Isn’t it typical: something sits there waiting to be done in your life for months, then when you finally step up to do it… a pissed-off hornet stings your ring finger, and your entire effort seems wasted. I’m talking about weeding here, people. Why, why do I bother gardening? What’s the point? I stink at it, and nature hates me.
Don’t laugh: it does. Or at least, the world of tiny, bitey things hates me. Don’t believe me? I’ve nearly died, twice, from bug bites/stings. And no, I’m not allergic to bees. First, about five years ago I was bitten by a spider, probably a black widow (yes, I said a black widow. We do have them in Washington), and went into anaphylactic shock. Second, a bite on a hiking trip in a remote area of the California coast resulted in blood poisoning (sepsis) that caused a bright red line an inch wide to run from the bite site on my chest nearly 10 inches toward my heart. Only IV antibiotics kept me from dying. No kidding. So, I know from bad bugs.
There I was, on a lovely Tuesday afternoon, pulling weeds in my garden, when something stung me right through my glove. My finger swelled up like a sausage after a few moments of excruciating pain, and my naturopath pronounced it “probably a hornet. As long as you can keep from getting an infection… again… you’ll be okay.” So no more gardening for a few days (this photo is from about 10 minutes after the sting, before the real swelling began. The top bump is my writing callus — I do a lot of writing by hand — and the middle one is the sting).
What to do instead? I know! I’ll go for a bike ride! Aside from getting hit in the face by a fly (you should have seen the other guy), it was a bug-free ride.
Because the weather was very briefly great, I headed out for the Soos Creek Trail. I love this short ride. It’s a bit hilly and beautiful, running along the right of way for enormous electrical powerlines. If one just ignores them, the views are stunning.
Best of all, it’s spring, so the skunk cabbages are in full bloom!
Now, I realize that many of you have never had the pleasure of cycling along a path that is liberally lined with skunk cabbages. It’s a truly unique experience. You see, skunk cabbages… stink. Like skunks, sort of. In fact, what they really remind me of is the smell of those 70’s “cigarettes” my dad thought I didn’t know he was smoking. Yes, they smell like super-strong 70’s weed.
Hey, they’re totally legal now! At least in Washington. Everywhere else, just a few skunk cabbages can land you in the pokey, kids, so just say no! Not even once.
After passing through the mucky Path of Skunk, I emerged into the more open, drier valley in the middle of the trail. I love this stretch. On a clear day, Rainier is visible in the distance, though today the mountain was moodily shrouded in a few drifting clouds (probably contemplating a lahar).
The way the path twists here is so much fun to ride, and the sweet sound of the red wing blackbirds and wrens singing in the reeds is wonderful.
On the other side of the valley, the trail passes through a lightly forested area with small streams. Wild bleeding hearts take over for the skunk cabbages (thank heaven). I like to stop here and rest in the shade for a moment, enjoying the trees. Wait… what are those things in the background?!
Either end of this trail is marked by short, steep hills. The southern end’s hill is far steeper than the one toward the northern end. I almost didn’t bother to try this one this time. I have yet to make it all the way up without stopping and walking, and today was no exception. Every time, I think I’m going to make it, but then I reach the false summit and realize I’m going to have to ride up a second, equally steep section, and I poop out.
Funny how there’s no way to make a photo really convey how steep a hill actually feels. This looks like nothing, but really, it’s so steep that I needed a Sherpa to lay guide ropes, I swear.
At the end of the trail, I met a nice lady out to train for the running portion of a triathlon who, it turns out, knows my neighbor (who runs ultra-marathons and Iron Man-type things). We had a nice chat about exercise and bikes and running. Then it was time to turn around, and head back the way I’d come. Soos Creek is only 6 miles long, though it does connect to another trail, the Lake Youngs Trail. That one is soft-surface, which The Raleigh prissily objects to (so uncomfortable on those Schwalbe’s), so we’ve never tried it.
The sun was fully out by the time I hit the valley again, probably for the last time until July.
When I reached the final hill on my return, I grit my teeth and took it by the throat like a vicious, enraged hornet faced with a Cotton Gardening Glove of Death. It’s even steeper than the southern end, but it’s much shorter, so power up it I did. Then The Raleigh and I stopped to take our favorite congratulatory picture by the Hill at the End of the World Sign. We weren’t stopping so we could pant furiously and regain our ability to breathe, honestly!
If we were panting, just a little, it was only due to the excessive amount of skunk cabbage gas we’d inhaled, officer, I swear!