I See You, Supermoon (or, Why I Congratulate Myself on Quitting Early)

As promised, I will now complete the story of my Grand Hiking Adventure, first begun here.

After Mark, Denali, Tenaya and I returned to camp from the hiking trail, we took to unloading firewood from the car. We didn’t have to hunt for it, because Mark had accumulated a large selection for the fire pit in the backyard over the winter and we’d brought plenty of logs that we wanted to clear out. I was still panting from my too-long and too-lost hike through the woods, and I was still yammering about the bear. Eventually I settled down and we began to hear something in the distance that sounded like a vehicle. This was surprising, because we had, as of yet, encountered no sign of humanity in many hours since our arrival–even since many miles back on the turnoff to the mountainous backroads. Eventually, the truck sound grew closer and a large pickup parked in the parking lot near our campsite. Denali started doing his protective and adolescent-voiced “woof,” and Tenaya was taking a protective stance. Eventually, an obviously drunken man meandered from the passenger seat. He looked, as Mark later pointed out, like an old(er) Tom Petty. But he also looked like Old Tom Petty staggering home from a bar in the middle of the night.

As he staggered toward us, I asked Mark to give me Denali’s leash, and I leashed him—thankfully so, as Denali suddenly began “woofing” with some real seriousness. The man asked if either of us happened to smoke, and I said I did, knowing immediately his next question. Handing Mark Denali’s leash, I started toward the campfire and Old Tom Petty. This caused both dogs to get into a state of protectiveness, and Denali was lurching against the leash as I walked over and handed the guy four of my cigarettes. He proclaimed that we were sent from Jesus (a point I must doubt) and thanked me profusely. He then went on to say that he and his brother were visiting the site for the first time in years. They had buried their father somewhere nearby at a cemetery, and were revisiting.

At this point, the brother, a younger man and thankfully not an inebriated one (or so I could tell), got out of the driver’s seat and started to walk up. Old Tom Petty was rattling on, and Younger Brother tried to shut him up somewhat. Meanwhile, Denali was punctuating every breath with “WOOF!” “WOOF!” followed by this menacing, wolfy growl. Though I was trying to placate him somewhat and telling him to “shh,” I was inwardly happy to know that he had the ability to dissuade the persistent conversation of strangers who approach. Especially drunken Old Tom Petty ones (unless it were really Tom Petty, in which case, he could be drunk and chat all night and I’d just tape Denali’s mouth shut). It is a quality to hold in high regard in the city—or just about anywhere that you encounter strangers who want to hold captive audiences. I can think of a million incidents in my life that having a growling, snarling, barking wolfdog by my side would have been advantageous.

The brothers were nice, though, and seemed nonthreatening. Still, I was happy when Younger Brother finally coerced Old Tom Petty to “Come along and leave these folks to their camping.” They drove away, with Old Tom Petty declaring how wonderful we were and thanking me profusely for the cigarettes and yelling that we were lifesavers from the open window. Denali woofed until the truck was out of sight. Then, he lay down and slept soundly, exhausted from his hike in the woods.

After eating dinner and as the fire was dying down, Mark and I began walking across the parking lot and field to try and get a view of the supermoon. This was the whole selling point (or buying factor on my end, as it were) on going—to see this supermoon from a mountain. Incidentally, I have since discovered that I do not really understand the reality of mountains. I grew up in the rolling hills of Arkansas, but there are not “real mountains” or huge jutting cliffs like there are here. In my mind, I think if you want to see the moon better, you go higher up. I didn’t take into account the fact that we’d be on the side of some mountain and the view of the moon would depend on what side—and what other mountains were obscuring it. These are things you learn, I suppose. But not in drama school, apparently.

That’s about when I started to talk about going home. “But the moon is easily visible from our backyard in the valley,” I insisted. I saw it rise last night, just as I see it every night, because my office faces the east. Mark balked at the idea of leaving camp at 8:30 p.m., and he’d already set up his tent. I was planning on sleeping in the car, because—well, of bears. Even if I hadn’t seen the bear shit that day, I’d have slept in the Subaru anyway—because I’m scared of bears. And mountain lions. I kept up my plight, and I could see it working on Mark. Inwardly, I think he realized too that I was right about the moon and how we were stuck in this spot that was not going to give us a good viewing of it (he has a better grasp of elevation and geography). He was still intent on staying and having a bear-sighting, though. Eventually, he caved. I agreed to help pack up and disassemble the tent, and we began our work of closing down shop.

Most would say that I’m a chicken, and I have a past that would verify that fact. On my first ever camping adventure with my ex-husband, I convinced him to pack up camp and drive 200 miles home after I’d stepped on a rattlesnake, been eaten by mosquitoes, and discovered the great number of alligators surrounding our camp. On my many expeditions with Mark, I am renowned for my ability to balk. Perhaps, just like many other choices made in my life, it is letting the fear get the best of me. When life comes down to “fight or flight,” I know my choice is the latter.

But this time, I really wanted to see the moon. Was I afraid of spending the night there? Oh, sure, probably a little. But more than fear, I wanted to see what I came for. I had miscalculated and mis-figured in all of my estimations of the moon, the mountains, and my location. And besides, as I pointed out—“Well, it’s like you went camping. We just get to go home and sleep in a bed… On a mattress…”

So at around 8:45, we started driving the long and curvy single-lane road back down the mountain. I wasn’t anxious now, because I’d been there. This, riding in a car—this was nothing compared with being within seconds of a bear. We drove up and down and around cutbacks on the rickety road and once we crossed from the mountains, there it was: The Supermoon. It was so blinding, Mark had to put his visor down to see well. On the ride, we saw an opossum that scurried along by the moonlight, and we almost hit a skunk. The skunk, thankfully, kept moving and didn’t spray the car. The whole ride back, I was glued to the passenger window looking for bears. I hoped to see one to make up for leaving camp early—but I didn’t. Instead, I got home at 10:15, watched SNL with Mark, and went outside frequently to stare at the moon. It was a beautiful moon. I’m glad I went to there and back to see it.

It is in long-sighted retrospect that I see this trip for what it was: My opportunity to face fear. All of our trips really boil down to that, and I gain a new perspective each time I try something “scary.” I learn from these trips into the wild—more than I have learned anywhere else. Looking back, I see my choices on the varying paths in the wilderness as the choices I’ve made in my life. Sometimes, I have chosen the right path, then doubted myself and stumbled back only to choose the wrong one. Sometimes, I have meandered uphill in the wrong direction for no reason other than the fact that I wanted to get as far from the shit in my past as I could. Sometimes, I have been scared into action by something as meaningless as a tree stump. In all of these greater choices—the places I’ve lived, the careers I’ve chosen or abandoned, the relationships fallen into or left behind—there were learning examples. But with hiking, you get to find out all of your tendencies—the negative and the good—in about ten hours as opposed to ten years.

Will I go hiking again? Well, according to Mark, my payback for making us leave and drive back at night is that on the next trip, I have to really hike. A five-mile hike, backpacking into the wilderness, and camping there. I suppose, in all reality, this is a good choice on his part. He knows that I won’t be willing to hike five miles back to the car to drive home at 8 p.m. with a 30 lb. backpack strapped on. He’s a very smart man…

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