What Option? By Tom
“It was the only option.”
“How can you be sure? You leave him there and maybe none of the rest of it happens.”
“What I mean is, that as a human, as a sentient caring person, how could I leave him?”
“It was a poor option. Had you known, what would you have done?”
“How could I have known? Nothing I had been through until then could have prepared me for what happened. Saying I had a choice is what’s silly.”
“Not you, no way,” Lester cooed from the front seat. “Now maybe you two can decide on what our options are here today? Why did we bother to come this far? Are we going to hiking or what?”
“Twenty plus years later and you are still twisting on it.”
“And, if you ask me,” Lester chimed, “you still aren’t paying enough attention to the weather forecast.”
“Weather forecasts twenty years ago were not what they are today.”
“It was the internet of nothing back then. We used to call the gas station in Maple Falls to check.”
“Not for that trip. Too far east. You might have wanted to call the Mazama Country store.”
“Why you so upset today Lucille? What’s going on?
“Maybe she feels bad ‘cause she saw you in a utilikilt,” said Minny.
“And I had to pay for it.”
“Well, I think that would be uplifting as opposed to mood dampening. I think she’s dreamy for Neil.”
“Fuck off Lester.”
Lester and Minny laughed. Yes, it was weird and destructive for the aspirations of a more generalized traditional pursuit of the race human, but they didn’t think Lucille’s situation was so bad. It was certainly exceptional, maybe even singular.
Irritated or not, a mood has a way of telling itself what it wants to hear. While true that she did not enjoy trying to get information out of Neil, she was not worried about it too much either. He can take care of himself and in a different situation not at all a pain to hang out with. But moods can get you into trouble, or they represent poor cognition of a problem about to arrive. She closed her eyes and saw again the video of a poor soul standing on an empty beach wondering why it was empty and the tide has gone so far out. Then the tsunami arrives and he is erased.
These days I think it extremely unlikely I would head up there in October on such a whim. I don’t take on any trip without impatiently following the weather for at least a week, or more.
Not that the trip is really the issue. More like wrong place, wrong time. But a whim is what it was and I took off on it. I was unhappy with things, short on any sort of satisfaction. Grumpy. Annoyed at the arriving shoulder season after such a fun and busy summer. It was nearly time to try to find some steady income for a few months. Surely I was dreading that. And there was no joy at the homestead. Just quiet and a broken washing machine as I recall. Maybe if I smoked as much weed as Lester does I’d have an easier time just sitting around and waiting.
But it had been a really beautiful week to ten days beforehand. And I just wanted to run away for a while.
So there I was, heading north up the almost final leg of the Pacific Coast Trail out of Rainy Pass, mid-week, October. Don’t even remember what day it was. All or most of the through hiker folks would be done, needing to get up past Hart’s Pass and into Manning before the season turns. I wouldn’t mind seeing them anyway.
Rainy Pass is far enough east to get larches, and they had turned, their gold always made it seem like a unique shaft of sunlight must be hitting them. I wonder if there were high clouds filling in, wisp like waves moving faster and separately from the lower layers. That is something I would notice now. There was only one other vehicle in the lot, a pickup with a canopy: I was pleased.
Soon my pack was hoisted and I was on my way.
Five miles plus through woods, then up to Cutthroat Pass. Glorious Cutthroat Pass, one of the grandest view spots in the Cascades. Then over the ridge, down to Granite Pass, and a turn off the main trail at Horse Heaven Camp. Snowy lakes was the destination and a plan to climb Golden Horn was the motivation. The weather was still good as I set up camp.
The day was lonely and I relaxed. I did not see many others, and those I did were well traveled and shaggy. They were eager to be done, and if I saw five that afternoon I am surprised.
Thrilled as I was with the hike I was surprised to find another tent at Snowy Lakes. Soon Lage had introduced himself to me and an apologetic Fred soon followed. Fred was Lage’s human. Soon Fred was formally introducing himself and his dog, named for a not so famous (in most circles) but peripatetic Cascadian explorer.
The two of them were hoping to try the Golden Horn. Fred shared a little whiskey, and while friendly, Lucille was struck by his surprise at not being alone. She guessed he was disappointed like she was that she was not the only person out here, but might respect someone else seeking a bit more solitude than most, trying to get the last bit out of a summer that had already left town.
She watched the sun set behind Hardy. Dark clouds. She sat in the dark until the cold settled, dreaming about heading north or south, forgetting logistics, being visited periodically by other worldly trail angels who supplemented her provisions. Why is it impossible to forget the necessities for even a few moments of fantasy?
Lucille found sleep soon after retreating to her tent, hoping for a lazy, yet alpine, start. Her coffee and oatmeal were ready to go. Lage came over for one last visit, Fred whistling him home soon after, and the world of dense light fell away.
She awoke around two to the sound of rain on the tent. Rain always sounds loud in the tent, she told herself. It isn’t nearly so bad out there. She turned an hour or two later, and things were quieter and breezier. Awake at five, she was disappointed to see a dusting of snow covering the terrain around the lake. The eight weeks of summer at the lake were nearing an end. Damn, she thought, no climbing today. She pulled the bag tight over her face to keep the cold at bay. She turned over and returned to sleep.
Fred and Lage woke her again – at seven! She was appalled.
“Hey, we’re heading out,” said Fred. “Things are looking pretty shitty. Are you thinking of waiting it out?”
Lucille poked her head out of the tent to four inches of fresh snow. It was still falling and the breeze was steady.
“No. I saw it was for shit around five, then curled up and fell back asleep. Can’t believe I slept so late.”
“Glad to hear that you’re going to head out. Hard to think this snow is going to go anywhere soon. Good luck – we’ll probably see you on the hike.”
With that they were off. The weather sucked but she saw no reason to really hurry. The snow might lay off. But it didn’t, and she was pleased with her oatmeal and coffee. No matter the weather, the landscape was beautiful, big peaks, clouds moving in and out. All her own for an hour or so.
The snow was still coming as she departed. The trail remained pretty clear and she cut a good pace. She was a little concerned there might be some issues below Cutthroat Pass and before the trees, where the trail might be indistinct in the new snow.
The wind and snow kept things a bit burly, especially crossing the ridge above Granite Pass. But the trail was not too hard to find and the solace of solitude and beauty and timelessness was just what she had left town to find. The swirling snow, the wind and squalls, trees bent in the wind and water, silent and relentless no matter the phase combined with the trail and the pack and the cocoon around her frail human self to leave her happy but wet.
Below Cutthroat Pass the weather changed to rain, pretty heavy rain, which was arguably worse than the snow. She knew though that she was not spending another night out. Soon she would be at her car. She even caught up to Fred and Lage about a mile from the road. Quiet greetings, she decided to stick with them from here to the trailhead. Pleasant enough company, especially the dog. All of them were soaked now and their motion was trance like.
Then we saw him. Was that the moment, the point when everything changed? Was it earlier? Later? Never?
The guy must have taken shelter in the outhouse. He came out when he heard us. Shivering, soaked, clad head to toe in denim. Not good gear for a rainy day. And we were almost thirty miles from the closest town. This guy was totally incoherent, certainly hypothermic. We decided to strip him down before his condition worsened. Fred said he had some blankets in his truck.
That was when we noticed that his truck was gone. Some footprints in the fading slush, then tire tracks.
“Fuck,” Fred muttered reasonably, “my truck. Hey you – what do you know about this?”
Silence and shivering and a frightened face were all we got from our new compatriot.
“Stolen truck or no, this guy is not going to last long if we do not get him out of those clothes.”
“And he is the only one who might have some information. Damn, my truck.”
“Whoever took it didn’t take him with them. Come on – my car is still here. I’ll heat some water for this guy, then we’ll get going.”
Fred was understandably upset. He did not have much to say beyond the occasional curse once we had given up on getting some kind of response from our new find. It took some cajoling, then finally insistence, but we stripped him of his clothes and wrapped him in a sleeping bag. It seemed that the best thing to do was head east, the services there were closer and we could drop this guy off, then report Fred’s truck.
We piled into my ancient Subaru. It started, much to my relief. We headed east on twenty. Fred was trying intermittently, without success, to get our patient to say something, anything.
The fall twilight was descending and the persistent rain was turning back to snow. I warned Fred about the hole in the floor of my car so at least he could try to keep his feet from getting any wetter. He was pretty cold too in the clothes he had hiked in all day. He had wrapped himself in his sleeping bag. Lage seemed fairly content and was curled up in the back next to our patient.
It was lonely country. Pretty bad situation, a lost guy, obviously not a hiker. Did I even pause then to wonder what his story was? And a truck stolen from a trailhead: I had never seen that before, especially at such a lonely time. That was fucked up, should have been a clue. Break ins and smash and grabs, sure. But to take someone’s truck from a trailhead, out here, in this weather. That isn’t friendly.
These were my thoughts as I headed east. I was mildly pleased that no one was going to look for me for at least a day or two, so I didn’t need to hustle out to call someone.
We had gone about ten miles and just passed a turn off when saw the lights of a vehicle entering the road, turning the same direction as us. The shining lights obvious to the three of us riding in my car.