I could blame it on the exhaustion from the hike I had completed mere moments before. I could blame Mount Rainier for distracting me with its snow-capped majesty in the distance. But by the time I noticed the ingress of boots thudding on the grassy knoll, it was too late to stop him, much less move out of the way. He brushed so closely that our eyes locked. And just like that, he leapt off the mountain. Earlier that day, I thought I was prepared for anything. Pacific Northwest winters can get brisk, especially for Californians like me. So when I saw patches of snow hugging the Ponderosa Pines at the foot of the mountain I marched back to the car to don my full winter gear. Back on the trail, it only took about ten minutes and one hundred feet of elevation to realize my mistake. The leftover snow in the shadow of the pines was quickly replaced by giant leaves in steaming heaps of duff. I had to break up my ascent, pausing every hundred meters of elevation or so to remove another layer. Halfway up West Tiger Mountain, I could hardly see the trail in front of me over the pile of clothes stacked in my arms. I dumped my gear on a patch of moss to adjust the faux fur parka that kept slipping from my waist. The sleeves were just too thick to fasten in a knot. Evidently, the locals were very familiar with the valley breeze that convected the mountainside. I was only mildly embarrassed every time a Washingtonian passed me in their fitted high-performance polyester. While they had also stripped down to more sensible layers, they clearly planned ahead by bringing extra large backpacks to fit all the gear they shed. I did get to take some comfort in the fellow overpackers that passed. They obviously wouldn’t be needing those ski masks and face goggles, but I felt solidarity in the misleading climate at the foot of the mountain. I gathered my laundry and carried on. Only one hour later than anticipated, I reached the shoulder summit. At the end of the trail, the minty evergreens parted, opening up to a vast mountainside meadow. The leafy detritus of the trail was replaced by plush meadow grass that rippled when the wind swept the knoll. But the real source of this hike’s popularity could be seen just beyond the meadow. Exceeding all expectations, Mount Rainier stood stoically in the distance, perfectly framed by the clearing and perfectly unobstructed from this viewing height. Mesmerized, I moved toward the edge of the mountain where the meadow abruptly dropped off in a steep cliff. I searched for a good spot to lay my gear. I had thought that my parka would at least make a good picnic blanket to redeem my efforts lugging it up the mountain. But the meadow grass was so soft that a blanket wasn’t necessary. It was so soft, it almost completely muffled the thumps of a runner's footsteps... As he leapt the wind kicked up and filled the cells of an electric-blue canopy. The risers groaned slightly under tension when he settled into his backpack seat as the wind spiraled him higher and higher. An outbreak of applause from across the meadow caught my attention, and I turned around to a line of paragliders prepping for takeoff. I gathered my laundry off the apparent runway and settled in to my newfound view.