Attempted Murder in Missouri

Let me first start this off by saying I rarely like to plan out adventures. I enjoy scoping out the overall terrain, but I get this sense of surprise by not looking too much into these class 2 routes. I figure the mountain is there, and I will find the trail.

The morning started just at sunrise. I was still new to hiking on my own, and certainly did not want to encounter any animals at dawn, especially mountain lions. I couldn’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of morning traill runners encountering their scare of stares.

My personal goal was to hit Missouri mountain, summit, and cut across to the trail that connects to Oxford and ending on Belford. Most hikers would summit this in reverse order, but I purposefully wanted to knock out the most difficult climb first.

I slowly found myself above tree line. While I did not see anyone on the trail all morning, I could see the few spots of people on the ridge of Belford, climbing up.

The climb up Missouri was an endless switchback. If I wasn’t careful, I could easily miss the cairn along the talus rock, and find myself on an entirely new face of the mountain.

It took me a couple hours, but I was finally in the home stretch. I cross the south ridge feeling like I landed on mars. The sand was red clay, and lovely curves cut off to drastic edges.

I slowly found myself above tree line. While I did not see anyone on the trail all morning, I could see the few spots on the ridge of Belford, climbing up.

The climb up Missouri was an endless switchback. If I wasn’t careful, I could easily miss the cairn along the talus rock, and find myself on an entirely new face of the mountain.

It took me a couple hours, but I was finally in the home stretch. I cross the south ridge feeling like I landed on mars. The sand was red clay, and lovely curves cut off to drastic edges.

Found myself on the summit just a few moves later. I was alone, but I was accompanied by the views of the land. I cannot begin to describe the joy I felt a top my tower of solace.

Everything in life just aligned so perfectly in that moment. Until it didn’t.

The trail downloaded from my alltrails app indicated a clear cut across the north face couloir. I later found out this heat map was most likely based on mountain goats.

I slid down the scree with uncertainty. It was a fun speed and I didn’t have to climb back up, so I didn’t see the harm in this route down.

It did not take me long to look ahead and address the MASSIVE 1000+ feet of ICE SLAB that would soon become my life. In a fast approaching panic, I desperately reached around me. The rocks were so loose that I couldn’t find a single one sturdy enough to support my weight.

The sheet of ice was quickly below me and by some miracle, my single poorly-treaded hiking boot stopped me from falling below to my death. I caught my breath, looking at the plunge below me with dread. I knew the foot hold would not last long, and quickly found a jagged, knife-like rock to carve out a hand hold above me.

My life depending on this weak, little foot hold as I found a second rock and utilized it as an ax. Primitive, but effective, I was able to use these two rocks to ax diagonally toward the safety of some slab 400ft away.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire. I was finally on stable ground, but when I looked above to the distant, VERY distant trail, I was cliffed out. I took off my shirt to use as a towel to wipe off the entire pool of sweat that was now my body. I never sweat. My body must have suddenly went into shock as I used ever inch of concentration and energy to quickly get myself out of the scary situation I was not completely out of.

Frustrated with my lack of knowledge in mountaineering, I was loosing hope and reassurance that I would get out without a broken bone at best. I had to pep-talk myself for a solid twenty minutes that I would get out of this unscratched. It was then that I turned to look above and assess my climb up that I saw a human being above me on the trail. Words cannot express how grateful I am to that one stranger whom I never saw again. Seeing that dark figure of a person above me was enough. I was seen, spotted and accounted for on this mountain. They were simply a symbolic reminder that help is easily on the way should I hurt myself.

With a bolt of energy, I started with my first two hand holds. Then one by one, found my feet. I zoned out into a trance as I spent the next hour climbing into the rest of my un-lived life. To this day I cannot tell you how or what brought my mind and body to jump into this muscle memory. If past lives exist, surely I had summited Everest.

The next hour was the best hour of my life. I made it down the mountain, embracing every moment with gratuity. I had so much to see and conquer and this was just the beginning.

However I did loose an hour and was doubting if I could finish the other two summits before nightfall. It was then that I encountered a trail running blazing from the meadow up Missouri. As we crossed paths, he stopped to greet me. I was a little frazzled from my recent dance with death, and he clearly noticed. This kind man took the time to ask what I did, and where I was going. After sharing my story and my hopeful goal to summit the other two, he was the final push I needed to validate I could do it.

So I picked up my pace and spent the next hour in pure bliss, reminiscing on past life and excited about future. The clouds were drifting away into a blanket of blue around me.

From the saddle, I could see the long stretch of elevation decline and gain I would experience before hitting Oxford. I was game. BRING IT.

With a new sense of step, I hurried my way up to the second summit. It was so much better than the first, and I’m pretty sure they were the same views.

I made it across to my last summit of Belford by 4:30pm and celebrated. The weather was completely on my side all day, despite my decisions going against me. I was low on water, after all I packed 16 oz to wet my mouth between summits. I was training myself to drink lots of water before and after the hike, but during just under 20oz.

Anyways, I met a nice old man on my last summit. He offered me water after we spoke about our days and our evenings ahead. He was my moral support system to help me get down and chase darkness out of the woods.

Lesson learned today: never again will I underestimate the power of a pile of rocks. These mountains are majestic and can trial you in many ways.

Some still say its organic shapes were a reflection of the constant movement of thoughts on never-ending ideas. It was remarkable but prudent, complex but minimal, and it’s geometrical lines contrasted beautifully with the curly waves that defined it.

This was my sanctuary, the place where I could go to rest, but also to celebrate. You only have to walk a few steps into the woods to understand the mysterious peace of the valley. Was it the endless organic shapes? Was it the assurance of its geometrical lines? Or was it simply the mountain?

Capitol Peak

Aside from Little Bear Peak, Capitol Peak, is considered the state’s most difficult 14er to climb. Scraping the sky at 14,137 feet, this is Colorado’s 32nd highest mountain. Don’t let that number fool you, the fatalities are sharp and quick.

I was already glowing with glory as I drove away from Little Bear heading toward Capitol. I couldn’t turn down the invite to climb the hardest class 4 the Colorado Fourteeners have to offer. While Capitol Peak was planned for weeks, I wanted to put my body to the test and climb them back to back, less than 24 hours apart. I’ve climbed 3 and 4 mountains in one day, so theoretically I felt prepared for this boomerang.

Began the drive into the trailhead with an exciting surprise – I SAW MY FIRST COLORADO BEAR. Only took 4 years of living here. I suppose climbing Little Bear that morning must have opened some mystic portal to all the bear viewing. Anyway I was grateful for the close encounter and found my friend Jenny. We set up camp in her fancy Tepui and quickly found sleep.

That night was restless. I tossed and turned in my sleep as my stomach growled. I had enough food. I thought I had enough water. Why did I feel so nauseous? Almost feverish, experiencing hot flashes but writing it off as the amazing insulation of Jennys’ Tepui tent.

The four of us set out at 3am, well before sunrise. Lillian gracefully lept across cow patties in the pasture, meanwhile Jenny and Brandon stared at the meteor shower above. Our goal was to meet our two friends, Dan and Katie, camping at Capitol Lake. My stomach was still hurting, as if I had food poisoning and was carrying a stone.

We found them just after 6am, when they were scheduled to leave without us. I rejoiced as we approached them waiting on a rock off the trailhead. We look behind us and another hiker is quick on our trail. Who was it? JEFF! The fun California botanist who was invited to join our group to avoid going alone.

Sunrise found us quietly and we watched the lake below wake up from our saddle perch. The group somehow grew to eight as two others from the trailhead teamed up with us. I wasn’t expecting, nor hoping for a large group, but the personalities vibed on the same frequency.

We started out giggly and eager. Each step was a brisk, yet slow roll into the morning. Meanwhile my hands were sweating and I felt much slower than normal.

We spent almost an hour crossing this field of talus. The talus turned into large boulder slabs, and we joyfully bounced across them. Everyone spread out and made their own adventure through the valley, always waiting for the group to catch up on major segments. I took a look around our group on the mini snack break and knew I had enough in me to carry on with them. The air filled with positivity and I couldn’t let myself or them down. Clearly I wasn’t sick enough to turn around, or I would have.

Eventually we approached K2 – a brief taste of exposure that requires technical climbing down. The rock was solid compared to Little Bear Peak, but we each helped one another spot the loose slabs just in case.

One tricky move before touching the lower trail toward the knife edge was to stretch your body down a few feet, hoping to find a decent foot hold before letting go of the secure slab above.

Today it was this type 2 kinda fun that kept me going! I was monitoring my breaths, but aside from that, didn’t really know what signs to look for that would make me stop and turn around. Vomiting? No way.

The knife edge found us with open arms. Literally. We hugged that skinny slab of rock like our lives depended on it. Actually, they really did depend on it.

A few weeks prior, a young man died at this exact point. Some speculate it was during the floods and the rock was slippery. A rescue team of three came to search for the body, however they were each injured by falling rocks (from climbers above) and helicoptered out. It was a tragic accident that left the body uncovered.

Needless to say, I did my best to avoid thinking about the poor guy resting below me as I battled my own health. I slowly scooted across, finding renewed energy in each burst of adrenaline. One should make it across if they straddle the rock across the entire 600 ft stretch.

After the knife edge, you mentally feel like you are already at the summit. Our group continued on for another hour or so, climbing rock after rock.

The routes are not easily marked at this point, but if you look hard, you can spot the cairns, or as our friend like to called them, “Rock Ducks”.

My stomach was not letting up despite the water, medicine, electrolytes and salt tabs my friends gave me. I had never felt this way after or during a climb and assumed it must have been something I ate between climbing Little Bear to Capitol.

My energy levels were lower than normal, despite training my body for years to survive on so little water. Something was wrong, but I was determined, and to be honest, too far to turn around now. So I sucked it up, and slowed down my breath, focusing on each step.

We made it to the top by 11am, and what felt like my last lung. It was so rewarding to soak up the blue skies and lakes below. I found my seat and sprawling across the rock, ready to fall into a deep sleep. The group trailed in, one by one, and the eight of us had the summit to ourselves!

Throughout the years hiking fourteeners, never had I found a crew so dial-ed into summit snacks. Jenny came prepared with her chocolate-dipped dehydrated fruit, twizzlers, and mini peanut butter pretzels. Dan arrived with sardines over salted crackers and wasabi peas. I felt so basic with my apple and had to laugh feeling like we were comparing elementary school lunches.

We spent a good hour at the top, enjoying each others company and cracking jokes. In all honesty, we probably were just dreading to climb back down. Eventually another group approached and we took our queue to scramble out. Somehow climbing down a summit always feels longer than climbing up. We achieved our greatness, we peaked, and now all that is left is go down.

The nausea was not fading, and each step became difficult. My stomach pounded in unpredictable pain, so much that it hurt to talk. When I finally approached the knife edge, I was actually concerned. I’ve been on 53 summits now, and never had I doubted myself on a mountain. I was scared to black out mid-straddle across the cliff. It certainly was helpful to have seven friends ahead and behind me, silently supporting as we each made our way through the trenches.

There was only one difficult spot where I became dizzy and saw spots. The mountain moved all around me and I had to stop crawling on the knife edge. I was practicing all five points of contact (hands, feet, and chest) as I took in deep breaths. I knew I shouldn’t linger long, so I kept moving, and reached the side of safety with a big exhale.

We carried on many more miles throughout the day – I started to realize that maybe it wasn’t my lunch and that I was possibly experiences symptoms of severe dehydration. I didn’t notice because I skipped the moderate signs of headaches and went straight into fight or flight mode. Yet the end was more in sight that ever, and that kept me going with each step closer to home.

We all made it back to the trailhead parking lot around 5pm. After 20+ miles of hiking that day, including the Little Bear summit and road hike down, I was spent. I bolted to the nearest town of Aspen to resupply on water and food, hoping to set myself up for the four hour drive home to Denver. I started driving only twenty minutes when my eyes began to blur and I swerved my car over the median more than twice. It was clear I couldn’t drive, so I pulled over in Glenwood Springs to car camp until morning.

I was grateful to know when to stop and rest. The next morning I awoke with 110% energy again and found myself in a nice coffee shop around 6am. Coffee in hand, I got back on the highway to make the 3.5 hour trip home. To my surprise I SAW ANOTHER BEAR CROSSING THE ROAD 20ft IN FRONT OF ME. There were no other cars on the highway when the fluffy black/brown big guy ran across the empty road. Pretty sure Little Bear Peak took my wish to see a bear and granted me with two big bears, back to back.

Moral of my story. Drink more water?

Little Bear Peak

Little Bear Peak is Colorado’s most dangerous Fourteener. The Peak is located deep in the Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range, towering above the San Luis Valley at a height of 14,037 feet. True to its name, you should not poke this cute bear, nor climb all over it because you may just anger the beast.

Lake Como, also known for being the most difficult road in America, is a 5 mile hike into the lake, where we were setting up camp that night. The sun was setting Thursday evening as we began the long journey into the dark. Headlamps guided us in around 9pm and we attempted to sleep despite the 30+mph winds.

We set out at 5:30am, a little later expected after a night of restless tent-flapping. The trail felt all too familiar, after all, we were just there three weeks ago climbing the adjoining fourteener group: Blanca and Ellingwood Peak. Little Bear Peak is 14 miles roundtrip from the bottom of the parking lot, and we were grateful to get the first 6 miles out the night before. Funny how easy a map can make the last mile to summit appear. We had at least four obstacles that laid ahead: The Talus Gully up the west ridge notch, the long walk across the south ridge, the famous Hourglass, and the ugly, exposed remaining route above the hourglass.

Kelsey and I began the ascent into the Talus Gully with little optimism, attempting not to look at the loose rocks above. With each step we took, a small mountain of scree would slide below our feet. The occasional larger rock would fall and everyone would simultaneously scream “ROCK!”.

It continued like this for over an hour, and we quickly made friends with the young climber coming up below us. Liam was a junior in high school from Fort Collins, and shared the same goal of bagging this difficult peak. We fell into the saddle with surprise, watching the early morning sun peak its head above the valley. There were jokes of this mountain being the only bear I will probably ever see in Colorado. Crazy how I have lived here four years and never seen a bear in the wild.

Let’s just skip the long, enduring walk across the south ridge, as it was a series of elevation de/increase, leaving us a bit deflated for the hourglass. We approached with confidence, relieved to know we were the first to summit and therefor nobody would be above us. The most dangerous part of this section, and the reason for previous injuries and fatalities.

Nearly an 800ft vertical climb through a chute of slab, loose rock, this section really requires technical skills. The routes are unmarked, requiring you to determine each hand hold as it comes. There is a measly rope, however the other broken ropes at the top remind you to not rely on it.

Larger rocks drop, regularly and unpredictably into the steep, narrow section below, potentially resulting in fatal falls. There is no avoiding this unfortunate part of the climb, and for that reason, every climber spaces out and gives other groups room to safely climb.

Just out of the hourglass it begins to open up into another large field of loose talus. At this point we are straight bouldering without ropes and cautiously practicing three points of contact.

I step up onto a slab, sending a small rock down the gully. Panic ensues as I yelled “ROCK!” loudly several times, hoping that the two guys below were no where near. No bigger than a book, I sincerely hoped it would fuze out and stop after a few plunks down. However, the rocks on this mountain are like dominos, each one setting off the next rock tumbling down. It picked up speed, hitting another rock and combusting into five smaller astroids down the opening until you could no longer see it through the angle of the steep slope…

The next few seconds of stillness were nerve-wracking. The three of us quietly listened for any sign of good/bad news. Not hearing a thing, we continued up the steep wall of focus. We were in the home stretch, and the peak loomed over us from above, tempting us to come closer.

At the summit, I felt accomplished, and cute. I would not recommend this mountain for everyone, because it’s not just the technical nature of the route that makes this climb so formidable, but the unpredictable nature of rockfall risk. I was so proud of myself for finally tackling it and proving to myself that I was ready for the route.

I can understand why the hourglass is difficult to share amongst other climbers; I learned how to plan for rocks that ricochet, and how to accept those who consider themself too experienced to ever drop rocks on someone else.

As always, the climb down was exhausting. It is often overlooked that just because you can get yourself up, doesn’t mean you don’t have to climb back down. The hourglass down was challenging, and ran into another group where we paused and encouraged them on. It took us another a couple hours to back-climb down the gully and across the talus field.

We reached camp a little after 12pm and quickly packed up, knowing full-well the hardest part of this journey was going to be the brutal 2.5 hour hike down Lake Como Road again. The rocks rolled my ankle across every switchback and my mental energy was just as low as my physical.

We stayed optimistic, attempting to soak in the last views of Blanca before jumping on the road again. One quick food pitstop in Buena Vista (2.5 hours north) before I would drive another 2 hours toward Aspen. I was planning to reset my body clock and repeat the climb, just with the most technically draining 14er in all of Colorado – Capitol Peak.

When do you make the SOS call?

🚨
My voice echoed throughout the gullies as I shouted for @sturgeon.dan – my hiking bud had been missing for 30min.
🌨
We were last together on Kit Carson, our attention on the clouds. They were unlike anything I’d seen, playful pillows hiding behind the summit. I saw another cluster in the distance. Were they closing in on us? I warned Dan that we had about 30min – whatever was coming, we would be in the eye of it.
πŸŒͺ
I paced the avenue as 1/2 blizzards dumped, debating on if I should go back to search for him. The snow was hitting from all directions & I lost vision. My heart pumped as a memory of my CapHill 1BD entered; Matt and I playing rummy in front of a fireplace. I could hear the fire cracking as my toes soaked through a 2nd set of socks. I could feel the purr of Chip as my fingers became numb from scrambling. I wanted so badly to be on the couch with them.

🚁
The 2nd blizzard hit & the reality of the situation settled in. Dan may not get off this mountain. If he is in need of help, rescue could take over 12hrs & the snow could cover him. Screw the fees, how can you put a price on someones life? My hands shook as I held down the SOS button on the Garmin InReach. Then watched the 20sec countdown commence.
πŸ†˜
Better to search for 1 person than 2. I marched across the ridge line, bullied by wind. It blocked all sound, except for the GPS device, which synced morbid beeps to my heartbeat. I constantly looked behind me for a silhouette. BREATHE. Finally saw a figure & broke down in tears. HE IS ALIVE! I quickly cancelled the call for emergency rescue.
πŸ—»
3/20 hikers summited this snowy class 3. The other guy began at 2am. 15mi post-holing over 14hrs.
Looking back I am not regretful nor wiser. We had the energy & skill to accomplish, but losing a hiker is unspeakable. A truly remarkable, memorable hike that left my bones rattled and mind full of gratitude.
🀯
πŸ·πŸΊπšŽπš›: Challenger + Kit Carson
π™΄πš•πšŽπšŸπšŠπšπš’πš˜πš—: 14,081’ + 14,165’
π™»πš˜πšŒπšŠπšπš’πš˜πš—: Westcliffe, CO
πšƒπ™·: Willow Creek
π™³πš’πšœπšπšŠπš—πšŒπšŽ: 15 miles
π™΄πš•πšŽπšŸπšŠπšπš’πš˜πš— π™ΆπšŠπš’πš—: 6,250’
π™²πš•πšŠπšœπšœ: ♦️♦️♦️

Marooned on an Island pt.3

I became good at projecting what people wanted to see. It didn’t help that older men would arrogantly say “Why don’t you smile?” without realizing how sexist they sound. All the negative emotions, those are my memories to examine, mine to shove into the pit of my stomach, mine to hide. Whenever the conversation of my parents came up, it became instinctive to pretend they were both still very present in my life. Over the years I learned how to respond to this question, because when people actually find out what happened, their reaction was incredibly disappointing. It is bad enough that we do not have the answers, but to carry their pity is unnecessary weight that only makes it worse. I decided it was easier to deny his death toward others, and ultimately myself.

So I did what came naturally. Seemed fitting for the concrete jungle, seeing as everybody keeps their emotions to themselves anyways. It really was the perfect place to isolate my heart. Trapped on this island of bittersweet numbness until someone would rescue me, or perhaps, I would rescue myself.

It takes a lot for me to trust someone. I learned quickly in college that partners are selfish, uncompromising and continued to see it in every relationship I attracted. I was content with close friends, both men and women, and simply enjoyed that kind of love. No need to complicate it with passion that would inevitably fade. Despite the chip on my shoulder, there was one man who slipped through the cracks and appeared as a sudden beacon of light in a dark restaurant bathroom line. He came off so incredibly genuine and caring, that I couldn’t help but let my guard down as our friendship blossomed. It didn’t take me long to figure he was also carrying a small piece of baggage, but I didn’t care. It fit so well with mine. Together we took our luggage and adventured anywhere the wind took us.

Weeks turned into months and life suddenly became purposeful. Slipping into routine, I found myself looking forward to our weekly hangouts. I had never felt this way about someone before; the calm satisfaction of knowing who you are when they are around. With each romantic dinner, with each mundane bagel morning, there was this…je ne sais quoi.

It carried on like this for a while; I was regaining trust and confidence that maybe the universe wasn’t that savage after all. Life was good. So good, my roommate and I wanted to host a celebration. We decided to throw a rooftop, speakeasy-style (later got busted) taco party on our Chinatown apartment. I invited him, and to my disappointment, he avoided the text completely only to reply a week later that he was not in town and now wanted to hang out. Thus began the conflict of my close friends urging me to ditch this joke. I was confused: how could we continue to have these movable moments, yet feel so stagnant at the same time?

As silly as it seemed, this taco party was the tipping point for me. Familiar feelings quickly resurfaced. I shouldn’t have let him in. I wasn’t strong enough to go through another heartache. I soon realized that I was depending on this person to replace the people I have lost. I had not forgotten about my best friend or father, but he was distracting me from reality. What would happen if he left me and I had to face that sorrow again? I couldn’t bear the thought of crawling back into that dark hole. So I did what I do best: I ran.

I took a life-changing trip to clear my head. It was enough to give me hope for a better future and meaning to life. Months after, my job and housing situations were stuck in this vicious cycle and once they conveniently and simultaneously crumbled, I decided to take my exit. I put in my two weeks and gave notice to my not-so-nice landlord in Dumbo. I hammered the nail on the coffin by purchasing that ticket to Norway at the end of February. I would be damned if I had to spend what is always a depressing month in this lonely city. There was no turning back now – I was leaving NYC and everyone there behind.

Yet there was one thing I didn’t account for. I was so empowered and certain of my decision that I failed to predict how he would react. I assumed it wouldn’t effect him much and wrote it off. For someone who was so uncertain about their emotions, he certainly knew how to confess them all at once. Words were flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup – the sweetest love-struct sentences one would ever hear. Perhaps I hurt his ego and he didn’t like the idea of knowing yet another woman left him because of his incompetencies. Perhaps everything he said was true and he was really bad at expressing feelings. All I knew is he was depriving me of feeling wanted and I deserved someone who wanted me. At the time, I wasn’t proud of my actions, but his words never left me. I desperately wanted to believe the best in him. After all, love makes you do crazy things, right?

Wrong. It took me three years of sorting through the confusion. It became clear that he only wanted what he could not have. What kind of person is so bitter about the breakup that they don’t want you to move on either? It was bad enough that I wasted a year of my life trying to convince myself I finally deserved love. Yet he took it a step further and prevented me from experiencing love with anyone else. I may have been miles away, yet he was controlling my actions, well aware of everything he falsely promised, later writing it off as an unhealthy time in his life. If you are somehow reading this, I forgive you for being so cruel. I am at the very least thankful for the memories shared, and hopefully showed you how to love the next woman. You certainly taught me the value of feeling secure in a relationship.

So here I am. Marooned on this island, compiled coral by coral of all the lies I have stacked. Everything leading up to this moment has been one big fantasy. I was silly to think I could actually replace someone. I subconsciously held on because I didn’t know what else to do. He reminded me both of my father and best friend, so I built up this image of someone who is not. To acknowledge that it is over is to acknowledge that my dad is gone, and Mylena as well.

Life is great at sending storms, but it also has a way of providing a life raft. Question is, will I take it? Do I know, nor care where it is going? I am so tired of carrying this self-loathing. Tired of putting my hope in false promises. Surely anything is better than this paradise of putrid.

I can now see that I deserve love. Despite my attempts to fend it off, I have wanted it all along. Perhaps you have to be deprived of all the love in the world in order to realize there is so much to be shared.

Thank you Michael, for the endless nights of listening to me babble on your boat.

Marooned on an Island pt.2

Mylena’s passing at such a young age was a complete accident. It was well past midnight when the driver fell asleep at the wheel, losing both his sister and father in the same night. Once again, a complete accident that could happen to anybody. Perhaps if they hadn’t driven home through Beaumont, Texas they would have missed that section of the road altogether. Perhaps if they had one more cup of coffee or just pulled over before falling asleep. There are so many what-if’s that should never be dwelled upon.

I shifted my pain into the things that were present, establishing weekly phone calls with my dad to talk about life, ask him questions and lean on him. His father left him at an early age and he felt equipped to relate. The Christmas right after her passing I flew down to Texas, where I was able to have one of the best holidays of my life. December was always so depressing because it was a reminder of how I had to step up the year my mother left; cooking, helping buy gifts for everyone, someone had to help my poor father. This year, however, was simply full of laughter, and I even saw my dad smile. He had started dating again and I had never seen him so carefree, loving and silly. It was like the real man was buried all these years.

I will never understand why life threw me a serious curve ball as I was barely standing up again. His birthday rolled around in early February and I had this sense that I should be there. Caught up in finding another job before my contract ended, I decided to save the money, make him a birthday card and call him instead. He sounded distracted and I later figured why. He dreaded that year: it was the age in which his father passed. Two short weeks later, he would too.

I will spare the details of his death – the moments leading up to it were so intense and I feel remorse for not seeing the red flags in those final text messages. Each of us played a part, and all of his children carry the weight of wondering if they could have saved him. There are so many what-if’s that I can’t help but dwell on. What if I just flew down to see him one last time? What if my phone wasn’t on silent and I answered his last call? What if he was in pain and didn’t want to be alone?

Nobody tells you exactly how much you’re going to miss someone until they leave. I immediately canceled the rest of my contract and flew down to Texas. The four of were all dealing with it in our own way, and we were incredibly grateful that we at least had each other. I buried myself in sorting out his accounts and researching funeral homes to provide to the group. I can’t tell you how many homes cared more about profits and actually tried to take advantage of the grieving family. His brother, our uncle, was so kind during the process to step in and help the four of us, who were clearly not prepared for this sudden responsibility. When we finally found the right location, I met the funeral director in person, he claimed he was shocked to realize I was just a kid. The woman he spoke to on the phone was pictured to be in her brittle, cold fifties. I guess nobody tells you how grief ages the soul of those left behind.

I was no longer the same when I flew back to NYC. Everything was pointless and I lost my way again. I’m not sure how those months would have unraveled if it weren’t for the kindness of an old friend. He had personally reached out to all my friends, new and old, and asked them to mail a coin to my apartment in Harlem. This may sound silly, however he knew this was the conversation my father and I last had, about coins, and he also knew I had been collecting them from all the countries I visited. My heart filled with hope as random little coins flowed through my mailbox. It was a constant reminder of the people we touch and the memories forever carried with us.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my father. Tomorrow marks seven years. Hard to imagine I haven’t heard his voice for seven years. Aside from the few recorded videos of his acoustic charity fundraisers. I regret never saving the voicemails on my old phone. I even picked up lucid dreaming to sneak conversations with him but can never form the sentences when I finally see him. Yet sometimes, when I listen carefully, I’ll hear a train whistle or see a big black bird, and hope it’s him.

I don’t care what the calendar says, Spring immediately follows February 27th. The sorrow of his life blooms into celebration of new life. My brother had a son recently, and man, Caden Scott is the spiting image of him. Throughout the years I’ve made a promise to myself to leave the decay in February; after paying him tribute I must soak up every minute of life. That is what he would want.

However eight years ago was a different story and it took me a long time to get to this place. I couldn’t understand why life was so cruel as to give me the false hope of a fresh start. I was just getting to know my father, and while the last six months of his life were spent in appreciation and humility, I was angry that it was cut so short. He had set each of us up to be frustratingly, independent people, yet we still had so much to learn from him. I finally understood why he was always teaching us to do it ourselves, because his father left him the same way.

It was this moment in my life in which my insides turned cold. Perhaps the city, with all the constant career and housing hurdles, was pushing me in this direction. I embraced the single-serving friends that came in and out of my life during this time, yet always kept a distance. We needed each other to distract ourselves from what really lied beneath. I’ll admit, there are a few close friends to this day that stuck with me, and I am grateful for the many happy memories. Yet there was a growing, unsettling pit in my stomach that infrequently woke me in the middle of the night.

Nobody tells you how grief changes the core of your being. I watched each of us children go through different stages and have noticed one thing in common. We don’t like to talk about it. It was too hard for me to just let go and accept he was gone. I was afraid to feel the raw emotions of love and couldn’t bear the idea of losing anyone again. Nobody was going to be let in.

Thanks for sticking to the story – here is the last piece of the trilogy.

Marooned on an Island pt.1Β 

I suppose we are all washed up on an island of our choosing. It is hard to let go of certain memories, and becomes easy to get carried away in the rip tide.

What started as a retreat to the familiar waters of the Caribbean, turned into the realization of a lifetime. I knew the basics of what I was signed up for – living off of the basics, basically. I’ve been running through life, unsure of the destination or why I feel the need to be anywhere but in the moment. It became clear that my past was catching up to me, and for once, I didn’t know how to push it back.

To understand where I am going, I must first acknowledge where I have been. Yet, my journey has been a puzzle, and for someone so strategic in the real world, I throw caution to the wind when it comes to navigating through big life decisions. The heart knows just as much as the mind during the process.

New York City.

I could argue it started many countries and cities before this one, however for the sake of time I will begin here.

New York was never on my mind. Ever. I was perfectly content living a simple life, one in which I could connect with nature and curiosity. I had just spent two magical years in small towns across New Zealand and wanted the extreme opposite to compare. I flopped between Chicago and New York, ultimately deciding I would like the subway system of the east coast. I’ll admit, at this point in my early twenties I was beyond repair looking for a place to retreat; a place where animosity knows every concrete corner and far worse souls than yourself congregate. Self-hatred does not reside in this G–forsaken megapolis. The city knows how to turn a blind eye to all your past wrongs, past hurts, and past dreams.

Like all things in life, irony quickly stumbled upon my temporary doorstep. I had just hopped off the plane, breathed the filthy air of the Port Authority Terminal and sighed with relief. There may not have been much to my name, but man did I have all the guts and guile to replace it. During this first month I was so fortunate as to live on the couch of a kind stranger, an immigrant who single-handedly made his way through University of Texas in Austin. We were comrades from the start, understanding that life does not always deal a good hand, and it takes a certain character to pick up the game so early. Everything was new, chaotic and simultaneously stimulating.

Days turned into weeks when I first heard the news. Yet something deep in my stomach knew months prior when I visited her in Italy. I couldn’t understand why I cried leaving her at the train station and brushed off the departure. The news of her death would come as a shock and foreshadow. I was alone, without a job, without a home, and so far away from anybody who knew me. The news of my best friend’s sudden passing became a cold awakening to the fleeting world we live in. I was numb for an unknown period of time, walking the crowded streets every night with black tear-stained cheeks. The city took me into her enormous, shallow arms and allowed me to shamelessly and aimlessly figure out the meaning of life. Lana Del Rey sang me through endless hours of hot water baths, one of the few things that calmed me. It became clear that I was losing grip of who I was, and who I came here to be.

Truth be told, the only people who reached out was my best friend, Phillip, and my father. Everyone else in my life was going through their own ordeals at this particular chapter. My father came as a shock, because for the first twenty years of my life, we were disconnected. It was only until I returned to America that I felt like I finally had a father who was there. Prior to this part of my life, I didn’t know the man who was around. He was quiet, strict, and taught his children how to fend for themselves. It was during my time in New Zealand that his life (along with all my siblings) changed drastically. My mom left him for traveling nursing, they sold our childhood house, and even put down the family dog, the latter two without my knowledge! It appeared a lot changed during my two years away, but one thing was clear, my father was so full of love for his children and we finally saw it.

Life has a way of closing and opening doors. While I lost a dear friend who can never be replaced, I found a new one in my father. I didn’t know it at the time, but he loved his children more than words could express and made a point to check in on me during the rough months ahead. I would later find out that his search engine had my blog as a favorite and all the years of silence didn’t matter because he was supporting from afar.

Seasons changed and I learned to cope with death, distracted by the harsh reality of living in such a fast city. Winter brought an indescribable, soft surrender; despite the struggle between bar and temp office jobs, I found peace in watching my first snow storm. The fragility of time allowed me to live each moment of exploration. Despite the setbacks and shortcomings, this was my city and she took me in when I didn’t have a home.

Congratulations, you suffered your way through this long introduction. Pat yourself on the back. You are free to carry on with your day. You are also welcome to carry on with this trilogy…

Fourteeners Poster

Digitally illustrated poster of the Colorado 14ers. Provides rank, height and distance in one neat visual that brings some funk to your space. Question is, are you ready to conquer them all? ❂ Percentage of sale goes toward the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative

✎29x12in. $50 Est. 2017 – these series are ever changing and reconstructing. Similar to the mountains we dwell in.