It was early Saturday morning. The three of us has just climbed onto a
sandbar at the edge of the river, trailing our inner tubes behind us.
“Can you see a way up?” I asked.
They shook their heads, and
Tom went off in one direction, and Allan in another. I watched Allan
as he gripped the giant boulder with his hands and hoisted himself up
the ten or so feet to the top. “I can’t see the road from here,” he
called down, “but it looks like we could climb it pretty easily.”
had just floated down the Feather River on a makeshift raft, two inner
tubes tied together with bungee cords. I straddled the center and they
sat on either side, taking in some of the most ridiculously beautiful
scenery I’ve ever seen. The current stole us down through a cathedral
of trees, and mountains, and perfect sky.
And now we were
here. We’d gone too far down the river and passed our campsite, but we
figured we could always find the main road back– the road went
parallel to the river, after all. We’d left behind an entire festival
of tents covered in twinkly lights, stages draped in lanterns and
colored cloth, and hundreds of excited people all gathered together to
celebrate the summer.
But we wanted to go hiking.
I called out. “Allan found a way up!” He grabbed the inner tubes and
followed me, as my fingers sunk into the rock, climbing up. Thank God
Sam decided he needed to teach me how to rock climb three years ago.
This was the first time I’d ever used it in the wild.
shimmied up, and Tom after me, and the three of us proceeded up towards
the plateau we could see a little ways up the mountain, figuring that
must be the road. The mountain was a near vertical incline, but it
wasn’t that far up, we thought. I was kind of proud we’d gotten this
Earlier, the morning had found me sitting cross-legged on a
rock in the middle of the river, the raging current creating my own
personal wake. I’d decided I’d wanted to meditate there, thirty or so
feet out, and was sitting near level with the surface of the water. The
walk across was slow and careful, thinking all the while of Philippe
Petit. If he could tightrope between impossibly tall buildings, I could
wade through a mildly angry river. People laughed and smiled and waved
when they saw me from the shore. I’d thought I was being pretty brave.
three of us had talked about near-death misses riding down lazily on
the inner tube, far from our campsite, chasing adventure. I’d thought
I was being even braver, then.
But then I found myself
scrambling up the side of the mountain, which we quickly realized was
made of shale: each step dislodged rock, and sand, and meant we nearly
slipped and fell. There was little to hold on to, and slipping could
mean a twenty foot fall. Or thirty feet. Or forty.
At forty, Tom took a step and made a noise. “What?” I asked, a little panicked.
almost stepped on a rattlesnake. It’s okay though. It’s more scared
of me than I am of it,” he said, poking at it with a stick. I could
see the snake from where I was standing, curled back into itself and
hissing. I was suddenly terrified.
“Can you.. stop that?” I asked.
“I’m suddenly scared it’s going to run away from you towards me.”
stopped, and I slowly, ever more slowly, climbed upwards and away from
him, noticing the mountain was getting steeper and steeper. Allan was
still fifteen or so feet behind, wrestling with how to climb holding
the inner tube around his waist, all the while nursing a bad hip.
I decided not to mention the snake.
Allan got up to where Tom and I were, and we stood on the first patch
of almost flat ground since starting the climb. “Do you see the road
“Maybe one of us should go ahead and check, so we can see how much
farther we’ve got left.” We had already been hiking upwards for thirty
minutes. The river was already distant, and small. Tom decided to go
on ahead. Allan and I stood, resting. I told him about the snake.
“It’s too bad there’s no reception out here. I could be twittering this,” I said, laughing.
“…Yeah. I can just imagine,” said Allan. “‘RATTLESNAKE. LOLZ.'”
“Doesn’t look like Tom’s finding a road, either. I guess… we could go back down? We’d have to slide down, I guess.”
“Yeah, if we can just not get torn up by the shale and manage to avoid
the snake while we slide down fifty feet, it’ll probably be fine.”
Tom came back. He’d been gone fifteen minutes. He hadn’t found a
road. Allan pointed out something. One the way up, we’d driven
through several tunnels that cut through the mountains. It was
entirely possible we’d managed to climb up the only spot where there
was no road, but a tunnel. We had literally been climbing OVER the
road for the last hour.
“Well. I could see the train tracks from up there. We could probably
keep climbing up until we got to the tracks and follow them back to the
“…Hike…along the train tracks? On the side of a mountain?”
“Or we could go back down. Your choice.”
“Are the tracks close?”
“…No. But I can see them from up there.”
“Closer than the river?”
“Yeah, I think so,” said Tom.
“I vote train tracks. Might as well keep going up,” Allan said.
We’re fucked either way, aren’t we?” I asked.
“Jesus. Okay. Train tracks, I guess. I’m just scared I’m going to fall.”
“I’ll walk behind you,” Tom offered. I took several steps, and slid.
My hands were losing their grip and I didn’t have a toehold. We were
seventy feet or so up by now. Out of nowhere, hands came up and cupped
my behind, holding me firmly in place.
“Sorry for grabbing your–” Tom started.
“Tom, honey, you could have your fingers knuckle deep in my vagina
right now, I could give a damn. Just keep me from falling down this
mountain and breaking my neck. God BLESS you. What the hell are you
even standing on?”
“I’m a cat,” Tom said.
“Damn right you are.”
He stood there, patiently, while I slowly stepped up and across,
getting a foothold. We managed to get to semi-flat path, about two
feet or so across.
“Oh this is good. We’re on a cat path now,” said Tom.
“You know. Wild cats. Mountain lions, that sort of thing.”
“No, it’s fine. They won’t bother us,” Tom said. Allan was a good way
ahead of us by now. I took another step, and fell. Tom’s hands came
out of nowhere a second time, steadying me. We made it over to a
nearby tree, using it to brace ourselves for a moment. I was getting
more and more panicked.
I took a deep breath.
“You know,” I said. “I was thinking earlier. There’s this line in a
Bjork song that never particularly made sense to me until today. ‘It takes courage, to enjoy it.’ I’m terrified I’m going to fall down this mountain and die or break my leg, but Jesus… it’s fucking beautiful
up here. Everything is intensely beautiful, and I’m never going to
stand here again, and I know it sounds stupid, but I have to literally
have courage to enjoy this.”
Tom smiled. “It is beautiful up here.”
I took another step. And another. And we kept going until we got to
the other side of a particularly large boulder and finally saw the
train tracks, with Allan waiting on the other side. I slid down the
last bit of path, catching burrs on my bikini bottom and scratching up
my legs. Tom followed after, and we all grinned hugely. We did not
die! This was success!
We walked along the tracks back to camp, laughing about it. We felt
like superheroes, suddenly. I picked up a train nail as a souvenir.
The three of us strode back into camp like the end of Independence Day. All that was missing was the cigars.