Monday, February 13, 2012

Route 66 Revisited?

On Sunday February 5th, I woke up feeling fatigued and depressed. What made that morning even more disappointing was that it was my birthday. It wasn't one of those benchmark birthdays like the previous year when I had celebrated my 65th. Starting my 66th year only meant, annoyingly enough, that I was continuing my march to 70.

I also felt achy, lethargic and aimless. I decided that I would will myself into the opposite psychological direction by embarking on an outdoor adventure, namely a hike along the river trail to the summit of one of Oregon's most famous landmark, located at Smith Rock State Park. Sometimes physical exercise in the fresh air has had the effect of knocking toxic feelings out of me and I sorely wanted to cultivate a positive attitude on my birthday. I thought that such an activity would be a just reward for my special day, one where I could look back in the future and remember what I was still able to do on this day in that year.

The round trip, descending first to the the base of the rock formation along the Crooked River and then to the summit and back to the starting point, is probably not much more than four miles long. For the most part the walk is on soft dirt interspersed with rocks and loose pumice, and wends its way through patches of juniper and ponderosa pine before turning sharply upwards. This marks the beginning of a series of steep and, on certain days, quite slippery switchbacks leading to the summit,  ominously named Misery Ridge. It has earned this disconcerting title as a result of its austere, sharp, rocky outcroppings and amazingly dangerous drop-offs.  Along with the hikers, the length of the trail also serves as access for rock climbers. These hardy-looking people, full of energy, seek to ascend the many vertical faces and tall pillars which loom like giant stone idols throughout the park. It is not uncommon to see people seeking crevices for their toehold while clinging to ropes stretched hundreds of feet in the air.

Since it was late afternoon, I encountered only a few people on the heavily-traveled single-track path. Although it is common to exchange superficial pleasantries with fellow hikers, usually about the trail condition, the weather, the dramatic vistas, or the wildflowers,  I was uncharacteristically reticent. I listened carefully to my body. I felt my joints and muscles loosening, my body sweating and my nostrils inhaling the cool dry Central Oregon air. I became less lonely but thought occasionally of friends who would have enjoyed the experience, although I have learned that companionship dramatically alters the powerful dynamic of solitude. I have become accustomed to undertaking many of my adventures alone, although it dismays some of my family who worry understandably about inherent perils. I don't blame them for caring, but I hope they understand that when I was a child I had been small, buck-toothed, insecure and was labeled as overly sensitive. In my family taking chances and developing physical prowess were considered to be in the domain of uneducated and most likely non-Jewish people. This attitude, understandable in the context of my parents' life experience in Nazi Germany, translated into their overblown desire for me to have safe passage through life. The cost to protect me from "unnecessary risk"  contributed heavily to further discoloring my self-image. My desire to take challenging hikes and other thrill adventures such as advanced downhill skiing and wading into swift rivers to fly fish may be my need to prove to myself that I now possess some semblance of  traditional masculinity. In any case, hiking provides ample time for reflection on a variety of ideas, but likewise can serve as a great distraction from my predilection of turning inward. My camera in hand is a reminder that this is the perfect time to see, smell, and feel the landscape outside me.

I believe the photos above will demonstrate the healing effect of the hike.

The first picture is a northwest view, with "Monkey Face" a climber's nirvana, in the foreground, and the snowy peak of Mt. Jefferson in the background. From this vantage point I was able to glimpse several other Cascade mountains, including Mt. Washington, Mt. Hood, The Sisters, and Mt. Bachelor.

The second picture showing the Crooked River meandering through this breathtaking canyon reminded me of how the day before I had gone fly fishing for sassy trout upstream from this spot. The invigorating coolness of the water and had renewed my appreciation for the natural beauty of "my backyard".

For the last shot I stopped about halfway down my descent and decided to capture the golden tones of the setting sun reflecting off of the canyon walls and adjacent farmland. I peered down at the road and parking area. The white dot in the center of the photo is my car.

I am already curious as to where I'll be next year at this time. Wherever it is, I am already determined to enjoy the tasty cake of life, load it up with candles and have abundant breath to blow them out. I will still be in the ring for another round. I am natural fighter. Yes I am.