Popping Through the Clouds; Feeling My Head Explode

I wouldn’t call myself a “fair weather hiker.” Not only would it imply some flaw in my character but it’s just not true: I hike in every month of the year, and I’ll take off for the mountains in nearly any condition. But I prefer sunshine. For me, hiking is all about digging beauty … and let’s face it, it’s prettier in the sunshine. (And, it’s kind of hard to dig beauty when you’re cold and wet and your glasses are fogged up and you can’t see a goddamned thing!)

Truth is, I’m pretty much committed to getting outside every day, and to at least starting out for a hike no matter what (though if I can delay by a day to grab sunshine, I’ll do it). Honestly, if you put off hikes on the chance of bad weather in the Pacific Northwest, you won’t hike much. Besides, the weather changes around here so rapidly that you never know that what you’ve got at home is what you’ll have at the trailhead, let alone a few thousand feet higher. So a lot of times, I’ll go out anyway, taking a chance for the big payoff that comes when you start in the murk, in a raincoat, and maybe slog through the morning mist for miles, or drive two hours in the fog, like we did getting up to White Chuck just this last year.

Some days you start in the murk …
.. and it never gets any better.

Sometimes you start in the murk and never escape it, and hey, you get some nice exercise in a cloud. It’s not like there’s really a bad day in the mountains.

But sometimes the world just transforms as you rise, the clouds shifting and thinning as you switchback up, patches of blue materializing overhead, and you realize you’re right at the top of the cloud deck as it floats and weaves around you–like you’ve been underwater and now you’re coming to the surface of a wavy sea. And then, suddenly, you’re above it all, and it’s just blue above and the nearby summits rise out of the cloudy sea. 

Alex and me on Bald Mountain

It’s days like this that convince me to keep trying, just to keep heading out, taking the chance that today is the day for the big payoff, when you climb out of the clouds and look across a pillowy white sea. My favorite “popping out” days happened not on the big boys—Baker and Rainier—but rather on Dickerman with Sara; on Bald Mountain with Alex; and then just this last fall, with John, Sam, and Louisa on White Chuck. The pictures will tell the story better than words.

On Rainier
On Dickerman with Sara, Big Four in the background
White Chuck
Sam and Lou digging some beauty on White Chuck

Oddly enough, there’s an odd parallel to my daily practice of reading, for there too the regular practice sometimes leads to an outsize payoff. 

Here’s my morning routine: up around 4:30 AM, I turn on the fire, pour a cup of coffee, and sit down to read. I read Heather Cox Richardson’s daily email, check out a few stories from Dave Pell’s Next Draft, go through newsletter dailies from The Guardian, The NY Times, Wired, the MIT Technology Review, check for new stories in The New Yorker, and then dip into some light car stuff from Jalopnik. I read fast and bail quickly on stuff that doesn’t light my fire.

Most days it’s pretty conventional, but every now and then I go running off on a wild goose chase that feels like I’ve stepped into a different world. Just last week, for example, I chased down a reference from Austin Kleon that led me to Alan Jacob’s quirky blog (specifically, one titled “A Newsletter of Newsletters”) and from there I went careening off off into wilds of the web, running into Robin Rendle, Paul Kedrosky, Lauren O’Connell, … man, I don’t know how I started or which led to which, but it was an adventure that just lit me up!

When Sara came down the stairs around 6:30, I was giddy, grinning from ear to ear.

“You look happy,” said Sara.

“Honey, I feel like my head has exploded!,” I replied. I felt like I was riding a big wild wave of variety and quirkiness that had rolled in off the free, wild Internet that’s still out there when I venture off my beaten path.

That day, I broke through the clouds.

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