Editors note: Dan is owner of Dirtco Shirts, a contest sponsor, so he isn't eligible to win the contest.
Part One: By the Light of the Moon
Many moons ago before the Raging River trail system was officially open there was a ride across the top of Rattlesnake Ridge that was best ridden by lunar light. It was an adventure ride that took some advance planning because clear skies were required for optimal visibility. After what seemed like months of planning we decided that an evening in late February would be the best time to attempt it. Excitement was growing amongst our group as the days ticked down to go time. I'm just an average man with an average life and these adventures with my dirt bag buddies adds spice to my life.
The evening arrived and everything was in place. The Snoqualmie Moon was starting to rise above the valley and the skies were clear with a few straggling thin stray clouds drifting by. It was pretty chilly but we knew that we would warm up once we got going. We started climbing up the east side of the ridge and within about thirty minutes came to a lingering snow layer. This presented a challenge to us as we knew from here on in that we would have to traverse this snow layer over the length of the ridgeline until we were rewarded with the sweet descent that awaited us on the west side. And we had no idea if the snow was going to get thicker the higher we went. Turning back was the sensible thing to do but hey, I work from 9 to 5, hell yeah, I pay the price. As I said before, I need some adventure in my life. After a few minutes of debate we rolled the dice and icy snake eyes came staring back.
As we continued on, we found that there were sections of the trail that had snow pack that we could ride instead of pushing our bikes through the softer snow. It required extra energy as anyone that has ridden in snow conditions knows. We were making pretty good progress for about the first hour. We were close to the apex of the ride but we soon discovered that there was no more hardpack to ride on. At this point we were pushing our bikes and post-holing through the loose snow. Our feet and lower legs were soaked and freezing and energy levels were running low. Never the less we were catching glimpses of the moon-lit valley below us that were stunning but eerie at the same time based on our situation. We had planned for a two hour ride but based on current projections it was going to be at least six.
As we struggled through the last bit of soft snow we came around a ridge line with the moon behind and started preparing for the descent. At this point energy was almost depleted but we knew that once we started downhill adrenalin would kick in and carry us home. I turned around to look at the moon and up on the ridgeline I could see the spooky outline of what appeared to be a monolithic head. It reminded me of an Easter Island statue somehow transported to Cascadia. But this one looked scary as it’s crazy strands of hair shooting up from it’s head and thin furrowed eyes. At this point I’m starting to feel like we’re in the Twilight Zone. Was somebody, or something watching me? I tried pointing it out to the rest of the guys but they had already started down the trail. I turned around again for one more look but the thin, wispy clouds had now floated across the ridge obscuring the ridgeline view. With that haunting image in my mind I jumped on my bike and rode like hell the entire way down into the valley. When I made it home that night I banged the door closed real tight.
Part Two: The Watchers
Fast forward to current day. Over the years I’ve slowed my roll a bit after numerous injuries from racing and chasing Strava times. Now days its all about the mellow roast, trail building, exploring the lushness of the Green Zone and enjoying the comraderie of builders and their canine buddies. Stopping to look around and take in my surroundings instead of finding the fastest way to the bottom of the hill.
A few years ago when we were scouting lines for the DH trails on the RR Lollipop Loop I remember coming around a ridgeline and coming face to face with this amazing sight:
I was immediately transported back to that cold February night on that moon-lit ridgeline almost 20 years ago. Is this who was watching us? Or maybe one of it’s friends? Do these other worldly sentinels form a distributed network around the mountains and communicate with each other? Now of course I know these are old growth stumps with eyes formed from cuts that were used to hold planked platforms for the crews that felled these mighty trees. But the more of them that I found the more that they each began to take on unique personalities. Some have only one eye, some have two or three. Sometimes there are in clusters of them melded together in communal clumps. Some have younger trees sprouting up from their tops and some have scrubby shrubs that look like wild afros. And sometimes you can find them outside of the woods clustered around alpine lakes.
As I continued to find more and more of them out in the woods I began to think about how much they have experienced – both before as living trees and afterwards as reminders of what was here long before we were. I’ve read that there are cedar groves that reach all the way back to a thousand years ago. Think about everything that has passed in front of them within that time. Long before settlers from the East showed up. And everything that happened during the short span of technology acceleration within our world. They’ve seen and experienced so many things and will continue to long after us and our children and even grand children have lived our lives.
I wanted to dig a bit deeper into history to get a feel for their experiences before us. As I explored the history of the Great Pacific Northwest I came upon this excerpt from Chief Seattle’s speech in 1854 to an audience including the first Governor of Washington Territory:
To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground… Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant lined lakes and bays…
Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.
So the next time you’re out in the woods and see a Watcher stop for a second to take in the rich history of a place that we are so lucky to be a part of. Consider your surroundings and think about the geological forces that shaped our forests, all the different animals that inhabit them, the indigenous peoples that were here before us and their culture, the settlers as they moved west with their steam powered machines and crude harvesting tools, the CCC movement that built much of our national parks and trail systems, and all the events that have come since then. And then think about what a Watcher would want to experience from you. I’d like to think it would be a “Hell yeah!” “Whoop, Whoop!” “Did you see me get that double?!” They’re out there. They’re watching us.