Monday, April 28, 2008

Bagby Hot Springs





All sorts of numbers started running around in my head. Approximate temperature outside: 32, at most. Temperature my sleeping bag withstands: 32. Miles from car: 4+, in deep snow. Number of tires that would spin uselessly when I got back to high-centered car: 3. Length of time til dark: 2 hours. Spots dry enough at this shelter, that would not soak my sleeping bag while I slept: 1, maybe. Provisions: spartan. Clothing: soaked.

Maybe if I would have properly compiled the little pieces of advice that came to me before I left on this little adventure, I wouldn’t have been having these panicked thoughts.

The friend who shuddered at my mention of hitting Bagby Hot Springs in the winter (ok it’s spring but the weather is not acting like it), as we had done last year, dodging trees and stomping through snow.

“Nooo,” she spat, “that road is sooo sketchy.” But we were fine that time, in spite of how the icy mountain road leading up to the springs takes you dangerously close to a roaring river, without a guardrail.

Or the coffee shop owner, who I told I was headed up to soak. He took a measured look at the clock on the wall and said “have you been to Powell Butte? My friends bike there from here all the time.” Sure it was one o’clock when I sat sipping a mocha in Portland, but why should that stop me from bathing in sacred waters, an hour and a half drive away?

Or the gas station attendant, who saw me fumbling with an Oregon map.

“So you took a wrong turn in Phoenix, and now you’re wondering how to get back,” he joked.

“No, just checking my route for my hike,” I said. He took a quick glance at the menacing clouds above – which weren’t really clouds, but more just a patina of grey.

“Now’s not really the time for heading up to the higher elevations,” he said. But I patted the side of my car and assured him it would be fine -- this was a Subaru.

My dog and I take lots of these little escapes from city life, in stolen hours. Sometimes there’s only enough time during preschool or dance practice to dip to one of the trails that sit in the southwest hills of Portland, but yesterday, there was time for a real getaway. Kid gone, time off from the work world – nothing was gonna stop me from this mission. It turned out to be quite a mission indeed. Yet the only person I needed to report “mission, accomplished” to was myself, and I, apparently, am a hard boss to please.

I packed my sleeping bag in the car just in case. In fact any time I leave the city I put it in there – just in case I decide I never want to come back. Also along for the ride – a skiing jacket, some waterproof gloves, a pair of burly hiking shoes (not waterproof), two slices of bread, an apple, a banana, and some tuna. Also a camera – and, just what you need in the woods – an iPod. Oh, and a towel for the tubs, and whatever safety gear that lives in the back of my car. And the dog.

The clouds were spitting out mean little bursts of rain and hail when I rolled out of the driveway, but if you are an Oregonian, you don’t let these little nuisances stop you.
(Even if you resent the fact that this is spring, dammit, and why isn’t Mother Nature playing along?!)

Six miles from the Bagby trailhead things started getting hairy. Until then, that mean rain and hail had continued – but at that point, it started turning to snow. It started covering the road, and about five miles from the trailhead, the road consisted of deep tracks – with high piles of snow in the middle. My car scraped and slid along through these patches, and I cockily continued on. What did it matter that the car had a clearance of maybe 10 inches? Then about three miles from the trailhead my luck ran out. I got stuck. One look under the car and it was plain that this was going to take some serious digging. I revved the engine a couple times and looked out to see my wheels spinning above the road, not making a sound because they weren’t rolling on anything but air. I got resentful for a moment that no one had agreed to go with me on this adventure. Then I got thankful, that I wouldn’t have to worry about whether someone was pissed off at me for dragging them along, while we dug out.

In fact, I could take this as far as I pleased, and it would be only me that I would have to answer to! Hell, I could walk to frigging Bagby, and wouldn’t have to hear anyone complain! Hell, I could sleep there if I wanted to!

So that’s what I decided to do. I stuffed my scant provisions in my backpack, ditched that headache of a car and headed down the snowy road. I thought someone might be inconvenienced to see my car stuck in the middle of the road, if they tried to pass by. But then I would just make them give me a ride back to my car – since I would either see them on the road, or see their car at the trailhead.

Another mile down the road, I started to see tracks where other people had turned their big trucks back. Another mile, and the vehicle tracks disappeared altogether. I started to think there wouldn’t be anybody from the “Friends of Bagby” volunteer group waiting for me at the trailhead, with a cup of hot chai and a reminder to pack out what I’d packed in.

Close now, maybe half a mile from the trailhead I followed a lone set of footprints through the snow. No one had been here for a while, maybe days, weeks. And whoever it was had been as crazy as I was – feet likely soaked through from the deep wet snow, but plugging on…

Plugging through the snow isn’t every person’s dream of a leisurely activity on their day off from work, but not every snowy trail has the promise of a hot bath at the end of it either. And the way things were looking, it would be a solo bath too. Still, by the time I’d hiked the three miles to the trailhead, my legs were soaked from the knees down, and I was beginning to wonder what it was I was trying to prove. This is another point in a trip when you can begin to blame the person you are with for all the follies you have endured – but when it’s only you you’re blaming, the arguments begin to take on a demented tone.

Hot bath…hot bath in a carved-out tree trunk, in waters heated by a volcano…

Hot bath. Two words, like a mantra for every trudging step. By the time I neared the springs, a mile and a half after the trailhead, I was plotting out the best place to bed down for the night. Under the communal tub area – with its wet wood floor? On one of the benches – where the wind might whip up at any moment? And the dog? Would she be warm enough? Did I need to worry about her, with her Akita-coat, that was dripping with melted snow? I was taking into account all the wise words I’d heard from others about being safe in the woods – but at the same time they seemed like a funny joke. Nothing could happen to me… not in this place I’d been to a half-dozen times…

The springs area was a mess of old bottles, discarded underwear, wet socks and cigarette butts. It’s been a long winter and the Friends of Bagby definitely need to come back soon, to get the place in order. Half the tree-trunk tubs weren’t even filling with water because the feeder tubes had been destroyed by people or nature. Someone had started a fire on the end of one of the trunks and strewn the embers into the sad-looking, half-full tub.

One big round tub appeared to be filling up nicely, so I tried to pick up some of the awful mess in the communal area, while it filled with hot water. But I was freezing, and all the stuff I picked up was sopping and disgusting. I realized that after only a couple hours alone in the woods, I was getting loony already. So maybe I didn’t have to deal with someone else’s whining about how crazy this all was – but then again, I didn’t have anyone to talk sense into me either. And picking up people’s old soggy underwear with some floppy alder branches didn’t seem like a great occupation – even if I were a devoted Friend of Bagby.

I got into the tub as soon as it felt the slightest bit hot. That’s when the coherent thoughts came back. The numbers. The thought that two now-crumbled pieces of bread, some tuna and fruit wasn’t gonna cut it for the night, when my dog was already drooling near my backpack for a nibble, after our tough hike. And then she started growling at the slightest sound, and I imagined my paranoia if she did that all night. I love to sleep under the stars, but after all my tough alone-talk, I think I need a friend to share them with.

I soaked myself raisinlike and then beat a trail the hell out of there, making it back to the car when the last tendril of light left the treetops.

After nine miles and a tuna sandwich, I dug the car out with an alder branch – a sturdy one this time.

1 comment:

Nadine said...

Lady, you are one dedicated zany adventurer! Adventuress? Have you seen Into The Wild? Your story sort of reminded me of a very extremely mild version of that.