We turned off of the state highway arteries clotted with weekend warriors onto the Forest Service road. The American migration arrives en masse every Memorial Day weekend to reconvene with nature, and like a sea turtle on a full moon the hapless city dwellers flounder about on the sand of the roadside pull outs and in the overpriced campgrounds. They set up camp with bear belled children and enough supplies to last someone a month. I applaud them for attempting to reach out to whatever pastoral fibers may remain in their minds, products of a multi-generational city bred eugenic experiment gone wrong. The trash filled ditches next to lawn chairs set up and occupied 5 feet from the highway make me cringe, as do the satellite dishes beaming tripe from space to RVs larger than my own house that are stuffed next to each other like a distorted high altitude cattle feed lot. Roughing it. And you never see anyone outside of these behemoths with TV – it’s become a game to spot one outside it’s preferred habitat, I always look yet rarely glimpse the pilots of the land whale.
I may find these outdoorsman’s recreation choices in ill taste, but let’s be real. If all of these people had my motivations for seeking out secluded backcountry there simply wouldn’t be any, and I’d be left distraught and holding my lottery ticket to Mars. This is why I avoid my local backyard of Lake Tahoe and all of it’s “wilderness” at all costs. I’ve seen more people in the Desolation Wilderness than I have at some music festivals. I don’t visit many national parks for the same reason, they may be beautiful but they certainly aren’t wild. That root word in wilderness is what it all boils down to. It’s getting harder to find and I cherish the lonely places more and more.
As we continued down the Forest Service road we found that it was closed and gated a great distance from our intended trailhead. If we had two nights it would be worth it to hoof the 35 miles round trip but we were already approaching noon on a planned overnighter. Being unfamiliar with the area and surrounded by the very people we were attempting to escape we were in a pickle this far from home. My buddy remembered a high lake he visited in the area years ago and we decided to check it out. He didn’t know exactly where it was and we had to play detective on unsigned dirt roads. The first one we went up took us high into the mountains, and we got out to hike around and check the next canyon over for the lake. We were walking through snow drifts on a steep hillside and came face to face with a group of 10 day hikers loaded down to the max. They told us the lake was indeed in the canyon we were hiking toward and we turned to hike back to the truck. A blue grouse busted about 20 yards above us and I marked the spot in my notes. It looked grousey and that was proof enough for me. Good things come to those who are lost.
From high above we spotted the road that led to the lake and drove down the mountain and back up the far canyon. There were two cars parked at the end of the road. It wasn’t going to be the secluded wilderness we had planned on, nor would it entail the long hike into such a place. But it was something. Something just far enough out of the reach of Winnebagos and the 30 cars parked at the river bridges that had people fishing shoulder to shoulder on each side. Far enough from generators and stereos playing late into the night. Far enough from children clutched tightly with glow sticks and bear bells vying to choke their necks. Far enough from the glow of RV televisions cast over pavement, tents, and flushing toilets. Close enough to the hushed winds of the high peaks brushing through the pines and the fear it puts in most people when they realize they aren’t in control.
We walked the few hundred yards with our now silly and needlessly loaded long distance packs up a steep snowy hill to the lake. We found a family of four fishing, they said they hadn’t had a bite all day and they left a few minutes later. We walked to the far side and across the lake we saw a couple who looked bored to tears watching their worms drown. They left an hour later.
From then on till we left we had it to ourselves. It wasn’t wilderness, but it was solitude in a beautiful place, the juice that recharges the batteries began to flow into our bent rods as we plucked hapless brookies from the lake in every manner of fly fishing conceivable.
After a starry night and a morning of rising fish we shuffled back to the truck. We were tired and refreshed at the same time, and soon found ourselves back among the dying, entombed in sheet metal coffins ready for burial at a moments notice. The strings of our hearts slowly went back out of tune as we limped back to civilization. It wasn’t wilderness, but it was close enough to fool my senses for a night. And it will make it all the sweeter when I next cross that invisible barrier that whispers “It’s all on you now, enjoy it and don’t fuck up.”