A few weeks ago, when I realized that I had both Veteran’s Day and the day before it off, I’d schemed a mini adventure for myself: bike out to Stub Stewart State Park Wednesday night after work and spend two weekday nights in a cabin there — running, hiking, reading, writing, breathing.
It was a little oddly timed to leave right after the election. I was worried that if James won I would be taking off in the height of celebration; if he lost I’d be ditching him to wallow in his own sadness. (I totally failed to take into account, when I was thinking about this, that the national election might also turn out to be such a travesty.) But I decided to go regardless, since two consecutive free days is not an opportunity to just let slip by.
Stub Stewart is a funny little state park about 35 miles west of Portland. Biking there is super chill, since if you take the MAX all the way out to Hillsboro, it’s only about a 20-mile ride, 10 miles of which are on country roads and 10 on the car-free and beautiful Banks-Vernonia trail. There’s actually a Scenic Bikeway that goes from Hillsboro to the Banks-Vernonia trail as well, but I think it’s kind of ridiculously inefficient unless you’re out only for the experience of that ride itself — it’s 10 miles longer and also makes you cross highways a bunch of times (though you can read more about my thoughts on that bikeway here).
I usually take this route or some similar variation, which seems like the best blend of efficiency and low-traffic.
(Ha! Though now that I’ve mapped it, I see it’s actually 12 miles, not 10)
It was rad ride. Honestly, I’m not usually a fan of setting out on adventure in the dark, because much of the appeal for me is being able to see what I’m biking (or hiking, or whatever) through. But leaving for anything after I get home from work these days (especially if I have to pack first) means riding in the dark. And this nighttime ride turned out to be magic: clear and dry, the ghostly mists rising low over the farms, the murmuring of birds putting themselves to bed in faraway fields, the mushrooms along the bike path glinting back silvery in my headlight. (During the day, it turns out that they’re rather uninterestingly and unassumingly brown, but at night they looked magical.) I stopped along the bike path once to pee, and the sound of leaves falling through the branches was the only thing I could hear. It was fantastic.
I was definitely grateful, when I got to my cabin sometime a little after 10pm, that my life keeps me in the kind of shape where I don’t have to fret over biking the 30ish miles to work and back (plus the physicality of work itself), and then the 25ish miles to the MAX station and Stub Stewart. I’m definitely grateful that that’s something I can decide to do (and actually enjoy) on a whim. And that I’m still spunky enough to go running the next day.
(Awww, and when I got there, the hosts had left the porch light on for me:)
Stub Stewart itself was lovely, of course. The cabins with their built in electricity and heat are pretty sweet on days where it gets dark by 5:30 (they’ll be even better later in the season!:), and it’s always amazing to wake up and be able to go trail running and hiking and birdwatching right from your door. I did a lot of wandering.
Time felt like a luxury, a long and unpledged path unfolding before me. Other than all the wandering and running, I filled it with reading and journal-writing and daydreaming and homework-doing right on my cabin porch, kept company by an insistent pileated woodpecker, which I heard in three distinct ways: its cry, like a crazed northwest forest monkey; the enormous, hollow thunk of its beak into wood; and the sounds of wood chunks falling through the branches to the forest floor below.
Was it a little weird to take off right after the election? It definitely was. And I definitely felt a little guilty about it, like I was running away while the world burned or something. But you know what? Taking some time in nature and remembering that we’re all but bitty parts of a giant and impartial whole gives me the kind of centering, comfort, and clarity that sitting in my house or mucking about my daily life often really doesn’t. Or maybe rather, it gives me the energy and the fortitude to take on the things that looked so scary before I left.
So, I’m feeling pretty darn grateful that something like Stub Stewart exists so close to home, and that it’s not so fully booked (during the week, anyway), that I couldn’t reserve myself a quaint little cabin. I’m feeling grateful that I can change my surroundings for a few days, recharge, and come back to face the world. And, most of all, I’m feeling grateful for my so-crazy-amazing communities of wonderful and wholesome people who I come back to, the people who keep that world trucking.