In the gloomy Pacific Northwest, the first real hike of spring always feels especially restorative. After months of cold, dismal weather and crippling seasonal affective diarrhea (commonly abbreviated as SAD), I love getting some sun, fresh air, and colorful new bruises just in time for shorts season.
This year, my workplace is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, a historic piece of legislation that ensures at least some federal lands remain as hostile to my allergies and sense of physical security as Mother Nature intended. What, exactly, is wilderness?
A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.
Pretty poetic, right? Nicely done, Congress.
Anyway, one of my colleagues is attempting to visit each of the nearly 50 wilderness areas in Oregon before the end of the year. A magnificent goal that inspires me deep in my soul to sit back and watch HER do it.
However, a couple of weeks ago, I joined her (and her dog) in kicking off this
folly 50 Wilderness Hikes Challenge with the Ball Point — Little Badger Creek Traverse Hike in the Badger Creek Wilderness. For the purpose of anonymity, I shall refer to this colleague and friend as “Marielle.” And to extend the veil of privacy to her dog, I shall refer to him herein as “Taz.”
Right. The hike. We left Portland bright and early to make sure we had plenty of time to get lost on the way there. And thank goodness for that foresight. Because we were too busy sipping our cafe au laits to bother checking if the access road was open. Which…it…was…not. So we took the very scenic route and almost managed to hit the trail before noon. Success!
The Badger Creek Wilderness is quite pretty. It features lots of things like trees and rocks. And views of trees and rocks on nearby mountains. But its main selling point is solitude. We didn’t see anyone else on the trail the entire day. Taz got to run free and we had the 9-mile trail all to ourselves.
It’s a pretty mellow hike. Long, but not too grueling. It helps that Marielle is a photographer, which provided plenty of excuses for me to stop and wheeze surreptitiously. The first half of the hike took us through meadows and some recent burns. At about the halfway point, we stopped to enjoy the view at a helispot originally used by fire crews. It was perfect for basking in the sun.
At this juncture, Taz seemed to be pretty happy to bask along with us, so we were lulled into complacency. Marielle and I were determining our next moves when Taz perked up and took off down the hill. He was out of sight in a cloud of dust before we realized what was going on.
Marielle called out and we saw his head pop up from behind a log. And then right next to it appeared a large, fluffy, black and white tail. Marielle and I looked at each other — I think with a shared sense of doom. I mean, on one hand, it’s kind of cool to see a skunk in the wild. On the other hand, no. God, no.
Here he is before the incident:
Taz came bounding back and threw his entire face region into the dirt. He spent a good five minutes writhing around trying to rub what is — let’s get real here — essentially butt oil, from his face and chest. It was hysterical. Until he tried to run to us for help and comfort. Then it was our turn to dance around like maniacs to avoid contaminating our kneecaps. As a general rule, if it can be squeezed (or SPRAYED for fuck’s sake) from an anal gland, I would rather not have it on or near my person.
How was Taz? Traumatized, I think. But mostly unharmed. Now, I’m no veterinarian, but I AM a lawyer, and I was quite confident when I assured Marielle that no veterinary care was necessary.
You be the judge:
In all seriousness, as far as wildlife encounters go, it could have been much worse. And he really was OK. He spent the rest of the hike occasionally dive bombing puddles. And we spent the rest of the hike doing our best (and failing) to stay upwind.
The second half of the trail follows Little Badger Creek and features the ruins of an old miners’ cabin. We saw a lot of dead stuff on the trail and an impressive variety of shit — which, by the way, you have to call “scat” to sound more wildernessy. Pro tip. The last half mile or so is a bushwhack in the (one hopes) general direction of the trailhead. This was a great opportunity for me to put into practice my navigation, squinting and pointing skills.
We made it back to the car just as the sun was setting. After a quick stop for beer and pizza at Double Mountain in Hood River, we drove back toward Portland with Old Skunkface McGillicuddy chilling in my backseat. And, yeesh, as bad as the smell was outside, once we were cooped up in my car it was truly stunning.
Still. Worth it. There are few things more satisfying than a long hike on a sunny day — even with a skunk encounter. (However, I wasn’t the one who had to spend another several hours once home trying to decontaminate my dog.)
In case you are wondering, to remedy the oppressive smell, I wiped down my car with vinegar. After which, my car smelled like musk and old pee. Sort of comforting in a my-college-boyfriend’s-fraternity kind of way. Still, not ideal. So I bombed the car with an entire box of baking soda to try and absorb the offending scent molecules. Now my car both smells AND looks like a fraternity coke party. I mean, I assume.
Canine PSA Sidebar: Hey, dogs? Yes, all of you. Come here for a second. There’s something I want to tell you. Are you listening? Ugh. Your balls will still be there for gentle tonguing when I’m done bestowing this very important advice. Give it a rest for a second. No? What if I told you I have a delicious meat-based treat in my pocket? OK, now that I have your attention: Beware of the scary black and white stripey kitties. For real. That is all. Also, there is no treat. Unless you want this used, wadded up piece of Kleenex. And no, that is not a tiny golden raisin.