels like being found. Where might the trail lead you?
I sort of hinted at this a couple of months ago, but it is finally official: REI got wind of me and I’ve been contracted to essentially keep doing what I do. They aren’t asking me to sell a product or be anything other than what I am, an unlikely outdoorsperson. For the next six months, you will very occasionally see that some of my posts are sponsored. They are also sponsoring the two meet-ups I posted about recently on Instagram.
As many of you know, REI, specifically with their #ForceOfNature campaign is making attempts to interrupt the common outdoors narrative. Obviously, there is so much work to be done and some of us have been doing it for awhile already, but this is a big deal. I’m a thirty-five-year-old, fat, queer, high school drop out who started hiking five years ago. When have you ever seen someone like me featured in the mainstream?
I am so grateful for this opportunity to share my experience and connect with all of you in the ways that we do. I feel like so many of my dreams are clicking into place. I’ve missed out on a lot of experiences and opportunities my peers have had due to lack of resources and access.
This may not be the most exciting news to my anti-capitalist, punk, queer communities, but I do hope you’ll support your girl in getting paid. I’m not making the big bucks, so don’t get it twisted. This will essentially help me to take a couple days off a month to focus solely on writing and adventuring and building community based on diversifying the outdoors. I still need a lot of help, financially, to keep doing all of this, so if you were thinking about donating to my patreon or paypal, I can absolutely use it. No pressure, I’ll stop touting it all of the time soon. 5% of monthly donations are donated to the Trans Assistance Project.
The bedroom is way too dark for 8:30am. Rain. I get up begrudgingly, my body a pin cushion of unexplainable pain. I hear the two lambs crying nearby and limp to a window to see what the fuss is. The dogs are chasing them around the front yard, all parties confused as to why they aren’t with the herd.
I hate to admit it and I don’t want to give it power, but I already know today will be a bad day. I’m having fun on the farm with Erin and the animals and the chaos, I could easily stay here another night, but I’m hoping a change of scenery will work some magic on the funk in my bones and brains. I have too much on my mind and it’s nothing that can’t wait for our return to Portland, but I just can’t turn it off. Also, I’m going to CRATER LAKE. Can that just be enough?
I get up to make coffee and the lambs’ vibrato “mehhh” is louder than ever. I open the front door and find this:
Brie’s up now and we quickly pack our stuff. She makes us breakfast. We’re ready to go, but we hang out with Erin for a bit more. It pours on and off for just minutes at a time. Brie and I wordlessly exchange concern for the day, neither one of us wanting to admit how foreboding this manic weather feels. We say our goodbyes. I don’t feel ready to leave Southern Oregon. I’ve barely scratched the surface.
I exclaim over every view as if I haven’t been looking at these views for the last few days. Brie says something like, “when you look at a field, you’re never just looking at a field.” It reminds me of the Rumi poem I always return to, There is a Field:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.
Our first stop is the historic Jacksonville Cemetery, only about twenty miles from Williams and a few miles from Medford. Jacksonville is a cute little olde town. You know, art galleries, overpriced everything, but adorable. We find a coffee shop and attempt to caffeinate the gray blahs away. Why are all of our trips like this?!?!?! (Rhetorical: Oregon.)
It feels good to walk around for awhile even in the rain. I’m wearing all of the warm layers I brought which makes me worry about tonight, especially since we’ll be even higher up at Diamond Lake. I pee behind a giant marble grave of some very clearly rich people in the Christian section of the cemetery and feel like maybe I’m being a sacrilegious shit head, but I can’t wait any longer.
Brie and I get back in the car and begin the drive to Medford, where we’ll soon be en route to Crater Lake. We talk about the very real possibility of being fogged out at Crater Lake and agree it’s worth trying even if it doesn’t work out. We might head back to Portland after, which sucks because we have all of this time.
Oh, and obviously we stopped at the In-N-Out Burger. The only one in Oregon.
The drive is gorgeous, especially the parts along the Rogue River. Before our last turn-off, we realize Google Maps has lead us astray and we won’t be able to take 138 to Diamond Lake because of weather. Huh. We have no reception and our maps indicate a clear alternate route, but we decide we will definitely be heading back home after this. I don’t want to, but I also don’t want to camp in the rain and possible snow.
We pay the $15 to get into Crater Lake National Park, the only national park in Oregon, and being that we are officially driving in snow and can’t see even two hundred yards in front of us, we know we aren’t gonna see the damn lake. I’m pretending I don’t care, it’s beautiful! We pull up at the first big viewpoint, the only one open at the moment, and…
This is a really weird thing I’m not sure I want to admit, which makes me feel like I have to: I’ve been here before. At least once. I think maybe even twice, I just can’t remember. One of those times was maybe in the last fourteen years since I’ve lived in Oregon and I still can’t remember. My PTSD/too-much-partying brain is that bad. SUCKS. So, this is potentially my third time and still, I’m going to need to come back again to actually see it, but at least I’ll actually remember this time?
We’re in the park for less than an hour. It’s going to be a long day of driving. I’m at that point in my depression where I’m so annoyed by my own feelings and needs. My adventurous spirit has been lost for too long. I think it got mixed up somewhere with my medical bills and chronic pain. I try to be nice to myself. I try to believe this is temporary because it very likely is, right? I don’t want to go back to Portland, which has become more of a symbol than a place: real life and all of it’s harshness, my unsatisfying and underpaying job that doesn’t appreciate me, no cats, no money, fear and imposter syndrome about the GOOD things happening. I feel ashamed of how my negative headspace shrouds the very real, lovely things in my life. I have always felt, even as a child, as if I exist in two worlds. I’m losing my sparkle, myself.
The other day, I was doing one of my side hustles, some landscaping at work. As I was taking a picture of this giant lupine I grew, a man walked by, reeking of alcohol, and snapped the flower’s stalk. His face was a mix of laughter and something like confusion. I was enraged. It felt so personal and shocking. As I tried to explain to my coworkers what happened, all of them sympathetic, it dawned on me just how not a problem this was. Not for me, anyway. There is so much shitty shit happening in the world. This was not one of those things. Yes, the lupine and the planting and the growing and the metaphors gave me real joy, but I could feel the pain and recklessness radiate off of this guy. That petty joy might actually have given him some relief or maybe even his own “WTF am I doing?” moment. I know that feeling of impulsively taking a small joy from someone to dull an edge, like slowing my car to ten below when someone tailgates me, or ignoring a customer who is impatiently interrupting my transaction with another customer. It’s all so fucking petty and speaks only to our pain and feelings of powerlessness.
The ride home is long and tedious. My back is killing me. Brie and I exhaust the sweeter details of the weekend before mutually running out of ways to be positive. We listen to NPR and dread the world, but we get a sunset.