Those kids I live with

I live with two amazing children; their online personas are DangerLad! and AdventureLass! and they are truly fabulous goofballs.  At the time I’m writing this they are 7 and almost 5.  I’ve known their parents since before they had kids and met each kid when they were teensy little people.  When I moved in with them in February 2011 they were 3 and 18 months.

The most recent picture I have with both kids; at the Museum of Fine Arts in June, 2014.

The most recent picture I have with both kids; at the Museum of Fine Arts in June, 2014.

I took AdventureLad camping on Peddocks Island earlier this month.  I impressed the hell out of him by dismantling a dead tree for firewood using just my hands and boots.  Hell, I impressed myself.

I took AdventureLad camping on Peddocks Island earlier this month. I impressed the hell out of him by dismantling a dead tree for firewood using just my hands and boots. Hell, I impressed myself.

Teaching AdventureLass to ride her bike in summer 2014

Teaching AdventureLass to ride her bike in summer 2014

 

I had intentions of moving out after only a few months but things didn’t quite work out.  Later, a couple months before I started graduate school, their mom was diagnosed with cancer (she’s fine now; in remission and doing well) and I decided to stay with them to help out with the kids and such while their mom underwent treatment.  And I just… didn’t really ever get around to moving out so it’s where I still live.  It’s an awesome deal for me in that I don’t pay for my room but in some ways I feel like if I didn’t live with two people who go to bed before 8pm I might have slightly more of a social life.

Regardless, the kids are fabulous, and I love them both dearly.

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Welcome to adulthood. There are apples here. Also, bills.

Skipping over some unpleasantness after graduation including burst pipes and losing my job and a bunch of other stuff I landed in Boston in February 2011.  Leaving Maine was the hardest thing I ever did but it had to happen.  It felt very final, like I knew I wouldn’t be moving back there any time soon.

Boston was a culture shock after five years in a place where most people didn’t lock their car doors. By this time I’d decided I wanted to go to seminary to become a Unitarian Universalist minister and in the fall of 2012 I matriculated at Boston University School of Theology.  In addition to that I also gained this amazing group of friends through the young adult group at church.  We went out and did things together from camping trips to apple picking to picnics.  Alone I didn’t have many options for things to do; I’d sold my piece of crap car rather than paying for insurance in Boston and found myself pretty confined to wherever the subway and buses would take me.  

With these friends, though… they had cars and they wanted to get out and do things. With them I learned to cross country ski and I learned the amazingness of the apple cider doughnut.  I have traipsed up mountains and gotten lost on tiny trails in small state parks.  We’ve watched each other get in and out of relationships, raise kids, buy houses, get engaged, grieve the loss of grandparents, celebrate sibling accomplishments, and vent the frustrations of the average American 20/30 something.

Almost all of my best memories from the past few years are with this group of amazing people.  

Picking apples with some of my friends.  Not pictured: the absurd number of apple cider doughnuts consumed that day.

Picking apples with some of my friends. Not pictured: the absurd number of apple cider doughnuts consumed that day.

More apple picking on a painfully picturesque fall day in Massachusetts.

More apple picking on a painfully picturesque fall day in Massachusetts.

Walking around the Blue Hills Reservation in Boston, MA.

Walking around the Blue Hills Reservation in Boston, MA.

On a boat heading toward a camping trip on the Harbor Islands.  This is about a third of the whole group that went.

On a boat heading toward a camping trip on the Harbor Islands. This is about a third of the whole group that went.

Memorial day with young adult group. 2013

Memorial day with young adult group. 2013

Memorial day hike with some of our young adult group 2014.

Memorial day hike with some of our young adult group 2014.

On a boat heading home from a big group camping trip on the Boston Harbor Islands

On a boat heading home from a big group camping trip on the Boston Harbor Islands

Skiing in North Conway, NH.  Memorable because the friend I was driving with looks at me at one point while heading there and says 'not to be an alarmist but... why are we in Maine?' For those not familiar with the area... Maine is not on the way from Boston to New Hampshire.

Skiing in North Conway, NH. Memorable because the friend I was driving with looks at me at one point while heading there and says ‘not to be an alarmist but… why are we in Maine?’
For those not familiar with the area… Maine is not on the way from Boston to New Hampshire.

Sprawled out on the Harbor Islands on my 27th birthday this year; June 2014

Sprawled out on the Harbor Islands on my 27th birthday this year; June 2014

And then I moved to Maine

In between central California and moving to Bar Harbor, Maine to finish out college there was a year in DC.  It was mostly terrible and nothing much of note happened there.  So skipping over the 20th year of my life, I moved to Maine.  

I went to what I humbly consider the greatest tiny little college ever.  It has around 350 students, we all major in the same thing, there are open mics in which “Wagon Wheel” is all-but-required, and the food is hilariously hippie and every year an email gets sent out asking us to please not hang out naked on the dock.  

And it is literally across the street from Acadia National Park.  To demonstrate this point I have made this very accurate map using GoogleMaps and MS Paint:

When I said "across the street" what I meant was "you walk through the parking lot of an inn and hop a fence."

When I said “across the street” what I meant was “you walk through the parking lot of an inn and hop a fence.”

Like I was saying, across the street from Acadia National Park.  Going to school there was the first time I felt “home.”  The ocean was at my door step, there was green space all around me, we didn’t lock our dorm room doors and people made announcements on campus by ringing a big bell at lunch or dinner.  Professor’s offices were little huts sprinkled around campus and sometimes we held class outdoors on a nice day.  And, again, Acadia National Park was LITERALLY across the street.

We’d hike up Cadillac Mountain to watch the sun rise, gathering wild blueberries on the hike back down, and then tossing those blueberries into pancakes we made before flopping back in to bed for a couple more hours of sleep.  We’d walk along the Carriage Roads, long after the park was closed for the season, creating footprints in undisturbed snow.  Often I’d stop by my favorite bakery for a bagel and coffee, drive up to the top of Cadillac alone, and be the first person in the US to see the sun rise that morning.  Living in Maine was my first time really seeing snow in any significant way, my first time sledding, my first time needing a coat rather than a hoodie, my first time being told that I could climb mountains, kayak, canoe, dive into freezing cold ocean. drive a boat, play soccer, splash in lakes instead of swimming pools… it was my first time truly in nature.  It was glorious.

LITERALLY my back yard.  Photo taken by my friend Kristi Rugg, a ranger in Acadia.

LITERALLY my back yard. Photo taken by my friend Kristi Rugg, a ranger in Acadia.

One of my many summits of Cadillac Mountain.  Of note: this is where I fell in love with geographic survey markers.

One of my many summits of Cadillac Mountain. Of note: this is where I fell in love with geographic survey markers.

Cranberry Bog trip with college friends.

Cranberry Bog trip with college friends.

After I graduated from college my big (BIG) present to myself was a kayak.  When I moved to Boston I gave it to a friend but I hope desperately to get another one some day... and to live somewhere where it makes sense to own a kayak.

After I graduated from college my big (BIG) present to myself was a kayak. When I moved to Boston I gave it to a friend but I hope desperately to get another one some day… and to live somewhere where it makes sense to own a kayak.

Snow and sledding were new experiences to me.

Snow and sledding were new experiences to me.

My college has this absolutely silly tradition.  The graduating class goes up against the staff and faculty in a tug o' war before graduation each year.  this is the photo from my year.

My college has this absolutely silly tradition. The graduating class goes up against the staff and faculty in a tug o’ war before graduation each year. this is the photo from my year.

 

Maine will always hold a sacred spot in my heart.  It’s where I started to figure out just who I am and where I learned I could Really Do Things.  From tanning deer hides to identifying birds by their calls to watching bio-luminescent plankton sparkle around me it was amazingly different from everything I’d experienced before in my life.

Meadows and Awe

I hated (HATED) my first year of undergrad.  It was a brand new school in the middle of nowhere.  Literally, we were the first class entering the University of California in Merced and next to us was a mostly-broken water feature and some cows.  The school should never have opened that year but it did, and I attended, and after I year I couldn’t handle it.

Tuloumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. Seriously, I got to be there and I never appreciated it.

Tuloumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. Seriously, I got to be there and I never appreciated it.

Merced did have one redeeming factor, though.  It was right next to Yosemite.  “next to” in the “45 minutes away” sense, but closer than I’d ever been.  Our school sent volunteer crews over to help out with park service projects fairly often and I spent a few afternoons in the Tuolumne Meadows helping with invasive plant removal.  While in the park I’d see the hikers, the backpackers, the climbers and the hardcore campers and I’d feel awe and jealousy.

Awe that they were doing what they were doing and jealousy that I’d never, or so I thought, be able to do that myself. I wasn’t raised specifically poor but we didn’t have a ton of money and what we did have certainly wasn’t spent on outdoor recreation. More than not having money was that I was raised being told I wouldn’t accomplish much.  My stepfather, especially, liked to remind me that I’d never amount to anything.  I instinctively knew that I’d never be the kind of person who could backpack through the wilderness, or climb a mountain, or any of the stuff I saw others doing.  I walked around the park a bit but was under the impression that all the people I saw out there had a certain something I didn’t possess.  

My mother came to visit me exactly once when I was in college.  We were so close to a beautiful national park but we didn’t get to spend any time there.  We drove around for the tiniest bit of time and then ventured off to look at antiques and tourist stores.  

I left that school after only a year.  My biggest regret, maybe my only regret from that time, is that I didn’t spend more time in the beauty of Yosemite when I had it so close.

Origin story

In sixth grade we had the opportunity to go to sixth grade science camp and learn about nature in a hands-on way and, for some reason, I’d been thinking about this for years. We were going to Angeles Crest National Forest and I had this mental image built up, a VERY specific image based entirely on my love affair with the Boxcar Children, Laura Ingalls Wilder and hippies.

This wasn't the blue daisy shirt.  Mine was uglier.  But this was the best 2-minute-google-search approximation I could find.

This wasn’t the blue daisy shirt. Mine was uglier. But this was the best 2-minute-google-search approximation I could find.

I had this ugly blue tshirt.  It was sort of a dusty blue with a HUGE white and yellow daisy on the front. I didn’t actually like this shirt, mind.  I didn’t wear it often and it was far too girly for somebody who was already sort of mentally coming out as not-exactly-straight who liked not-exactly-feminine-clothes.  But there was this ugly blue daisy shirt and in my Very Vivid Mental Image of sixth grade science camp I was going to dam a river while wearing it.  Why?  Who knows.

I wanted to be the kind of person who knew how to build a river dam, I guess.  I wanted to be the kind of person who would wade knee-deep in muck, who could identify hundreds of birds just by their calls, who camped at night and cooked over a fire and could look at the sky and say “Oh, that?  that’s ursa minor.” nonchalantly. Instead I was an 11 year old inner city kid who was bullied constantly and read too many Little House on the Prairie books.

Sixth grade science camp was, I’m sure you’re shocked to learn, nothing like the idyllic countryside romp I had envisioned.  There were some small hikes led by an incredibly attractive nature guide.  We chewed lifesavers to watch the sparks and smelled the vanilla-scented Ponderosa Pines and touched the smooth, red bark of the manzanita.  But we also slept in brick bunkhouses and ate crappy cafeteria food and watched strange skits in the evenings.  The biggest bully in our grade was in my cabin though I’d explicitly asked to not be with her and she gave everyone else a WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelet but wouldn’t let me have one.  Yes, she bullied me with Jesus.

What stood out about that week were the counselors, the nature guides who wore cool uniforms and no makeup and seemed wholly unconcerned with how they looked.  I wanted to BE them.  I tried so hard that week to show how different I was from the rest of my classmates.  They complained about their feet hurting and their hands being cold but not me.  I pushed on, I showed them I was eager and interested and would never get tired.  I didn’t mind getting dirty and I loved answering questions.

I was insufferable.

As soon as I got the chance I left Los Angeles.  I was 18 and my goal was to be literally anywhere but home.  My family, my mother especially, didn’t really do much of anything adventurous.  I went camping with my dad quite often but that was purely for dirtbiking trips.  I don’t think we ever went for an actual hike and often we brought a camper along rather than sleeping in tents.

Then I moved to Merced, California.

It’s just one of those things

I don’t remember the first time I heard about the Appalachian Trail; probably way before it meant anything to me.  Maybe it was a casual mention in a book or movie that went unnoticed because it didn’t signify anything special.  Years later, more than 3000 miles from my hometown of Los Angeles, I was sitting at my tiny little hippie college in Maine when someone came running by and said “Hey!  Free food in the parking lot!”

Some Appalachian Trail thru-hikers had reached Katahdin, the northern terminus of the trail and, for reasons and logistics I was never quite clear on, had somehow ended up nearly 150 miles away at my college.

But, hey, they were offering free food to college students so none of us questioned it much.  We congratulated the hikers, grabbed some veggie burgers, and went on with our day.  Everyone had seemed impressed and, going along with the crowd, I cheered for them, too. Then I went back to my room and looked up the AT.

“CHRIST THEY HIKED HOW FAR?” I thought to myself, or perhaps exclaimed to a friend.  It was clear that I could never complete such a monumental undertaking.  I made the decision that I’d section hike it, maybe over the next ten or so years.  I had vague thoughts of hiking parts of it some day with my future partner, maybe taking future kids on idyllic day-trips, even hiking the trail with some future teenage or adult child of mine.  “That’s more my speed” I said to myself, “slow and steady.”

I moved to Boston after graduation, took a couple years and then started graduate school and here I am, a year away from completion.  And I’m sick to death of slow and steady.

I’m going to graduate, that much is clear.  It would be stupid not to graduate at this point and I do eventually want to go in to my chosen career.  I’ve decided, though, that first I’m going to do something big.  And probably stupid.

So I built a camping stove.

To someday take on the AT, you see.

I’m writing this in the summer of 2014.  If all goes according to plan I graduate next spring, complete Clinical Pastoral Education (chaplaincy internship) the summer of 2015, do an internship fall of 2015 through spring of 2016 and then… then I guess I work my butt off as many hours as possible to save money.  Assuming I can save the money I’d set out on the trail in early spring of 2017, turning 30 years old that June, and finishing up in Maine in late summer or early fall.

Sure, things could delay or derail this.  I could meet that mythical future partner, have those mythical future children.  I could lose my physical ability to do this, or decide it’s all stupid.  Assuming none of that happens, though… here’s hoping for a 2017 AT thru-hike.