It feels like it was way longer ago, but it was actually just 4 years ago, at Squamtoberfest 4, that I failed hiking mount Chocorua. Now, I don't like to say that the mountain beat me- because it didn't- but that's hard to say when you live with Rich, who hiked it 5-6 years ago and has never been the same since. To him, I was beaten by the beast. But I actually got up 80% of it, and although I destroyed my legs (I hadn't hiked like, at all before trying it), I didn't give up because I was tired. I gave up because I started hiking a 9 mile hike at 3:30 in the afternoon in October on a day that threatened rain. And sure enough, when we got to the point where we were starting to make the last climb, I saw the exposed top, covered in a cloud, soaked and windy, and decided that, since it would be a mess up there and it was gonna be dark in less than an hour, I had to give up. It was one of my most angry moments of my life, to do all that work to not actually get to the top of a mountain. So no, my ill preparedness and stupidity beat me that day. But that doesn't mean that I haven't felt Chocorua's eye glaring at me with disapproval for years since.
So, as my 2 year (27 months to be exact) summer came to an end, I decided that I would not go out as the lame guy who hated his life and didn't do anything worthwhile that stayed stuck in a job that was killing him. I decided to end my summer as the guy who quit that job and lived a life more awesome for 2 years. So rather than relaxing at home and preparing for my first day at a new job, I decided to go out in style, and beat Chocorua.
This was Tuesday, the day after Labor Day (remember, it's September in blogland), so I was psyched to see that everyone was back at work and I only had 3 cars worth of people to share the mountain with.
While there are several ways up Chocorua and several recommended over the Piper trail, that was the one I failed on, so that's what I would be hiking.
And off I went on my journey. 9 miles.
The trail starts off pretty flat and boring.
There are a few detours I'd love to check out at some point, but on a 9 mile hike, I had only the summit in my eyes. I like this section of perfect dirt path with a giant rock:
Eventually I got to a part I remembered, where the trail goes way down to a stream. I remember Talluto lighting up a cigabutt here 4 years ago.
From here, the climbing gets more intense, but it's mostly gradual the whole way. I remembered this section of woods perfectly:
I didn't really appreciate the amount of work put into the trails here 4 years ago. Now that I'm a rabid hiker, I very much do. Lots of good stair sections.
I was happy where I was when I got to this sign. Feeling good, making good time.
And I knew I was about to have some views.
There she was.
Look closely at about an inch and a half in from the right side- those are 2 people.
I love this trail because it's pretty gradual and never insanely steep, with enough flat spots for breaks. I also love it because you basically get to hike up a side mountain and get awesome views on an exposed peak before you even really get to the real Chocorua. Panorama time:
I eventually got back into the woods, then out again. I was getting close.
And soon I was at the exact spot I turned around at 4 years ago. I remember this ugly wet stretch all too well:
I was probably .5 from the summit before.
And soon I was out of the woods and starting up the last section towards the summit.
In the pictures I'd seen from the summit and from even being close to it, I didn't realize how big the section of exposed rock actually was. I didn't realize how long you're actually on the top with no trees. It's awesome.
One final bit of work, and then I was at the top.
I had beat Chocorua. I immediately sent this text to Rich:
True, I had to hike down too, but getting to the top meant a lot. I had already hiked mountains higher than this and with more elevation gain, but I think this was the longest trip so far. I hadn't done a 9 miler yet, so to be at the top feeling good was huge. I realized it had only taken me about 2 and a half hours to get to the top, and that's with time for picture taking too. Apparently I was in hiking shape. I never felt too exhausted, and just kept a solid pace the whole way up. What a great feeling.
It was an ugly day that threatened rain non stop, but save for a few random sprinkles, I stayed dry. And even with the ugly gray sky, the views were phenomenal. I made several panoramas of varying success:
I wandered around and just felt happy and accomplished. I took pictures, ate a PB&J and just enjoyed the view. I looked around and realized that I was on top of one of the most popular mountains in NH, completely alone.
I started thinking a lot.
Nine days earlier, my friend and the bassist of my favorite band, Caspian, died. I honestly only know rumors as to what happened, so I'm not gonna even bother- I just know that I woke up on August 28th to a text from a fellow fan saying he was gone.
I'd come to know Chris by just being a Caspian superfan and seeing them a lot. I eventually introduced myself to everyone and just through years of seeing them (I think I'm at 31 times now), I've come to be casual friends with them. I've only really hung out a few times, but always talked at shows. We shared a practice space for a year or so, and it ruled. Chris was always the guy I ended up talking to the most at shows. He was always so outgoing and friendly, and we always had great conversations. Hilton and I even tried to get him to be our part time bassist at one point. So while we were never really that close, I think I always felt so much closer to him because of their music. They make such beautiful and powerful music that has meant so much to me over the years, that when I saw Chris, it wasn't just him saying hi and us having a laugh- it was him playing epic, life changing gorgeous music and me getting into it to insane levels. It's hard to explain unless you have music in your life that does to you what Caspian does to me. Those moments where I'd make eye contact during shows- they mean a lot more when the music is that powerful. You feel like you have a bond that's stronger than just having things in common and getting along- it's like you've connected at a different, incredibly spiritual level that is hard to really understand unless you've felt it.
He died on the 25th, and I found out on the 28th. I decided to drive to Fernal that afternoon and have a solo swim session that day. I just floated around in the water thinking. It eventually ended up with me listening to Caspian on the side of the lake, tearing up a little while I watched the sunset. He wasn't a close friend and I had been seeing him less and less, but he was an awesome dude who I had a connection with, and I knew I would miss him. And seeing and listening to my favorite band would never be the same.
On August 30th, I officially got a job offer for the job I'm at now, and then I went to his wake shortly afterward. I hate that I was late, because even though it would have been incredibly painful to watch, I missed speeches from the rest of the band. Things other people said were incredible though. I stayed until pretty much everyone was gone, just trying to laugh with the band and people I knew through the band, even meeting some awesome dudes I'd been hearing about for years. It was actually a really nice night and the wake, as painful as it was, was beautiful. Great pictures were everywhere, and there were great memories and lots of hugs, from people I'd known for years and from people I had never even met before. I'm happy I went.
I regret not going to the funeral the next day. I had had Full Day at Fernal planned for awhile and wanted to spend one more day swimming with friends before my summer was over. If I could choose between a funeral and a wake, I'd always choose the wake. But in hindsight, I feel bad for not going.
But that night was a Caspian show that was planned long before any of this had happened. Chris wasn't touring as much, and they had already taught a new guy most of the songs for a future tour. The show was actually a benefit for a young kid who needed a heart transplant I think- I can't remember, but it was a big fund raiser at this really cool place in Manchester. I was up in the air about going originally since I'd seen them a billion times and it was the same day as full day at Fernal, but once this happened, I knew I had to go.
I sometimes think about one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. My dog Jesse had died months before in Pennsylvania, while I was in Mass. I always used to take him on long walks when I visited Maine. Our driveway is a half mile long, so I'd take him up and back 2-4 times, and he'd always love it. It was the happiest he ever was. We'd always end the walks down on the dock, just looking at the lake. I'd pet him and listen to music I loved.
When I visited my parents for Thanksgiving (when they came back up from Pennsylvania), it was the first time I'd been in that house since Jesse would no longer be in it. I knew I wouldn't feel right if I didn't go on a walk to say goodbye to him, so I went. My mom saw in my eyes what I was doing and asked me if I'd be ok, to which I said "yea, I'm fine. I just need to do this." About 20 feet into the walk, I broke into tears, and cried off and on for the entire 2 mile walk. I listened to all my old favorite songs, and eventually timed it so I'd be getting to the dock as "A Dream For Us" by Appleseed Cast played. I sat on the dock as leaves fell around me in a golden hour October sunset glow. I thought of how much I'd miss my dog and slowly, through lots of tears, came to terms with everything. Right as I decided I wasn't going to cry anymore and I was feeling ok, I stood up and turned around to walk back inside, only to see my mom standing in the pathway to the house. "Michael... are you ok?" I instantly burst into tears and we hugged while leaves fell around us in perfect fall orange light. This is still one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Even though it was sad- how beautiful of a scene it was, and the power in the love from that hug still makes me choke up today.
I bring this up because that Caspian show was basically an hour straight of that feeling.
I talked to them before the show and could tell it was going to be heavy. You could feel the tension in the air. The first band that played (Bells) was awesome, but you could tell everyone in that room was preparing themselves for Caspian's set. I talked to Erin and asked him if they were going to play "ASA," one of my absolute favorites, and a song I knew would destroy me. "We're opening with it" he said.
I made my way to the front row and waited for the band to take the stage. Phil told everyone it was a special show and asked that nobody take out their phones or take pictures. I'm so happy he did that and I wish other bands would do that too. I would have taken so many pictures that night because I would have felt like I needed to, but now I was free to just be there.
I was already having trouble the second they all walked out and the lights turned off. They launched into "The Dove" (the interlude before "ASA"), and I don't know if I'll ever feel what I felt in that moment again. No music has ever been more beautiful. They played it longer than normal, and I wish they'd played it even longer. The song just washed over everyone in the room, and I stood in the blue light, crying while smiling. It felt like the song was a summer breeze in my face. The Dove into ASA were the only songs they could have opened with that night, and they worked as an absolutely flooring tribute to Chris. It was literally the sound of friends saying goodbye to their brother while honoring him in the best way possible, through gorgeous music and love.
As the set went on, it just got more and more incredible in that room. I know not everyone there was feeling it like I was, but not everyone has music affect them the way I do. Sometimes a song that isn't even sad will make me have to start fighting back tears because of just how much I like it. The fact that a song some people wrote and recorded can mean so much to me over years and years and grow to become an instant way to reminisce about all the amazing moments I've had with that song- I know it's very American Beauty of me to say, but that power is so strong sometimes, I can't handle it. The music played that night was that power added to the power of a band of 5 people playing on when they literally put their friend in the ground that morning. It was the most powerful thing I've ever experienced and I couldn't possibly love or respect them any more for being able to do that for their friend and friends/family in the crowd.
They played "The Raven" early in the set, and I remember a completely different feeling during that song- one of anger and terrifying fury that their friend wasn't there. I remember watching Erin just absolutely destroy his guitar, rocking out more than I'd ever seen him, the whole band looking furious. It may sound lame, but it's the only way I can really describe it- it's like they were paying that song as a fuck you to God or whatever it was that took their friend from them. It was uncomfortable and freeing in an odd way. I remember actually gritting my teeth and feeling oddly furious myself. It was hard to handle.
The set was eventually over, and Cal came out and played an acoustic song (what would end up being "CMF" (Chris's initials)) to a completely silent room, and it couldn't have been a more perfect ending. I have never heard a room full of people so quiet. I've never seen a band play with that level of passion. And honestly, I'm not sure I've ever heard them play better. When the set was over, they left the stage and people congregated for more hugs. It felt like the perfect way to say goodbye.
When people cleared out enough, I took a few pictures. This is the only one that really came out, of Chris's bass in front of the stage, which I stood next to for most of the set.
I bring this all up because I thought a lot about that show while I was on top of Mount Chocorua. It was only 3 days earlier that I had an experience that's still hard to put into woods, all honoring a friend I'd never see again, and here I was, alone on top of a mountain I was so happy to finally have conquered, a day before my life was going to go from a 2 year endless vacation of freedom back to a life governed by a job.
I was happy I had beat the mountain, but I was still stuck in the weird funk I'd been in for months. I didn't do nearly enough actual applying for jobs, but through trying to get 3 with friend hook-ups and 2 of them not happening, I was bummed and starting to get really scared. So I ended my grand vacation with a whimper of anxiety and depression about not knowing how I was possibly going to get my life back in order, watching money disappear faster and faster while debt piled up.
Getting the job offer from a friend at Apple to work where I work now was incredible, but I still had to go back to normal life. I'd have to commute to work. The majority of my day would now be taken up by doing things I didn't want to do. I'd have the security of money again, sure, but I'd be losing everything else.
The worry and uncertainty mixed with depression from not wanting to lose everything I had had for the last 2 years, and I was already losing some of the more awesome person I had become. Even though I knew I was going to be fine, the "fuck it!" positive attitude of knowing I'd be fine was gone.
And I sat there in a weird way, knowing deep down I would be ok but worried and depressed for the future, proud that I had finally beat Chocorua but no longer able to enjoy it the way I had for the last 2 years, knowing I had to get down to drive back so I could go to work the next day. And I sat there thinking about life, wondering if I had really changed at all, or really done anything special. And now Chris was gone, and I was still trying to fully come to terms with the experience just a few days before.
And as I thought about the good and bad of life, something wonderful happened.
The sun started coming out.
It was subtle at first, and I wondered, "wait, is this actually gonna happen?" and it got stronger.
It creeped from the other mountains to the edge of Chocorua.
And I started seeing spots peak out on the land below.
And the tips of rock started glowing with light.
It was blinding.
Here's a panorama attempt:
And just like that, it was suddenly summer again, with absolutely perfect light for HDRs. And man, the top of Chocorua was suddenly absolutely gorgeous:
As I walked around on top of that mountain, I couldn't help but smile. I thought about what I was able to do, and whether I changed as much as I had wanted to or accomplished what I wanted to or not, I still was able to take 2 years off from work. And right when I needed it the most, I was able to get a job that, 9 months later, is pretty awesome. I was celebrating 2 years of awesome with a mountain that has been special to me since I first saw it on drives to and from college, that I had thought about since it beat me 4 years earlier. And I was up there by myself, listening to my favorite music in the world while the sun exploded out of a dreary ugly day.
And I remembered that I should be happy, and it was ok to be happy.
I guess the roundabout point to this long post is that this day drove home something that I've been trying to really do for my whole life- find happiness. I had a ton to worry about and a lot to be sad about, but just like the sun came out, there were tons of things to be happy about. I thought about all the things that bother me and all the things I haven't been able to fix about myself and was still able to smile. If there's a moment in life where I can feel this accomplished, where I can have a mountain to myself with incredible views- if I can sit and watch the sun break through ugly and create something gorgeous- if music like Caspian's is so strong and means so much to me emotionally that I feel like crying out of happiness, then life can't really be that bad. If such beauty exists here in this moment, then such beauty exists. And no matter how much sucks or is worth worrying about, whether I'm working all day and not able to do what I want or on vacation- these moments are out there. And that fact makes everything ok. Nothing will make Chris's death ok, but he left 3 albums and an EP worth of phenomenal music that will always make something ok for me. I have to work, but these mountains are still here. I can always fall into depression and anxiety traps, but I now know the path to leaving that behind more than I ever realized before, and it's in music and mountains.
I hiked down a little and smoked, had some delicious Oreos, and started heading back into the woods.
I almost got lost at one point on the way down, but I generally kept a good pace, stopping at a few spots for more pictures.
Now that I'd hung out up there, it felt a lot better to look at the top.
I got to the bottom in the dark, drove 2 hours home, and had a glass of scotch to toast to the end of my summer.
I got up the next day pretty drained, but surprisingly ok for having just done a 9 mile hike with 6 hours or so of sleep. I drove from NH to Mass (if you didn't already know, I work in Mass and now stay with Tobin during the week and still live in NH on weekends... I have 2 places, sort of... it's weird) in 2 hours and 45 minutes, making me a full 45 minutes late to my first day of work. I wasn't entirely with it for that first day, and that first week was pretty rough in general, but it was all worth it for this hike.
I originally planned on making a really epic post when I had to go back to work. It was going to have a video of the same level of epic as my original "A life more awesome" video, with tons of video and pictures from the last 2 years. But I didn't make it. My depression during the last 6 weeks or so made my summer ending more sad than anything, and I wasn't going out with a bang like I had planned (after 3 months), I was whimpering my way back to society only because I had no money and had to.
Plus, when you stretch a 3 month epic summer into 27 months, freedom starts to get a little too normal.
Looking back on 27 months off, I wish I had done more. I kind of wish I had had a more strict limit on when the summer ended so I'd feel forced to do more. I wish I hadn't been so scared of burning through money faster that I'd done some sort of road trip, or at least travelled at all. But it's tough. There's a line in a fordirelifesake song that really sums it up: "It's hard to measure priorities when every day is the weekend."
I also didn't change like I'd hoped to. Sure, I got more positive, but of course I did- I didn't have to work. Now that I'm back at work, it's scary how much my cynicism has come back. And I have more anxiety than I ever did before for some reason. And I still focus on negatives. I'm still critical. I'm still judgmental. I guess I thought I'd emerge from 2 years off as a way better person, without any of the hangups and shitty things I hate about myself, but I guess people don't really change like they want to- sometimes they just change a little.
When I doubt myself, it's easy to say that I would have found the things I love now without the vacation, but truthfully, I probably wouldn't have. I always liked hiking, but would it have become what it did in my life? With such limited time, probably not. It probably would have remained something I did a couple times a year, not something I try (and usually am successful at) doing 2-3 times a month. Would I have relaxed and taken the outdoors in to the level that I do now, where just sitting with a view is something I look forward to? I'm not sure. Would I have committed as well to trying to go to everything my friends put on to try to keep friendships going? Probably not. Would I have found my way back to music again? Honestly, this one is weird because I barely made music when I was on vacation, but working again and realizing how precious free time is, I've worked on music more than I have in years in the last 6 months. And the songs that I'm working on that I'm insanely proud of? They were all written during this time. So yea, I doubt I would have gotten into music again at all if I didn't take the 2 years off. And I certainly wouldn't have these songs.
So while my vacation didn't change me as much as I'd hoped, I had a great time. I found a love for the wilderness and mountaintops like I never had before. I found a love of photography (through instagram and just forcing myself to take pictures everywhere I was). I found a greater love for beauty and peacefulness than I ever had before. I remembered how much I love to write, even when I write blog posts a year late. I re-discovered how important music is to me, both listening to and creating it. And I learned more about myself than I have in a while. I've always been incredibly self aware, but I think I understand a lot more about why I am the way I am. And maybe I didn't find the ultimate happiness or figure it all out, but I see the beginnings of a path to becoming a better person, and I now know where I'm the happiest.
I learned what I really need to be a happier person. And I learned again and again something that I need to be reminded of again and again- that there is beauty and wonder in the world, I just need to get outside and experience it.
I look back at the first pictures I took for this blog- the first pictures I took after I left Apple and drove to NH on the afternoon of May 20th, 2011. I went out of my way to stop at Willowdale, where I love mountain biking, and walked into the woods, just to take a short walk outside, to take some pics and reflect a little.
It's neat to look back and realize that the first thing I did when I quit my job was to leave a mall to follow a trail into the woods.
SO: my future and this blog.
Right now, my main goals in life are:
1. Keep hiking- earn my Ossippee Range patch (3 hikes left) and keep knocking away 4,000 footers (loong way to go). I'm planning an overnight 4,000 footer this summer, followed by a Presidential Traverse (if the overnight goes smoothly). If a traverse goes well, the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail just seems more and more obvious.
2. Record an album. I now have 2 songs that are 95% finished in demo form (which I play drums to a few times a week), and 3 more in a rougher form. I'm doing this smart- I'm figuring out beats and exact song structure the way I want slowly over time, like an actual band would do, and making adjustments to the demos as needed. I constantly listen and think about what needs changing. Once I love every second of every song, I'll record a final version in hopefully a week or 2, like real bands do. I'm incredibly proud of what I have so far, but it's always progressing. I'm not sure when it will be done, but probably not as soon as you may want. I want these songs to be PERFECT.
3. The most important- make time for myself to go on hikes and make music. Continue trying to be a more awesome version of myself, and try not to let a life governed by work swallow me whole like it did before. I may not be free anymore, but there's no reason I can't continue to try to live a life more awesome.
4. Bring this blog back! (actually, you laugh, but there's a whole mess of catch-posts coming.
currently listening to: Jonsi- "We Bought A Zoo" Soundtrack