Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wild, the book, and my version of Wild

Do you have a penchant for hiking? A love for nature? A quest to conquer the mountains?

If yes, you might enjoy this new book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It's her memoir on how, after her mother's unexpectant death, her loss of family, marriage, and self, she hiked some 1100 miles solo along the Pacific Crest Trail through California and Oregon.

After reading this, I was half turned off by nature. By its dangerousness (for example, how does one know she has stayed true to the trail? how does one use the compass? how does one evade the rattlesnake, bears, and foxes?); by its lack of good food (dehydrated meals, three times a day, everyday); by its solitude (imagine being in the middle of a forest with nobody to hear you talk, let alone scream, and you can't tell forward from backward).

But, my adverturous side got the better of me, and I started thinking, how would it be like to spend several days hiking, to camp out night after night, to hitchhike for rides, to be so dirty you probably smell like a homeless bum?

Then I remembered, oh right, I've done it before.

Well, sort of.

Back in 2009, when I was still living in Salt Lake City, a new friend I had made in LA months prior decided he wanted to come up to SLC and learn how to kite-board*. And crash at my place. Okay, I thought, as I proceeded to turn in my request for a few days off work and somehow became his tour guide to the city.

The place he found to go kite-boarding was in Ogden, Utah, which was an hour away from SLC. On the first day, everything was fine. He went kite-boarding and I did my own snowboarding. It was fun for me because it was a new resort with new runs, and it was a weekday so there was no wait at all at the lifts.

The second day, my friend was meeting an actual instructor at a different part of the mountain, so we had agreed to meet back at a certain lodge at 3pm. I went off and did my own snowboarding. Halfway through, at say, oh 1-something, I somehow veered off one of the courses and tumbled down half a hill. When I regained my footing, I realized that I could not make it up that hill, so the only way was to continue going down.

Down to where, I had no idea.

Oh crap, I thought.

I walked down with my snowboard and eventually came to the side of the mountain. (Maybe it was a hill, but it sure looked like a mountain at the time.) I could see the mountain road - it seemed very close, but the only way to get to it was to climb to the other side of this mountain I was on, down the hill, over some rocks, and over a ditch. THEN I could reach the road!

very rough schematic

So I did exactly that.

It was scary. Climbing on the side of mountain wasn't exactly easy with snowboarding shoes on. It was like rock-climbing with fat shoes on and a snowboard in your hands. If I slip and fall, there were tons of big boulders waiting for me. I've been falling in the snow a couple times already, so I was half wet, but because the wind was cold and the sun was setting, I was also shivering. Part of my fear was that there was nobody in sight or within earshot, so if I got stuck in some sinking snow-hole or something, I would likely be there for a very long time. It was getting close to 3pm, but I had no idea if my friend would know to get some help if I didn't show up. It also didn't help that I had no reception.

When I finally made it down the cliff, I still had to make it through a ditch that was on the side of the mountain road. I was so tired and sore that the snow looked like a good place to sleep, but I also knew I had to hurry. The sun was setting, and the resort was closing soon at 4. By the time I made it through the ditch and up to the mountain road, it was past 3.

Now what, I thought. How am I supposed to make it to the lodge or my car without even knowing where the hell I was?

I started walking up the road. I was hungry. I was tired. I was wet. I was shivering. I was sweating. And I was scared. I walked for 10-15 minutes and all I saw were cars driving down with headlights on. They, of course, did not stop for me, even when I stopped and stuck my thumb out. Of course, they would be wanting to go home, as I would have been doing too, if I could.

After who-knows-how-long and who-knows-how-many-steps I've been trudging along dragging my heavier-by-the-second snowboard around, this little jalopy finally stops beside me. This 30-something year old hippie-looking guy stepped out and asked me if I needed help. It turned out that he was going up to the lodge to do some maintenance. I was so excited! His car was literally filled to the brim with "stuff," but we managed to fit my board and myself in. As he started driving 50 mph up the mountain road, he pulled out a can of beer and started drinking. At that point, I could only laugh and just be glad I had a ride back to my life.

* Kite-boarding is similiar to kitesurfing, in which a snowboarder is propelled by a kite in addition to his/her own body.

** In case you wonder, after I made it back to the lodge, my friend was there, sipping on his hot chocolate, not the least bit worried about me. Maybe I should have found my car first and drove off without him. Just kidding!!

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