BCM 2017

Somehow, I stumbled across Big City Mountaineers in 2016. I'm still not sure how. Instagram? A Backpacker article? Weird internet clicking? Probably. As soon as I found them, I knew I wanted to participate. They're fulfilling a mission I'm passionate about, one I hope to build on some day. 

Getting inner-city kids outside? Yes, yes, yes. Sign me up. Except, I was rather last-minute and my summer schedule was already so full of weddings and travel that I couldn't commit to another week off work. 

Fast-forward a year. I got a surprise email from a new volunteer coordinator and had a wide-open summer. Sign me up, FOR REAL this time. 

After a few training sessions, we were off. Our small group (Laughs and MJ, two 13-year-old young women; BadAss, our wilderness instructor; Cherub, a woman who works at the youth agency with the students; and me, a volunteer) would be heading into the Yosemite backcountry for a week. These girls, born and raised in east Oakland, had never hiked, let alone backpacked.

We'd get to show them the ropes. 

As you can probably tell, I've given everyone a "trail name" to protect their privacy. 

Day 1: Fires & Drives
Day 2: The Edge of the World
Day 3: Cold Creeks and Rocket Ships
Day 4: La Capitana, or Summit Day, or Women Power
Day 5: Realtalk
Day 6: Ash, Civilization, Australians
Day 7: Fin
Afterword: This I Know for Sure
What I Ate (or didn't)

Glacier - Invest in Impermanence

I am an existentialist at heart and I love fall in part for its contemplative underpinnings, the way it makes me notice the concrete world (everything’s dying) and think about the abstract one (everything dies).

When trees and brush go aflame right before leaves and blooms pale at winter, I also wonder: will I have even minutes as full of purpose as these plants do, when my hue is tinted by the tasks of my hands?
— Christine Byl, Dirt Work

Logan Pass, Glacier National Park, Montana

In San Francisco, we're sheltered from the seasons. The entire year, it's +/- 10 degrees from the typical 70, and in drought years, there isn't even a "rainy season". Leaves don't change color. It doesn't smell like fall. The air isn't crisp. 

The rest of the country, meanwhile, is in the grip of fall. 

On my last day in Glacier this September, it was clear fall was in the air. Crisp, cool air was lurking right around the corner. Teasing summer at the frayed ends of her sundress. Trees and brush were beginning to go aflame, putting on one last, brilliant show before they pale at the strength of winter. 

On my last day in Glacier, it was hard to say goodbye. I cried. I cried tears and tears driving down the mountain (not a good idea on 100-year-old mountain roads).

I had just rediscovered the land of my happiest childhood memories. Two days earlier. I had just completed my quest and wanted time to savor it. I did not want to leave. I did not want to change my place, where I was. I did not want to turn around so soon. 

The pull of "real life", a job, adult responsibilities tugged me back to California. This pull dragged me out onto the long road towards home.  

Life is impermanent, but that does not mean that it is not worth living.
— Thích Nhất Hạnh

Christine Byl's Dirt Work and Thích Nhất Hạnh's Your True Home were two of my constant companions before, during, and after my trip.

One is a love affair with nature from a traildog. Dirty, grungy, crude, romantic, mesmerizing. The other is a daily treatise from a monk. Peaceful, loving, infuriating, wise; one of the most compassionate teachers I've found. The most unlikely (but secretly most likely) pairing. Together, they soothed me. Salved my wounds. 

Fall is a time of dying. It's also a time of brilliance. The color of fall must sustain us through long, cold, dark winters, so fall makes sure her show counts.

However, fall could not keep up this show indefinitely. No one can sustain such brilliance forever, not even she. Her impermanence helps us appreciate her brilliance. Look, quick, here now, gone tomorrow. 

My Glacier trip could not have gone on forever. Perhaps someday Montana will be my home, but for now, it is impermanent. It is precisely because my trip was impermanent that I value it so dearly. 

I tried to live each Glacier moment deeply and use it in a responsible way. 

Perhaps, in my precious few minutes in Glacier, I was as full of purpose as these fall plants.