Saturday, June 28, 2014

Keepers of the Secret (Part 6 of 6)

Well, the end of the story is that we left the cascade with two hours of light left, and I soon slipped into the “are we there yet” mode, which meant that the trip was pretty much over for me. My head tells me to slow down and enjoy the journey, but my heart sometimes gets impatient. That’s especially true when the sun is getting low in the sky. I like to hike in the dark, but I’m not particularly fond of hiking off-trail in the dark because it bears an uncanny resemblance to being lost.

We finally stepped out onto Forge Creek Road eleven and a half hours after we had started our hike. The sun was low in the sky, behind trees and ridges. We hitched a ride with a family who were driving around the cove in their pickup truck, looking for deer and bears. One of the women riding in the back of the truck asked us what we had been doing. (From the looks and smell of us, we could have said “wrestling wild boar,” and she probably would have believed us; although, we weren’t bloody enough to be truly convincing.) We said we had been hiking in the backcountry all day. We could tell from her blank expression that she had no idea what that meant. She just smiled and nodded, and so did we, being too tired to start an explanation from scratch.

Why don’t more people explore? Why don’t we search out secret places? It’s not that most people can’t get into the wilderness; it’s that the thought never even crosses their minds, even to the point of not even knowing what “the wilderness” is. I’d like to blame it on our soft, modern, consumeristic, materialistic culture, but I’m not sure it’s to blame. After all, Thoreau wondered the same things almost 200 years ago – “quiet desperation” and all that. Whatever the causes, in the end, it’s not that most of us can’t get into the wilderness; it’s that most of us don’t realize that there is another reality out there – like a parallel universe or a secret society. Alice had her Wonderland. Neo had the Matrix. Americans have National Parks.

I think on my next bushwhacking trip, I’ll go to no place in particular. I’ll just walk out into the woods with a map and compass, but no agenda, no trail, no destination. That would certainly relieve the challenge of schedules, routes, and running out of daylight. Who knows, maybe I’ll discover some out of the way, secret spot – a grove of trees, a rocky outcrop – that would be worth keeping to myself. The only thing better than being the keeper of an old secret would be discovering a new secret and passing it on to a select few. Or, better yet, taking the secret with you to your deathbed. What a great picture: the old hiker calling his apprentice to his bedside and whispering in his ear, “North 35 degrees, 33 minutes….” A fit ending to a life spent wandering in the woods.

The thing that made this Molly Creek trip special is, I suppose, that we had figured something out. We had discovered a secret – inside information that only a few people have – and we had investigated it to see if it was true. No one held our hands. No one helped us except the mapmakers in 1931 (and the ranger who had told us about the map). The fact that the cascade had actually been removed from later maps made the trip even better. Some mapmaker had consciously made the decision to take the symbol off their edition of the map. Was it a conscious effort to keep people away, to protect the secret? Likewise, the NPS no longer maintained a trail to Molly Creek Cascade. Was this purely a financial decision, or were they saving a piece of wilderness from human impact? Either way, it not only felt like we had been someplace special, but that we had done it in spite of the efforts of others to keep us away. We were now “keepers of the secret” – part of a brotherhood so secret that we don’t even know who the other members are. We need a secret handshake to identify each other.

And by the way… Molly Creek isn’t the real name of the creek. I’ve changed the name to protect the secret; after all, what good is a secret society without a secret to preserve? But there’s plenty of accurate information in this story to help you find the creek and cascade if you are interested. And, I’m happy to report that we never did use the GPS to find our way to M--- Creek Cascade. Next time, maybe we’ll leave it at home so we’ll have no dirty little secrets to hide.