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How Bad Could It Be?

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How Bad Could It Be?

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  photoWe decide to go to Lake Timothy on a whim, while we’re out sitting on the patio at Swagat Indian Restaurant sipping mango mojitos, a light breeze rippling through the trees and making the shadows of the leaves dance in the dapple sunlight just beyond us. Sure, we think, let’s go on a little trip—Darren doesn’t have to work, it’s Memorial Day, we’ll rent kayaks and wake up in the tent. Nothing doesn’t sound good about that.

On Sunday, when we’re strapping kayaks to the top of grocery getter in what begins to be a driving rain, it seems less likely that there won’t be anything but good for us waiting on Mt. Hood. It’s already late, 5:30 or so, we rent kayaks from a guy who told Darren a horrifically crass joke, and I’m taking shelter from the rain in the shadow of a dumpster while they put the kayaks on. Do we have reservations at the campsite? Of course not. Have we every kayaked before? Kind of. But we were armed with faith and good senses of humor, and a little bit of preparation. Besides, as I told Darren when we finally got out of town, if we always waited for guaranteed good weather we would literally never leave the house. Thanks, Oregon!

We did have some things checked off the list—a tent we knew we would stay dry in and very good raincoats for the next day, and the knowledge that we had recently made it through another very wet night while we were in Yosemite.  That night we built a tarp setup that would’ve made any bum proud, and Darren spent three hours in a deluge nursing a fire that sputtered magnificently and even threw off heat. It was a valiant effort that included, but wasn’t limited to throwing gasoline on the fire that resulted in a reaction so explosive it blew holes in the aforementioned tarp, and nearly asphyxiating on smoke midway through the process. I should also mention that to add insult to injury, the camp next to us—a couple who brought a tent that would’ve rivaled the Taj Mahal and spent most of their time in it—emerged for about 45 minutes with those chemically logs that are bizarrely waterproof and had a fire going in seconds.

This time—facing the rain—I bought a pack of those logs to avoid the rage and frustration of our last trip, but! I also brought a pack of regular logs (couldn’t risk sawing off D’s antlers completely). On our way up, the rain stopped and as we wound through the dark green of the forest towards the lake and watched everyone else on their way back to Portland, I felt that the next two hours would find us either foolhardy or genius. The jury was still out.

When we pulled up to the campground, one of my favorites on all of Mt. Hood, we lucked into a site immediately. It was fate, if you believe in that kind of thing—a lakefront spot with a big white OPEN card on the front. Should we keep looking? No, too good here, even though we are right across from the camp hosts—an aging military couple who aren’t there when we pull in but who immediately come to check up on us when they come back, and who appear to spend most of their time trundling around in a golf cart emblazoned with PGE logos—so we stay, setting up the tent in a familiar routine, each falling into our roles easily. Still no rain, and when we walk down to the shoreline, out of the trees, there are patches of clear sky amid a rolling cloudscape reflected back to us in the bowl of the lake. The bulk of Mt. Hood is hidden, but we see the bottom of the top of her revealed, too early to be that rocky, I think, but oh well.

It sprinkles for a minute while we’re pulling out dinner, but other than that it stays clear and cool. The trees whisper and whoosh above us while we sit by the fire and eat off our knees. It’s camping the way it should be, reassuringly easy—nine times out of ten I’ve found that the answer to how bad can it be?, my favorite rhetorical question, is not that bad. That’s the experience that makes it possible to throw kayaks on the roof of my mom car and head up to the mountain on memorial day weekend with few qualms. Granted, there’s been a couple of really bads that’ll teach you to think twice—but not so many yet that I’d refuse to go at all. Especially when we’re looking up at a patchy star sky ringed by the dark outline of trees, so tall and so perfect they look fake, it’s hard to imagine there never being a bright spot to a bad camping trip. Maybe I’m jinxing myself, but so far so good.

The next morning I wake up early and watch the trees again through the roof, then fall asleep again hard for another hour until I feel Darren start to wake up and make noise. Incredibly, there’s blue sky backing drifty white clouds and we’re spurred out of cozy sleeping bags for this reason only. There’s a good routine to getting up in the morning and packing up, a dance learned through many days of working hard to hit the road—except this time it’s the lake. It starts raining while I’m mixing oatmeal—it appears the blue sky was a lie. We have to at least get out there and find out for sure it’s terrible, I tell Darren. We can’t come all this way and not at least get on the water.

A couple is fighting when we get over to the put-in spot, the lady is trying to hook a chain up around a boat trailer, or something—there’s a lot of one-way yelling from her, a lot of COULDJA JUST GIMME A SECOND and WILL YA JUST HANG ON, but it’s a cheese grater on the nerves as we start off. We start ankle deep in water before hopping in the boats, a half second spent suspended with one foot in the boat, balancing balancing before a soft landing into the seat, and we’re off.

We stay close to the shoreline—it’s stopped raining but I don’t want to get out and drown in the middle of the lake, understandably. A kind of giddiness comes over the two of us, happy to be out of the city, on the water, to see the trees from this side. We’re going to try and paddle around the lake. When we start, going with the wind, laughing and paddling along, it seems very possible. Fun, even!

Then we make the turn around the lake, and it turns out the wind is actually blowing really hard. Enough to create waves, fairly significant ones, big enough that when they break over the bow of my boat I get splashed. Plus side—I’m working so hard to keep moving, can’t stop paddling or I get blown off course, I don’t get cold! Downside—it feels like I’m in a one-on-one battle with mother nature’s full ferocity. This is difficult, at best. Still kind of fun, a different kind of fun, test your mettle kind of fun. Even when it’s raining though, and blowing so hard, there’s still a lot to see, a different kind of view. The rain on the water was my favorite part—for a few minutes I was surrounded by a thousand, a million, concentric circles dropping onto the surface of the lake, and the colors were overwhelming, dark blues, a flashing streak of light.

We stop for lunch at Meditation Point at 11:30—we started at 10. But it’s time for a break, two rain storms have slightly dampened our enthusiasm. There was just enough time in between them to dry off and remember why were out there, but achy arms and hunger are strong motivating factors. Meditation Point is pretty peaceful, a pine tree sticks out over the water and gnarled roots jut out over the water, sinking into the lake itself. We’re about halfway, if that really is the parking lot we started from across the lake, which we’re pretty sure it is. D says we’ll make it easy. I think so too, although finishing this side of the lake going into the wind will be challenging.

It is, but the sun has come back, so now it’s just windy, but still, it’s an improvement. And when we do reach the turn, so we can start going with the wind again, our battle becomes downright relaxing. We easy paddle down what’s left of the shore for us. We’re back to laughing into the sun, taking pictures, running fingers through the top of the water, let it slip and slide around us, no waves to speak of.

The parking lot—correctly identified on the other side of the lake—welcomes us back as paddling champions, so much so that we’re soon talking about permanently investing in kayaks. Hauling them out of the lake, dripping wet, changing in the car as we twist down the mountain’s windy roads, everything is we should do that again! Because how bad could it be, really? A little wind, a little rain, no problem—we’re hardy folk. We’d go all the time!

As it turned out, the good feeling we had about hitting the road on the patio at Swagat didn’t prove wrong—kind of incredibly, but still. The good times will always hopefully outweigh the bad, and if they don’t, oh well. Another story to tell.

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