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Updated Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Anywhere: Briora Launches New Virtual Learning Website
Anywhere: Virtual Classes from Pacific Ballroom Dance
Anywhere: Two Free Classes from Michelle Badion

Lynnwood: Yes, The Shoe Sale Is Happening

Famous Last Words:
Episode 1: An Old Friend
Episode 2: "The Way"
Episode 3: Scaling the Rock Fall
Episode 4: Boris & Natasha?
Episode 5: Return to Round Lake

Episode 6: Facing Fear

Dear Dancin' Friends,


Dance instruction is currently virtual to get us through the current surge of the pandemic. Check out your options below ... some of them are FREE!

With no dances to DJ, I'm enjoying not being so swamped with things to do. It's certainly better than being literally swamped :) the way Mimi and I were at the end of last week's episode of FAMOUS LAST WORDS. I've added the final episode and an epiloge to the story below.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ron Bolin



BRIORA LAUNCHES NEW VIRTUAL LEARNING WEBSITE
Take your learning to the next level with Briora's NEW Virtual Learning Website! Log in, give it a try and see what you think at www.brioravirtual.com.

Video Library:
~ Popular dance steps
~ Technique
~ Social Variety Program
~ Dance Fashion
~ Dance Fitness and more!

Zoom Technique Classes
Livestream Classes
Virtual Parties


Briora Virtual is free for the month of November!

Questions? Please contact Briora at 425-641-5123 or info@briora.com.



VIRTUAL CLASSES FROM PACIFIC BALLROOM DANCE
Pacific Ballroom Dance in Auburn has had to suspend in-person small group classes for now, but you can take classes virtually. Instructor ALEX OLIVARES has high ratings for his virtual instruction.

WEDNESDAYS, DECEMBER 2 - 16, 7:30 - 8:30 PM
Beginning Hustle and West Coast Swing

FRIDAYS, DECEMBER 4 - 18, 7 - 8 PM
Latin Dances (Salsa & Cha Cha)

Cost: Two virtual classes per week for just $50 per month.
Registration: www.pacificballroom.org/adult-classes
For More Info: Call Alex at 832-388-8141, email alex@pacificballroom.org, or visit www.PacificBallroom.org.



TWO FREE CLASSES FROM MICHELLE BADION
DANCERSIZE
MONDAY AND WEDNESDAY, 5:00 - 5:15 PM

Description: Starts this week! Dancersize is a 15 minute dance break with Swing, Latin and smooth steps, a huge variety of fun music to move to, and a short interaction with other dancers. Let's keep partner dancing alive without a partner! It's free, fast and fun!

L
ink for Nov. 23 - Dec. 30: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86919429003?pwd=ZTBDS0FHRHhCZzU2QXcrMG13ZklmZz09
Pass Code: "dance"


TANGOSIZE
MONDAY - FRIDAY, 11:30 - 11:45 AM, TUESDAY and THURSDAY 5:30 - 5:45 PM

Description: Tangosize Mini Mojo Booster is a 15 - 20 minute Tango break every weekday geared to keep your Tango skills sharp and Tango soul happy. It's always, free, fast and fun!

Link for Nov. 2 - Dec 21: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89065634434?pwd=RTdwVmY5d3ExSVAzc3JjY3BERnh2dz09
Passcode: "tango"



YES, THE SHOE SALE IS HAPPENING
NOW THROUGH NOVEMBER 30. Time for a fun shopping trip and for some NEW DANCE SHOES! Petticoat Junction Dance Shop's in-store annual NOVEMBER SHOE SALE is on now! Although much of our dancing activities are having a “COVID intermission,” things will come back! Petticoat Junction is offering some really great deals! Many styles have been marked down 30-75% from suggested retail. Really fun shoes are waiting for you, lots of trendy styles in all heel heights; dance sneakers, special purchases, closeouts, unclaimed special orders, samples ... worth a trip to Lynnwood soon: 14523 Highway 99.

Phase II Safe Start Hours & Information: The storefront is open Tuesday through Saturday 10-4. (We are limiting how many customers can enter, so there might be a wait, especially Saturday mornings). Or, Mondays and other times are available for appointments and we are happy to accommodate your needs. For such an appointment, don’t hesitate to write to us with your desired schedule: friends@petticoatjct.com or call Bonnie at 425-743-9513 or 1-800-344-3262.

PETTICOAT JUNCTION, INC.
The Fun Dance Store!
www.petticoatjct.com




FAMOUS LAST WORDS, EPISODE 1: AN OLD FRIEND

During my junior year of college, my childhood friend, Bruce, returned to the Seattle area. He had lived next door to me on Bainbridge Island in the third, fourth and fifth grades. Then his family moved first to Spokane, then to Gary, Indiana. Over the years he had made a couple trips back and I had seen him briefly, but it had been several years by this time.

Bruce was studying at the UW to be an oceanographer. My major was physics, a much more basic science, and therefore simpler. As a shy person who had not keep in contact with anyone I had gone to school with, it was great to get reacquainted with a childhood friend. I was living in the UW dormitories and I would sometimes help Bruce with his math, which I was good at, but he struggled with.

Bruce was quite the outdoorsman, which I'm sure had something to do with his choice to study oceanography. I remember him showing me photos of himself "spelunking" in caves in the Midwest. Some of those caves go for miles. In some cases he was literally squeezing his body through a narrow passage of rock in the deep darkness of the Earth. I'm not particularly claustrophobic, but it looked pretty scary to me. What if it rained hard and filled the caverns with water? What if he got stuck? Or what if those rocks were to shift?

During the summer break between our junior and senior years, outdoorsman Bruce planned a hike for us to a small lake in the North Cascades. I had never been to that area before. He had spotted it on a topographical map. It's called 'Round Lake' ... not a particularly exciting name, but very descriptive of the lake because it looked to be a near-perfect circle. It sounded like it would be a fun trip.

There would be four of us on the trip: Bruce, his younger sister Joan, whom I remembered as 'Joanie' when she lived next door, her friend (I can't remember her name, but I'll just call her 'Jean'), and me. We only had the single topographical map, but no trip guides or literature about the area. Of course there was no internet, GPS, iPhones, or anything like that ... it was still the good ol' days!

From the topographical map, we could see it was at a high elevation, about a mile above sea level. It looked like we would need to go over a ridge then descend steeply down to the lake. It would be a pretty good hike just to Round Lake itself. But we wanted to take time to explore the area, including a couple other smaller lakes that were farther out ... or deeper in, however you want to look at it. So we planned a three-day trip. We would camp by Round Lake for a couple nights as our home base, and from there trek out to the other two lakes. We prepared backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, food, water, etc.

We packed our gear into Bruce's car and left Seattle about 8 AM. It was good, clear weather. His car (a green Mercury Comet) was pretty tight for four people plus all our provisions. Bruce and I sat in front and Jean and Joan sat in the back. I was very shy, especially with girls ... it would be another five years until I would have my first date. I didn't talk much except a little to Bruce.

I had never met Jean before. She was slender and fit with straight, shoulder-length, medium-brown hair. Of course to go camping, she wasn't made up fancy, but I found her naturally attractive. Joan was attractive too, but having grown up next door to each other, and with her being my friend's little sister, she seemed kind of like a little sister to me too.

We drove through the tiny town of Concrete. Or was it Granite Falls? I keep getting those two mixed up. We eventually found ourselves on a dirt road that we followed for about fifteen miles along a river. We arrived at the trailhead at about noon. There were two other cars parked there, but we saw no people. Bruce parked the car and we all got out. It was pleasant by the river's babbling water, but we only spent a few minutes there. It was time to lock the car, don our packs, and start hiking!

There was a sign at the trailhead, but I don't recall any other signs on our entire hike ... including no signs of civilization, other than the sometimes invisible trail. The beginning of the trail was nearly level as it passed through a lush green area, with plenty of sunlight filtering through the trees, mostly deciduous. We were all enjoying the scenery. We could hear the river in the distance, but the sound faded as we continued. We moved along the trail at a moderate pace. "Hi ho, hi ho ... off to the lake we go." Well, we didn't actually sing, but we talked as we hiked. They did most of the talking.

Bruce went first with the map. Then it was Jean and Joan ... and-a who knows who (sorry Carlos, I couldn't help it). I brought up the rear. I'm not sure if that formation was to protect the girls, but it worked for me. I've always been a legs man ... and the girls were wearing shorts! DO WAH DIDDY DIDDY! They weren't exactly short shorts, and they certainly weren't hot pants. In fact ... they were hiking shorts. :( But this is a prime example of the First Law of Survival: When you're out in the wilderness, you make do with what you got.

The noontime temperature under the trees was pleasant. But our backpacks were heavy, and as we continued along, I was starting to get a little winded. We had started out at a moderate pace and had kept that same pace for maybe fifteen minutes. I guess we didn't slow down because we didn't seem to be going uphill. However the trail had started to climb so subtly that none of us had noticed it. Soon I was huffing and puffing. I didn't want to expose myself as unfit, especially in front of the girls, so I tried to huff and puff as quietly as I could. I continued on at the same pace as the others.

Finally Joan blurted out, "I have to slow down!" Everyone stopped ... and suddenly we all broke into laughter! Without the sound of our footsteps, we could all hear each other huffing and puffing. It was clear that we had all been trying to avoid looking unfit. After a moment we continued on at a more realistic pace ... a pace that would slow even more as we started to noticeably climb.

The trees gradually changed from deciduous to evergreens. The trail steepened and eventually we were zig-zagging up switchbacks. Less sunlight made it through the taller fir trees, so it was darker. We took short breaks every once in a while, especially if we could find a log or rock to sit on. We sometimes removed our packs, sometimes not. We all carried water and food, and would take a few sips or bites when we rested.

About half way up, the path crossed a stream small enough to step over. We each carried our own small canteen, and Bruce also carried a larger plastic canteen that we could share. Before leaving Seattle, we had filled our canteens with tap water ... back then people had no problem drinking water from a faucet. I'm not sure that you could even buy bottled water in those days. Anyway, even though we all still had some water left, it seemed like a good idea to fill the canteens to the top while we had this source. Bruce knew that it was hazardous to drink water directly from a stream or lake. So he had brought some little pills to dissolve in the water. You had to give them about a half hour to dissolve and do their work. They would kill anything that might be bad for us ... but they also killed the flavor. :(

It got pretty warm as we came upon the late afternoon ... or did it come upon us? We were sweaty. It would have been much easier if we weren't burdened by our heavy loads ... but we knew we would need the items we carried.

Finally at about 5 PM, we reached the tree line. Now we could see the bright sun and a few rocky peaks, some with patches of snow. A narrow path led us across steeply inclined alpine meadows full of long grasses, colorful flowers, and what I call "Cousin It" plants. The trail eventually led us up to a rocky ridge. Bruce was the first to reach the top and peer down ...

"WOW! MAN! COME SEE THIS!"

When I got to the top, I could see why he was so excited. There it was. Down below us ... far down below us: Round Lake.

Now we finally realized why it was round. We admonished ourselves for not realizing this earlier from the topographical map we had been referring to all along. Seeing it in person, it was clear what it was ... an ancient volcanic crater!

The crater walls were smooth in many parts, like a deep bowl with the lake filling the bottom. On the far side, the crater wall rose up to a high, rocky peak a few hundred feet above the level where we stood. An accumulation of mostly small rocks that had fallen from the peak lined the edge of the lake across from us. The lake bottom was likely covered with similar rubble. To the right of that area, a large white snow bank gently melted into the blue of the lake. To our left, about a quarter of the crater wall was low, allowing the lake to drain. It all made for a pretty picture ... but I don't recall that any of us had a camera. Cameras meant extra bulk and extra weight. They were not essential.

We all enjoyed the view for a couple minutes. Then Bruce proceeded to lead us on the path into the crater with the words:

"Don't worry ... this volcano's extinct!"

Then he saw the perfect opportunity to add one of his favorite expressions:

"... Huh ... famous last words."

TO BE CONTINUED ...



FAMOUS LAST WORDS, EPISODE 2: "THE WAY"

Maybe I threw you a curveball. Sorry about that! I ended the previous episode like this:

After we all enjoyed the view for a couple minutes, Bruce proceeded to lead us on the path into the crater with these words:

"Don't worry, this volcano's extinct ... "


Then he saw the perfect opportunity to add one of his favorite expressions:

"Huh ... famous last words ... "


I didn't realize it,
but reading it again now, I can see why some people thought that I ended that episode with a certain foreboding. I didn't mean to create an ominous tone ... we have enough stress already. And I most certainly didn't mean for this to be a "cliffhanger" either ... those are yet to come. To me it just seemed like a natural place to end the first episode ... just before we were about to descend to the pleasant little lake below us. We had absolutely nothing to worry about. So I apologize if I threw you a curveball ...

... Rather I meant to throw you a Fastball. That's because on our way to Round Lake, we needed to know ... "The Way." www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5jlTlUTWfQ. In fact, if you didn't read the first episode, the lyrics can serve as a sort of summary of the story so far:

They made up their minds
And they started packing
They left before the sun came up that day
An exit to eternal summer slacking
But where were they going
Without ever knowing the way?

They drank up the wine
And they got to talking
They now had more important things to say
And when the car broke down, they started walking
But where were they going
Without ever knowing the way?

... Anyone could see
The road that they walk on is paved in gold
It's always summer, they'll never get cold
Never get hungry
Never get old and gray

You can see their shadows
Wandering off somewhere
They won't make it home
But they really don't care
They wanted the highway
They're happier there today ... todaaaaay ......


Well now, that's much better, isn't it?
A relaxing little musical interlude. Without giving anything away, I can tell you right now that two things in that song do not apply to our little trip (at least up to this point) ... we hadn't drank any wine, and the car had not broken down. We were just having a nice little hike in the wilderness, far from the stresses of society, alone but with each other ... and most importantly ... with no bad players at all. We were perfectly safe. Now let's get back to our bedtime story ......

Once we passed the rim of the crater,
there were no more alpine fields. In fact, there was very little plant life at all. It was rocky with only scattered shrubs and a few small trees. It was hard to see much of a trail, but ahead we spotted a narrow dirt path that gently curved across a smooth side of the crater about thirty feet below the rocky rim. The trail seemed to lead to the crater's low side. We proceeded across rocky turf to the point where the narrow dirt path started.

It was only about six inches wide. We carefully placed one foot directly in front of the other. To me it felt like walking a tight rope ... while balancing a heavy backpack. You could easily see the path while walking across this smooth, soft part, but after about 150 feet, it came to a rocky end. I hate rocky ends. You can't see the way.

We looked around. There was no obvious way to go. Maybe this short path was just a spur to get to this dead end. The soft soil of the smooth crater wall did not seem like a safe way down. While it wasn't vertical, to me it looked to be about a 60 degree slope ... but that was probably just exaggerated by my mind. Still it must have been at least 45 degrees ... nearly twice as steep as the average roof. Even though we might be able to walk on it, if anyone slipped, they might not be able to stop from sliding or tumbling all the way down ... who knows how far. Without any known objects in the crater, it was hard to estimate its depth ... but it was certainly deeper than the Space Needle is high.

There did appear to be one way to continue descending into the crater. If it weren't for the fact that the rocks were sharp and not rounded, I might have thought it was a dried up waterfall. I think of it as a "rock fall." It went straight down the smooth part of the crater wall making almost a 'T' shape with the narrow dirt trail we had just crossed.

The rock fall would provide good footholds ... as long as the rocks we were depending on didn't dislodge from the soil. So with no other way to go, the four of us balanced out way back to the middle of the narrow dirt path. Then we carefully began a steep descent down the rock fall ... uhh ... in retrospect, maybe that wasn't such a good thing to call it.

Our heavy backpacks made it especially perilous. But at least each step was down, not up, so it didn't totally exhaust us. In fact, with gravity in our favor, we made much better time than we had coming up the mountain. After a while we could definitely feel it in our shins. It was nice to be with a small group. That provided some comfort, and possibly a measure of safety ... I mean, just in case anything should happen.

Being with a group also affects one's behavior ... we tend to do as the others do. Following others seems like the safe thing to do, especially when danger is apparent. I didn't worry much. It appeared that the others ahead of me, or should I say below me, were doing just fine ... so I did just fine too. It only took about a half hour to reach the bottom, fortunately without incident. I was relieved. Oh ... did I mention that I'm scared of heights?

Once down, we proceeded across nearly level ground to the lake. The crater walls towered above us. There was vegetation here, due to the lake's water. We came to a fairly smooth area where we could camp, right next to where a small stream poured from the lake and eventually drained out the crater's low side. It felt great to take off our backpacks after nearly six hours of hiking.

I had been saving a Hershey's bar for just this moment. To protect it, I had kept it inside my metal cup in my backpack. I now discovered that had only protected half of it. The half that had been sticking out of the cup had melted into a mess. But I had an easy solution. With the wrapper still on, I dipped the bar into the icy stream. It hardened up quickly. I unwrapped it and offered to share it with the others ... no takers. They had seen me dip it in the stream. So I ate the whole thing myself. It tasted great!

Our canteens were mostly empty by now. We had not filled them since the stream half way up. Since Bruce's disinfecting pills made the water taste bad to me, I preferred to take my chances. I dipped my metal cup in the stream. Seeing me, Bruce warned, "That water's not safe. You could get sick." I replied, "It looks perfectly clear. I think it's fine." Bruce's response was predictable: "Famous last words."

I drank it down anyway ... so cold and refreshing! I definitely wasn't going to drink treated water again ... unless I had no other choice.

Each of the two tents was big enough to fit all four of us, but we pitched both of them ... one for the nineteen year old girls and one for the twenty-one year old boys. Having two tents must have been the girls' idea. :(

After setting up our tents, it was time for dinner. There was enough dry wood and brush to gather for a campfire. Of course we had matches ... we weren't going to have rub sticks together. We made a small circle of rocks to enclose the flames and soon we had a nice little fire going. Joan got out her brand new camping cookware set. She filled an aluminum pot with water from the stream. This was to cook some of the dehydrated foods that Bruce had brought. They're just like styrofoam until boiled in water. Since the water would be boiled, there was no need to put any of Bruce's disgusting pills in it. We didn't have any type of grill to put over the flames, so Bruce took the pot and set it directly into the campfire, getting it permanently charred ... and getting his sister temporarily angry. But it did the job of getting the water to boil. The rehydrated food didn't taste good, but we were all very hungry.

This was summer, so even though the sun had sunk well below the crater wall, it was still plenty light out after dinner. Bruce and I wanted to explore the crater. Without having to wear heavy backpacks, we figured it might be possible to walk all the way around the lake. On the hike up, there had been some talk about the possibility of bears, and what to do if we had an encounter. But so far we hadn't seen any. The girls were both smart, and we figured they could fend for themselves if needed ... of course Bruce and I, being men, would have no problem. The girls were fine with us taking off for a while. So we left Jean and Joan behind at the campsite ...

As we headed off away from the stream to circle the lake in a counterclockwise direction, Bruce and I planned our course:

First we would have to work our way through what I would call a "boulder field." These were large rocks that didn't necessarily look as though they had fallen from the peak as they were somewhat rounded. We'd have to either work our way between them or climb over them. Some of them protruded from the lake's water.

Second, we would have to either walk across the steep snow bank, or make a high arc over its top ... either way risking sliding into the frigid lake. Did I mention that I don't swim?

Third, we would have to walk hundreds of feet along the water's edge below the peak ... on a steep slope that was littered with loose rock fragments that had fallen from the mountain.

If we could get past those three obstacles we would arrive at the crater's low side ... and the rest should be a piece of cake!

So Bruce and I started working our way over to the boulders. There were maybe a hundred of them, some over ten feet high. The first ones were more scattered and could be walked around, although it was somewhat like a maze. But it became more and more apparent that we would eventually have to climb up and over some of them.

Bruce got a bit ahead of me, and soon I could not see him. I kept going in the direction that he should have been going, but I still didn't see him. In fact with all the boulders around me, there was very little I could see.

So I called out, "Bruce?" No reply. I went a little farther and called again. "Bruce? ... BRUCE!" Still silence. "BRUCE!" Now I began to worry. Had he fallen into the lake? Had he hit his head and become unconscious? I climbed up on a large boulder so I could see farther. Still no sign of Bruce. I was relieved that I saw no ripples on the water anyway. I pushed on and kept looking and calling out, but could not find him. I started to feel very uneasy ...

By now I realized that it was not reasonable to even attempt to walk around the lake. Certainly not for me anyway, and it probably wouldn't be a good idea for anyone. But what happened to Bruce? ...

... As I write this 45 years later, I'm trying to recall the last words Bruce said to me before we got separated. I'm coming up very empty. I guess they won't be famous ...

TO BE CONTINUED ...



FAMOUS LAST WORDS, EPISODE 3: SCALING THE ROCK FALL

I clambered over more boulders
and repeatedly called, "BRUCE! ... BRUCE! ... BRUCE! ..." Dead silence. I struggled with what to do. I felt that I needed to keep looking for Bruce ... if something bad had happened, time could be of the essence. But I was having no success in finding him. I needed to go back and get the girls to help look. I started back towards the campsite, feeling very nervous:

What would I say to his sister?

What if we found him unconscious? ... or dead? ... or just never found him?


I couldn't fathom a terrible thing happening to my friend in such a desolate place. It would take six hours just to hike back to the trailhead and another hour to get to a phone ... but it would be dark in two hours. Plus Bruce might have had the only car key on him. I prayed that he was just playing a trick on me. Yeah ... that's what it was ... a practical joke! Mental safety mechanisms make hard realities easier to take ...

Flash forward to 1982 ...
I'm driving eastbound over the 1-90 floating bridge towards Mercer Island. Suddenly I notice two small airplanes spiraling downward away from each other in an upside down "V" formation. I think, "It must be an air show."
They keep spiraling down ... until they both disappear behind the trees. I think, "They're putting on quite a show ... waiting until the last moment to pull out of their dives!" But then I realize that there wouldn't be an airshow over Mercer Island ... I don't even think there's an airfield on Mercer Island. Then I figure it out ... "They were just remote controlled model airplanes." I must have misjudged the distance and size. That remains my explanation ... until I watch the TV news ... five people died.

I continued back to camp, alone. I needed to tell the girls that I couldn't find Bruce. Of course we'd all come search for him together. Maybe he'd jump out from behind a rock and scare us and he'd have a good laugh at us. But then suddenly I heard something behind me. Could it be a bear?

It was a Bruce! I felt such relief ... although I tried to not show it. He had given up the attempt to circumnavigate the lake. I asked him why he hadn't answered my calls. He said he hadn't heard me calling. You might think that sound would echo throughout a crater. But unless it's extremely loud, rather than echoing, sound just gets lost in the vastness. We walked back to camp and prepared for the night. I never did reveal to him that I was worried that he might have died.

The next morning we shared some canned food for breakfast. Yum! Well ... what I mean to say is that it tasted much better than styrofoam. Unfortunately we hadn't brought much canned food because of the weight. I satisfied my thirst with more fresh stream water ... if there were bugs in it, why did it taste so good? Bruce and the girls drank the yuck from their canteens.

Jean and Joan said they wanted to spend time exploring the crater. As I already explained, Bruce and I had tried to do a bit of that the evening before ... without such good results. So Bruce and I decided we'd go off on our own to try to find the other two small lakes. We didn't know how long it would take, but we would just meet Jean and Joan back at camp whenever we returned. They were big girls now. They would be OK. And we would too ... after all ... we were men!

Looking for the other lakes meant climbing back out of the crater. We only knew one way ... scaling the rock fall.

Actually going up should be easier than coming down. We had much lighter loads. We left the tents, sleeping bags and most of the other gear behind at the campsite. Of course we still needed to wear our backpacks with some food, water and a few other items. We made our way to the bottom of the rock fall. It was a steep enough climb, but something we should be able to handle.

Looking up at the rocky course we had come down the day before made me nervous. Somehow it seemed scarier now ... maybe because now I knew how long the climb would take. Imagine being on an extremely long ladder and continually climbing step after step for half an hour. That's what we would be doing ... except there was no ladder here, just random rocks. The rock fall didn't seem to be a rock slide as it had a fairly consistent width of about five feet and there wasn't a big accumulation of rocks at the bottom. It seemed more like a nearly vertical seam in the earth embedded with rocks.

I wanted to be brave ... but I didn't feel that way. We started climbing. This time I went ahead of Bruce. I guess I figured that if I slipped, Bruce might be able to stop me from falling. Heights didn't seem to bother him. Other people are brave. I was not.

The first couple hundred feet of the climb actually went OK for me. I was a little scared, but I told myself, "Just stay the course. You'll get there."

As we climbed higher, my fear grew. I figured it would be good to let Bruce know that I was afraid before we got any higher. The girls weren't here, so they wouldn't know. I said, "Bruce ... I'm starting to get a little afraid of the height. I think we're at about two hundred feet now." He could have replied, "It doesn't matter if you're at twenty feet or two hundred feet ... if you fall, the results are the same."

But he didn't say that. He was compassionate. He understood my fear. He simply said, "Just don't look down." That was sort of possible since we were facing the side of the crater. But I wanted to make sure that I stepped onto something solid with each step, so I naturally had to look down at least at my boots ... it was just a matter of trying to ignore what was below them.

I tried to not think of how high I was. But when you're actively trying to not think of something, that is the very thing you think about. What if my foot slipped on a rock, or if I stepped in dirt and it gave way? On some steps that's exactly what happened, but so far I had always been able to quickly re-secure myself.

About half way up the rock fall, I decided to be brave and take a good look down. GULP! ... That was a mistake. I turned my head back to face the crater wall. We were about as high as the Space Needle is tall ... with no certainty that anything I could step on or grab was secure. I couldn't take another step. I froze.

Flashback ...
I grew up on Bainbridge Island
on high waterfront property
about 250 feet above Puget Sound. The land was terraced in natural steps down to the water. The first step down was a drop of about twenty feet. The levels of land below our yard were covered in bushes and trees. There was a long trail that my dad had made to the beach that included a few sets of wooden staircases. The stairs between our back yard and the next level down had been lost to a large landslide before I was born. In fact that landslide had left a porch hanging over the bank, and our entire house had to be moved about twenty feet closer to the road.

One day when I was five years old, I went down the bank by going through our neighbor's property, which was lower. That's the property where Bruce would eventually live. I followed a rough trail back to our property until it intersected with the trail to the beach. But I wasn't going to the beach. I wanted to explore new areas beyond any established trails. So I stomped a new path through the bushes to the base of the twenty-foot bank. I decided to try to climb up to our yard.

I was able to climb up to a narrow dirt ledge that ran along the bank. I followed the ledge until it ran out. I tried to figure out how to proceed. Our back lawn was now only about four feet above my head ... but I could only reach about one foot above my head.. Below me were thorny blackberry bushes. I noticed a small indentation in the dirt wall above me that looked like it used to hold a rounded rock. I thought I could reach it and pull myself up ... but it was too high. I got a little bit scared.

Just then my mother came out into the back yard and called for me. I answered, "I'm down the bank!" She came to the edge of the bank, shocked to see where I was ... "Don't move Ronnie! Just hold on! Stay there!"
That's when I got more scared. My mother ran into the house and called the fire department, then rushed back out to the edge, so worried for her little boy. She kept telling me to stay where I was. I couldn't go forward or up, and I was afraid to try to turn around on the narrow ledge. I didn't want to fall into the blackberries. I was stuck. There wasn't really anything to hang onto, so I just leaned against the vertical dirt bank.

The next thing I remember is a ladder being lowered down the bank into the blackberry bushes. A young fireman came down the ladder, scooped me up in his left arm, and carried me up the ladder. I was rescued.

There could be no such rescue here. It was just Bruce and me.

At least Bruce wasn't afraid. I was embarrassed for being so chicken. But my embarrassment was out-weighed by my fear of heights. Actually it's not a fear of heights ... it's a fear of falling. Why did I put myself in this situation? I wanted to go back down. But that wouldn't make any sense. It was about as far down as up ... and eventually I'd have to climb up anyway.

Finally I let logic prevail. I carefully continued up, but now on all fours. That was slower but it felt safer ... four points of support rather than just two. I didn't care what Bruce thought. My fear of falling was greater than my sense of pride. It was greater than anything else that I felt at the time.

It always makes sense to be prepared for the worst. So I thought about what I should do if I started to fall. Grab for the nearest rock! The more curled up you are, the more likely you will roll and not be able to stop, so keep your body extended ... then if you do slip, you'll slide but not tumble. But it was a long way down, and it was not clear that I could even survive a slide to the bottom. Even if I didn't hit rocks, how fast would I slide?

I kept climbing, with the thought that each step brought me even higher. On one step a six-inch rock tumbled from under my left foot. I shuddered. That rock could have been me. I kept hold with my hands and my other foot. It was a good thing I was on all fours. The rock barely missed Bruce. I suppose the rock went all the way down, but I didn't dare look. The sound of it tumbling gradually faded to nothing, so I didn't hear it hit bottom. As I said, sound gets lost in a big crater.

Bruce could see how scared I was.
He tried to bolster my confidence. "Don't worry, you'll make it. Just don't look down. And don't think about falling. Think about something else. Keep talking."

"OK," I replied nervously.
I couldn't think of anything to talk about other than what I was doing at the moment. "I'm going to grab that pointed rock up there. It looks pretty solid."

Bruce had been good up to that point ... but now he couldn't help it: "Famous last words!"

I yelled,
"BRUCE! DON'T TEASE ME!"

I wished my mother would call the fire department.
But they couldn't get here. And even if they could, how would they get a ladder to me? No ladders are long enough. A rescue by helicopter would be even worse than what I was already suffering. Imagine dangling from a rope at this height!

I knew that I needed to keep moving. If I stopped again now, I might be too scared to start again. The fear was already unbearable. Maybe I should just let myself fall. That way I'd die and wouldn't be feeling the intense fear anymore. I guess these weren't good things to be thinking. I composed my thoughts enough to continue to climb higher ... and higher ... and higher ...

How had I made it down the rock fall? Yes, it had been scary for me, but I had managed much better. For one thing, with each step down I had been getting lower and safer, not higher and at more risk. Also, the girls had been with us then, so I had not expressed my fear. I didn't want to seem like a coward in front of them, especially Jean. I think the fact that I had not expressed my fear while coming down had kept my fear to a minimum. Much of my fear was a result of my own reaction to it ... not just my physical actions, but also my words and my thoughts. Now those were all out of control. I'd compare it to the Great Depression when FDR said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Of course that's just what I'm thinking as I write this. I wasn't thinking of anything like that at the time. I was too scared.

Eventually I stopped looking at what was immediately in front of me. I looked up. I saw that we were approaching the narrow dirt trail that we had walked across the day before, just before coming down the rock fall. We were almost to the top of the 'T'. If I could just make it to that trail, maybe another fifty feet. So I continued up, knowing that each step was taking me even higher.

When I got about five feet from the narrow dirt path, I realized that walking on that path I would no longer be facing the side of the crater ... I wouldn't be able to avoid seeing down ... two Space Needles below me. What was I going to do? I didn't think it was possible to be any more scared than I was.

That's when
I noticed a small tree on the rim of the crater about thirty feet above me. The stability of the rocks and dirt I was climbing was in question, but the tree should be well-rooted in the ground. There weren't any branches on the lower part. The trunk was only about four inches in diameter, but that should be enough to hold me ... if I could just get to it. I had a gut feeling that if I could hold on to that tree trunk, the fear would go away. It would just disappear ... you know, like Covid has.

It even made sense. There was no way I could fall if I was holding on to that tree. I would finally feel safe. It's one of those things that you just know. So rather than walking the narrow path, I decided to stop thinking and just go with my gut! That is to say ...

... I FREAKED OUT!
With a dramatic burst of energy, I scampered hand and foot right past the narrow path and another thirty feet up, straight for the tree. I clamped my arms and legs around it ......

I mentioned to you earlier that I thought nobody had brought a camera on this hike. I must apologize. That was fake news. Bruce must have had a camera, because I found this picture:

www.flickr.com/photos/mgdsca/5105234602/in/set-72157625092874535

TO BE CONTINUED ...



FAMOUS LAST WORDS, EPISODE 4: BORIS & NATASHA?

Announcer: In our last episode, we left our heroes perilously dangling over Frostbite Falls' highest cliff clinging to nothing but the world's very last ... MOOSEBERRY BUSH! Boris and Natasha stand at the top ... with villainous grins. With Rocky and Bullwinkle out of the picture, they will have complete control over the world's entire supply of ... UPSIDAISIUM!

Natasha, throwing her arms up: "Boris! You are genius!"


Boris: "This is happy ending." Looks sinisterly into camera: "GOODBYE MOOSE AND SQUIRREL!"


Rocky, hanging onto Bullwinkle's foot: "Bullwinkle! You've GOT to do something!"

Bullwinkle, scratching his head: "...Well ... I sure could use some of that upsidaisium ......


... OOPS! Sorry folks! Wrong script ... but a similar cliffhanger. That was obviously fiction ... there's no such thing as a mooseberry bush. Let's get back to what really happened ...

My chest thumped and blood pounded in my ears. It was partially from the exertion of my sudden scamper, but equally from sheer horror. My clothes were drenched in sweat. OK, now the fear would disappear. Maybe it would take a moment ... well, maybe a minute ... maybe two ... I closed my eyes.

Bruce made it to the top of the rock fall, walked the intersecting narrow dirt path over to rocky ground, then walked back over on the top of the crater rim to the tree that I was still hugging. OK, now that Bruce was here and I still had the tree, I would be just fine. In a while anyway. But for now I was just as scared as when climbing the rock fall. What was wrong? The fear wasn't subsiding. Maybe my gut feeling was a bit off?

Still glued to the tree, I trembled for another five minutes. Bruce was very patient with me. I knew that eventually I would have to let go. I couldn't understand why I was still just as scared. Clamped around the tree, there was no way I could fall. But I guess not all fears are grounded in logic. There is a good reason to be scared of heights ... it makes people avoid danger. But the fear can last well after the danger is gone.

Finally, still shaking, I did let go ... just in time so the girls did not see me making love to the tree ...

... Yes, here came Jean and Joan, walking on the narrow path. They had found another way out of the crater ... an easier way! They had explored the crater on the low side, where Bruce and I had not gone. They found the real trail. It was still quite a climb, but a walk in the park compared to scaling the rock fall. Bruce was thoughtful enough to not announce to the girls that I had lost it ... but I'm sure they could tell that I was scared.

Now that the girls were with us, we could go find the other two lakes together! So off we went: Bruce, Jean, Joan ... and Mr. Scaredy Cat. We had to walk along the circumference of the rim a short distance to get back on the main trail towards the other lakes. Where the trails met, we could see almost everything down in the crater. I avoided looking, but the brave ones were more excited at the view now than when we first saw it.

When they all laughed, I felt obligated to look down ... HOLY SHEEP! I shuddered. Next to the lake were two specks of green confetti ... our tents. I pretended to laugh too. I instinctively bent my knees to create a steadier stance ... should I slip into the crater, my fall would be four inches less. None of us had fully realized the immensity of the crater before. Until now, there had been no known objects in the crater to gauge size by. We were all amazed at how tiny the tents looked from way up here ... which meant we were really, really far from them ... really, really high up. I'd better stop looking. And turning my brain off would help too.

We continued to hi ho along the trial ... at least that was the feeling for them. Soon the trail diverged from the rim and we could no longer see into the crater. But that didn't seem to help me much. The other lakes were apparently even higher than the rim of the crater. The trail rose more gradually now than on most of our original climb to Round Lake. There were still a few rather steep portions, but not steep enough to require switchbacks. We passed through more alpine fields and over some rock crests. There was no level ground to be seen. We could see a long distance, proving that we were at a high elevation ... and going still higher. I was glad that we were no longer looking down into a crater, but most of the time we were still either going up or walking across steep slopes, and with no view-blocking trees that might have allowed me to pretend that we weren't so near to the stratosphere. I knew we were over a mile high ... about ten Space Needles.

Now I realized there was something else going on inside me. It wasn't just a fear of heights. It wasn't just a fear of falling. Now I had another fear. I knew that in addition to our elevation, there was another 8,000 miles of Earth beneath us ... whose gravity was unforgiving. I feared the very magnitude of the Earth beneath me. It made no sense at all, but it was just as frightening as my fear of heights ... and even more inescapable. Even if I ever returned to sea level, I felt I would still be haunted with that fear ... Earthophobia.

I was still trembling.
Hiking up the trail was quite physical in itself, but the trembling drained my energy even faster. My whole body was tense. As I walked, I never completely straightened either leg. And although my backpack was lighter than the day before, it was still an unwelcome burden. It took the rest of the day for the intensity of my fear to gradually diminish. I think being with the others, especially with the girls, helped me to quell my reactions to my fear. When you don't express fear, that helps keep it in check.

I realized that my gut feeling had been wrong. Clamping myself to the tree had not quickly eased my fear. If I had not panicked ... if instead I had walked the narrow path ... I think I would have recovered much faster. I realized that much of my fear was due to my own reaction to it. In fact, my reaction to it amplified it many times. Lesson learned, although that lesson is not in my autopilot yet ... that will take lots of repetition. I need to consciously remind myself to not over react when I get into scary situations ... like what I face as I write this. I'm using that lesson to my advantage right now.

It was a perfectly sunny day. If there had been clouds they might have been below our level in which case I could maybe have pretended that we weren't so high. However in the state of mind I was in, the knowledge that we were above the clouds would probably have been an issue for me too.

In one not-too-steep area, we came across a clear mountain brook. Bruce's large plastic canteen was nearly empty, so he refilled it and added a couple of those pills. They would surely kill the flavor. I was really thirsty as my nerves had sweat me dry. I didn't care about any bugs that might be in the water. I filled my canteen and Bruce offered me the disinfecting pills. I turned down his offer. Then against Bruce's warnings, I got out my metal cup, and dipped it into the stream. I drank down a full cup of the best water I'd ever tasted.

You know what's funny? Although I was still shaking from acrophobia and Earthophobia, in this case, I was the brave one. Bruce and the girls were the ones who were afraid when it came to drinking water straight from a stream. Of course their fear was intellectually based, not the gut-wrenching fear that I was suffering from. Yes, I was certainly the brave one here ... or maybe the stupid one. I knew I was taking a chance, but that didn't evoke real fear. Fortunately, the water never did wrench my guts.

At one point walking along a narrow path across a steep alpine field, Jean's foot slipped. I was right behind her and was able to quickly grab her arm. I would have loved to be her hero, but by the time I caught her, she had already steadied herself, only going down a foot. I helped pull her back onto the path. I could feel the warmth of her arm through her clothing.

If you've never been an extremely shy male,
you might not understand this, but that physical warmth, although not skin to skin, meant a lot to me. Shy guys just don't get to participate in touch. I'd never even shaken Jean's hand. It had just been my typical nod and "hello" when we were introduced. Grabbing her arm was just one of three cases of intergender touch I'd experienced in the seven years since the Friday square dance lessons in the eighth grade. When you have so few, you remember them all. It would be another five years before I would experience anything like it again ... I was in heaven when I started taking dance lessons. I still crave touch, but with the pandemic it's currently a no-no. But since I went a span of twelve years with just three touches, I guess if needed I can go touchless a few more months now.

I recall meaningful things like that little incident, but I don't recall us ever finding the other two lakes. I would think I would remember if we had. Maybe they were just too far to travel that day. I suppose there's a small possibility that we did find them but they weren't as dramatic as Round Lake and nothing either frightening or good happened, so I forgot. Anyway, we eventually turned back.

We had originally planned to camp only two nights,
but while hiking back to the crater, the others decided we should stay a third night. My main problem with that was that I had told my parents when they should expect me to return. I had moved back into my parents' home for the summer. My mom would be worried if I didn't come back when expected. What if she called for a search and rescue team? Worrying about my mom's worrying soured the last part of the trip for me. Plus I was still suffering from acrophobia and Earthophobia ... but gradually handling it better.

When we got back to the rim of the crater, I would have been fine with just hiking back down the mountain to the car. But I didn't want to spoil things for the others who wanted to stay two more nights. Plus we still had more than half of our gear at the bottom of the crater ... which meant climbing back down ... which would eventually mean climbing back up. But now that the girls had found the real trail, it would not be nearly as bad.

We made it back to our campsite without incident.
I don't remember crossing the narrow dirt path either when re-entering the crater or when exiting the crater our final time. I assume I kept my composure ... or maybe the experiences were so traumatic that my mind blocked them out. But I am sure of one thing ... I didn't fall to my death.

It was great to be away from civilization for a few days, with no radio, TV or phone. On the final day we came back down the mountain to Bruce's car. It was about a six-hour hike again. We had been a bit worried that someone might have broken into Bruce's car, but everything was fine.

While driving down I-5, we listened to the radio. We had not heard any music or news for four days. We learned that there had been an attempt on the life of President Gerald Ford. That's how I was able to pinpoint when this trip happened ... the first week of September, 1975.

THE END

Umm ... OOPS! Scratch that!
I meant to say ...

TO BE CONTINUED ... That's right. The story's not over! The best is yet to come! ... uh ... or should I say the worst? I keep getting those two mixed up.




FAMOUS LAST WORDS, EPISODE 5: RETURN TO ROUND LAKE


Fast forward seventeen years ... to 1992.

By this time I'd finally had my first date ... and some girlfriends! Dancing was a great way for a guy without developed verbal skills to meet women. However it didn't help at making relationships last. :(

However short-lived, I learned new things with each relationship. For most things that I know, I couldn't tell you how I learned them. For instance, I know that George Washington was the first US president, but I couldn't tell you when or how I learned that. However I can tell you what I learned from each relationship, and precisely how I learned those things. For now, I'll just tell you some of what I learned from one relationship ... with Mimi.

I first spotted Mimi far across the dance floor at the Washington Dance Club, aka, the Avalon Ballroom ... a place that my parents had danced before I was even born. Even from a distance, you couldn't miss her. She had warm, smiling eyes enhanced by a broad smile. Her complexion was natural and flawless. Her shiny, dark brown hair was full of body and flowed well below her shoulders. She appeared to be younger than me. After dancing with several other women that I wasn't nearly as entranced by, I finally got up the courage to ask Mimi to dance ... and she cheerfully accepted!

Now I need to skip some good stuff ... you know ... just in order to get to the point of this story.

Mimi could really help me with my verbal skills. She was willing to talk about anything, and wanted to talk about everything. No subjects were taboo. I hadn't experienced that growing up, either at home, school, or church.

She also helped me with my mobile DJ business, The Dancin' DJ, which was in its infancy. Weddings are the primary business for most mobile DJs. They're a lot harder to do but pay way more than public dances. The internet was also in its infancy, leaving the yellow pages as the best way for a new DJ business to advertise. I had just placed a one-inch in-column ad in the yellow pages for which I paid about $500 per month. I needed to know how much other DJ services were charging so I could set my price competitively. So one day when Mimi was at my house I asked her to call a bunch of other DJ services pretending she was planning a wedding and asking how much they would charge.

She went alphabetically through the DJ listings in the yellow pages and got several quotes, usually just talking for a few minutes with each service. I was in another room and wasn't aware of who she was calling in particular. After not much time she got to Dean's DJ Service. Dean was a dancer that I knew casually from the singles dances, but Mimi had no idea who he was or that we knew each other.

Dean always wanted to find out exactly what a customer wanted before giving a quote, something that I learned the hard way. So Mimi was on the phone with Dean for nearly fifteen minutes as he continued to try to extract the details of the wedding. Of course Mimi didn't have any real details since there was not an actual wedding. Eventually Mimi gave up and confessed, "I'm not actually planning a wedding. I'm just calling for a friend who's a new DJ and wants to know what to charge for weddings."

Dean was familiar with many of the other DJ services and always liked to keep tabs on the competition. So he replied, "Oh ... what's your friend's name?"

Mimi said, "Ron Bolin."

Dean paused ... "Ron Bolin? ... BUT HE'S SHY!" :)

Mimi also helped me pick out my yellow DJ truck. Upon first sight, she said, "That's the truck for you." It was a truck with dual rear wheels and a ten-foot box with a roll-up door. It had more room than most DJs would ever need ... although I eventually maxed it out. That had a lot to do with my shyness. Due to my nervousness at putting myself out there in front of crowds, I bought way more CDs and way more equipment than I needed. I didn't want to face not having everything that people might want. I had that truck for about twice as long as I've had any girlfriend. Vehicles don't break up with you ... and for me, vehicles always break down before I break up with them.

Besides being a DJ and a dance teacher, I had a full-time day job working as a laborer at Seattle Center. I arranged to have my vacation in August and Mimi arranged to have the same time off from her job. August would be a great time to spend a few relaxing days together ... at Round Lake ...

I told Mimi much of the story of my first trip to Round Lake ... so she knew that I had acrophobia. I told her if we started our hike about mid-day we would easily get to the lake in time to set up the tent. We would enjoy time away from our jobs, away from the city ... away from all the stress! We would have a few days to just be alone with each other in nature!

We had to get everything into two backpacks. Mimi had an army green backpack and I used the same blue backpack that I had used seventeen years earlier. Mimi had done a lot more camping trips than me and knew a great method for packing. We put just about everything in zip-lock bags, mostly gallon-size. We would squeeze out as much excess air as we could before zipping the bags ... almost like vacuum sealing. This compressed soft items like clothes and kept them small. That way we could fit more in less space, and clearly see what was in each bag. As a bonus, the plastic bags would protect items from moisture: sweat, rain, or even wading through deep water ... not that that would ever happen! LOL

I lived in West Seattle and Mimi lived in North Seattle. On the morning of departure, I drove up I-5 and picked her up. Our drive wasn't nearly as crowded as my first trip to Round Lake. There were just the two of us in my big car ... a 1979 Pontiac Bonneville station wagon. Used station wagons are a bargain primarily because station wagons have never been "cool." Fortunately being cool has never been important to me. I've always wanted to be liked, and ultimately loved ... but not for fitting any standard or being like anyone else. Walking the line between compromising myself to fit in with society and finding someone who loves me for my uniqueness has been an issue in my life. I think I'm generally smart, but not about things like that. Other people handle that balance much better than ... uh ... looks like I've drifted from the subject.

Before Mimi helped me pick out my truck, I had used that station wagon for my DJ business. It was a woody ... well, artificial wood grain. Including the rear-facing 'rumble seat' it would seat nine. I've never had a smoother ride. They don't build cars like that anymore. With its 185 horsepower 403 cubic inch V-8 engine we had no problem DRIVING RIGHT THROUGH CONCRETE ...

... I mean the town, not the substance. Moving towards the Cascades, we took the same route that I'd taken seventeen years earlier, paralleling a river. After about an hour on a dirt road we were deep in the wilderness. We arrived at the trailhead at about noon. Like on my first trip, it was again nice weather. We picnicked in a grassy area by the babbling river ... sun shining, birds tweeting and the whole nine yards of pleasantness. After lunch, I said, "Well, I think we should start the hike."

Mimi replied, "Ron! ... You need to learn to slow down and enjoy life. This is a really nice spot. Let's not go rushing off. Let's stay here a while and enjoy it!"

I had overcome enough shyness to learn to talk ... but not to debate. When you're on vacation with someone, you certainly don't want to do anything that might spoil a nice mood. I didn't want to pressure her to compromise, so I just let her have her way. That's a little trick that I've used a lot in my life ... just give in right away to avoid conflict. That's less stressful all around. Yes, it definitely works very well ... in the short term anyway. And living for the moment is what counts, right? Besides, she was right. It really was very nice here. What would it hurt to explore the river area for a while? So we did ... for over two hours.

It was nearing 3 PM and we were ready for the next part of our little adventure. We got our backpacks, locked the car ... and it was hi ho!

The hike up the trail was similar to seventeen years earlier, except that this time it was much more crowded. Yep ... about three hours into our hike we met a full trio of hikers coming down the trail. They were not returning from Round Lake, but rather from farther out. We asked them about how long ago they had passed the ridge over Round Lake. They looked at each other ... "When was that? About two ... maybe three hours ago?" It was a pretty quick encounter. If Mimi and I never returned, they would be our last witnesses.

Their reply sparked a discussion. Mimi thought we should be much closer to Round Lake. I had told her that on my previous trip we had started hiking about mid-day and I thought we had arrived at the ridge about 5:30. Now we discovered that Mimi and I had different definitions of the term 'mid-day.' Her idea of mid-day equaled my idea of mid-afternoon. This makes me remember a quote from Voltaire that I had learned in Philosophy 101: "If you wish to converse with me, define your terms." Another of my favorites is, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." We could use a guy like Voltaire today. But I drift again.

Anyway,
regardless of whose definition of 'mid-day' was correct, it was ultimately my lack of communication skills (not making sure we had the same definition and trying to avoid conflict) that had caused us to start hiking so late. Still, it would be no problem. If we kept up our pace we would reach the top of the ridge by about 8:30 or 9:00 at the latest. Since it was August, there would still be some light until maybe 9:30, so that would give us time to descend into the crater and set up camp in the waning light. We should be OK.

My acrophobia was still intact, but fortunately when you're surrounded by trees you can't see how high you are. Also fortunately, by the time we emerged above the tree line, we were in a cloud and I couldn't see either down or up very far ... even looking up would have been scary for me. For a true acrophobic, there is quite an appeal for the concept of a completely flat Earth. Also, fortunately we wouldn't need to climb down the rock fall. Yes ... we were so fortunate!

We continued up switchbacks, passed the tree line, walked through alpine fields, and eventually reached the top of the ridge at about 8:30. We couldn't see the bottom of the crater or the lake because mist was encroaching ... and darkness approaching. After a short distance walking on rocky ground, we came to the steep, smooth part of the crater wall that was cut across by the narrow dirt path. Gulp.

I looked to see
if maybe there was a way to avoid this path by going farther along the crater rim then descending to reconnect with the trail on rocky ground. But such a route was not obvious, and taking time to try to find one didn't seem to be a good idea as it was getting darker. When it's cloudy with no moon or stars and you're far from any city lights, it gets very dark ... and now it struck me that the sun sets earlier in a crater.

Fortunately we each had a flashlight.
That wasn't actually by fortune ... that was by plan. We just hadn't expected to need them yet. It was important to be able to clearly see the 'tight rope' we would be walking on, so we fished our flashlights from our packs. Mimi wasn't afraid and she went first. I was able to handle it because with a flashlight illuminating the narrow path, I couldn't see much else ... including the rock fall which we must have passed.

We crossed to the rocky area safely. But now the trail was not discernable. Fortunately we both knew the general direction we had to go ... down. That was easy even without a compass. And gravity was in our favor. We continued on blindly ... and even more blindly as it became darker ... and it started to rain.

Nowadays almost all flashlights have LED bulbs that can be very bright, and the batteries can last quite a while. But this was 1992, and LEDs were so dim that they weren't suitable for flashlights. To save on the batteries, we turned the flashlights off whenever we could see well enough without them. By the time we reached the bottom of the crater, the filaments still glowed, but barely enough to see the ground ... and to notice that we weren't on any obvious trail.

The rain came down harder. It would have helped if there had been lightning strikes because that would have given us occasional glimpses of the terrain. But this was just a very heavy rain. I thought I knew the direction of the lake, so I just followed my nose. There was a fair amount of vegetation in this area and soon we were working our way through bushes. This only made us get wetter as they brushed against our clothes. Then the ground got muddy. I didn't want to try to go around the muddy area because I felt that might lead us out of the crater on its low side, and then we would be really lost. So we blindly trudged through the mud which only got deeper ... and eventually we found ourselves ankle-deep in a swamp.

The water was very cold. But what could we do? We needed to keep moving. We had heavy backpacks. It was pitch black now and our flashlights were dead. Even though we stayed close, we could only tell where the other was by sound. We were blindly stepping on who-knows-what at the bottom of the swamp, pushing through swamp grass, and climbing over logs. At one point I took a step ... and sank waist-deep in water. It was even higher on Mimi who was about five foot five. Mimi's idea of putting things in zip-lock bags could be our savior ... if we ever made it out of the swamp ...

TO BE CONTINUED ...
Hey, I don't mean to leave you in suspense here. There's no need to worry ... I'm sure you already figured out that I survived. :)



FAMOUS LAST WORDS, EPISODE 6: FACING FEAR

It was dark. It was cold. We were lost.
We were far from civilization, in a torrential downpour, waist-deep in a swamp, in a volcanic crater. When's the last time you were in that situation? This sounds like a scene from one of my friend Jay Palmer's novels ... but I don't have the infinite imagination he has. I'm quite limited. I only write about things that actually happened to me.

The closest thing to this situation for me
was about 25 years earlier when my little brother Steve and I got lost in the woods on the first day of Grange Camp at Panhandle Lake. We had lost the trail completely, but we pushed on through the forest in what I sensed as the general direction of the lake. We finally found it but arrived about a quarter of the way around the lake from the camp. From there we waded through the water to get to the camp where they were already holding the opening meeting out on the grass. We hid in the cattails until the meeting was over because we figured we would be in trouble for having gotten lost. But that's a story I'll tell some other time, along with the lessons I learned from it. Let's get back to Round Lake.

I felt that I knew the general direction of the lake. Even if I was wrong, we had a pretty good chance of at least encountering the stream that poured from the lake, and then we could follow the stream to the lake. We pushed on ... and I mean that literally, because there was lots of stuff in the swamp that we needed to push through in order to move.

The water gradually became shallower and eventually we emerged from the swamp, dripping and shivering. Our boots were filled with cold water that gushed between our toes with each step. We were truly experiencing nature ... but this wasn't turning out to be quite the vacation we had hoped for.

Although we really couldn't see, we continued moving in the direction that the ground seemed to gently rise. Finally we came to a flat area. In the distance, we could see the faint glow of two tents ... we were saved!

It was still pouring rain, so hard that the people in the tents probably couldn't even hear us. We figured they might be sleeping and we didn't want to bother them. We would be OK. We took off our packs and got right to setting up the tent. The glow from their tents provided enough light to barely see what we were doing.

With the tent set up, we had shelter from the rain, but our clothes were absolutely soaked. After we entered the tent, our eyes gradually adjusted to the few photons of light from the other tents filtering through the walls ours. We could barely see each other in silhouette. It was so dark that we depended on touch ... but there was nothing romantic here. We were cold, wet and exhausted. We took off our wet things and reached outside the tent to wring them out. We dried off as best we could with the one towel we had. We put on two layers of dry clothes from the zip-lock bags, filling the same bags with the wet items. I can't even remember if we ate anything. The constant sound of the rain mesmerized us to sleep ...

When we awakened, it was light ... but the nightmare was not over. At least not for me. I was at the bottom of a deep crater and I would have to face climbing out. There were only two good things: It had stopped raining, and Mimi and I had each other. We were both able-bodied, intelligent, and brave ... well ... with the possible exception of me.

We had set up the tent in heavy rain and there had been no way to keep everything dry. Despite the tent's rain fly, most things in the tent were at least very damp, including our sleeping bags and our attitudes. We were both of the same mind ... just pack up and go home.

Our boots were still soaked,
so we put on dry tennis shoes. We emerged to find that the other tents were already gone. We would have no interactions with the other campers. There was no dry wood to make a campfire to cook breakfast, and even if there had been, we just wanted to go. So we quickly ate some dry food, packed, and disassembled the tent.

There was no sun, just a featureless gray sky. This wouldn't have been a very nice day to explore the area even if we had stayed. We followed the stream towards the low side of the crater. We found a way around the swamp that we had dredged with our boots the night before. I think that swamp is a permanent feature of the crater, but the heavy rain had certainly made it a lot deeper.

Then we started to climb. The trail wasn't always obvious. There were places where we climbed dirt banks ten to twenty free high by grabbing exposed tree roots and pulling ourselves up ... that probably wasn't the intended trail. It took about a half hour, but we did find our way up ... to the narrow dirt path that I dreaded.

We had come down that same path the night before, but our flashlights and the dark and the mist had only allowed us to see a short way. Now we could see the entire smooth crater wall all the way down to the bottom ... about a thousand feet. I would have been scared even if there had been a hand rail ... but there was nothing.

We stopped and talked. Mimi didn't disparage me for being afraid. There is a good reason for fearing heights. You could fall. There is real danger. But the amount of fear I felt was not rational ... in fact, it would have been very irrational for me to give into my gut impulse like I had seventeen years before. If I scampered up the crater wall to the small tree (that was still there) I would still be scared for probably at least the rest of the day. Furthermore, I would still have my weakness to deal with in future situations.

I knew that I needed to face my fear. I needed to stay the course carefully laid out by my logical thoughts, and not give in to my impulse to scamper up to the safety of the tree. That gut instinct was not totally mindless. The tree would provide some safety. But that was not the best choice. I wouldn't be acting out the same wild, dramatic scene I had played before. By comparison, this would be very boring. I needed to just carefully, calmly walk the narrow path.

Mimi went first. I think it was a bit scary for her too, especially because she empathized with me and my extreme fear. I waited. She got more than half way across, past the rock fall. Then she turned and looked back at me. She simply said, "You can do it." I hesitated for ten seconds ... then I started walking ...

This is normally where I would say, "TO BE CONTINUED." But since you've been such patient readers, and since I only have a few paragraphs left, I won't make you wait.

I kept my composure. I avoided looking down into the crater. I took one slow step after another. By the time I was a quarter of the way across, Mimi had reached the rocky area at the other end of the path. She turned around and quietly watched me. I wasn't walking boldly. In fact, it was probably a pretty pitiful sight. I tried to not shake, but I'm sure she could see my intense fear. But I didn't let my fear get out of hand. I knew that if I did, I would have an even worse reaction to my own fear.

As I passed the rock fall, I started to tear up. I can't quite describe the emotion I felt. I had never felt it before. Now I had both the emotion of the fear, and this new emotion, which was just as strong. But I couldn't concentrate on my emotions. I needed to stay on a steady course. The narrow path sloped upwards slightly more as I got nearer to Mimi.

I didn't run to her. I kept my same pace, walking slowly into her open arms. I didn't clamp myself to her. This wasn't about getting physical support like from the tree. It was to receive her emotional support. I hugged her for a long time, openly crying. She said, "This is your Outward Bound experience."


EPILOGUE

I hope this story has provided you with a break, and maybe a few laughs, in these stressful times. What I learned can be applied to a vast array of situations, way beyond just dealing with phobias. In fact, I still have acrophobia ... I just know how to deal with it better.

My hope is that you can benefit too. The great potential of human communication is that we can learn from the experiences of others without having to have the same experiences ourselves. That's an advantage that can be claimed by no other Earthly creature. That's why we can be, if we so choose, the architects of our own destiny.

Don't let a screaming voice (whether internal or external) divert your steady course into a dramatic scamper to what seems like safety. Instead, simply follow the slow, well-thought, possibly boring path ... what I call "the narrow path" ... prescribed by a calmer, sensible voice that you can always find either from within or externally. Listen to that calm voice. Speak to others with that calm voice. Turn down the heat. Turn on the light.

Some philosophers and historians insist that change only comes through violence or war. What they fail to see is slow change driven by logic and science. You can't really blame them for their blindness. Such change doesn't have an edge, and therefore is harder to see. But a careful, logical analysis will show that walking the narrow path does effect positive changes ... without the violence ... without the drama.

I'm looking forward to a period of less drama. I leave you with this moral:

Walk the narrow path ... in peace.

Ron Bolin

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Sincerely,

Ron Bolin
Ron@SeattleDanceInfo.com
www.SeattleDanceInfo.com