The most real way to meet other humans is to do so while traveling and in nature.
Yesterday David and I had breakfast at Erhard’s Café, the European café that has become my favorite pre-work coffee shop. On our drive home we decided to drop by REI to see how much crash pads cost – we’d been planning on buying one since the bouldering scene here is splendid, but were planning on waiting for our next paycheck.
It turned out that REI had one two-fold crash pad in the back which was less expensive even than Amazon… we took the leap! Excitedly we drove home with our new gear. We quickly grabbed our climbing shoes, chalk, and clothes and began driving up Baseline toward Flagstaff trail (known for awesome bouldering routes).
It was raining off-and-on as we drove up the mountain, so once we got to the bouldering area we waited a few minutes to see if it would stop raining in time for bouldering to be safe. As we walked back to the car, Lacey panting lightly ahead of us, we saw another car pull up and a couple got out. They both had crash pads on their backs and were hesitantly approaching the rocks. David saw them and said hello, excited to see more climbers. We all introduced ourselves and admitted that none of us had climbed outdoors before; Kate worked at a climbing gym in Chicago and Benjamin had climbed often but we were all new to real boulders. We decided we would all climb together, and walked off in search of a route.
The most honest way to get to know people involves what I just described. It creates fast friendships, somehow, in a beautiful way. We spent hours hiking over rocks, chatting and climbing, with Lacey tagging behind or running in front. The rocks felt incredible; harder on the hands than gym holds but so much more satisfying.
Today, we all met up again to go bouldering for a few more hours; Kate and Benjamin are only visiting Boulder so they’re adventuring within the music scene for the rest of the day. We found new routes and Lacey found shade – it was scorching today. It was deeply gratifying, cheering each other on with the layers of mountains in the background and the feel of the mossy green-grey rocks under my hands.
You’d think the pervading smell would be bitter and rough on the senses, like espresso, but instead it is a full scent, red-colored like cedar. I look down and see the reason: old, worn wooden floorboards, chipped in places and streaked with scratches from chairs dragged by old friends.
I tire of my book because it is not what fits my current mental puzzle piece, so I put it down. I place it carefully along the curve of a metal enclosure, hugging an ancient stove no longer in use as anything except a table upon which someone has placed flowers… red-pink, brilliantly homely flowers. Obviously picked from the back yard. These flowers speak to me, tell me that there is no need for high expectations, they whisper to me that leaves are just leaves and petals are simply petals and I am simply… sitting at this table across from you.
You sit across from me at this tiny wooden table burdened by our cups of chai lattes (mine with a shot of espresso, it is a coffee shop after all) and our laptops. I write as you learn French, I glance up at you to try to express in language who you are in this moment and you meet my fleeting gaze, lips turning up at the edges, wondering why I keep staring at you. I counter by looking behind you, at the worn brick wall decorated by old hangers, only a minority of which used to carry lopsided paintings depicting beaches and donkeys and homes and different ages. There are holes in the brick wall; I wonder why? Were they used to carry things too, once upon a time? Now there are only a few paintings, were there dozens or hundreds or thousands? How many voices were portrayed in paint upon these walls?
And how many times will you have to listen to my voice, slipping its way into your mind through the words, the lifetimes I describe to you here? I am in a coffee shop, only one of the multitudes who have passed this way, only one of the infinite amount of humans who have existed at this latitude and longitude yet I am here now and I am changing everything. Perhaps we can feel the past, feel the remains of the souls who have stood, sat, or walked here and made some kind of minute change. I try to open my mind to such differences; all I see and feel are the flowers and the sense that perhaps I should have gotten the smaller size of coffee.
Based on my last post I decided to compile a small guide to finding a home, wherever you are in life.
Realize that home is important.
First college, then interning in Ireland last summer, and now being in Colorado for the summer: these experiences have taught me that I need a home. I believe this is perhaps a human phenomenon. If I go too long without having someplace nearby which feels like home, I feel lost. I want to mention that there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling lost, but that is because it leads to experiences which help you find yourself.
Having a place which feels like your own brings a certain sense of peace. It’s especially useful when you’re traveling alone and need the comfort of familiar faces, or a table which bears the memories of hours spent reading with a mug of coffee. This can help you feel centered and balanced, a deeply important aspect of traveling and one which is hard to maintain when you are out of your comfort zone.
Make a list of what makes you comfortable.
Know what keys into your sense of feeling at home. Do you like to read? Do you like to find places to sip warm drinks and people watch? Perhaps you prefer a bar, where you can spend hours among the sounds of conversation and local music. Maybe you prefer to seek out a volunteer opportunity like an animal shelter. Jogging? Yoga? Try new things. Keep a list of what makes you happy and move on from there.
This is the most important way to find a home: act upon what you know about yourself. Try things, and don’t be afraid to change your lifestyle based on what you find. Do things that make you happy. When you feel lonely, like you’re missing a home, then go to one of your home-places or be with a home-person you’ve found. It will change everything.
It doesn’t take much to find balance, yet it takes a decision and decisions are everything.
As I wrote in an earlier blog post, it’s been an exhausting week. Working with children as a summer camp counselor is rewarding and affirming, yet it’s also a huge learning process and humbling experience.
Being away from home this summer is also niggling on my conscience… the feel of the ocean, and the smell of the salt air seem incomprehensibly far away. Seashore-living is differently hued than mountain life. Living along the sand is clear-blue, and mermaid-green, and the color of brilliant sunsets filling a horizon untouched by anything except the rhythm of waves and sand.
Yes, the mountains are different from my roots, the ocean. The mountains are shaded. They are variants of deep purples and blues, with cascading shimmer-silver dusting their edges. They are older and permanent, while the ocean is ever-changing.
I have been missing the ocean. And the mountains, without realizing it; because of work and post-work exhaustion I haven’t been able to find my way into the mountains. I had told David on multiple evenings that I would hike Chautauqua the next day and each day I did not; it saddened me. Finally, on Friday I arrived home from work and told David, “I’m bringing Lacey to Chautauqua. I promised her.” (Which I had done that morning, and you just don’t go back on promises to dogs. They know.) “Do you want to come?”
Approximately half an hour later we were on our way.
As soon as we started walking up the main path at Chautauqua, my heart felt incredibly lighter. My feet were quick and sure; this is where I belonged. The mountain air is unbelievably pure, and it is home.
Defining home is always a learning experience. I have traveled enough in my lifetime to understand that home is transient yet permanent; I will always have a beckoning toward the ocean in Gulf Breeze, Florida yet I will always seek change and learning, thus I must make new homes elsewhere. Home is necessary, at least to me. I must create for myself a place which feels worthy of the word. In Ireland, that place became my apartment with one of my closest friends, Hania, and a few coffeeshops and cafes we frequented. In Orlando, my home was my apartment with Hania, Julia and Steph, until Steph left for New Zealand. Then I did not have a home for a while, and I noticed the difference.
Floating will occur, regardless of who you are. You will go through a time when you feel lost. If you do not, make it happen — it taught me more than I can explain. Feeling lost is a side-effect of truly living.
In Colorado, my home has become our apartment on 30th Street, with David, Lacey, Brittany our roommate, and Guinness her dog. It has become the mountains, too, perhaps even more so because they are home in a deeper, more incomprehensible way.
Breathing the mountain air, walking well-worn paths, touching trees along the way; this is home to me. For now.
I was having an unusually gray morning today. I couldn’t become motivated, I didn’t really want to spend energy making breakfast or doing anything except laying in bed. It was partly exhaustion for sure; I don’t like going to sleep early because it feels like wasted time and I don’t like sleeping late for the same reason (not quite the most logical set of preferences). I was stressed about working so much when the day was becoming so beautiful, and in Colorado — my wilderness adventure ideal.
I decided to leave home a bit early (it’s a Wednesday so I work 9:45-5:45) so that I could get some breakfast en route to the Rec Center. I stopped by a tiny, beautiful European bakery only two stoplights away from 55th street, my last turn toward work.
I had been to the bakery once before, on Monday, and was completely taken by it. I only found it because I wanted coffee so badly; I was nearly at work and my last option for a coffeehouse was to check the mostly-empty strip mall area at the biggest intersection on Baseline. It’s where my bike path morphs from winding sidewalk along the Boulder Creek to hard biking along the busy Baseline Road. I biked along the shops, searching for something resembling a coffeehouse but only finding Chinese and Japanese restaurants, a Safeway, a few banks, and a fitness club until…
On Monday, I walked in and immediately loved the place. The atmosphere is cozy and there were a few groups of older men eating breakfast together. I walked up to the counter, unsure of myself, and asked if they served coffee. A lovely older woman answered me that they did indeed. I found the coffee menu on the wall and quickly ordered a cappuccino with soy.
It was the best cappuccino I’d had in such a long time. The woman was gracious and kind, and offered to give me more milk; the gentleman behind me laughed understandingly when I apologized for being in his way as I tried to find my wallet. “Don’t worry, dear.” I hadn’t been called “dear” in a while.
Today when I visited, I locked my bike quickly to a handrail next to stairs and walked in. The place was completely empty at 8:30-ish. I walked to the counter and, embarrassed, asked if they were open. The older man there answered in a heavy accent, “Yes open.” A younger woman, dressed in polka-dots, walked out of the kitchen to take my order.
Speaking to people about coffee and pastries can really turn a morning around. After deciding on a soy chai with two espresso shots and debating on using my $10 bill to buy that and an apple turnover or the drink and a blueberry muffin for David, I had thoroughly lost the haze over my morning and felt refreshed. Perhaps its the pastries which bring awakening, but I think it’s being with a person.
My dad and I have always trusted this method for chasing away melancholy, yet it’s easy to forget. We’ve traveled extensively together (within the United States) and have, each time, experienced the loneliness and morose feelings which come as a side-effect of travel. Loneliness, I think it is. It’s hard to identify, elusive to grasp; the symptoms appear far before you can even recall that it exists. The traveler, or at least in our case, believes he or she is brave and open to new experiences and forgets that every human is susceptible to loneliness.
But as soon as it is identified, the cure is a heartbeat away. Being with people, authentically, truly, and openly, solves it. Dad and I used to realize it, a day or two into a road trip and after silence has stretched too long. One of us would mention that we needed to grab a cup of coffee. The other would be delighted and surprised, just then remembering the cure for silences which become isolating. We would stop somewhere small and colorful, walk inside, and order something confusing enough to begin a conversation. It was never on purpose, but I believe our purpose was never to just ascertain a cup of coffee.
I think this is why I love coffee so much.
We are, as humans, an amalgamation of locks for which our task in life is to find the keys — that is, if we wish to be happy. There are those locks which are epidermic: they are easier to find, like perhaps yoga or reading for long hours. For me, this includes coffeeshops to battle loneliness. Then there are those which are deeper, and which will lead to self-understanding and thus more sustainable happiness and peace. These, I am still figuring out. I always will be.
This is one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever inhaled.
I truly did inhale this story; in the span of three days I spent hours upon hours reading… on the couch, in bed, while walking Lacey, at the dog park… Krakauer’s writing style is incomparable. He is a natural reporter and his story reads like a feature article — an incredibly good one. The details are all given to the reader, but only the necessary ones. I could feel the ice chill of 20,000 feet high on Everest; my stomach groaned from the gnawing starvation mixed with nausea Krakauer described at 23,000 feet; ghost wind whipped my hair into my eyes as I absorbed Krakauer’s words. He is a master of description and storytelling.
Yet Krakauer’s style is horrific as well. He states in the genesis of his book that he was warned to wait longer before writing it, so that perhaps the emotions would dull to a bearable level. He ignored this, though and wrote the book only five months after the deadly climb. I felt myself becoming numb from depression as his words carried his voice and his very core into my mind. I think I became a small shadow of Krakauer by reading his novel, which denotes a true writer.
The story is devastating yet one I would recommend to any adventurer, because it acts as a warning: there is much more than mankind in this world, and much that mankind is not meant to survive. Survival isn’t granted, as most of us assume. It is not a human right, because human rights do not exist at 29,000 feet.
Krakauer makes a point to remind the reader that intelligence is greatly lacking in high altitude, and that the “facts” he reports are only called thus because they have been checked through interviews with fellow climbers. I cannot imagine the pain of those conversations. Krakauer describes the friendships and companionships these people developed; he does so, though, in the same gray-tinted wording as the rest of his novel. The climbers were paying clients, and their guides were responsible for their lives; friendships had boundaries. Survival was utmost. Krakauer also notes (although tentatively) selfishness and machismo in his fellow climbers which may have led to deaths. His statements have been greatly critiqued and he answers these critiques in the back of the book, yet again stating that facts are relative when those experiencing them have the intelligence of an average 5-year-old.
I simply cannot imagine what he, and the other Everest climbers, went through on the mountain. I am hugely grateful for Krakauer’s story, though, as a solemn bow to many lives and to the dangerously addicting culture of climbing mountains.
It is 8:54 in the morning and my body feels like I rolled down a mountain, instead of hiking up one. I should be asleep still; David and I didn’t get home from Colorado Springs until midnight-ish, but I want to write down yesterday’s experience before time obscures my memory.
My uncle Ryan messaged me about a week ago stating that we should come to Colorado Springs this past weekend to hike Pikes Peak, a “fourteener,” as people from Colorado call mountains at least 14,000 feet high. Hiking a fourteener is held in high esteem here; I have a friend from work who has made it her goal to hike as many as she can. She wears bracelets to represent each fourteener she has summitted.
So, knowing that much (which isn’t much), I told Ryan that yes, David and I would love to hike Pikes Peak with him on Saturday. He gave me a packing list including sunscreen, hats, sandwiches, and lots of water. We arrived in Colorado Springs Friday night loaded with all of these items and a few extra snacks from Trader Joe’s, of course.
That night Ryan, my cousin Emma, her boyfriend Forrest, and Ryan’s girlfriend Moira made us a wonderful spaghetti dinner. We all chatted at the dinner table until 10 pm, when Ryan sent David and me to bed with the statement that we had better wake up early, because we would be leaving for the mountain by 5:15 at the latest.
Side note: sleeping in a bed, for the first time in a month, felt like my body was floating. The bed balanced each part of my body perfectly and felt as if some hand of God was cradling me as I slept. Lacey felt the same way; she hogged most of the bed.
I woke up around 4:30 am to down a few mugs of coffee before we had to leave. Ryan was up already and had made a pot, so we talked as I gulped the plentiful caffeine. It was 5:15 before long, and David was awake and ready. The three of us piled into the car (Lacey stayed because we weren’t sure how she would do with the altitude and long hike) and headed toward the trailhead.
It was 6 am when we finally had parked and were standing at the trailhead. The sun was peeking over the horizon of mountains as if to say “Hello, don’t worry, I’m watching you.”
We began slowly at first. David and I were still groggy from waking up before 5 am but Ryan was raring to go. “Let’s step it up a gear,” he said often enough to inspire us but not quite enough to make us push him down the mountain, although we told him we would. Gradually we began to find our rhythm, and onward we climbed.
Each time I looked at the horizon, it seemed that we had climbed hundreds of feet higher. The path quickly brought us above the line of the relatively small mountain which was the beginning of the Barr trail and toward the rising sun. It was definitely uphill but not a tough path, necessarily; comparing it to the steep staircase trail David and I took to reach Bear Peak, Barr trail was absolutely wonderfully forgiving. Ryan explained to us that the slow incline was so that our bodies could adapt to the increasing altitude safely.
We reached Barr Camp after 6 miles of this easier hiking through beautiful aspen trees and darker, more richly green pine.
Barr Camp was a wooden paradise for the tiring hiker with free chocolate pancakes, garlic bread, bathrooms, and an entire cabin shelf full of books. We stayed at the Camp for half an hour chatting with hikers, refilling our water, and energizing with burritos from TJ’s. Ryan had expected that we would reach Barr Camp but questioned if we would be able to hike much further; David and I repeatedly mentioned that we felt, somehow, that we would make it.
So off we went, higher and higher. From Barr Trail the altitude began to be noticeable; first Ryan, then David and I felt giddy and then lightheaded every-so-often. We had complicated conversations about the environment and human evolution then switched too-quickly to discussing the gas-production qualities mountains tend to have on the human digestive system.
We finally reached timberline after an hour or two of hiking past Barr Camp. Timberline is where trees cease to grow because of the lack of oxygen in the atmosphere — a frightening concept as a hiker, but the hikers constantly passing us was a sign that we would, indeed, survive.
From here the hike became tougher. Our breaths were harder to grasp; simply cutting off the end of a switchback by climbing up through the rocky slope became an impossible task. We were forced to take it slowly and break often. Water became a cherished resource as our bodies craved the liquid of which we had only a limited quantity. Our brains were affected; Ryan cursed a lot more and I became extremely interested in the many chipmunks and marmots we passed. Granted they were soooo cute, but normally I wouldn’t have been quite as interested.
The stark landscape was confusing; it was scalding hot with the sun beating down at that altitude, yet snow and ice covered parts of our path.
This section of the trail took us over 2 hours, yet covered only a bit over 2 miles of the 12.something mile hike. It was grueling. Our bodies were exhausted and depleted of oxygen, yet we continued moving upward. Each time I felt at a loss for motivation, I looked at the horizon (although this only worked until about 1/2 mile to the top; after that, it was simple need to reach the doughnuts and coffee awaiting us at the top).
The last half-mile was a more dangerous section of trail. Snow and ice obscured parts of the trail so we had to guess where to go based on footprints; sometimes this meant traversing an extremely slippery ledge above a precipice which, if we had been in our right minds, I’m not sure we would have attempted.
Yet we reached the top. 9 hours later, we climbed over the last few rocks to step onto the summit of Pikes Peak. I didn’t feel euphoric or anything; I’d felt more euphoric hiking, gazing at the quickly-changing clouds and the tops of pine trees. But it was warm and sitting down felt better than anything else in the world.
We got our doughnuts and they tasted beyond delicious. Emma and Forrest met us at the top to drive us down, so we wouldn’t have to hike the whole trail back. David and I were asleep within minutes of the car ride.
It was an incredible experience, hiking up a mountain like Pikes Peak. It was humbling to realize how much human endeavor it takes to reach the summit on foot. It was… something beyond beautiful… to see the people living at Barr Camp, to notice their communion with the mountain and to participate in that for a little while. Humans and nature are intertwined, I can feel it now more than ever.