BCEP – Hiking the Storey Burn trail


This is the first in a whole series of posts about my adventures with the Mazamas BCEP class!

Who are the Mazamas, you may ask? And what’s BCEP, you may enquire? Well, let me fill you in dear reader. When I first moved to Oregon, I pretty quickly heard about a mountaineering group in town called The Mazamas.

Similar to the AMC back in Boston, they teach classes and do conservation outreach projects. Over the years, I’d interacted with them tangentially – attending a few classes, volunteering with a few groups, but I’d never been able to actually take a course officially. I’d applied to their Advanced Rock climbing class, but wasn’t accepted for one reason or another.

Now, nearly seven years after first moving to Oregon, I was trying again. This time beginning at the bottom – while you may notice that I’m not quite a beginner when it comes to the outdoors, I was tired. These last few years haven’t been easy, and I was just tired of fighting… the chance to just sit back and meet new people while enjoying a few group hikes was more than worth the price of admission.

Saturday, 12-Mar-2022

Saturday started way too early.

I mean… WAY too early. As in, 4:30am too-early.

If I’d known that hikes would generally start at 7am, and involve an hour+ drive ahead of time, would I still have signed up for BCEP? I don’t know… but I kept asking myself that same question as I sipped coffee while driving West, into the Tillamook state forest.

I think I would have, truth be told.

I don’t like mornings, but I also don’t like going to sleep… which means that I “slide Westward” as weekends go on, and when I’m left to my own devices. I stay up later, and get up later, as time goes on… kind of settling into an equilibrium of 2am to 10am sleep.

That’s not the worst thing… but it does limit daylight, and it’s not super conducive to work, so…

Sure. I’ll use hiking as an excuse to try to lock myself into a slightly cleaner sleep schedule.

This wasn’t the first time I’d met my BCEP group, mind you. The first time was a few weeks ago, at a bar in Portland. I’d been happily surprised at how welcoming everyone was… my previous encounters with the Mazamas had been… slightly different, probably in part due to the massively different spot in life I had been in years past, and the different perspective I’d been brought in with.

That night, at a brewery in the rain, I’d met a group that differed wildly from those I’d met previously.

They were called “The SnakeDogs”, and they welcomed me with exciting stories, comradery, and cheers. They welcomed all of us, a whole host of previous alumni gathering to catch up and meet the new cadre of students. Frankly, it reminded me of the best parts of NUHOC, and I felt almost immediately at home.

But this was my first event with the group.

Meeting in a bar is one thing; actually going out and doing something is completely different. It’s easy to be welcoming in a bar, harder to encourage people and welcome them when you’re out in the woods.

I was cautiously optimistic – I’d packed extra gear, forgotten some of it (how do you forget your boots? Seriously, Ben? What the heck?), but arrived easily on time. I wasn’t the first, but I was early enough that I started getting a bit chilled as we waited in the parking lot.

The hike was good – I was slightly disappointed to hear that the group leaders weren’t going to join us, but I kept my thoughts to myself as we hefted our packs and headed in. I chatted with a few other students, and quickly got to know the group as a whole – It felt almost like a sub-group of the larger Mazamas, with a lot of energy and less rigid adherence to protocol.

My fellow students were an interesting mix too – some new to the outdoors, but many quite experienced and in a similar situation to my own. They knew their way around the woods, but wanted adventure partners and a group to call their own. I felt more and more at home as we trundled onward.

As we rounded a bend, about 6 miles in, came face to face with the unassailable truth that this group would shatter my wildest expectations for the class. Seriously – it took me solid minutes to process what I saw in front of me.

Small picnic tables; portable, set up in the middle of the woods.
Camp stoves, quietly growling.
Coffee bubbling, bagels toasting, and bacon and eggs frying.
The group leaders, with gigantic smiles on their faces as they saw the first students come into view.

These absolute madmen had snuck in earlier, and were cooking a hot breakfast for everyone. The cars I’d seen passing us near the trailhead? Them, heading in early to make sure everything was ready for us.

Honestly, the rest of the hike was a blur after that one moment. In retrospect, it’s something that I absolutely would have done with NUHOC… and did, on various intro to climbing trips. But at the time, it was absolutely alien to me.

It… it hurt, if I’m being absolutely honest with myself. It hurt to realize that I’d forgotten just how simply FUN the outdoors can be, when you have a good group of people. It hurt to realize that I’d lost that sense of wonder, but it felt uncountably more positive to realize that I was going to get it back, after all these years.

I’ve been healing, over the past years.

I’m optimistic that I’ll keep healing, and cautiously hopefully that I’ve found some people to help me along the way.

For the rest of the trip – we did some rappel training, practiced moving on a fixed line, and drank hot coffee. I, unfortunately, didn’t get to sample the breakfast sandwiches… Ironically, I’d quickly made myself a sandwich of my own at a stopping point not more than 15min before we met up with the leaders… baguette, prosciutto, brie, and apple, as is my tradition.

Not bad, by any stretch… but not nearly as tempting as the hot bacon egg and cheese bagels that had been set out for us. I can’t tell you why I didn’t take a bagel, thinking back on it. I was well fed, sure, but had also just hiked 6miles at a solid pace…

I could posit countless reasonable theories, but for now I’ll end this post on a high note. I probably should have ended it with the “I’ll keep healing” comment, but… I couldn’t skip the bits about rappelling. And I absolutely couldn’t miss sharing some glorious pictures of the Babyback ribs I cooked for myself as a post-hike celebration…

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