Day 1: The Great Olympics
The girls and I had already been on the road for seven days. Seven days of weaving back and forth from the Oregon coast to the eastern depths of the lush state, running northbound from California’s Bay Area to Washington’s great Olympic National Forest; all the way dodging the heavy danger of raging forest fires that plagued the entire West Coast. So, when we finally found our destination—a campsite beckoning like a hopeful beacon off a rural road—we were more than glad to set up camp and rest our charred conditions.
We knew immediately that we had found the correct spot—a mountain man’s silver truck told us that much—and as we stretched and bellowed our fatigue to the canopy above, we could already see the immaculateness of the campsite that would house this year’s Toebock Fireside Camping Expedition; our 10th Annual gathering to be precise.
A lone hammock dwindled between two trees and beautifully woven blankets with photography lingered around the mountain man’s abode; essentially reflecting an outdoor art gallery of his work. The cooking station had been set, a perfectly leveled platform dangling from the arms of a Douglas Fir. The cooking gear was laid out in absolute harmony, establishing mathematical conciseness and eye-popping aesthetics that few have seen. The entire campsite looked like an outdoor establishment, a mesmerizing sight that could only be made possible by the one and only Austin Iles.
It was not long before folks began trickling onto the campsite. Adam Crew, Hannah Banana, and Zooka were the first to arrive; the only arrivals that would reign prominent that day. Unfortunately, phone service was completely non-existent, so it had become a guessing game when it came to who would be washing up onto the campsite. Only time would tell.
Day 2: A Lake Full of Spiders
After a gourmet breakfast of delicious eggs scrambled with rare ingredients, locally raised bacon, and red beers, Austin wanted to share with us an exclusive location nestled somewhere within the wideness of the great rain forest. It had been a lake associated with spiders—a name of lore which not even Austin could explain.
Only dreams themselves could conjure such a location. Following a short trek through a gallery of towering trees, a pool of teal blue water loitered below. Erupting from the pristine body of water came moss-covered tree trunks; speckled across the lake’s surface like spider legs protruding a different dimension.
The water itself was about as good as it gets on such a hot day. This was unusual, for I had never entered a Northwesterly body of water that didn’t make me jump in and then immediately back out. Unlike many Washington lakes, this one was not created by glaciers, so the temperature invited us in with open arms.
We killed time floating around and swimming in the lake’s rippling power; enjoying the weather, some cold Reiners, and each other’s smiles. I sat in pure peace as I watched everyone below enjoy such a wondrous day, that was until a rustling behind stirred my attention. Could this be a black bear pondering at the commotion?
“Bukka! Bukka! THE BOOK OF TRIFE!” Knowing that no bear known to man could mock I-Wayne’s Book of Life album, I quickly realized who had just crept out from the brush. It was one of Bremerton’s finest, Jesus Duque. He had come out of the cuts equipped with a Seattle Times bag full of beer and a towel residing over his shoulder.
Between my wife, Camila Pereira, my sister-in-law, Ana Cruz—both hailing from Brazil—and now the newly joined character of Jesus, we found ourselves faced with a new kind of American Folklore; South American Folklore! Our crew spent a few more hours enjoying the spidery lake, soaking in the greatness, before it was time to head back to camp.
Back at camp, Hannah Banana was trying to teach everyone how to bend time with hula-hoop dances; joining her was the rest of the girls. Jesus chuckled loudly and cracked jokes in his Jordan Airforce 1’s as he set up his camp. Adam took a dump somewhere nearby while I dunked myself in the frosty water that flowed by our camp. Zooka sat half-assed in the water—merely watching; protecting the pack. Austin began preparing dinner: pulled pork slow-cooked in a cast-iron cauldron. Whatchu know about that?!
Day 3: A Glacier’s Tears
The wind pummeled our faces as we stood somewhere around 375 feet above a winding river. Waterfalls spewed from crevices far below, making one think of wine barrels bursting at the seams; punctured holes spurting crimson streams.
“Tour’s moving along!” shouted Austin with a warm smile. The High Steel Bridge was an unexpected and much-delighted stop. Its sheer massiveness was enough to make anyone’s legs shake, especially when you hung your head over the railing. Austin was already well near the end of the bridge while everyone lingered behind—snapping last minute pictures. The mountain man was suggesting that we hurry if we wanted to make it to the next spot before dark.
Our next destination entailed a trek down a long and thin trail. The trail slithered through the forest’s thick foliage while the smell of blackberries and honeysuckle pierced our nostrils. From afar, across a small river, a riveting sight was unfolding. I looked down to see Austin and Jesus crossing a fallen tree—about 25 feet down—so I took off my dissolving sandals and headed after them.
Crossing the tree wasn’t too sketchy, but the next part of the climb to the wonder ahead was enough to make me woozy. It had to have been a fifty-foot climb—up a steep incline with spindly roots protruding from the soft earth and acting as legs to a most unique and natural ladder. Behind me, I could hear the rest of the crew making their strenuous climb up the beast. We would soon learn that the work exerted was beyond worth it.
A sparkling, crisp blue waterfall pounded into the upper lake at which we all stood; awe-stricken and possibly a bit teary-eyed. The power being expelled off this thing was fucked—hoaxing one’s feet into thinking they may be blown away like a decaying leaf. As the crew gathered in front of this natural magnificence, Austin was already under the pounding puddles of glacier run-off. As usual, Austin had paved the way for all of us to test the waters. Everyone began scrambling to get a full-body taste of the falling glacier water. Some made it, some did not—the water was bone-numbing and the mission across was slippery as hell.
As many of us struggled to keep our footing under the ferocity of this fall, freedom swept through our bones. There we were, brothers—sisters—lovers—savages—all being reminded of our place on this earth. We were bathing dead center in the belly of chaos and structure, shouting together harmoniously as they poured down on our proud faces. The closeness to death, yet the comfort of our true natural habitat; that moment was magic. It was unreal to think that somewhere up there, past the barrier of the waterfall’s peak, a glacier was crying…
…and we were below basking in its tears.
Day 4: Ross’s Landing
A man, his dog, and a crash landing. As our traditions and values continue to slither down the rungs of lore, stories have been passed down from years behind into generations that have not yet been. Ross’s Landing is one of those stories.
Ross and his faithful Pup suddenly awoke to the crashing waves of the rising Puget Sound. It had been a long night full of bonfires, cold beers, and possibly some whiskey. As Ross rubbed his weary eyes awake, he realized that he was on a small beach; nearby, a smoldering campfire wisped its final breath as a ferry boat grunted in the distance. Shifting his eyes to a dwindling cell phone, Ross realized that he was going to be late for work.
It was a long trek back up the hill. One had to battle thick brush and steep inclines. The only way up was by rope, and Ross’ pounding head was not stoked on the endeavor. Huffing and puffing—and with Pup nestled under the nook of his arm—Ross climbed on.
Atop the hill, Ross caught his breath and released the eager Pup from his arms. Not far off, he could see his truck, and for a moment, began to panic. After hastily checking each pocket, he found his keys, and a great relief soothed his worry.
The fucking truck wouldn’t start. The broken starter just made its taunting screech every time Ross turned the key. It always seems that rough mornings have a way of getting rougher, and poor Ross was learning this unwanted lesson first-hand. So, with Pup in the passenger seat, Ross put the truck in neutral and began pushing; desperate to kick the engine alive.
The blue Toyota pick-up rolled a few feet but then—to Ross’s dismay—hit a little ditch and suddenly came to a halt. Things seemed to just keep getting worse for Ross and Pup. After catching his breath, Ross let out all his strength, pushing every ounce of his dwindling energy to free the pick-up truck. To his surprise, the truck budged. Ross’s veins were exploding out of his neck as the vehicle began to slowly creep out of the small ditch. With little warning, the truck’s tires freed themselves and the vehicle shot off down the hill, cliff bound; an unsuspecting Pup still sitting in the passenger seat.
It must have been quite the sight to see from the petite white house that stood nearby: a runaway truck charging for a tree-covered cliff, a man sprinting alongside the disaster. By this time, Ross long forgot about the fate of his truck; his mind was now set on the fate of his faithful friend, Pup. The situation’s suspense rose like a tide as the runaway vehicle flew towards the cliff’s edge.
At the last moment, and with his remaining strength, Ross reached into the passenger window, caught hold of Pup’s collar, and ripped the confused canine from the rogue missile. Clasping Pup close to his chest, Ross jumped at the large explosion of broken branches and crunching tree bark, watching in horror as his blue Toyota pick-up plummeted into oblivion; crashing headfirst into the lore of Ross’s Landing. To this day, only the forest knows its final resting place.
It had been a fulfilling day packed with unbelievable lakes, towering bridges, and wondrous waterfalls. To end such an amazing day properly, we stopped by Finnriver Farm & Cidery for some crisp refreshments and brick oven-baked pizza. Although the 10th Annual Toebock Fireside was nearing its conclusion, there was one more stop. Austin and his beloved, Michelle Townsend, had invited us to their house for a fireside dinner.
When we arrived, a lonesome shadow lurked near a blazing fire. Standing there was Fred Zahina. He had gotten lost trying to find us in the Olympics, so he lurked in town and waited on the crew for a final gathering. Michelle brought out a platter of local cheeses, fresh honeycomb, and dark chocolate garnished with vibrant purple flowers. The crew sat fireside, laughing, drinking beers, shucking oysters, and dreading the inevitable goodbye we would all have to face in the morning. A grey cat, Quigley, joined the festivities; purring and making his rounds for belly rubs. After supper, Austin informed us that he had one more spot to share with us. It was close-by: a rural beach that was only accessible by rope.
The forest was pitch black. Camila and I were at the back of the convoy. She was having a hard time climbing down the rope through the dark and the unknown abyss that sullenly sat past the flickering flashlights ahead. In summary, she was freaking out. Her panicked voice periodically pierced the silent forest in such a way that it wouldn’t surprise me if the neighbors thought that Lucille Ball’s ghost was roaming the area. A meow stirred our attention, and out from the darkness popped Quigley; blasting by us to catch up to his poppa Austin. After battling the steep inclines, we finally made it to our destination.
The rippling tide of the Puget Sound was as black as crude, with only glimmers of luminescence floating atop its surface. Camila and I were the last troops to enter the scene, and everyone—including Quigley the Cat—had already made themselves comfortable around a campfire. A hammock slept between two nearby trees, the wind lulling it lazily back and forth. It was a moment where time stood still and all that could be heard was the crackling of the fire. It was remarkable how still and peaceful the forest around the hidden beach was. Who knew what kind of treasures she held.
As I stared into the darkness around, lost in thought, I could faintly hear the eruption of broken branches and crunching tree bark exploding into the night’s quiet stillness. Somewhere in the bosom of the midnight forest, a mangled, blue Toyota pick-up was out there…
…forever confined to Ross’s Landing.