In our younger, fitter days, my husband and I went on lots of hiking trips. One year, we took our three weeks’ vacation and drove and hiked our way through Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Calgary, Banff, Jasper, Vancouver, Washington state, Oregon, and California before getting back home to Arizona.
It was a pretty amazing trip, and we even got to see a bunch of friends – both mine and his, as we were newly married and had only been together for a year and a half total by this point – in between camping. If we hadn’t stayed with a friend, every few days we would stop at a hotel so we could have a half-decent shower. A couple nights, we even slept in the car, something my back would NEVER put up with.
The Oregon part of the trip kicked off the beginning of week 3 and we were a bit punchy by then. We had our National Parks Pass, and we’d seen some of the most spectacular scenery of the Northwest. On to Mount St. Helens.
We were in middle school when Mount St. Helens erupted. A volcano erupted in the United States! For New Yorkers, that was kind of a shocking thought. Oregon seemed so far away. As we drove up to the peak, we passed through beautiful woods. And then, in a moment, the trees were bare. The line where the heat and dust from the eruption ended was sudden and abrupt.
The further up we went, the more barren the trees and surrounding land until there weren’t even any trees standing anymore and the barest signs of life pushed out of the ground. This was nearly 20 years after the eruption, and was quite sobering.
On the way back down the mountain, we noticed a trail we could take that was in much older lava tubes, completely safe to hike through. We had to leave our drivers licenses in order to take lanterns so we could safely hike in the darkness.
It was fascinating and eerie to stroll through these tubes where molten rock had once flowed. A few times, we had to climb over piles of rocks. I think we passed by one other small group of people, but mostly had the tubes to ourselves.
At some point, we glanced at our watches. It was 20 minutes until the office where we’d left our drivers licenses would close. We had no idea how far we were from the end of the tube. What in the hell were we going to do?
We did what any rational people would do: We sped up. A short time later, we saw a big hole in the roof of the tube. The walls were rough – we could climb out! We were expert hikers by this point and we’d survived nearly falling off a mountain a year earlier, so this was easy, right?
It took us a little longer than we thought to get out of there. There was no real easy way out, and the hole didn’t reach the walls around it. My husband is taller, so has longer legs and arms, and managed to reach far enough to pull himself out. I gave him a boost on his feet.
I climbed up the wall closest to the hole and reached. And reached. And reached. I managed to get a grip on the edge and then hung as my husband gripped my arms and I let go and grasped onto his arms. We easily could have tumbled together back down and smashed our heads in, but we were in our 20s and immortal. And stupid, but that goes without saying.
Maybe that means we weren’t “expert” hikers, hmm?
We had 10 minutes left to get back to the office and get our drivers licenses, which were vital in order to make our way home.
In less than 5 minutes, we passed by the end of the tube trail, where we could have exited easily 10 minutes earlier if we hadn’t taken so much time climbing through the roof.
We made it to the office with a couple minutes to spare. And they told us they would have stuck around a bit longer and wouldn’t have abandoned us in a hole in the ground. I mean, they were park rangers and not jerks.
Still, it’s made a good story, so no regrets. It also gives us standing when we tell our children what stupid things not to do.