Rebranding

I’ve spent the vast majority of my formative years meandering through what seemed like a meaningless string of careers and experiences that had nothing to do with one another. I wanted to join the Navy, then I wanted to become a psychologist, then I wanted to work in politics, communications, sales, physical fitness, animal wellbeing, firefighting, comedy, the service industry… The list probably isn’t over.

I know I want to write going forward – that’s going to be a given from now on. In all the research I did on becoming a comedian or an author, so many of those who had already made it asked their audience, “What is it that you want to tell the world? Who are you? What is your brand?” I’ve been struggling with that ever since. Like… Why should anyone listen to me talk about my meditative practice? Why should anyone be willing to lend their precious time to me for the sake of reading what I’m writing? Entertainment? Yes, obviously I’d like to be entertaining, but shouldn’t what I’m saying have some substance?

I think it should. That’s why I’m choosing to pursue this degree in counseling psychology in Vienna. I mean, sure I just really want to move to Europe, and Vienna is calling to me, but that’s why I want to reignite my passion for the field of psychology – because I think I can actually fucking help people. I think all of my failings and falling down and getting back up can actually mean something if I put some time and energy into figuring out their links.

When I was in college, I tried acid for the first time. I was just doing it for the sake of trying it, and it was a small blip in what became years of recreational drug use, but even then I knew it was something special. I read Electric Koolaid Acid Test and I became enthralled with the history and emerging science of psychedelics. I realized that there was something sitting on the edges of our consciousness that these drugs allowed us access to, but I got caught up in the powerful current of doing drugs for fun, and it took me WAY farther downstream than I thought it even could. But now, MDMA is being proven to treat PTSD and more and more research is showing there to be some therapeutic value in these substances I was captivated by (not cocaine, though).

Since high school I’ve been a strong advocate for physical fitness and eating well (mostly). I set up training sessions for my friends and me, organized trips to the park to climb on jungle gyms or throw around medicine balls, researched ad nauseum how different muscle groups worked together, and how to maximize each of their potentials. I’ve continued reading articles through to this day about the advances we’re making in kinesthesiology and nutritional science – how we can fine-tune what we’re putting into our bodies to reach new potentials.

I’ve always been an avid hiker. It’s been one of the most frustrating things about living in Chicago – I haven’t hiked once in the last six months, and I’m pretty sure it’s driving me mad. I’m a proponent of hiking because of the physical aspect, yes, but also because I believe strongly that immersion in nature can have such an unspeakably positive effect on our emotional and mental stability. There is no substitute for being five miles into the wilderness, and basking in the sunlight while you look out on rolling hills and vast mountain ranges, and absorb the energy of the life around you.

Still, there is no substitute for being surrounded by people you love, or people you don’t even know for that matter, and laughing together – unencumbered by social mores and time and space. Going to church and singing with 300 other people, voices harmonizing (or just being kind of shitty, but at least together) is an experience we should all have regularly. Having a drink with friends or making new ones at a bar in a new city can be just what I – what anybody – needs after long hours grinding away at work. We are social creatures, and socializing nourishes us in ways that nothing else can.

I want to study what it means to be a whole human being. I want to become one, sure, but I want to help others find whatever wholeness they can. I think that all of these things are a part of it, each as important as the last. We must all look inward and outward for pieces of the pie (mmmm, pie…), and each of those pieces will help us to paint a more full, rich picture of the people we ought to and can be.

That is the future I’m signing up for. That is the future I’ve been signing up for all along. And dammit, I’m really looking forward to that pie.

No, You’re Flighty!

I occasionally have difficulty focusing on things. Right now, for example, I am at work – the place where I imagine most people spend their time doing work. But what am I up to? Well, I’ve been checking out what credit cards I might qualify for in spite of my shitty credit score, I’m editing a short story that I wrote recently, and I’m writing this blog post. I’m pretty sure none of my coworkers read this (except the one that checks my screen every now and again to see if I’m working, who is clearly just being paranoid, and whose suspicions are baseless), so I feel pretty safe discussing my delinquency.

I know it’s not just an aversion to work because I have this issue in my free time, too. At parties I’ll bounce from group to group interjecting what I deem to be meaningful contributions to each conversation, then I’m off to the next cluster of people to brighten their lives. When I’m watching movies or TV at home, I’ll also be scrolling through shit on my phone. I’m listening to audiobooks or NPR when I’m driving, walking somewhere, playing videogames, or hanging out with my dog.

Do I have an aversion to silence? Is it my mind that’s unquiet? I feel  like I really enjoy silence at intervals, like when I’m hiking or… Actually it’s pretty much only when I’m hiking. Even then I’ll listen to audiobooks for large portions of my hikes, but for the really strenuous portions where every part of me hurts, I need silence. I need to be completely physically exhausted in order to entertain the notion of meditation. Though I’m not sure I’d call that meditation because in that state, I fall back on simple, looping thoughts to keep my limbs moving.

Immediately after the uphill, when the ground evens out and the push is over, that’s when my mind seems to be able to shut itself up for a minute. That’s when I’m able to come to an epiphany if there’s one to come to. After chewing on whatever my repetitive thought choice was at length, when my breath is quick and labored and my body aches, that’s the sweet spot.

As I’m typing this I’m realizing how long it’s been since I’ve been in that mental state. My thoughts leading up to now have largely been around a need for healthcare coverage so I can medicate myself to attain it, but I’ve completely ignored the potential that I’ve been landlocked by concrete for far too long. I need to get out, get away, get moving – that’s the medicine I need most right now (and probably always).

Thanks for going on this little mental journey with me, Reader, you’ve been a real help. Maybe we’re both flighty.

Whiteout Wandering

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We started onto the trail enthusiastically, some of us just having met, and all of us entering into the cold wilderness right out of the warmth of our vehicles. It was sunny, and so were our dispositions. We were all brought together by a love of the outdoors and shared connections in Berkeley, so we all shared similar world views, making for easy conversation.

“I actually used to be a search and rescue skier in this area,” one of our group said. And my friend had a Garmin tracking our route for portions of the trek, so we were pretty sure of ourselves as we powered forward, away from the Boreal ski resort where we left our cars. It still wasn’t particularly easy-going – all of us were degrees of youthful and fairly athletic, so we kept a decent pace and occasionally had to push through new packs of snow.

If you’ve never had to push through new snow on foot before, I can tell you that even with snow shoes, your feet sink down about two feet with each step. The snow shoes then collect snow on the way back up, making for a weighted-stairmaster experience even on flat ground, which is compounded by going up or downhill.

We reached our predetermined campsite as the sun started to set.  We all tamped down a portion of snow that would act as a wind and snowfall barrier for our tents over the course of the evening. Also, it created a hard enough surface to actually put the tents onto. Overly confident in our work, my partner at the time removed her snow shoes, and promptly sank waste-deep into the snow, filling her boots with ice shavings. She put back on her shoe shoes, and fought the feeling of frostbite by the fire for the remainder of the evening.

We also created a dining area by sinking a circle into the snow, with the center acting as a table, and the sides as a bench. We put the fire in the middle, and ate dinner and drank a little, and patted ourselves on the back for making good time on the way there, then retired to our respective tents for a well-deserved night’s sleep.

We woke up with the sun the next morning, and found a fresh powder over our tents. We started heating breakfasts and coffees and teas, consistent with our left-leaning palates. Just then, a man emerged from the trail leading farther into the forest. He was rugged-looking, by himself, and seemed to be in a bit of a hurry, but was happy to stop for some hot coffee. In exchange, he offered up his eggnog, which was still surprisingly a liquid, on account of its incredibly high alcohol content.

“You guys should really start packing up,” he said.

“Why’s that? We’re not that far off from where we started. Should be a quick hike out of here,” our “guide” said.

He responded by pulling out his radio, and clicking it on.

STORM WARNING… WHITEOUT CONDITIONS… IMMINENT DEATH… GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE…

The woman’s monotone voice came in loud and clear, so we thanked the wild man for the info, bid him adieu, and began our tipsy packing as quickly as we could. We started the hike, and quickly realized that the altitude, morning alcohol, fresh powder, and steep uphill portions of this hike were not going to make things easy on us. Shortly after, the whiteout conditions the woman mentioned kicked into gear.

We were in a single file line, trading off the lead position (it’s harder at the front, as you’re the first to pack down the snow), and very slowly making our way back to our cars. My glasses fogged over every few seconds, and icicles formed on my beard and in my ringlets of hair. We were never more than a few feet from each other, but it was still difficult to make out the people in front of you.

We continued like this for a few hours, then the gentleman immediately in front of me turned to me, “I feel like we’re not going the right way.”

“Yeah, I’ve been checking my compass every now and again, and I’m going to go ahead and agree,” I responded. He and I were the only ones who brought compasses. I don’t recall why the Garmin wasn’t doing this job for us, but it wasn’t. We were following the rescue guy. Well, it turns out he hadn’t been up in that area for over a decade.

“Let’s go to the top of this mountain, then we’ll be able to see if we’re on the right track!” he yelled back at us through the flurries of snow. We were tired, and not particularly interested in a steep climb, but it was our best idea for the time being – we were quickly losing daylight.

We neared the top, and lo and behold, the lights of the ski lift could be seen through a five second hole in the cloud cover. And wouldn’t ya know it, it was in the exact direction that the two people with compasses had been quietly pointing toward for some time.

Reinvigorated by knowing where the hell we were going, we started in the direction of the lights. We realized we weren’t going to make it by nightfall, so we made camp for the second (and unplanned) night in a clearing between some trees, balancing the benefits of having wind cover against the concerns of snow-laden branches falling on us as we slept. There was still laughter and joviality in the face of generally shitty conditions.

The next day, we started off early. We were no more than half a mile from the cars, but there was no way of knowing that the day before. We got hot cocoa from the resort, and my partner sat in the car enjoying it while I lie on the frozen pavement fumbling with the chains for the tires – my cold fingers only responding to fractions of the instructions they were given.

Finally off the mountain, we stopped at a cafe for one of the most satisfying burgers I’ve ever eaten, and warm apple pie (not a euphemism). As the color returned to our cheeks, we laughed at our stupidity, and talked optimistically about when we might do it again. So far we haven’t, but we’re still degrees of youthful.

Let Your Mind (and other parts) Run Free

I went into last night not sure what to do about the rest of my trip. Las Vegas had strippered me out of the vast majority of what I had intended to spend while traveling, but I still wanted to make the trip memorable, and entertaining. Do I just go straight to Chicago? I’ve got plenty of experience being poor in just one city. Do I soldier on through each planned waypoint in the face of my poverty? I couldn’t decide.

With all that on my mind, I had forgotten (on purpose) to write down which campsite I was occupying on my registration card. Honestly, I didn’t think anyone would check, but I’m glad the attendant did, because in our overly-long-you-clearly-don’t-have-many-people-to-talk-to-and-neither-do-I conversation, he mentioned that there was a hot spring not too far off. He warned me that it could be fairly “hippie-dippy,” I pointed out the “The Dude Abides,” shirt I was wearing, and assured him I’d be fine.

This morning, I started walking more or less right when I woke up, having learned a heat-related lesson from the Grand Canyon. Audiobook of choice for today: Theft By Finding by David Sedaris. After walking for two hours and some change, I was about to turn around when I saw a hat bobbing in the distance. I yelled out, “Hey, do you know where the hot springs are?”

After a moment of confusion, she finally spotted me and told me they were right below us. After convincing their dog, Dixie, that I was not a danger to her family, the male of the younger couple pointed out exactly where I could climb down, and which hot spring was the warmest. Ya know, my initial assumption was that they were a parents/children grouping, but they just as easily could have been swingers with a large age gap.

I made my way down the hill, then made sure that Dixie and the swingers had left, then cracked open a beer and disrobed (pictures upon request). While standing there in the glory of nature I thought, you know what’s cheap? Nudist resorts are cheap! With a new sense of purpose, I put my clothes back on, and headed for my vehicle. I caught up with and passed the swingers, but having confused and startled the older woman for a second time, I chose not to ask any clarifying questions as to the nature of their relationship.

I write to you from a resort just south of Denver, my tent set up, and my clothes in my car. Next stop: another spot recommended to me by the older couple (they’re all older couples) near Kansas City. More to come!

Which Hole Was Deeper?

After typing out my tale of debauchery surrounded by the wholesome folks in the North Rim Lodge there for a breakfast buffet, I headed to the rim itself and began what ended up being a much longer hike than I anticipated.

I set off a little before 9am with my water bottles filled and my spirits high. I distinctly remember feeling chipper, but noticing the sharply contrasting looks on the faces of people who had started much earlier, and were on their way back up. But I was listening to Anthony Bourdain’s audio book, and couldn’t be bothered with their negativity.

I kept up a decent pace, and felt like I was making good time. I asked multiple small groups along the way how much farther it was to ever-shifting goal locations, as my confidence in my ability grew with the discovery that I could refill my water bottles at the midpoint – Manzanita. I got there barely winded at all, slightly warm, and only marginally concerned about the trip back up. Good news: I had reached the bottom by 11am! Not so good news: the sign at the rangers station strongly advised against hiking between the hours of 10am and 4pm.

“How long did it take you to get to the top?” I asked the European backpacker who had arrived shortly after me. “About three hours,” he said, which is about what I was expecting. I sat around in the shade drinking water for 30 minutes or so, wet my face, my hat, and my shirt in the creek, then started my climb back to the top.

Right away I could tell that the heat and the elevation were not going to make this easy on me. I debated hanging out at Manzanita and waiting out the sun, but I decided I wanted to get on the road sooner than that, so I powered on, taking breaks in whatever shade I could find. At some point I realized that pants had been the wrong choice, so I lost those to my backpack. Then I couldn’t handle Tony’s voice in my ears anymore, as all of my attention needed to be on my misery for me to keep going.

A father and son duo from Amsterdam that I had seen on the way down caught up with me, and again gave me wonderful news of a nearby water station. Also, I was happy to find an outhouse, as the Valhalla Steak and Eggs from breakfast were waging war on my innards.

Brief aside: horse piss on the trail after hours in the sun is more difficult to deal with while you’re gasping for air during an ascent at elevation.

The water and shade and continuous rest breaks got me to the top around 3:30pm. “How far is Manzanita from here?” I asked the ranger at the top between breaths.

“5.4 miles and about 3600ft down, but I’d advise against it in this heat,” she said.

“Good to know,” I said. Normally, those numbers wouldn’t phase me, but with no training to speak of, 96° weather, and on the heels of an impressive hangover, the ranger may have had a point.

I made it to a campground in Utah last night, stopped at Four Corners this morning for the novelty of it, and decided I couldn’t spend another minute in the desert, so I headed north to the much greener portions of Colorado, where I sit happily with a cold local beer. Tonight sleep. Tomorrow Denver.

Strip Clubs and Nature

This is where I woke up today. Presently, I’m sitting in the dining room of the lodge at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, realizing that I’ve been in the same clothes since Thursday and I haven’t eaten anything since Friday night. So far, I’d say the trip is going well.

I arrived in Vegas Friday night around 12am, with the intention of grabbing a couple drinks across the street then getting some sleep, and as anyone who’s been out with me knows, that is not what happened. I got an Uber to wherever the Uber driver thought I should go – downtown in this instance. After meandering around for a bit, and a few more drinks, a strip club sounded fun. “I haven’t been to a strip club in forever,” I thought, so I went to a place called Cheetah.

While there, I spent the vast majority of my time learning about the life and aspirations of “Erica,” who grew up in Ghana and has dreams of opening her own restaurant someday. At some point, I got a phonecall from my dad warning me about a place he had a particularly bad experience with – Cheetah. I pshawed, and continued pouring money out of my bank account. Pro-tip: don’t show the group of strippers you’re hanging out with your bank account balance as justification for your shock at a declined card – it just gives them a goal. Anyway, about $1100 later my uncle rescued me from their clutches around 11am, and I promptly passed out on his couch until 8pm. Not feeling like I could survive another night in that fine city, I made the four hour drive to the Grand Canyon.

Apparently when you arrive at 2am, and are packed up again by 6am, the “Campground Full” signs aren’t as important. The Taylors – the group the my space was reserved for – certainly didn’t seem to mind. Today will involve a challenging hike to purge myself of toxins, and a much-needed shower to purge myself of the stripper smell. Happy Sunday!