This year, I had the absolute pleasure of trekking high up into the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles to bring 12 lbs. of fresh fruit and veggies up to thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. These brave souls amble their way up and down a narrow strip of trail from Mexico to Canada, hiking over 2,650 miles in the process. They give each other wild trail names like Sherlock, Pinkman, and Crush and harbor a Lost Boys-style camaraderie. I embarked on this portrait project to showcase the beautiful abandon written all over each one of their faces. Their stories made me tremble and smile and remember to carpe the hell out of every last diem.
Guys, I know I’ve been off the radar lately, but I’ve been working on a ton of upcoming writing projects that are making my heart soar and my head spin. One of my biggest goals for myself this year is to start getting involved with live storytelling events like The Moth, which terrifies and excites me all at once. The piece below is a story I developed for their mom-themed show, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to finally share it with you all.
The delicate purr of a hummingbird crosses your vision as you gaze out over the mirror-stillness of an alpine lake. It’s evening, and the low-hanging sun has turned the entire valley to coral flame. You crack a beer, flip open your camp chair, and settle in to watch the show in perfect solitude. Just then, you hear a high-pitched buzzing noise and start frantically looking around, darting your head from body part to body part. It lands on your right arm, and you thunderously SMACK your left hand against the skin, squashing the attacker to bits. You heave a sigh of frustration and shake your fist at the sky.
Mosquitoes have invaded your once-perfect evening.
My first-ever anxiety attack was on the north side of Red Mountain Creek. I slumped into a pile of dead leaves while sobbing manically and trying to shove a string cheese into my mouth. I was fed up. A week full of fears and self-doubt culminated in a ten-mile slog into avalanche terrain with a climbing partner who was as inexperienced as I was and somehow immune to worry. I was rattled to my core before we strapped on a single crampon, finally asserting that I would not be climbing Split Mountain after all. My nerves felt bruised against his youthful bravado, but at least I was learning. Beneath my panic and my trembling fingertips, I was learning how to say no.
Last weekend, I cruised up the 395 for over ten hours, doing the slow and awkward tire chain dance every few miles between Bishop and South Lake Tahoe. By the time I arrived, my poor minivan was practically limping down the road to my mom’s place in a full-on blizzard, flailing its one remaining cable chain and sputtering like a parrot on too much caffeine.
“Fuck you. You’re a wimp. You’re a hack alpinist.”
I feel like a sadistic acupuncturist is driving 10-inch needles into my thighs with a wooden mallet as I ascend the steep, north slope of Mt. Dana, ragged breaths punctuating my movements like a death cough. I take a gulp of the crystalline air, and suddenly my organs rebel; I am lost in spasm, propped up on hands and knees and retching the last of my peanut butter along with a teaspoon of phlegm onto the carpet of white snow.
If lush Himalayan foliage, ancient Buddhist monasteries, and the opportunity to pet a big, fuzzy yak sound like the perfect vacation, then a trip along Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit should be first on your bucket list. The trail starts in Besisahar and navigates counterclockwise around the Annapurna Massif, a towering behemoth of granite and limestone, with crevasse-lined glaciers stretching between each peak like giant, frigid throw rugs. The trail snakes alongside the Marsyangdi River for dozens of miles before topping out on the Thorong-La Pass, 17,769 feet above sea level. This is not a trip for the faint of heart.
The door closes with a heavy thud and a deep, metal click before drowning me in darkness. My heartbeat instantly spikes up to twice its normal rate, and I am left naked, alone, and swimming in a salty, nebulous pool of infinite pitch-black. There are no sounds, no light, and no one to tell me what to do. I feel sick to my stomach and start fumbling for the door handle when, all of a sudden, a voice inside my head screams, “WAIT!”
I’m gross. Like, really gross. Like, so gross that there’s a bloody, half-smushed mosquito on my upper left arm and my fingernails look like they’ve been dragged through the trenches in ‘Nam. I need a bath. But how? I’m on day seven of a sleep-in-the-van road trip with two more days of driving before I get to my mom’s house in Tahoe.
Then, out of the darkness, a sign appears in bright yellow and red like a 1970s roller disco. “Love’s” exclaims the homey print, followed by a large cartoon heart. The sign looks and feels just like a hug, and I am drawn, mothlike, to its folksy flame. I’m about to experience the magic of my very first truck stop shower.
I’m going to level with you guys this week. There’s a dark numbness that has taken over my chest cavity, pressing firmly against my organs with the insidiousness of cold iron. Simple tasks like tying my shoelaces or making a cup of tea feel like an extraordinary effort. I feel as though a giant has seized my ribcage between his fingers and is slowly watching the life drain out of me for his own amusement. I feel claustrophobic and confused, enraged and heartbroken all at once. I have been fighting a lingering depression.