A few years ago, Rebeca and I headed out one morning for an overnight hiking trip in the North Cascades. She and I had gone in together on a nice tent since we hiked together a lot and neither of us had a good one, and this would be our inaugural trip. We were both really new to backpacking, and we made a whole series of very small, silly mistakes too tedious to spell out that eventually snowballed into us sitting in the pouring rain on the side of a very steep sidehill in the dark that evening with no way to make warm food, one working headlamp, and never having set up our tent before. The trail was the only flat spot in sight, and it had become a fairly active gurgling stream over the course of the rainy afternoon. We decided to eat some trailmix and decide what to do.
We’re both pretty intrepid, and warmed with a few food calories we thought, “How hard can it be to set up a tent in the dark? We saw it set up at the store, and there’s only like three poles, right?” I don’t remember clearly what happened next, but somehow the one working headlamp got set down and/or turned off and we couldn’t find it. 10 minutes of searching in the pitch dark did not reveal a headlamp.
“Okay,” we said. “Okay. We give.” But when you’re sitting on a hillside in the middle of the night in the middle of a Pacific rainstorm with no heat or shelter or light source, it’s unclear what it means to say “uncle”. We weren’t in immediate physical danger and we weren’t lost, so this wasn’t a job for Search and Rescue. We were chilled, but not dangerously cold or anything.
Rebeca is the sort of wise person who thinks that hard decisions should always be accompanied by snacks, so we busted out the trail mix to think some more. We still couldn’t come up with any more elegant solution than to just walk ourselves out of there. We had walked in, and we could walk out.
In our modern lives, we don’t often experience true darkness any more. This night, in this rainstorm it really was dark enough that we could not see our own feet on the trail, or our own hands in front of our faces. The trail we were on was in a heavily forested area with just this narrow footpath winding between the trees. It was impossible to see if you were on the path or not, until you felt yourself tripping over the uneven forest floor. But quickly we realized that this path had been cut through the trees, so there was a visible gap in the trees above our heads. The sky was heavily clouded, but it was still enough lighter that you could see the night sky through the trees above the route of the path.
Then instead of trying to follow the path underneath our feet, we started following the path in the treetops. It wasn’t precise, and sometimes we still stumbled and fell off the side of the trail, but we could at least be pretty sure that we were still heading the right direction. The hike in had been several hours long, and we were very tired and wet and cold. And afraid.
Yes, afraid. It really doesn’t matter how much time you’ve spent outdoors, being cold and wet and trying to hike home in a rainstorm in the middle of the night is scary. We were about out of trail mix by then, so Rebeca proposed her next very wise plan, which was that we sing some songs. It would distract us from the cold and wet, and also scare away the giant monsters that were no doubt lurking behind the trees. We had to laugh when we realized that the only songs we both reliably knew all the words to were really bad 80s songs. We had a pretty good selection of Guns-n-Roses to work with (most of which I can also do the instrumentation for), she taught me her couple favorite Journey songs (most of which she could do the instrumentation for). We belted them out into the pitch dark rain as we walked, punctuated by an occasional yelp as one or the other of us tripped off the side of the trail and went down.
If walking through a dark forest belting out the chorus of Total Eclipse of the Heart doesn’t make you feel brave, then I don’t know what will. (Just jump forward to minute 1:59, if you can’t tolerate listening to the whole thing.)
This story is maybe a little anti-climactic. We walked out to the car, we drove home and had hot showers. We were fine. But the reason I was thinking about this yesterday was that Preston and I are driving across Washington and Montana caravan style so that we can leave the RV on the Montana property while we work on the place. I’ve mostly been driving our TC while Preston sets the pace in the RV. When we travel in the same vehicle, Preston does most of the driving. He has an incredible ability to roll across state after state without getting sleepy, while I start to feel my eyes getting droopy after like 45 minutes behind the wheel.
I’m not really that in to music (evidence: the last songs that I know all the words to are more than 20 years old now). I don’t have a large music selection, and I don’t even have an iPod. About once or twice a year, I impulse buy a CD (I know, so old school), but the most recent one I bought was Leonard Cohen, which is not exactly stay-awake music.
Time jump back to a couple months ago when we were on the road in Southern California, and I needed to get a new propane tank delivered in a rush, so that it would reach us before we headed out to our new location. For something as bulky and heavy as a propane tank, it totally made sense to sign up for Amazon Prime to get the free 2-day shipping. It comes with a free 30-day trial, so I thought I’d just get the free shipping and then remember to cancel within 30 days. I should know better by now of course, and I did not remember to cancel within 30 days. It’s actually still turned out to be worth it, and I’ve more than made my $99 back.
But the point is that I realized that with Amazon Prime, you get access to Amazon Music. I can download *so much music* to my phone now, for free! The final push of the current leg of our trip was the few hours from the top of Lookout Pass to my mom’s house in Northeast Montana. I logged in to Amazon Music, overwhelmed by what to download to take me that last few hours down the road. Obviously, I need something I can sing along to. It doesn’t have to be good, I just have to know the words.
And what do you know, right there on the suggested playlists on Amazon was a playlist called “Singing In The Shower: You know all the words to these songs”. I downloaded it at a gas station stop, and spent the rest of the trip singing along to Journey, Hall and Oates, Whitney Houston, and yes Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. I think Rebeca would be proud.
If you happen to be heading out on a road trip sometime soon (or if you just wish you were) you can try it yourself, if you want. You can get a free 30-day trial, and I’m sure you’ll remember to cancel it 🙂