I awoke on Saturday to sun shining through my windows. Despite the glowing warmth of colors spread across my walls, I was hesitant to leave the pocket of warmth under the blankets, for the air in my apartment was still that of a crisp November morning. As soon as the last traces of sleepiness left me, I sprang from my bed and geared up in warm layers. I walked out of my door with hunger in my belly knowing my first stop would be that of the delicious French bakery Besalu. I stood in line for ten or twenty minutes, as per the normal on weekends at this bakery, before finally stepping back out on to the street with a coffee in my left hand and a warm ham and swiss pastry in my right. The incline of the street didn’t make for the best eating on the go, but I did it anyway, and I remembered a Spaniard had once told me that Americans were strange for eating at the same time as walking down the street. I must have looked “strange” in my hiking gear power walking up a hill while inhaling my breakfast, but I wasn’t in Spain. I was in good ol’ America, strolling down the sidewalk of a busy road in Ballard under a cloudless sky of blue with not one task for the day except to walk and explore. I wanted to check out Carkeek Park, and I knew it wasn’t too far from my home.
Carkeek Park sits just under ten miles north of downtown Seattle. With 216 acres of park, it is mostly made up of wooded trails that either meander along cliffs overlooking Puget Sound, trace Piper’s Creek or dip down to a pedestrian bridge that crosses the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad to a sandy shore.
My aunt Jenn had taken us there as kids, but I had not been there since then and did not remember it much. I knew the general direction of the park and had googled out my path through the neighborhoods before I had left that morning. I was still walking through suburbs towards the main entrance of the park when I happened upon an alternate trailhead, which I decided to take. Pretty much instantly, the streets lined with houses and cars disappeared and all that surrounded me were trees and plants. Seattle parks are amazing in this way. You can go from city to woods in a two-minute walk. Literally. It makes me think what the shores of Puget Sound used to be like before it was developed.
The gravel trail dropped down into a Canyon until it met up with and trailed alongside Piper’s Creek. Looking up at the canopy of green was marvelous, especially with the backdrop of blue sky. After a while, I heard what sounded like a large group of people. My eyes followed my ears and I realized there was in fact a large group scattered about in the woods to my left. I instantly knew they were volunteers working on some sort of cleanup or restoration because they all had gloves and were collecting huge piles of sticks and thicket. Right there I came out to a bit of a clearing and a sign explained that this was Piper’s Orchard, a fruit orchard more than 100 years old. Apparently a prominent Seattle settler by the name of Andrew Piper moved to the land where Carkeek now exists after his confectionary shop in downtown Seattle was burned by the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. There in the canyon, he and his wife Minna planted fruit trees and sold the fruit at markets. After Andrew Piper died in 1904, the land was eventually taken over and turned into the park. The orchard was forgotten until it was discovered hidden in overgrowth back in 1981. Since then, volunteers have worked to preserve the orchard. I guess it contains a variety of apples that aren’t around today. The history of the Piper family, as well as Piper’s Orchard, is pretty interesting.
I continued on to the parking lot area of the main entrance and then back up into the trees until I came out to a path along a chain linked fence topped with barbed wire. On the other side were the railroad tracks and then sand and then water.
A foot bridge led me across the tracks and down a vertigo-inducing stair case which I thought I was going to tumble down. But I didn’t. Instead I walked out on to the sand and straight for a washed up log on the water’s edge, something that is so much a part of the beaches on Puget Sound. I sat and I ate a checkerboard shortbread cookie that I bought at the bakery earlier. Even though my shirt was sticking to the small of my back, I was glad I had my gloves and hat because it was chilly.
After about ten minutes of hanging out on the log, I headed back up the stairs, crossed over the bridge and walked on up a trail that overlooked the water from which I had just come. I had a paper map that I had pulled out from a clear plastic container at the start of the trail, and I decided to head north along the bluff. If I had wanted to fall over a ledge and drop straight down to my death on the train tracks below, it would have been very easy on this path. There were no barriers or “caution” signs that are often present on well-preserved city or county park trails. It felt more rustic and real… that is until I popped out into someone’s back yard. The trail brought me into an open grassy knoll with a dropdown on one side and the backs of a few houses on the other. I was confused as to where the trail was supposed to go, and I realized that maybe this was just an end point to that particular trail. After walking over to every corner of the grassy area and realizing there weren’t any ways out, I hopped back on to the path to return to a fork I had passed just a few minutes earlier. I busted left off into new territory as happy as can be. I was out on my own with no idea where I was headed or what I would encounter next. I was feeling adventurous and the map showed one route leading out to streets. I had been in the woods and on the beach for an hour or so, and thought I’d spice it up by venturing back out to the city streets and finding my own route.
There I exited the trail through a chain link fence opening in between two houses where there was a sign noting the start of the park. As I left the woods, I entered a friendly neighborhood of houses that had been nestled into their large lots for what seemed like decades. I don’t quite know what happened next, but suddenly I was on a quiet street with a giant ravine along one side and houses along the other. I followed my map but somehow got confused and walked down a few dead end blocks that I thought would lead me to a main road. They didn’t. A man and his young child leisurely strolled by, and I started to feel flustered that I didn’t know where I was going and that I had walked by a few different times. I was too proud to ask which way to go, and afterall, I didn’t have a direction or destination anyway so this was just part of the adventure. Right? But then it got to a point where I was completely turned around and could not figure out where I had even come from. I stopped to examine the map on the corner of the street just as a car rolled up next to me. I pretended I knew just where I was and started walking like I didn’t have a care in the world. Suddenly I heard a voice call out from the car. I looked over to see an old man in the driver’s seat waving me down. A sweet little lady I presumed was his wife sat in the passenger seat. I walked over thinking they were going to ask me directions. Ha! Instead…they asked me if I was lost.
Well, those that know me might say I don’t like much admitting my weaknesses when either I KNOW it is my strength, know that it SHOULD be my strength or WANT it to be my strength. I could give a flying fuck if I know how to rock climb a mountain at dizzying heights or sing opera in front of a large audience, so I could care less if I suck at rock climbing or if I can’t sing worth a damn (and trust me, I can’t). But directions are different. I pride myself on my sense of direction and my ability to read maps. And there I was. Smack in the middle of a suburban neighborhood no more than seven miles from my own home carrying a fucking map while a sweet eighty-five year old man and his equally sweet wife stopped their giant sedan for the sole purpose of asking me if I was lost.
“Me? Oh… ummm… I’m just trying to figure out which trail I want to take.”
I stood there as knives, no, swords, stabbed through my ego while the two people in the car politely insisted I hand over my map so they could show me where I was and where the trail was located and that there really was only ONE trail to take and not more than one to choose from and that they would be happy to drive me on down to the trailhead which was only a block away. Come on, really? Drive me to the trail? The trail that is one block away? Do I look that desperate and pathetic? I thanked them immensely and assured them I could find my way and that I didn’t need a lift before walking off in the direction I had come from with rosy cheeks. My self dialogue kicked in.
“oh my god oh my god what the hell I am sooo stupid how could I have gotten lost they must think I am the dumbest person in the world and they probably saw me walking back and forth three times down the same street and stopping to stare at my stupid map before they felt bad enough to come help me out ughhhhhh”
“Wait. Why do I care? What the heck? Get over yourself. You looked even more stupid pretending you weren’t lost and trying to act cool and why the hell do you care anyways? They probably live in this neighborhood and know that the trails are confusing and people probably come out of the woods and into this neighborhood all the time and they probably have lived in this area for 40 years and hiked these trails themselves and know it is confusing and anyway, it doesn’t even matter. If anything, it just goes to show you can get lost out in your own neighborhood so you should be prepared when going out into the real wilderness. This is a lesson learned Jayme. Stop being so insecure and dumb.”
And then I saw the trailhead. Let’s just say my cheeks got a little rosier when I walked up to the same opening in the same chain link fence in between the same houses with the same sign post. It was the exact same trail as I had come from and I hadn’t even noticed it until I saw the sign. Way to really lose my sense of direction!
Back in the woods with the trees to shield my chagrin, my gait picked up as if trying to escape what had just happened. Yet the more steps I took, the more I started to sink into the idea that it really was a lesson learned. I had been unsettled by the fact that I had gotten turned around, even though it wasn’t even that big of a deal. I was first shocked that I had lost my way, and then I was embarrassed and then a bit upset with myself. The fact that someone else noticed added insult to injury. But being out on the trail to walk through this issue that was swirling about in my head really allowed me to see everything from a different perspective, including my own self. I should not be concerned with my personal feelings about getting lost. I should be concerned about finding my way. It was a humbling experience. The wound that had hurt my pride started to heal and then I began to actually take pride in the fact that I had had a humbling experience. Walking is therapy as far as I’m concerned.
At about mile 8 I started to feel the burn. My legs began to feel dense and the trail dipped down and then back up through quiet forest. I had regained my direction and eventually pulled out of the park again through a sleepy neighborhood and up a big hill. I walked the four miles back home through residential streets in the delicious fall sunshine, devouring cheerful life all around me and laughing at myself for having been so proud. My trek ended at about 1pm, early on a Saturday for having covered new ground and learning a lesson in humility.
The trees in Piper’s Orchard had sat lost in overgrowth for almost a hundred years before they were rediscovered, and now they flourish. If it weren’t for that discovery or the help of caring volunteers, the orchard wouldn’t be what it is today. Equally as caring was the kind couple that had helped me on my hike. If it weren’t for them, perhaps I’d be still trolling around those streets in stubborn pride. Nah, I would eventually have come out one way or another (right?), but perhaps I would not have come to the realization that it’s easy to get lost, it’s okay to need help and taking that help doesn’t make you weak. I guess sometimes losing your way can really mean finding your way.