Like most people, I have a bucket list. Unlike most people, I had a bucket list before the movie starring Morgan Freeman and that other old guy who gets boners for Lakers basketball. With as many close calls with Death (that black-robed pale fucker) in my youth, I started a bucket list back when I was eighteen. Twenty-three years later, I am still kicking and have rewritten/replaced my list many times over.
I assumed I would be dead around twenty-five years old, so really busted my butt getting much of my original list checked off. Plus, it was mostly sexual perversions and I have been fortunate enough to already checked off a threesome, sex-party, photographing nude models, starring in a porn video, et cetera. Now those things are just… expected.
Tuesday, I had the opportunity to stare down a particularly insistent item on my list. There is a beautiful, fairly well-known, waterfall in northern Oregon – Multnomah Falls. I have driven by it countless times. I have enjoyed taking my wife, girlfriend, and adopted son to view the falls. But never have I hiked up the switchbacked path up the side of the cliffs to see the view from the top of the falls. Once convinced the girlfriend to walk as far as the 2nd switchback, but she said she would not make it any further.
So I threw half of her wedding band from her failed marriage into the woods (she asked me to!) and “accidentally” dropped the other half into the secondary falls near the bottom (again, it is what she wanted me to do!), and we went back to the car.
But Tuesday, I had an extra hour or so before a dinner meeting. I went to the falls, intending to take some practice pictures with my new camera. The lower bridge was thick with tourists and nature lovers enjoying the mist in the extreme summer heat. I snapped a few pictures, and decided to continue up the trail to where I had thrown the ring those years ago. I fantasized about a small squirrel running by with the ring around its front leg. The image made me chuckle. Then I saw the sign, “Switchback 2 of 11.” The farthest I had ever gone.
To be extremely clear: it was about 85º in the shade, I was wearing blue jeans and sandals and carrying a small camera bag, and had no water to drink. I was not prepared for a hike of 1.25 miles on a path climbing 600 feet up a cliff. But the trail taunted me. I could hear it smirking, “You are never going to climb this path. There will always be an excuse. Just go back and spend an hour eating Blizzards at the local Dairy Queen.” So I started to walk up the trail.
At “Switchback 4 of 11,” I sat on a root to rub my feet. My calves were burning, my jeans were already stuck to my legs with sweat, and the trail snickered, “Is that the best you’ve got, old man?”
At “Switchback 5 of 11,” I was passed by two teenage boys running up the path with nary a deep breath. They were soon followed by a jogging teenage girl who called up, “C’mon guys! I’m not as fast as you both!” I stood there for a minute, catching my breath from just walking at a rate equal to line movement at the DMV. The trail jeered, “Not even halfway. Just give up.”
6 of 11… I paid the trail no more attention. I was closer to the top than to the bottom, and I was going to make it. One foot in front of the other.
9 of 11… I crested the hill. It was all downhill to the overlook. I had done it, although officially I still had a quarter-mile to walk to get there.
At the overlook, I was congratulated by a few of the younger people who had passed me. Half of me, the half that had control of my mouth, smiled and said, “Thanks.” The other half was thinking, “Did I look so beaten, old, and fat that they didn’t think I would make it?” The answer is yes, of course, but I tried to focus on the positive side. I took a few photos from the overlook, walked with barefoot through the ice-cold river water, and started the long trek back down.
My accomplishment was minor. In the grand scheme of things, hiking to the top of a waterfall pales to other achievements performed by other people. The hike is not a harbinger of any healthy lifestyle changes I plan to make. In fact, immediately upon returning to my car I ate a large square of orange cream fudge and then drove to that local Dairy Queen and had a Blizzard. All the calories burned were immediately replaced. The world should not care about some 41-year old overweight, balding, out-of-shape guy taking a hike.
But for me, for one shining moment at the top of those falls, I was able to shout at the top of my lungs, “Fuck you, Death! I’m not done yet!” Thirty minutes later, walking by the dozens of people standing on the misty bridge who asked me if I saw/heard/knew the crazy guy who yelled obscenities from the top of the falls only to have me say, “Oh yea – he was up still up there when I left, dancing naked in the river,” and watching their mouths drop… that was just lemon icing on a very moist cake.