It’s supposed to rain this weekend, which makes me less enthusiastic about hiking because, like most humans, I prefer to hike in the glorious sunshine. Rain makes me sad…and wet.
Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of rain-filled hikes and have learned to accept them, and sometimes even love them. I thank my father for this. You see, back when we camped as a family and the weather failed to cooperate with us for days on end, as weather is wont to do, my dad used to simply say “you pay your money, you take your chances.” Naturally, as a child this infuriated me as a) I didn’t understand what it meant in the context of weather and b) I just expected the damn sun to shine every day. I was on vacation after all!
Funny how the things that drive you nuts as a child become a part of you as an adult. To this day, when the weather turns south and I’m trying to take advantage of trails I hear my father’s words echo in my head. It’s a good thing, as I have a tendency to schedule weekend hiking getaways that turn out to be total and utter rain-fests.
Today’s story is about my ultimate experience of accepting what the weather gods offer you, which occurred during last year’s weekend getaway to the Mount Rainier area. On a four day trip, I encountered 2.5 days of torrential rain. Despite the conditions, I hiked every single day. On the worst of the weather days, I hiked not one but two different trails and covered 20 miles of terrain (yes, miles).
As you would expect, I got utterly soaked and I saw zero mountains. After the day’s adventures, it took me 20 minutes in a searing hot shower to regain any semblance of warmth. So why did I do it? Well, I had paid my money, and I was going to take my damned chances. Sometimes, the love of hiking has to supersede any desire for scenery, warmth, dryness or comfort.
What I will share now is a highly condensed (aka Reader’s Digest–for those who remember that gem) version of the day’s events.
Part I–Embarking on the First Hike of the Day
It is raining but I assume that it cannot possibly rain for the next three hours. I am wrong. I also assume that, because I’ll be hiking through the trees for 6 out of 12 miles, it will be drier. That, too, turns out to be wrong. As it turns out, trees merely serve as funnels for rain, creating millions of tiny waterfalls from the sky that are far, far worse than the raindrops themselves. I assume that water resistant clothing will be just as good as waterproof clothing. Once again, I am so very wrong. It turns out water resistant clothing has its limits, and its limits are reached after roughly 6 miles on a trail.
By the time I reach the end of the trail, I am soaked, my hands are numb because–of course–I have not packed gloves, the wind has turned frigidly cold, and I still have another 6 miles back to the trailhead.
By the time I get to my car, water is bubbling up between my toes inside my shoes with each step I take. Water is running down my arms inside my jacket. I feel certain I will never be warm again.
At this point I would like to present you with photographic evidence of the difference between a nice day on this trail and the day I experienced.
This is what I would have seen had it not been the rainpocalypse.
Here is what it looked like for me.
Part II–In Which I Decide I Will Still do Another Hike
I have paid for exactly four days in Mount Rainier and I will be damned if I spend it in a train caboose-themed mobile home in a tiny town called Greenwater where there are precisely zero things to do. My father’s words echo in my head “you pay your money, you take your chances.”
And so, I remove my soaked clothing and lay it over my dashboard so that my defrost vents can attempt to dry them (in case you’re wondering, this does not work). I swap out my socks and trail shoes as I’d thankfully packed an extra set of both. I drive, seeking some corner of the park which may somehow have evaded the rain. This corner of the park does not exist.
Part III–In Which I Dig Deep and Become One with the Rain
I arrive at the second trail. My clothes are still wet. I put them back on and instantly feel freezing cold. I step outside into more rain and more wind and wonder if maybe, just maybe, this is a good time to call it quits, go back to my rental, and see if Moesha reruns are on Nickelodeon.
Once again, I hear my father’s voice in my head and off I go. It takes me a full half hour to even begin to feel warm. At times, it seems the rain has stopped but, upon removing my hood, I find that it has not. It is merely misty rain instead of torrential rain. I walk through mud and puddles and fields of wildflowers, which are about the only things I can see. I get to the end of the trail and all I can see is the river next to me.
But I stand still in the rain and breathe deeply and take it all in, because it cannot be all sunshine all the time. There is a distinct and fragrant freshness to the air when it rains. There is solitude on the trail. There is a soothing quality to the sound of rain hitting ground and trees. There is a feeling of connectedness with the earth as your feet sink into mud. There is a certain mystic beauty to low cloud and fog. It is, in its own way, quite perfect. And, though I saw not a single mountain the entire day, I can safely say that I took full advantage of my trip by covering 30 miles of new-to-me terrain and by finding the beauty in even the worst of hiking weather.
My father, I think, was quite proud.