the workers are going home

Non-fiction, 12/9/08

Our lake marathon has reached its final lap. The home stretch. Niki and I will set sail for the last time, tooling around Whatcom County to see the eleven lakes left on our list. Guess what? It’s Saturday. And it’s raining.

The first stop puts us out just outside Fairhaven, along the Old Samish Highway. We’re going to hike the Pine and Cedar Lakes trail in the Chuckanut Mountains. Or I am, at least. As we approach the trailhead Niki tells me she’s going to take her time. “If I don’t make it to the top, that’s OK,” she says. “I know that it’s up there.” Fair enough. After trying to pace myself for maybe 10 minutes—I’m sort of an intense walker, so this takes conscious effort on my part—I look back and realize my controlled clip has still left Niki far behind. She’s got her head down, looking at rocks, I think. At any rate, she doesn’t seem to notice my lead, so I proceed to cruise ahead.

The initial mile is pretty steep, climbing 1,000 feet along wide, squishy switchbacks. Dripping evergreens and ferns abound. There are carvings on the exposed banks of soft Chuckanut sandstone—declarations of undying love, etched deep inside the outlines of hearts. The trail levels off for the next mile and a half, right as I start sweating a little. I pass two hikers on the ascent, both men in their 50s, one with a brown gift bag of chanterelles that he foraged with his silver-muzzled black Labrador. The orange fungi seem luridly bright against the understory’s gray ambiance.

It’s 10 a.m. when I reach the top. Both Pine and Cedar Lake are beautiful—cold, clear, choked with vegetation and totally serene. Only now do I remember that it’s raining; boughs and branches overhead were my constant umbrella along the trail. Droplets patter the water’s surface as gusts of wind sweep through the trees, churning up armies of miniature whitecaps.

I meet Niki three-quarters of the way down. She looks slightly impatient, as if she had been waiting a while. We begin our joint descent, with me in front. Her green rain jacket makes a zippy swishing sound as she walks. Suddenly Niki’s gait quickens, taking on a decidedly rhythmic cadence—she’s skipping down the trail! “I’ve found it helps ease the strain on my knees,” she explains, skipping past me. I am speechless. Niki bounces ahead, intermittently stopping—perhaps skipping is strenuous work—only to start again once I reach her. No other hikers bear witness to this acrobatic phenomenon. I feel cheated.

The rest of our adventure is fairly dull, sorry to say. While out near Lynden on Highway 539, after seeing and smelling lots of herbs at Ferndale’s Fragrance Garden, Niki suggests we go buy some cheese. I couldn’t possibly say no. Pleasant Valley Dairy is on Kickerville Road in Ferndale, and its farm store is about the size of a bathroom. Niki, who knows the owner, buys a wheel and a half, $26 worth of the cheesey stuff. I try some Mutschli and clove-caraway-cumin Gouda. Both are exquisite. I wanted to try more strange cheeses, but those were the only two they had.

Heading back to campus, Niki drives past her house for me to see. It’s yellow and rustic-looking, I guess. The radio’s playing French rap—“Baby love…” is the strident hook, sang (in English) through a vocal synthesizer—and I’m wondering whether there’s beer in the fridge at home. Probably need to pick some up later.

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