👋 • goodbye, OAC executive board
Context: This is a letter I wrote to my outdoors club executive board while sleep deprived flying away from where my outdoors club executive board is located, in Urbana, IL.
I believe the story that I’m about to tell is one that everyone reading this already knows, because they have experienced it or are now in the middle of experiencing it themselves, and that many will have shared the memories I’m going to list with me or have memories and feelings that are not too different from mine. I’ll leave some of the details sparse; I know that many of you can use your own experiences to fill in the blanks.
I’m leaving now, after 6 some years of undergrad, working, and more importantly, some 3ish years of being on the board. Writing out those numbers now, it doesn’t seem like such a long time. Maybe because “3 years on the board” doesn’t really describe the impact those 3 years had on my development, personality, values, how I treat perceive those around me, and my identity.
OAC started as just a thing to do with people to meet that would take me places. I didn’t know the people that well (or at all) and I didn’t mind.
Then I got to know the people. I’d see them on trips sometimes. Sometimes I’d see them at parties. Eventually some of them I’d start seeing because I knew I loved them and wanted them as my proper friends. Eventually those proper friends would grow to become my best friends. Friends that I hate to leave now but look forward to meeting in new places that we all do not expect to be.
Through a combination of these friends, travel, and the outdoors, I figured out that I’m a person that loves nature, that I feel at home in nature, that I love other people who feel the same way, and believe that it is the one sure thing I know that I can rely on to make me feel whole. That knowing is everything for me.
Many early experiences in childhood and high school hinted to it and gave me glimpses of that knowing, but it was OAC and the people I met through it that solidified it.
OAC: an organization that I love. A group of people that I’m glad to have grown alongside and who have the best of hearts and do good, not just for themselves, but for everyone who comes on trips and gets to experience the fruits of the board’s hard work. A group of people that I’m glad to have met and seen grow into the people that they are now, from strangers into friends, to people that I look up to, and people that I love.
Here are some of the moments that inspired that love in me.
2016 Fall, First OAC trip: Canoeing in some river somewhere
It’s my 19th birthday. We get there and it’s hot; I’m with two people I know. We make hot dogs over the fire and feel good and laugh. We drink beers in my friend’s car and briefly drive off the road because she’s not looking at the road. We get back on the road.
We paddle. It’s nice and I feel good. I met Karun here; I liked him. I wouldn’t see him for another year after this, he fell off the roof of Talbot later that month, breaking a bunch of ribs. He jokes that his ex-girlfriend may have pushed him.
Two years later Juhi would be driving his Porsche when it got slammed by a loose mattress on the highway. Poor Karun.
2016 Spring Break: Canada Trip to Banff
I can’t sleep because it’s too cold and go to the bathroom to sleep because it’s heated. Logan Mullins is already there passed out with his bag and pad.
Wake up in the bathroom and step outside to still falling quiet snow in white woods, walk to the fire in the morning light and sit while we cook tortillas with peanut butter.
Sit in the middle of the highway with shitty beer and watch the full moon rise over the Canadian Rockies with a blanket over my shoulders. Everything is bright from moonlight and blankets of snow.
Drive back through middle America and look at all the empty land and abandoned places.
(I actually have a lot my highlights of this trip described in detail in another project of mine, lemme know if you’re interested in reading)
2017 Fall: Canoeing in some river, again
It’s me and Aisha. We get there and meet Noah Sam and Eli for the first time. We go to the beach. Sam calls me charismatic. How nice!
Later that night, we meet a girl that I saw get T Boned by a car earlier that Summer, I’m glad she’s alive and not dead. We drink lots and talk lots.
Me and Aisha drink too much on the canoe and my paddle gets stuck in the mud. We flip the canoe. We’re in the water now.
I don’t remember the rest of the trip. We drank a lot.
2017 Fall Break: Ozarks backpacking
Get to the trailhead, it’s really fucking cold. I was not ready for this. Get into my tent and bag ASAP. Gaurav lent me a 60F bag. The temperature gets to 30F every night that trip. I am cold.
Someone outside has forgotten the poles for their tent. They sound frustrated. It’s Boyan. I meet Boyan.
Some dude in camo laughs at my jokes and I laugh at his. It’s John. I meet John.
Gaurav smells weed and he worries that it’s our weed and that other people can smell it. It’s Boyan’s weed and also turns out that everyone loves weed.
Boyan has brought a pack of cigs but it’s all blunts instead of cigs. We smoke some and I look at my poptart in the morning Ozark light and it is the most beautiful poptart I have ever seen. I eat it, it’s good.
We stop for water and I pull out my peanut butter and tajin (internal name: Flavor Bomb). Other people try it; they like it. First known combination of timeless classic peanut butter with tajin in human history.
Peanut butter tastes amazing. So does water.
Boyan takes out psilocybin mushroom chocolate and I eat some. We summit White Mountain just as the sun sets and I cry tears of joy at the overlook and hug him. It’s really, really beautiful. I don’t know if it was the mushrooms that made me cry.
Boyan pulls out a microplane and starts grating a block of Parmesan at the campsite. What the fuck?
David Wood tells the story about having diarrhea around a bunch of mountain goats. I’m too high to move.
After the trail Boyan and me drive back together. We go to an Indian restaurant and hotbox his car before eating. We finish eating; we all are too high to drive.
2017 Spring Break: Paria Canyon backpacking
Hike through Paria slot canyon in knee deep water with our packs. Pass a huge wall of ancient petroglyphs. Hot blasts of air rush through the otherwise frigid canyon and occasionally warm us. The walls start just a few feet apart and maybe 2 people tall. By the end of the day they rise up so high that we couldn’t get out if we tried.
We camp on sandy walled beaches. The red rocks release heat through the night and keep us warm and dry. Fall asleep to the sounds of Paria river rushing not 30 feet from us. Noah and I talk in the tent. I love Noah.
The canyon opens up to be a milesome wide. Ridge man watches us from the far away walls. Endless river crossings and lashes against our calves leaving hundreds of tiny scratches, it begins to rain. At night, the wind grows stronger and stronger in sudden gusts until we all get anxious and rush to our tents.
We finish. Me and Noah try to swim in the Colorado River, it’s so cold that I can barely walk after going just knee deep. Mark Bondy (?) who drives a Zamboni professionally rolls us cigarettes and we watch the sunset over the desert as we wait for the cars to come get us. Sky turns blue to purple to orange to pink to stars.
I love the sky and the red sandstone walls, now I know.
2017 Fall Break: Red River Gorge backpacking
I don’t know Liza yet. Liza runs up to me and Noah while we sit by the fire.
She’s out of breath. She tells me someone slipped and hit their head while getting water. I think of how to get cell service, how far we are from a road, how to —
Liza is kidding. Everyone’s fine. I meet Liza.
She interviews for the board. She gets on the board. I love Liza now.
2018 Spring: Garden of the Gods backpacking
I pack in a double bottle of wine. Gaurav makes a pizza.
I meet Juhi and Emily. They tell me they’re trying to get into backpacking and camping. I think that’s really cool. I’m not sure I’ll ever see them again. Now they’re both on the board. Now I love them both.
Me and John talk existentialism on the rocks at Indian Point. We lay on our backs with the stars over us and Shawnee National Forest below and around us. I love John.
I drop some summer sausage on the ground and eat it. So does someone else.
2018 Spring Break: Big
Balls Bend Backpacking
Me Sam and Noah drive to Big Bend. Juhi and Emily hit a deer on the way up (and later a mattress) and are the first in human history to encounter _deerman._We talk about deerman under the light of the Milky Way, the dark sky at Big Bend being more brilliant than any other that I’d seen before.
We listen to Leon Bridges as we drive through the desert and pass by cute Javelinas on the road.
Ryan Lardino eats some sausages off the ground. We tell him that’s gross; he dips his sausage in dirt and eats it and laughs. I love Ryan. I don’t mind dirt so much now.
Juhi rolls off the side of the trail and gets some spikes in her butt.
Arkin shoots footage for the amazing Breaking Big Bend series which I definitely haven’t seen multiple times.
We go to White Sands while Sam Noah and Ryan trip acid. We wrestle and race up the hills and feel like kids. The sand is cool to the touch and we scream because it feels great to scream. The sun sets and it’s beautiful. The dunes turn golden and seem to go on forever. I’m happy.
We lift up a closed gate to get to our campsite.
A park ranger stops us and asks “did ya’ll go past my gate?”
I say yes. He helps us get our things.
We hike in with our packs to our backcountry site in the dark. The moonlight shines off the white sand and it’s beautiful. I love White Sands. We set up camp, raw dogging atop a sand dune (not leave no trace, sorry).
Robbie has to call his girlfriend. He forgot to say happy birthday.
I wake up. The sun is rising on my left over the dunes. I roll over onto my side. Sam and some others are sitting on the edge of the dune not 10 feet from me watching it rise. I love them.
It’s beautiful. Really, really perfect. A 7/7.
Noah does a little dance. Aisha runs at me and I pick her up and throw her down the dune.
At the meetup in Los Alamos, AJ throws up in his tent. He thinks he threw up outside his tent, but he’ll figure it out in the morning. Several other people throw up in their tents that night.
I hear a terrible retching sound in the dark. It’s Logan, he’s throwing up. Jesus.
We all sing to Hey Jude and chant “Big balls”. Me and John are really high. I go to sleep.
Wake up early and hear AJ find out he’s thrown up in his tent. John is up too. He tells me: “I think we got some vomit in some tents.”
Me and John meet Ed. He tells us about Logan and how he’s the quartermaster. He explains to us what a quartermaster is. Me and John take it quietly and laugh about it later. I love Ed now.
2018 Summer: Mark Twain National Forest backpacking
Me and Gaurav arrive at night and sit at the waterfall in the dark. It’s early Summer and warm. The sound of rushing water is accompanied by the blinking of thousands of fireflies over the river.
The next day we are covered in ticks and sweating to death. There is no breeze. I try canned smoked oysters. I discover that I don’t love canned smoked oysters.
We finish the trail and go to swim in the river. Small fish nip at our toes and crayfish dart away to hide in the rocks. We find many ticks on our bodies as we swim.
We go to St. Louis for food on the way back. We find more ticks.
2018 Summer: Acadia & New England & California
I’m with a girl that I’m very in love with. We hike for a week and trip acid in Acadia and New England. I’m happy, and so is she.
This isn’t an OAC trip, but I lost my virginity in an OAC tent on this trip so that’s why it’s here.
It’s one of the backpacking tents.
Gaurav steals my itinerary for the Summer OAC Acadia trip.
2018 - 2019 A long time
My knees are shot.
I am very depressed.
It takes me a very long time to get the proper surgery and treatment. I have another very long project about this time of my life; if you want the gory details:
2019 Summer: North Manitou Island backpacking
Plans to go to the Grand Tetons fall through.
Me, Ed, Kate, and Gaurav drive through the night to meet Aisha, her boyfriend, and Ryan Lardino. I run a red light. The Michigan sun rises and we watch from inside my car as we drive towards Fishtown.
We ferry onto the island and hike to our campsite. We haven’t slept still. Our sense of time and reality grows warped. We are getting very high.
The water is freezing cold and crystal clear. I keep falling over into it. We all can’t stop laughing. The black flies attack and we hide in our tents. They’re in our tents, too.
I find a bag of turkey jerky filled with human poop. I throw it in my bag to pack out.
Two days are spent continuously stoned on the west side of the island. We sit and watch the sunset and the fog roll in over the beach, we are all happy.
The stars and moon come out. They’re reflected perfectly in Lake Michigan, still water mirroring a changing sky. I want to stay here forever but it’s just me Aisha and her boyfriend and it feels a little awkward.
My knees work.
2019 Summer: Wind River Range backpacking
Me, Ed, Emily, and Juhi drive all the way to Wyoming. I have conditioned them to be terrified of bears.
We arrive at the trailhead in the dark and scare off a giant moose. We sleep in our cars at altitude and I gasp like a fish for air the entire night.
We wake up and it is perfect alpine wilderness all around us. A marmot sits atop a rock and watches me look for a place to pee. Giant granite spires stand some distance away.
We backpack to our site at Dad’s Lake. The water is clear and cold, we are excited to swim. Emily gets in barefoot and gets leeches.
Everyone naps and I write this journal entry:
Set up camp at Dad’s Lake in Wind River Range Wyoming with Ed Emily juhi, this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been and today and tonight it’ll just be mine and my friends’ to share, isn’t that great?, the walls of the mountains are like color echo chambers, this place completely changes colors and look whenever a cloud moves slightly towards or away from the sun
I cry a little and can’t stop looking at the world around me. It really is perfect.
Emily shows me knoppers. My world is changed.
The next day we set up camp at Shadow Lake at the base of the Cirque, a collection of massive and pointed granite peaks. Ed goes solo to climb over the mountain pass. Ed gets lost. Ed finds his way back. He brings back snow from the pass.
Juhi keeps trying to give me her gross watery vegetarian pasta. Ed eats all of it.
We lay on our backs on a slab of granite and watch the sun set and paint the spires of the Cirque hot pastel. The sun sets and the full moon rises. We watch it rise and paint the spires of the Cirque cool shades, casting shadows throughout.
Me and Ed go to poop together because we’re scared of bears.
Later that night, unable to sleep because I really need to pee but too scared of bears to go, Ed is doing the same. Me and Ed go to pee together because we’re scared of bears.
We get trail names. We are now Knoppers, Pecan Log, Chocolate Mudslide, and Bourbon.
Another sunset, this time in the open alpine valley.
Emily tells me to poop where she can’t see me. I don’t listen to her. I take the most beautiful poop of my entire life squatting down in the open.
I make tajin peanut butter cookie butter tortillas for every meal. I love tajin peanut butter cookie butter tortillas.
At a hotel. Juhi walks face first into a glass door. I start laughing. 10 or so cleaning ladies who saw it start laughing. Ed and Emily start laughing. We’re all laughing. I love thinking about this.
Estes Park Colorado. We plan to go up to the Rockies but there’s an entrance fee. We give up. Me and Ed are very stoned. We meet Thicc Fish, Bee Whisperer, Yeet, and countless others.
Emily’s lungs are squeaking. I tell her to stop breathing. We find out later that she has bronchitis.
2019 Summer Madison Volunteering Trip
Me, Arkin, Dev, and Adi meet up with Liza in Madison. We walk around, some girl flashes Arkin from her apartment window. Arkin likes it, I think.
Me and Arkin talk and smoke before bed. A group of people forms. They also want to smoke. I am smoking everyone out.
We spend the next day reworking and demolishing a church. I’m dusty and covered in sweat, mopping the floor. Someone else is mopping the floor too. They tap my shoulder and show me that they have a tab of acid on their tongue. It’s Kunal. I meet Kunal.
We go to the boardwalk at night. Arkin and I sit on the dock. People around us are diving into the water and talking. A thunderstorm moves slowly toward us on the horizon. We smoke and talk. I love Arkin.
We wake up and head to the dock to swim. I am excited to swim. I don’t swim because bacterial counts are high that day and the city of Madison recommends I don’t swim.
Liza did some cartwheels at some point on this trip, probably.
2019 Indiana Dunes Trip
Drive to pick up Nick with Emily and Juhi. Nick gives us amazing grilled cheeses and we eat them.
Indiana Dunes has recently been promoted to a national park. We drive towards the main parking lot. There is a line of cars that goes in both directions further than we can see.
People are honking. We spend hours looking for parking. What would otherwise be a wasted day is made into a sitcom episode by the friends that I’m with. It’s fun.
2019 Manistee Backpacking Trip
We drive to the trailhead and meet the rest of the group. Me and Charley joke that we’re going to eat them.
Hanna and Johanna are appalled by my rawdogging. I plan to rawdog on the trail. Liza tells me not to and packs a tent. It rains later. I sleep in the tent.
Liza tells me about how Manistee feels like home. I agree with her. Liza does some cartwheels.
Kunal is so drunk that he can’t stand. We all sit around the fire and wait for night to come over us. I drink Charley’s whiskey, because I really like whiskey. We talk about Germany, having kids, everything else. The dew rolls in from the nearby river and we all get a little wet.
2019 Fall Break Cayo Costa
Kunal and me drive over fog covered mountain tops and long empty stretches of road to Florida and talk the whole way. My driver side window explodes on the highway.
We kayak 5 hours out to Cayo Costa from off the coast of Florida. The waves are high and the wind is strong. When you stop paddling, you go backwards. Everything you own is salt flavored now. It was very hard. Everyone agrees except Liza. Liza says it wasn’t that bad. I loved it. I also love to complain about it.
I see Cerek in the water and think he’s swimming for fun. Cerek is bailing out his kayak because it’s filled with seawater and won’t float anymore.
Cerek gives me some celery. It’s salty from the ocean and tastes good.
Kunal receives multiple deep cuts on his hands and feet from sharp oysters. Liza wants him to stop bleeding in the water because she’s concerned about sharks.
We arrive soaked and in the dark. We walk out to the beach. Me, Kunal, and Cerek have brought our cameras and take long exposures, framed the way I’d been hoping to get them framed the entire time leading up to the trip.
Liza scares us multiple times by getting on all fours and running at us in the dark.
We walk out to the water at night. The ocean is warm and we feel the warm air from it blowing stronger as we get closer. We kayak on still ocean under the dark sky and watch for shooting stars.
Kunal runs into the water with his phone in his pocket. His phone stops working.
We dance around the fire and make primitive ooh ahh chants long into the night. We listen to the DJ AJ Star Wars Cantina Theme remix.
We swim in crystal clear springs where we can see fish and plants and eels and the mouth of the spring.
Nim’s bag smells terrible. It makes the entire car smell bad. It still smells bad.
We make a Thanksgiving feast. Isabella’s car grabs the ingredients, Liza tends the fire, Kunal gets the whisky. Everyone says what they’re thankful for. It’s very sweet.
I bark and run on all fours at a child riding his bike too close to our campsite. He doesn’t come back.
Liza definitely did some cartwheels.
Okay. That’s most of it. Bye!