Friday, July 25, 2014

Backpacking with Mom

It wasn't even me who suggested it. My mom asked if I would take her backpacking! I was excited that she wanted to go, especially since the only time she has been backpacking was once with a church group about 28 years ago. So we picked a date, made a packing list, and headed out after work on a Friday. We headed up to a trailhead just past Verlot off the Mountain Loop Highway. 

I told a friend where I was going and she said, "Isn't that near where the mother and daughter were found shot in the woods a few years back? Oh sorry, I really shouldn't bring that up."

I remembered hearing about it, and it was incredibly sad and devastating on so many levels. For one thing, they never found the perpetrator: Who killed two hikers near Mt Pilchuck? But that type of random violence is so rare, and even family of the victims urged hikers to not be scared to keep going out there: Family of Slain women: Don't be Afraid.

I simply wanted to go somewhere close, uncrowded, with a short hike in, and with a lake to swim in. Our spot fit the bill perfectly and we had a warm, pleasant hike in, and no one else there.
We arrived just as the sun was going behind the cliff walls. We set up camp, made dinner, and sipped tea while sitting on logs. We read poetry in the tent and then got a good night's sleep.
My mom was super enthusiastic about everything. The great thing about backpacking with some one who hasn't been in so long, is that all the gear that she's familiar with has come such a long way. She couldn't believe how easy the tent was to set up, how small the stove was, how compact the sleeping bag, how comfy the air mattress, or how light the backpack.

In the morning, still fairly early, we left camp to take a short walk to the privy. It was still a little early for day hikers, and there was no one else around. But then we rounded a bend and suddenly came upon two guys in their early 20's, looking disconcertingly out of place by the lakeside, dressed best as I can describe, like white trash/90's skinheads. And one holding a huge rifle with bayonet.

With my heart pounding, I said a friendly Good Morning as we walked past. My mind was racing as I struggled to reconcile what these guys might be doing here, and how odd it was that I have never once seen people casually wielding firearms in the woods, except this area with a history of an unsolved mother/daughter homicide. It would have been different if they looked like hunters. In fact, I myself enjoy hunting, and am not unfamiliar with being around guns. But these guys were completely out of an understandable context, compounded by thoughts of knowing that they would have seen our lone car at the trailhead. Also, I didn't know it at the time, but the date of horrible double homicide in 2006 had been July 11th; we were there on July 12th.

I felt absolutely sick to my stomach. I felt so vulnerable and defenseless. And then angry. I was here to enjoy being in nature, and have a nice time with my mom, and I had a whole wonderful life in front of me and I was not going to be a news story. I was on high alert with adrenaline racing as we walked back to the campsite, and even as I started making breakfast. Were they hiding somewhere watching us, sniper style? I told my mom I was still pretty sketched out. She said, "I think our best defense is kindness. If they come back here we should offer them a cup of coffee."

We heard voices and footsteps on the trail, and I tensed up. I have never been so happy to see two middle-aged men in hiking garb walk by. My blood pressure finally started going down, and I could fully enjoy just hanging with my mom. We took a walk around the lake, where we started seeing a ton of day hikers walking, fishing, and picnicking. My mom helped me find a good swim spot and I took a nice refreshing dip.
Mom uses a pump water filter for the first time
There is a lot to be said for spending time together outside. In some ways, it's easier to be more present with the person. No phones, computers, or other electronic distractions. The day is filled with wonder and appreciation of the beauty all around. The weight of the day-to-day flurry is lifted, and space is cleared to connect and have slow, sincere, conversations.

We were only gone for 24 hours, but it was probably the most fun and meaningful time I've spent with my mom in years. I'm so thankful that she wanted to go and thought it was fun. We are already talking about another overnight for next summer.

1 comment:

ElizaBeth said...

Your mom is the best! And how lucky to have a daughter who will take her into the woods and update her 28 year old experience. Also just read what you wrote about your brother... I have often thought about what would happen if I were far away and tragedy struck, and I didn't even know it happened to you. That man was a godsend and we should all follow his example - if you see someone crying or in distress, stop and offer a kind word. You never know how important your compassion might be.