it’s official

I’m trailbound! I finally gave in an switched my third-choice Yosemite entry trailhead to Mono/Parker Pass—which bypasses the whole Donohue bottleneck—and immediately received a reservation for July 27. This means I won’t be on the JMT proper for the first two days, but fortunately I’ve hiked the first 60 miles of the trail before twice anyway, so a slight change of scenery doesn’t bum me out too much. Since Mono Pass starters can’t camp in the park bounds, I may end up camping around Sardine Lake and backtracking a little the next day before heading over Parker. Starting here may shorten the overall trip by a day, but that may not be a bad thing with since some extra high passes will be subbed in for Donohue. It will still be an epic haul, and I can still technically say I hiked fromYosemite to Whitney. And I’ll be able to rejoin the JMT before Thousand Island Lake, one of my favorite spots on the route.

The permit was a bright spot in an otherwise rough day. For some reason, I just didn’t feel like doing life today, and while my suffering wasn’t nearly as acute as it was before I got treatment, I definitely felt like a depressed person. I think I’m creatively stagnating. I try to write but feel paralyzed, and I’ve gone back to avoiding and putting off obligations. Even my daily maintenance walk through the fog didn’t help much. But like the fog, it’ll blow over. Tomorrow is another day, and now I have a hike to plan!

beyond satisfaction

On my 3.9-mile exploratory walk this morning, I forged a new loop that is destined to be a staple of my base fitness circuit. It turns out I love my new neighborhood even more than I thought. As I wound my way west I was blown away by how beautiful the residential streets were, how green with trees (even as the other side of the country suffers catastrophic snows). Then I turned to the north, where the Hollywood hills rose up like a crown in the middle distance. On my way south once more, I made my way past Melrose art galleries and the trendy juice bars of Larchmont Village. The weather could not have been more suited to walking. Suddenly it hit me that my life was better than it has ever been.

Things can turn around so fast. In November I was miserable. What’s changed? Even before I moved, the medication I’d started taking was beginning to work. Now it’s been seven weeks. But medication isn’t everything. Sticking with my recovery program and making it through the one-year mark has given me a boost too, especially since I’m making better friends on that pathway all the time. But moving into my own place—which I’ve wanted to do for years—kicked everything up a notch. Suddenly I wasn’t just content, I was ecstatic. I could scarcely keep my mouth shut today as I took in my new surroundings, wishing I suddenly had decades to absorb everything around me. To the local women out walking their dogs, I must have looked like a crazy person powering down the sidewalk, muttering, “I love my life. I’m so happy,” in genuine surprise.

I know this bright clean high won’t last forever. It’s another pink cloud, a shock of joy, a celebration of finally, finally being as independent as I’ve wanted to be since I was a small child. Things will level out and challenges are coming. But I can’t remember the last time I wanted to make each day last forever, yet felt so excited to see what happens next.

satisfaction

Living in my new apartment is every bit as satisfying as I expected (especially now that I figured out how to use my phone as a wi-fi hotspot—huzzah!). Somehow it’s both peaceful and thrilling. With a “new” couch and bed as the last pieces of the furniture puzzle, I’m finally phasing out of transition mode and back into regular life. It’s time to get to work.

With a new neighborhood to walk around in, I’ll be enjoying plenty of fresh scenery while my legs get stronger. So far, I’ve mostly been devoting my walks to exploring on foot—locating my new post office, library, supermarket and pharmacy as well as a seemingly endless array of eateries. Not exactly strenuous “training,” but walking is walking. To the west lie treelined residential roads studded with enormous houses—perfect for routine strolls—and a reasonable drive north takes me into the hills where I’ll feel more comfortable strapping on a backpack and getting some real workouts under my hip belt.

Today’s workout, though, consists of thoroughly cleaning my old apartment for the last time. Some serious elbow grease will be needed to scrub off the smudged prints my bare feet left behind on the wall where my desk once stood, and the space behind the fridge is sure to be a horror show. “Leave No Trace” indeed. Despite the guaranteed unpleasantness of the deep clean, it will definitely feel good when it’s complete.

Literally and figuratively, I’m in a good place. Next week comes the moment of truth: time to apply for my JMT permit! Whatever happens, I’ll just do the best I can and keep an open mind. Once I have some sort of permit in the bag, the reality of the undertaking will start to sink in. Bring it.

family ties

I just finished reading The Magic Island by the travel journalist and amateur anthropologist William Seabrook. I had never heard of Seabrook until my aunt caught the genealogy bug and discovered he was I in fact my great-great-uncle. The Magic Island recounts Seabrook’s adventures in Haiti, where he participated in voodoo sacrifice, dined with the President and climbed the island’s highest mountain, which the natives believed haunted by evil. He also travelled to Arabia and Africa and gained notoriety for his description of human flesh as tasting “like good, fully developed veal.” His experiment with cannibalism, like all his bold endeavors, stemmed from an insatiable curiosity about the world and all the ways humans have of living in it. For its time (1929), his treatment of Haitian culture is remarkably nuanced and open-minded, far less racist than I expected it to be, though still full of phrasing that would jar any modern reader.

Sadly, my adventurous ancestor shared not only my enthusiasm for exploration, but also my disposition towards depression and addiction. A contemporary of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Seabrook was also an alcoholic. His alcoholism drove him to commit himself to a mental facility and subsequently destroyed his marriage. In 1945 he committed suicide by overdose.

Seabrook came from a time when anthropology could still make for lurid and exciting reading. I’m impressed by his gift for description and his teasing narrative reveals. I’m proud to be a part of this writerly lineage, despite all the baggage that seems to come with it. It’s inspired me to try to capture more of my journeys in prose, from Bangladesh to the high Sierra. When I summit the highest peak in this country, I’ll think of Uncle William’s adventurous spirit and smile.

in limbo

I don’t have internet yet at my new apartment and won’t until February 2 (but hey, at least that’s in time to stream the new season of House of Cards). Limbo is not my favorite place to be, and this just hasn’t really been my week. Moving went fine, but my car’s stint in the shop has dragged out for days, and I’ve developed a mysterious sore throat with no other symptoms that I’m watching like a hawk. I’ve barely had time or energy to even think about the Muir Trail.

But things are coming together. I no longer think I’m actually sick, so regular walking has already resumed. Mostly I’m impressed with my ability to take all the chaos in stride. Transitions have always been big anxiety triggers for me, and right now nothing seems fixed in place. But somehow (aka medication and meditation), I’m able to keep my head above the fray and feel the big picture. Which is: I love my new place. My life is awesome. Even though my throat hurts and my sink is leaking and I miss my car and there are apparently only two urgent care centers that take my insurance within twenty miles, I’m happy. That bodes well for battling blisters, thunderstorms, mosquitoes and bears six months from now.

the joy of disappointment

I spent the afternoon walking around, but not, incidentally, training for the Muir Trail. I was hunting for apartments in Los Angeles, one of which I need to secure before the end of the month. Since my options are limited by a shoestring budget and an inconvenient cat, the most promising neighborhood on my radar is Koreatown. Highly pet friendly and chock full of studios with hardwood floors and cheeky checkerboard kitchens, it’s a bargain at its best. The downside is you may be more likely to find a cockroach than a parking space. But there are scads of affordable units in the quirky, New York style buildings. One of them has to be nice enough. Right?

Today, I had bad luck. Most of the places I checked out today weren’t ready to view yet or had just been sold. And while one junior bedroom boasted a nice balcony, a garage and a steal of a price tag, I wasn’t encouraged by the broken oven lights, the damaged looking cabinets or the insect carcasses in the bathroom. When I asked the manager if the lights would get fixed before move-in, she replied that the owners were very old, and things get fixed very slowly, if at all. She was not doing a good job at selling the place. Other places had unreachable managers or were still in the process of remodeling.

At one point I still had many more apartments to look at, I felt a down mood creeping in. I was tired, a little hungry, and more than anything I was disappointed. But I also noticed something else: the disappointment stopped short of defeat. I was able to experience disappointment without descending into despair.

I’m one month into a new prescription regimen, and apparently it’s working like gangbusters. Self-defeating thoughts that would have swooped in like vultures— “I’ll never find a place I can afford,” “I’m a failure as an adult,” “I just can’t do this”—none of these things crossed my mind. My unhappiness was proportional to the situation. I bought a boba tea, took a breather, and planned one last stop before heading home and calling it a day. I’d never felt so pleased to be disappointed. It was one of those moments when I realized, hey, this is what normal people’s feelings feel like! It was a stark reminder of how much I’ve been handicapped (and cheating myself) by going unmedicated for so long. But it also gave me a lot of confidence. After all, there are bound to be disappointing days on the JMT when gear breaks down or I don’t cover as much ground as I expected. So it’s good to experience disappointment as a temporary, manageable occurrence.

Fortunately, there remain many unexplored studios in K-town, and I enjoyed walking around the neighborhood, so I’ll go back tomorrow to visit the other half of the apartments on my list and call some of the managers who were out today. I haven’t given up on my BBQ joints and thousand-dollar rent just yet.

 

back from travels

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If you’ve noticed my absence, I’ve been in Bangladesh, where two good friends of mine from school just got married. The trip had been looming for so long, a pillar of my mental calendar, that it’s hard to believe it’s over.

The trip was rewarding, though as difficult as I imagined. I did spend a good portion of it feeling anxious, but it was a shallow anxiety, fretting but not dreading. When I was present in the moment rather than worrying about missing flights or whether I should have brought malaria meds after all, I had a wonderful time. And when some of my major worries did come true—from stomach bugs to seven-hour flight delays—I handled them with aplomb. It was a phenomenal exercise in accepting the things I cannot change, and I did really well. Reconnecting with some of my favorite human on earth and getting outside my comfort zone was worth all the suffering, I’d say.

With Bangladesh behind me, that makes the next adventure on the horizon none other than the Muir Trail. If my handling of this trip was any indication, I’m going to do alright managing logistics and setbacks. The biggest lesson this trip reinforced was that the better prepared I am, the less I’ll have to stress out about and the more enjoyable it will be. Physically, the trip left me depleted, so building my body back up to trail-training shape will take a few weeks. Like so many Americans, I’ll be resolving to work out more in 2014. But for now, the best thing I can do is catch up on much-needed vitamins and sleep.