Saturday, April 2, 2011

Portland and the Luckiest Man

In addition to being from Minnesota, (!), Kurt was similar to several other men I have known in the Portland area in that he doesn't have to work.  Some of these men have jobs which allow them to take several months off at a time, some have sold businesses which have allowed them to live on the proceeds indefinitely, some have had jobs which paid them enough over time so that they could retire quite early.  Kurt is a bit different.  Due to an illness, he is getting paid to be an electrical engineer while he takes two and a half years off to recuperate.  From what he says, he gets paid rather well.  I am not sure what exactly this illness is, but as he very recently returned from hiking around Mexico for several weeks, and took me on a hike through Forest Park for this project, I am not too sure how ill he actually is right now.  In fact, he seemed pretty healthy, taking into account the norm for a roughly 40 year old American male.  Did I mention he is from Minnesota?

I met Kurt at the lower MacLeay trail head, which is roughly six or seven blocks from my doorstep.  Kurt rode his bike there, and I could tell when we first said hello that A) he had read my blog because he called me Amy, and B) he thought I was under-dressed, as he kind of looked me up and down and his eyes lingered a bit too long on my foot gear.  This is not where men's eyes usually linger.  He had on boots and hiking pants, and definitely looked like a "Northwest Guy".  This is the thing, for me, about Forest Park.  It is amazing, it is gorgeous, but, I don't find the trails I hike there to be boot-worthy.  I mean, it is pretty manicured, and I don't really feel like I need the extra weight on my feet for a walk through the park.  Of course, I had never been Geocaching, much less ever heard of it, so, as I would learn later, my choice of footwear was indeed ill-advised.  Shows how much I know.

When I first read about Geocaching in the link and video Kurt sent me in his initial email, I was blown away that I had never heard of such a thing, as it sounded like an activity I could have invented myself.  Way back when I was in art school and just after, I occupied myself setting up installations where people could go and get things for free, maybe trade them in for something else, or, even, choose to smash said thing, which was usually made of clay.   I was incredibly interested in the relationship people have with objects; in these installations, they could assign their own value to the total experience outside of the societal currency-based context which is usually used as a means of measurement.  I am almost positive that when I went to the Geocache website and read about this activity, my jaw dropped open.  Going hiking and looking for little boxes full of stuff other people have left?!?!?!  Taking a little something and leaving a little something in RETURN?!?!?!?  I don't think I am overstating this to say that the existence of such a practice makes our world a MUCH BETTER PLACE to live in.  In fact, there are 1,332,525 active Geocaches around the WORLD.  Not just in wilderness areas; in urban areas as well.  It is a world-wide treasure hunt which surrounds us and binds us together, much like The Force, but on a much smaller scale.

Kurt brought maps, the clues to the caches, a compass, and a GPS system, which looked exactly like a walkie-talkie.  I brought a small collection of trinkets to leave in the caches in exchange for something cool I might find there.  The rule is that you leave something as cool or cooler than what you take.  As we started walking down Lower MacLeay, we barely spoke.  I did not ask too many questions, as I did not want him to think I was prying, and he was also a bit quiet.  He had read my dating blog and I am guessing he already knew more about me than he was probably comfortable with.  Additionally, it is still sometimes awkward for me to initiate conversation with people I don't know, especially when I think that they are judging me for my footwear.

I decided that in order to maybe break the ice, I would ask him why he thought so many people from Minnesota move here.  Not surprisingly, he said he had given it some thought, as he too had had the opportunity to meet many Minnesotans since he moved here.  He believed that much like Minnesota, Portland is predominantly white, progressive in the same kind of lip-service-y way, and, unlike Minnesota, has a pretty mild climate and tons of outdoors-y things to do, all year round.  So, while seemingly never ending rain is kind of a turn off for folks in the warmer places in the country, to Midwesterners, who must deal with bone chilling cold in the winter and skin melting heat and humidity in the summer, Portland rain seems like a pretty good deal.  Being from Chicago, I could see his point.

It was a typical spring day in Portland; the weather entities had predicted sun, so it was incredibly overcast with a bit of a misty rain falling on our heads.  As we walked up the trail, Kurt said that the first cache was coming up.  He had familiarized me with his maps and even let me hold the GPS.  It is a refreshing experience when a man actually lets you play with the cool toys and maps he has brought to navigate the terrain. We neared a cache named Karma #2 and followed the clues that went with the map, but, alas, try as we might, we could not find it, and moved on.  We then neared the next cache, entitled Say What, Stone What and also had no luck finding this cache, and again, pushed on.  It was at this point that Kurt asked me if I knew how to read contour lines.  As I thought back to my days dating a man who took hiking VERY SERIOUSLY, I recounted reading the contour lines on maps and figuring out how steep or even the trail would be.  Of course, I initially told him the exact opposite of how to read contour lines, but quickly corrected myself after thinking about it for a second.  He replied that he was just impressed that I knew what they were, as most "chicks" didn't even know.  I wish I could feign offense at this designation, but, sadly, I have my own special terminology for men, and, some of them are less than complimentary.

As we hiked up the trail, Kurt handed me the sheet of paper with clues on it.  The next cache was titled Like a Rainbow in the Dark.  Yes, it was indeed a cache tribute to Ronnie James Dio, and as such, I committed myself to finding it, and find it I did.  It was a black metal box with a picture of a rainbow glued to the top, and on the inside of the top of the box was a picture of Dio in all their glory.  I knew at that moment that this would be a day of victory as the spirit of Ronnie James Dio would be our guide for the remainder of the journey.  In this box, as in each cache, was a booklet to write down the name, item taken and item left by each person and many little trinkets to choose from.  In this particular box, I felt it conceptually and aesthetically fitting to leave a black ring with a skull and cross bones on it that I had just happened to bring with me.  There was also a disposable camera, which Kurt used to take a picture of me, directing me to "give your best metal horns look" as he took the picture.  The magic of Dio was not only guiding us, but also helping us loosen up a bit with each other.  Oh, Ronnie James Dio, how your dark wonders are missed.  I normally take time to explain certain references I make throughout my blogs for my reader(s).  In this particular case, I do not believe you worthy of explanation if you do not know of Dio or Ronnie James Dio.  In this particular case, you are on your own.

We walked up the trail quite a ways, coming close to, but not finding, two other caches.  It was interesting to see that on the GPS screen, we were basically standing on top of the caches, but, sadly, there was nothing under our feet.  There was one in particular we looked for for quite a while, which was supposed to be taped to a tree limb in a small camouflaged container.  At one point, standing in front of said tree, I made the observation that it should be somewhat easy for us to see.  Kurt laughed, compared me to his seven year old child, and told me that this was not a walk in the park, but a hunt, and therefore, I should be prepared to get dirty in order to find the cache.  That if they made it easy, it wouldn't be as cool.  There is nothing like being compared to a young child to really put a fire under you.  He was right of course; I was, in part, coasting on the victory that was the Rainbow in the Dark cache, and partly, just kinda taking it easy.  I decided then and there it was game on.

We hiked up to the Audubon society, and began hiking the Collins Trail Loop.  We had begun talking about his free time, and all the stuff he can do because he doesn't have to work, and at one point, he said, referring to our hike and Geo caching, "I am getting paid to do this".  I told him that in addition to all the things he does, he should probably create a line of shirts, coffee mugs, beer cozies, and clocks, all with the phrase on them, "I get paid to do this."  There is nothing, in my opinion, that is better in this world than getting paid to live your life.  I have been thinking more and more about this ever since I started coming into contact with various men of leisure, and have become convinced that the way that we, that I, operate, working every day for a paycheck in order to do cool stuff when I am not at work, is incredibly illogical.  It just makes more sense to get paid for being who you are, just like Tom Jones.

The Collins Trail Loop proved to be incredibly muddy and challenging to hike without getting my running shoes completely soaked and caked with slime, so at a certain point, I gave up and just started unceremoniously hiking through the mud.  We attempted, unsuccessfully, to find another cache where we had to hike around the "9 pillared fortress" and down a hillside to find a "voodoo doll".  The "9 pillared fortress" was this amazing tree with 9 trunks.  It was beautiful, but I really should have known better than to look for this one, as it was named after a pirate, and I abhor the pirate movement in Portland, such as the Portland Pirate Festival, and the myriad other ridiculous pirate events that occur here.  I should have just sailed on, as it were, but instead spent 15 or 20 minutes crawling up and down the hillside looking for a damn voodoo doll.  Argh, Pirates.

On we walked.  I was a bit concerned that Kurt might be worried that we had only found one cache so far, but, really, the one we found had been such an utter victory that it would have been fine if we had not found another  all day.  We were also walking on a trail I had never hiked before, and that in itself was really pretty great.  At one point Kurt wondered aloud where all the birds were, which I thought was a strange thing, until I remembered that the Audubon Society was a bird-lovers thing.  Sometimes my stupidity is incredibly amusing, even to me.  The next cache was called Lt. Dan's Legs, which we found in a stump.  Awesome.  Not only did this cleverly named cache refer to a character in one of my favorite movies, it did so in a decidedly un-PC and therefore, un-Portland manner.  There is nothing like inappropriate amputee humor to liven up any activity.

The next one we found under a bridge on the trail, the clue being "a 1992 Red Hot Chili Peppers Hit song".  Fitting, as this song marked the period where the Chili Peppers began to make "hits" rather than "music", and, not coincidentally, converged with the long, slow and excruciating descent into blandness by Metallica, a band I used to treasure as I did the air I breathed.  This cache, like almost every other container besides the DIO cache had been covered in a camouflage design, and as I reached under the bridge to get it, I got two incredibly painful thorn-type things in my hand; one for each band that broke my heart that decade.  Damn you, Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I do not remember the name of the plant these thorns belonged to, but I can tell you, for the rest of that day, my hand was red and throbbing.

After this, we found another cache, and were feeling pretty confident.  I had gotten better at reading the GPS thingy, Kurt had taught me how to use the compass and the map, and in general, things were going quite well.  On our way back down the trail, Kurt suggested that since I was used to looking for caches in the nooks and crannies of the forest, that we might have better luck with the ones we missed on a second pass.  He was right.  With steady poise, we began to find each cache that we had missed before, and then, miraculously, the sun came out.  If you have never lived in Portland, you might not understand the profound experience of sunshine in the spring.  Generally speaking, it rains in Portland from Mid October to the beginning of July, give or take a few weeks.  There might be a day or two of sun sprinkled in there, but for the most part, it is cloudy and raining for most of the year.  Because of the rain, an amazing array of flowering bushes and trees prosper here, making the spring a magical time when the homogeneous grey is pierced by vivid sparks of color, varying from bright pink to yellow to deep purple.  Coincidentally, Deep Purple is the name of a band that never broke my heart, but that is somewhat if not entirely beside the point.  When the sun comes out in the spring, illuminating the vibrant colors and reflecting off of the moisture settled on the green, the effect is dazzling to the point of near confusion.  It is, I believe, the springtime when most tourists decide to move to Portland.  20 years ago, I visited in April.  I find myself here still, always, always waiting on the spring.

In the end, our final cache, "Karma 2", the first one we could not find, was our most victorious, because this is where we found a "Geocoin"; a coin that you track through the Geo cache website.  The coin we found had originated in Ontario, Canada, then went to Quebec, Alberta, B.C., Washington, Oregon, Illinois, and then back to Oregon.  I had to actually talk Kurt into taking it.  He initially believed himself to be unworthy of such a find, and was concerned that he would have to go somewhere very cool to leave it, to which I argued, "With great power comes great responsibility", one of my favorite lines from Spider-man.  This argument was pretty much the glue that cemented our friendship, and in the end, was what convinced him to take the coin.

The reality is, he had done a great thing that day.  He introduced me to an activity which inspired hope and optimism for the human race which I believed to be all but lost, and, had stumbled upon his next professional endeavor: creating clothing, gift items, and eventually, probably, sports drinks, all branded with the slogan, "I get paid to do this".

1 comment:

  1. I have a friend who took me letterboxing once, which is basically the same thing, but with rubber stamps. There's something magical about being in nature and knowing that there are little treasures hidden all around you!