I’m lying in the bed of a pickup truck. I’m lying on my neoair, or as my hiking partner, Scott, called it while acknowledging its limitations, a yellow balloon. He had popped his while laying on granite shards at the base of one of yosemite’s large cliffs. And it is of such a strikingly un-outdoorsy shade of yellow that I claimed the Thermarest fabric supplier must have had a sale. When his sleeping pad had popped a week earlier, he wasn’t even mad. It had been a long day and it was almost expected that something else might happen. The worst face of Murphy’s law. Continue reading Euphoria: Thru-hiking the John Muir Trail
Standing among high mountains, we are instantly humbled. Their towering peaks, foreboding granite walls instill a sort of humility that only the powerful forces of the universe can provide. And yet they almost seem to crave being climbed, beckoning like a child wishing to be acknowledged. It is like Schrodinger’s cat, the sort of thing like some philosophers hypothesize the universe necessarily must spawn life in order to exist. If a mountain exists in the woods and no one is there to climb it, does it exist? The mountains seem to announce a similar array of necessity, not an insecurity, but rather a requirement to be observed. Continue reading The patient life: life of adventure
I shoved my ice axe down, trying to establish a self belay, essentially the lifeline for my travel on this alpine glacier. If I fall I would quickly grab the axe and hopefully it is well planted enough to hold my weight. The axe penetrated just a few inches in. Before it had been going deep into the snow. It happens though, there are occasional patches of ice. I pushed through again. Didn’t budge.
His name is Alex, a recent immigrant to Boulder, Colorado. But to someone from another coast, another world, his move from Seattle to another high mountain range seems altogether mundane. And in truth it was. He was working now at a small start up technology firm vying it out with giants like Sonos and those robot vacuum cleaners. A fascinating enterprise which he had studied for his masters in Seattle. He is one of those economical academics who worked in the PhD program, secured funding and a generous stipend, then abandoned with his masters, a genius loophole to obtain a masters with no debt, and one which the universities have yet to close or don’t have enough concern to care. Continue reading The story I wanted to tell: climbing Longs Peak
I wanted to believe it wasn’t happening again. I lied to myself, I lied to her, lifting my face up from the mud “just some mild altitude sickness” as I lay on the trail. I held my hand up with my thumb and index finger just an inch apart to emphasize “mild”. She rightly didn’t seem convinced and set her pack down. She was waiting for her husband and decided some ibuprofen may help me. I returned my face to the ground and lay curled up just off the side of the trail. Just before she had arrived I had drank several liters straight from a creek launching down from the alpine snowfields. Liter after liter I guzzled the snowmelt like my life depended on it. In reality, my life did depend on it, but more so it depended on my body’s ability to accept it. Continue reading Acute mountain sickness, hell on earth
My boat glided up onto the beach as I popped open my spray skirt. The dense smell of sweat and urine assaulted my nostrils. I slipped out of the boat and fell into the water, tried to stand, and contented myself with wading. I waded in the water for minutes, looking up on the island at the campers. Occasionally one would walk by and give me a look of total confusion, but the refugee Cubans arriving moments before distracted them from my arrival, at least long enough for me to learn how to walk again. Continue reading Key West to Tortugas, Part 3
One rainy day in college, just before Thanksgiving, I stood out on the side of 311 near Roanoke with my thumb out. I had been threw hell the past few days but still was ecstatic. I was excited for my warm cozy bed, a large PK’s pesto pizza, and a good Pixar movie. But I was most thrilled about what I had just done, the grueling solo backpacking adventure I would remember forever. Hour after hour people sped by me without even the slightest hesitation. And eventually one man took the time to roll down his window, slow down, and flick me off. I was baffled by his judgement. Initially I thought, no I’m not one of them but then wondered, one of who? He could know nothing about me from his drive by and from his attitude, never would.
I remember that night thinking this silly self-portrait may be my last. But it didn’t bring me dysphoria. It brought action which of course led me out of the backcountry. I wish I could explain the feeling I had when I took this picture but I imagine my expression and the setting themselves say enough. I had no idea how brutal the weather I was about to face was truly going to be or how well my gear would hold up. I was stupid antsy, not naive, just rushed. My tent flattened on the ground and turned to a bivy sack in the 100 mile per hour gusts. If I hadn’t restaked it in the middle of the night, it certainly would have been destroyed. This is the face when the child-like excitement wears off and reality sets in. I guess I could say this is my ‘scared out of my mind’ face, but it is not the ridiculous fear that people feel for spiders or snakes. It is a calm fear, a totally collected state of mind. No adrenaline rush, probably even lowered blood pressure. Like mental overdrive. A kind of acceptance, this is where I am, I got myself here, now I’ll get myself out. It’s fun to think of the solitude I experienced on the mountain that night, the knowledge that I wholly was alone, a kind of apocalyptic taste if you will. And to be perfectly honest, I can’t wait to get back out there. Maybe with a four season tent and a real rain jacket, some waterproof gloves and maybe a buddy too. But the experience is no different. Continue reading Self-portraits
A few weeks ago after a medical school interview in Tucson I drove up to the Grand Canyon for a couple days of backpacking. I arrived at the deep abyss in the twilight hours with a golden moon lighting the ridges in the valley. It was awe inspiring, humbling, and overwhelmingly beautiful.