The loudest noise was a minnow jumping. That’s when I knew I was in the right place. Life has been hectic, lately. Sound familiar? My schedule almost lined up with the weather. Postpone a meeting or two as the last sweep of sunny, dry weather was being chased out of town by a forecast for rain, rain, then showers, showers, showers. Backpacking replenishes my batteries, reminds me of the essentials, pulls back the facade of civilization for a peek at reality. Camping isn’t free, it isn’t cheap, but it can be sweeter than a suite – especially when there are no bugs, and just a bit of adventure.
Believe it or not, about 25 years ago I managed a full time job as an engineer, had a house, and somehow managed to hike three weekends out of every four with one or two of them being overnight trips. How did I ever do that? 1) Overtime helped. It provided the extra cash for gear, supplies, and licenses. 2) I was young and single. I shouldn’t have been in a house. I bought it because I should; which also means I didn’t keep it up to suburban standards. Overlook a few imperfections here, get more chances to play out there. 3) As tight as money was thanks to a big house and a big mortgage, in retrospect I realize I was being very frugal. I spent my money and time on the things that were valuable to me, even if they confused my family.
Lately, I’ve been working seven days a week. Yes, I know that most of you know that, but one of the purposes of this blog is to chronicle the life of one person as they navigate their financial journey. Thanks to my Rule of 7, I’m working seven days a week – with a slight allowance for a day off every two months. As most sole-proprietors know, a day off is one day of lost revenue that has to be made up for before and after, or decide which bill doesn’t get paid. I’m glad I have enough of a cushion that I should be okay this time.
Several years ago, I completed a three book series about hiking in Washington’s Cascade mountains. I wanted to hike somewhere else, to put work a bit farther away, but loading up a bit of Thursday’s work on Wednesday meant leaving the house about 2PM. So much for hikes that involved long drives, hard climbs, and research. I realized my best choice was from the series’ first book, Barclay Lake. Instead of sleeping beside an alpine lake above the treeline and beneath the stars, I’d sleep within a temperate rain forest beside a drought-shrunken lake under a 6,000 foot tall spire of rock. It’s all good. And, it turned out to be a good place for relaxation and contemplation. Those aren’t action words for marvelous stories, but they are some of my most valuable experiences.
It is easy to dismiss Barclay Lake. It’s relatively low (2,430 feet), small (I’d consider swimming it if the weather was right), and can be overrun (unless you pick the right times to arrive.) The trail is only 2.2 miles and the elevation gain is only 200-500 feet. It is listed as a family hike because kids can get there (unless they’re distracted by the log bridge); so, “serious” hikers avoid it. Instead, I’ve seen tequila parties, kids with hatchets, and Huck Finn rafts using nature as a setting for some idea of fun. I tend to only go there after Labor Day or before Memorial Day. Then, it is so quiet that the chipmunks haven’t even tried raiding my food.
The road has a new layer of gravel, which is great; and a fresh set of washboards, which can be brutal. Drive slowly and watch for traffic. Since my visits for my book, they’ve installed a luxury, a rest room! The bushes are still there, too, maybe for traditionalists. Last year’s wind storm that slammed Dorothy Lake evidently slammed Barclay Lake, too. Thanks to lots of chainsaw work, the trail is clear, and many of the campsites are clean and open. The first toilet even looked new (and was refreshingly clean). I found the sign for the one at the inlet, but was distracted by something I’ll get to in a bit.
I was lucky. I had the lake to myself. My late start meant getting to the lake about an hour or two before sunset. By the time my tent was set up and water being filtered, it was time for a jacket and hat despite warm weather in the valley. I cold-camp, no stove, so dinner was cold pizza and a slim box of wine. And silence. Camping beside a babbling brook is nice, but I’ve also found myself wanting to turn off the faucet in the middle of the night. Minnows jumping were the loudest noise, except for the occasional slight breeze that make me wonder what was out there.
Barclay Lake has an impressive drop in level as the summer goes by. An eight foot drop in such a small lake is dramatic. I agree with the ranger’s notes that it was probably at its lowest, which meant plenty of beach camping possibilities. I stayed to the trees for a more level surface. That also meant there was no water in the stream, just lots of weathered boulders under the log bridge.
No people. No bugs. No noise. Just what I needed after two months of working without a day off.
The second day wasn’t as quiet, which is what happens at Barclay. Just as I got to the inlet (where I found the sign to the second toilet), I heard something fall off the peak. It sounded like a tree being ripped from its roots. I swung back for a look and realized the sound came from a BASE jumper whose chute had just opened above me. I was worried because I couldn’t find him for a while, but eventually he hiked by and I checked to make sure no one else was flying. Being the only person at the lake also meant being the only person available if a 911 call was required.
Plenty of folks came up for the day, several just walked their dogs. Another tent went up on the exposed sand bar at the outlet. After dark, another set of campers came in, stumbled into my camp site, and were a bit confused. I gave them directions to another site in case they wanted privacy. Before they found my tent, one of them asked the other how much weed they’d smoked. The answer came in the form of a question; “All of it?” I’m glad they found another campsite.
Thanks go out to the USFS and WTA work crews that maintain the trail. (For my experience working on the trail, check out my book.) Seeing the damage on either side of the trail was impressive. Nature does things in big ways.
I’m back home (duh). The gear has been dried, cleaned, and repacked for the next trip. Add those chores to the catch-up work and see why the hike takes longer than the hike.
Enough of my friends shake their heads when I describe backpacking. Cheers to those who use passages from my books as examples for why they’d never sleep in a sleeping bag, in a tent, on the ground, in uncertain weather, with rodents for neighbors. The moments of adventurers flying off mountains, or stoners bumping by in the night are the easiest things to describe; but, the real value comes from the boring moments that won’t show up in ads. They’re too quiet, too still. I stood on the beach and let my gaze drift from minnows to autumn colors to tilting back my head to take in the 3,700 rise to the top of Baring Peak. The peak has a cleft big enough to hold a battleship held vertically. It is amazing to stand there, know the lake was formed by a rockfall, and see cracks bigger than ships. And yet, the minnow swim by, partiers party, and a forest soaks up over 110 inches of rain per year until a windstorm knocks it down. Weeks of unprocessed thoughts unspooled with no agenda or schedule to hurry or dismiss them.
If I’d been treated to an indulgent couple of nights in a luxury suite in Seattle, I would’ve accepted because duh; but I also know that there’s more value to being quiet and still in nature and being reminded of my and our place in it. Time in nature is the greater indulgence and is far more affordable (even if it isn’t free.)