My new passion is Volkswalking – something done around the world. What a wonderful way to get out and enjoy the outdoors and good company – without pressure, and at very little cost. Cheap fun is the BEST! Especially when recovering from the cost of a trip to Europe…
Walkoregon.org has a great listing of local walks throughout Oregon and southern Washington. We live on Mt Hood, and I was excited to see a walk that was only a few miles down the road. We drive an hour to get anywhere, and here was fun right in the neighborhood.
George works hard during the week and his natural state of grace is to be a couch potato on the weekends. Get his feet up in the recliner and place a remote in his hand – well, it has to be something like a fire or volcano erupting to get him up. As Mt. Hood is considered active, and wears the dubious title of Most Likely to Erupt in Oregon, one day we might have to test whether it could blast George out of his Lazy Boy.
I was really excited when he agreed to go on the Mt Hood walk. Before he could sit down, I had him dressed and in the car, clutching a pancake in one hand and coffee in the other. Up the mountain we drove to Government Camp and to the Mt Hood Cultural Center at the east end of the community. If you haven’t ever been there, it is a fun little museum and well worth the time to go through it. They also have a great gift shop filled with locally made goods. I’m a sucker for a good gift shop.
The great thing about Volkswalking is the lack of pressure. Portland has a 5K/10K/Marathon every weekend. Rain or shine, there are spandex clad bodies, trendy water bottles, fitness apps, phones clamped on their arms, with tattoos spouting fitness philosophy across their chests. They bounce and stamp at the starting line, waiting for the gun. It can be intimidating to the older, less fit crowd. I don’t have a tattoo, but if you looked closely (and please don’t) I’m sure my cellulite spells out something across my backside. Something motivating like “Need Port-a-Potty.”
The Volkswalking folks are wonderful. Nice little folding table, donation jar set out, and they want your name and phone number so they can check on you when you don’t come staggering back home. How caring is that? There might not be a commercial vendor handing out free cappuccinos and energy bars, but there is nice little bowl with free hard candy in it.
Starting time is a range – like 9:00 am to Noon. Sweet, no need to get your Depends in an twist – there is plenty of time to get there, smile, chat and then off for a walk. It’s fun for all ages, and it’s sweet to see little kids walking with Grandpa.
The Mt. Hood walk was level 3C – which meant it had some elevation and paths that might have some difficult terrain. If we had had to walk with a fast-paced group, George wouldn’t have been able to keep up. It was terrific to take our time and navigate the mapped out walk. As George’s feet have lost that Lovin’ Feeling, we opted for the 5K walk.
The first part of the walk was through the mountain cabins, which range in size from tiny cabins to four story chalets staffed with snow bunnies to serve hot wine. Back in the 1930’s there was a builder named Steiner who handcrafted fairy tale log cabins on Mt Hood. Door knobs were made of gnarled wood and doors, stairways and furniture fashioned with unique pieces of wood, which he roamed the forest to find. He died in his 80’s, wandering the mountain while looking for a good piece of wood. He built around 100 cabins, 85 of which have been identified. They are prized possessions, as each cabin is a unique piece of art. Every year in August there is a tour of select cabins for the public. And we spotted two, built side by side!
Trails criss-cross the mountain and we were given a detailed map to show us our chosen path. We were among the early participants, but were soon left in the dust. I’m a fairly fast walker, and moving slowly with George is a challenge for me. Ever the martyr, I decided I would suck it up and make the best of it. It wouldn’t kill me to go slowly, and if a slug happened to pass us, well, I would yell enthusiastically – “Way to go, Mr. Slug!”
You know, sometimes it really pays to get over ourselves. Rather than fussing and fuming (my usual modus operandi), the beautiful day seized me. The weather was terrific, not too hot or cool. The forest has an earthy perfume that fills the senses and, if you let it, calms the soul. It was the perfect place to breathe deep and enjoy the beauty around us.
The huckleberries were ripe and abundant. I don’t remember if I have ever seen so many. Huckleberries are tiny little blueberry like things that grow on low-growing shrubs in the forest. And it takes a very long time to fill a bucket. It takes a very long time to fill a baggie. Personally, I have never found them worth the effort, but George loves them with the single-minded devotion of a native Oregonian. The last time I saw someone selling them, it was for $45 a gallon, which works out to be about fifteen cents an hour in hard labor.
It worked out great. While George carefully picked his way along the trail, I stopped and picked him huckleberries. It was like holding out a carrot in front of the old donkey – it kept him coming. As soon as he reached me, he stuck out his hand and I filled it with a bit of berries. It was peaceful standing in the forest, picking berries, while listening to the birds and wildlife. Way better than Xanax for relaxing!
At one point we turned onto a trail that ran cross-wise across the mountain. It also turned out to be an active mountain biking trail, which changed our peaceful meandering journey. These guys are serious about quickly getting down the hill. Fortunately, George was wearing a bright red shirt, so the bikers could see him up ahead. They were unfailingly polite, but it was a bit disconcerting to suddenly find yourself leaping up a bank to get out of their way. I wanted to get a good picture of them, but by the time I had leaped to the side and tried to whirl around to snap a picture – they were past us.
In my new found Peace in the Forest personality, I began to feel sorry for these hurly-burly macho types whizzing down the mountainside. Here we were, contentedly munching berries, admiring the sun shining through the trees, conversing with the slugs on the path. The bikers were bouncing crazily, heads snapping, arms locked as they careened wildly. We all seek our levels of fun and adventure, but overall, I think I had more fun.
With our breakneck pace, the organizer of the walk found us while picking up her signs to go home. She was totally gracious with our tardiness, and very encouraging to us both. As we were talking to her, I realized George and I both had tell-tale purple stains on our lips from the huckleberries. Not hard to figure what caused our delay.
I’m proud to say that George made it almost the whole 5K. We eventually came out onto the Government Camp Loop, which runs through “town.” It was also near a tavern George loves that has good hamburgers. We stopped and had lunch, and then I hiked to the other end of the loop to get the car.
The Mt Hood Brewery offers their own microbrews and the Impossible Burger – which is vegetarian. Much better than the typical garden burger. It normally comes with fries, but I ordered a salad. I would have skipped the cheese, but forgot! With the cheese I computed it at 11 points. This was more than I wanted to use, so I skipped the bun, bringing it to six points. The tomato was vine ripened and super good. And the cheese was real cheese, so I was happy to exchange it for the bread.
George decided to sit on their veranda and sip a microbrew while I walked to get the car. Apparently, he thought it would take me a lot longer. When I got back, he was happily tucked into a giant brownie with ice cream, along with the beer. He looked like the kid caught with his fingers in the cookie jar.
While I was walking along the road, I saw an active ant colony. As long as they aren’t in my house, I find them to be fascinating creatures. One little guy caught my eye, hauling a load as big as himself. Others would rush up to him and then away. I bent down and realized he was carrying a dead ant, the same size as himself. Determinedly, he would haul it for a bit, and then stop to rest. It made me wonder what the story was for them both, and felt a bit sad. For all I know he was taking it home to eat, but I prefer to think there was another reason. That’s the nice thing about walking; there is time to ponder and create stories to go with them.
If you have never checked out the trails of Mt Hood, right from Government Camp, don’t delay! The September weather is beautiful and the mountain is surprisingly green and lush, despite the summer dry spell. Enjoy!