Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Now, What Next, and The Meaning of Life

You might be wondering what my plans are now that I have completed the hike and have been "home" for a week. Succinctly, I have no idea what I'm doing for the next two months, I'm giving grad school another shot next year, and I'm probably not doing anything cool again until 2009.

While I was on the trail with all that time to think, I definitely made plans for the future. I planned to come home and immediately start attending classes until the end of the semester in December. I'd get a new computer and make DVD's of my trip, put all my photos on my website, and do a huge brain-dump with all my notes that I wrote on the trail maps for the benefit of future hikers, then I'd take off on a big bus/train tour of nearly every place where I have some friends: Truckee, Salt Lake, Iowa, Chicago, Buffalo, Boston, NYC, Philly, Baltimore, DC, North Carolina, then hitch across the country with a big sign saying "Mom's house" to San Diego, then stop in LA on my way back to Emeryville. I'd hoped to do gear shop slideshows all along the way to help inform people about the CDT and maybe get my name out there in the backpacking community so that I'll have a better chance of being sponsored the next time I decide to give society the finger and live in the woods.

But on my roadtrip home, I realized that traveling like that is actually more vacation than adventure, and I don't think I deserve (or want) a vacation right now. So I thought I'd try and get a crap job at a gearshop or bookstore to help pass the time until January. My preferred option REI has already hired their extra xmas season people, so that's no good. And yes, I tried the whole talking to the manager thing, because I went and talked to the woman that runs all the slideshows for the 10 bay area stores. (Regarding that, they prefer to do thru-hiking type shows in spring when people are planning hikes, Francis arranged to do shows before he even started the trail, and you need transportation to get to lots of stores to make it worth it to them, so I'm guessing I won't be doing any until Spring '09.) But there are several more gearshops and bookstores around town, some of which are actively looking for people, so hopefully something will work out.

I started going to classes yesterday. There are two Law and Economics classes this semester, and one Labor Economics class. The law classes are so far very interesting, but the labor class was way over my head and was a pleasant reminder of why I failed the labor exam in the first place. That gives me something to do from 8-9:30 Monday through Thursday mornings, at least. What else am I doing? Well, I'm trying to eat fruits and vegetables (interesting because I feel like a total neophyte idiot in the produce section), I'm buying some CD's, I'm remarking on the girth of the neighborhood raccoons, I'm disappointed with The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, I'm trying to buy a decent road bike, I'm nearly vomiting from the worst headache I've ever had in my entire life, I'm listening to Eddie Vedder's Into the Wild soundtrack on repeat, I'm gradually re-accumulating all the stuff I threw away when I packed up in April like bedsheets, toothpaste, and a phone, and me and my friends completed an apple-eating survey to find the best type of apple (more on that later). If I had a TV, I'd basically be sitting in front of it all day, but I don't, so all is well.

That answers "What now?" as well as I can. As for "What next?" I set several goals for 2008 while on the trail. I hope to run the Diablo 50-miler in April in under 14 hours, pass the Law & Economics field exam in August, run the St. George Marathon in under 2:50 in October, and have a date set for my oral exam by the end of the year. So basically, I'm giving grad school another shot. I can't be certain that it'll work out; I'm still really far from my PhD, but I'm going to give it another try and I'm hell-bent on at least getting my master's out of it. (Four years for a master's, I rock.) One of the law classes next semester is called Constitutional Law and Economic Development, and I'm really looking forward to that. As a grad student I have to be enrolled full-time, so including my being a GSI (TA), I have to take three courses. There are two law classes offered, so the question is what will be the third. I was planning on re-taking the labor course, but my experience in the current labor class yesterday convinced me I definitely won't be retaking the labor field exam, so I don't know why I'd bother with the classes. Maybe I'll take Spanish 1 instead. Shhhhhh, don't tell the department.

As for my next adventure, I'm running the California International Marathon in Sacto on Dec. 2. (It's a goal of mine to run a 26.2 mile marathon every year until I die, and this is my last chance for this year. No, running a 50-miler and walking 6,000 miles don't count.) That doesn't really seem like adventure to me, so the next real adventure will likely be biking across the country with Marcus in 2009. (Again, shhhhhh, don't tell the department.) Every time I've done a long distance hike, I've thought it would be cool to do triathlons and/or bike across the country. Then I remember that I like neither cars nor people and scratch it off the list. But this time I mentioned it to Marcus, and he loves biking and flakes out on camping plans less than one third as much as the regular person, so assuming that we're still friends, that he graduates in May '09 and that I've passed orals by then, we'll bike from SF to DC via his old stomping grounds in Utah and mine in Virginia, hopefully in under thirty days, with at least a century every day.

Am I going to keep doing these type of things my entire life? I sure hope so. I still haven't done the Arizona Trail, the Hayduke Trail, the Long Trail, the Colorado Trail, the Florida Trail, the Trans-Canada Trail, the Te Araroa, the Grand Enchantment Trail, the Via Alpina, or the Pacific Northwest Trail, and I haven't even been to Nepal or New Zealand, let alone Kyrgyzstan or Mongolia. I have a lot of friends from the trails that have never really settled down for a real career and just do whatever winter work they can get to pay for summer play. I don't really want to do that, because I want my job to be just as challenging and meaningful as all the outdoor adventures I do. I don't believe that I can actually make a big difference in the world, but it's fun to try every once in a while. So I guess the hope is to get my PhD and get a job at a slightly heterodox liberal arts college where I'm not really doing a lot of research and am instead just teaching undergrads that care about the world, where I can occasionally lead students on study abroad programs to East Africa, and where I can have summers and frequently whole semesters off to go live outdoors and be happy.

Here's a picture of me with Marcus, my good college buddy Nielsen and his daughter Scarlet at Red Rock Canyon outside Vegas.

And to illustrate how horrible I am with children, here are pictures of what happens when I get near one. You can click on them to see a larger picture and see that she's enjoying it even less than I am.
And finally as for "What NEXT?" or the meaning of life, well, I don't really think about that stuff very much while hiking. Mostly I think about food. Like that rustler burger I had in East Glacier with bleu cheese dressing and an onion ring? Holy s--- that was good. But here are two quotes that illustrate what I did learn.

1) Montani Semper Liberi.

2) There once was a young pirate named Gates,
who went around town on roller skates,
till he slipped on his cutlass,
rendering himself nutless,
and practically useless on dates

The first is the West Virginia state motto. It means "mountaineers are always free." I love mountains. They make me happy. I already knew this, but I needed to remind myself.

The second is a dirty limerick I found on the inside of a latrine in Glacier National Park. I am of the opinion that life may very well be fundamentally meaningless, so you may as well do what makes you happy. I wouldn't interpret that too selfishly though, because usually making other people happy is the best way to make yourself happy.

That's enough deep thoughts for now.
the Onion


  1. So, I don't know you and I've never hiked a big trail before. I got here because I'm climbing buddies with Cyberhobo who links to your site occasionally.

    I just wanted to add that I, too, was seriously disappointed with The Heart is a Lonely Hunter back when I had to read it in highschool. What a miserable book.

    So, congrats on getting back into gradschool. I'm finishing up my Master's after 3.5 years, and I don't think that's so bad. :)

  2. Ditto on The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. A few good parts don't justify the novel. As for apples: Zazz are my pick.