Spent a Little Time on a Mountain

Spent a little time on the mountain,
Spent a little time on the hill
Heard some say better run away
Others say you better stand still.

~New Speedway Boogie by The Grateful Dead.

Life has a soundtrack. It varies from place to place. In towns or cities, the backbeat is provided by traffic, honking horns, acceleration, squealing brakes; the metronome of machinery. Up and down the sidewalks people provide harmony, walking, talking, keeping time with the mechanical world. We are the accompaniment for automation.

Sometimes, though, you need a little more, or maybe a little less. You need to find the music that can put you straight. Music provided by the chaos of nature. I needed that sound. Normally it is at the end of a long drive.

The distance of this drive was long, three days. But, the last forty miles were the difference. It took an hour and a half. The road was rutted, wash-boarded, rough. The last six miles was a single lane, just wide enough for one car, scraped out of the side of a mountain.

It ended in a wide-open spot with room for several cars. There was a sign, with a simple arrow pointing up the mountain, “Hornet Lookout.” And I knew we were in trouble. You couldn’t see the small, simple cabin you couldn’t even see the top of the mountain.  But, you could see the lower portion of the trail until it was consumed by the trees. It looked impossible. Snaking back and forth, some parts seemed to be straight up, others almost straight up. Then it disappeared, into pine trees that looked alive. Packs of trees that looked as if they had intentionally hidden the trail.

According to the USDA forest service, there was a decommissioned fire lookout at the end of the trail. “Hornet Lookout.” An isolated cabin, built in the 1920s as part of a multi-state early warning system. But all you saw were trees, wildflowers, bees and the trail. The Trail, it was almost impossible to take your eyes off it.

We were surrounded by the constant buzz of flying insects. At times it was so loud the ground seemed to absorb the sound and send it pulsing up through your legs. Bees were everywhere. It could have been a scene from a bad, late-night cable movie, except for their complete indifference to us. When you entered the wooded parts of the hike the buzzing changed, deepened, it became more powerful, intimate. It was impossible to tell if you were hearing it or making it.

More than once we stopped to catch our breath and marshal our reserves.  We hiked for over an hour, and the only thing we saw was mountain, endless twisting winding trail. The only sounds we heard were the buzzing, the rasping breath and the occasional words of encouragement we offered each other. “You are doing great.” “I’m sure we’ll see it soon.”

Doubts will creep in. What if there was nothing there, except a mountain top? Even worse, what if the cabin sat on the next mountain top? At 6,700 feet above sea level, the oxygen thins and breathing is difficult. Muscles straining to carry the load demand increasing levels of blood and oxygen. Your brain has to make do with less. It starts to fight back.

In an effort to divert some oxygen from the legs your brain will start to explain all the awful things that could happen to a couple of old people on the side of a mountain so many miles from civilization.  At this point every post-apocalyptic nightmare you ever had starts to play in glorious Technicolor across the drive-in theater of your aging, tired mind.

For the first time you realize you haven’t even seen a plane zipping across the sky. There was nothing anywhere to offer the harsh, numbing comfort of civilization. You don’t know if you should stop and succumb or keep on climbing and succumb. Neither option has any real flavor. So you keep going.

We walked out of the trees and there it stood, in all of its simple glory. Hornet Lookout. It was almost a miracle. I could never imagine being so relieved to see such a plain, small building. No electricity, no water, cots for sleeping. My wife, who was at least as worried as I was, had taken a dangerous turn, she was smiling, almost laughing. She was thrilled.

I opened the door, dropped all the gear and sat down. My mind drifted back to the early settlers who crossed the harrowing wilderness. How did they do it? What drove them to find their way across this huge, unforgiving continent? They didn’t even have a pit toilet to look forward to. They must have been insane.

Fortunately, I had thought to bring a bottle of wine and some canned spray cheese. We were feasting tonight. I looked at my Fitbit and it said the hike had been 68 flights of stairs and covered almost a mile and a half. Not bad for two people closer to the end of their life than they were the beginning. It was the best wine we ever had.

Featured Photo: Shutterstock

other photo courtesy of author

Back to Top