Monday, February 15, 2010

The Time I was Homesick

Written by: Brandon Imp

I was homesick once. It was winter break December 2009, the one immediately following a great semester in Rome. Already in Europe, I decided to keep traveling for a few weeks, so I found myself in Venice with friends Alisa and Katie. It was the last day in Venice and my friends left early for Barcelona; I would be leaving later that night for Bologna. Venice was flooded (two feet deep in water), the city was cold, and I had the impossible task of finding my sister a specific twisted glass ring streaked with blues and golds. This was the one thing Kate REALLY wanted from Europe. To make the task more challenging, the style had been discontinued over the summer. I searched all day, swishing through the flooded alleys in my drenched, beaten sneakers and a constant shiver down my spine. Nothing.

Around three in the afternoon I walked into a unique canal-side store. It was obvious these pieces were hand-crafted rather than mass produced for the tourist market. A man and woman were talking in Italian while I browsed the collection; they were talking about recent sales to American museums. I chose a small jewelry box for my grandmother and struck up conversation during checkout. The woman, it turns out, was the provider of precious stones and glass products to the American Museum of Natural History and other large establishments. She had never been, so I told her about the rooms of dinosaur fossils and the semi-secret room full of gems from all over the world. The man joined in the conversation, confessing that he was the keeper of a gallery containing religious Venetian paintings. Tired and craving a dry, warm place, I followed the man down the canal to the gallery. He gave a personal tour of the gallery, bringing out relics from thin air to physically show me the inspiration for the paintings. We went through the entire gallery in such a manner; at the end he asked, “Why Venice? You were not looking for this gallery, but you came here. What are you looking for?” I explained my search for the ring, and admitted that I accepted the tour for a change of pace. Unphased, the man told me of an area I had not yet explored. The area is where the oldest gondola makers work, at a point that juts into the river. I may find my ring there. I left.

The weather worsened as I got closer to my newest destination. The drizzle turned into rain which turned into a downpour. I kept going, hoping for that darn ring. Shop 1: closed. Shop 2: closed. Shop 3: closed. I kept going, thinking the closings were due to flooding and off-season. I made it to the boatyard. The incomplete gondolas bounced in their watersheds. I was the only person out. The stores were all closed. The rain turned sideways and bit my face. A wave of defeat was creeping over me when my umbrella (or poor excuse of one) tore to shreds in the wind. With a metal stick in hand, an incomplete improbable task, and being alone in a foreign, terrible environment, I wanted to go home. Crawl into my twin sized bed and snuggle with my dog. I wanted a glass of chocolate milk with a side of bacon. There was nothing worse than what was happening at that very moment. I was homesick. I left.

The walk back to my hostel was miserable. Everything was drenched, and I barely had a second pair of clothing packed for the next three weeks. This was not what I wanted on vacation. Wandering the alleys in the general direction of the hostel (as Venice is not made for street signs nor direction), I bumped into a new square. There was one store open. As if driven by an undead zombie-like force, I walked into the store and sifted through the rings. There, at the bottom of the container, was the ring. The size was right, the colors almost a perfect match. I splashed my way to the counter and choked back tears. Five euros later I was in heaven. I jumped in the puddles on the way home. I treated myself to a chocolate. I blow dried my shoes a little, climbed onto a taxi boat, and was on my way to Bologna. I have never been homesick since.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

No Regrets!

Written by: Emily Ginger

I have lived in a city my entire life and I'm about to spend the next five months living in the woods. I have many thoughts and emotions about my approaching adventure.

I feel grateful for this opportunity to change the pace of the life I've led so far and hope to gain a new perspective on alternative ways to live one's life. I'm especially eager to push myself physically and I'm trying to prepare myself mentally. At the same time, I'm sad to be spending so much time away from friends and loved ones and holidays and sushi and city festivals....... Most notably, I feel nervous and scared for when reality kicks in. Right now, while sitting in my Chicago apartment surrounded by a familiar and comfortable environment, it is easy to envision my hike as an enjoyable, successful, and worthwhile experience. However, it is nearly impossible to imagine what it will actually feel like when I am out there on the trail and stripped of my everyday comforts. I’m scared because I don’t know what I’ll be thinking or how I will react when I’m in the thick of it: when the weather has been pouring rain for days, when there are bug bites all over my body, when there is dirt in and on everything, when all the muscles in my body are sore, and when my back hurts from sleeping on the ground and lugging a 40 lb. pack on my back all day. Will my body endure? Will I be able to tolerate insatiable hunger brought on by massive amounts of physical exertion? Will I fantasize about being at home in my comfy bed where it is warm and dry? Will I yearn for the conveniences I currently take for granted: toilets, showers, refrigerators, 24 hr grocery stores, and public transportation options? I don’t know if I will be able to conquer this feat while keeping my happiness, sanity, and wits about me. However, I feel very confident in my abilities and will-power so I won’t let a little ambiguity stop me from trying. I look forward to the feeling of triumph if I can beat the odds by finishing.

Over the past few months, there is one question I have been asking myself and consequently contemplating, Why do I think that I have the ability and a good chance of completing the entirety of the Appalachian Trail?

I believe I have several advantages and motivations propelling me towards my goal of completing this hike. For one thing, I have had a lifelong desire to live like Native Americans once did- entirely off the land. Since my early teen years I’ve dreamt of the thrills I would have been privy to if I were alive 200 years ago and alongside Lewis & Clark as they explored the unknown wilderness that lay west of the Mississippi River. Also, I dislike the media influence on society and would like to get a break from it! I’m not a fan of the materialistic society we are, and I hope that by being stripped of my “things” I will gain a better appreciation for those “things,” and take greater pleasure in the simple aspects of life. And I think there is something to be said for the fact that I am in my mid-twenties and I have been a strong athlete and competitor my whole life. Frankly, I DO NOT LIKE TO LOSE! But, the most compelling reason for me to do this is that I try not to have regrets for how I live my life. Considering we only have one life to live, I don’t see any room for regrets. In fact, when I was 17 years old I made a promise to myself that I would live my life to the fullest through taking on challenges, exposing myself to different cultures, by following my passions, exploring foreign environments, and truly taking advantage of my independence and youth while I have it. When I am looking back on my life as an older woman, I don’t want to regret not having “lived.” Therefore, as a favor to my 50-year-old self who might be bogged down by a house, a couple mortgages, a husband, kids, bills, etc, I will take advantage of my youth, health, strength, and independence while I can. I know I won't regret taking time out of my life to participate in something so full of potential.

Appalachian Trail, whether I’m ready or not… here I come!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Correct Answer

Written by: Brandon Imp

Oh man! Remember in eighth grade algebra when variables were introduced? The students’ minds were blown away. Unknown quantities and figures, oh my! Thankfully I was a smart, obedient student which led to an easy A for the class (don’t worry, Calculus 2 kicked my butt four years later). Anyway, the unknown variables! I laughed at them, owned them, and moved on. There was always a correct answer, and there was always a set of rules to follow to arrive at the answer.

If only life was still that simple.

There have been a billion (plus some) unknown variables since Algebra, with most of them leading to the wrong answer. And honestly, getting the wrong answer is frustrating! When did this intelligent, good-natured kid start living the seriously goal-hindered life? The first half of college.

College was rough, but worth every second. Sophomore year sucked! I was told my life could be one of two things: do research or be a doctor. So, I pursued research. I got the research jobs, scholarships, and internships that every young scholar dreams of. However, I could not get past the question, “So what?” The question negatively affected my determination and curiosity. Frustrated, I spent a semester in Rome. One morning (while living in Rome) I woke up, relieved, and said out loud, “Yeah, I’ll be a doctor.” That was that, and life made sense again.

The intelligent, good-natured kid began living again. I had faced tons of variables, instigators, limitations, and excitations, but none of them mattered. None of them told me to be a doctor; it just, happened. My decision did not follow some formulaic rationality. I listened to my dreams, nature, and intuition, coming to the conclusion that medical school was the correct answer.

So, what’s the point of this story? When someone asks, “Why would you EVER hike the AT,” I respond, “Because it’s the correct answer for me.” Forget the justification and rationale! This is it, and I trust myself. If you need to ask again, you should find your Rome and get reacquainted.