Molly Smithson

My Mom’s Trail Name is Chinhook.

Molly Smithson
My Mom’s Trail Name is Chinhook.

Have you ever awoken to your mother hovering above you with a fishing lure dangling out of her chin? I have— And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

In 2016, my mom Maria and I made the most basic bitch decision of our lives. We watched Wild, bawled like babies and declared we'd go on a heartwarming mother-daughter trek. At the time, it was a pipe dream that depended on my parents' upcomig move back to Oregon, my work schedule and both of us getting our asses in good enough shape. Somehow, all those pieces came together.

Day 1: So clean.

Day 1: So clean.

Our dream grew into a 40-mile backpacking reality: we would trek from the Marion Lake trailhead in Willamette National Forest to Olallie Lake in Mount Hood National Forest. But as we bought meals and trained with our packs, my fear grew too.

My mother has lupus, which flares after prolonged sun exposure and joint usage: two pretty big parts of backpacking. A flare would knock her on her ass and leave us miles in the Mount Jefferson wilderness, unsure of what to do.

I had never 'led' any sort of backcountry trip. While I had backpacked before, it was with more experienced people who took the lead on cooking food, getting water, inspiring me on the uphill, or talking me through treacherous slogs downhill. 

But once we began, the fear and uncertainty melted away. Leave-no-trace ethics and general wilderness safety practices returned. For the first time in my life, my mother and I had to wholly trust the other’s experiences.

The first day, I showed her how to use the purifying system and throw the bear bag over a tree to keep us safe. We cried laughing after my mom exclaimed that the ducks in Ann Lake were having a 'little duck party' in the same voice as Linda from Bob's Burgers.

The second day, I guided our climbing over 50 fallen logs from a forest fire. As we descended on the verge of tears and complete darkness, we made camp in the first clearing we reached. We awoke in the forest primeval pine trees too big to wrap your arms around.

As much as I love straddling wood, this got a little repetitive..

As much as I love straddling wood, this got a little repetitive..

When we hit the PCT on the third day, trail conditions improved immensely. It really is a pedi-highway with the West Coast’s most unparalleled I fell into a groove, each boot print dust behind me, one step closer to the next campground.

I thought of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, when they singput one foot in front of the other, and soon, you’ll be walking out the door!” Since I was a kid, I loved walking anywhere because of that- if it could cheer After our first day, forgot about taking photos, because every second was a shimmering thread in the a tapestry we wove through the wilderness.

The third day, we camped next to Scout Lake. Above our heads, Mount Jefferson glowed pink in the sunset. Our whiskey and an MRE chocolate mudslide tasted like a 3-star Michelin meal.

On our final morning, Maria awoke and took her collapsible fishing pole to the lake. Turns out the bail arm had bent when we pulled her pack over a log. Instead of landing gracefully in the water, the lure— and barbed hook whipped straight into her chin.

I tried to pull it out, but each of my mom’s flinches dug the hook in deeper. I panicked. Defeat flashed across my eyes.

“I can’t do this!” I partly shouted. “I don’t know what to do.”

Though she was the one hooked like a trout, she took a calming breath and patted my knee.

“It’ll be fine,” she said. “Go up to see if anyone is nearby to try instead.”

Luckily, a group had made camp on the other side of the lake- their leader, aptly named Guy the Guide, came over. Maria laid down on our sleeping pad and he clipped off the other barbs, a Leatherman brushing against her face… Guy fed a tent guideline under the hook to pull it out directly. I held her head down, as if assisting in an amputation on the battle ground, and we counted to three. Guy pulled the hook so adeptly, nothing but a pinprick of blood remained. We bandaged it, and we were on our way, two hours late. I began to panic about our timing: we had 12 miles to go and the sun was beating down. Maria had to stop multiple times for water and shade breaks. At one point, I told her I wanted to keep hiking without her. Her eyes began to tear up.

“Molly, it’s not a race. We need to win our day, to be proud of how far we can safely go and enjoy it along the way.”

The entire trip, my mother, as she always has in life, balanced her own experience while putting her children's needs first. She always gave me more food or would reach over and tuck my sleeping bag over my face. But if it was too much for her, she let me know.

I began to cry and apologized for my words. We hugged— just as yet again, we ran into Guy the Guide and his crew of 40-something yuppies. Embarassed, we wiped away the tears, then continued with them to the fantastic overlook below, where Guy kindly took this pic of us.

Thanks Guy the Guide!

Thanks Guy the Guide!

I stood with my mother at the base of a mountain we had just spent three days skirting, afraid, happy, high on the mountain air… and edibles. As a digital marketing consultant in the outdoor industry, I had grown accustom to sharing the most ‘authentic’ Instagram moments… But no filter, angle, caption and hashtag could capture that.

Maria makes it through one of many rocky descents off the base of Mount Jefferson

Maria makes it through one of many rocky descents off the base of Mount Jefferson

"I'm amazed I made it," my mom said to me in our final mile. "I couldn't have done this with anyone but you."