Day 7 Timberline Lodge and Beyond
Zero Miles! My first one! Well, I just polished off a $12 salad of lettuce and dressing. I asked if they could make it extra large but I watched the cook put it in a to-go box and it was just a big handful. Sheesh! Not quite the welcome I was hoping for at Timberline.
The lodge is an amazing WPA project, full of history and craftsmanship, hard work and ingenuity. In the downstairs museum I learned that the workers made .90 cents an hour during the depression and were happy for it. However this place is somewhat exclusive. I feel rich just being here. At about $300 a night, Timberline is out of reach for most people. Granted, it is awesome, the luxury and the location is worth the price but the people who work here now (and the ones who built it) probably couldn’t afford to stay here. I’d like to see some part of the lodge that was economical so that more people could enjoy this historic public works project.
I’ve been wandering around here all morning, since I was “up with the chickens” as we say on the farm. I had been awakened around 4 by noises and lights on Mt. Hood. I thought at first it was for climbers as a string of fricking alien-beam-me-up bright lights lit up the mountain. But the noise and movement of machinery soon let me know I was looking at snow cats grooming the trail on the glacier. Who knew you could ski here in July? Apparently, lots of skier know, the Wy’east lodge is crawling with them! I have since learned Mt. Hood is the only place in the lower 48 you can ski all summer long.
Went back to sleep for a few more hours then made my way down to the lodge proper for a facilities usage and to get put on a list that would somehow grant me early entry to our room. With that, I also got laundry privileges! I “hiked” over to the store, bought a Timberline T shirt, swapped out my dirty clothes in the bathroom and had my laundry done by 9 AM. For the rest of the day I was asked by tourists for instructions and help as I apparently looked like a member of the staff in that shirt!
It’s really kind of weird to be here after 6 days on trail. All these people! I don’t live or work in the city and actually see more people on the trail than I do in my regular life. I get that I’m unusual that way, I probably could be quite content as a hermit. Crowds make me nervous. Well, crowds of people anyway. I’m pretty chill in a flock of chickens, a herd of horses, a pack of friendly dogs.
About a year or so ago I heard about a personality description called “highly sensitive” and after learning more, took the 28 question test. Turns out I checked off about 26 of the boxes on that list. Artist, introvert, animal and nature lover, crowd and loud noise avoid-er, picks up and is affected by others emotions, stress and general vibes. Yep. Check, check, check! Learning about being “highly sensitive” has helped me understand why I’ve felt so different for so long and to finally be okay with it. I no longer feel the need to “fit in” and the relief and insight and self acceptance has been very, very freeing. So, no wonder the chaos at Timberline stands out in stark relief to my last week.
But I’ve got things to do, so I put on my game face and get with the program. After taking down my tent (which I longingly looked at as a tiny nylon refuge) I packed up and retrieved my hiker box from the store. In the ski lodge, I took over a table and laid out my resupply and jettisoned things from my pack that I didn’t use or need. My 8 ounces of camp shoes, gone. Really, I was only wearing them 5 minutes or so a day. My unused, extra-just-in-case water bottle, gone. The back-up packages of Ramen? Gone. The ultra light cashmere sweater? Gone. Winter gloves… what was I thinking?! Gone!
It felt good to see what I needed and what I thought I needed part ways. Even with all my backpacking experience, I’d learned so much about what to carry and what to pitch. But this was a trip unlike anything I’d ever done. I’ve never hiked so many miles or moved every night. In the past, my hiking buddy and I would set up our trips to mostly hang out at a high lake where we’d relax, swim, read and pretty much vacation in the wilderness. This PCT journey has been about goals.
Once all the sorting chores were done and I had my $12 salad in hand, I found a corner table to sit and write, charge my cell phone and people watch. But the first thing I see is a huge chipmunk run across the battered but well polished wood floor. A brown shadow, it heads towards the center couches that flank the fireplace. At first, I think it’s a rat, it’s so big, but then it reappears and skitters off looking for an unattended bagel. I flag down an employee who’s setting out coffee for guests.
“Uh, excuse me, there’s a chipmunk in here. It’s under the couches,” and I point helpfully in the general direction.
“Oh, those aren’t chipmunks,” he explains. “Those are Timber Tigers. They’re squirrels, actually.”
“Squirrels? They look like chipmunks.”
“Yeah, they are all over here. They come in as soon as it gets warm, we can’t keep them out. They don’t do much harm.” And off he goes to finish his duties.
Now, I’ve been pretty familiar with chipmunks and squirrels of all kinds for longer than this kid has been alive but I’ve never heard the term “timber tiger”. I shrug and figure he must know something I don’t, seeing as he works here but lo and behold, Google holds all the answers. Timber Tiger is another cute name for chipmunk and that is what is prowling all around the lodge. They are big, well fed and bold, and just like every other chipmunk I’ve ever seen. So much for the taxonomic knowledge of lodge workers.
And so I eat my expensive salad and then notice the sad dog tied to a pole just outside my window. The sun is streaming down, hot on the concrete patio and this beautiful little French bulldog is tethered in a square foot of shade without any water. She is at the end of her rope (literally) as she tries to stay out of the sun but the sun is slowly winning. I am worried about her and look around the lodge, where are her owners? Surely they are coming back? She inches back but she’s gone as far as she can go. An internal debate starts, do I untie her and move her? Do I bring her water? Do I bring her inside? I fixate on the dog and write in my journal about bad owners who don’t seem to realize that the sun actually moves for crying out loud.
An old woman in a wheelchair is pushed near to where I am fretting and writing and eating. I look up as her attendant parks her in front of the view of Mt. Hood who rises so closely above the lodge one can literally walk out the door and up on his muscular flanks. The attendant turns out to be a granddaughter and she catches my eye.
“My grandmother climbed Mt. Hood when she was 18 back in 1942. I’m just bringing her to see it again.”
The old woman nods towards Hood, her eyes deeply set in a face of worn lines, her hair a thin nest of gray white curls. Her skin is paper thin and she doesn’t speak, just gazes at this mountain she once climbed. Back when wool and waxed canvas were the only things between you and the elements. Before women were known as adventurers, though we know they certainly were adventuring all over the place. Back when she was young and lithe and powerful enough to climb this 11,250 foot giant of Oregon.
I wonder how much she remembers, how much she is aware. She looks so tired, propped up in her chair. There are 74 long and short years between the woman in the chair and the girl she used to be, the one who braved the wind and snow and rock and did this amazing thing. I hope she remembers it all like it was yesterday. Those deep memories are the last things to go when we get that old… I hope she sat there for what most probably would be the last time, and remembered how brave and young and fearless she was. I hope I remember things like this about myself one day. And that someone who loves me will wheel me to the edge of my adventure before I too have to pass beyond this earth and on to my next great journey.
I follow her gaze out the window and see the hot dog… her owners have come and are bending over her. The dog’s nose was just in the sun but she is rescued and they make a big fuss over how she had run out of shade, the poor darling! I learn her name is Daisy and she is untied and picked up and cuddled. Daisy is stoic about her fate and simply sighs in relief. As do I.
And now I see a parallel. The old woman in the chair, the dog in the sun. Each quietly enduring their place in life, with dignity and composure. No fuss, no drama, they were serene in their acceptance, they had surrendered to the moment and in the moment, had found a sense of peace.
I take a deep breath, let it go and do the same. The noise, the people, the chaos falls away and I am happy in my corner, jotting down my thoughts of the day.
And then, Joe is there! Our reunion is not marred with my internal anxiety, but feels surreal in it’s absolute rightness. Now if only our room was ready…. no sooner do I think this, when my phone rings. Our room is ready! We gather up my gear and box and head up to the cozy space. It’s lovely and charming and everything you want a lodge to be.
Knotty pine walls, old dressers, refurbished bath… sadly only a shower. I won’t be using the Epsom salts for a soak as I had planned. We tour the lodge and the grounds and catch up on the week. Later, we treat ourselves to a fancy dinner and I order from the vegetarian menu. But while the dining room is rustic and lovely with its crisp napkins, its amuse-bouche, its palate cleansers and all the 101 touches that make it a 4 star meal, something sits on my stomach like an ill wish. I feel hot, too hot and I wonder what is in the lentil loaf. There are so many rich ingredients and I have had some issues with eggs in the past. Are there eggs in here? Did the teeny piece of salmon I ate mess with my vegan flora? I keep thinking I am missing vital enzymes to break down meat, as I seem to have reactions when I stray from my usual diet. I feel like I have let down this amazing meal by not being able to enjoy every last bite. And just like that, I am exhausted. We wrap up our experience and I go to bed, sleep finds me fast and holds on until the snow-cats start up again at 4 AM. Really Timberline? Really?