Day 1: Let It Begin

1. April 11: Mile 0 Campo to 15.38 Hauser Creek

Stayed at Scout and Frodo’s, trail angels in San Diego, last night and met numerous hikers starting there. They drove us through the trail head and began. Leapfrogged a South African couple, Ollie the Aussie and Patrick from Alaska, Bob from everywhere along with a couple other gentlemen that began with us. I mostly walked with Kristin from Toronto. There was a surprising amount of water and vegetation so far and there are mosquitoes at our campsite. I’m camping with Kristin and the South African couple tonight. Thinking about hiking to Fred canyon tomorrow 16.5 miles away. 

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An Open Letter to the Indiana Pacers

I grew up in Indianapolis during the 90’s. My entire world was Pacers basketball as a kid. Rik Smits was my favorite player. I loved him so much that I just started telling people that my name was Rik Smits. It’s no secret that those Pacers teams in the mid to late 90’s were beloved by many. So many fond memories came out of that period. Reggie’s 8 points in 9 seconds, The Choke, Rik’s last second shot against Orlando in ’95, that magical run to the 2000 Finals against the Lakers; too many moments to recount.

What was so memorable about those years wasn’t so much the success of the Pacers on the court, although there certainly was much of that, it was more of the role that team played in forming what identifies us as Hoosiers; in what identifies me as a Hoosier. You see, for many years Indiana and its capital Indianapolis was considered a flyover state or a place you drove through on your way to Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, or pretty much anywhere else in the Midwest. It was irreverently referred to as Naptown or Indianoplace. Outside the Indianapolis 500 and a tradition of grassroots basketball, about the only thing anyone really knew about Indiana was corn.

To be perfectly honest Indy lacked any real sort of character. A product of a 1980’s economic boom, the downtown area was lined with large, bland limestone buildings were symbolic of the kind of city Indianapolis wanted to be, but had yet to become. Market Square Arena, the Pacers first purpose-built arena, was certainly an archetype of basketball arenas like Madison Square Garden and the Boston Garden. It was a white domed structure like so many of its time. It was almost as if Indiana was embarrassed of its heritage and felt the only way to grow and become the modern city it so desperately wanted to be was to try to imitate the big metropolises.

Cue the 90’s. Donnie Walsh had drafted some hot shot kid from Hollywood over Indiana’s favored son in the 1987 NBA draft. Hoosiers were used to losing by then; memories of the success in the ABA years long forgotten. Passing up Steve Alford was just another middle finger to Pacers loyalists. But then something magical happened. That little shit from SoCal not only took us to the next level, but pitted us against the self-proclaimed basketball gods in New York City. A lot of losing happened in those early years; close games and close series. Year after year we always seemed to face the Knicks in the playoffs and year after year they always dealt the final blow to our season.

The curious thing was, it almost didn’t matter. You see, what mattered, and I mean deeply mattered to Pacers fans was the finally, after all these years, someone was finally standing up for us. That team wanted to win for them, sure, but they wanted to win for us. They fought hard for us, they fouled out for us, and they damn near got into a fight on the court every night for us. That whole crew: Reggie, Rik, Mark Jackson, the Davis brothers, and so many more took the fight for our city’s, our state’s respect to the floor every night. They didn’t always win. It took them three tries before they finally knocked off the Knicks in 1995 and until 2000 before they every reached the Finals before losing in game 6. But it was that feeling that they took on the big brother role and fought to be heard when no one else was listening.

Since then Indy has really come into its own. In my lifetime I’ve seen Indy go from a bland Midwestern city to a place that with a strong sense of identity. It’s become vibrant and filled with culture. If you come from large city that vibrancy may be hard to find, I get that, but considering where we’ve come from the difference is stark. No longer are we trying to imitate to big cities with facilities like Market Square Arena, but we can now celebrate who we’ve always been with the Fieldhouse.

In the time since the 90’s era Pacers, we’ve seen the Colts rise to prominence and Indy go from a basketball town to a football town. Nothing against the Colts, but I’m just not that into it. While I would trade very few things for our 2006 Super Bowl victory, there is still nothing that gets me excited more than a team who not only plays together, but also for something bigger than themselves.

We had some really good years between 2011 and 2014; took it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals two years in a row against the Heat. Those were exciting times, but it still just wasn’t the same. There wasn’t this sentiment that everyone really wanted to be playing in Indiana; it just felt that they were using us as a stepping stone to get somewhere bigger and better. And that’s fair, I suppose, we all have to do what we have to do to get where we want to be. I get it.  But, why can’t the final destination be here? Why does it always have to be New York, Miami, Chicago, or LA?

I will be the first to admit that I was one of many who had very low expectations for this season, but at the same time I was hopeful. I was hopeful that maybe in a couple years we could be a really good team that could make it to the playoffs and perhaps do some damage. I never expected this. I mean no one really expected this. I don’t need to rehash this season because you know it, you’ve lived it—it’s your story. But it’s become my story; our story. You have fought tooth and nail every single time you’ve step foot on the court. It hasn’t always been pretty, but honestly that doesn’t matter because we’re not pretty either. Even when we’ve lost I still can’t help but brim with pride. It’s so obvious that you not only play for each other, but play for us and that means so much to not only me, but for Hoosiers everywhere.

Life circumstances will be taking me elsewhere after 25 years in the Heartland. I must admit I’m going to deeply miss it here. It may not be the world’s greatest city, but it’s my city. It’s my home. I met a beautiful Canadian last year and we have since married. Later this year we’ll be moving to Halifax, Nova Scotia, but Indy will always be a core part of who I am and will always be. It’s been magical to share you guys with her; to enable her to understand the passion that once was when I was a kid. Because in the end it’s not really about basketball, it’s about being heard when you have no voice, it’s about being respected when no one else cares, and it’s about being loved when no one else loves.

So thank you. Thank you Ike, thank you Bojan, thank you Trevor, thank you Darren, thank you Al, thank you Cory, thank you T.J., thank you Ben, thank you Victor, thank you Alex, thank you Glenn, thank you Domantas, thank you Lance, thank you Edmund, thank you Myles, thank you Damien, thank you Joe, and thank you Thad. Thank you to Nate and Kevin and your team and thank you to so many more. Words cannot begin to describe how incredible this season has been and how proud I am of not only what you have accomplished on the floor, but what you have done for this city and this state. I can’t thank you enough. Basketball lives again in Indiana.

Heat

The world’s most thermally efficient internal combustion racing engine is the Mercedes-Benz PU106A Hybrid built for Formula 1 with a 50% thermal efficiency. That probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but considering a typical internal combustion engine has an efficiency of around 30%, , 50% is unheard of. In addition, the Mercedes PU106A generates a behemoth 1000 bhp (brake horsepower, basically a fancy way of saying horsepower). So how, you may ask, does an engine manage to have two thirds greater thermal efficiency than average and generate an enormous amount of power? It all has to do with energy management.

First off, the Mercedes PU106A has a total engine capacity of 1.6 liters with six 270 ml cylinders. To give you an idea of how small each cylinder is, 270 ml is a little more than a cup of flour with the total engine capacity equaling about a quarter of a six pack of Miller Lite (or Molson if you’re Canadian). For reference, it’s about the same size engine as what’s in your Honda Civic except the Mercedes F1 unit generates about 850 more brake horsepower (bhp).

A smaller capacity engine will almost always perform more efficiently due to the law of diminishing returns. Formula 1 engines not so long ago were running 3.5-liter engines with similar power outputs, just to give you an idea of how small 1.6L really is. Additionally, fewer cylinders will generally yield higher efficiency than those with more; the 2018 Mercedes power plant has six cylinders compared to the twelve that were on the cars back in the 3.5L era.

The size of the engine is really only the foundation for which 50% efficiency is realized. To understand thermal efficiency, you must understand what goes on in an internal combustion engine. Each cylinder is something called a combustion chamber—really just a fancy term for notating the area where the explosion or combustion occurs. It’s internal because the explosion takes place inside the motor and outputs the power mechanically through a series of cranks and gears. An external combustion engine would be something like a rocket engine, where the combustion occurs outside and power is outputted directly to the exterior. Within each cylinder of an internal combustion engine (in this case, six of them mounted in two rows of three in a “V” shape) a mixture of fuel and air is sprayed into the combustion chamber and is subsequently ignited by a spark plug. This sets off what is effectively a mini bomb which, as the hot gasses expand, pushes down the piston which is located at the bottom of the cylinder. The downward motion of the piston helps to turn the crank shaft. With all cylinders firing at different moments across a timeline, the crank shaft is able to rotate and through a series of gears, the power is translated to the wheels.

With what is effectively thousands of hand grenades going off every minute, a tremendous amount of heat and sound is generated as a result of all of the unrelenting friction and stress created through the numerous moving parts. There’s a reason that the engine in your car at home needs its oil, engine coolant, radiators, and mufflers to mask the sheer violence that goes on under the hood. Race cars don’t muffle the engines, which is why they are so much louder than your personal car (>130 decibels versus <70 decibels).

It’s due to all of this excess heat and sound created by friction and stress that engines lose around 70% of the potential energy of the fuel they burn. If the engine was 100% efficient, it would experience zero increase in temperature relative to the air temperature. This is where engines can drastically improve their efficiency, by trying to recover that loss of heat. The most common method of doing this is by adding a turbocharger. This technology has been around since the late 1880’s, but didn’t rise to prominence amongst automobile engines until the second half of the 20th century. What a turbocharger does is use the expanding exhaust gasses that are being expelled from the combustion chambers to spin a turbine (basically a fan). This turbine is connected to a shaft which connects to a compressor (essentially another fan)that sucks in fresh, cool air and rams it back into the combustion chamber (called forced induction) so that there is a higher concentration of oxygen in the cylinder when the spark plug ignites the fuel/air mixture. The result is an even bigger explosion which generates even more power and an increase in thermal efficiency. What the turbo does is take a portion of the excess heat that has built up due to friction and uses it to create even more power. This enables the motor itself to be smaller; because you can generate the same amount of power with a smaller turbocharged engine as a larger naturally aspirated (non-turbocharged) engine.

Another way to gather excess energy is by generating electricity, storing it in a battery, and deploying it through an electric motor. The Mercedes PU106A uses electric energy recovery in two ways: excess heat recovery from the turbocharger and kinetic energy recovery while under braking. Recovering excess heat from the turbo revolves around the turbocharger. As the compressor sucks in air and rotates the shaft between the turbine and the compressor, it also powers a generator. The shaft engages magnets as it spinsand rotates them around a coil which in turn generates an electric charge. The charge is stored in a battery and is released as power through an electric motor.
Kinetic energy is also manifested as electric energy and released through electric motors, but is gathered in a completely different way. The engine uses an enormous amount of energy to propel the car forward only to waste much of this energy when the car slows under braking. To recover that loss in the form of kinetic energy, there is something called a fly wheel that continues to rotate at the speed the wheels were turning before the driver hit the brakes. In a way, it’s just like a bicycle. When you stop peddling on a bike, the rear wheel continues to spin even though you have stopped applying power. So, similar to the waste gate, magnets are employed to rotate around a coil on the fly wheel (bicycle wheel) while under braking which generates an electric charge. The charge is stored in a battery and deployed through electric motors.

All of these various thermal energy recovery systems recover about 2 megajoules of energy which translates to an additional 160 bhp. Combined with elements such as direct injection, a highly sophisticated engine control unit ( which is basically the engine’s computer), as well as advanced materials, the Mercedes-Benz PU106A has been able to utilize a staggering amount of its fuel’s potential energy. This has only been achieved by taking heat wasted due to friction and stress and harnessing it in an effort to provide even more power resulting in not only a more efficient unit, but also a more powerful and faster one. There’s a reason this engine has earned 90% of the pole positions, won 80% of the races, four driver’s titles, and four constructors F1 world championships since 2014.

I grew up on the bike. My dad had been riding since late in high school so it was only natural for me to get into cycling. Much of his cycling career surrounded ultra-marathon cycling; some of his biggest achievements were riding a whole slew of double centuries (200 miles rides) with his longest being 250. My time on the bike has looked quite a bit different. While Dad pursued the distance for its own sake, I pursued racing. My main thing was track racing on the velodrome; mainly sprint races or races that required a lot of tactical decisions, but I also raced a lot of criteriums and road races. After high school I even had the opportunity to continue racing collegiately on an athletic scholarship at Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky, a small liberal arts school with a proud cycling tradition.

You would probably think that I was pretty fast considering the above credentials, but I was mediocre at best. I could hold my own on the track in the event I was good at; maybe even shoot above my weight simply due to my experience, but if it involved raw fitness and endurance, I didn’t stand a chance.

Part of what makes a great cyclist is the ability to suffer, something I’ve never been great at. You’re in a race trying to mash up a climb or hanging on for dear life in a strong crosswind with the pack echeloning across the road and your heart is about to burst out of your chest, your lungs are on fire, and your legs are teetering on cramping up. It’s in those moments where you have to block out that pain and push through knowing the prize is on the other side. Athletes love to talk about how they thrive in the “pain cave”; almost romanticize it. But I just never got there; I always hated it. That’s partially why I had so much success on the track. The races were usually no longer than 20 minutes so I could manage the pain for that duration and a lot of the racing came down to tactics, which was something I excelled in. It was my inability to suffer, though, that would come to haunt me again and again.

Time and time again in races when the going got tough, I would choose relief over the pursuit of the ultimate goal which was to win. When my heart rate spiked for too long my subconscious would convince me that it just wasn’t my day and that quitting or backing off was a far better option, but it always led to regret and unfinished business. Each time I’d pin on my numbers I’d psyche myself up to push through that pain barrier and the vast majority of the time I’d fall short. I would have to be at such a high level of fitness given the category I was racing in to make the suffering minimal enough to where I could make it to the end and finally use the last kick that I was so good at. It was always just a matter of getting to the end. If I could do that, I’d usually finish well, so I began to get a reputation of either winning or getting dropped.

You’d think that after so many disappointing performances I’d finally learn to just give it all I had, but it was never that simple. What is giving everything? Is it a numeric figure that’s static or is it something more fluid and ambiguous? When I felt I had reached the end of my rope in a race, felt my mental toughness wouldn’t let me go any deeper, was that really the end of my rope? To this day I really don’t know. I’m in a constant state of inner turmoil between thinking that I gave it all or didn’t give enough when the montage of past races floods my mind.

I had a college coach say to me once that what I had to tell myself when I was deep in the pain cave was, “you’ve been here before and you’ll be here again so just go for it.” I appreciated the intent behind the mantra, but it totally back fired on me. The idea that I’d experienced this pain before did not encourage me to dig any deeper; it only made me want to quit more. Funny how motivation for some can discourage others.
In my senior year of college I decided to upgrade to Category A for the road racing season (I was already a Category A on the track). Collegiate cycling, for those who don’t know, is broken into four categories based on ability and experience (A, B, C, and D). You can upgrade after earning points in a lower category to move up to the next. I had started out my freshman year as a Cat. C, moved up to a B halfway through my sophomore year, and finally on up to an A for my final season. I had some success in C’s and B’s, earning a pair of victories in between the two, but racing as an A was an enormous task that I knew I wasn’t prepared for, but it was my senior year so I had nothing to lose.

Jumping from Cat. B to A is like going from being a decent high school basketball player to starting in the NBA Finals; it’s a completely different ball game and I knew that going into it. I had won a crit the previous season in B’s and was runner up in the road race at conference championships, finishing out the season top five in points so there was nothing else I really had to prove. But I also knew that racing A’s was way over my head and that proved to be true race after race.

I got dropped from every race I entered, either getting pulled before the end of the race or pulling myself due to the futility of completing the distance. The only race I didn’t finish was at Milligan College where the official let me continue the race after getting lapped in the crit, and I was able to finish with the pack a lap down. You know your standards have changed when that’s considered a success. The whole season, though was filled with what-ifs. What if I hung on just a bit longer? Would the pace have slowed a bit to let me catch my breath and continue? What if I made better choices in my positioning in the pack? Why didn’t I just jump onto that wheel instead of naively hoping that they would slow so I could get back on in hopes of having to put forth less effort? What if, what if, what if.

About the only consolation of the whole season was, despite not actually qualifying, my coach finagling my way into road nationals. I knew I had no chance, but I was determined to finish that damn race. It was three laps, 75 miles through the Appalachian Mountains near Asheville, NC and it was brutal. I surprised myself and held onto the group through the first climb, but the attacks on the second climb popped me off the back with less than a quarter of a lap under my belt. I managed to team up with a rider from Harvard and we split the workload of breaking the wind with minimal words being spoken as we trudged along, slowly passing riders who had given up after their races had effectively ended.

I managed to stay with him until about 10K to go. The course had come down from the mountains, but followed a river on a false flat with a slight crosswind. I started out with a banana and a few gels, but failed to eat the banana until about 15K to go as we turned onto the final stretch along the river. By then it was too late and I knew it; I was bonking. It was the point of no return and after desperately trying to stick with the Harvard kid, skipping pulls while getting double vision, I fell off his wheel and drug my way to the finish.

It was a bittersweet moment. I knew I had given everything I had to end a season of what could have been, but at the same it was the end of an era for me. I continued to race the following summer on the track with some of my best results to date, but four years of slowly making my way to the top only to question my ability to give the extra something just haunted me and still does.

In a lot of ways, hiking the PCT was my shot at redemption; my chance to prove to myself that I could set an ambitious goal and execute it. Of course I never imagined that I would end up hiking it in one of the most challenging snow years in decades and wind up coming down with high altitude pulmonary edema resulting in getting airlifted and spending a week in a hospital. I just knew that this time I couldn’t quit. There was no way in hell that I would let anything get in the way of me completing that trail.
The actual hiking part really wasn’t the challenging bit, I mean, it’s just walking. Sure, you have a relatively heavy pack on and you have to sleep outside and shit in a hole, but honestly that was the fun part; that was the reward for all those months of planning and dreaming and for finally deciding to throw caution to the wind and just do it. I had never imagined that I would face a legitimate life threatening situation though.

You probably know the story by now, but in case you don’t here’s a quick recap: We had been hiking at around 10,000 feet for about a week and descended into Lone Pine, CA by car to around 3,000 feet to resupply and rest up for about 24 hours. The following day we got a hitch back up to the trail head at 10,000 feet like most of the other hikers and climbed an additional 1,000 feet to Chicken Spring Lake where we camped. That night I kind of lost it just due to the stress of beginning the true snowy section of the Sierras and all the hazards that lay ahead and I was a complete mess. On top of that, it was the coldest night to date and incredibly windy leading to very little sleep before a 4:00 am start to hike on the snow while it was still frozen. In the morning I noticed some congestion, but just dismissed it as a cold and figured I had no choice at this point than to just keep going. That day turned out to be the longest of the whole trail with 14 hours being spent on foot slogging through the snow. I began to notice acute shortness of breath while coughing up warm fluid on the final climb of the day and I knew all hopes of summiting Whitney the next day were gone. At this point the goal became just trying to make it to the next town. However, that night I came to realize that I had to get out of there as soon as possible, but as I would discover the next day, there was no reasonable way to hike out on my own. I couldn’t walk more than 15 feet without having to stop for five minutes to catch my breath and as I would later find out my blood oxygen level was at 70%, which would kill most people. As the story goes, I got evacuated via helicopter, leaving my future wife and girlfriend of less than a week behind along with our dear friends not knowing what the next days would bring.

The events of that day played through my mind again and again as doctors repeatedly told me that I should never go above 3,000 feet in my life (the PCT only dips below 3,000 feet a handful of times) and had a close family member tell me how selfish and ungrateful I was for wanting to get back out there and finish what I started. The one glimmer of hope was in a simple comment on Facebook from my old cycling coach. It was two simple words and read, “Don’t quit.” I choked up as I read it, knowing that he intimately witnessed my struggle with suffering for almost four years and knew how badly I wanted to achieve this one thing. That comment was it for me, I had my mind made up: I was going to finish. I didn’t care what people said, I was going to finish what had started as a few YouTube videos on thru hiking while sitting in my dorm room as a freshman. And nothing was going to stop me.

I made the decision in November of 2017 to go back to school to pursue a graduate degree in urban planning. I felt unsatisfied with a business degree. There was nothing that really excited me about business and the degree itself felt too ambiguous and unspecific; I never felt like I learned how to do anything. It just seemed like an expensive license to get a job.

While on the trail I had the opportunity to really think about what I actually cared about. About what had drawn me to business in the first place and what I didn’t like about it; about what other interests and fascinations lit a fire in my soul. I knew I enjoyed being creative. Actually, I thrived on creativity, but my creativity did not always manifest in traditional ways like visual art and music, although I do very much enjoy those things. My talent has always been idea creation. A product, a service, a system, incorporating different ideas and building them into something new and innovative; I can come up with a concept for how to do something. I also have an innate desire to somehow enhance this world that we live in for the greater good; something I never felt was achievable in business where profit is the ultimate goal.

These thoughts and more led me to urban planning. Architecture and design have always been a personal interest of mine and being able to combine those topics with my business degree and minor in energy sustainability really drove me to pursue this field of study. I began looking at schools late in the fall and settled upon Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario and Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Both programs are slanted to the specific topics that I desire to pursue and both have prestige in their own right.

I began the application process for Ryerson in late November, submitting the application, letter of intent, and transcript. I reached out to a couple of my professors, one from my business program and one from my sustainability program, to ask if they would write letters of recommendation for me. They both kindly accepted and went about filling out the electronic forms provided by Ryerson. Unfortunately, they both ran into technical issues as the deadline of December 11th loomed. After working with Ryerson to find a solution, I was able to help troubleshoot the problem to enable them to submit on time. Once all of documents were in, it was just a matter of waiting until the end of February when offers of acceptance would be sent out.

In the meantime, Dalhousie’s deadline was January 31st, so I had some time to compile the necessary documents and fill out all of the forms. After submitting the application, a letter of interest, a sample of my academic writing, and ordering my transcripts, I reached out to the same professors who kindly wrote letters for me for Ryerson. Dalhousie, unlike Ryerson, gave me the option to have my referees send their letters online or via mail. With the technical challenges fresh in my mind from Ryerson’s electronic reference letter submission, I extended the offer to choose between an electronic form and paper form to my former professors.

A few days prior to the January 31st deadline, Dalhousie emailed to notify me that they had not received my transcripts or my reference letter from my sustainability professor. I had the email receipt from the clearing house that my transcripts had been mailed along with assurance from my professor that he had mailed his reference letter. I was frustrated and upset, especially since the deadline was looming. The whole point of applying to Dal in the first place was to act as a backup in the event Ryerson didn’t work out. Now, it seemed like my backup plan wasn’t even going to work out. I had done everything right; submitted the application on time, uploaded the required documents before the deadline, and asked my referees if they would write letters weeks ago. It was totally out of my hands and I felt completely helpless.

The following morning I call Dalhousie to see what my options were. They informed me that instead of the documents being mailed to the address stated on the form for the letter and on their website, which was for the Faculty of Architecture and Planning, they needed to be sent to the desk of the admissions officer for the School of Planning. After being assured that no late penalties would be assigned to me, I reordered my transcripts, an additional $18, and emailed my sustainability professor to see if he would re-mail the letter to the correct address. He agreed and promised to put it in the mail the following day.

Fast forward to a couple weeks later. I was in Canada visiting Kristin for her birthday and Valentine’s Day in February and I got an email from Dalhousie stating that my transcripts had been received. A wave of relief swept over me. I replied and asked if my reference letter had been received. It had been two weeks. Surely, two weeks was enough time for a simple letter to be mailed from Kentucky to Nova Scotia. A day later I got my answer: no, the letter from my professor had not been received. In reality I never had any proof that he had sent it in the first place, only the promise that it would be sent. So I concluded that it was highly likely that the letter had never been mailed.
My sustainability professor was always a scatter-brained kind of guy. That was part of what made him fun and enjoyable to learn from. Every class was new and exciting and you never really knew what to expect. That’s also why he was a nightmare to work with. You never really knew what he wanted on assignments; it was always a moving target. He needed a lot of reminding with anything he promised to do for you so it wasn’t out of the question for him to have simply failed to mail the letter.

With this in mind, I reached out to him via email to notify him of the situation and to express how urgent it was that this letter be mailed. A few days passed. No response. I tried to call him. No response. I followed up with another phone call the next day. No response. A whole week had passed and I never received even an acknowledgement that he had seen my email or missed my calls. I was pissed, I was livid, I felt helpless, and I felt hopeless. I put my trust in this man to help me further my education and he failed to do so.

Bewildered and desperate, I decided to reach out to one of my other professors. I texted and emailed her once I arrived at work around 7:30 am explaining the situation to her: that I was trying to apply for grad school, had been jilted by someone I trusted, and needed a letter sent ASAP. I was shocked and humbled when, only 30 minutes later, she texted me back saying that she had just got to her office and was going to fill out the form as soon as she opened her computer. I was baffled. All the stress and worry and friction with my previous referee had finally come to a close. Within a few minutes she had completed the letter and by lunch sent a picture of the envelope with the correct address and postage as she dropped it into the mailbox.

Finally, after the month’s long saga it was over and I could finally breathe a sigh of relief knowing that both of my applications for Ryerson and Dalhousie were going to be equally and fairly considered. That was always my thing. I didn’t want to not be able to be accepted into grad school because of some technicality or because not all of my documents were submitted due to either my error or someone else’s. All I wanted was to be considered on my own merit and if I didn’t get in, at least it would be because someone was just better than me. That would still be a hard pill to swallow, for sure, but an easier one than thinking of the “what if’s” and the “what could have been’s”.
And then, at around 10:30 that night I received an email from Ryerson University titled, “Ryerson Application Status Update.” Was this it? Did I get accepted? Was my dream of returning to grad school in pursuit of a career in urban planning about to truly begin? I opened it and began to read, “Dear Michael Hart, We regret to inform you that we are unable to give further consideration for your request to the Master of Planning – Urban Development – Full Time as all required documentation was not received and the program is no longer accepting applications.”

My heart sank and my stomach twisted in knots. I was dumbfounded. “Wait, what? I thought this stress and friction over my applications was finally over.” I had all of my documents in. I had seen the document submission page and it showed everything that I had submitted and when. So many emotions flooded through my mind. I pulled that web page up again and sure enough, like I remembered, everything was there. The only thing that wasn’t submitted was a document for proof of English Language Proficiency. The instructions for that drop box said that unless I went to a Canadian university or attended a university where the primary language of instruction was English, I had to provide an approved test score, demonstrating my ability of speaking and writing the language. Well, since I went to school in the United States, and I was taught (and only speak) in English, I didn’t have to submit anything. The only thing I could think of was maybe Ryerson’s system had red flagged my application since I didn’t go to a Canadian institution.

The first thing I did was call Kristin. I just felt like there was nothing I could do to just get equally and fairly considered by these schools. What had I done wrong? Was this a mistake on their end or had I made some oversight or error? I expressed all of this to Kristin between tears and bouts of anger. The whole situation seemed completely hopeless, but she lovingly listened to me none the less.

After I had gotten it all out, I knew what I had to do. I wasn’t going to come this far in the process to be thwarted by some technicality; I was going to go down swinging if I had to. It was going to be a knock down drag out until they either gave me a solid reason as to why I made a mistake or they were going to reinstate me into the consideration process.
I’m admittedly jaded and have a huge chip on my shoulder about academic institutions, well, intuitions in general, but mainly academic ones largely because of my experience at Lindsey Wilson. Everything you wanted to do when it came to changing classes, getting signatures from the dean, or anything involving graduation was a total and complete pain in the ass. It was like pulling teeth. If the servers crashed while you were trying to register for classes and the class you wanted ended up full, then you had to stand in line at the registrar’s office the next morning and explain to them that this class is only offered once a year and is a prerequisite for all of the other courses you have to take to finish your degree. There was also the time when I had earned the honor of being an Academic All Star for USA Cycling and needed the registrar’s signature on the application, but instead of just signing it, they said that the coach had to submit it to their office instead of me. Or the time when I had enough credit hours taking sustainability courses to make it a minor, but the dean wouldn’t sign off on it as an official minor because, “the department head can’t take on another program” even though a Minor in Sustainable Energy Applications would just be a scaled down version of the Bachelors of Arts in Sustainable Energy Applications which already existed. The bureaucratic bullshit oozed through the walls of that school like a chocolate bar in August. So yeah, I’m a bit jaded.

Considering my lack of faith in academic institutions to be reasonable people that truly want to help advance my education, I was ready for a fight; a respectful, cordial fight, but a fight none the less. Thoughts of all of those races where I had given up came flooding back to me. Missed opportunities and moments not capitalized. I recalled the time where I was determined to spend a semester studying abroad, but failed to go through with it because I was too damn arrogant to follow an established exchange program; I wanted to do it my way and that resulted in never following through with it. I still regret that. The only countries I’ve ever been to are still just the US, Canada, and the Dominican Republic; never outside of North America. I was always more interested in engineering or architecture than business, but I never pursued them because the math was too hard. Still regret letting that hold me back. Hiking the PCT felt like a new start for me; a chance to take my dreams and execute them, follow through with them, and make them happen. To leave nothing on the table. I wasn’t about to let this dream die like the rest.

My plan was to call Ryerson in the morning explaining to them the email I had received and why I thought their system may have red flagged me. The gentleman I spoke with forwarded me to the admissions officer who was assigned to my account. I re-explained the situation to her and she was very kind and understanding, much to my surprise. After hearing me out, she notified me that even though I did not need to submit an English proficiency test score, I still had to submit a statement saying that I had indeed been instructed primarily in English through my undergraduate degree.
My heart sank. I had completely misunderstood the fine print. All of my hopes were dashed based on misreading instructions. I did the only thing left in my power to stay in the running and asked if I could still submit it, despite being now three months late. She briefly put me on hold to consult with a colleague, got back on the line with me and said that they could absolve me of that document and send it on to the committee. In fact, the committee wouldn’t even know that it hadn’t been submitted. She also added that if I had called them a day or two later, it likely would have been too late. Despair to elation. Mind you, this whole scene occurred within the first couple hours of my work day, so my emotions were on display for everyone to witness. To finally know that I would finally, after this, after all of this, have the opportunity to be equally and fairly considered was a massive weight lifted from me. Receiving an offer of acceptance is another matter, one of which I am still waiting for the results as I write, but one that will have to wait for another day.

I never imagined this process would end up being this strenuous and even more so, I never would have thought that the personnel I worked with to resolve these issues would have been so kind and helpful; so vastly different from any of my experiences at Lindsey. My manager at work experienced with me those 24 hours between desperately trying to find another professor to write a letter of reference and trying to get Ryerson to give me a second chance. She saw the ups and downs, the despair and the elation, and constantly reminded me that everything would work out.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about that mindset. Sure, everything may indeed work out, but if you sit idle and let the pieces fall as they may, opportunities will be passed up and chances will be missed. At the same time, letting stress and worry fester and defeat you without prompting any action won’t get you anywhere either.
Of all the many lessons I learned while on the trail, of the biggest was how to use uncertainty, stress, worry, and general friction to determine where I needed to invest in taking action. The worry about my condition in the days after we left Lone Pine led me to make the hard decision to hit the SOS button to call for help. Had I not done so, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be writing this now. My worries about the snow conditions in the Sierras led to mine and Kristin’s decision to skip up to Lake Tahoe due to the inherent risks and our relative lack of experience. I could go on.

The thing is, simply choosing not to worry may relieve the immediate pain, but the ultimate goal may be left unfulfilled when action could have been taken. It’s not that you want to worry and stress yourself out, it’s just that you care. I care. I deeply care about my future; my passions, my opportunities, my future. Leaving something that you deeply care about up to fate will get you nowhere. Sure, there’s a small chance that everything may fall neatly into its place, but more likely than not, it won’t.

Now, I am not trying to suggest that if you always take action you will get what you want. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I didn’t want to skip the Sierras. In fact, it still chews me up inside that we did skip them. I wish so badly that we could have completed that section like so many others, but that was the hard decision we had to make and one I know deep down inside was the correct one. I very well could have never found another professor on short notice to write me a letter of recommendation for Dalhousie, let alone have Dal be gracious enough to give me over a month to sort out my troubles and submit all of the required documents. It’s very possible that Ryerson could have just said, “No, you didn’t submit your materials correctly,” and that would be that. No admission. No fair and equal consideration. So I certainly benefitted from a heavy dose of luck.

What does one do when worry, stress, friction, and excess heat enter a situation? You harness that otherwise wasted energy and turn it into power. You harvest that dissonance and deploy it in the form of action, just like the Mercedes-Benz PU106A. You see, that motor takes losses due to friction in the form of thermal waste and diverts it into power-producing energy. In the same way, I took my stress and worry and pain and instead of letting it defeat me like it had so many times before, I used it as fuel to keep going; to stretch it out just that much further. It doesn’t mean that you’ll always win. The PU106A still failed to win 16 of the 79 races it competed in and most of that was due to so many other external factors: the aerodynamics of the other cars may have been more efficient, a better strategy by another team, better drivers, luck. There’s an infinite amount of possibilities. The same was true for me. The cards could have fallen in so many different ways, but I let my own stress and worry and friction lead to my own personal increase in efficiency. And that led to an increase in the probability that I would be equally and fairly considered alongside all of the other applicants.

Now, I am still stressed out about getting into grad school and beginning this next chapter of my life in the way that I want, but for now, I will take this small victory and learn from this experience to continue to use my personal wasted thermal energy and convert it into power.

 

 

So What Happens Next? Part 2: The Long Term

This is Part 2 of 2 in a series about where life will be taking Kristin and myself over the next few months and years. If you haven’t already read Part 1, then what the hell are you doing, man!? Gosh. Get your shit together.

The last thing I mentioned in Part 1 (I think, I didn’t actually reread it like the well-trained writer that I am) was that I was planning on returning to graduate school and getting my master’s degree in urban planning. How I am going to pay for said schooling I have no fucking idea, but I am certainly not above robbing daycares and pet stores to bankroll my education. So, the current plan (which has a tendency to not work out in any way that I thought it would) after finishing my degree (summer 2020) in planning urban things like parades and hiring food trucks and other related stuffs would be for Kristin and I to return to the Sierras and hike the ~350 section between Mt. Whitney and Echo Lake that I (we) skipped when I drowned in my own lungs and almost died and got to fly a helicopter. Well, I didn’t actually fly the helicopter, but I did sit in it with this super cool helmet on and got to fire a machine gun out the door. Okay, that last part didn’t happen either, but whatever. Details schmetails.

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Chicken Spring Lake. Can’t wait to return to incredible places like this in the California mountains.

But really, though, we definitely want to get back there and finish arguably the most scenic and stunning section of the PCT. This time we’ll certainly take a few more precautions regarding the altitude. I have a prescription now as well as some strategies to help mitigate the effect the thin air has on my body. Regardless, we will not let our difficulties in the Sierras this year prevent us from tackling them another year. We are finishing what we started.

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Nordic skating. I want to do this so bad.

Now for the fun part of this post. Before I did the PCT I had already began thinking about other adventures that I would really like to do one day. For a while I’ve known about Nordic skating which is essentially skating on “wild” ice. So like frozen lakes, rivers, streams, etc. Nordic skates are essentially long track speed skates that use cross country ski boots. So you would just clip into the skate with your ski boots and have fun. I used to race short track when I was younger and I really miss being on the ice, but I also don’t have much desire to be competitive with it anymore so this kind of activity would be perfect for me, especially while living in Canada.

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Gavan Hennigan trekking across Baikal in 2016.

Sometime before the trail I was listening to this podcast interview with an Irishman by the name of Gavan Hennigan who had walked 430 mi/700 km across frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia in an attempt to break the fastest known time on foot. Only a handful of people have ever walked from tip to tip on the largest lake in the world by volume (and the deepest). Baikal is known for its crystal clear ice in winter (over a meter thick) and the vast majority of the lake has glassy smooth exposed ice making it perfect for skating (which people do). There’s also a highway on it, so believe me, it’s safe. It sounded crazy at first (you would probably classify it as a death wish), but it got me thinking, wouldn’t it be quicker or at least easier to travel on skates than by trekking? Because if you used Nordic skates, you could just unclip from them when the ice was covered with snow and attach cross country skis; they use the same bindings.

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Nordic Skates

I mentioned this idea to Kristin while we were on the trail and she was indifferent on it, but since then we’ve had a chance to return to normalcy and really dig in and do some research, it actually sounds extremely doable and both of us have become really stoked about the idea. It’d probably take three weeks or so and we’d likely have to carry all of our food, which sounds like a lot, but we’d be pulling pulks which are basically sleds designed to carry all of your crap and be drug behind you. This would enable us to carry more weight than with a backpack plus it would be relatively easy to pull especially when on skates.

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Lake Baikal is ridiculously stunning. 

Additionally, other people have done this! And not just professional adventurer dudes, but like average normal people. Now, most don’t trek from end to end, but many people have walked, skated, bicycled, ridden horses, and skied extended distances on Baikal. The only difference is the duration of the trip; we’d just be making it a little longer. Those who do get out for overnight extended trips on the lake usually do it in March. It would be cold of course, but not absurdly cold. The average temperature in March is 16°F / -9°C so with the proper gear it certainly isn’t out of the question (for us, maybe not for you). Most people walk northbound and the majority of the exposed ice is in the southern portions of the lake. So we could make good time before hitting snow and moving over to skis.

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People really do use all modes of transportation on the lake.

We would really like to do this trip in March of 2021 so it’d be after I would have graduated from my master’s program and after completed our Sierras PCT section hike the previous summer. I think that should be enough time to start acquiring the gear and learning the skills necessary to be prepared to tackle such a journey. For comparison, when I decided that I wanted to do the PCT, I had zero backpacking experience—neither had Kristin. I spent four years planning, preparing, and training before leaving the Mexican border. Kristin did it in one. So I really think that while insane, this should be a very achievable goal. And both Kristin and I are thrilled to begin making steps towards making it a reality.

In Part 1 I mentioned that I was planning on taking sailing lessons this summer. You may or may not have inferred that I have much, much bigger plans than simply sailing around in a small boat for funsies. The ultimate goal would be to go on a long journey across the ocean. Like, sailing to Australia. A couple years ago I became enamored at the idea of sailing around the world and while I would still love to pursue that, I’m not sure that I really want to commit the kind of time required to do that kind of venture; there’s just so many other things that I (and Kristin) want to pursue. We want to have wild experiences and adventures, but we also still value our careers and we do eventually want to have a family.

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I can’t wait to learn to do this.

Assuming I learn to sail and enjoy it enough to continue learning and building my way up to larger keel boats and assuming that Kristin enjoys experiences on the water as well (we’ve never tried, so we don’t really know), then we hope that within the next ten years or so we can have the preparation necessary to embark on a voyage that would take us from the Atlantic coast of Canada, into the Caribbean Sea, through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific and down to French Polynesia, Fiji, New Zealand, and ultimately Australia where we would likely sell the boat and fly home.

Here’s the thing, though, we have zero and I mean ZERO experience sailing. Neither of us has even piloted a motor boat; only canoes and kayaks. In fact, neither of us has even set foot on a sailboat. Hopefully, you get my point. This isn’t like Baikal where we would need to add some winter camping skills and some more experience with navigation since their won’t be a distinct trail, but that’s attainable. Even going from no backpacking experience to hiking the PCT is very doable. It doesn’t really take a lot of practice to learn what’s necessary for that kind of adventure. This, on the other hand, is different. Very different.

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What are these words!?

With backpacking I knew the gist of how to use a map and compass, I had the fitness and had done plenty of day hikes before and from there it was just learning about gear which I already had most of and small nuances that just come with experience. But with sailing I have no background. I didn’t grow up on the coast, not a single person in my family has ever sailed or knows a lick about it, and ultimately I’ve just never been exposed to it. So here’s a sampled list of all the things that I will need to learn before Kristin and I would feel remotely comfortable buying our own 30-35 foot yacht (a sailboat yacht, not one of those gaudy monstrosities that shit out wealth) and sailing halfway around the world.

  • Port/Starboard (I think that means left/right when facing the bow which I think is the front.)
  • Parts of a Boat (Spreader, batten, transom, halyard, leech. No clue.)
  • Windward (No clue what that means, but it sounds like it has something to do with the wind?)
  • How to fucking sail! (I downloaded an app from the American Sailing Association that has little games to help you learn where to place the sail to generate power to move the boat so I think I’m getting the idea. I think it all has to do with angle of the wind relative to the boat and the sails and involves of a lot of zigzagging.)
  • Jibing and Tacking (Pretty sure these are types of maneuvers or turns, but I don’t really know which ones which.)
  • Spinnaker? Jib? Genoa? (These are apparently sails. I think the spinnaker is the big poofy colorful one that is used for something specific. I don’t know what that specific thing is, though.)
  • Navigation (Based upon a quick Google search, I am not aware of any marked trails on the ocean. GPS? Sextant? Compass? Nautical charts? Moana? A far cry from following the trail north.)
  • Laws (Is it lawlessness?)
  • Weather (When can you safely sail where? What do you do about the various kinds of conditions?)
  • What the hell is a Knot? And why is it called Nautical Miles instead of Knotical Miles?
  • Tying knots (I quit Boy Scouts after three years. I only made it to Tenderfoot.)
  • How do you get fresh drinking water?
  • How do you sleep while sailing overnight?
  • Do you have to speak in a pirate voice?
  • Can you play with the dolphins?
  • I want to be a pirate.
  • Are mermaids real?
  • Can I please be a pirate?

So yeah there are a lot of things to learn, but we have plenty of time. There’s no rush to get there. We’re hoping to learn the skills and acquire the right equipment over the next ten years which means, we would probably have kids by then. And yes, we plan on taking them along. Of course that would add another layer of complexity, but we’re excited about the challenge and the opportunity to show the world to them from a young age (roughly five years old or so). When they’re little, it will be much easier to go on long hiking trips with them since they can be carried, but until they’re ten or older, it’d probably be hard to share the wilderness with them on foot. So sailing would be the perfect way to share the world with them. I know, I know “Hey Gummies and/or Michael, you’re a dumbass and going to be risking the lives of those poor little children. You should be incarcerated for such thoughtless behavior.” Yeah, yeah. We just want to instill adventure and a sense of possibility from a young age instead of just sitting there in an insulated environment closed off from the realities of the world. We want them to live rich, full lives.

Okay, so let me recap, in the next several years we’re planning on returning to the PCT to complete the Sierras, we plan on ice skating and/or skiing across frozen Lake Baikal in Russia, learning to sail and eventually sailing to Australia or somewhere else cool, and with many smaller adventures in between. To me, one of the most thrilling parts about doing things in the wild is being creative and coming up with the adventures and planning them and figuring out how to make the become reality long before you ever actually begin the journey itself. So here’s to taking more risks and more leaps of faith and seeing what kind of surprises life has in store for us.

Oh, I almost forgot. One more thing. You know how you all were like, “Hey Gummies and/or Michael, when’s your book coming out? Heh heh. You could write Wild. Wouldn’t that be great?” Right. Sounds like a blast. Honestly I cringe about the thought of yet another personal account of someone’s thru hike and finding love on the trail blah, blah, blah. HOWEVER! Kristin and I have been doing some thinking and we are considering NOT COMMITTING, but considering writing a book about our PCT experience and meeting each other and all that other stuff that people get all gaga about. If we do indeed write it, we can promise you these things: It will be good, it will be entertaining, it will be offensive, it will be funny, it will be thought provoking, it will be personal, it will be different (like very different from any other memoir you’ve read), and it will have pictures. Lots of pictures. As in illustrations, not photos. So consider this a very informal announcement that Kristin and I will be writing a memoir. When will it be done? Maybe before we’re dead, if that helps narrow the timeline.

So What Happens Next? Part 1: The Short Term

Kristin_Michael (31 of 213)Today is a monumental day in my blogging life. For the first time ever, I will be solely discussing future events about my/our (Glowworm/Kristin) life. Up until now it has always been about past events; mainly the events surrounding a given day on the PCT. You may, however, be wondering what on earth is going to happen next. And I can’t blame you, because there are so many questions surrounding Kristin and I’s future. Side Note: Since this is not a PCT post, Glowworm will be referred to here as Kristin. If anything, it’s so I don’t confuse myself, which is a carefully crafted skill of mine. In fact, I am a three time World Champion in Self Confusion (2009, 2013, 2016). Also of note, now that I am moving to Canada, I can now compete in Self Confusion in the Commonwealth Games. Long live the incredibly old hag with the crown and stuff!

So let’s start there, the Canada thing. If you only briefly skimmed my blogs this past year while drinking your morning coffee and all the while keeping an incredibly close eye on prices of birthday cake commodities in Malaysia, then you may have missed the glaringly important fact that I am not Canadian (if you are not Canadian) or that Kristin is not an American (if you are not American). If you are neither Canadian nor American you probably assumed that we were both American (poor Canadians, always being lumped with us dingbats here in the States). So anyway, that little nugget of information is rather important because it makes a simple thing like, you know, getting married that happens in every country every day incredibly fucking complicated. Like, INSANELY FUCKING COMPLICATED. I basically deserve an honorary degree in immigration law once this is all said and done. Preferably from Harvard or from pretty much any school not based in the state of Kentucky (sorry, Lindsey Wilson, but no one has heard of you).

Okay, so here’s the gist of the happy things we get to do along with planning a wedding. You ready? Alright. Waaaayyyy back when we first started dating (so like a few months ago) I knew that the whole not-living-in-the-same-country thing would eventually have to be addressed. From the beginning I was just not going to let that become a point of contention for us, so I made the decision that I was going to immigrate to Canada. I didn’t even think twice about it. There’s no major political statement being made or dissention about my home town, it was simply because one of us would eventually have to make that decision. Now, I am not complaining about moving to Canada by any means. I like winter weather, well, when there’s snow and you can actually use winter to have fun instead of being a cold barren wasteland like Indiana can be in the winter. It’s also worth throwing out there that I am also fairly liberal so I’m not necessarily going to miss the current political climate, but that will inevitably change as it always does and then change again. For our specific circumstances, Kristin immigrating to the United States would also be more complicated and challenging than me immigrating to Canada (which is still a complete pain in the ass and is by no means easy). The most straightforward way for her to immigrate here without getting into all the specifics would be through NAFTA which currently has an unknown future. Practically speaking, there is simply more certainty in me moving there than her moving here at the given moment.

This leads me to the next major milestone that is on the horizon, but first a little backstory that will hopefully answer a few questions you may have and enable to rest of this post to make sense. When we got back from the hike, both of us returned to the workforce. I was able to return to my previous employer, a logistics firm called Clear Lane Freight Systems (which are absolutely wonderful people) and Kristin began working a vegetarian fast food restaurant (an oxymoron, I know), but is currently pursuing position that fits her education. Alright, now that you know, let’s move on.

Since returning from the trail Kristin and I have made a concerted effort to see each other about once a month. She came here for American Thanksgiving (Canadians celebrate it in on American Columbus Day and yes, it is the same holiday and yes, they eat turkey, and yes, they celebrate the same historical event that’s taken completely out of context), I went up to Barrie, ON for Christmas, she came here in January, and so on. In April, it will be my turn to go up to Canada where we will get to celebrate my birthday together on the 23rd. The 23rd will also be the day that we will get (wait for it) legally married! “But, Gummies and/or Michael,” you may ask, “I thought the Save the Date you sent me or didn’t send me because you are a heartless bastard said that the wedding was going to be on July 21st? I’ve already booked my plane ticket and hotel that you still have yet to reserve. Whatever will I do?” Let me explain, the formal wedding will still be on July 21st in Barrie, ON. “Oh, yay! Thank you, Gummies and/or Michael.” You’re welcome. However, to simplify the immigration process, we are planning on getting legally married about a month before I actually move to Canada. It will be the classic courthouse marriage just like Moocher and Nancy did in Breaking Away (if you don’t get that reference then you have led an extremely sad existence).

The reason for this is to simplify the timeline of moving to Canada, getting married, getting a work permit, and eventually becoming a permanent resident. Since I know many of you have been asking, I’ll try to explain in mildly simple terms the process to become a fully legal resident of Canada. First of all, it’s complicated. There have been other routes that I have tried (and failed) to make work so for now I’m just sticking with describing the path that I am currently on. Once we are legally married, Kristin can sponsor me as her spouse to become a permanent resident. Permanent residence essentially allows me to act as a citizen of Canada without being one. So it awards me the right to work and live in the country. After we submit the application, the current processing time to be granted residence is roughly a year. Without residence I am only legally able to spend up to six months at a time in Canada, but would not be allowed to work. However, if I apply for my Open Work Permit (essentially a general work visa) at the same time that I apply for residency and remain in Canada while the permit is being processed (about six weeks), I can receive the work permit prior to obtaining my permanent residency status. If that fails, then I can always rely on a student visa, but more on that later. It’s worth noting that I could be horribly wrong about all of this! I really have no level of certainty. I’ve spent countless hours reading government and legal information regarding this stuff and to the best of my knowledge, this should work as planned. The most surefire way would be to hire an immigration lawyer, but unless any of you are willing to donate a few thousand dollars, I’m just going to go with my perceived understanding of the laws and regulations. And if you’re thinking, “Gummies and/or Michael, why don’t you just become a dual citizen!?” well, it’s not that simple. I have to be a resident for about 5 years before I’d even be eligible for citizenship. Like I said, it’s complicated, but still far less complicated and more certain than Kristin coming stateside.

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Fast forward to May. Carb Day, to be specific. Kristin will arrive in Indy for our regularly scheduled visit, but this time I will be making to the back to Canada with her. In my car. And all my stuffs. Because I’m moving to Canada finally! But first, there’s a very important piece of business to attend to in the form of 33 cars going around in rectangles (not circles, people, it’s clearly a 2.5 mile rectangle) at 230 mph/370 kmh. Kristin will be joining my dad and I for her very first Indianapolis 500! For those of you that were too busy paying attention to the prices of birthday cake commodities in Malaysia while reading my most recent blog post about our mushy gushy love story, then you would have failed to recall that we officially became a thing on the day of the 500 last year. So to be able to share an event that has been such a big part of my life on our one year anniversary as a couple with Kristin will be incredibly special. And for those of you who are rolling their eyes, Kristin is legitimately excited about her first 500. I am a very lucky man (or boy, still have a hard time seeing myself as anything other than a child). Let’s put it this way, Kristin was the one that spoke up and wanted to delay the date of our formal wedding in July so that we could go see the Indy Toronto race. True love.

After race day, the plan is to finally make the trip up to Canada where I will hopefully stay on a permanent basis assuming all of the above goes according to plan which it probably won’t, but we’ll cross that hurdle when and if it comes. Once there we’ll apply for my residency and work permit. While waiting for those to be processed I’ll be essentially unemployed, although I’m currently working on some employment possibilities with my current employer, but I’ll refrain from talking about that until something is solidified.

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In the meantime, probably sometime in late June, I’ve been scheming with my friend and former Lindsey Wilson College cycling teammate, Patrick about doing an 800 mi/1300 km bike trip from Windsor, ON which is across the river from Detroit (remember, I have to remain in Canada while my work permit is being processed) to Quebec City, QC in a week. If you do the math, you’ll figure it’s about 100 mi/160 km a day, which is a lot, even for two former collegiate cyclists (who have not been riding at all for quite some time and are horribly out of shape). In all my years of riding and racing, bicycle touring is something that I’ve never done or even had the chance to do. So much of my time on the bike has been devoted to racing that I was never able to devote the time and training to do something like this, even though my dad’s entire cycling career was based on long distance cycling and touring. So both Pat and I are really stoked about this challenge because for both of us it has been so long since we’ve been able to use the sport for recreation instead of competition. It will still be hard as fuck; I’ve never done more than one day of 100 mi/160 km at a time, but it will be a completely new kind of challenge with a totally different pace and vibe to that of racing.

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Something that I have been dreaming of for a few years now is learning to sail. There’s something about being able to harness the power and ferocity of the weather and use it to propel you across hostile an otherwise environment like the ocean that lights a fire within me. I should mention that I have never step foot on a sailboat let alone piloting anything other than a canoe or kayak. But the plan is to start small and begin to take sailing lessons this summer beginning with small dinghies where I can begin to learn the basics of sailing and hopefully lay the foundation for some even bigger dreams that I have that I’ll talk about in Part 2.

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Around this time Kristin and I will be preparing for our wedding day which will be held on July 21. The ceremony will be Springwater Park in Barrie which is a beautiful provincial park near her home and the reception will be at an awesome local brewery called Redline. For our honeymoon we’re going back to how we first met and hitting the trails for a week. We’re going to go on a week long backpacking trip on the Coastal Trail in Pukaskwa National Park along the northeast shore of Lake Superior. It’ll be the first time that we have gone backpacking since finishing the PCT in September of 2017. So naturally, we are super pumped to be filthy dirt bag vagabonds again.

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Finally, in the fall, I am hoping to return to school to get my master’s degree in urban planning. On the trail I had the opportunity to really think about what I wanted my career to look like; to understand what I really valued and fascinated me (absurdly cliché, I know). I have always been interested in design and architecture, but the math element has always harbored me. Like, I’m just complete shit at math, at least in a school setting. I have also been a planner, though, as well as a dreamer. I like big ideas as opposed to the details of how to actually do something. Despite my love for the outdoors and the wilderness, I really do love the urban world. I like being in the city; I like the sense of progress and innovation. Sustainability, efficiency, culture. All of these subjects capture my imagination making planning a perfect career for me.

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As of now, I’ve applied to two schools and am currently waiting on hearing back from both of them regarding admission. I have applied Ryerson University in Toronto which is my preferred choice and also to Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Once I (hopefully) get accepted to one or both of these schools, Kristin and I can begin figuring out where we’re going to live on a more permanent basis. Toronto would be ideal in terms of ease of use. Barrie is only an hour north so we’d be close to her parents, as well as (relatively) close to Indianapolis, and we would have a place to stay until we can get our own apartment while we’re searching for work. Additionally, Ryerson’s program is more attractive for me personally. Halifax would be totally bad ass, though; I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Maritime Provinces. The town would be awesome, we’d have the Atlantic ocean (which I could sail on in the summers, although Lake Ontario would still suffice), and Dal’s program fits within what I’d like to do with my career.

So lots going on, lots to plan, and lots to think about. In Part 2, I’ll talk about my/our long term plans and dreams (because apparently I’m long winded and spent 2500 words talking about the next six months without even touching the next few years so consider it a bonus post).

Day 244: The Great PCT Love Story

It is exactly eight months to the day that Glowworm and I met in San Diego so I figured it would be somewhat fitting to tell the story that I conveniently left out of all of my blog posts through my 160 days on trail. Enjoy, for what it’s worth. 

Welp, I am finally sitting down to write my long overdue post-PCT update. The original plan was to have three or four of these suckers by now, but as expected those plans completely failed to pan out. In fact, plans failing to pan out or not panning out has basically been the thesis of my life in the two or so months since living the life of a malnourished, mentally deranged, and rather confused nomad. So, let’s get this straight now, I am not going to pathetically attempt (and fail) to recount all the has happened in the last two months. Glowworm did a halfway decent job of summing up the happenings of our post trail escapades in Vancouver and Seattle as well as missing the trail in her most recent post. Her recounting of those events and feelings are far more reverent, appropriate, and sincere than anything I would have ever written so consider yourself lucky for her to have penned such eloquent and meaningful pieces of literature. If you enjoyed those pieces (if you haven’t, shame on you for being so heartless, but I will permit you some level of redemption by giving you the link:  https://thecaffeinatedhiker.wordpress.com/).

Ok, now that I’ve made you slightly guilty, I will happily inform you that this post will once again probably be inappropriate for children, tweens, teens, young adults, people-in-that-awkward-stage-between-35-and-40, middle aged folk, new inductees to AARP, the elderly, the holy shit you’re still alive’s, and the dead. I can, however, guarantee with no real authority that this will probably be the best thing that you will read over the next 5 minutes.

I’m sure at this point you’re thinking, “Okay, okay! Jesus, get to the point.” Fine. I will. I will get to the point, but not without expressing my distaste for what I’m about to write. Love stories make me sick. If there’s anything good that can come out of Kim Jong-Un’s recent ICBM test it’s the possibility that it could wipe out Rom Coms for all eternity. “Like the world has never seen!” as our beloved and well-spoken President Donny Trump would say. I say this because this post is the sappy, mushy gushy, sickening, Nicholas Sparks-worthy love story that everyone (mostly women, especially Glowworm’s friends) has been violently demanding for centuries. Okay, maybe not centuries, but it feels close to it. And, so it’s not horribly one-sided, I have permitted Glowworm to interject freely to correct the many details I will omit or get miserably wrong. Alright, kids, here we go.

Once upon a time in a magical place called San Diego a young prince lay eyes on a beautiful princess and they fell in love. They then frolicked happily through the mountains together and lived happily ever after. The end.

Ha! You think it actually happened like that? Fuck no, it didn’t. It was actually far less tidy. The real story is Glowworm and I met on April 10, 2017 at Scout and Frodo’s home in San Diego. Scout and Frodo annually host the vast majority of PCT hikers at their home the night before they begin their treks. To be honest, Glowworm was the only person my age there so we were naturally drawn to each other, but more for lack of any other options than an impulsive romantic desire. Sorry to burst your bubble. (This is true, but the fact that I ever-so-subtly moved my things from a tent full of older men into his tent seems like it should have tipped us both off a bit). That being said, when I first caught sight of her she was lounging on a lawn chair letting the Southern California sun kiss her pasty Canadian flesh (I had just gotten out of Canadian winter, okay?). And yes, I thought she was quite beautiful.

You see, deep down I really felt like this was my last good shot at finding anyone. I dated someone early in high school for six months (For the record, as of writing this I have now been in a relationship with Glowworm a whole day longer!), but after that ended abruptly I never really pursued anyone until I was in college. When I was in college I pursued a couple girls, but those would fizzle out after a while. In all reality I just never felt comfortable dating and when I found someone I thought was attractive I wanted to pursue them away from my friends under the radar and that was almost impossible to do. So, between being generally awkward surrounding dating and loathing my friends meddling in my relationships I just never really had any good opportunities when most people find their eventual partner. That being said, when I met Glowworm I was purposefully trying to be cautious. I didn’t want to leap at the first girl my age that I came in contact with so I tried to refrain from showing my interest beyond just being friendly (Meanwhile, I was totally clueless. Always have been when it comes to romantic relationships, so I thought I’d just stumbled upon a wonderful friend and hiking buddy).

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Where it all began. The Mexican border with all of the people we stayed with at Scout and Frodo’s. I am standing at the top, Glowworm is six down from the left and Cougar and Dr. McDirty are four and three from left, respectively.

I continued this strategy the following morning when the whole group that stayed at Scout and Frodo’s (including Dr. McDirty and Cougar, our South African friends) departed from the Mexican border to embark on our journeys. Despite how much I wanted to leave with Glowworm, I forced myself to walk away thinking, “You just met this girl, there’ll be other girls and even if there aren’t that not why you’re here.” (I saw him leaving the monument ahead of me and was instantly filled with disappointment… Looking back I don’t know how I didn’t realize my feelings sooner). I must admit, though, I couldn’t shake her from my mind and fortunately by lunch (after purposefully slowing my pace...thanks a lot) she caught up to me. We hiked the rest of the day together and that night camped in the same tentsite along with our eventual friends Dr. McDirty and Cougar. In the days following, I was in lockstep with Glowworm making sure she was never too far out of my sight all the while trying not to come off as too overbearing.

A couple days before we reached the first town of Warner Springs we had been hiking together on a really hot afternoon through the desert and at around 4:00 I found a nice shaded campsite and announced that I was going to stop and camp here. Glowworm responded and said that she was going to hike on. My heart sank. We had camped with each other up until then and all of the hopes of maybe eventually getting her to like me somewhat were dashed in that moment (I honestly had just made a goal to keep hiking until at least 5:00 that day… I ended up having my only night camped alone on the entire trail and can’t say I enjoyed it too much. I will say that I was very happy to see him passing by my tent the next morning).

She didn’t get very far, as I realized the following morning. She was only a mile or two up the trail and I passed her early in the morning before the sun had properly spread its rays over the valley. At an overpass nearby, I waited as much as I could in hopes that she would show up and sure enough, she hiked in and took a break as well. Later that day the circumstances were flipped (except for the fact that I explicitly tried to get him to stay and camp with me… *cough cough*), Glowworm had decided in the afternoon to camp early while I (in an effort to prove that I wasn’t too interested or in any way needy of her) opted to continue on and hike into the evening.

It was a poor choice, as I discovered the next day. I made the mistake of indulging some guy in a conversation about NASA and the space program that I could never seem to end and had to experience Eagle Rock all by my lonesome (except for this extremely talkative dude). By the time I got to Warner Springs I knew I had made the wrong choice. I was suddenly alone without anyone that I had previously met to visit with and all I could do was scan the vast sea of tents at the Warner Springs Resource Center in hopes of seeing her bright orange shirt. Finally, much to my joy I saw her and promptly moved my gear over to where she was (semi-discretely). (Meanwhile, I walked into Warner Springs desperately hoping to find him there. I’ll never forget how happy I felt when I saw him there in his red rain jacket and tights… Oh, the glory of laundry outfits).

From then on, we hiked together as a group with our friends Dr. McDirty and Cougar and our friendship slowly grew. We got to know each other in the way that all friends do: by finding common ground on trivial things. We discovered that we both like musicals (especially Hamilton), our mothers both worked in similar capacities in elementary schools, we had similar political and religious views, we enjoyed hiking and being outside (duh), and just generally got along with one another and enjoyed the other’s company.

By the time we had reached Big Bear Lake I knew I liked her. I could no longer deny my attraction to her; it was genuine. At the time, though, I had no fucking clue whether or not if she felt the same way. (Spoiler alert: I was STILL clueless). Fortunately, the hostel where we wanted to stay only had two private two-bed rooms available. Obviously, Cougar and Dr. McDirty took one of those rooms and Glowworm and I took the “just friends” room as Sarge (the hostel owner) described it after I insisted we weren’t a thing. I thought the whole “just friends” thing was funny and so did Glowworm, but as I later learned we thought it was funny for completely different reasons. (I thought it was funny because we genuinely were just friends… oops).

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On the summit of Mt. San Jacinto a little under two weeks into the hike with Cougar and Dr. McDirty in the middle.

A couple weeks later in Tehachapi was when I began sensing that she may have the same feelings for me. As with all great love stories, it involved alcohol and a hot tub. (So romantic). The short of it was we went out to the hot tub on a hot sunny day and each drank a large can of beer which eventually turned into a couple more beers that somehow appeared which eventually turned into me going to the gas station to buy a six pack which eventually turned into us getting drunk in a hot tub that we had somehow eclipsed six hours dwelling in. But it was in the last 30 minutes or so after everyone else had left that I first really felt there was some kind of special connection between us (probably the alcohol, but eh, whatever). And as we talked we noticeably started situating ourselves ever closer together. That night was comically stereotypical of a burgeoning relationship that’s yet unspoken as we awkwardly tried to snuggle with each other (but not too much). It was a feeble attempt by Glowworm to initiate it (I thought I was being pretty obvious…), and an even feebler attempt by me to try and respond.

The funny thing was I still don’t think Glowworm had the clarity that I felt in my feelings for her. (It’s true, you guys. Despite everything, despite how obvious it all should have been, I still hadn’t let myself consider the possibility of an actual romantic relationship). As time has gone on I’ve discovered that she has a much harder time coming to terms with the way she feels about things than I do. I’ve never been one to shy away from the way I feel about things (whereas my automatic reaction to feelings is to shy away from them… I mean come on, feelings are scary); maybe not always publicly, but I’ve always tended to be fairly honest with myself. And it was at this point along the trail that I knew that if I was ever going to take this wild opportunity of actually by some miracle finding someone on this trail, she was going to be it.

It was in Lake Isabella, on the morning of the Indy 500, no less (I know, it’s the most Gummies circumstance ever) that I revealed my feelings for her. I was absolutely terrified. If she did not feel the same way then I not only blew it with her, but I also would have completely destroyed the rest of my hike and any fond memories I otherwise would have had. So, I had a lot to lose, but I knew that it was completely worth the risk. I would probably never have an opportunity like this again and I knew if I didn’t take it I’d regret it fully for the rest of my life. (Words cannot describe how grateful I am for that incredible leap of faith). But yeah, so anyway she liked me too and it was cool and then we watched the Indianapolis 500 which was sooooo thrilling!!!! And I got a girl to like me too. (In case anyone was wondering how it all went down, we were lying in bed that morning joking around about why we even stuck around each other when he said, “Do you want to know why?”, and I said “Why what?” (sticking to my clueless card for all it was worth), and he said “I really like you. I love hiking with you.” My heart simultaneously seemed to stop while also starting to beat furiously out of my chest and I came back with possibly the most me response ever of, “Me too,” while continuing to stare stubbornly at the motel room wall. That moment is seared into my brain forever).

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Our first photo together as a couple (well, first good photo) and before when shit hit the fan.

Here’s the part where if this were a movie the music would go to a minor key and it would start raining and all those other bull shit things directors do to try and signal conflict and the turning point in the story. It’s no longer puppies and flowers, it’s dog shit and thorns or something to that effect. Fast forward to the night after leaving Lone Pine in the Sierras. It had been a stressful day. I ate way too much Kielbasa at lunch, it was our first major snow crossing of the Sierras, we thought we lost Cougar and Dr. McDirty only to find them at the campsite at Chicken Spring Lake, it was stupid windy, really fucking cold, and dark by the time we sat down to make camp. It was completely miserable, yet one of the most pivotal nights of my life.

Because I was so stressed out, as Glowworm and I were lying in our tent (actually her 1+ person tent, I presumably was the + … pretty sure the + was intended to be a small dog or a child or a backpack rather than another fully grown human, but we made it work) I more or less had a complete emotional breakdown. I just felt compelled for some reason to completely spill my guts (emotionally, not the Kielbasa) revealing things that I never thought I’d tell anyone and at some point, decided it was a good idea to tell her that I loved her. Mind you, we had only been a thing for less than a week so that probably wasn’t the most ideal timing, but eh, it seemed to work out. Anyway, she didn’t respond in the same way. She said she didn’t know how she felt (FEELINGS you guys, feelings are scary!!). And honestly, I wasn’t sure either. Regardless, I really felt like I blew it and pushed her away. Little did I know that was going to be the least of my concerns 24 hours later.

I’m sure you all know some version of the story by now, but the gist of it is, the next morning after getting very little sleep on a cold and windy night at 11,500 feet, I started to feel what felt like congestion as a result of a cold. By the end of the day I knew that it wasn’t just a cold and I needed to get out of there. It was scary. I couldn’t walk more than ten feet without having to stop for five minutes. That night we lay in our tent taking turns comforting each other. She would comfort me that everything would work out, then she’d start freaking out and I’d comfort her. It wasn’t how I would have written the story, but I wouldn’t have changed the experience for the world.

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Moments before the helicopter arrived to whisk me away with my angel. I would have never survived without her.

She saved me. There’s no navigating around it. It was Glowworm that made me oatmeal in the morning because I was too weak to do it myself. It was Glowworm who helped find alternate routes to potentially bail on. It was Glowworm who hiked through not one, but two frigid river crossings to what turned out to be an unoccupied ranger station in search of help and it was Glowworm whose GPS device I used to contact emergency services to get me to a hospital. It was also Glowworm who watched as someone who just confessed their love for her took off in a helicopter leaving her to trek through some of the most dangerous portions of the PCT alone (along with Dr. McDirty and Cougar). (Yeah, can’t say this was the high point of the trail for me. Although Gummies will certainly tell you that the helicopter ride was the coolest part of his hike, so you know, there’s that).

Going through all of that intensity on the trail to all of a sudden being in a hospital bed really sucked. Like was miserably boring, but also left me with quite a bit of heartache. Glowworm was doing some of the toughest and most stunning sections of the trail and I wanted nothing more than to share that with her instead of being boarded up in a hospital bed racking up medical bills. (Meanwhile, I found myself suddenly forced to confront my feelings and realized that, yeah, I was totally in love with this guy).

I finally had the chance to be reunited with her in Bishop compliments of my Uncle driving me around the Sierras (thanks, Uncle Russ) about a week later. And it was everything you would hope it would be if you were writing a moving script (Are you listening Hollywood? I could really use the money right now.) I arrived at the hostel in Bishop and went to my room to find Glowworm asleep in her bunk and after setting down my pack I slipped into bed with her where upon waking up she told me that she loved me. I defs scored mega boyfriend points at that moment (Um, yeah. Best way to wake up from a sad nap ever). But seriously, though, it was really emotional after being torn apart in that fashion, but it was even more wonderful to be reunited.

It was after our reunion in Bishop that we headed to Lake Tahoe for a much-needed break from the trail. Life had been so intense and so stressful that we just needed to get away from it all. We spent the week doing all the quintessential couples things like holding hands along the beach, cooking dinners with each other, going on long walks on the board walk, seeing movies, and shopping together. (Give me a minute to gag at all of these disgusting things…okay I’m good). During our time in Tahoe we both called our parents to officially tell them that we were dating as well as announce it to the interwebs. It’s crazy to look back and think that so much happened in a matter of only a few weeks.

Moving on from Tahoe we slowly progressed in our relationship. The trail was probably the most ideal incubator for a relationship. You’re with one another 24/7 with no place to hide the ups and downs. There was rarely a day where both of us were having a good day. More often than not one us was having a shit day and having to navigate that was far better at shaking us out as a couple than any experience in “real” life. Some of the things that we went through together were so unfathomably stressful that sharing those experiences with anyone else, even some of my closest friends, would have surely caused irreparable damage, yet we were able to grow stronger through those circumstances. (We got to know each other better in our few months together on the trail than would ever be possible in the same amount of time in the “real” world.)

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Hitchhiking from Bishop to South Lake Tahoe the day after being reunited with the love of my life. I really had just showered, for the record.

We also proved that our weird idiosyncrasies weren’t enough to turn the other away. She somehow managed to stay interested in my despite me going on long tirades about the differences between superchargers and turbochargers, the Hart family March Madness pool, and various topics surrounding socio-economic political bullshit that I’m not even entirely sure what I was getting at. Anyway, despite all that, she somehow seemed to grow ever fonder of me. And I’m still trying to figure out how on Earth I got so lucky. Glowworm even admits to getting sick of the vast majority of people, even her closest friends, after about a week or so. It’s been eight months for us and nope, she still amazingly seems to enjoy my presence. And believe me, I gave her everything I had when it came to pushing her buttons. (This is absolutely true. I’ve never been able to spend so much time around one person without starting to want to rip my hair out. This fact was the reason why I always thought I’d never be able to have your traditional romantic relationship. The fact that I can listen to hours of musings on the inner workings of racecars and the complete history of the Indiana Pacers and still feel my heart brimming over with fondness and love is how I know I’ve found the one for me).

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A perfect, absurdly weird match for each other.

Alright so fast forward to mid-September. We finish the trail, I chug (and dump) milk at the border like any proper Hoosier should and they all lived happily ever after the end. Okay, it didn’t exactly happen that way. The plan was for me to get a job in Canada and for us to move in together upon getting said job. Since the specific story is long and exhausting the short of it is, it didn’t work out. Immigrating to another country is hard. Really fucking hard. If you don’t have a specific professional skill or trade you pretty much either need to be a student or have a Canadian relative to get a work permit. And before you ask, “Well why doesn’t Glowworm just come here?” The quick answer is, it’s even more challenging and complex.

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Joy, elation, and relief. We didn’t hike the full 2,650 miles. We hiked a little over 2,000 of them, but made up for the miles lost by developing a relationship to last a life time.

After traveling for a week in Vancouver and Seattle I spent a couple weeks at Glowworm’s home in Barrie, ON. It felt so great to finally do everyday things together. Cooking dinner, watching Netflix, sleeping in a real bed. It’s those simple things that you really begin to value after spending so much time out on the trail. As time has wore on, “real” life has almost seemed a piece of cake compared to what we went through together on a daily basis out on the trail.

So, this is the part where I’m sick of writing and really don’t want to waste any time cutting to the chase. While Glowworm was visiting me for a few weeks in October we got the point where we started to realize that there really weren’t any other personal aspects in each other that we needed to understand more; we felt completely comfortable with one another. We never wanted to get married as a tool for me to get into Canada, but in all reality, that was never the goal. The goal has always been for us to be together.

One night while sitting in my car I thought I might as well at least acknowledge the elephant in the room. Everyone had been half joking to us, “Why don’t you guys just married,” in reference to my immigration troubles, but we had never really discussed going that route. While on the trail after we began dating we had always known that we would one day get married (we spent an entire day on the trail planning out our wedding), but never seriously considered doing it so soon. But by the time I brought it up, it just made sense. So, when I asked what her thoughts would be about the prospect of getting married, there wasn’t a doubt in her mind that this is what she wanted. (Anyone will tell you that I am probably the most indecisive person on the planet. This was the most sure about anything I’d ever felt in my life). So, I promised the before her birthday (February 17th) I would propose.

And on November 24, I did just that. We went to the Pacers/Raptors game (she is most definitely a Pacers fan and has no allegiance to the Toronto Raptors) and after an epic comeback Pacers victory, we went to the Circle downtown where the Circle of Lights had been lit while at the game and under the monument I knelt and proposed (under all the Christmas lights!!! It was so perfect and romantic and wonderful. Sorry, I’m done). She said yes, of course, but it was still so exhilarating and wonderful and I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with this woman.25276481_10215477935008453_56035509_n.jpg

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She said yes!

There’s so much more I could say, so many more details I could provide, so many more stories I could tell, but I’m going to end this here. This really isn’t the end as much as it is the beginning. Sure, the PCT was a once in a lifetime adventure, but it pales in comparison to the journey that we’re about to embark on together. I love you, Kristin, and I can’t wait to marry you. (And I love you, Michael. More than I can describe in words, so thank you for writing it all out for me.)

I also happy to announce to all of my blog followers that our good friends Dr. McDirty (Mick) and Cougar (Jolene) shared with us days after our engagement that they too are now engaged. We’re so thrilled for you guys! I never would have thought that Kristin and I would be engaged in addition to you two when we all met on April 10th. Congrats!

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Day 160: Checkered Flag

160. September 17: Mile 2646.19 Boundary Trail Junction to Mile 2658.91 Manning Provincial Park
9/17 6:00 AM – All last night I kept waking up with the same excitement and anticipation of a child on Christmas Eve. I’ve been waiting for this moment since I decided to do a thru hike way back in 2013. We had agreed to not set an alarm and just wake up organically knowing that we’d still be early risers which is exactly what happened. It was probably the easiest waking experience we have had in months. 


The others in the camp slowly made their final camp departures to the border as we collected our things. As we began walking away from our tent site you would think that it would be most appropriate to spend the final 3.7 miles in quiet contemplation. But no, we spent those last miles listening to our PCT playlist of songs that we’ve found fun to listen to such as Desposito, Shape of You, The Sound of Silence (Disturbed cover), Baby Got Back, Get Low, You’re the Voice, and Space Jam. 


9/17 9:00 AM – Step by step we approached the border. It didn’t really take all that long after leaving camp. The air was brisk and cool, yet comfortable; a proper Autumn morning. As we descended to the monument we heard what sounded like a helicopter very close by. We had heard through the grapevine that there was a crew that had been choppered in to re-cement the base of Monument 78, the official border designation, a metal obelisk with the date of the US/Canada border treaty, years that it was surveyed, and the nation’s names on the appropriate sides. This is different from the wooden monument that designates the northern terminus of the PCT, although they are situated next to each other. 


Regardless, this was the first thing that came to mind as we headed closer and closer towards Mile 2650, dreading the possibility of a disrupted end to our hike. Sure enough, though, we caught site of a glimpse of the monument through the clearing (Which turned out to be the border. The border is defined by a clear cut line through the trees.) and there was a helicopter landed there, but soon took off. We would find out later that someone had just gotten out of he chopper, took photos of all four sides of the monument, and flown off. Crazy!


It was less than a minute from watching the helicopter fly away that we arrived to the border. Greeted by a large group of 20 or so of people that we’ve been hiking around since Stehekin, some of which we met in the desert. They cheered and clapped for us as we took our final steps filled with relief and elation. For months I’ve been dreaming of being perched atop the northern terminus monument and in true Hoosier style, down a cold bottle of milk. So staying true to that, I put down my pack, climbed onto the wooden pillars, did my best Indy 500 impression by toasting my bottle of milk, chugging half a pint, dumped the rest on my head to the gasps of the assembled hikers, and with a loud roar first pumped the mostly empty bottle to the sky while accidentally spattering everyone with droplets of milk. Woops. Got a little too excited. Months of slowly sloughing along peppered with all sorts of interruptions, frustrations, trials, and hardship all came out at once. 


Glowworm even had a localized celebration of her own by drinking real Ontario maple syrup that her parents had mailed to her in Stehekin (for the record it was so damn good). Afterwards we even shared a single shot of Makers Mark bourbon that I bought to take to the border in Skykomish. 


One by one the others gathered at the border began their final nine miles to Manning Provincial Park in British Columbia to officially end their hikes. After many photos were taken and final PCT registers written we were left alone to soak it all in. We made our last trail breakfasts and thought about what we had just accomplished. In all reality, though, there really wasn’t all that much to think about. We still had half a day of hiking until we were done done and honestly I think it will be months until we fully realize that magnitude of what we have achieved. Since we’ve been almost exclusively around other hikers that are completing the same achievement, this doesn’t seem very weird. It’s not really out of place. In fact most of these people still did the Sierras, a section we opted to skip due to dangerous conditions. So for them, they really did walk from Mexico minus the fire closures which happen every year and aren’t optional. This makes me feel almost less accomplished than them despite knowing that we made the right choice. My point is, it hasn’t sunk in. And since we’ll continue to travel for a month around the United States and Canada visiting new places, family, and friends, it will still be some time until “normal” life resumes. And even then, returning to normality will be an adventure in itself now that I’ll be hopefully immigrating to Canada. I’m sure that in due time, though, the reality of what I’ve just done will hit me. 


9/17 10:30 AM – After cleaning up breakfast and taking final photos, we also began the final nine mile trek through British Columbia to the Manning Park lodge. Despite unfavorable weather forecasts for the area calling for rain and/or snow, the hike was actually quite nice. It warmed up enough to hike in a short sleeved shirt (because my normal hiking shirt now smelled like sour milk) and shorts. If there was any real contemplation about our experience, it was here. Now that we were on the true final trek of our journey and the celebrations had already occurred, it gave me an opportunity to hit rewind in my mind as I had short glimpses of moments from celebrating at the border, to the beauty and misery of Washington, to skipping the fires of Oregon, to dealing with the heat of Northern California, to lying in the hospital after a failed attempt at the Sierras, to the blissfulness of the desert, and to all those days staring at the ceiling at work in wonder and where this adventure would take me. And in between all of those thoughts were moments of laughter, tears, fear, anger, confusion, wonder, awe, frustration, bewilderment, joy, and elation. 


The last few miles to the lodge was spent on a double wide trail where Glowworm and I walked side by side and listened to Taylor Swift because why not? After an initial climb from the border, the rest was downhill or flat allowing us to thoroughly enjoy the last moments of our hike. 


9/17 2:00 PM – It’s over, done, finished! We made it to the Manning Park Lodge with overcast skies and scattered hikers all with big grins on their faces. We made our way to the restaurant where to our surprise and elation Dr. McDirty and Cougar were already seated. They had finished the day prior in an effort to avoid the forecasted weather and were going to stay at the park until the 19th. After joining them I ordered my very first plate of poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese curds, a Canadian staple). The four of us sat there both bewildered and overwhelmed by what had just taken place. We all had met each other for the first time 161 days ago and now we are all here together eating and drinking in celebration. The likelihood of such a friendship (and relationship for Glowworm and I) just isn’t comprehendible. 

Cougar and Dr. McDirty finishing the day prior.

My first poutine.


After lunch Glowworm and I got some ice cream and sat at the picnic table outside. A few women came up to ask if we had just completed the PCT and so of course we gave them the whole story. They chatted with us for a while and afterwards went into the gift shop behind us and when they came out, they said they wanted to pay for our dinner and gave us a gift card for $30! So nice. Even at the very end we were receiving trail magic. Totally unreal. 
We spent the afternoon hanging out with Dr. McDirty and Cougar in their hotel room at the lodge while they let us use their shower and did our final load of laundry. It was great to just chill out without much in the way of worries. We had already booked our bus ticket and room for the first night so there was nothing else to do except lie there and enjoy the company of our close friends. 


For dinner we went to the bar and ordered salmon burgers and beer with our gracious gift card. Other hikers that we knew like Dave, Judith, and Martin were there as well so we were all able to have a final drink together. 


9/17 9:00 PM – We gathered our things and gave our last goodbye and hugs with promises of seeing each other again to Cougar and Dr. McDirty and walked downstairs where they let hikers sleep for free while they wait for their 2:00 AM Greyhound bus. It was a very weird feeling laying in the dark to the sounds of sleeping pads anxiously rustling around. You could tell there was a mixture of elation, relief, and anxiety in the air. Everyone was stoked, but at the same time dreading the short nap before hopping on a three hour bus ride after finishing a 2,650 journey. 


9/18 1:30 AM – The dead of night slough begins. We began waking up about a half hour prior to the bus arriving and groggily put away our sleeping pads and bags before making our way up stairs. The bus was packed. I don’t think their was a single seat left and it was mostly hikers. There were two seats together at the very back that we sat in, but they were right on top of the engine and it was sweltering hot the whole way. On top of that, I had the most nauseating gas that even made me want to gag. Fortunately I was situated right next to the bathroom so I don’t think anyone made the connection that it was me. The rest of the ride was horrible, as I’m sure you can imagine. I never was able to get any meaningful sleep and kept getting cramps in my legs. 


9/18 5:30 AM – We finally arrived at the bus terminal in Vancouver, BC. Many of the hikers dispersed to make a connecting bus or train while a few of us opted to make the one block walk over to Tim Hortons for breakfast. I had a Boston Cream doughnut, sausage, egg, and cheese on a jalapeño bagel, with a hot chocolate. So damn good. 


9/18 7:00 AM – After milking as much as we could from Tim Hortons wifi we all said our goodbyes with the accompanying hikers and walked through downtown Vancouver to our hotel, the Metropolitan Hotel. We really wanted to treat ourselves after such a crazy adventure so we picked a place that offered room service. So it was way out of our price range, but for one night it was totally worth it. 


This place is swanky, though. Like four stars swanky. We walked in to the lobby with our packs on and hiking clothes and were greeted by this amazing Asian temple carving art installation. It was a wall of intricately carved scenes of everyday life, war, and religious events and it was all carved by hand without any planning. It was beautiful, but the concierge definitely took notice of two homeless looking people getting rather close to the likely priceless art piece. Just as he was about to shoo us out, I went to ask him smugly, “where do we check in?” It was certainly one of my most proud moments. He directed is to the desk where we were able to check in immediately. 


The room is insane. It’s far and away the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. It has a massive bathroom with a separate tub and shower, bathrobes, private bar (which we didn’t use due to the cost), the most comfy king size bed, a balcony, and the best wifi I have had since leaving my home in Indy. 
We spent the rest of the morning shopping for clothes (all we have is our hiking gear) and exploring downtown Vancouver. For lunch we had the most delicious hot dogs at a street side hot dog stand and I tried Ketchup Chips for the first time in my life which are a Canadian staple apparently. 
After our morning shopping spree where I bought a couple new shirts and a pair of jeans, we hunkered down in our room where we just relaxed, ordered room service, and just took a deep sigh of relief that it was all over. 


It’s here that I’m going to officially end my daily blog for the PCT. It’s been a wild ride and I’m so glad I chose to go on this adventure. It has been completely life changing. In due time I’ll post some post-PCT updates after I’ve had some space to truly reflect on what I’ve just done and maybe give you some better insight as to what happened while I’ve been out here as well as give some more general life updates. Until then, it’s been real. 
~ Gummies

Day 159: Penultimation

159. September 16: Mile 2625.28 Campsite to Mile 2646.19 Boundary Trail Junction 
The penultimate day on the PCT. It was a bitterly cold morning. So cold that my water actually had iced over a little bit over night. Getting up was once again a challenge but once we got moving everything was Kosher. The sun was able to warm the Earth just enough to be comfortable by lunch where we had a incredible spot view the mountains. This whole part of Washington has a feeling of classic American West with mountains and pine trees, but also has a vibe of Tuscany with dry yellow grasses covering hillsides. It’s very cool. Throughout this whole hike, actually as we’ve been in these amazing places you’d think that what you have been seeing in these photos must feel even better in person. But in some ways we’re still somewhat detached from it all. Since we’re still confined to the trail, it still just seems like a blown up picture. 


As we hiked a lot of hikers coming Sobo that had just come from the border and were exiting the trail via Hart’s Pass instead of Manning Park since they didn’t have the proper border paperwork. There was one small group in particular that caught my eye heading sobo. It was Belle, an Australian Cattle Dog that we had last seen entering the Sierras. Her owner uses her as a hearing alert dog and she thru hiked the entire trail including the Sierras! Other hikers coming back from the border were absolutely elated and on a total high. Tomorrow morning I too will be on that same high. 


In the afternoon we climbed up to the top of Rock Pass which then plummeted us down into a valley to them climb back up to Woody Pass. The whole section was just so breathtaking. I can’t even begin to describe it with my fourth grade vocabulary so here’s some photos to hopefully give you a sense of what it was like. 


Shortly after reaching Woody Pass we reached the peak of the final climb on the entire PCT. It really is all down hill from here. Hikers that we’ve hiked with at various times along the trail were all resting there taking it all in. Stephanie from Italy, Acorn and Jackie from Germany, Bin Chicken from Australia, a French couple, an Israeli, and others. I was actually the only American there. It was so cool to collectively be there together and soak in the last ridge views before descending to the border. 


While most of the group we had taken a break with were headed to the border tonight, we camped about three and a half miles from the northern terminus. There was a British guy named Martin, Chewy, Dave and Judith from Switzerland, Coyote from Japan, and a few others. We all shared our last on trail meals together and reminisced about our journeys by laughing, sharing stories, and discussing what we’re taking away from our experiences. For dinner, I decided to splurge and buy myself a dehydrated Mountain House meal and polished it off with what was left of the cinnamon roll I got at the Stehekin bakery. A fantastic day to end the day! The next time I sit down to write this, I’ll be in Canada! So stoked!

Day 158: I Smell Winter

158. September 15: Mile 2603.36 Golden Creek to Mile 2625.28 Campsite 
The temperature is definitely starting to drop. We woke up to layer of frost and bitter cold. It took a while for us to get comfortable taking off our extra layers. I certainly wouldn’t want to be out here much long on account of the cold alone. 
A morning six mile climb left us with more amazing views and with nothing but smaller climbs from here on out. Glowworm had a bit of a rough morning. She’s been experiencing cold-like symptoms for a couple mornings now and it really slowed her down. It’s rough because at this point there’s nothing we can really do aside from pushing on to Manning Park (Canada). It’s the closest town along with being the end point. I feel so helpless because there’s nothing I can say or do to really make her feel any better given our circumstances other than keep going. 
After lunch things started looking up for us as we walked along an impressive ridge towards Hart’s Pass. Hart’s Pass is the last place to bail before Canada and for Nobo’s who don’t have their remote entry permit, they have to hike back here to leave the trail. Unfortunately there’s a fire ten miles east of the PCT that has closed all trails east of us as well as the road to Hart’s Pass. The Forest Service is, however, providing a shuttle for hikers to get off there. Since we’re going into Canada and onto Manning Park, this does not affect us. 
As of now we have less than 25 miles to the border! Still anxious to be done as I’m sure you cam tell by now. I’ve really lost interest in writing these damn things each night and haven’t had the energy to write anything entertaining or funny. So all we got left now is a full day tomorrow, three miles on Sunday to the border and onto Manning Park eight miles further to finally be done. Thank goodness because it’s pretty dang cold as I’m writing this in the tent right now. Snow is even forecast for Monday. 

Day 157: Now You’re Just Showing Off, Washington 

157. September 14: Mile 2580.61 Six Mile Campsite to Mile 2603.36 Golden Creek
Another stunning day. All the Sobo’s who told us that the trail became more and more beautiful the further north you went were correct. To back up a bit since I used yesterday’s post to remember and grieve for Snickers, when we took the bus back to the trailhead from Stehekin we again stopped at the bakery. We had a bit more time so I packed out a six inch diameter sticky bun, a cinnamon roll of the same size, and four chocolate chip cookies for my snacks on this section. We then began the longest and biggest elevation gain climb on the entire PCT of 25 miles and 8000 feet. It’s super chill, though, since it only gains 320 feet per mile and you hardly even notice it. We camped about halfway up the climb and resumed this morning. When we arrived at the Rainy Pass Trailhead and parking area, there was a couple that had recently finished their through hike and had rented a car to do trail magic at this parking lot. So cool! They had candy and chips and Cokes and it was so, so good. There was probably about 20 hikers there and we gleaned that they were all headed for the same small campsite we were. 10 of them were all in a single group. I’m all for people traveling with their friends, but at some point large groups out here make life hell for the rest of us when trying to plan where to camp. 
As we neared the top of the climb the scenery was beautiful, but when we reached the top of Cutthroat Pass, the other side was breathtaking. Jagged peaks surrounded our view with green pine valleys and small patches of lingering snow dotted throughout the ridges. It was gorgeous. We remained at this elevation with these views for the rest of the day and it was some of the most stunning hiking we’ve done along the trail. 


We settled upon a campsite just short of our planned one since it was just marked as a creek and not a tent site. But there were still four other tents already set up with only one spot left (which we took) and we hadn’t even made it to the real campsite. We’re now in a bubble of hikers that tend to set up camp early (5:00 PMish) which sucks for us because we hike until 7:00 or so. So when we do get to camp sites, most of the spots are taken. Part of the problem is that the fires in northern Oregon and Southern Washington have pushed all of the hikers south of us further north and we are now all condensed into this one little three to four day caravan. It’s the hand we’ve been dealt, but it’s still irritating. 
For dinner Glowworm and I had one of our best on trail dinners. She had a packet of instant refried beans and I had red beans and rice so we each shared with the other to make delicious burritos! Hopefully the farts will be minimal in the tent…
After today we only have two full days and then three miles on the third to the border followed by an additional eight to Manning Park. Almost done!

Day 156: For Snickers 

156. September 13: Mile 2569.42 Stehekin, WA to Mile 2580.61 Six Mile Campsite 
Today was a sad day. This morning I was able to receive a message from my sister saying that I needed to call Mom or Dad. After a couple tries on the pay phone I was able to get a hold of my dad who gave me the news that my 12 year old German Shepherd and best friend, Snickers had to be put down last night. He had been slowly declining for quite some time now. His hips, like with many of his breed, began to deteriorate and more recently while I’ve been on this hike he lost his ability to hear us call his name. From what my parents told me, it sounds like he began suffering from a neurological disorder rendering him unable to walk in a straight line, pee, or eat. So my parents had to make the hard choice to let him suffer no more and put him down. 


Upon hearing this news I broke down in tears. I was so close. Only a week away from finishing, but still a month away from returning to Quail Creek Blvd. I can’t even began to count the amount of times I’ve imagined myself walking through the front door to Snickers and Maddie (our other dog, a Beagle) rushing to the door to greet me with smiles and kisses. I’ll never be able to experience that now. Just Maddie. She lost her best friend too. I wish I could have seen him one last time. One last hug. 


Snickers became part of my family when he was a one year old recovering from kennel cough at a German Shepherd rescue. His name at the rescue was Eli, but we decided upon Snickers while at the Cheesecake Factory on the north side of Indy due to his coloring and cheerful personality. He would never have won any dog shows as his back was straight and not downwardly slanting like well bred Shepherds, but he was gorgeous nonetheless. He ran crooked with his hips out of line with his shoulders, he’d play fetch, but would only chase after the ball and then stand next to it. He would put his paws on top of the bed when I was little while the rest of the family knelt bedside to say our prayers. He’d come to my bedside every night to check on me by nuzzling me with his cold nose. He’d lick the salt off of my face and arms when got home from a bike ride. He always would stick his nose in my dirty laundry and take deep whiffs as if to take in as much of my scent as possible. Anytime I went out back to mow he would follow me lap after lap and any time I stopped and left the mower, he’d guard it as if to ensure its safety as well as my own. He loved to squeak his stuffed animals around the house and them shove the wet toy into your lap and continue to chomp and squeak. When he was younger he would go to Emily’s room and gingerly pick up her stuffed toys and bring them out to the living room; we always knew he wanted to be a mother. He took his time eating and never rushed. He hated the sound of the smoke alarm. After a few bad experiences where we forgot to open the flu when having a fire, the alarm went off and he eventually would no longer join us for family fires. He loved sleeping in his crate and we never forced him to sleep there. Any rug was his rug; he slept on all of them. Tornado sirens always prompted him to howl. He hated rough housing and would always try to quell the situation. He had a long fuse and put up with a lot of shenanigans from Maddie, his younger sister. He’d always dance with his back legs if you tickled him while scratching his bum. He was gentle. He was loving. He was my best friend for almost half of my life and I miss him dearly. Thank you Snicks for all those great years together. I love you. 

For you, buddy.