Every Wednesday night in Los Angeles, a gaggle of misfits and cycling nerds gathers at 9pm outside a nondescript donut emporium nestled deep inside the dingy side streets of Koreatown. They are not sugar-gluttons or drunken party cruisers. Rather, they come together each week for the simple task of a bike ride.
My first backpacking trip was a burly 12 miler that left me gasping for air as I crested the last few boulders on the summit block of Alta Peak. I was 28, hopelessly in love, and had a gorgeous assortment of all the wrong gear. Among the sundries inside my pack were: a bohemian leather jacket, a full-sized towel, and a child’s size sleeping bag from the sale bin at a suburban H&M. I was a mess.
“I wish I remembered more of it.”
The feeling stuck in my brain like old gum to a shoe as I tried to conjure up details from the day’s climb that broke all my records, bruised my heart, and took me to 16,818 vertical feet above sea level.
Last Thursday afternoon, I bit into a bright pink apple, feeling the familiar crunch as my teeth sliced through its delicate skin. The texture was waxen at first with a cool grit the color of eggshell hiding underneath, and I paused as each flavor spread wide across my tongue. First tart, then floral, then an accelerated array of sweet, sour, base, and plant before I swallowed and began again. I paused, affixing my gaze on the small, oval sticker that bared a barcode and a cheap cartoon logo, and I wondered, “Where did you come from?”
“How much higher do you think that outcropping is from where we’re sitting right now?”
Justin was faded, nauseous, and swaying in the mid-day heat of the Eastern Sierra when he the words fell out of his mouth. My head felt like an over-inflated balloon. Dumbstruck, I tried my best at a civil response, “Fuck. I don’t know… Maybe 50 feet? Is this not the summit?!”
Let’s face it, you’re on the trail so many weekends out of the year that you have a pet honeybee named Myrtle who lives behind your right ear and a heart with John Muir’s name on it tattooed across your left tricep. You knit sweaters from the leg hair you shave once a year before your family’s Christmas party, and you know how to create a fierce smoky eye out of nothing but a spoonful of mushroom spores you found in the forest. You are ethereal. You are muddy. Your favorite Beatle is George’s sitar, and you legally changed your middle name to Moab when you were 17. This one’s for you, sugarplum.
On this fine June evening, I’d like to raise a glass (of champagne, PBR, kombucha, cherry limeade, or whatever else is in your merry cup) to the odd jobs. To the jobs that got us through and the jobs we barely got through. To the kettle-clanging coffee mavens and the primped and pastied pole goddesses: this one’s for you.
It is Sunday night, and you have left me sore.
After the laughter and the naked shock of lake thaw turning my skin to goosepimples, after you have left my hair a bedded mess of red, and after three moonless nights with trees tall as cathedral spires, I have spun my key and dropped my pack, a sagging slump at the foot of the bed in a dingy apartment behind a cheap sushi joint and a 7-Eleven in west Los Angeles.
“Look! My hip has a weird, reptilian scab from this backpack’s belt.”
“Pumping water from these plastic bags takes SO LONG.”
“Dude. I hate marmots.”
We’ve all been that person – the one with the sweat dripping into our eye sockets or the wrong shoes on when it starts to rain. It’s inevitable, it’s annoying, and, usually, it really fucking sucks. The more I go outdoors, the more I become aware of the myriad of weird discomforts and things that can go wrong while tramping through the woods with your house on your back. I’ve also noticed that some people seem to be significantly better at keeping their troubled assertions to themselves and making light of the situation instead, laughing off blisters like some sort of high-octane mutants. I call them Bodacious Backpackers, and they are the superhero mind-ninjas that everyone wants on their thru-hike or climbing expedition. I wanted to become one of them.
On a cool Thursday night in suburban Texas, I smothered my first soul. I remember the florescent glow from the garage as my mother approached me holding a clear glass jar, beaming. Inside it, a large moth with a wingspan of over three inches and a lunar imprint along the fuzzy husk of her abdomen fluttered wildly, incandescent eyes darting along the seams and praying for an escape.