Up into Sierra Madres with God

The roasting sun sank in the sky and the late afternoon set into the fillet of the day.  The valley was still half filled with golden light.   A 35 yo pick up truck rumbled ahead of us, backfiring, coughing a blaze out of the tail pipe every 3 seconds, to a count.  Our windows manually rolled down, the hot air whipping through my dirty hair, passing green agave, massive cacti, dead brown brush, and wondering wild goats.   We were arriving at Huajuapan de Leon.  At this point in the road trip Dad was narrating all the road side signs in both spanish and english.  I made a jab at his ridiculousness.

“Hey son, did you see that one?  It said PELIGROSO:  Danger, if you don’t just shut up and drive” -Dad

We decided on the first restaurant Huajuapan had to offer.  Terezza, a cafe as good as any to rinse the dust off our crowns, and down espresso dobles.  Their baño was broke but I fixed it.  Within 15 minutes we stretched, reset ourselves in the vehicle and took back to the road. The sun had fallen to a low hover above horizon.

More than once we were warned not to drive at night.  But, we needed to make time and we had a jolt of caffeine.   Besides, if the next roads were like these last, it would be an easy ride.   Our eyes were fixed on the route’s next bold face: Asunciòn Nochixtlàn.   Friday evening crowds wandered through the center of town, causing us to slow to a dilapidated iguanic* crawl.

Our Map to Oaxaca

The twilight faded.  Big mountains stood before us, tops disappearing into the darkening sky.  A fat plop of rain dropped onto our windshield, either a challenge we accepted or an omen we ignored.  Wasn’t sure.

Dusk was submitting to the night.  Memorials stood on most of the road bends, usually Marie in pastel blue, no guard rail behind her, just the dramatic drop and infinite tumble. We ever-so slowly wound up into the Oaxaca Sierra Madres Mountains.  I drove at speeds that created my own parade.   White streaks of lightning ignited, flashing the blackness into a dim denim grey.  Flash, flash flash! Like God got a new goat’s horn, Cuerno de chivo.  CRACK, thunderous cries from the wide black yonders above, stirring the adrenaline, pouring on the ambience.

Sheets of rain assailed, the wipers frantic at full speed, my fists gripping the steering wheel.  Leant fully forward I searched for the road through the windshield, like searching for a sock through a washing machine window.  Pounding rain, jarring cracks of thunder, and my thoughts racing.  Red lights flash flooded my mirrors.  An emergency vehicle crept up my tail and I tried to pull over, hoping I wasn’t driving the car into a dive off the mountain.  I honestly couldn’t be sure. It was too dark and too loud. The ambulance, belching it’s sirens, swung around the curve, and the grim reaper sat perched in the front passenger seat, with half a cynical smile, and winked at me. I swear it. Does that mean “not today” ? Or, “see you soon” ?!

Hail now hammering down, bouncing off the road, steam rising up off the hot pavement, a shallow bed of mist. Hail, in Mexican mountains?? What does that mean, volcano? I calmly tell myself “You are going to die”.  Time to just accept it.   I look over and my dad has casually fallen asleep.  He’s snoring.  We are about to die and he falls asleep?!   Very well, a peaceful death for one of us.  How will the “How we died” conversation play out on the other side?   He’ll be chill, I doubt he’ll blame me.   I make my peace and continue to force myself to accept the impending death.  It’s natural, dying, leaving earth, it’s always been the plan.  I tell myself I’m ready to die, I don’t want to, but I’m ready.

But then I freak out again.   I summons the heavens on my death-to-be.  I re-work my demands as prayers.  I ask to be fully killed.  No paralysis, no vegetative states, no permanently physically disabled.  “God!” I cough out, insisting on his attention. We have a deal, God and I have had this deal for a long damn time, where it’s a clean kill. I don’t know for sure if he has outright agreed, but this is the damn deal. He respects me. He’ll kill me clean. Ok, so this is how it ends, I reiterate in my head, with my pops by my side, in a foreign country, on a mountain with rock on the radio.  Not that bad, honestly.  But something doesn’t feel right, I’m losing faith I the reaper’s re-emergence.   This isn’t my death.  Ok, that’s good, too.  Just as quickly as it began, the the sky cleared and the stars reigned gleamingly through the clearance.  Loved ones in the high sky, reminding me I didn’t survive alone, almost goofing on me for maybe forgetting.   Their spirits burning as fiery stars in distant galaxies, I can feel their grace, the gravitas of the divine.  The lightning now muffled by far-away clouds and tranquility restored.

I was ready to get out of the car, have a coffee and kiss the ground.  In the next town, San Pablo Huitzo, we’d rest.  I liked the vibe, connected with the energy, it was nice to finally be here.  Dad did’t jive with it as much as I did.  We bought an auxiliary cord and walked through the park, passing taco trucks, one after another.  Teenagers joked, couples courted, but most of the town was asleep. 10 PM. We drove to the recommended San Pablo Hotel, which should have been a walk.  Dad decided San Pablo Hotel was totally out of the question, without even slowing the vehicle down to look in.  Something about bugs, I think.   We hit the road again, and I sulked inside. I was ready to tap out for the night. But, plugged in we rambled on with Zed, Jimi, Freddy and other dead friends.

A couple hours later we made it to Asunciòn Nochixtlàn.  An old town, in the region of Mixteca, first founded in the 900s as a military zone.     Asunciòn Nochixtlàn.  It 2015-04-17 03.50.45was a one streetlight town and the streetlight didn’t work. -Dad.  It was nearly midnight and we needed food, or coffee, or a bathroom… something. For whatever reason, a pizza shop was still open. I thought I’d order a personal pie. Dad decided we’d order two family pies and 2L of orange soda.   Neither of us drink soda… We must have been delirious.   We ate a little less than half of one pie.   The coffee from the kitchen next door tasted terrible. I don’t know how she made it. Maybe she scooped up a roadside puddle and had an old diseased donkey’s crush the beans with its fungi-hooves.   There’s no getting a hotel here… What the hell do we do now?

*this is a made up word Iguanic: of or related to iguanas.

Never Stop Exploring

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Of the millions of visitors to the Grand Canyon every year, 1% make the hike down to the bottom, where the Colorado River carves through the limestone rock. If I am going to be the 1% of anything, I’m glad it is this.

Our first selfie of the hike.
Our first selfie of the hike.

Because it means I spent hours hiking, jumping, tip-toeing down the trails of an ancient landmark, it means I saw this breathtaking, natural phenomenon from a hundred-thousand different angles, and most importantly, it means I spent many miles walking, talking, laughing, and making memories with my dad.

IMG_6562IMG_6559Bright Angel Trail is only slightly under 10 miles long, but between snack breaks, which are inevitable for the Meccas, holding on to the last few minutes of service (Dad, you need to stop working so hard) and a three-mile detour out to Plateau Point, it took us most of the daylight hours to reach the Colorado River. The extension out to the plateau comes about half-way down the trail, at Indian Gardens, and although our feet were starting to hurt and our packs were over-packed, it was a necessary diversion – I mean, where else was I going to get pictures running #inappropriatelyfast on dangerously unstable rocks and questionable terrain (see: cactus)?

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You know that feeling when you know you have absolutely no choice but to keep going? I get that feeling when I’m in the middle of my five-hour drive home and I’m fighting to stay awake, and I suddenly realize, wow, I have no choice but to keep driving. I could pull over and get coffee, take a nap, even do jumping jacks, jump in the snow – whatever – but halfway through my trip, I inevitably have no choice but to keep going, I have two and a half hours of driving left anyway I cut it. Anyway, my Dad and I started to get that feeling about ten miles into our journey down the canyon. DSC_0037For me, it wasn’t so much that the hike was hard, it was more about feeling aches in muscles I didn’t know existed, and breaking in my new hiking boots (again, in typical Mecca fashion), and also the way that the trail twists and turns, giving you the illusion that you are almost there time after time; you think you made it, you hear the rushing water, but there are always more steps to take.

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They knew I was coming.

Surprise, surprise: we made it. Nearing the end of the journey, we crossed the metal bridge that spans the Colorado River. The bridge was very steady, albeit swaying, but I couldn’t help wondering, with each step I took, if I fell, would I live? How about now? How about now? Even toward the end of the bridge there was no relief, only a big patch of cactus. Regardless, we made it across the bridge, another mile on foot, past the mule corral and Bright Angel Campground, to Phantom Ranch.

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Dad, are you nervous?

Phantom Ranch is the only lodging below the canyon rim, and consists of a handful of cabins, four dormitories, bathroom facilities, a canteen, and an eclectic group of hikers. Meals are hearty – beef stew, steak dinner, or vegetarian chili – and served family style, so when you go back to your bunk at the end of a long day, you are well-fed and you have a few fellow hikers to call your new friends. The people you pass the potatoes to, play a late night game of rummy with, and lay your head down next to at night come from all walks of life – a lone female traveler from New Mexico who hiked the whole way down the canyon in the dark, a group of college kids on January break, a “hiking” couple who left their less-outdoorsy spouses at home, a rowdy group of young guys from Michigan, and a father-son dynamic duo all stick in my mind. We may not have anything in common in our everyday lives, but in the moment, we have everything in common; we each took time – whether one night or one week – out of our routine to disconnect, to cleanse our minds of stress, worry, relentless responsibilities, and use our bodies to move down trails, up hills, across bridges, but always forward, to accomplish a physical goal, and to spend quality, quality time with the people around us.

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Work life is full of email notifications and project deadlines, one number off on a report, and countless hours in front of a screen, but life life is full of so much more – more interesting, loving, eclectic people I have yet to meet, more perspectives, more stories, more hearts, more memories.

We made it.
We made it.

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Hiking the Grand Canyon with my Dad may have only taken a few days out of our busy lives, but it reminded me to never stop exploring and more importantly, gave me the necessary dose of more I constantly crave, holding me over until my next adventure. Did someone say Canadian tobogganing?

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On Post-Grad Wanderlust

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Now that I am a “real” person, you know, one with a job and responsibilities, a paycheck and rent check, good mail (birthday cards from my grandma) and bad mail (everything else) I have this constant itch, question, longing, something. And I know I’m not the only one.

The itch is for adventure. It is the urge to be outside as soon as the light hits the horizon and the world glows red, or really the reason why I am probably already outside when the sun shines a spotlight on Mr. Lincoln as I run the steps of the memorial with the November Project.  It is the feeling I get when I visit a new city and I realize that this world, this country, this state, is different everywhere I go. It is the excitement that builds inside me when I see the summit of a mountain before me and the drive that gets me hiking, running, climbing, falling, until I reach the top. It is the all-day, every-day reminder that comes with working for a company like National Geographic, that there is always more to explore. Without that itch, I wouldn’t run in the rain, get lost on a trail, or see the sunrise over the National Monuments. That itch is a good thing.

The question, I am so very often told, comes with the territory of being twenty-four. It is the anxiety of being the only person in charge of my life. I choose who I want to be and with whom I want to spend my time, I choose where I want to go and what I want to explore next. Should I be saving money, or running the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco? By the way, the Nike Women’s Half was also in DC the past two years, and I live in DC. But San Francisco… Should I spend my weekends making new friends, meeting more people, cleaning my apartment? But I’ve never been to New Hampshire, and who knows how long I will have a friend living in Keene.

Wait, why do I live in DC? Should I move to NH? There are so many mountains to climb. Or NYC, where most of my friends have settled, my parents are close-by? Boston is so cozy, with all the brick, and history, and people just so amped up on their city, and plus, my sister is there. Charleston is on the water, I’ve always loved the water. I hear Nashville is the place to be, and I wouldn’t mind stumbling upon a handsome country singer to call my own. But more realistically, should I be taking advantage of my dual-citizenship and living in Europe for a few years? This would be the time to do it… Oh, right, I live in DC because I have a great job, in a great city, with great friends, and plenty of new things all around me, waiting to be explored. The question makes me check myself, and we all need that every once in a while.

And then there is the longing. I long to do more, be more, see more, know more. All I can ever do to remedy the feeling is to keep doing more, being more, seeing more, and learning more, and it is exhausting. But then I guess longing is not a negative, albeit uneasy, thing to feel – anything that serves as motivation in this confusing time in life must be a positive.

I am on track, but because of this itch, question, longing, something, it never seems to feel that way. I spent a long time thinking I was the only one feeling this confusion, but little by little, one friend after another let me in on their little secret, that they too have got that itch, question, longing, that something in their heart and mind, and that no matter what their life looks like on the outside (or on instagram), that something still exists. What we all need to realize, though, is that itch for adventure, our questions about right and wrong, the feeling of longing for more, or that something, whatever it is, is the driving force moving us forward, it is the very reason we are on track, and it is what makes us “real” people at all.

Sandy Deigo

I turned, stepped and dove my body horizontal. Issac Newton disagreed with my attempt at flight.  As if I was about to one-up the Wright brothers.   I smashed my face.flat into the sand.  I didn’t catch the frisbee.  I took a second to reflect on my disillusionment and another to absorb the humility.  My face was sandy.   All of me was sweaty and sandy.

The sun was relentless today. The rays beat down a scorching yellow heat.  The shade from the cliffs receded to the foot of the escarpment, and soon was gone. The ocean was a cool Padres blue fused with a sage green.  My lenses made everything a tint of green.   An estimated 68 degrees for the Pacific. Today was beautiful and the fifth of July.

What a fourth of July celebration Pacific Beach had!

I rolled over and looked out the window. My eyes half open. Some loud truck or jet or aliens roared a deep rumbling, thunderous sound that disturbed my slumber. It was 7AM, I suppose it was time to wake anyways. I pulled a swig from the beer I stranded last night. Just as I suspected, flat and tasted like guilt. I threw it in the trash and realized I should clean up. I did, until I was distracted by the outside and went outside. California is oh so wonderful and pretty I thought.

Life is too.

Viva BEAR republic

A Wicked Minx: LOS ANGELES

LOS ANGELES: The City of Angels, gang banging, movie stars, sun shine, broken dreams, fruits, nuts, tree-hugs, glamour, glitz, weed, luxury, lifestyle and  beauty.

LA isn’t a city, but the region in which several cities converge.  In 32 hours  I bounced from LAX to West LA, Santa Monica, Venice, Malibu, West LA again, Beverly Hills, Yorba Linda, Newport, back to Yorba, and Woodlawn.    Then, 5-hours south, 120 miles, to Silicon Beach.

I ate 4x / day, watched world cup 2x / day.

“There’s nothing wrong with LA, I just couldn’t take it any more.”  -My Cousin.

As I sat in the roofless mustang, stop-and-go highway driving, I contemplated LA. Ruthless! If you’re a nobody… but more than that.

Los Angeles has some of the same superficial arrogance as Dubai (8/11 article).   Not everywhere, but at large was a tone of entitlement.   Especially towards the service industry.

The Hollywood scene is like being a medium size fish in an undefined size pool of people trying to make it big…. or at all.    There is no room for the lazy.   Know people, network out of your league, and pray to science, if being a career caterer ain’t for you.

Venice has all the cool freaks I like to hang around.  Not with, but near enough to be cool by marginally less insane association.  The beaches sprawled wide.    The women trotted fierce.  Fit, but not a lot of smiles.  Lustrous, like diamonds in the dirt.

Then to Malibu for a fancy dinner. The Sicilian service was very Italian and the delicious food-art was filling.

After pastrami in Yorba with family, whisky in Newport with sorority and breakfast in Woodlawn with business, I was on the 405 South.  Nirvana up, pedal down and the devil ignoring the lost angel that bangs at his door.  Objects in the mirror may be larger than they appear.   And I left the wicked minx, Los Angeles, for her’ cool, coy, cousin, San Diego.

 

Toúr De Toronto

It took 90 minutes and $50 to get to JFK. My flight was out of Newark….

Typical me. Not as bad as the time I missed my flight to Rome by two days. Or the time I ended up in Sharzah, the forgotten Emirate, instead of Abu Dahbi.

Either way, 2 hours later I was at Newark International Airport, about to board the next flight to Toronto. I’m considering this rebound a huge W, all mistakes considered.

Our Porter Airways prop-jet landed in downtown Toronto. The flight was almost empty.  It was a beautiful day for a 20-second ferry from Toronto Islands, across the Western Channel, to mainland Toronto. I never really devised a plan, just let the afternoon roll upon me. I found a bike-share on my walk towards the CN Tower, which I was assuming to be Toronto’s epicenter. I biked across the waterfront paths, at a rate of $15 for 72 hours and soon parked.  I strolled upon the Blue Jays’ stadium.  What a friendly, imperturbable and cool blue Jay is!  Ain’t nobody ruffle his feathers.   The most urbane of your primary colored birds.

Then, up to the Toronto Blue Jays’ Stadium – they play tomorrow night and all weekend vs the Cardinals. Cardinals have a crispness too, now that I ponder it. Like baby dinosaurs these birds, and how audacious to swoop and sweep around, his feathers bearing that emergency red. True survivors, how tenacious the cardinal is! Directly across the street is… The Canada National Railroad Museum! I know, just my luck.   My eye was caught by shimmering silver letters upon a big brick ware-house shaped building. The letters read S T E A M W H I S T L E B R E W I N G C O M P A N Y.

I found myself inside. I found myself sampling. I found my way up to the mezzanine, and chatting with the lovely, blonde, Canadian, acting student, bar tender. A penta-threat! Jades served me Steam Whistle samples and flirted with the notion of visiting New York. I returned the playful banter on behalf of NYC. The Canadian vixen deserved it.

Once I ran up a buzz, and got more “work” done than work done, it was off to the hotel. Shower, shave, change and to the comedy show with my business buddies, who were really drinking pals for all purposes and intents of this Toronto visit. We succeeded.

The next day I met with some tourism board executives to discuss marketing and then a sorority friend’s favorite digs for a liquid lunch. We ended up in her apartment, taking down whisky. It was noon. I love sorority girls. After another business meeting way up town, I met the family for dinner at my father’s fraternity brother’s country club. [*shoulder brush*] We over indulged in pastas and steaks. “Mustn’t we carb-load, old sports” I pondered on a bad old English accent. The pale yellow sun set and we returned to our respective rooms before the big day.

Day 1 was sunny, and hot and sweaty and such a kick! We started early morning, downtown at aboot 6:30AM. The air was crisp and electric! Everybody was scrambling. We were smashing a breakfast full of fruits, yogurt, energy bars, eggs, bread, and peanut-butter. The sun crept over us 5,256 preparing riders. We raised 20.2 million dollars for the Princess Margaret Cancer Center. Our team was just getting acquainted, most sort of knew each other from years past. I was new though.

We rode through to Hamilton in roughly 4.5 hours. Arriving early afternoon after being chanted on by residents along the streets. They chanted and cheered in their silos of enthusiasm. They held up home made signs and belied their appreciation from the depths of their cancer ravaged hearts. Passing traffic honked in cheer. The cops intercepted vehicles at intersections, kindly keeping us in movement. Momentum is everything.

After 98 kilometers, we rolled into what seemed to be some small university. We were greeted with live music rocking the center tent, free and infinite Steam Whistle beer, yoga, food on food on food, massage tables and athletic trainers, whisky, wine, speeches chock full of inspiration, and a big open green grassy field where all 5k+ congregated for the next several hours. The energy was different from any Running of the Bulls, Carnival, or World Series I’d been to before. Sobering. Lighter, nicer, more wholesome and proper, it felt better in a strange, but obvious ways.

The crowd kept until aboot the 2nd period of LA vs NY’s Game 2, Stanley Cup Finals. Riders, ages 14-86 years peddled the day away. Bed times varied, clearing completely before midnight. The atmosphere revived at dawn after a long night of clean-up and set-up by the volunteers. The second ride was under an overcast, cooler and more refreshing than yesterday’s blaze. We stopped about every 20km to refill on water. There was a few medical tents with all the resources you’d find in a high school nurse’s office. Plus, sponsored food and snacks, unlimited. There were some serious potholes to avoid in this second day, and amazing hills to fly down with exhilarating speed. I capped at 71km/ hour in my downhill. I was with my new girlfriend, Leanna, for most of Day 2’s ride. Most riders were not hot women, but with more than five thousand people, there was plenty of talent to recruit. Some married, some single, most flirtatious and fun. They were the sexy, athletic type too. Great legs, sun-kissed skin, strong core, super flexible. And what releases endorphins more naturally and in excess than intense exercise?

From med-school students to MEC managers, your Canadian gal’s aren’t just sweeter than the syrup, but pretty quick whited and rascally adventurous. At least the ones I spent the 72-hour Ontario-journey with.

I thought the mileage would be more difficult, but the conversation, people, energy, food, and general fun kept the mind far above matter.

Toúr De Toronto 2014

Southern Indiana Charm

Shooting assault rifles in the late mornings and sipping country whisky in the ducky afternoons.  The boys are back in state.  From coast to coast, brothers of bond rusticate and reunite to celebrate life’s milestone of matrimony.

Here, in Indiana, the clunky soul of our America, the grass grows greener.  The fried chicken tastes crispier, the truck engines roar loader and blonde babes nag slower.  In these open lands lives the elusive time for leisure.  Acres upon acres of time for hobbies in Southern Indiana.  Maybe collect pocket knives, tractor pullies, or animal bones.  Build a motorcycle from scratch?   Who likes lighting shit on fire?!   YA’LL IN GUNS WE TRUST.   And back in the mud again….  Andy Mathis.

The rolling hills sprawl across the land like a slow song with no hook.   There is a reputation to live up to.  Skulling away cans of beer that blare “#Merica” is only the preface to the plotless tale of friendship.  Forever is a long time and we are in Southern Indiana to bare witness to our brother, vow his love, blessings and life, to one woman… forever.

The Fraternity brothers behaved like Fraternity brothers.   The wedding was in an adorable chapel with a Catholic priest presiding over The Lord’s plan.  The two young mid-west lovers carried through the program as prepared.  They were officially married only a few years after finding each other in the helpless Fraternity halls of Lambda Chia Alpha at Purdue University.  In that microcosm  we  learned to Talk That Talk.

We ate premier Southern-Indiana German food.  The groom’s only wedding decision, other than the obvious, was for the Schnitzelbank to cater.  We danced, we toasted and we clapped.  Boy, did we CLAP.

This all-American hoe-down was in Santa Clause, Indiana.  A town that swanks Christmas decorations across all, holly boughs in the halls, and 30ft Santa on the lawn.   The holiday decorations are year round.   I don’t yet know why.

The air was fresh, the roads were rural, the sun was bright.   The guests were jolly and our bellies were always full.  The lovers kissed, the bugs buzz, and the shotguns boom.   So did AR-15s.   The shells pop off sputtering through the air and the targets explode in a fiery blast of accurate aim.  We calculated $350 in ammo fired before noon.

There was a point when I looked at Indiana and thought the world is spinning on a broken axis.   Yet, the world is really at bay.   If you only take a pull of the fresh April air and let it be.

You see, marriage is a compromise.   The act, not the aftermath.   Socrates suggests that if she is a good wife, he will be happy and if she is not, he will become a philosopher.  I don’t know much about it but maybe life does become one massive banality for some.  It seems to be the same attitude towards thy career.

But, people change.

Some call marriage a death, others refer to it as a re-birth.  Everyman’s castle deserves a Queen, and, a happy castle.   Her happines thwarts off lonely days, wasted away in a cunning and drafty castle.

Finding the perfect woman to marry is probably like trying to capture the fleeting brilliance of a comet.  But, if you can team up, and have that partner in crime to share the lows, and balance out the highs with, why not?

Southern Indiana is the unsung champion of the success we don’t know we want.

 

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