Epic Adventures: Mountain Men

In many ways, last weekend was a tale of two trips. First, there was the trip from Baltimore to New Jersey. Then there was the trip from New Jersey to the Adirondacks. Let us go in chronological order.

After work on Friday, I came home to do some dishes and throw out the trash (to avert toxic fumes upon my return) and finished packing my trusty backpack (the big ol’ backpacking one). Forecasts for the Adirondacks were expecting temperatures to go into the 20’s overnight, so even with the suddenly Fall-like temperatures that had descended upon Baltimore at the end of the week, I had to take extra precautions in packing my clothes.

Speaking of that Fall weather, I was positively delighted when I felt it roll through. I’d been having serious end-of-summer sadness, so it felt like a bit of closure knowing that another season that I love was rolling in. It also meant that I wouldn’t have to stress out about finding time to force a beach visit when I was in NJ.

Even though I knew that I would only be spending a few waking hours in Jersey, I was as excited as ever. That drive home, especially in the crisp evenings of Fall, just really gets me excited. I know you may all be sick of hearing about how much I love NJ, but it really makes me feel alive. I passed the hours in the car listening to the Gaslight Anthem, Bruce, and some of my old favorite ska albums.

That evening, I hung out with my parents, ate dinner, and retired early. My stepdad and I woke a bit before 5:00 AM the next morning to head to the Adirondacks. We wanted to get on our way early, because we had a long hike into the mountains later in the day, and nightfall comes quickly in the forest. Although we didn’t weigh them in advance, our packs each weighed about 30+ pounds.

"Did you remember to pack your brick collection? Good, me too"

After a quick stop on the parkway for McDonald’s breakfast, we drove the rest of the way into New York and arrived in the Pharaoh Mountain Wilderness around 11:00 AM. After a quick once over of the packs, making sure we had some freeze-dried meals, trail mix, water, sleeping bags, tent, stove, and various other necessities, we started hiking in.

The Adirondacks is really one of the best places on the East Coast (THE SAME EAST COAST THAT CONTAINS NEW JERSEY). The steep slopes, dense foliage, and massive lakes seem to belong to a different world. However exhausting long hikes with heavy packs can be, I didn’t once stop to think about it; I was too enchanted by the sun filtering through the leaves and the many streams that we had to cross.

River, consider yourself forded.

Believe me though, it could be exhausting. We decided to hike up Treadway Mountain to get a nice view of the surrounding lakes and forests. For some reason, this didn’t strictly involve climbing a steep slope. Instead, it involved climbing steep slopes, then suddenly climbing down a drastic drop in elevation, and repeating. I swear, for every mile we moved, we zig-zagged 3 vertically.

Shortly before another ascent...

Once at the peak of Treadway mountain, we admired the views, ate a quick lunch of trailmix, got temporarily lost (How does one get lost on a peak? We will never know.), and made our way back down to the main path.

What we saw shortly before nearly losing our way back down the mountain.

The path we chose for the 2-day adventure wound its way around Putnam Pond, which is most likely the world’s largest pond. I’d love to hear someone explain why it isn’t called a lake. Anyway, in order to get back to NJ relatively early on Sunday, we decided to do the majority of the hike on Saturday. We therefore picked a lean-to about 3/4 of the way around the pond to set up camp for the night.

That's one hell of a 'pond' to hike around, isn't it?

Just before nightfall (about 6:00 PM up there), we reached the site and set up our tent. Our total mileage for the day was about 8 miles.

Where we almost slept.

Despite their daylong absence, swarms of mosquitoes arrived as it got dark, negating the lean-to as a sleeping option.

Where we ultimately slept.

We fired up the camp stove, boiled some water, and made the freeze-dried chicken and rice. It was surprisingly excellent. We then made hot chocolate, ate a granola bar, and put all the foodstuffs into a bear-proof container that we planted about 50 yards away.

Two things became suddenly apparent to me over the 2 days we were there. First, I found that I eat much better without access to a time telling device. If I don’t think that I should be eating, I just eat when I’m hungry. Second, I found that I sleep much better without a time telling device. Again, when I don’t know when I should go to bed, I sleep when I’m tired. It was in this way that we ended up asleep around 8:00 PM.

Pictured: The last thing I saw before passing out.

The next morning, we got up around 7 and made a quick breakfast. The weather was nice and brisk for our 2-mile hike out.

LOOK AT HOW CRISP THAT MORNING IS. LOOK AT IT.

It was especially enjoyable winding our way around a number of smaller ponds in the area and watching the foliage change. Some areas had dark, dense forests, while other spots open up into something resembling glades. It was also interesting to watch well-beaten trails devolve into nothingness at random spots along the trek. Even with the trail markers, we had to pause and examine our way forward several times.

Once back to the car, we took off our packs and set off for NJ. Thanks to our incredible swiftness, we were able to make it all the way back to NJ by 3:30, including a stop to buy burgers to grill. Although I had initially planned on taking Monday off and staying in NJ for the night, I made the painful decision to eat with my parents, watch a bit of football, and come back to Baltimore that night. Sometimes, being responsible sucks.

On the drive home, I got to thinking about the mental transformation I undergo when I leave NJ each time. At the beginning, I’m in a place I know so well and that I’m completely comfortable. Crime doesn’t exist, I don’t have a job to worry about, and I have friends and family abound. The closer I get back to Baltimore, the more independent I feel. I transition back into having my own little life where I have to be responsible, go to work, and deal with my own problems. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but the two sides are just very different. My goal is to somehow find a way to connect the two feelings. That is all.

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Epic Adventures: Summer Trip (California Part 3)

On Thursday morning, we woke up around 6 to prepare for the drive to Yosemite National Park. To be honest, I had no idea that Yosemite was in California. As someone who is outdoorsy and prefers to know as much about everything as possible, I was embarrassed by this. Regardless, we took off bright and early, with many a Korean pastry and snack in tow.

After several hours of driving, we were out nicely into the desert, with nary a soul to be seen. We stopped quickly at McDonalds for some lunch and grabbed some gas, and hit the road again. A few hours later, we finally arrived at the place where we would be staying. It reminded me quite a bit of summer camp, with hordes of cabins scattered across the slope of a chunk of mountain. At the bottom of the slope, very near where we stayed, there was a large, pleasant lake.

The view from our humble abode.

The cabin was pretty awesome. I wouldn’t mind owning one like it someday. It was two stories, with a bedroom downstairs and a kitchen/living room upstairs with a deck, Over the kitchen was a loft, accessible by ladder. In essence, a perfect mountain getaway.

Once we were unpacked and our food was refrigerated, we took the 20 minute drive to Yosemite. One ignored phone call from my boss later, we were cruising up, down, and around the mountains of the park. Along the way, we made three stops. First, we stopped to take a short walk up to a huge waterfall. Then, we took a stroll across a river and through a meadow to get a nice view of another waterfall. Finally, we took a hike through the woods that led to…a waterfall. The good news is that waterfalls are really, really cool, and I don’t get sick of them.

N33D MOAR F4LLZ

It was during this stroll through the woods that I got my initial, overwhelming desire to find an identical location (sans tourists) to build myself a cabin. I can literally think of no place better than amongst the tall pine trees, with a river running by the window, and a waterfall just visible over the tree line.

Not that I've got a location picked out already or anything...

I would even be willing to build it by hand, chopping down the trees myself. In fact, I think I would prefer it that way. If only I could have that and a beach house at the Jersey Shore, my life would be complete. Also some watermelon, tomato juice, and tacos.

That evening, Jenny’s mom made the best KBBQ pork I’ve ever had, which we ate over the little coffee table in the cabin. After a shared bottle of champagne, we all retired for another busy day in Yosemite. The following morning, we ate a quick breakfast of toast and packed up the car. We took a spectacular (really, really spectacular) tour of the giant Sequoias in the park and then went to a very popular waterfall hike.

As anyone who has taken my picture knows: big trees are hard to photograph.

The trail for the hike wasn’t that long, but it was steep and rather treacherous, so Jenny and I parted ways with her parents to complete the hike. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, temperatures in California fluctuate nicely based on elevation and time of day, mainly due to the lack of humidity. It was for this reason that we were half frozen about halfway up the mist trail. Completely drenched in cold mist from the waterfall and on the shady side of the mountain, things got chilly quickly. Thankfully, the trail ended at a sunny stretch of rocks beside the top of the waterfall; the perfect place to lay down, warm up, and dry out.

This isn't the waterfall we hiked too...that one was too close/wet to take pictures of. I'd like to hike this one next time though!

Since we had a very long drive back home ahead of us, we hiked back down quickly, changed in the car, and made our way towards the exit of the park. Not wanting to miss any parts of the park, we elected to leave on the opposite side of the mountains. This gave us the chance to drive up along the crest and down the other side.

Throughout the drive, we made a number of stops to take in the awe inspiring views from the mountain. We came across a wide lookout, where you could see Half-Dome in the distance.

That little blob is famous.

We stumbled upon another big lake, hidden between two mountains and a swatch of trees.

 

We drove through places that still had some healthy mounds of snow.

Pengy likes this.

We wrote paragraphs that were hard to follow because too many pictures we inserted. Finally, we exited the park and began the drive back through the desert.

Of all the places I’ve been in the US, and the world for that matter, Yosemite is definitely one of, if not the most beautiful.  The shear diversity of the park is just amazing. Even throughout the small portions of two days that we spent there, we passed through wide meadows with deer running in them, over insanely huge stony mountains, amongst the world’s largest trees, past magnificent lakes in the middle of forests, and saw an astounding number of waterfalls. As much as I love the Adirondacks (especially because the lakes and mountains make me think of Hogwarts), I think Yosemite is the superior wilderness, if not on scale alone.

 

After dinner at the world’s most standard American restaurant, I took over driving for the remaining 4 hours. Jenny and her parent’s slept on and off throughout the drive. For the last hour of so, Jenny’s dad and I discussed businesses. The conversation managed to bolster my already monumental desire to start a business.

It was quite late by the time we got back, so we all just showered and passed out. It was important for us to get plenty of rest, because the next day would be our last day in Cali. Although it would be our least eventful day, I will save a description for the finale. This post is way too long. Have a good weekend! (Yeah, I wrote this on Friday, but didn’t have time to add pictures until today. We’ll all get over it together).

Epic Adventures: Summer Trip (California Part 1)

The time has finally come for me to begin the rundown of the splendid trip that I took over the week of the 4th of July. I already wrote half of this post once, but in an effort to get out of work, I shutdown my computer before saving it. It even asked if I was sure that I didn’t want to save…AND I SAID YES.

So, sure enough, I am starting over. After returning to DC from my grandparent’s place, Jenny and I packed and chilled a bit. Around 3:30 the next morning, we woke and hitched a ride to Reagan with my roommate. The flight from DC to Houston was a bleary blur. Despite my usual inability to sleep at the most opportune times, I surprisingly managed to doze off for most of the flight; however, I did wake for one glorious moment. When the stewardesses were making their rounds, I woke up to get some tomato juice. I’m not even the type to order tomato juice usually, but in my daze I had a real hankerin’ for it. Let me tell you, if you ever fly Continental, get the spicy tomato juice. It’s awesome. FASCINATING.

After a brief layover in Houston, where there was a brief cancellation scare (apparently the only scary part was how bad Continental is at updating their flight statuses), we were on our way to Ontario. Knowing full well that I wouldn’t be able to sleep on consecutive flights (because no one is that lucky), Jenny and I started watching The Bourne Identity. It’s one of those films that I’ve always meant to watch, but never really got around to doing. It was pretty damn good too. Not tomato juice good, but you know, nice. That made the flight go by pretty quickly.

The best part about those early morning east-to-west coast flights is that they get you to your destination bright and early. After leaving DC at 6 AM, we were on the ground and on our way to lunch with Jenny’s parents by 11 AM. We stopped for a brief lunch of jajamyun and fried chicken, followed shortly by some bubble teas, and took the short drive to their home. Flying into Ontario was absolutely the best bet; 15 minutes to the house rather than 1+ hour if we had done LAX.

With a full day still ahead of us, we went with Jenny’s dad to the local mountains for a hike. Despite the blazing sun, I had to admire California’s complete lack of humidity. As soon as you entered the shade, and even moreso when we had reached a sufficient elevation, the temperatures dropped to fall-like levels (aka the temperature at which I thrive). The hike itself was beautiful too. Nice and steep at parts, with a stream popping in and out of few for the duration, and terrain varying from southern California shrubbery to nice, tall evergreens. It was the perfect way to unload the day’s meals and welcome ourselves to the west coast.

The following morning, we all woke bright and early to drive to Newport beach. Once there, we hopped on the ferry to Catalina Island for a nice little boat trip and a day of fun in the sun. Jenny, who is no one’s sailor, went 2 for 2 for getting seasick on boats (although there was no puke this time).

Catalina Island itself was magnificent. Only an hour’s trip off the coast, it provided a nice sense of isolation, with just a few roads and a tiny resort town nestled between its mountains. We took a little semi-submarine tour out to see some fish before lunch, where we ate at a little hut serving the world’s saltiest (although pretty good tasting) food. The grilled ham and cheese would have been divine with a tad less sodium chloride.

After lunch, Jenny and I tried our hand at paddleboarding around the marina, where we both had some issues to overcome. As a seasoned kayaker, I felt at home navigating the board around the inlet’s many zipping skiffs; however, as a seasoned oaf, I had to take enormous care to avoid losing balance and tumbling into the frigid water. Jenny, on the other hand, effortlessly stayed upright while navigating her board into a number of anchored boats. Thankfully, by the end of our hour, we had both improved upon our faults and decided that we quite liked the activity.

It's like a multi-million dollar obstacle course.

From there, I bought and devoured an exceptional caramel apple with nuts (the only way to eat them) and we caught the ferry back to Newport. Terrified that we may have made some sort of fitness gains by walking and paddleboarding, we bought a frozen banana in Newport Beach to increase our caloric totals for the day and to entertain my infatuation with Arrested Development.

Because there's always money in the banana stand.

Finally, we stopped by a Korean restaurant on the way back, where I pounded some kimchi and dol sot bimbimbap. We finished driving back, cleaned ourselves up, chilled a bit, and got to bed in order to prepare ourselves for………..