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"Meet you there!" Leapfrogging on the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie

"Meet you there!" said Gabe, and off he drove to start a backpacking trip. "There" was somewhere along the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. We'd meet along the river, he said, and fish our way back to the parking lot at the confluence of the Taylor River and Middle Fork. "Maybe late morning," he said. He was describing a heavily forested area, cut through by a winding river, that would turn out to be some 1.5 square miles, roughly 100 city blocks, and a timeframe that might be described as squishy. Fungible, perhaps. Loose.

"No problem!" I said. "Meet you there!"

Meeting someone with precision in the woods can be problematic. Out of cell phone service, we're forced to depend on shared understandings of place, of time, and to rely on the adaptability of others in the event of changes to plan. These assumptions used to be de rigueur, of course. I grew up in the age of verbal and written instructions for getting from point A to B, of paper maps and landmark navigation. But that age has largely passed. Our super-smart pocket devices take the burden of navigation away from their human subjects, leaving us free to apply our brain power to bigger problems. Like Bejeweled. It's nice to dust off those skills, to pay closer attention to the world at hand than to the digital representation of that world on a small screen.

The Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie is a stunning bit of river, and the confluence of the Taylor and Middle Fork are less than an hour and half by car from downtown Seattle. It can sometimes take that long to get from Seattle to Bellevue, in sufficiently backed up traffic, and let me tell you that the result of that effort is far less rewarding. In 90 minutes you could be strolling along the Middle Fork Trail through an emerald forest, beside the moss-covered banks of a burbling river. And so it was for me, striding up the trail expecting Gabe to appear around each bend.

As with many riverside trails, the trail occasionally moves away from the river, avoiding gullies, swampy ground, eroded banks and the like. I found this to be a bit vexing, as, in addition to trying to find Gabe, I was also intent on finding some spots to cast a fly. But how could I leave the trail, which represented my best chance of finding Gabe on his descent? I struck on a solution -- I'd leave a classic bit of trailside signage to catch his attention. Something he couldn't miss. I constructed a large arrow pointing to the river, and managed to spell his name in block letters, right across the trail. He'd have to step over it to get past. Confident I'd secured his eventual attention, I turned to the river.

One of the benefits of fly-fishing is that it often requires a closer study of the stream and its surroundings than bait or lure fishing. What insects are in evidence, sporting what colors and size? Noting these details can help lead to success, or, more often, at least give the fly-fisher something credible to do while not catching fish. I found caddis larvae and stone fly casings stream side. I spotted a frog cooling in the shallows. With my head down I wandered upstream, taking in the details of the river, and ignoring all else.

This is undoubtedly when Gabe passed my sign on the trail. I don't know what excuse he had for missing entirely the unmissable indicators I had left for him. He wasn't, after all, actively not catching fish like I was. But miss them he did, and I none the wiser.

As time wore on I returned to the trail. I found my unmissable sign, removed it, and headed back at a fast pace. I was convinced Gabe was ahead of me now, and I wondered if I might catch him. My instincts were confirmed when I encountered a group hiking upriver. "Have you seen a tall-ish fellow, bearded, probably very distracted? He may not have even noticed you," I asked. They had, and on I sped.

I found him lounging against my van in the parking lot.

So much for our precise meetup along the river. But the parking lot was a reasonable catch-all, the day was a bright gem of a day, and the river was cool and clear. We fished for a bit under the footbridge that crosses the Middle Fork, then loaded up and headed back to the city. Our meetup was about as precise as it needed to be, and without text and GPS to depend on we both had time to wander our way to our rendezvous. Maybe I wouldn't have leapfrogged Gabe on the trail with the aid of technology, but I'm sure I wouldn't have found that frog, either. Getting out of a screen and into the world is surely a way to get closer to some real things.

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