April: looking back

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Well, it’s April, and the first portion of my “2016-year-off-school-search-for-my-soul-and-meaning-for-the-next-few-years-of-my-young-adulthood” is coming to an end before I embark on the CDT. First off, I am so glad that I have taken time off school. It is a bit difficult being away from friends and watching so many fun things happen over in Claremont via Snapchat and Facebook, but I don’t think I would have been having fun had I stayed at school for this semester. More on that later…

I haven’t really written a blog post in a while (2 months!), so I thought I might update the cyber-world on what I’ve been up to for the past few months. After all, I have decided, the millennial that I am, to share a decent amount of my life with you, dear reader (be you a person or a robot), so I should just go all out, right? That’s my two cents.

I just finished my last day working construction since I started in January. I am really lucky that I even got a job in the first place since my previous plans fell through due to some new federal laws on B Corporations (thanks ted cruz, go face swap with kevin from the office). I learned many things from working on the job from practical knowledge like how to operate more tools or knowing not to look at a welder strike an arc to more philosophical things like how to speak like a construction dude. In general, I was able to help a large project get closer to its end goal — you see the building go up in front of your eyes over the weeks — and I developed a new appreciation for the whole construction process and the people who do hard work day in and day out to create buildings, places, and infrastructure that we tend to overlook. A ton of science, time, labor, and art goes into construction that I never really considered before. So hey, I’m learning stuff even though I’m not taking classes!

on the job, doing some dude stuffIMG_0491.jpg

This is a bit of a random aside. It’s funny, when I spend a lot of time by myself, I tend to get obsessed with new things. Or old things. I’ve been through three phases over the past few months. I got re-obsessed with Kingdom Hearts the video game. I actually tried to think of a way I could write a story that would be like a thru-hiking version of Kingdom Hearts. I was fascinated by the notion that some of our most beloved stories involve going on an adventure and traveling (Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and Huck Finn to name a few). The thru-hiker version involves thru-hikers, mountains being portals to other worlds, and hiker-trash-folk defending those portals to save normal, civilized people. Our trekking poles turned into weapons and blaster rifles, and old trail angels held prophecies to predict the fate of Earth. Hey, I might write it in the fall. Maybe for Novel November. My next obsession phase was the Aeneid, another adventure, traveling story. The Aeneid and the Odyssey are two of the greatest stories of all time! Both are journeys. Anyways, I got into reading Latin, and I was reading the Aeneid in Latin for fun. Why? I don’t know. Finally, my latest fascination (I like that better than obsession) has been Fender Telecasters and electric guitars. For some reason, I’ve never played electric in my music career. I’ve always stuck to acoustic. However, after listening to too much Dawes, I really needed to get some electric guitar going in my life. It opens up so much. So, I’ve been wanting a tele ever since. I remember playing a telecaster in one of my friend’s basements in Roland Park. He played the drums, I played the tele, and we’d jam. Hard. It’s something about the look of them, the feel, and the twang. I went to Guitar Center and played an American Standard, three-tone sunburst Tele for thirty minutes. It was perfect. I wonder what I could do with a looper pedal… enough of my aside.

In March, Ethan invited me to go on an awesome spring break trip down through Charleston and into Florida to camp out, surf, and fish at Sebastian State Park. Lots of great times with some new friends, some tasty waves, and a gnarly shark! It was great checking out Charleston, too. What a pretty city. Check out Shore Thing Outfitters! Ethan has been working very hard on his new company lately, and they produce some great apparel!

this shark was swimming in the lineup where we were surfing, oh wellIMG_0516.jpg

sunset at the marinaIMG_0514.jpg

In late March, I caught a flight over to California to visit school, go on Shades tour to Seattle, and take a little hike on the PCT. I was extremely excited to get back and see friends I had not seen since last May.

Of course, one of my first experiences back at school was having coffee with master-brewer Antony. He makes a mean cup of joe. Ah, the world is back to normal.

this man will make you the best cup of coffee you will ever have

It felt great to be back on Walker Beach, playing guitar and hackey sack. The Ritz Clarkton would be my home for the next few days. I was ready for some good times.

Amazingly, my trip out to school just so happened to coincide with the Claremont Shades tour to Seattle (my a cappella group). They were nice enough to let me tag along on tour, and they even let me sing at a Frary snack concert the day I got back to Claremont! That was kind of weird, but really fun nonetheless. Tour in Seattle was one of the best weekends I have ever had. It was jam packed with performances, rehearsals, and group-bonding time. It’s a little hard to explain how much the Shades mean to me. We share a unique bond through musical effort, listening to each other, absurd tendencies, and raunchy socializing. They’re truly a special group of talented, beautiful people.

Claremont Shades on spring tour in Seattle! Check out our soundcloud!IMG_0552.JPG

Shades belting out Retrograde at UW farmer’s market, thanks Jason Salazar Photography!IMG_0564.JPG

On top of Shades tour and awesome weather in Seattle, I got to see my brother, Key, his girlfriend Kat (a fellow Sagehen!), and their doggy Kousa. I really look up to Key and Kat, and it was amazing spending time with them. I hope I’m back in Seattle sometime soon! Speaking of siblings, it’s National Sibling Day, and I really miss Key and Emma already. I love you both and wish you the best of luck. Especially Emma, she just moved to San Francisco! So exciting.

brothers and kousaIMG_0567.jpg

sitting in on shades rehearsal

 

 

The weekend breezed by and before we knew it, Pete, Robiño, and I were sitting back in the RC on Sunday night. Next up, a 4-day, 76-mile trek on the PCT from Big Bear to Cajon Pass/I-15. I picked up some food on Sunday night and found some rides to and from the trail. Huge shout out to Emelia, Isaac, and Mary-Clare for helping me get out there and picking me up, thanks! I still owe each of you a six pack. I’m setting a reminder on my phone right now for October.

The idea of this hike was to test out my new gear, see how my legs felt, and also get some alone time on the trail to see what things could be like once I start the CDT. This little trek turned out to be a huge success in terms of challenging weather, lots of alone time, and lots of miles/day. Yeehaw.

As Emelia and I drove towards Big Bear, we gained elevation and entered some pretty gnarly swirling clouds. The weather forecast for the next few days in Big Bear was low 40s during the day, snow and low 20s to high teens at night. I started thinking: what was I getting myself into? I’m glad I packed that extra fleece. We arrived at the trail head, and Emelia asked if I was gonna be ok. I said yeah but had more than a few lingering doubts in my mind. Oh well.

Fully layered on my torso (shirt, fleece, and puffy) along with my hat and gloves, I adjusted my trekking poles and started walking on the trail. I quickly warmed up, and the sun came out as well. Wow, it felt great to be walking again. I reached a high point around 7800′ where I had a cell signal, so I sent a text to my parents and an obligatory snapchat (#oy). The miles breezed by on that first day. I stopped for a little tuna mixed with cold instant potatoes (I didn’t bring a stove, I did the cold soak with potatoes and couscous instead) and a siesta under a dope tree and also played my little guitar for a bit:

I’m hoping to write some original songs along the CDT and get some other people singing and playing with me. What fun that would be.

I ran into a man with his dog, Hercules, chainsawing some fallen logs over the trail. As a hiker, I sometimes forget about all the hard work it takes just to make a trail walkable. The PCT is an incredible feat of organization and dedication from people who genuinely care about the wilderness and want people like me to have amazing experiences along the trail. I definitely want to do some volunteer trail work in the future. For now, I’ll try to leave the places I walk a better place as I go and thank those trail-workers for their efforts when I pass.

The first night I camped at a place called Little Bear Springs Trail Camp. It had an outhouse/pit toilet and a spigot that was not working. By late afternoon, the wind had really picked up and some clouds were rolling in as the temperature plummeted. I was sure it was going to snow. There was that dry feel, that greyish-purple-blue look, and that smell I can’t explain before it snows. You might sorta know what I mean.

I picked out a spot under some pine trees, hoping they would provide some shelter from the wind and snow… didn’t amount to much. It took me about 30 minutes to set up my tarp. Luckily, I had lots of daylight left. My tarp is made out of ultralight cuben fiber (it’s the rage these days) and weighs about 12 ounces or something with the stakes. Not only is it incredibly light and shaves weight and room in my pack, but it’s technically a two person tarp and has lots of space underneath for spreading out my gear and staying dry. It has 8 tie outs (4 corners, 1 on each side, and 1 on each end) and is held up by my trekking poles. I have practiced setting it up in my backyard a few times but didn’t realize how difficult it would be in gusty winds and loose soil. My stakes aren’t very long, so anytime I was close to getting the tarp fully staked out and erect (hehe), wind would blow, grab my tarp like a sail, and blow out the stakes from the ground. I finally learned to completely stake the tarp flat to the ground, hammer down those stakes with some rocks, loosen up the guy lines, then put the poles in to set up the ridge line and adjust from there. I know the CDT is going to be windy, so this is an important skill for me to learn. Once I got it set up and taut, the tarp held its own in some strong winds, although I was always certain it would blow out every time a gust came up.

After eating some dinner (mmm cold couscous), I bundled up and climbed into my bag on my pad, on my groundsheet, under the tarp.

first night getting chilly with some dark clouds rolling inIMG_0587.jpg

Of course, I couldn’t fall asleep. Whenever a gust came up, my whole tarp would push down, and I tried to steady it from underneath with my hands. Once it was dark, snow started sprinkling onto the tarp. It picked up as time went by. I phased in and out of sleep. Stress levels were high, but I knew I would probably be fine. I woke up at one point and turned my dim head lamp on (I forgot to get new batteries) and noticed snow starting to gather around me under the tarp. The snow was so light and dry that the wind would pick it up and swirl it under my tarp! I jumped up and took out the back pole in order to stake the tarp flat to the ground. This method proved pretty effective, and I was finally able to get some sleep.

gorgeous morning after a LONG nightIMG_0589.jpg

cozier than it looksIMG_0590.jpg

Well, I’m sure I’ll be seeing some of those nights on the CDT, so I’m glad I had that experience and that my gear held up alright.

I shook the snow off of my tarp, groundsheet, and pad, packed my bag, grabbed a pop-tart, and set off for day two. I got a little lost down a jeep road but found the trail pretty quickly again. I was following my halfmile app, but it turned out my maps were more helpful! Maps and apps. Jeez would you look at that. Technology. What a gorgeous morning. I walked through a high valley with burnt trees and a snowy ridge to my left. My legs felt great day two. I passed a couple and also a man and his son. I know the father and son were just out for a section like me, but I wasn’t sure if the couple were thru-hiking or not.

very pretty day IMG_0592.JPGIMG_0593.JPG

Anyways, it was a beautiful day. I was really stuffed up though, probably a result from little sleep in Seattle followed by frigid temperatures. Oh well. I took a nice little nap as I aired my gear out a little more in the sun. As the afternoon came around, about 15 miles walked, 6 to go, another snow storm rolled through. It came as I walked through Deep Creek Canyon on the way to the Hot Springs, my destination for the evening. As it began, I made sure everything was waterproofed (I forgot to put a trash bag over my guitar) then put on my rain jacket and donned the umbrella. It snowed sideways. I was pretty pissed. A perfect day ruined by wet sleet and snow. My legs grew stiff, and my hands were tired from holding the umbrella. My shoes and socks got soaked as I brushed through wet grass overhanging the trail. I was not looking forward to another wet night. Despite this, I was pretty stoked about my umbrella keeping my upper half super dry. Those 6 miles or so lasted forever. I thought the Hot Springs would suddenly appear around each bend, but I was disappointed by endless trail meandering along the canyon again and again. There was nobody around me.

I finally reached the Hot Springs and walked down towards a few other tents near the creek. As I expected, there were a couple naked old guys in the hot tub chilling out. If you haven’t been to Deep Creek Hot Springs, it is worth checking out. It’s a really cool place pretty close to Claremont. Good vibes. Minimal clothing.

Luckily, the snow stopped and the sun came out just as I got to camp. I set up my tarp in the sand and threw my wet gear underneath. I stripped off my clothes and climbed in the hot tub. Boy, did that feel good. I met three naked old guys who had been camped there for a while and also a younger guy named Willem. He was from South Africa and was hiking the PCT. He started in February! Willem had some crazy stories. One involved passing out from dehydration in the desert. Another one involved San Jacinto Peak, waist deep snow, being lost, and finding someone else to make it back down the mountain. He was 22, a film maker, and just graduated from school. Real cool guy. He’s writing a book!

After an hour in the tub, some wine from a bag (#franzia), and a little cold potatoes, I called it a night.

hot springs looking great after it snowed all afternoonIMG_0595.JPG

The next morning I got a late start. I felt like donkey balls. My head ached from sinus pressure, and my legs were pretty sore. Not fun. Willem and I agreed to meet at a campsite 22 miles away. It was fun hanging out and exchanging stories with someone close to my age, but I had to get away from the hot springs. It kind of smelled like piss down there.

As I walked the rest of Deep Creek Canyon, my legs felt better, and my head cleared up a bit. I had some gross snot rockets. I could launch them pretty far though. I was really enjoying this morning. It doesn’t really look like it in the pictures, but the canyon was incredibly green and vegetated. Flowers were everywhere. This section surprised me with its beauty and variability.

walking through deep creek canyon with a view of the san gabesIMG_0596.JPG

The miles were dragging today. I had only done 10 miles by 1pm or so. I picked up the pace as the temperature rose. I walked through some more open, desert-ish areas and walked in view of a few highways. This was more of the boring desert PCT that I thought I would be walking through. It was still fun! I even met a guy named Milford who asked me where I kept my Bible. I proceeded to think about religion, spirituality, and deep stuff like that for the next few hours. It’s amazing how many different things you can think about when you are alone. I’m a pretty good day dreamer. Most of my day dreams involve me doing really cool things like being in a band and playing at Coachella or something like that.

going through some industrial yards (hidden mining and oil wonders of california desert)IMG_0598.JPG

The day dragged on. My calves were burning. Not the muscles. I was getting sun burnt and didn’t have any sun screen. Oh well. I think that’s my new catch phrase by the way. As the afternoon went by, I continued to feel worse and worse. I just wanted my sleeping bag. Where was this damn camp where we were gonna meet? I’m out of oreos. For the last few hours, I hiked above and around a pretty large lake/reservoir. I watched some people play around in speed boats.

dope lake just before some drizzling rainIMG_0599.JPG

More rain was coming. Great. I missed the turn off for the camp and ended up camping right between a highway and a bike path in some trees. I was too tired to back track and find Willem. My legs were tired to the bone. My face hurt. This wasn’t a good camp site. Oh well.

I slept from 7pm to 8am. Some people walked by and stared at me. I took ten minutes to stretch my legs. My head still felt like a donkey butt. I aired out my sleeping stuff because some serious condensation gathered on my tarp. Bad site selection.

I finally got going at 9:30 or so, but I only had 14 miles today until Cajon Pass, I-15, and McDonalds. I came across a port-a-potty next to the trail. After that, I cranked some Shades-tunes on my iPhone and climbed upwards and out of the lake valley. I sat by the trail for a while to take in the nice, easy breeze and sunlight. It was pretty nice out. Then, Willem came walking up to me! We walked the rest of the day together. Good times were had. The last few miles took forever, but we crushed some McDonalds together to finish the day. Totally awesome. Best of luck as you go forward, Willem!

view of san gabes (north side) before descending to cajon pass/i-15IMG_0605.jpg

IMG_0608.PNG

Overall I had a great time on the trail, and I learned some valuable lessons:

  • layers are great, gloves rock
  • less weight makes everything SO MUCH BETTER
  • might need a buff/balaclava for sleeping
  • tarp stuff:
    • if it’s super windy, setting up a tarp is very difficult
    • snow can blow under your tarp –> go for one pole storm set up
    • site selection is key
    • the tarp is still dope though and keeps me dry
  • the umbrella is an awesome piece of gear
  • sleep with filter so it doesn’t freeze
  • sleep with phone so it doesn’t lose battery in cold
  • stopping to have conversations is always worth it, people are cool
  • I want to do trail work in the future
  • being sick on the trail SUCKS
  • I want to bring a stove, hot mac and cheese or ramen or knorrs is too good
  • force myself to eat more snickers, more protein, more nuts
  • oreo pudding mix in the middle of the day is not good
  • favorite tuna flavors: sundried tomato and jalapeño
  • toe socks + altra lone peaks are amazing
  • the last miles are always the longest
  • watching people look at you in mcdonalds is great

I really can’t wait to get on the CDT. I’m ready. Or at least I’m saying I am…

Getting back to Claremont was great. I had an amazing weekend with good friends, good food, and good times. Highlights were probably the dope hackeysack sessions, late night music listening in Walker 740, ShASS, late nights in the RC, the cookout, and the ultra-jam-sesh after the cookout. That whole weekend made me feel like a smiling sloth that hums Beatles songs. I am so lucky to go to school with such incredible, smart, interesting, courageous, unique, passionate, and loving people.

It’s pretty wild how I went from “wow I have to get out of here” to “wow I can’t wait to get back here” as soon as I missed the first intramural baseball game in January (#illuminatty). I’m definitely glad I’m taking my time off, but it’s made me realize how wonderful my experience at Pomona has been and will be when I go back. It’s so hard to look at the bigger picture when you’re in the thick of things. For me, the past two semesters of college have been like racing through a dark tunnel from class to class to choir rehearsal to lacrosse to a cappella to hanging with friends and then trying to find some time to sleep. Then I’d look back at what I did and think it wasn’t good enough or cool enough. Compare myself to other people. I’ve always had trouble balancing my interests with intense time commitments. I love and care about everything I do on campus, but my life before my time off had been a bit unsustainable. I need some alone time. Time for me to do whatever the heck I want. Play music, stare at Baldy, run, skate. Rest and recharge.

I know so many other people at Claremont struggle with the same thing. We share this weird duality of love for our school and friends but also hate for our own lifestyle and work ethic. Hate is a bit strong of a word. I don’t know about you, but my life as a student is so far from real. I guess it’s something I’m hoping to figure out how to solve before going back, but I don’t have any answers. I don’t think I ever will. All I know is that I will come back to school with an outsider’s perspective. I hope this makes me value my time left (three semesters) and helps prevent me from negative thought processes towards academics and social life. Being away from my friends, especially those who were abroad in the fall, is rough. I didn’t really think about it until I was back on Walker Beach laughing my pants off and breathing happiness. My time away has taught me how important my friends are despite the distance between us in both space and time. Not only does this go for my Claremont friends, but also for my friends from home. I only get to see certain people once or twice a year now. It’s really hard. I know growing up means sometimes letting go of old relationships, but it’s so agonizing when you are constantly reminded by Facebook “memories” and #tbt Instagram pictures. Despite all of this, I know that when I return from the trail, I will be incredibly happy to see familiar faces. I love my friends. It’s as simple as that.

 

 

Well, I really need to mow the lawn now, but I hope you enjoyed reading about my recent wanderings. Writing this has made me think of new questions, but I guess that’s what happens when you think too much. I can’t wait to start walking, daydreaming, and making music instead.

cheers,

-slingshot

 

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