It was a sunny day around the 2nd of October that I hiked the Chain Lakes Loop, a six mile hike I've done countless times.
The day promised to be pushing 80 degrees, so I loaded up Kili and headed for Artist Point. Judging by the hundreds of cars at the Mt. Baker Ski Area, I wasn't the only one with the bright idea. The night before, we went to the Mariners' game where we all witnessed a moment not only in Mariners' history but all of baseball--a pinch hit game-winning home run in the bottom of the 9th inning with a trip to the play-offs on the line.
I relished the contrast between being in a stadium full of frenzied fans like myself, and basking in a warm October breeze in the alpine, hearing my boots clanking on the rocky trail beneath my feet while Kili ran circles around me, nose to the ground. I was glad to be solo, as my voice was still hoarse from all the screaming from the night before. My heart beat gladly in my chest and soon I was a steady groove as I ascended the ridge to Artist Point.
This is one of the most popular trails in Whatcom County, and for a good reason. It's spectacular. As I climbed southwest up to Artist Point, the sun beat down, pretending it was still late August. By the time I reached the Table Mountain trail, I was pleasantly winded and relished the streams of sweat on my face. The upper parking lot was full, too, but in moments, I was on the trail heading out toward Ptarmigan Ridge. The stark blue black spires of Shuksan towered to the northeast and now, the perfect cone of Mt. Baker was coming into full view, dominating the skyline to the south. Dozens of people streamed by me on the trail, but it did not matter; I felt the solitude I needed.
As I finish Timothy Egan's, Pilgrimage to Eternity, I'm struck by how common prayerful and contemplative walking has been through the centuries. Walking and running are sacred rituals, integral to indigenous culture, and to the countless seekers that pilgrimage to sacred sites across Europe and for that matter, the world. This Chain Lakes hike is a local pilgrimage of sorts, yet in spite of its brevity, it evokes yearnings that cut much deeper than sentimental thoughts about family, and how we all used to hike this trail together as my kids were growing up. Soon I turned west, descending toward Galena and Iceberg Lakes and an hour after that I was sitting on a rock at Herman's Saddle, staring north into the heart of the North Cascades toward the Pickets. The sun was beginning to sink toward the western horizon, but it was still warm. The crowds had thinned significantly by this point. I sat there for a while contemplating the many changes that had occurred in my life in recent years.
If you would have told me five years ago of how different my life would be in 2022, I would have thought you were crazy. Yet there I was, standing on a lonesome ridge in the North Cascades, contemplating a wonderous new chapter as well as the hard earned lessons I've learned about love, life, and letting go. I've logged hundreds if not more miles trying to sort it out. I don't know if I ever did or ever will, but that doesn't matter. It's the journey and not the destination that does.
I returned to the car late that afternoon imagining how this colorful garden will be buried under many feet of snow in but a few weeks. For now, though, the air crackled with warmth and a yearning autumn peace. Walk on.