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Rock Lake

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The instigators: Brenda Haase and Rayna Longstreet The instigators: Brenda Haase and Rayna Longstreet

A Politically Incorrect trip into the woods

I recently read some studies that suggest willpower is a limited resource. They seem to show that when you exercise willpower in some manner, less willpower is available to you the next time you need it. It has to do with glucose resources, and other complicated things I won’t go into here, given that I’m using this as my excuse for taking a day off of work.

You see, a month or so ago I promised myself I wasn’t going to work weekends anymore. Given that I’m now about four years into my mid-life crisis, I have decided that certain things are going to have to change if I’m ever going to have a chance at becoming a normal, productive, relatively decent human being again any time soon. One thing that will have to change is my tendency to work all the time because I’m freaking too old for it!
So no more working weekends.

Therefore, one Sunday morning found me deep in one of a myriad of ‘projects’ I had decided had to be finished that weekend (yes, I need some work on my follow-through) when Brenda Haase invited me to join her on a 4-H hike up to Rock Lake the  next day. “Absolutely not!” I told her. “I have way too much work to do.”

Later that afternoon, Rayna Longstreet cavilled at my lack of participation, and I snapped. Not at her, of course... I snapped at myself, as I sat and worked my way through a time period I had promised myself I would no longer work through. I had already used my store of willpower. “You’re right,” I told Rayna. “Forget work!” though that wasn’t actually the “F” word I used.

Which is how I ended up hiking up to Rock Lake one fine, stormy Monday morning.

This was not my first trip to Rock Lake, nor my second nor my third. Rock Lake has always been a favored destination, for a number of reasons. First, it’s a beautiful hike in the astounding Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. Second, it’s pretty much an easy drive to the trailhead, which is important given how many times my vehicles have broken down on the way to or from a hike. Third, it’s an area that might be inaccessible to us in the near future, if the Rock Creek Mine is ever established. Fourth, it’s a favored area of grizzly bear, which I both want/don’t want to see on the trail. And fifth—I’ve always thought of it as a relatively easy hike.

From the trailhead, the hike is around four miles one way, and climbs 2,800 feet to one of the many gorgeous, fresh-water lakes that populate this area. The first three miles or so are a mostly easy upward slog through the magnificent Rock Creek Meadows and up to some old mining equipment. At that point, the trail morphs into a somewhat steep, switchbacked trail up to the lake. Or so I used to think, before my hypothesis that a year of pretty much doing nothing but sitting in front of a computer doesn’t improve your level of fitness became an accepted truth.

This hike promised adventure from its start, in the form of a posted notice of a deer carcass directly on the trail and the griz who had been feeding on it. Although the carcass had since been moved, bears have a prodigious memory for where they’ve found food and tend to keep those spots on their itinerary for a while.

Almost at the start of the Rock Lake trailhead (trail #935 for those who want to know) hikers must cross a rushing stream that crosses the trail. We’ve had a lot of water this spring, and this stream was about calf high (it was thigh high on the return trip), moving fast, the only footing slippery rocks, and the ‘stream’ was actually about four of them as the original was moving far outside its normal bed. It will now be known by the name Rayna gave it: “Lost Flop Creek.” It was my flip flop that was lost.

Hikers know you don’t wear flip flops to cross a fast-moving creek but the velcro has worn out on my Tevas so that was all I had. And I didn’t expect the creek to be quite so high. It was no great loss: finding your footing on rocks is easier in bare feet than in flip flops that get ripped off said feet, or it would be if the water weren’t so cold that you can no longer feel your feet.

Of course, with so much water up high to come down, the trail in late June featured ‘water crossings’ about a half-dozen times, which meant my hiking boots (given I had no flip flops to wear) were soaked. And watching the water pour into Rock Lake, I learned (thanks, Rayna!) that the difference between a waterfall and a cascade is only an inch—because a cascade becomes a waterfall if the water falls (as opposed to moving down the rock face) more than 30 feet. Or maybe it was 40.

Anyway, getting there was a climb. Despite what I said earlier, let me tell you now the Rock Lake trail is a steady, upward, hellish trudge that uses every muscle you have in your legs, and you’re going to feel every one of them. On the last leg of the trail with Brenda (the kids and Rayna had long deserted us) all I could do was sing that song from “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”: put one foot in front of the other.

I tend to lose things on the Rock Lake trail—I once lost a $45 dollar canister of bear spray, which kind of ticked me off, and sure enough, I lost my bear spray on this trip as well. Luckily, the kids (who were way ahead of me at this point) found it on the way down, mere minutes before they spotted the grizzly.

She was gone by the time Brenda and I got there, though.

All in all, I gave up most of an entire work day to go on this hike; to push my body to do what it used to be able to do with ease, to enjoy being out in the midst of this glorious place in which we live, to spend some time with people I enjoy and see on way too rare a basis.

And of course, it was worth it. It was worth it every step of the hellish trip down, it was worth it when the snake tried to attack me from the side of the trail and Brenda made fun of my “freaking out” (her words). It was worth it the next day when my hip flexors froze into iron, followed thereafter by tensor fasciae latae (thigh), tibialus interior (front calf), gastroc nemius (rear calf) and knee joints.

I’m hoping I will get a little bit better at meeting my intention of no longer working weekends. I’m hoping I can go out into the woods in the future, without hurting afterward because I’ve spent too much time sitting at my desk. I’m hoping Rock Lake will remain fully accessible to all of us for a long time to come, and that you have friends who will persist on your seeing it until you’ve used up all your willpower in saying no.

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Landon Otis

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hiking, Politically Incorrect, Rock Lake, Brenda Haase, Rayna Longstreet

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