Monday, June 02, 2008

Scouting

Date: June 1 and 2
Mileage: 39.4 and 12.1
May mileage: 51.5
Temperature: 62 and 57

My parents are coming to visit me next week. This will be their first visit to Southeast Alaska. I thought about pushing the typical tourist excursions ... helicopter tour of the ice field, wildlife cruise to Glacier Bay, etc. But then I thought it would be more fun if I could show my parents Juneau the way I see it. My dad loves hiking, so I have been hitting some of the nearby trails to gauge the progress of the snowmelt and decide how enjoyable they'd be in a week and a half. Today I tried the Mount Jumbo trail. All was clear up to 1,300 feet, but beyond there it was still pretty deep with hollow, slushy snowpack. I made it to about 2,000 feet before I decided I was way off the trail and hopelessly lost, and followed my faint footprints home.

I'd really like to show my dad the best of Juneau. After all, he was the one who introduced me to this place we call the Great Outdoors. If he hadn't hooked me on hiking when I was still a surly teenager, who knows what my hobbies would be today? Knowing what I was like then, I'm guessing they would involve hanging out in coffee shops, going to see oddball art house comedies and blogging about indie music.

I'm pretty sure I met my diverging path in the summer of '96. I recall that time as a rather rough summer for me. I had this horrible job as a “bagger” at the local Albertsons where they wouldn’t even let me wear red shoes. I had a boyfriend I couldn’t stand, although in the typical fashion of a disenchanted teenage girl, it took me most of the hot, stagnant summer to figure that out. I was facing a senior year in high school that I really just wanted to get over with already. And through it all, my dad was trying to introduce me to the mountains.

It’s fun to think back on my feelings about mountains as a teenager. Mountains were there, sure, but they didn’t quite compare to busting a path to the stage at the Warped Tour or the true exhilaration of cruising down State Street in the passenger seat of my friend’s Karman Ghia. But hiking was a great way to burn up a Saturday morning until something better came along, so I started to accompany my dad on Wasatch Range excursions. We took a few short trips together. And then, one day in August, he asked me if I wanted to hike Mount Timpanogos.

Timpanogos was beyond my comprehension. It was 18 miles round trip. I didn’t know the elevation or climbing or technicality. All that mattered was that it was 18 miles, which sounded like a long way to drive in a Karman Ghia, let alone a distance to walk. But in the same way I used to pretend I liked whole wheat hot cereal and Star Wars, I wanted my dad to think I was strong and tough and I said I would go.

I was so nervous when we packed up the car before dawn and made the long drive to the trailhead. I had "race day" sickness - a hole in my stomach that gurgled and churned and didn't stop when we set into the trail, steep from the get-go and chilled in morning stillness. Dad plied me with granola bars I had no appetite for so I stuffed them in my pocket, and up we marched, up as the morning dissipated into a blazing blue sky, up beyond the treeline, up into a granite-walled valley, up the granite walls, up to a point where we crested a narrow ridge and stood overlooking the city of Provo, so far below us that it appeared as geometric shapes sparkling in the sun. I was blown away. Sweating and lightheaded and blistered and sick to my stomach, but blown away. We picked our way to the peak, where Dad fixed me a cream cheese bagel asked me how I felt.

And I remember I felt pretty good.

I remember the date, too, because that night I scrawled a characteristically dramatic entry in my journal, with a cartoon self portrait - shaded darkly in pen, dressed in subtly ironic thrift-store clothing and drawn much thinner than I actually was - standing on a rock outcropping with arms raised straight out. "Today I climbed a mountain," were the only words. Aug. 2, 1996.

Sometimes when I think back to that hike, I believe that was the bottom of what became a future of climbing. And sometimes I think everything I've done since that day will never quite top it, no matter how far I go.

Either way, Dad, all this is your fault.