I realize I said I would write about how I managed to get Sydney from Texas to Oregon with her doggie mental health intact. But I just don’t feel like writing about that. Plus, I was not exactly successful – we’ve been in Oregon for 6 weeks and I still don’t think she’s fully recovered. And really, it is my blog, so if I don’t feel like writing about something, I kind of don’t have to. Maybe another time.
One of the things I have most loved about living in Oregon is the ready access I have to numerous hiking trails. Given that I intend to spend many of my weekends exploring Oregon, I recently decided that, in the interest of personal safety, I should perhaps develop a level of awareness about potential risks I could encounter while hiking.
Of course I decided to research this vitally important topic the night before I was planning to hike to four of the six waterfalls collectively known as the Little River Waterfalls. That is how I found myself searching at an increasingly frantic pace “things that can kill you while hiking in Oregon.” At midnight. There was both good news and bad news.
On the one hand, there was the surprisingly reassuring fact that the only venomous snake in Oregon is the rattlesnake. That is reassuring to someone who is accustomed to also considering the possibility of death by copperhead or water moccasin. First, because there is at least the possibility that a rattlesnake will give you a warning. Second, because, unlike water moccasins, who are obviously on earth only to viciously attack and kill all humans, rattlesnakes are not naturally aggressive. At least that is what I told myself.
Of course, on the other hand, there are bears and cougars. Oh, and as some websites felt the need to remind me, the possibility of “human predators.” I was briefly reassured that Oregon has only black bears and does not have grizzly bears – black bears are generally less aggressive. But I don’t think that would matter all that much if a black bear changed his mind when I happened to be in the vicinity.
Then I realized I had no more than a vague concept of what a cougar was (a large cat, obviously) and how it could kill you. I tried to be reassured by the statistics I found (because stats never lie…) that in Oregon the wild animal that was most likely to cause my death was a wild horse (yes, I actually read some type of official report documenting wild animal deaths in Oregon) and that there were no known human deaths by cougar and very few documented deaths by bear in Oregon. But then again, how many lone hikers like myself had been killed by one of these animals without anyone ever knowing? However, like a good psychologist, I allowed myself to be reassured that the statistics at least were on my side and that I was overwhelmingly likely to be just fine. At least that is what I told myself.
Armed with statistics, repetitious reassurances, and a laundry list of tips for preventing wild animal attacks, I set out for the first of the four waterfalls I planned to see that day. My first stop was Wolf Creek Falls. Incidentally, this was the only trail where I saw an actual human being. Thankfully, he was very friendly in a not-a-human-predator kind of way.
As I walked along, I could not shake the feeling that something would inevitably go wrong. I repeatedly rehearsed the advice from the night before. “If I see a bear, I should not make eye contact, no I should make…no that’s if I see a cougar, okay, well either way I should definitely not run and I should do my best to look like I am not easy prey, which would probably be easier if I were taller than the average 6th grader, darn it, why can’t I be taller or at least have a more intimidating voice if I need to yell at something, maybe I should sing, well that would be silly, I will just walk loudly, I should have brought the hand sanitizer that does not smell like Japanese Cherry Blossom, I’m going to die” Basically, it was one run on sentence of worry. Thankfully, that did not stop me from being completely awed by the beauty around me.
The trails to the next two waterfalls – Hemlock and Yakso – were both located near the Lake in the Woods Campground. This was also a great spot for a picnic. The campground was empty, so I grabbed a lakeside picnic table at one of the campsites and enjoyed the view while I ate.
Of course, there was the moment when I realized I was walking in the middle of a berry patch, which is of course something you should never do when you are avoiding bears, especially in the fall when their job is basically eating berries. I considered trying the berries once I verified that there was not a bear lurking nearby. They looked like wild blueberries, which are delicious. But then I realized that the one thing I forgot to search the night before was “poisonous berries in Oregon.” Why on earth had I not thought of that? I have since remedied the oversight.
The final waterfall was the most out-of-the-way and wonderful of all. The trail to Grotto Falls is located off a gravel road that winds around several miles of mountain. Thankfully, my little car has had lots of practice driving on gravel roads, so that was no deterrent. It was worth the effort. Not that I am ever very good at picking a favorite of anything, but if I had to pick a favorite waterfall that day, it may have been this one. There were caves behind it, which would have been much more interesting if I were not imagining all of the things that could have been hiding in them. Regardless, it was incredible to walk behind and under the waterfall.
I am still trying to fully grasp that I now live in such an amazing place – a place where I can wake up on a Saturday morning and hike to any number of scenic places. I’m pretty sure I will never get tired of hiking to waterfalls, even if I do have to face my fear of bears and cougars.