When I was in college, there was this guy. A few years older than me, he was the lead singer in a local band with spiked, frosted hair and dimpled cheeks that never quite lost their baby-like fullness; naturally, I was completely smitten. One night, after months of fumbled flirtations, he walked me over to the bar after a show and offered to buy me a drink – something I’d never had before. Truly. Yes, I was in college, but I was still drinking Welch’s sparkling grape juice during the holidays and Shirley Temples whenever I went out to a restaurant where I felt the need to graduate from jeans to a dress. Frantically, not wanting to look like a complete rube in front of this guy who was – so obviously – the love of my life, I started mentally rattling off everything I knew about alcohol; I wanted to be sure that the selection I requested would simultaneously convey all of the different, irresistible subtleties of my infectious personality… you know, just in case he wasn’t already aware. I knew my nana drank Bloody Mary’s (not really a fan of tomato juice and didn’t seem like something that would be “bar appropriate”); all of my roommates liked “beer” (it didn’t seem to matter what type of beer, which was good because I had no idea what “on tap” meant, but the bigger issue was the after effects of beer that I had observed and was eager to avoid); my mother enjoyed whiskey sours (but if I can’t get through a Sour Patch Kid without my face contorting like a Cirque de Soleil performer, probably not a great choice)… Time passing. Things getting awkward! Must. Say. Something! Over my shoulder, I heard a female voice order something called a “water tower.” Water. Water is good; water is life! “May I have a water tower, please?” Judging by his reaction, I had clearly just made a wise and discerning choice. All I had to do now was continue to evoke a cool and effortlessly chic aura while engaging in witty banter as I enjoyed my beverage… which couldn’t possibly have been the three-foot-monstrosity with, what appeared to be, a blue funnel in lieu of a straw that was heading directly for me…
Today, some 15 or so years later, I find myself standing in the REI flagship store in downtown Seattle, flashing back to this proud, social moment; realizing that I am experiencing many of the same ramifications of that night, having once again disastrously employed the same decision-making-technique by taking my cue from a random, but inexplicably competent-sounding, passerby who remarked that they were looking for a “backpack, fully outfitted” when I, myself, was asked, “What sort of pack are you looking for?” Now, as I try to maintain the confident exterior of a hiker, backpacker or whatever it was I said I was doing – not to mention my center of gravity – as the indulgent sales representative attempts to strap my five-foot-self into this mammoth pack that threatens to crush my spinal column, I can’t help but reflect on what brought me to this awkward position.
It all began in December of 2016 and the not entirely well planned decision to fulfill my childhood dream of living in Seattle. Why Seattle? Beats me! All I know is that from the age of ten Seattle meant coffee shops, rainy days, dense old growth forests, rocky shores with tidal pools, rock n’ roll, grunge, whales and so much more that I love… well not so much coffee, but the smell of coffee. So, with nothing really holding me in Ohio, it seemed like it was about time I made it happen! Three months later, I had a job offer! A month later, after a mere 5-day car ride in my Subaru (look, Ma! I’m already so Seattle) that was stuffed to the point of bursting with house plants, a television, three boxes of kitchen kit, three boxes of treasured artwork, the obligatory suitcase of emergency clothes, three glass orchid cloches and my 65 year old father who was there to “help with the driving” by doing things like nearly taking off as I was still pumping gas into the tank somewhere in Montana – I was here! I wanted to start exploring right away; I came for the city, the food, the outdoors and I didn’t want to miss a minute of it. I set myself the goal that I would explore at least one park every other weekend, even if just to go and people-watch with a rich, creamy mocha (mocha isn’t coffee; it’s coffee flavored chocolate milk). But where was I to start? Thankfully, my new coworkers were quick with suggestions! 1) Avoid fines since you’re going to be broke and unable to pay it with this housing market and 10% tax rate by getting a Discovery Pass 2) Make sure you’re less likely to die if you do a hike by going with a buddy and following the 10-must-haves when hiking 3) start with Larrabee Park.
First weekend – Larrabee Park it is! I’m excited for my first “hike,” which, in my mind, just means walking on uneven terrain with a backpack. Having stayed up the night before to look at “hiking outfits” on Pinterest to get an idea of what I should be wearing on a hike, I smartly (pause of ironic eye rolls) chose a gray t-shirt, red and black checkered flannel, a pair of stretch Levi’s, my probably-ready-to-be-retired running shoes and the only jacket I had that was water resistant – who cares if it didn’t breathe and felt like I was wearing a trash bag? I didn’t have a backpack, but I knew I wanted to take National Geographic worthy pictures that I could send to my parents to let them see what a good time I was having (#envythefactthatIliveinparadise, #loveyou); so I grabbed my camera messenger bag with the oh-so-convenient buckles instead of snaps. Into the bag also went two protein shakes and bars, which I thought could be enough to tide me over until the search parties found me after I went missing. Unable to remember anything else that was on the list of the 10-must-haves for hiking, and not really all that confident that I’d included any of them – although I’m pretty sure the t-shirt, flannel and jacket constituted layers which I’m almost positive was on the list – I took off! About an hour and a half later, I was way north. I stopped at a Starbucks on the way to pick up my morning mocha (#notcoffee) and was only slightly concerned that the barista had no idea what Larrabee Park was, since the map seemed to indicate that I was only about 20 minutes away at this point. Still, it gave me a chance to look at some pictures of where I was heading. Apparently, Larrabee is so big that I could choose to hike through the woods, the mountains or along the coast! Not feeling entirely confident in my skills, I decided I’d start with the coast – how hard could that be? Twenty minutes later, I was winding up the side of a mountain that was bathed in lichen-covered, drooping, pine trees and Jurassic-looking ferns. To my left was the Pacific and Puget Sound, clear and crashing onto boulder covered beaches. Above, a bald eagle seemed to add a natural crescendo to the moment… and what a moment! Have you ever experienced the sensation of pure happiness? Joy to the point where it hurts and you can’t help but choke back tears because a simple smile isn’t enough to do the moment justice? That’s what it was.
Needing a moment to recover, I pulled off and snapped a few shots of the view as I tried to guess where the road would ultimately deposit me. Back into the car, I took my place in the line of cars that all seemed to be making their way to the same destination; after all, there were only so many places this road went! At one point, the dominant navigation lady told me I had arrived at my destination when I passed a parking lot that was clearly meant for woodland hikers. I pressed on, however, going further and further down until I saw a sign in the shape of an arrow that read “Beach 1.0 mi” pointing to the left. I followed it down, found a parking space, displayed my Discovery pass (after quickly writing my license plate on the front – read the instructions kids!), chugged the rest of my mocha, threw the bag over my shoulder and started to make my way down the path.
The path leads down into a small green with a wall of fuchsia Rhododendrons to the right, a small amphitheater in the center and a pavilion with a grill to the left. Continuing to the follow the path, I walked through an industrial, cement pipe that had been painted with images of deer, native flora, bald eagles and other symbols of the Pacific Northwest. On the other side of the pipe, I had to make a choice to go left or right; with Robert Frost in my head, I went to the right. After traversing a few flat stones and a small bridge, upon which sat a discarded pink jacket, I was at the beach!
On the right hand side of the beach, it was obvious where the wind, water and salt had eaten away at the out cliffs. Just past those cliffs were the first tidal pools! I started to make my way over the rocks – trying to avoid stepping on areas of dark discoloration, which I assumed meant that they were still wet; my suspicions were confirmed after hearing several parents cautioning their toddlers. In the pools, I saw anemones, small fish, crabs and little starfish… most of which were dead courtesy of the seagulls that also patrolled the cove; one brazenly stood just out of reach as it struggled to devour a starfish that was bigger than his head. Murderous little…
There was an outcrop to the left of the beach that caught my eye; I could see several people had made their way out onto it and so I decided to try my hand as well, having had no real luck with the tidal pools in this cove. So I made my way back up the path and continued onto the left. Sure enough, the path that went to the left took me right to the outcrop.
As I climbed up and out onto the cliff portion, I was suddenly keenly aware of my height; whereas the average sized individual may have been able to step from one boulder to another, I really had to pull, slide and jump my way along – not easy to do with an unsecured messenger bag flopping all over the place! Eventually, I made my way past the group of teenagers sharing a blanket and onto the outermost point of the cliff. I let my feet dangle as I snapped a few more photos with my phone and camera. Again, my bald eagle friend made a celebrity appearance as if to imply “yes, you are, in fact, dreaming…”
Suddenly, I heard shrieks and giggles. Fortunately, it wasn’t the teenagers; it was two children and their parents – they had gone further down the path and crawled into another cove. More tidal pools! Yes, please! I made my way off of the cliff and slowly started to slide (yes, slide) down the rocks that outlined the cove. Eventually, things leveled out and I was hopping from boulder to boulder until I was on the rocky shore. I watched as the little boy of the group kicked over medium sized rocks and then inspected what was underneath; occasionally he would produce a crab or sea urchin! I got closer to the water and was about to mirror his technique when I saw something that I wasn’t expecting to – the color purple. A Technicolor, Wizard of Oz, Barney the Dinosaur, candy color purple! My first thought was that someone had littered and I’d scoop whatever it was up and throw away it later… but then the color seemed to move. Slowly, almost indiscernibly, but it moved! I stooped down and, upon closer inspection, realized that it was a starfish! And not just one, but dozens of starfish that were bigger than my hands!
I wanted to take a picture of the whole thing as opposed to just a few of its legs, but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to touch it. I knew it couldn’t hurt me, but I wasn’t sure if somehow I could unintentionally hurt it. As the mother of the family walked by I asked if we were allowed to touch them. “Oh yes,” she said “but they’re wedged in there pretty good.” Boy was she right! I stuck my little child-hands into the cracks and got a hold of the main portion of the body, but no matter how much I tugged, the darn thing wouldn’t budge! Realizing that I probably was doing a wonderful impression of the fish-killer-child in “Finding Nemo” I settled for just a picture and continued to make my way down the cove.
For almost two hours, I walked along the shore. Eventually, I noticed what, in my mind, appeared to be a path that led up from the shore and into the forest! Since the sun had started to poke through the clouds, I decided to take my translucent flesh back into the shade. So, up I started to climb. Again, it wasn’t long before my size started to feel like a hindrance. I pulled myself up along the “path” with the help of saplings and shrubbery. Suddenly, the “path” seemed to end, and I made the mistake of looking down.
This was not a path. This was a bunch of birds or some other animal that had walked back and forth with enough repetition so as to get to the point of discouraging vegetation but it was clearly not meant for humans to walk on because it essentially left me hanging out over the cove with nothing to prevent my fall should one of the saplings fail me. Unable to get back down the way I came, I pulled myself up and deeper into the woods. I decided that it would be better to go through the thick of the forest until I made my way back to the legitimate path that had gone off to the left at the fork. As I walked through the vegetation, I hummed loudly (another tip from my coworkers – make noise so that the wild animals that want to kill you know that you’re coming…seems counterintuitive but hey, they’re all still alive so I ran with it). Eventually, I got to a point where the underbrush was less dense and I could see the path to my left. I started to scurry down to it as best as I could until I was met with a fallen tree. The log had long since lost its bark and appeared to be smooth. Again, I was too small to hop over it; so, I figured I could try to get one leg over it and then throw my body weight onto that side and sort of slide over it to meet up with the path. Good plan. One leg over, no problem. Now, for the slide. Why wasn’t I sliding? I seemed to be a little stuck on something and was now straddling the log like I was riding a horse; maybe I was meeting a little twig that I didn’t notice originally. OK, a little rocking should help reconnect me with the earth. One…two…riiiiiiiiiiiiip. My jeans split wide open along the inner seam of my left leg to the knee hip of my right. That, kids, is why your mom always told you to wear clean underwear! Oh well, my coat and flannel were long enough to cover myself as I made my way back to the car… and the breeze actually felt pretty nice after so many hours of scrambling over rocks. Besides, they were jeans; not pants meant for climbing. For that, I’d have to go to REI… perhaps they could fit me with a backpack too…
And that, is where it all began.