“Let’s go on an adventure!” was my response. I was stoked that this tall, good-looking Portuguese-Italian I liked whom I had only known for about 2 weeks wanted to spend his 26th birthday with just me, and he was asking me where I wanted to go.
All other traditional “date” options seemed boring. Too conventional, too expensive, not unique enough. I was a junior in college and had never once been on a “date” in my life. Not even prom, not even homecoming, not even one of the casual parties I had been to in college. I was always the one “single friend” through high school and the college I had been through so far. Never kissed, never held hands, never been liked back, and I was nineteen years old.
Hiking seemed like a good idea because it was free and we both shared the same sense of adventure and athleticism. I knew a place I had been before, but I wasn’t even sure exactly where it was or how long the hike would take. It was up by Donner, a small lake by Truckee, just north of Tahoe. We agreed to go there and wing it, or as I like to say, “send it.”
We drove up Old Highway 40 with the windows rolled down; it was a nice, bright-cherry-red Subaru Impreza with a roof rack and a manual transmission. Not saying I would ever like a guy just for his car — but damn. As we drove up the road, we began to see “road closure ahead” warning signs.
“Why would the road even be closed now? I bet those signs are left there from the winter,” he said. Before we got to the trailhead however, there were police cars and cones across the road, so we drove back a little. When we saw another trailhead, we parked there and got out of the car. It was a simple trailhead — no bathroom or lodge, just a sign with a map and a few facts about the place.
“Let’s just send it”, I said. We started down the trail. It was nearing sunset on fall equinox, the last day when the days are longer than the nights. The weather was at that point where you were kind of cold in a sweatshirt but you knew you’d warm up if you hiked a little. It was a dense forest with this trail carved out, and tall trees on either side of it. The ground was rocky and dusty, and was slightly uphill. You couldn’t really see the trail ahead or even how long it was because of the trees and winding nature of the path. There weren’t many people out at the time, but we did see one old man.
“How far to the top?” we asked.
Hiking poles in hand, seeming tired and a little worn out, he wheezed, “About three hours.”
“Think you can run?” he asked. The elevation of the base of the trail was about 7000 feet, and we were only going uphill. Not wanting to seem like the weaker one, I agreed to run, and we started up the mountain. We naturally took turns leading the way, like we were both trying to impress each other. My lungs were burning from the thin air, but I kept on running. There were some near-ankle-rolls and face plants, but we were having a great time.
Finally, after only about half an hour since setting off, we reached what looked like the end of the trail, but we were not on the top of a mountain. We looked up. There was an abandoned train tunnel that snaked through the mountain for miles. There was no trail up there but we were young, adventurous, and determined.
“Where now?” I asked.
“Up,” he said.
“Hiking” wasn’t the right word, but neither was “rock climbing.” It was a steep incline all the way up, and the ground was covered in loose rocks, ranging in size from boulders to pebbles. Sometimes, the only way forward was to walk right through a bush.
“You know,” he said, “There aren’t many girls who would do this.”
“Yeah, I agree,” I replied, “There aren’t.”
Another half an hour or so passed since the end of the designated trail, and we reached the outside of the train tunnel. We couldn’t find a way inside, so the next best thing was to climb up on top of it. It was about 20 or 30 feet tall, but there was a part where the tunnel intersected with the mountain, and we could climb up the rocks to get to the top of the tunnel. It was a steep sheet of granite, with a few footholds and a thin, sketchy electrical cable attached to a metal rod at the top. I tugged on the cable.
“Seems stable enough,” I said, making him lead the way.
The view from the top was spectacular, and not only because of the pink hues of the sunset over the blue lake, surrounded by dense forest and the tall mountains in the background. What was also amazing was the graffiti. Yes, most of it was just lame vandalism and profanity, but a few pieces shone as works of art. One piece, about 15 feet long and 15 feet wide, looked like a sunset and featured every color of the rainbow. There were stripes of color separated by black lines of spray paint, starting with purple at the bottom, and transitioning to yellow, then red and orange, and back to purple. It was simple but beautiful.
Some featured deep, inspiring quotes. One piece was written in plain, black spray paint and simple handwriting, It is not the length of life but the depth. Another featured a colorful fish painted into the side of the wall and the words Just keep swimming.
“They’ve probably broken up by now,” I joked, looking at all the marks left behind by couples that had written their initials in a heart. Other pieces showed frustration with the system. Question everything was written multiple times along the tunnel in a simple, purple scrawl. Enjoy your fluoride ya F****** sheep, another wrote.
We walked along the top of tunnel until it intersected the mountain again. It was getting dark, and we had no flashlights and were in the middle of nowhere. In the distance, we could see Donner Pass, a scenic, winding road with many narrow, hairpin turns that meandered around the mountains by Donner Lake. We decided if we just made it there, we could follow it and make it back to the car. There was only one problem: between the road and us was an army of alder trees, which were really thick, dense bushes about 6 feet tall or more.
Every step, the branches poked against us or whacked us. In the face, between the legs, you name it. I feared one would eventually poke me right in the eye. The ground beneath was not smooth either. At one point, we had to step over a 5-foot-wide crevasse, all while still going through the alder bushes. The sun had already set, and you could just see enough to get through.
We whooped with joy when our feet finally met the road. There was no walking path, but we knew we would end up back at the car if we followed the road down the hill for about a mile. There were not many cars going down, which was kind of a good thing because it was a winding road with no bike lane or walk path, and there was a serious danger of being hit if someone were to speed down close to the edge. As we walked, we held up our thumbs at the three cars that passed by, trying to get a ride down the road. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, no one stopped for us.
On the way down we talked. We talked about our pasts and our lives and our shared love for Jesus. We talked about the winter — how excited we both were to snowboard together. We talked about our shared frustration with the system, and how we both didn’t like watching TV. We talked the Illuminati. By the time we finally got back to his car at the trailhead, it was completely dark. We had made it, and it felt so good to be out of danger. He apologized for taking me through such a crazy, difficult trail. I said I had fun — probably more fun than if we had gone out to a movie and a nice restaurant.
This wasn’t really a “date” when we originally planned, but in retrospect it was. I went and visited him again that week and hung out more. We finally kissed. He said he wished he had done that at the top of the train tunnel, but didn’t have the guts to. I said I was waiting for it that whole time. That’s the thing — you can be so scared to do something because you don’t know how it will turn out, but in the end, it would have been just fine. This was September 21st, and we decided we were “officially a couple” on October 1st. In those short 9 or so days, we went rock climbing, scrambling on the boulders by Lake Tahoe, and skateboarding and rollerblading at the local skate park. I think we’ll get along pretty well.