Monday, December 8, 2008

Electric Peak

On November 1st we successfully summited Electric Peak. Boogie-woogie-woogie! And boy, it may have been the scariest most death-defying thing I've ever done. It's only 4.2 miles from the campsite but that last .2+ is sheer absurdity... especially when you take the wrong route.

Cliffhangers, endings and a journey home:

From the trail junction and beginning of the S. E. Electric Peak Trail it begins like any good cliffhanger does, gently. You rise and fall meandering towards the peak till suddenly, the story takes a turn. Suddenly you're digging your toes into the dirt scrambling straight up the mountain wondering what happened. And soon you realize that you're on a straight path towards the peak. It's inevitable. You see that thin line of the ridge under your feet lead all the way up and into the clouds that ominously hides the summit.

Once on the turn, you simply apply effort and some hard breathing to make progress upward. Not easy, but you know what needs to be done. You put your head down and summon that 'can do' mountain climbing ego and press those toes into the spongy black dirt lurching your 150 lbs. forward.

They say that all the trails in the West are nicely graded and switchbacked. LIES!

The grade shifts from a nice hillside ascent to standing on the balls of your feet on a slope so steep your calves can't stretch far enough to put your heels down. You lean forward in fear of falling backward. In fear of tumbling forever into the stream now far, far below. Head down and lurch. Step. Step. Step. Rest. Step. Step. Step. Rest.

The story is kept interesting by surprising you with a small reprieve making one switchback through a dry gully. Step. Step. Step. Step. Rest.

You pause to take a photo and turn so that those lovely heels can finally return to earth again.

"Onward and upward," the ego shouts with a overly dramatic point to the top as you lean into the hillside like leaning into the wind.

Soon there's wind too. Up ahead you can hear the wind whistling over the ridge. You brace yourself and prepare to lean forward and sideways suddenly feeling less like a climber and more like those inflatable, weighted clown punching dolls being pushed every which way.

The clear path to the summit begins to appear less clear. Follow the ridge, yes. But the agreeable or likely path up, not so clear. You know where the story is going, but how? Straight up the ridge? Along the rocky bluff? Turn left at Albuquerque? It's a mystery!

Pick a path and go. There's a storyline and a plot, but it ain't a mystery, it's more a choose your own adventure.

You find a faint path here and there guiding you up the increasingly precipitous ridge. Treadway going from black dirt to black rocks. The side of the ridge looking less like a hill and more like a cliff.

The character list is short but sturdy. Your compatriot leads the way providing certainty and resolve when yours is lacking. He is the embodiment of the climbing ego.

The rocky bluff that once protected you from the bitter, blowing wind becomes a shade of fiery red like that of a past girlfriend's hair.

The wind brings a song floating into your head. "It's raining in Baltimore, for 50 odd years. Watching and waiting today."

That bluff becomes the ridge and the separator between a slope of loose rock and vertical wall. The further up the mountain the further it stands out like the dorsal fin of an ancient creature.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

No pain, no gain

Or at least no good photos. Bouldering at the edge of Firehole Falls where the snow has melted from the spray of warm thermal runoff has its consequences, other than falling into the water below.

*Photos by FASTLAYNE

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bigfoot Stamp of Approval

Black bear or grizzly, 'dem some big feet. It was an exciting experience to be 4th on the food chain in the park. Grizzly, black bear, and a pack of wolves could all kill me for food. Bison and elk could charge if I crossed them. Seeing such wildlife makes me feel the same way as I do when looking up at trees, mountains or stars. The environment we live in is so much larger than we imagine. Seeing the power and magnitude of the natural world rekindles the magical truth, that we are simply a tiny speck among the vast sea of wonder. With courage, we must remember that we are not in charge of our world, we are simply in charge of our own destiny.
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Monday, November 10, 2008

Steaming Sunset

This is taken from my favorite pull-off on the grand loop above Midway Geyser Basin. The road that exists today is the same route that was originally cut through the wilderness when the area was designated as the world's first National Park in 1872. Panoramas like this give you no doubt as to why people fought against potential commercial interests to protect this remarkably unique land.

The Firehole River collects the steaming water from Grand Prismatic Spring on the left and Excelsior Geyser on the right. Click the image for a satellite view of the area.
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Sunday, November 9, 2008


Back home and adjusting to the distractions of 24/7 tv, internet and lights. Just wanted to thank FASTLAYNE for joining me on this adventure.
Come back every day for a my favorite shots from the trip.

*FASTLAYNE self-portrait
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Monday, November 3, 2008

Homeward bound

Wyoming sky.
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I'm coming home.

On our last night in the park, it snowed 6 inches where we were and way more higher up. What a way to end our trip and Yellowstone NP's season.

See ya'll soon!

*FYI, I now know how to put on semi-truck snow chains.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Home Stretch

Last week of the Yellowstone Project. We've met our hike quotas for day and weekend and just filling out the burly scale by re-attempting Electric Peak. Wish us luck!

Today we bagged Observation Peak. Wooha!

Rolling hills.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Crossing Leading Lines


One guidebook says a bison will never move for a human. True. Very true.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008


Good news: Shot some great video today at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Bad news: I dropped my camera.

Down a cliff.

And into the Yellowstone River.


And back to good news: Not only did I find myself on newstands here in the park, according to my friend Greg BACKPACKER has sent an e-mail with a mug of me in it. Pretty snaz.

"Check your newstands and inboxes today for map correspondent Jeff 'BP' Chow!"
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Tonight's sunset across Yellowstone Lake

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MSR Reactor stove in its worst conditions yet.

Back to the hotel after being turned back. Refuel and recoop.

*FASTLAYNE self-portrait

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Snow in the Mountains

Our attempt at a traverse of the Gallatins and summit bid of Electric Peak has been turned around. Having elk, bear, wolves in our sights and in our lenses kept us from seeing the snow in the mountains. The topography in Yellowstone is so diverse that what is dry and sunny hiking in the plains is 2 feet of gridgingly slow slogging in snow at 8000 feet.

The sun is now barely rising above 45 degrees causing any North facing slope to hold onto every flake and every inch of snow. Beautiful but not efficient mapping.

Back to the plains and the animals!
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Uh. Dentist anyone?

This is also the expression he made when we walked up on a grizzly 30 feet away...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Summer days are drifting away..

Summer days come and go. One day sun, another snow.

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We had another dusting of snow today. Sleeping out in our sleeping bags and no tent as we have been leads to drizzle hitting face and then movement into cars. While today only hit a high in the 30's, the rest of the week is looking like sun and temps up to the 50's. Perfect for a summit bid of 10,900+ foot Electric Peak. Boogie-woogie-woogie.


Hiking down to Agate Creek in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone we chased a bull and his very, very large harem for miles. Each time they would run then stop and stare.

Back to blogging while in town before heading off for our 4-nighter! No AT&T service in the north side of the park, so be sure to watch the spot and zoom in for a good view of the day's highlight in satellite view!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Over the River and Through the Woods..

From YellowstoneLive grandma's house we go. Except this grandma was more the Little Red Riding hood type. Off on the Clear Lake - Ribbon Lake Trail we spotted wold tracks larger than my palm. For miles we walked the same path as the endangered animal. The gait measuring over 2 feet from the one paw plant to its next. He walking the trail just as we do to avoid the billions of dead fall from the 1988 fires. We finally reach the end of the long banana-shaped loop. As we make the turn the snow starts falling. Our eyes on the ground in front of us like the nose of a hound dog following the wolfs every movement. Stopping to point out the change in gait or pause in their travels.

Suddenly the tracks turn off trail into a meadow along a stream. The snow begins to blanket us filling the dark tracks with white fluff. After a moments discussion and a check of our watch, off we go over the river and through the woods to grandma's house we go. We see his (or her) ability to jump over 5 feet onto snow-covered logs, balancing securely on the slippery surfaces. We see him duck and weave through the lodgepole pine saplings following contours and hillsides. Our fingers get colder as our jackets get darker from their soaked fibers. We continue in the 4 inches of snow ducking and weaving just as one of the ultimate stalkers and ultimate family man animals did. We wonder is this the popular trail name Lone Wolf or simply one of the pack searching for prey. Is it an alpha male, and how fast was he moving? Will we catch him? Is he running from us? Is he leading us to Grandma's house dressed in a mumu with a roaring fire and gaping mouth waiting for us? We tromp on.

Rising up a hill we see a clearing ahead. A glance at the map and the GPS shows this as an unmarked or unmapped pond. We pull out our longest lenses and sharpest eyes searching for the steely eyes of the great predator. Grey or white fur and piercing eyes patiently watching us in complete stillness.

No luck. Wet and cold, fingers numb and stiff with thumbs thought strong yet not able to push a simple button, like the arm you sleep on thought movable but alarmingly dead, we turn back. Now we follow, eyes to the ground, the three tracks. Two human, one wolf. Unsuccessful, but excited. We return to the trail and continue on the trail. Warming ourselves with fast hiking laying first tracks for a moment.

We walk and walk and then.. pick up more tracks. It's another wolf, even bigger prints. The sun is setting so we hurry on keeping our nose to the snow (or feet to the trail, if you will) trying to make it back to the car by nightfall. Feet moving swiftly we enter a field and spot bison (buffaloni's as we like to call them) grazing further on in our path. Panning left into the open meadows we spot three other dots. Zooming in for the shot and then in review we see the hump of grizzlies. A sow a cub and a large male.

Suddenly making it back by dark stops with the snow.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

That Womanly Waistline

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Mt. Sheridan Summit Photo

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And the Weather Outside is Frightful

And the fire (in Old Faithful Inn) so delightful. When there's no place to go, (go camping) and let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

The weather forecast over the next two days is calling for 90 percent chance of snow at minimum 9". And unfortunately we are staying at the wonderful timber-frame and log construction Old Faithfull Inn on it's last night of the season. Which means out into the snow for sub-zero F camping! Woobrrrrrrrrrr.....
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The Elk are Bugling

Do you remember those brightly colored plastic tubes that when swung around make a harmonic? And if you spun it around twice as fast, you'd hear an octave higher. And then if you were a precocious child, try to swing it even faster for the third octave?

That's what a bull elk sounds like. Most often bugling (like trumpeting, beu-g-ling) octaves 1....... 2....... 3....... 2.. 1..

For most of the night I've been hearing them from my frosty tent on the shore of Heart Lake. There's a thermal feature nearby and perhaps they are staying near it to keep warm on this 30 degree night. - I have a feeling FASTLAYNE and I will have to do the same in the coming weeks.

The bulls we've seen have had huge racks of antlers. At the Mt. Sheridan trail junction we saw the skull and rack of a dead bull. Tip to tip they were 4 feet wide and weighed over 30 lbs. Can't imagine carrying that on my head all day!
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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mt. Sheridan

Yesterday we climbed Mt. Sheridan at 10,300'.

Starting at Heart Lake (elev. 7455') we hike through the sand-colored meadows among the dead grey trunks of trees burned in the fires that swept Yellowstone in 1988.

The trail begins to climb among scrubby yellow aspens and sea-foam green sagebrush. As we take long switchbacks across the bulbous hillside among the stoic grey sentinels and red-leaved shrubs, our bodies begin to warm. We look up to the grey and frosty summit peaking through the milk white clouds and wonder whether it will be too cold up there where there's snow. - I try to get video of the clouds blowing by the little hut on the summit but only capture never-ending, homogeneous, white sludge shifting from white to off-white.

We continue up into a section of old growth, trees somehow spared from the inferno. It's shady and moist with the sweet smell of firs. The soft needles underfoot give a surprising contrast to the dry, twice-baked rocks and grass just below. I see the first patch of snow. A little thing, only 2 feet long. But it's a sign that we're getting higher and to potentially harsher climates.

Soon we're pressing our footprints into thin layers of virgin snow, leaving proof of our existence alongside that of a turkey and rabbit. The path alternates between pure white and spongy, oozing brown. White, where it was open to the sky and gooey brown everywhere else.

Patches of blue can be seen through the deep green trees. I try again to get a shot of clouds rolling over the summit. This time I capture mostly white but hints of blue - sky blue - shading the scene like one color step up on a paint sample card.

The trees suddenly give way to yellow meadows again as we enter a shallow col. A field of snow-covered rocks cover the hill to our left. The trail turns into a sticky carmel matching the lighter tones of the dry grass - The summit blocked from view by its false as we arc around the shallow dome in a whistling wind.

We reach the ridge and see the West side for the first time. Endless mountains rolling away from us. I point at the dynamic green-blue lake sitting high just a couple miles away. A gem inlaid among its brown setting.
Burned trees surround us again as we traverse the hill. Dense and scraggly at this altitude conjuring images of witches fingers scraping at the sky.

Flecks of white blow by our faces. I turn towards the sky to see the source, but instead find a Christmas tree decorated in white powder. Like the fake stuff from a can, only better. Each needle meticulously topped with white.

Another ridge. But instead of vague notions of our destination, this time we see the thin, womanly waistline arcing straight to the summit. I click the camera and finally get the shot - blue and white speeding by the shack giving the monumental mountain a sense of airy grace.

Excited, we scurry along the thin edge, peering down the steep 1000 foot drop to our left. Christmas trees seemingly nudging us closer to the precipice.

Coming round the mountain we charge up to the top. Our path an ever tightening spiral centered on the summit. We fly through a 30 foot jumble of rocks like the last question on a test we've prepared all week for and lean in as if on rails on a rollercoaster speeding to the top.

I begin to see the world rising up over the crest as if the veiled curtain of the ground on which I stand were suddenly falling away. First the puffy, white clouds, then a couple snow-capped peaks. A few more steps... Then Bam!

I'm hit!

Vast lakes, and a sense of height that hits you like the sudden realization that you've fallen in love (that or finding a lost piece of green Mike-n-Ike under the map, under the backpack in the passenger seat of your car). Either way, a scene where you gasp at the beauty.

The mountain on which you stand appears to be in complete sharpness in contrast to the smooth bokeh from the distant view behind it. This is cover shot beauty.

The sun is out in force warming our bodies against the chilly breeze. I pull out Mojo bars, Butterfingers and a stick of butter then proceed to chomp on all. We lay out on the rocky South side like wet rain-fly's drying in the sun. I get up to pee off the mountain (one of backcountry's great pleasures). FASTLAYNE falls asleep.

Later, looking through the lens of the camera I see Heart Lake, a vaguely heart-shaped lake that, upon discussion, more resembles a moose or whale. Next, I peer down to where we camped and spy the steaming pool nearby hoping to find bikini clad women lounging in the crystal blue waters, but only discover orange, heat-loving, extremophile microbes lining the edge.

We take a summit photo and begin to head back down. On rails, through the witches fingers, past turkey tracks and meadows. Down, down, down and a whole bunch of turns.

We hurry because who knows, perhaps a heat-loving extremophile is my kind of woman.

*If you can think of a better final line, please post it in the comments! That was the best I could come up with.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Photo credits

Missed a couple in recent posts. The photo in "I am Les Stroud" and "Bull!" was taken by Joe "FASTLAYNE" Stylos. Also the moss photo shown in the slideshow to the right is also taken by FASTLAYNE.

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

FASTLAYNE, Aspens and the Tetons

It took us a little while to get to Yellowstone because we had to first drive through the majestic Tetons. In my opinion the most audacious peaks in the US. Aspens in full color, how could we not stop?
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We've been hearing the bulls bugle since we've arrived. Finally we found one just off the road. Look forward to video of him scraping and marking the ground.
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I am Les Stroud

Aka Survivorman on the Discovery Channel. Just minus the surviving part. But he has been on my mind a lot as I attempt to film myself and scenes from a wide variety of angles. Film, photograph, GPS, and annotate. I say that's comparable to surviving anytime. The live of a map correspondent is tough..
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Bubble bubble toil and trouble..

We made it! Steam is coming out everywhere like mother nature's rice cooker.
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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bubble bubble toil and trouble..

We made it! Steam is coming out everywhere like mother nature's rice cooker.
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Wyoming Beauty

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Fill her up!

As the rental dipped past E we landed in Lander, WY. Thank goodness. And thank goodness we didn't spend as much on gas as the person before us. A whopping $300!
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Gear everywhere

Gear to car and we're outta here!
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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Last minute prep

FASTLAYNE catching up on some reading. There's grizzlies, bison, and wolves oh my!
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It was the night before Christmas..

Otherwise known as the night before a long trip. Mind a buzz with remaining logistical challenges, gear lists, to-do lists, and anticipation.

FASTLAYNE (aka Joe Stylos), arrived in the early afternoon. He flew out here to join me on this adventure and put his hardened legs to good use. Seeing as he just completed a bike ride across America and a 100 mile hike on the ole' AT, that means taking on the noble task of sherpa and body guard.

We were able to successfully register my car and get to the Backpacker offices just in time to hear about the recent major changes to the trip and pick up a box load full of gear. Christmas! Now sing with me!

"On the day before the trip,
my map editor gave to me,
a 7-lb tent,
two sleeping bags,
one North Face pack
and arms full of geeeeaaar!"

Ahem. And so we did what good gear testers do. We tromp out to the back yard, erect the tent and prey that it will stand up to 5 weeks of pre-winter weather in Yellowstone.

As the night wore on, among laughter and joy, we reminisced about times on the trail, pulling up images of trees and flowers and things long past. House mates began heading to bed and soon FASTLAYNE had departed for the cocooned comfort of down and waterproof nylon. When all through the house, nothing was stirring, not even a mouse the time ticks away! Maps and code fill my screen! Websites, update, edit, update! And now the shiny new Google MyMap sits proudly atop the page.

It is once again time for me. My head on pillow and eyes losing the fight. To this I bid you, a wonderful and cheery Goodnight.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Back in the woods again!

Once again I will be heading for the hills. Another Backpacker project, another opportunity to test my limits. Just that this time it won't be the miles testing my fortitude, it will be the weather. At over 7500 feet in elevation, Yellowstone in October boasts an average high of 55 degrees and average lows of 30. In November it drops to 38 and 19 respectively. To put it in comparison, the lowest point in the park is higher than ANY point on the Appalachian Trail. Heck, even sitting on my couch here in Boulder puts me within 1200 feet of Clingsman's Dome and higher means colder.

For the next 5 weeks, be sure to check back here every Monday for musings and photos live from the field.

Be well and wish me luck,

Jeff Chow
BP Map Correspondent

Defining Balance

So what is balance?

Is it like a penny on its side? Stable, precarious. Is balance the dichotomy between having it and falling over? Is it a state of equilibruim. What is equilibrium?

From science it is defined as a state where all forces in all directions cancel out (ck). Which defines equilibrium as a non-accelerating state.

Does that mean it has reached a state of balance?

How about this? Back when I was in school I would string up climbing webbing between two trees like a tightrope and walk on it. Except that webbing is stretchy like a rubber band when the weightof an adult is applied to it making the tightrope rather slack. Hence the name.

I would set it up twice a week for two semesters right near the heart of campus. As a main thoroughfair, people would gawk at me and the people bouncing and flailing wildly. Friends would stop by to hang out and give it a shot. I would also heckle those who stared to come over a give it a try.

"You wanna give it a shot? It's not as scary as it looks! We'll even give you two shoulders to hold onto. Come on, you know you want to!" I'd say as I smiled slightly mischieviously. I met a lot of girls this way. I met Sarah this way.

Whenever I got on the slackline, after having done it for over a semester, people would stare. And when they came up to chat they would say "you must have great balance!"

What do they mean by that?

The trick about the slackline is that it is never still. Like standing on one foot, you must always correct. On the line I fix a soft gaze at the tree in front of me and focus internally on my body and the line. My arms move from my side to over my head keeping balanced. My back arcs to one side then the other. My hips shift side to side. My feet turn ever so slightly.

And the more I practice the less movement is required. The quicker I sense imbalance, the quicker I respond and the more stable I look. What starts as constant uncontrollable leg shaking and arm flailing becomes a smooth sway in the wind like a leaf on a tree. (Or Chow Yun Fat in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon standing on tall stalks of bamboo). This is what they are calling balance.


Maybe then balancing life is more like the slackline and less like a penny.

It takes practice and a soft focus. New inputs cause you to sway and become unbalanced. But the better you get at sensing the imbalance the quicker you can get to a center (**needs more clarity). The closer you can stay to the current idea of balance.

There is also a move on the slackline called surfing. It appears just like it's namesake. But when applied to the line, you must first put yourself out of balance. You have to begin falling to the side pushing your legs out from under you and then at the last moment correcting by pulling the line to the other side. This causes you to carve like a surfer. As if swinging on a swing but standing on the seat and facing sideways. Your feet oscillate under you to the right and left. If you can hold it, it's a dynamic equilibrium. Moving balance.

In life there is the option of being a hermit and hiding under a rock. You can choose to isolate yourself from the world making it easier to manage, having every day be the same.

For some this is going to work, doing the same thing everyday and coming home and choosing between the same three meals before going to bed. It's no wonder there is an ever present need for a vacation.

Now I'm sure you've noticed my very stable patterns by now. There is a certain area of control that I like to have. In my tent when I put everything where it should be, it means I can grab my headlamp (around my neck) without searching. I can get a sip of water by reaching above my head for the nozzle. Check the time on the GPS to my left pushing the buttons by feel and memory. It means I don't have to think when packing things up. Patterns can create efficiency.

Each time I have to shift them, it creates a certain anxiety. Depending on my energy, sometimes I have to lay there and think for a while as the gears turn in my head as if rusty and full of sludge to adapt to the new situation. The same kind of brain fog people experience on Everest.

On the other hand, out here in the woods, my sleeping space and my pack are pretty much the only things I can control. If the weather changes I still have to keep moving. Cold, heat, rain or fog I have to keep moving. I have no climate control or central heating to provide a comfortable and stable 72 degrees. I am at the whim of the world. My body seems to act as a seperate entity as well. Fatigue so exhausting that thinking is a chore.

Out here, I am so much less sheltered from the world. Yet I feel so alive. I am not desensitized by insulated walls and noise-cancelling headsets. I don't have an iPod distracting me from the music of nature. It's simply my naked body and two swaths of polyester and nylon seperating me from nature and the world. I feel every breeze and every bug. I feel the sun on my face and the rocks under my feet. This is living.
To live isn't to shelter ourselves from the world, it's to adapt and dance with it.

Modern conveniences make the day to day easy. It's the hard stuff that makes a life worth living.

But which would you rather have? A stable, consistent life or one full of stories of failure and triumph?

I don't know.
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