Illustration by Haley Hsu

Hot mess at Washington Park

When an innocent hike devolves into chaos

It was hot, like deep-in-the-depths-of-Hell hot. My weather app estimated the temperature to be 94°F, with a severe air quality warning. 


And yet, I decided this was the perfect day to go on an uphill hike armed with only one dwindling bottle of water, a few slices of pineapple from Safeway, and a $2 joint I got on sale at my neighborhood dispensary. 


If I had used my critical thinking skills, I would have just stayed home and watched old episodes of Will & Grace as God herself intended. But, alas, there I was: comically ill-prepared and wheezing as I ventured onwards and upwards through the depths of Washington Park, my thirst growing stronger with each step. I had, regretfully, drunk most of my water on the train there. 


The smoke was getting thicker the closer I got to the hill’s apex, yet I refused to turn back. In fact, it didn’t even cross my mind to turn around—at least not for a while. Perhaps it was pride, or perhaps it was the fact that I spent $1.25 of my discounted TriMet fare to get there, and I couldn’t bear letting my hard-earned money go to waste, but I refused to give up no matter how dizzy and disoriented I became. 


This horrific journey of mine took place towards the end of last summer, when temperatures were reaching record-breaking highs most days of the week, and wildfire smoke clouded the skies more often than not. 


A few weeks before this incident, I had awoken with a start only to find that I was suffering a pretty intense heat stroke—my skin beet red, breaths shallow, feeling as though my blood were boiling. 


According to Google, I could have died that day. I spent the remainder of that day in the air-conditioned lobby of my building, staring into space and wondering if my brain had melted beyond repair. 


It certainly felt like it. 


You would think this experience would have inspired me to take more caution in the blazing summer heat, but no. Some people never truly learn from their mistakes. I like to think that my recently-boiled brain allowed my judgment to falter, resulting in the terrible ordeal I found myself in at the park. But I know I have no one but myself to blame for my foolish behavior. 


Despite my ever-increasing panic, up and up I went, using all my energy to focus on the true-crime podcast I was listening to—one about murdered sex workers in Canada—that did nothing to quell my steadily-increasing anxiety. 


At some point, I stumbled, catching myself seconds before I would have plummeted into a deep, rock-filled ravine. 


The park was empty, since everyone else in the Portland area had enough sense to stay home that day. I shuddered, thinking about how long it would have taken for someone to find me had I fallen, and only then did I decide to turn around. 


Dreaming of the ice cream cone I decided to treat myself to once I reached civilization, I finally ventured back down the dreaded, smoky hillside. I told myself I would never tell a soul about this day, about how I nearly succumbed to smoke inhalation or heat exhaustion on a simple hike in a city park. 


And yet, here I am writing about it for all to see. Perhaps that heat stroke did melt my brain after all, melting my sense of shame away forever. 


That night, after gobbling down two-for-one ice cream cones from the corner store in my neighborhood, I took a cold shower and tucked myself into bed to watch several hours of Will & Grace with multiple fans pointed at me.


“This is where I belong,” I said to myself. “Going outside is overrated.”