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.
More than Just a Trip
I wonder what my life would be like had I not conceived the ambitious, albeit maniacal foundations for a post-graduation cross country road trip. Cliche as it may sound, the beginning stages of the planning for said trip consisted of existential visions of transcendence, you know, the kind of “meaning of life” bull shit that we all seek to experience at one point or another during our lifetimes. But cliché as it also may be, this trip of ours, and by “ours” I mean Curtis and I, is, in and of itself, a life-altering occurrence. I swear by this statement simply because of the nature of this so called “existential journey.” We have roughly 83 days. 83 days of pure ignorant bliss, quality best friend bonding, extreme hiking challenges, and a whole lot of insomnia. That’s what sleeping in a foul-smelling car does to you. But who cares? Curtis and I certainly don’t. After all, we’ve been best friends since we were five year old kids, and we practically shared underwear for chrissakes.
I kid. But the point is, the basic outlook that we share on this trip is that it will indeed consume us both in mind and body. Thus far, we have dedicated countless hours of our free time to consolidating our resources to assemble a tentative itinerary that details our various excursions, whether it be an ascent of Mt. Rainier or perusing the awe-inspiring sights that Jasper National Park has to offer. The reason I use these two examples is because they are certainly two of the most farfetched ideas we have for our road trip. After recently ice climbing on two consecutive weekends, we envisaged an idea to make an attempt to summit one of the more dangerous glaciated peaks in Washington state: the hulking mass of rock called Rainier. At first the belief seemed to be a futile one, but after consulting with a fellow ice climber who has himself ascended this magnificent beauty, we determined that it was indeed within our skill level, that is, after we make a costly investment on mountaineering gear. Still, we do not know whether we will be capable of reaching the apex of Rainier’s snowy alpine summit, but if we do indeed fail, at least we can say we tried, right?
Absolutely not, because that’s not the kind of attitude we want to possess going into our trip. Sure, we might fail in some of our endeavors, but we better damn give our 100%. I return to Jasper as an example. This is, for all intents and purposes, a United States cross country trip. But Jasper, along with the other state and national parks of Canada, seek to defy this convention. If we’re going to go on a nearly 3 month cross country trip, we sure as hell better drive toward the middle of nowhere in a foreign country to be able to gaze our eyes upon the most serene of landscapes that our northern brethren have to offer. Case and point, if we’re going to drive thousands of miles west to indulge ourselves in America’s tranquil elegance, then Canada’s quasi-divine landscape is imperative as well.
So, the initial question of this optimistic, oft-overly dramatic blog post was, where I would be right now had I not deemed a road trip of this caliber as a necessity toward the eternal satisfaction of my soul? Actually, that’s a bit too grandiose, so I’ll put it more concisely. Why is this road trip something that Curtis and I have to do? Simply put, we see its function as a muse to our being, a coming of age ritual of sorts. It’s something we have to do. So the question is purely rhetorical. Without the procession of this trip, our lives would seem to be so much more empty and purposeless. It sounds selfish, but this is that one thing that we have to do for ourselves, more than anything else. To show ourselves that we have the balls to commit to such a spectacular voyage. Because once I reach Tennessee, I will be the furthest west I have ever been in my life. I yearn for adventure and new experiences in this beautifully damned world of ours. And a simple excuse to get out of this tedious mediocrity for once. Just once is all I ask. I’m sick to death of people telling me what I can and can’t do, and finally, for once in my life, I’m taking the initiative to do what even I thought I couldn’t do. I’m sure Curtis can attest to this as well.
So this is it. The stage is set. The players are, more or less, beginning to play their parts, subject to change of course. Who knows, maybe some other crazy loon will decide to convene with us? I write this post to reflect on these last two years of impatience and anticipation for the most colossal undertaking of my life thusfar. And to assert that the tentative itinerary is there for the viewing, not just for Curtis and myself, but for all those intrigued by the prospect of our upcoming summer. So this is actually it. I lied the first time around. I conclude this post with a question for all of those reading it. What prevents you from doing what YOU want to do? I know what deters me. It’s stubbornness, languidness, and above all, lack of motivation. This isn’t a self help book to tell you to get motivated, but I do offer you my deepest affection to do what you want to do, because you’re on this god forsaken planet for one life. So fucking live it.
It was to be a gorgeous, cloudless, summer day. No rain. No humidity. Clear blue skies for all that cared to notice. For that day in particular, I cared to notice, because I was about to embark on a day of strict solitude, with naught but the dirt at my feet, trees to my side, and the perfect blue skies above. Not to mention unparalleled views of a group of mountains I had conquered on several prior hikes. But as with every planned excursion, my preconceived notion of absolute solitude would cease to be true the moment I set forth on my 13 mile trek of North and South Kinsman, Northeast Cannonball, and Cannon Mountain, three official 4000 footers, and #100 on New England’s 100 highest.
I began my hike on the Lonesome Lake Trail, and as the title suggests, was very much alone for the first mile or so—that is, until I reached the lake itself. By then, I could hear audible laughter deriving from a beach that resided at the foot of the Lonesome Lake hut, a treasure for all those willing to make the short hike there. But it seemed more like a public beach than an isolated swim spot in the middle of a mountain. It was a perfect day after all, and despite my plea for solitude, I was confronted with an ensemble of eager hikers and campers who wanted nothing but to experience their perfect day at a beautiful lake surrounded by towering mountains. I couldn’t blame them. I wanted to do the same. But I had a quest to complete, and continued it on the Fishin’ Jimmy Trail, a quaint, lush path where I saw but one group of hikers on. I proceeded from there on the Kinsman Ridge Trail, where I would hike both North and South Kinsman, in that order. The trail itself wasn’t very ridge-like, as there was no shortage of trees, but there were some fun scrambling parts. When I arrived at the top of the North summit, a group of hikers had already taken refuge at the one lookout spot that allowed for a perfect view of the Franconia Ridge in all of its glory. I decided to proceed onward, whereupon I reached the South summit shortly thereafter, and met a group of hikers, whom I conversed with for a bit about their hiking plans. They were on their way back down after summitting the same two mountains I had just done. But I had two more to go, and they wished me luck, as I took a seat on the summit lookout and ate lunch. The views were somewhat shielded by trees, so I made my way back to the North summit, where I ran into a group of older women who were headed over to the South summit. I admired them for their determination, as they appeared to be in their mid-late seventies and obviously not as nimble as I at my young age. They made this fact well-known, and we joked around a bit before I bid them goodbye. I sat down on a rocky overlook with perfect views of the ridge, and whipped out my binoculars to get a closer look. I could see along the ridge leading up to Mount Lafayette from Mount Lincoln, but the binoculars did not zoom enough to see the hikers tackling the peak. After a little while, I decided to lay down for a few minutes and look at the sky. It proved to be a much needed rest, as I still had another 7 or so miles before my day would be over.
After soaking in the incredible views from North Kinsman, I proceeded toward my next destinations: Northeast Cannonball and Cannon Mountain. Expecting a cakewalk, I began my ascent of the former, believing that when I reached the top, I would be a short stroll from Cannon Mountain. I was wrong. The hike was grueling, especially after reaching two summits shortly before. When I reached the top, there were no signs marking the summit, and I often doublechecked the map to make sure that I was going the right way. As I descended further and further from my high elevation, I became worried. But upon reaching the bottom, I was confronted with a steep incline with rocks aplenty that I eventually learned would serve as my last trail to my last summit.
If you don’t know a thing about Cannon Mountain, you’re alone. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Whites, second among the 4000ers only to Mt. Washington. Why? Because there is a tramway that takes you straight to the summit. When I reached the summit of Cannon Mountain, I encountered more people in the first minute than I had on my entire hike prior. There were plenty of children and adults of all ethnicities, amongst them Hasidic Jews, Indian-Americans, and Asian-Americans. It was fascinating to see such a diverse population on a mountain, however, as an admirer of solitude in nature, I shrugged my shoulders in disbelief as I made my way to the lookout tower. The views were just as astounding as those I had seen on the Kinsmans, but of course, all I could hear was the constant chatter of people, severely deterring the 360* panoramic views. At this point in my hike, all I could think about was getting back to the car and eating. And so I made my way down, meeting a fellow hiker along the way who accompanied me for the downhill portion, a certain strain for a kid who had just hiked 10+ miles beforehand. But we made it, and I headed toward my car, calves and feet shaking due to the exhaustion. A long, but well-deserved car ride followed, and I made my way home, only to eat the entirety of my mother’s pantry.
Note: Pictures will be added soon
Generally speaking, when one sets a goal, they initiate their journey from the bottom up. This is mainly in order to accustom oneself to the strife for that goal, so as to get in the habit of the attempt to achieve it before tackling the most difficult aspects toward the end of its fulfillment. One would argue that this scenario is the rule when it comes to achieving goals. But what would life be if one had to conform to each and every standard that society laid out for you? Booooring. As somewhat of an adventurous individual, the exposition of the story of the ascent of the White Mountain 4000ers had to be a memorable one. And thus, my two best friends, Jon-Scott and Curtis, accompanied me on my first hike since pledging to complete the 48 4000 footers in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. On the tallest of the 48. Mount Washington.
Having completed Mount Flume, Liberty, Lafayette and Lincoln of the Franconia Ridge, my White Mountain hiking prior to Washington was just as exhilarating and challenging as my intended target. As alpine summits, each one is completely exposed and offers a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape. Case and point, the views are magnificent, almost ethereal. And the trails themselves aren’t too shabby either. Between Lincoln and Lafayette, the Franconia Ridge traverses, with a bit of scrambling and near-perfect views of the Whites. Flume and Liberty are the same, and the infamous Flume Slide trail is used to reach the summits, one of the steeper trails I’ve ascended in my life. But the trail that we would be taking to the summit of Mt. Washington was like none I have ever done before. They call it, the Huntington Ravine Trail. It runs parallel to the densely crowded Tuckerman Ravine Trail, and offers some of the best solitude on one of the most crowded mountains in the Whites.
My friends and I began on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which eventually links up with Huntington in a little over a mile. We saw ten times as many people on that short stretch than on all of Huntington, a clear indication of Tuckerman’s popularity. But after reading an article in Backpacker magazine, we were told to avoid Tuckerman on the way up. And boy was this a great suggestion. Regarded as one of the toughest trails in the Whites, Huntington Ravine possesses class 3 scrambling with some scary off-trail climbing that Curtis and I participated in. Curtis, a lover of all things pertaining to climbing, is not much of an exerciser due to his occupation as an engineer student and worker, but was so far ahead of me at times that I could not believe it. It was as if he had superhuman strength, climbing up some difficult boulders that sometimes necessitated the use of solely upper body strength, a department that I clearly beat Curtis in. But for whatever reason, a light flicked on for him, and he was performing at a higher level than I climbing up Huntington and the boulder surrounding it. JS on the other hand, was following the trail, so as not to do something stupid, which Curtis and I did a lot of on the way up. When we reached a stretch where we could only continue by following the trail, things got interesting. The Fan, as they call it, is a class 3 climb where if you take the wrong step, you can tumble down the mountain. But so long as you’re careful, there is no worry. Of course, we weren’t careful, and were trying to ascend in a place where we weren’t supposed to. As a result, The Fan was one of the most challenging and intimidating climbs we had done on a mountain thusfar.
Eventually, we reached the summit, and were graced with a whole bunch of clouds and cars. No views, and the constant din of industrialization. As Curtis deemed it, it was one of man’s greatest travesties to nature. The top of Mt. Washington is home to an observatory that hosts a gift shop, food court, and countless tourist attractions. For a group of hikers, this was blasphemous, and we couldn’t believe that we were sitting amongst people who had driven or taken the railroad to the top of the mountain. But as a product of America’s obsession with mountains in the 19th century, roads began to pop up that led to the mountain, including the Cog railway that can be taken to the top. If I were lazy, I would appreciate the luxury of being able to get to the tallest point in the Northeast. However, it wouldn’t be as much of a feat, and not nearly as satisfying. We had ascending the highest point in all of New England, but it was quite anticlimactic. Even the views were skewed as we headed down because of the heavy traffic of people on the trails. All in all, it was a trip well worth it up the Huntington Ravine Trail, but the summit and the descent of Tuckerman were nothing to dwell over.
Morals of the story:
Climb up Huntington if you aren’t afraid of heights. You will be graced with perfect solitude.
Try to find a different route down, as the Tuckerman is crowded.
Don’t get too fed up with the tourists on top. There are plenty of other opportunities in the presidential range that are off limits to such high traffic.
You’ve heard the expression a million times. Often in a shrill, pre-pubescent pitch. Seldom is it whispered. Rarely is it misinterpreted. Most often, when one utters this expression, it is at the top of their lungs.
“I’M ON TOP OF THE WORLD!”
We all take this phrase for granted, because, frankly, we’ve all felt like we were there at one point or another in our lives, especially in our youth, when innocence reigns supreme and naivete governs all of us. What does it mean to be on top of the world though? For a child, all that it simply implies is that one is in a favorable position, most frequently used to refer to the stature of said child, whether their actual height or their advantageous position amongst their friends, ie. the leader of the group or the kid with the best grade in the class. For a developed individual though, being on top of the world may or may not bear a whole different meaning. For further reference, assume that the phrase “developed individual” refers to a person over the age of 21 who has completed their education and has spent a decent amount of their last several years working a job. Now for this individual, being on top of the world would generally suggest that this individual has been promoted and has subsequently received a raise at their job. As most of the population of this fine country in America works some sort of job and actively seeks a pay raise, this situation would seem to mirror that of the child’s in terms of satisfaction. You make more money, you feel as if you’re looking down at the larger population. As you stand at your highpoint, you can barely make out the infinitesimal creatures that lurk below you, calling out your name to revere your great accomplishment. But the reality of this situation is that you can always get higher and higher up, even if you don’t think that’s the case. Individuals get richer and richer and never quite reach the same apex of satisfaction that a young child experiences when they stand atop a giant boulder and scream that they are on top of the world.
What’s the point of this complicating scenario though, you ask? To make lengthy discourse brief, this is the prologue of my story. A story that has been in the works for well over a year now. It began with a college class, followed by a book (Jack Kerouac’s On the Road), a few mountains, and most recently, a state highpoint. Still not processing the comparison? Put simply, my goal in life is to not be the “developed individual” who seeks to always get a pay raise in order to appease themselves, and more often than not, their material desires. Sure, I’m going to need some monetary aid on the way, but be that as it may, I will pursue my lifelong goals by living a humble lifestyle. With aspirations to be an attorney, it seems paradoxical to make such a statement. But let me elaborate.
Since the spring of my sophomore year in high school, I’ve wanted to leave our stable society in favor of an impromptu lifestyle, at least for an extended period of time, which in my case, will be roughly 3 months of the summer following the year I graduate from college. While pursuing said lifestyle, I want to experience America as it should be: spontaneously. Just as Kerouac’s cross country adventures in On the Road, I want to drive across the country to start what will be the first of many many ambitious excursions. Accompanying me on the trip will be my best friend Curtis, and potentially others depending on what the near future holds in store for the parties interested in participating. As would be expected, such a trip will be costly, with food and gas expenses being at the top of the list. Working at a retail job for the last several years has allowed me to earn enough money to fund these two aspects of the trip. But here’s where the money really comes into the picture.The twist to the cross country adventure that I am planning lies in its very name. It wouldn’t be adventurous if I didn’t plan on being adventurous. As the title of this blog post implies, a dream was had after a revelation on a state highpoint. And the dream involves purchasing a lot of gear in order to aid me in my ascent of all of the mountains I plan to hike on my cross country trip, including, but not limited to tons of clothing, sleeping gear, rain gear, navigation gear, emergency gear, winter gear, footwear, hiking poles, a roomy backpack, and so on and so forth. Case and point, I need to cough up some dough, not for things I want, but things that I need in order to make my dream into a reality.
The state highpoint that I’ve mentioned thusfar is Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine. Located in Baxter State Park in Millinocket, ME, about a 6 hour drive from Worcester County, one of the most picturesque peaks I have ever stood upon in my life resides. In each direction lies a multitude of distinct mountain peaks, along with lakes, several river systems including the Penobscot River, and of course, trees. Lots and lots of trees. And no civilization. Because in that part of Maine, there is no civilization. Just an everlasting paradise of lush green forest surrounded by towering mountains and miles of azure, pollution-free water. Aside the peak of Katahdin lies one of the most notorious mountain ridges not just in the Northeast, but the entire United States. Appropriately named, Knife’s Edge is a class 3 scramble across a narrow path with thousand-plus foot drops in each direction. One wrong step and you could take an anticlimactic tumble down the mountain. In all honesty though, the ridge is only as unsafe as you make it, and is easily manageable by anyone who has two functional feet and a decent amount of coordination. That is, if you’re in good enough shape. The hike is not for the faint of heart, as it possesses very steep inclines over a short period that would make any sedentary individual cry.
That was the highpoint. The revelation soon followed, as I sat still on a rock on the infamous Knife’s Edge looking back upon the mountain I had just ascended, tracing my hike from the very trailhead I started at, followed by the hut I passed through, and the steep climb I made on the Cathedral Ridge trail, one of the steepest in New England. I sat motionless, soaking in the unfathomable views that stood before me, while my friends plunged deeper into the hike along Knife’s Edge, until I could just barely make them out over the jagged rust-colored rocks that made up the entirety of the ridge. What was so appealing about a bunch of rocks and a mountain that was essentially inaccessible to anyone who considers themselves severely out of shape? Just that. The fact that I could make these hard to get to destinations accessible to me by virtue of my self-determination and willpower was what made the journey so appealing to me. As I sat on that ridge overlooking the great feat I had just accomplished, I envisioned myself doing the same in other parts of America. I saw myself hiking 14000ers in Colorado, traversing along the Grand Canyon, reaching the top of the tallest mountain in the lower 48, Mt. Whitney, viewing some of the most scenic glaciated peaks in the world in Montana, and climbing some of the most difficult non-technical mountains in the world. All of this appealed to me. And as a got home from a flawless weekend in the middle of nowhere Maine, I had a dream. That I would make my love for nature flourish into something more than love. I would make it a part of my life. A part of myself. For so long, I had neglected what matters the most in this world of ours. Enjoyment. Doing what one cannot do without. So many people let their careers get in the way of their most coveted goals. And I won’t make that same mistake. I won’t sit idly by as my life withers away from me and I am no longer able to pursue my dreams. I’ll do what I can, when I can, and capitalize on my great opportunity to jumpstart my adventurous lifestyle with a cross country trip for the ages.
But before doing that, I have a degree to earn, and, as a more lifelong goal than immediate one, I’ve decided that I want to make peakbagging a hobby of mine. Peakbagging is simply a hobby that involves reaching the summit of a mountain without the aid of machines, and there are many clubs that honor those who have hiked a significant amount of summits. For instance, there are badges for completing the 48 4000 footers in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, or the 46 4000 footers in the Adirondacks in New York. For now, I would pursue the former goal, with the intention of completing the latter, in addition to the hundred highest peaks in New England, amongst others. For now, such a goal would occupy my time leading up to the trip, and satisfy my urge to explore nature and reach new heights. Literally. I want to experience the struggle of reaching the top, and the exhilaration of sitting atop that summit, looking down upon the world as if those below me are on a completely different level than me. Because that is what I truly believe. They attempt to seek new heights in their ways, while I attempt to seek new heights in my own. They may think that they’re on top of the world, but who’s the one who’s looking down at who?