aqua fortis

Friday, August 27, 2010

Breaking News: Wimp Survives Hike

This past weekend, our friend Travis—an experienced hiker—invited us to go on a full-moon trip up to Yosemite's Half Dome. Yosemite by moonlight? Awesome. Hiking? Cool. We said yes, even though I was a bit on the fence about it. After all, we were going to be driving to the park at 8:30 at night, arriving a few hours later, hiking until nearly dawn and then hiking BACK. A round trip of over 16 miles. And people have DIED on this hike. (Usually in storms, though.)

Some might call it gorgeous, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, etc. It would also be fair to call it a brutal and grueling death march. In fact, I almost titled this post "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," with apologies to David Foster Wallace. But that wouldn't be fair. Because it really was awesome, and you get views of the park that would be impossible otherwise.

And we saw a fair amount of wildlife (thankfully, no bears this time—who wants to run into a bear in the forest at night? Not me.). In the dark, we saw at least three scorpions (yikes) and a few bats, and in the day we encountered a few marmots, tons of ground squirrels and oodles of lizards. A beautiful Steller's jay. One coyote. An elk (or was it a mule deer?) Unfortunately, some extremely aggressive mosquitoes as well, who scoffed at my bug spray.

We started down in Yosemite Valley, where we parked the car, readied our backpacks and put on our headlamps. (Note: Don't buy headlamps at Sports Authority because they will suck.) We hiked up to the Vernal Falls Bridge, where we branched off onto the John Muir Trail for a few miles. We continued steadily uphill for about 8 miles, navigating rocky terrain and hoping no bears jumped out to consume us or steal our PB&J sandwiches. Quite a few people were out hiking in the moonlight, but not many were INSANE enough to start from the valley floor. Most normal people camp partway up, at Little Yosemite Valley, and then hike the rest of the way. Not us.

We stopped for a small meal at the top of Nevada Falls, where the John Muir Trail meets up with the Mist Trail. Then we continued on up, up, up. It got much more strenuous as we gained altitude (Half Dome is around 8,000 feet up), and we had to rest frequently. As a result, we missed checking out sunrise from the top of Half Dome, but we did catch some amazing views of it from the hills just below. It was morning (about 8 am) by the time we got to Half Dome. I wasn't sure I was going to make it—we were all (except Travis) in major pain and suffering massive sleep deprivation at this point.

Then, when I saw how steep the cables were leading up the side of the dome, I was convinced I couldn't do it. But after a good rest, I was able to summon the mental fortitude, don my gloves and creep slowly up. And, much to my surprise, climbing up the dome and being rewarded with the awesome views at the top was my favorite part of the ordeal. It was actually WAY easier to shinny up and down the side of the dome than it had been to dodge rocky debris and climb half-broken giant stairs on the way there. And it was definitely easier than hauling my aching body back down for 8 miles, including a couple of miles of brutal Mist Trail action.

The worst part of THAT was the fact that we had been hiking for about 15 hours by then, and were completely spent and in pain, and had to dodge a million other hikers who had way more energy, plus numerous rude tourists. By that point, I was not going very quickly. My eyes were tired, my balance was fading, and my legs were trembling like crazy. It was a good thing we all brought plenty of Advil.

Oh. Did I mention it was 99 degrees when we were hiking back? Fortunately, we stopped at Little Yosemite Valley camp on the way back and plunged into a large pond there, refilling our water bottles, too (Travis brought a most excellent water filter pump). And, slowly but surely, covered in sweat and dust and dirt, we made our way back down via the Mist Trail and down into the valley, where we hobbled to the car, drove to Curry Village and rapidly consumed cheeseburgers and fries. On the hike, we brought what I would say was just enough food—PB&J sandwiches, dried apricots, craisin trail mix, beef jerky—but we should have brought more. It seemed like Rob and I were hungry every couple of hours.

Then we had to rush home to meet an overnight houseguest, which made everything just utterly crazy. We were in pain the whole day after the hike, but not immobile, which is good. I think we're both still exhausted from the whole thing, especially the lack of sleep (and if you know me, you won't be surprised that I didn't sleep well the night before the hike, either). But. Overall, I'm glad I did it. I may not do it again—at least, I definitely wouldn't do it again without camping in the middle. But I'm amazed that I made it. It was a very humbling experience. I'm not entirely out of shape, but this is a whole other level of physical conditioning.

I'm here. I'm alive. I can still walk--and in fact, today, I'm not in much pain at all. This feels like a minor miracle. And, I decided at some point during the hike that a character in one of my future novels will need to experience a grueling trek on foot. This made me feel considerably cheered.

More pictures here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dubious Advice from My Teenage Self

A few days ago my mother e-mailed me a scanned copy of the salutatorian speech I wrote and delivered at my high school graduation. My grandfather had kept a copy (that's his handwriting in the upper right) and my mom recently unearthed it, apparently. Note the top-quality dot-matrix printing, ha ha.

Reading it, I was shocked by how similar my writing voice was to its current incarnation—despite the fact that, at the time, becoming a writer was not even on my radar. I enjoyed writing, and I always have, but as you probably know, until about ten years ago I fully intended to devote my career to some form of visual art.

The other thing that struck me on reading my sixteen-year-old self's words was the fact that I still seem to be struggling with some of the same writing-related issues 17 years later. Despite a few specific details, the speech is almost painfully generic. And even now, I feel like one of my weaknesses as a writer is tendency to fall back on cliché and genericness.

But there are a few things I love about it, too. I love the fact that I inserted a pause specifically in order to "look cosmic." I love the fact that I pretended I was tearing up a fictitious "bad" speech I'd allegedly written in favor of delivering these, er, nuggets of wisdom—a rather theatrical segment which I had to argue for keeping, and was only allowed to perform on condition that I word it carefully so as not to appear controversial (cf. the "this is the speech I could have written" part). I also love the fact that my dad took a picture* of that moment and captioned it with a post-it note ("now you are tearing your speech!").

In some ways, I hardly know what to think about it. Part of me can't help noticing what a risk-avoider I was, in the sense that I could easily have performed my speech with my originally intended wording on the day of graduation with little or no repercussion. But then, in some ways giving a speech at all is a risk of sorts. So I guess it evens out.

*Could not find the picture despite repeated searching. I know it exists, because I remember seeing it in a box a few years ago. Which box? Who knows?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Flashbacks, the Horrible Flashbacks

I had a bunch of weird and disturbing dreams last night. (Yep, it's gonna be one of THOSE posts.) In the one I remember most clearly, I was back in college as an undergraduate, and it was the first day of classes. I went to my first class, a morning class in a big lecture hall that looked like one of the auditoriums in the Berkeley Life Sciences Building. I hustled back to the dormitory dining hall for lunch and felt lucky that I made it--it was after 1:30 and they were getting ready to close. I grabbed a couple of unappetizing-looking slices of cold pizza and some sort of apple pastry that strongly resembled a McDonalds apple pie.

Then, as I sat down and started eating, I was suddenly outside in Sproul Plaza and realizing that I was supposed to be heading to another class that started at 2:00, and I was going to be late. There was no way I was going to be able to make it across campus in time. Maybe they wouldn't notice me walking in.

I checked my schedule printout and saw, to my horror, that this was actually the third class meeting because it was an "early start" class (whatever that means) and it had already started meeting a couple of weeks before. I was sure to be hopelessly behind, and I despairingly decided that I would have to drop the class. Then I noticed that the class didn't have anything to do with my major after all, and was on some trivial and unrelated subject. But I was still going to have to find another class to add to my schedule.

Then the dream changed to something I can't remember clearly now, but I know I was still on campus, and our friend Jess's wife Alyssa was there distributing beverages out of a padded cooler.

Then, later in the night/early morning, I dreamed that I was in a shiny metal rowboat trying to paddle upriver while avoiding all sorts of obstacles like rocks and rapids. Seems like a horribly belabored metaphor, doesn't it? I thought so, anyway. Eventually my boat arrived at a visitors' center alongside the river. I went in. My mom was there for some reason. Can't remember the rest.

Stupid stress dreams.