If you’ve lived in Moscow longer than a month, chances are you’ve come to terms with certain truths about the area. For example, this town is small. This has advantages — low crime rates and living costs, a strong sense of community — but it also means there is not much to explore. Moscow is utterly knowable.
This characteristic may register as a benefit for many people, and I’ll admit the existence of a certain charming comfortableness absent from larger cities. But what about the part of my soul untamed by small-town complacency? That wicked bit in me that does not hesitate to fall, depraved, into wild, unknown regions? Can that be satisfied in a place like Moscow?
These days, I know everything. I know what I will be doing when I get out of class. I know everything about where I will be going. There is nothing to wonder about my bedroom. The mysteries of my kitchen are limited to the ingredients I can afford. Every year around this time I begin to feel trapped, claustrophobic, a victim of cabin fever a la Jack Torrance in “The Shining.”
Thankfully, the editors of Blot heeded my frustration and sent me to explore the wilderness of the Palouse on Moscow Mountain. I was sent to spend the night, to put my survival skills to the test, and return with an account of my experience.
I bought supplies at Winco: Two cans of tuna, a loaf of stale Ciabatta bread from the bakery, a pair of oranges, a gallon jug of water, and a single serving of Healthy Choice Chicken Soup with Rice in a tin can. I don’t have a flashlight so I borrowed one from a friend. I brought an extra pair of wool socks and a backup sweater. My housemates loaned me a tent, which I stuffed into the trunk of my Saturn after they had shared the most direct route to adventure.
I had three options of roads to take from the edge of town and I tried them in the order in which they presented themselves. The first right I encountered was an extension of Moscow Mountain Road. It only took driving over one small hill to forget I had been in a city just five minutes before; all I could see were fields and farmhouses. Signs arced over every other driveway to notate the name of some ranch. A brood of five or six hens lined up roosting on the top rail of someone’s wooden fence. Suddenly the success of the University’s agriculture program made sense.
When I arrived near the base of the mountain, the road ended in a small lot decked out in threatening hand-painted “No Trespassing” warnings, and though several roads stemmed from the dead-end, each was gated off. I backtracked past the country estates to find the next option, West Twin Road. West Twin was not as nice a drive as Moscow Mountain Road, partly because it cul-de-sacs nowhere near the mountain I was trying to reach, and partly because the road is laid over a series of obstructive slopes. The patchwork of the rolling Palouse looks great from a distance, but it’s lousy to drive on.
The last road I tried was Idler’s Rest Road. I was reluctant because the road brings you to Idler’s Rest, a day-use hiking area, so I knew I would be allowed to explore, but the purpose of the trip was to bring me closer to the unknown, to see if I could find adventure outside a widely-used recreation area. Hopes dashed, I parked my car behind a Toyota 4Runner near a sign with a list of rules about the use of the recreation area.
Idler’s Rest turned out to be a trail through the woods shorter than a mile long. My hike took less than 10 minutes. I came out of the tiny forest at the road where I began and peeled an orange by my car, bummed out. I thought about this sorry excuse for wilderness. It was clear I wouldn’t be able to stay the night, but maybe I was missing something. I decided to hike the trail again, but to pay closer attention. Maybe I could make the trail interesting.
I noticed more the second time. A gnawed decaying deer-leg lay in the snow to one side of the trail, fetid evidence that the old rules of the food chain are still at play. I saw several signs explaining the reason for the growth of certain varieties of plant life and not others. When I strayed from the trail a ways and came out from under the canopy, I saw the mountain rising to my right, and, to my left, an idyllic pond with a wood fishing dock below a snug, single-room cabin.
I wasn’t experiencing anything unknown, but I was enjoying myself. I let my mind go. Instead of expecting the trail to be interesting to me, I let myself be interested in the trail.
I couldn’t get lost because everything has already been explored, purchased or used-up. But this has been happening all over the world for centuries as a side effect of civilization. Adventure is enhanced when we break the rules, but we risk punishment that far outweighs the potential reward. Still, each of us has a mind.
The cure to boredom lies in the advice my parents would give when I complained about being bored as a kid on days home from school: Use your imagination.