You wanna know what I despise more than waking up early? Do you want to know what irks me more than a night where I’m bound to get less than 3 hours of sleep? It seems improbable that anything could be worse than those two prospects, either conjoined together, or as individual entities. But while these two will plague even the most productive of narcoleptics, nothing ruins a good night’s sleep more than a good snoring. Especially when it derives from two separate persons. Mom and dad, I love you both, but for the love of God, overcome your stubbornness and go to a sleep doctor or something. I swear I won’t look down on you if they forcibly assign you to a clunky breathing machine at night. But for your sake and mine, take some initiative!
Why do I commence with such a trivial topic? Well, for one, I do have to get up before 3 AM tomorrow to prepare for my flight back home after a fruitful vacation, fully equipped with all of the languidness, hearty meals, empty weight rooms, and temperate climates that anyone needing a good ol’ break could ask for. Especially when my hometown received 22 inches of snow in my absence. I suppose I forgot to mention. I’ve reached both the climax and resolution of my brief visit to Florida, which, as my dad would say, is God’s largest nursing home. I cannot help but concur with his opinion, as I found myself making one too many sarcastic remarks to my mom about the striking similarities between the restaurants we ate at and a funeral home.
Alas though, all great things come to an inevitable end, and new beginnings arise in their wake. I cherished each moment of my “down time” here in Florida, where I successfully read two books, the first regarding a cross country trip, and the second, pertaining to law school. How stark a contrast, yet how fittingly ironic. It’s old news that I am embarking upon a cross country trip of my own this coming summer, and when I return back home in mid-August, I will be attending my law school orientation.
While the first novel gave me some insight toward the kind of people I would meet in each respective state, it failed to encapsulate the sheer grandiosity that will likely preside over my upcoming summer adventure. Hence, its influence on me was minimal, at best.
Consequently, novel two was a firsthand account of the everyday shenanigans of a law student, albeit a Harvard law student. While my tenure will bear little resemblance to the 16 hour study days and the merciless professors that this particular student and his classmates endured during their first year as a law student, the crippling, paralyzing sentiments that will engulf my conscience during that first year will be quite reminiscent of the fears, doubts, and above all stress that all 1Ls (1st year law students) at Harvard experienced themselves.
At the conclusion of the novel, I found myself in a bit of a volatile state of mind. I didn’t know how to express my feelings. I still don’t. I’m torn between two conflicting schools of thought—the first pertaining to the excitement of attaining my juris doctor (JD), and the second, an unshakeable dissatisfaction with the ambivalent orbit of my future occupation. At the current moment, I seem to be in a very manageable position, largely due to the amount of time between now and my first day of classes. But what I fear most is the onerous, overbearing anxieties that will soon consume me as I commence a perpetual trend of worrying throughout my time as a 1L. Frankly, this is to be a fated occurrence, one that is eternally bound to the past, present, and future prospective law students. The inextricable reciprocity between 1L and a relentless barrage of stressors is simply ingrained in eons of generations of law students around the US. If I thought undergraduate anxieties were a burden, then evidently I don’t even have the ability to conceive an idea that serves as a precursor to the brutality of my upcoming school year. Simply put, I will induce a host of sentiments even beyond anxiety.
Fuck, well, I suppose it could be worse. My impending, profound angst could have transcended further into a life or death suicide mission for the maintenance of my sanity. That is, if my family wasn’t so well connected. I’m heading to a law school that isn’t nearly as reputable as most of the others I applied to, but because of the connections I have made in my own home city, I’m guaranteed at least an entry into the field. More or less, I have a job lined up for me. Whether I take it or not is all up to what will soon unfold when I enter law school this upcoming fall.
I return to the last sentence of the first paragraph about taking initiative. Sure, the passage itself seemed irrelevant at this time, and knowing me, 90% of it was. But the crucial bit that I want to discuss in brevity relates to committing oneself to the achievement of a task. Whether it is permanently mending the perceptibly unalterable transpiration of snoring amidst the night, or, in this case, obtaining a degree and passing the bar exam in phenomenal standing, it is imperative to finish what one has started, especially if one seeks to gain something out of the hard work that they have put in. Sure, maybe someone isn’t intrigued by the premonition that their lifelong, idiosyncratic snoring will abruptly come to a screeching halt, though who in their right mind would want to continue performing such an unhealthy activity during their sole hours of rest during the day? The point being, one cannot simply achieve without committing oneself to the attainment of that goal, no matters the methods and the means. If a doctor’s appointment every day for a month is what is required of you to stop snoring, then you’ve gotta do it. If 8-10 hours of studying a night during weekdays is what is demanded of me in order to attain the position that I want to in life, then so be it. But if you stop to think about the means and their importance on the ends, I can assure you, your situation will refrain from budding into a field of daisies.
It has long been a predilection of mine to firmly question the necessary steps taken to meet a desired end result. Notwithstanding, I have more or less always been an advocate of taking the easy way out so long as I reached my end goal. And despite the major overhaul of my education that will manifest itself this fall, I do not know how I will overcome this hubris of mine. I want to succeed. I want to do as well, if not better than every else. Actually, I want to do better. No, I know I want to. I’m too competitive. Especially given the fact that I will be in direct competition with many of my fellow students for internships over the summer that will allow me to make the smooth (or rocky) transition from law student to lawyer.
So, in order to combat my quasi-apathetic convictions toward getting things done in a non-half ass manner, I will need to realize that most of what I am learning will ACTUALLY apply to my desired career path for once, at least, for the most part (my dad attests to this not being true). But alas, taking the initiative to achieve will ideally allow me to become a better student than I have been thus far in my life. Time will only tell though. At this point, I rely heavily on the facts that 1. I will return from my cross country trip with the desire to garner a degree in law, 2. I am not jaded by the time number one happens, and 3. I can translate the unconditional dedication that I have so far toward my cross country trip, and will subsequently translate that toward my desire to become a proficient law student. Despite the stark contrast between the books that I mentioned before, they are eerily related, insofar as the success of one venture is almost entirely contingent upon the success of the other. And by God, do I hope that they will collaborate well with each other.
When you’ve lived and slept amongst the clouds, the only place left to strive for is the stars. I think I heard someone say that once. Perhaps in one of those coffee-shop weekly newsletters that obtrusively rest upon the counters of all the local diners, breakfast joints, and mom and pop shops in your faux-paradisaical suburban hometown. The ones that feature your daily horoscopes, imbecilic fun facts about the mid-west, and the “inspiring” quotes of the week, like the one above. But it’s more than likely that I came up with the quote on my own, in my own convoluted, though pulpous brain. Regardless of the derivation of said quote, its metaphorical purpose is most vital to the trajectory of this blog post.
I began my Thursday morning on the last day of Februrary at 315 AM, fresh off of two bursts of sleep: the first 3 hours, then an hour break, and a subsequent spurt of two more hours. Five hours of sleep is the norm before a big day hiking, especially one that necessitates a 3 hour drive. But this was no conventional hiking trip. They call it, a mountaineering expedition. Woah there, that sounds quite ambitious, doesn’t it? Well, being the optimist when it comes to all things outdoors, I figured, hey, this would be a cinch. I hate to spoil the story this early on, but heck, you knew it wouldn’t turn out all unicorns and gold and rainbows, didn’t you?
Certainly, it could have, given the right circumstances. But that’s the kind of excursion this was. There were seven of us who convened at the Appalachia trailhead at 9 am that morning, seven brazen individuals all with different backgrounds, levels of experience, and intents for how we wanted the next three days to unfold. Despite our idiosyncrasies, we each came with one concrete goal in mind, that is, to successfully complete the Winter Presidential Traverse, colloquially, and hereinafter referred to as “the winter presi traverse.” It’s one thing to complete this trip as a one day hike with no snow, something that I intend on doing this coming summer. But to do it as part of a two night backpacking trip is in an entirely divergent realm. Only psychopaths and their grandmothers would ever consider such a daunting, even idiotic task.
But it’s not as brutal as it sounds, at least, I didn’t think so. I had done plenty of hikes with my best friend Curtis before, all of which were successful ascents. But I reiterate: this wasn’t a hike. It was a mountaineering and backpacking trip that required the use of snowshoes, trekking poles, multiple layers of clothing, three days worth of food, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, a tent, flashlights, headlamps, batteries, multiple pairs of gloves, hats, hoods, balaclavas, cooking utensils, etc. etc. etc. The point being, I had never formally “backpacked” before, nor had I ever “mountaineered.” What set this apart from a normal winter hike was the fact that it was above treeline for 11 miles, and we pitched our tent above treeline as well, where we had no protection from the 40 mph gusts of wind that plagued us while we set up our camp. Needless to say, I was somewhat under-prepared, not in the fitness compartment, but rather, in core survival skills. Skills that, had the others not possessed, may have been the difference between life and death on top of the ridgeline, especially when the weather took a turn for the worst.
The success of a winter presi traverse is contingent upon the weather. When you’re on the 11 mile, tree-less ridge, you are essentially playing Russian Roulette with mother nature. The slightest bit of wind can ruin an otherwise idealistic undertaking of the traverse itself. And from the get-go, as we began our push to the pinnacle, the skies grew grayer and grayer into a distinctly silverish hue. It was as if the presidents themselves, namely Jefferson and Washington, whose mountains awaited us, were smiling ever-so mercilessly down upon us, as the color of the nickel and quarter they appeared on emanated towards us from up above.
But the climb commenced anyway, and shortly thereafter led to the first rookie mistake of the day on my part. Having no affinity for multi-day winter hikes, I over-layered, leading to me to break rule number 1 of winter hiking: don’t sweat too much. Because once that sweat starts to dry, it gets colder, leading to an overall decline in body temperature. Ragan, one of the people I met on the trip, immediately made me de-layer and strip down to my base layer so that I wouldn’t sweat on the way up. In hindsight, his discretion allowed me to not freeze my ass off by the time we were above treeline, and I appreciated the warning. Especially from Ragan, a backpacker with 30+ years of experience and a valuable resource for the entirety of my weekend. One of the more intriguing conversations of the day ensued shortly thereafter, where I told Ragan of my career plans as a lawyer, the reputation of my family in the field, and helping people not for the top dollar, but for fulfillment. I also expressed to him my desire to be outdoors, and the possibility of working in a national park at some point later in my life. Not until I attain the level of knowledge that he has with the outdoors, that’s for sure.
Much of the hike up incorporated short, quick bursts, followed by long rest periods. That’s because the pace we were going at wasn’t like the one I’m accustomed to. I found myself frustrated most of the time, since I knew that I could travel at almost double the pace that we were going, which was quite selfish of me, since the most important rule of group hiking, is to always go at the pace of your slowest hiker. Unfortunately for me, I have always been known to scamper ahead whenever the opportunity presents itself, and it didn’t bode well for my body temperature, as I found myself waiting for more than 10 minutes at a time while my hands became numb from inactivity. But I wouldn’t trade those finger-numbing moments for anything, because the most productive of human interaction largely occurred at the onset of the waiting games.
Another dialogue between myself, and two others I met that day, Jessica and Tom started. Tom is a few years older than me, and as ambitious, if not more within his outdoor endeavors. He is a kayaker, ice climber, rock climber, hiker, backpacker, and probably many more occupations that he failed to mention. Jessica, much like Tom, is an outdoors enthusiast, and is striving to complete the same task as myself and Curtis: hike the 48 4000 footers of the White Mountains. In addition, she is a diver, ice climber, and God knows what else. Point being, these two individuals are people that I truly envy. They are intent on making the best out of every weekend of their lives in the great outdoors, which leads me to the actual chat that we had. Tom talked of the kind of people he meets all the time, especially in college, that have no hobbies other than doing their homework, watching tv, and partying. Sure, if that’s what you like, that’s what you like. But Tom, Jessica, and I rationalized of the irrationality of this kind of demeanor, the life of a non-initiate who waits for things to happen to them instead of going out and doing. One does not have to be an outdoorsman to constitute someone who goes out and does. You could be a movie buff and critic, a swimmer, someone who trains for a marathon, etc. After hearing of my intended career choice, Jessica told me a story about when she was once considering becoming a lawyer. They asked her to list three hobbies of hers. If she couldn’t, they would think it unwise to go into law. It would simply drive one to drink (well, except me, of course). But so many people fall into the niche of inaction, a position I was once familiar with, and a standing that led to a sweeping dissatisfaction toward life that resulted in a long term bout of depression. Now I certainly don’t speak for the larger population, but to quote a fellow adventurer like myself, Chris McCandless, the essence of man is in new experience. I’m sure most can relate to that quote. If that is the case, why do people continue to sit idly by and let the clouds sift past them while the rest of the world spins its course? Familiarity, comfort, maybe. But when we reached the top of the ridge line on that ominous afternoon, I can say with a certain fixation that the clouds weren’t just sifting past us. For good reason. We were walking inside of those wispy sons of bitches.
It’s not as if we were that high up there in elevation. Roughly 4500 feet from sea level, to be exact. But that Friday afternoon was a doozy for sure, with winds reaching 40 mph and a blanket of white so thick that you ceased to be able to see more than 100 feet in front of you in any direction. If any of us strayed too far ahead, there was a good chance we would be lost, propelling the whole traverse into dire straits. The organizer of our hike, Jay, much like Ragan, was a seasoned veteran in all things hiking, including routefinding. The only indication that we had about which way to go were the footprints in front of us. And because there weren’t many due to the unwavering snow and relentless gales, Jay had to pull out his GPS every so often to assure that we were heading in the right direction. Except here’s a perk of the presi range. Once you reach the ridge where the trail is harder to navigate, there are a series of cairns that lead you in the right direction. They are essentially man-made rock piles that stack up in the form of a pyramid. Navigating these in the winter can be quite the demoralizing task, since they are mostly buried, or so indistinguishable that it’d be easier for you to find a needle in a haystack. And if you don’t find them, then what? Backtracking? Consulting the GPS? Or if all else fails, get lost, call in the 10,000 dollar rescue chopper who can’t even see you because of the whiteout conditions. Yeah, shit would simply hit the fan if you weren’t careful. Luckily for us, we reached our campsite largely unscathed, aside from the occasional bout of cold hands and feet.
If you thought the hike itself was hard, then wait til you hear about setting up the camp. Because of the frigid conditions on our viewless, frosty haven, we didn’t even get a chance to summit Mt. Madison and Mt. Adams, two of the ten mountains we were supposed to ascend that day. No one really minded, aside from the fact that the actual traverse became null and void. But the main priority was surviving the night, especially since we had to pitch tent before dark. As soon as we found an ideal spot, we got to quick work, hands and feet already swiftly and surely losing all of the heat they had had just a few minutes prior. Ragan and Jay started boiling water for the next day and for that night’s dinner, and the rest of us started setting up the tent. Since this was my first time actually backpacking, it proved to be more of a burden than anything. It took us over an hour to finally assemble the tent, which can largely be attributed to the numbness shooting down our fingers, not to mention my virtuosic keenness for assembling things. Good one, huh? I thought so.
After we had eaten our just-add water dinners and gotten the tents squared away, we were finally warm. I realized up to this point I had yet to take any pictures. It was just too damn cold outside. But that morning, after sleeping in, Jay and Ragan unsurprisingly informed us that the conditions were too averse to finish the traverse. And no, I didn’t mesh those two words together on purpose. Well, maybe I did, but regardless, that was our situation. We ate breakfast quickly, packed the tent back up, and I finally had time to snap a few photos.
As we made our descent back to our cars, we noticed one ittie bittie problem. The tracks that we had followed the day prior had disappeared. All that we had left for reference were the cairns. Not to mention a good 3-6 inches of snow had buried the trail. Thus, we strapped on our snowshoes, which to that day, I had yet to use, and began to follow the conspicuous rock formations that weren’t nearly as frequent as we would have hoped. We reached a point where we had no idea where we were going, and had to have a few people scout ahead for cairns. This proved to be a somewhat frightening prospect, as several people walked off into divergent directions and we lost sight of them in the thick, merciless, white fog. Luckily, we had whistles to indicate where we were, disallowing anyone to get hopelessly lost.
After a few attempts to find the next cairn, the morale of the group seemed to hit rock bottom (no pun intended!). There was never a point where I genuinely believed that we were lost, nor that we wouldn’t find a cairn, but had Jay and Ragan not been there, I probably would have had a nervous breakdown. Our whole group put so much trust into them to get us back safely, and I myself felt the absolute need to uphold that trust so long as they were leading us. It proved to be wise, as the 10 minute snowshoe trudge up a desolate, albeit idyllic snow field brought us to instant gratification. A cairn! From there, the return to the cars was simple, as the clouds began to disperse just a bit, though not enough to see much of anything—that is, until we reached the last stretch of the ridgeline before the trees. For a fleeting lapse, the sun shown through the clouds, though not entirely exposed, and powerfully displayed its beams onto the base of Mt. Adams, which audaciously revealed its bareness under the once impenetrable clouds. I was aghast, since this was the first time I had been in the presi range during the winter and actually seen part of the mountains in close proximity. It was as if mother nature’s last gift to us on that depthless afternoon was an arcane plot, devised ever-so craftily for our group, and our group only, to see just a smidgen of what we missed out on that weekend—the stunning, snow entrenched panoramas of the presidential range.
Now I return back to the initial quote that looms over this post. We lived and slept amongst the clouds, but I personally can attest to the fact that the stars are nowhere near my horizon. Not until I successfully traverse those pesky presidentials in the winter, but it’ll have to wait another year. But only after I complete the traverse in one day this summer prior to my epic cross country trip. For now though, I experienced a satisfying weekend with a wily bunch of characters who all attributed to my new appreciation for the strife to attain survival skills, in addition to the garnering a fresh desire to embark upon many unique and absurd endeavors, like finishing up my 48 4000 footers in the Whites, and maybe even becoming an Adirondack 46er. That may necessitate me moving to New York, but who knows, maybe I’ll find time to dedicate a few weeks to knocking out half of them, and then do the other half in another string of weeks. Who knows? I’ll let life run its course, but I certainly won’t let the clouds pass by me. I’ll go along with them. After all, when you’ve lived and slept amongst the clouds, the only place left to go is back in.
A Special Cat and Our Shared Wanderlust
I don’t remember the exact date and time of my newly-found desire for wanderlust, that is, the extreme urge to get away, to travel, to break new ground in means unlike those I’ve utilized for the entirety of my life thus far. What I do recall is that its emergence coincided with the death of my beloved 16 year old cat Simba. It seems odd to make such a connection, but to be honest, in hindsight, it makes the most sense. After all, Simba was one of my best friends growing up, albeit a furry, cuddly one that didn’t answer back.
I was three years old when my mom picked Simba up from a garage sale, and luckily for us, he didn’t bear a price tag. My mom purchased a table from them, and in exchange, was given a kitten fresh from the litter for naught but a smile on her face. During my beloved cat’s life, I was always intent on sticking close by to him. In a sense, I was an omnipresent figure in his life, and vice versa. Being a cat and not a dog, Simba had the keen ability to hide, not wanting to make his presence known to those around him. Thus, whenever I returned home, I would have to look all over the house for him, and until I knew he was safe and sound could I settle into my daily business. This hide and seek game lasted right up until his death, and because of it, I couldn’t even stand to leave the house for more than a few days. Whenever I went on extended vacations, all I ever wanted to do was return back to my humble abode so that I could assure Simba was safe and sound. After all, he was known to escape the house and scare the living shit out of my mom and I. My dad and brother didn’t care much—their attachment was nowhere near the magnitude of mine and my mom’s. And in his old age, his escapes became more frequent and eventful, largely due to the fact that he would turn into a wild, primal beast, hissing at and biting and scratching anything that got in his way. It was as if in his old age, he wanted to be free, to roam the verdant forests on the outskirts of the house he called home for 15 years. Being an indoor cat, he was unaccustomed to this lifestyle, and maybe the cardiomyopathy that eventually killed him was making a plea to him to get out of his sheltered house and break free into a life of liberation and endless opportunity, like that of his lion and jaguar and cheetah cousins and his great-great-great grandparents before him who were as far from domesticated as possible.
Maybe it’s a grand speculation, maybe it’s perennial bullshit, but regardless of what it is, Simba was deeply frightened to be confronted outside by the people who loved him in the latter years of his life. Both my mom and I have a scar on our arms to represent this. She got a pretty nasty bite, and I have a scratch that has, to this day, persisted. We may never know why he acted in such a manner, but that perpetual reminder that resides on my arm reminds me every morning upon waking of what it is I need to do with my life. That deep gash has become a vestige of my corporeality. Of Simba’s continued presence on this earth. And of our interchangeable lifestyles. His death signified an emancipation from his trapped existence and confinement to an unvarying household. From the day we brought him home, Simba developed a strong affinity for sitting in the windows around the house. It was as if they were his only chance to escape the brutality of monotony. Cats just aren’t designed to stay in one place, well, unless they are in their languid state, which is, frankly, a lot of the time. But that fact aside, Simba’s death allowed me to reach a realization that took me nearly 20 years to come by. For all of my life up to that point, I was looking out those very same windows, thinking that the world would come to me and not the other way around. Simba never had an opportunity to break through the somewhat flimsy and perfectly transient screens out of those windows. But I, I on the other hand, convinced myself that those very same screens were unbreachable for myself. If I had only stopped to ponder for just a second, I would have realized the sheer beauty that lied beyond those evanescent barriers. With his ultimate passing, Simba’s adventurous spirit transferred from his own mortal form, into my conscience. I no longer was compelled to hover over him like an oppressive, ubiquitous deity, and deny him of that right to remove himself from the onerousness of his figurative shackles. And because of this, the yearning for adventure that I disallowed to blossom from both myself and my cat, was now at my command. Two years of hiking in the rolling hills of the Berkshires in Western Mass, the sweeping vistas of the Green Mountains in Vermont, and the bucolic panoramas of the 4000 footers in the White Mountains in New Hampshires, and I think I have begun to finally revel in what both Simba and I were denied: a real life worth relishing. Simba and I have become one in the same, evident not only in my new appreciation for escaping the run on the mill lifestyle that unhesitatingly transpires around me, but also in the enigmatic claw marks that still protrude from my left arm, a memento that will always remind me of what my life was before Simba knocked some sense into me both in life and in death. I miss you buddy.