Saturday, October 23, 2010

Straight Up

I have a reputation for hauling people on what they claim are unacceptably steep hikes, or "death marches,"  as some prefer. It's entirely undeserved. For one thing, hardly anyone has died, although one fellow went a little bluish, and several have exerted themselves clear out of conversation, which is not always a bad thing. Also, it is not my fault that we are very near sea level here and all the good stuff is up around 5,000 feet. That's something you'll have to take up with whoever was responsible for the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

Besides, people are always finding something to complain about. "Look around," I tell them. "It's gorgeous. Try looking at something besides my ass," and they complain that they would, if my ass wasn't always right at their eye level. And it's not true that they keep smacking their faces on the trail in front of them. That only happens sometimes.

It's gotten to the point that when my guests ask me what a proposed trail is like and I say "it's not that steep," everyone groans and pantomimes shooting themselves in the head. Myself, I rarely remember how steep a hike is. I'm always surprised. It's the same sort of mechanism that allows women to bear more than one child.

Once people get themselves to the splendid vista with views of volcanoes, the drone of hummingbirds, and drifts of little alpine flowers that don't grow anywhere else, they hardly ever are moved to push me into the crevasse. They're secretly grateful, they are, quite secretly, and by the time they have hitched themselves back down the trail--and sometimes that do go awfully fast, don't it?--and drained a shelf of my beer, they've forgotten all about it.

Still, to any of you out there still harboring a grudge about all those magnificent vistas and alpine flowers I made you look at, you will be happy to learn that Dave turns the tables on me on our urban hikes. He walks every the heck where. Frequently by himself, but he tries to entice me with talk of an ice cream cone, twelve miles distant. "Go for a walk?" he'll sing out, enthusiastic as a cocker spaniel, and if I haven't had the foresight to make other plans, I'll assent. "Where this time?" I asked the other day.

"Oh," he says, voice light, as if coaxing a parakeet to his finger, "I was thinking hill walk."

This would refer to the West Hills above downtown Portland, the site of my entire postal career. These days, no one is paying me to walk those. We head off.

Soon enough we find ourselves at the bottom of a set of wooden steps in the woods. I peer up, but the apex is shrouded in clouds and eagle butts and angel feet. The steps are in good condition, rarely used; Icarus's younger, timid brother installed them when he got a good deal on lumber. There are little resting benches every thousand feet of elevation, probably thirty of them. We emerge eventually near SW Davenport Lane, and Dave turns to me as bright as sunshine and says "There! That wasn't so bad, was it?" I have parked my last syllable three or four benches down, which he is counting on.

We are smack dab in the middle of the very first route I ever delivered, and I know it well. I have traveled five miles up and thirty years back. It is, in fact, worth the climb, with sights and sounds not encountered in the lower elevations: palatial homes, views of volcanoes, the drone of Mexican-powered leaf blowers, and, blooming everywhere in gay profusion, drifts of Republican lawn signs.

30 comments:

  1. Brilliant! My inner asthmatic is perhaps proudest of hiking up the sidewalk to the DH Lawrence Memorial (8,600 feet above sea level, nowhere near enough rest stops) a week after earning my associates degree at the ripe old age of 45. Followed that autumn by climbing Enchanted Rock (425 feet above ground, 1825 feet above sea level) on what would have been my 21st anniversary with the children's father. The tallest peak I tackle, these days, is Mount Washmore...

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  2. Where I live is a flat, flat land. One must travel several hundred miles to the south or east or both to find something that would approximate a foothill compared to the Cascades. Yet, people in Michigan "downhill ski," sort of, on reclaimed garbage piles. Sad, really. Good thing we have all those lovely lakes.

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  3. How come you had a career with the Postal Service instead of as a humor writer? You are brilliant, Murr, simply brilliant. I had to read this one twice in order to savor it fully.

    We have a hike around Bellingham with a sign stating it is called "Chinscraper" and it is definitely steep. I have more difficulty with the descents as my knees complain loudly that they were not designed for this grade. Love your posts, but this one especially.

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  4. beautiful sights but I'm still glad I live on the coastal plain.

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  5. You guys must have bodies of steel.

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  6. Elizabeth BrewsterOctober 23, 2010 at 9:10 AM

    Murr DOES have a body of steel, and a mind where only the softest, warmest, fuzziest interpretation of events leaks through. Thus she never remembers the agony of these vertical hikes where she leads the unsuspecting victim into the clouds and is blissfully unaware of their cries for help and their petitions to "please God, make it stop!". She marches on, with a smile on her face as she scans the ominous storm clouds and says "looks like it's going to be a beautiful day!" then as the deluge begins declares "should clear up any minute...I think I see a sun break!" Then she samples the tart green huckleberries on bush after bush, each time saying, hmm...this one's no good, let me try another!" each time more hopeful than the last that there is a meadow full of ripe huckleberries JUST over the next hill. I'm telling you, the girl ain't right in the head.

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  7. All I saw was "Murr has a body of steel."

    Djan, if you want to see why I was in the Post Office all that time, check out the video under the Political Poop. If there's one thing this here artiste doesn't want to be, it's starving.

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  8. If only the Republican signs really WERE gay...

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  9. Where does this stairway start? I've never seen it.

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  10. Fave passage: I peer up, but the apex is shrouded in clouds and eagle butts and angel feet. The steps are in good condition, rarely used; Icarus's younger, timid brother installed them when he got a good deal on lumber.

    Murr just said "in gay profusion" to annoy the one Republican who still reads her blog.

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  11. Oh DJan said it for me. You are a brilliant comedy writer. But having some idea of the location you were describing, I was going along for the scenery until you knocked me out with the Republican yard signs!
    On Queen Anne Hill in Seattle we have a similar landscape, with stair climbs all over the hillside, connecting old mansions, views of the city and the mountain (Rainier here, not Hood)and yes, Republicans, but equally mixed with anti-war signs in converted-mansion apartment windows. We did a great urban trek there last year.

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  12. I do recall seeing cars in Portland. Wouldn't it be easier to drive to the top? Or is the excitement in being out of breath?

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  13. Your post left me breathless, both from memories of agonizing climbs of yore, and from laughing at your turn of the phrase.

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  14. What a fabulous house. I'd say well worth the trek.

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  15. That settles it. We're going to meet on the prairies and go for a walk around a bog where gay flowers proliferate!

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  16. You sound like my Scottish relatives whose idea of a "wee walk" is to climb up a sheep path on the side of a mountain, inhaling clouds, stopping for a dram at the top and then leaping back down like a mountain goat. It's called "bagging a Munro". To qualify as a Munro, the mountain has to be over 3,000 feet. I much prefer those stairs with the thoughtful rest stations, eagle butts and angel feet notwithstanding.

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  17. And this is why I am tempted to move to Italy someday, where pizza is authentic and everything is downhill.

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  18. Vivi, you'll have to learn Italian. That should occupy you for about three days.

    Dale, they start at the foot of Broadway Drive, right around Sherman St.

    I wanna bag a Munro!

    Mme. DeFarge, being out of breath is just about as exciting as anything gets.

    Julie, I just wrote something today that was a completely gratuitous slap at Republicans, not even in the realm of necessary, and I wondered if I'd lose my last one. Because I do treasure him or her. Well, we'll find out sooner or later.

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  19. Ha! Love the piece and yr comments!

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  20. That looks a bit like the flight of stairs that Laurel and Hardy hauled the piano up... several times.

    So you got assigned that route as a cub postal carrier and never put in for a "flat" route? A buddy of mine just retired from his postal job... he entered retirement having both his hips replaced. NOW, when he doesn't need to any more, he can walk!!

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  21. Super awesome blog and those are so beautiful sights!
    Thanks so much for stopping by and your wonderful comments!
    Nice to meet you and have a great Sunday!

    Best wishes,
    Betty

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  22. Oh incredible country, nothing like it around here. And you've served to remind me of short hike to Hublien Castle, short, but so steep a grade, the benches set to the side of the path about every eight feet, had one side propped with a three foot log, the other side 'bout four inches. Out of the blue, and gaining quickly behind me, rushed an entire troop pf little Cub Scouts... Like it was nothing. So, I stood, one leg locked at the knee, the other nearly bent to my chest, looking down the trail for, well, er, an adult. Soon, waaaaay down around the corner, came two Den Mothers, looking really pale. And not talking. One finally stopped, braced herself, and with every last ounce of energy in her, screamed, "You kids WAIT UP." So the little tikes bounded back down, then up, then down the section of trail I stood on. By the time the Den Mother's reached me, they stopped, rested for a while, and one said, "Is there oxygen at the top?"

    It was the cutest, but I still can't figure out how those kids are storing all that energy...

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  23. Great blog. I love the humor [sarcasm]

    As one other commented you must be incredibly fit. I thought we had mountains in New England..apparently not.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and I get your comment now.. you probably never have to step on a scale with all your mountain climbing.

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  24. Vodka, maybe I need to put my scale up on a foot-high block to make it seem worth my while.

    Entre Nous. Bienvenue. I've seen those very Cub Scouts ricocheting around on every trail, only they always turn out to be terriers.

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  25. Hah! I laugh at your toughness. We START at 5,000 feet here, and go up from there all the way to 14,000 feet plus! Come here and test yourself, Murr!

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  26. Any trip you make to SF will have to include a stairway walk or two!! We usually went *down* the stairway that looked like this, but made up for it on the way to and from.

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  27. Good one, Murr. Time for the Dudley/'publican signs to come down now.

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  28. Good one, Murr. Time for the Dudley/'publican signs to come down now.

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  29. Oh incredible country, nothing like it around here. And you've served to remind me of short hike to Hublien Castle, short, but so steep a grade, the benches set to the side of the path about every eight feet, had one side propped with a three foot log, the other side 'bout four inches. Out of the blue, and gaining quickly behind me, rushed an entire troop pf little Cub Scouts... Like it was nothing. So, I stood, one leg locked at the knee, the other nearly bent to my chest, looking down the trail for, well, er, an adult. Soon, waaaaay down around the corner, came two Den Mothers, looking really pale. And not talking. One finally stopped, braced herself, and with every last ounce of energy in her, screamed, "You kids WAIT UP." So the little tikes bounded back down, then up, then down the section of trail I stood on. By the time the Den Mother's reached me, they stopped, rested for a while, and one said, "Is there oxygen at the top?"

    It was the cutest, but I still can't figure out how those kids are storing all that energy...

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