This has become one of my fitness tests, this run. Mile to the singletrack, two miles to the bench, three miles to the summit. Just shy of two thousand feet gain.
When I injured my knee and was sidelined for nearly two months two years ago, it was this route upon my return that let me know not only was I healthy but also, on top of well-rested, fit. When I first moved here four years ago, and needed a regular route to serve as a proving ground, it was this route I chose. And when I first convinced Kerri to move here, it was with this route we punctuated our first winter together.
One mile to the singletrack. Two miles to the bench. Three miles to the summit. Just shy of two thousand feet gain.
When I first moved here, it took me: Long enough I knew better than to time it. Two years ago, it took me: 8 minutes; 18 minutes; 28 minutes to the peak. Today? Today it took me: 13 minutes to the mile, huffing and puffing and chugging along; 28 minutes to the two-mile bench and those vistas for miles and how tempting it was to stop and savor the views; 50 minutes to the top and that last steep climb a painful slog and breath caught on how this of all places seems to be recovering slowest. I'm not in the shape I was then. Of course, after the fires two years ago, neither is this place.
Fortunately, I'm not in the hurry I was then, either. I don't need to rush this trail, because this trail is home. Where four years ago I saw a summit and two years ago I saw a test, I know see a familiar friend. I see the way the land has changed and tentatively, gingerly, uncertainly grown back after the fires two years ago, and I see the way the trail continues to change. I see how the balsamroot is filling in, as it never quite did before. I see also how the deadfall continues to drop and southern sloes, baked, continue to erode, sure, but also how the flowers are poking through and new saplings trying, here and there.
I see the way singletrack is changing under the mountain bikers, turning rutted in some places, slippery in others. I see the way these trails are defined now, and how new ones grow where visitors unkindly explore, not knowing the damage of their steps.
This is not a new thing, of course: Trails have always changed under heavier loads and with more frequent footfalls. This is the story of how the West was tamed, though, and it is the way of trails here: we find them, fall in love with them, and love them to death. These slopes here, especially, caught as they are between rivers and bigger Cascadian peaks, do not lend themselves naturally to sustainable routes; they're too steep. And so when the routes become well-worn, so also do they become well-eroded. This is a failure of education, mostly: If you've never learned what a sustainable trail looks like, why wouldn't you go straight up? It is, after all, the most direct route.
But progress isn't always so direct; rarely is it, actually. It's taken each of us years to become the people we are now, and far longer yet were these mountains forming and aging and maturing. For both Kerri and I, it's taken us each years to get to where we are now, and to fall into this partnership, to recognize what we've found in each other and this shared life, these shared goals. Our lives haven't ever been direct lines to the summit, but rather have snaked and slithered and stumbled and climbed and grown and blossomed into what they are now. We've each been burned by past relationships and by past ambitions, past jobs, which has made the beauty of this life and these dreams that we share all the greater now that we've found them. We're on the right trail, finally: We're together, and trail education & trail advocacy is the future we want to forge with each other and the world around us. We're transformed into something more, better, brighter with each other and with this shared vision.
My relationship with this route has transformed in much the same way. Four years ago, it was just a high point to conquer, another summit. Three years ago, it was the backyard summit I knew best, and recognized first from miles away. Two years ago, it was the trail that felt like home. Last year, it was a trail tentatively recovering from heartbreak. And now? Now it's a trail we know intimately well, a chrysalis for some of what we hope to achieve.
Now we know where our favorite quiet places are, and we know where the balsamroot are doing both better and worse than in previous springs. We know where people go to hide their trash, and we know where they don't go when we need to escape them. We notice the small changes, like how I saw today that someone had thinned a couple patches of sagebrush recently.
Two years ago, I wouldn't have noticed, dashing as I was for the peak. Now? Although I may labor more on my way to the peak now, I also see more clearly where I'm going, and notice my surroundings. It's less about the pace now, and more about capturing the day and doing it right, asking one question: Is it sustainable?
And that'll always be our question here: Is it sustainable? Many of us who love trails have trails like this one, trails that will always keep us grounded to our sense of place, because trails like this are home. Trails like this are why Kerri and I founded Endless Trails, and trails like this are why we want you to invest in trails with us. Is it sustainable?
* How do we balance the desire for trail access with the need to protect and limit traffic in fragile areas?
* What do you do while you're out to help encourage sustainable trail use?
* What trails do you think of as home, and what makes them home for you?