Grateful for the Trails

The good life gives no warning. It weathers the climates of despair and appears on foot, unrecognized, offering nothing, and you are there.

Mark Strand

It is Thanksgiving week, so of course it is the time we are officially reminded to be grateful, and many of us come up with a gratitude list. Once a year of course is not sufficient, and I admit I have found the process to be a little more difficult this year, as I continue to deal with the pain and limitations of a fractured shoulder and the sense of impending doom that has created.

But doom is not here yet, and whatever happens with my shoulder I have a lifetime of trails behind me, miles and miles of them, and I am grateful for every step taken on every trail.

Here are a few of them, beginning with the Staircase Rapids Trail along the Skokomish River in Olympic National Park. These days it is usually crowded with day hikers who make their way to the bridge across the river and then return down the other side. It is a gentle path, and like most wild Olympics trails, it is lined with mosses and thick underbrush, tall Douglas fir and hemlock shading the path, and thick ropes of clubmoss draped over the arms of big leaf maple.

For me the trail is also lined with memories, the first woodland trail I hiked as a very young child. My dad would leave camp to go fishing in the morning, and my mother and brother Pat and I would wander up this trail to various special places. We discovered Sliding Rock, where Pat and I would plunge down its slope into a shallow pool in the river, as well as Red Reef Rock and Dead Horse Hill. I studied centipedes and banana slugs and a strange white flower lacking chlorophyll that my mother said was called Indian Pipe.

Mostly what I discovered was a world of wonder, a world I have never left behind. Apart from the usual responsibilities of family and career, most of my life has been spent moving more deeply into that world of wonder. I am forever grateful and will always cherish that trail and the memories that are there for me still on the banks of the Skokomish River.

I am grateful for the Wonderland Trail, a hundred mile route around Mt. Rainier, and the location of my first long backpacking trip. I was eighteen years old and had just graduated from high school. My best friend Kathy and I decided to celebrate by making this long trek, along with her mother Bobbi. We traversed ridge tops with thousand foot drops on either side, glissaded down snowfields above Summerland, and laid out our sleeping bags on metal bunks in a shelter made of stone next to the headwaters of the Ohanepecosh River. I had grown up in a house where Mt. Rainier was visible to the east from my bedroom window. Now I saw the mountain from ever angle and close enough that I could see the deep crevasses on its summit.

I am grateful for the Solitude Trail, named for Lake Solitude in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, where the trail ascends along the rugged slopes of Cloud Peak and makes a circuit around a jagged cluster of peaks. I used to pitch my tent near the shore of Eunice Lake and then day hike to the upper lakes and the ridge tops dotted with quartz crystals the size of tennis balls, alone in a world where ancient rocks protruded into the sky, and my cares seemed small and insignificant.

I am grateful for the Hidden Lakes Trail in the Pasayten Wilderness of Washington’s North Cascades, where I used to spread out my sleeping bag right on the edge of the lake so that I would awaken to the sound of loons nearby. Often I would see them only a few feet offshore, watching me, as if they were curious about this strange creature who made her nest so close to the lake like a loon.

I could go on of course: Enchanted Valley, the Dosewallips, the High Divide, Chesler Park in Canyonlands, the bristlecone pines on the steep slope of Wheeler Peak in western Nevada, the High Sierra Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, the Pacific Northwest Trail.

I am one woman, and I have lived this one fragile life. Like most women and men I have had my hard times: two failed marriages, raising two daughters on my own while I attended graduate school and worked part time, the loss of family members and good friends. And this one life has taken me to river valleys and mountain peaks and red sandstone arches, and thousands of miles of trails that never failed to take me back to that place of wonder. I am there still, forever grateful.

Published by Colleen Drake

Colleen Drake (AKA Teacup) has over sixty years of hiking exerience (yes, I'm really old) and has seen some pretty big changes over those many years. Join her on the Solitude Trail & share some of these adventures while exploring with her the value of solitude in the wilderness.

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