The grungy man, who looked like he hadn’t showered in weeks, drifted sleepily over to our car window and peered inside. “Hey, man. You know you’re still seven miles away from the trailhead, yeah? Huh… is that dried fruit?” No, it wasn’t, and I wasn’t sure whether to believe the guy about our distance from the trail that led to the Rainbow Gathering. His mind was definitely under the influence of something, and it wasn’t just hippie tranquility and brotherly love, I would hazard to guess.
Ivy and I were still some unknown distance away from the Rainbow Gathering – an annual event where 30,000 hippies of all ages converge on a site in the National Forest somewhere in the United States and create a temporary community, one where people can live out their ideals of love and harmony away from the corroding effects of capitalism and modern consumer culture. This was the 40th such assemblage, and the announcement that the weeklong event would happen in the state of Washington was made several weeks ago so that people could start hitchhiking and caravanning across the country in the general direction of the gathering.
The final site chosen was southeast of the volcanic Mt. St. Helens and not far at all from the path of my travels. I picked up my excited friend Ivy in Portland, and within a few hours we had reached a confluence of roads in the National Forest where dozens of vehicles were tightly parked. I believed the trailhead must be close by, despite the warning provided by our scruffy friend with the altered consciousness. We parked, shouldered our packs, hoisted our assorted gear and started off down the road.
Before we had gone fifty feet, I could see that the last bit of positive, hippie energy was draining quickly out of Ivy’s body. She was wilting under the weight of her massive pack, which was overloaded with an entire wardrobe of bohemian clothing. She would never survive the journey, and a pair of hitchhikers confirmed that we probably had miles to go. So I re-enlisted my trusty Jeep, and we drove seven hot, dusty, claustrophobic miles on narrow dirt roads, weaving in and out of traffic jams, squeezing through corridors of tightly-parked cars, past weary souls lugging packs, carts and wagons until we were finally in view of the actual trailhead.