Good Hike, Good Views, Good Friends, Good Beer
by Joel Caris
The original plan for Sunday was to go snowshoeing up in the Mount Hood area. Six friends and myself--all slated for some good times in the snow. It fell apart though, on account of the weather. Suddenly it was getting all Spring-like on us and snowshoeing in rain and sixty degree weather didn't seem to be the best option.
It changed to a hike in the Columbia River gorge and people were dropping fast. Two people were out and two more were question marks. The decision on where to hike was made at the last moment and the final configuration looked like this: a seven mile loop hike on Dog Mountain with three of the original attendees and one new one. A bit of a different group, to be sure, but still a fine one.
I'd never been to Dog Mountain. The hike was in one of my hiking books and apparently it's a great place for wildflowers, but that wasn't a deciding factor. The wildflowers won't be out in full force until May. We went simply because it was a gorge hike, it seemed a good distance, it promised some great views, and it was one we hadn't tried before.
It was a brutal hike. Sure, it had been rated difficult, but this was much worse than I expected it to be. I don't know if it was the best hike to start the season with. I thought I was in better shape, what with the very large amounts of walking I've been doing every day since moving to Portland. But I suppose it was foolish to think that walking around town on mostly flat ground would properly prepare me for an extended hike up a very steep hill. Sure, it's better than if I had been spending the last few weeks sitting around eating Cheetos and watching TV, but it was not proper training for the hike, either.
It was worth it, though. We all powered through and the views that the hike afforded were amazing. The gorge stretched out on either side of us, the Columbia River wide and winding, the I-84 traffic far off and tiny, the clouds and mist littering the landscape in a lazy, drifting patchwork. The wind was furious and cold, but the day itself was strangely warm, an incongruous March sensation. Or perhaps it only seemed so strange because of the deep cold that has been so much more common the last few months.
The hike down was much better. It was longer but gentler, much less steep, surely easier on the knees and beset by many stretches of open, calming forest. Once back at the bottom, we loaded ourselves into my car and set out for the very small town of Stevenson and the fine, fantastic Walking Man Brewery which resides there. I have known of the place for years and realized awhile back that it was well-known for brewing quality beer, but had somehow never been there, despite my frequent trips to the area. This was the day, however, and we soon were crowded into a booth, ordering beers and greasy pub fare.
It was a fine way to cap the hike. Sadly, the porter that I ordered was less than fantastic--refreshing yet lacking in taste, in need of smoke, or coffee, or chocolate, or some fine combination of said flavors. However, the barley wine and Scotch ales ordered by others were truly magnificent. The barley wine was sweet, but not sickeningly so, and beautifully robust. The Scotch ale was thick and dark and heavy--immensely satisfying. I regretted that I could not follow my lackluster porter with either due to their high alcohol content and my designation as driver, but I am happy to have had the tastes I did have, and further pleased to know that I--oh yes--will be back to experience those drinks in full.
There was a moment there in the booth--drinking beer, eating food, exhausted yet satisfied, enjoying the company and conversation of friends--during which a moment of clarity fell upon me. This was the beauty of life. The moment was so immensely satisfying, I don't think I ever could properly explain it. Everything seemed perfect, content, intoxicating. Yet the intoxication was not the beer, not at all, but the company and circumstances. Perhaps it was the equivalent of a religious experience. It seemed as such.
It happened again a short while later, standing around a fire with the same friends a few minutes before getting back on the road. There was conversation and warmth, shifting smoke, a nice day, a beautiful area, a small but significant bonding, and interesting talk. It was lovely.
It was life.
It was a great day.