In the spirit of summer (beginning for us undergraduates), an ode to adventures past and future, with a bonus: why you should too. This year has been quite a roller coaster of travel near and far, with old friends and new. This is a look back at some of my favorite moments and what they meant to me. Hopefully reading my stories will inspire you to adventure gladly.
Plunging Down Colorado’s Peaks
My brother Thomas and I had been riding up lifts for over an hour now. Leaving my cousin and father at the mid-mountain lodge at lunch, we realized that at Breckenridge we had the opportunity to go up the highest ski lift in North America. Far past the tree line and easier slopes, we would take one of the double-black-diamond-extreme-terrain designated trails back down. I was tired. Thomas was a little worried about the difficulty. We knew we had to do it.
When we got to the top of the mountain I was freezing — the wind had picked up substantially and the temperature was already well below freezing. We watched as Shaun White lookalikes took off the skis and hiked further up the ridge to come down rocky cliffs elsewhere. Deciding where we were at was good enough, we decided to take some quick pictures first. I tried the go-to command: “Ok Glass, take a picture”. No response. Because of the cold, Google Glass had shut off and would not turn back on. Plan B: smartphone. I popped off my gloves, quickly took a panorama and some landscape shots and put it back away as it too turned off. It was a little difficult getting my phone back inside my coat since I couldn’t feel my fingers.
We started down the slope. It was steep and thin. I picked up speed very quickly in my long skis and focused on just not falling over either edge of the trail. We eventually got back to the front of the mountain after the best and most exciting skiing of my life, alongside some of the best skiers I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. I only wish I had more videos and pictures of our epic views and rides.
Remember how I said I was tired? I had actually barely slept the nights before, laying awake drenched in sweat and with a splitting headache. I had no appetite and stomach issues, and fell asleep different places within seconds of sitting down. What I thought was jet lag and alititude sickness turned out to be the beginning of mono, a sickness that would keep me out of class for the first month of the semester. I wasn’t going to let sickness slow me down though, so somehow I skied through it anyway (much to the annoyance and disbelief of my doctor).
If you’ve skied at least once in your life — find a way out to Colorado and ski like you never have before. There’s ways to do it that are less expensive than you might think, and if you’re a college student you have a whole winter break to spend anyway.
I spent my fall semester abroad at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Instead of studying, my new friends from Austria, Germany, Maryland and I spent most of our time exploring.
It was time well spent. I’ve never pushed so hard, moved so much, and experienced such a diversity of life as I did in those four months. I couldn’t possibly fit all of my adventures even into ten posts.
Here are a few of my favorite experiences from that journey. It should be noted that no one we adventured with really knew Chinese.
Finding Depth in the Dark
Traveling has shown me how connected the world truly is, and how deep and impactful world players are on everyone’s human experience. Take this story for example. The hostel we were going to was remote. To get there:
- Flight to major city Guilin
- Early, long bus ride to fork in road, Nowhere
- Hired van from Nowhere to river dock
- Bamboo raft to shoreline, Further Nowhere
- Electric buggy to small town
- Walk-and-search to hostel
Travel time: 2 full days. We had a few days in Xingping, a small, ancient fishing village in Southern China. A new friend at the hostel tipped us off about a cave and the general direction and distance away. After buying liters of water and dinky flashlights, we trekked through the boiling heat and humidity, ending up at a small unnamed village. This wasn’t the kind of village you locked your doors in, let alone had doors to begin with. The village, tucked into the side of a small mountain, could only be accessed by a potholed dirt road or toe paths. The destination of our journey was a cave that we hoped to find our way into. We plodded along the winding streets, worrying about running out of water. As we approached the cave entrance, a shimmering arc caught the corner of my eye. Turning to face it I saw the mostly completed structure of a bridge, surely for Beijing’s market-defying high speed trains, taking place between the mountains far at a distance away from us. At that moment it really struck me how much life is changing across the world for everyone due to money, power, and technology. The locals huddled in small hangouts listening to fuzzy radio stations and the kids fiddled with cell phones. Even in this area modern life was taking part in everyday activities.
We found the cave we had been looking for and found our way in. It was wonderfully cool but damp, Our footsteps were muffled by bat droppings. This was my first time seeing a cave that is no longer curated for human touring. I’ve seen the gargantuan Mammoth Cave in Illinois, and the light show-infused underwater waterfall in Tennessee, but this felt different. We weren’t really supposed to be there; the cave had been open some time ago to public but was no longer. It felt a little haunted as we explored its depths, taking in the vaguely lit-up sights and fixtures of the decaying path.
As we got deeper into the cave the close quarters and disturbed bats meant we were getting flown into every now and then by startled bats. No harm was done but that was a little scary. Scarier still was the exposed wire running to broken light fixtures all over the cave. Shining the light on the uncovered fuse boxes showed how wet and rusty those connections were. I hoped to God those wires weren’t live.
After mustering our courage for the hot journey back, we returned to our hostel for a much needed break before turning towards Yangshuo where further adventures awaited us. Among those adventures was piloting (and crashing) electric scooters through the countryside at day and rooftop bars overlooking the scenic mountains at night.
Achieving Height at Scale
When I think of a difficult hike, I think maybe a 5 hour journey up a moderately steep mountain with maybe a little rock climbing in there somewhere (like Old Rag Mountain in Virginia). This adventure was on a whole different scale.
Traveling as a duo in Beijing my friend and I decided we wanted to see the Great Wall in the most amazing, and uncrowded, way possible. This meant settling on a climb I will never forget. Our amazing hostel’s owner and another worker drove us from the hostel to the base of a mountain northwest of the area surrounding Beijing. At the top of that mountain we could see a few guard towers, but the morning fog covered most of what we could see. We parked the car at a salmon farm and began hiking on unmarked trails up the mountain towards the ridge where the wall was.
Once we reached the top of the mountain we climbed up onto the wall and it was nothing short of spectacular: unrenovated stone wall stretching as far you could see in both directions at the very top of a mountain range. We had to fend off a guy who kept shouting at us to pay him for using his wooden ladder but that was the only person in sight (a rare thing in Beijing).
The journey was just beginning. After the few hours it took to reach the wall itself, now we would spend about 7 hours climbing along the wall — the kind of climbing I’m pretty sure you need equipment for in the USA.
I’ve never seen anything like it, nor climbed and hiked something so strenuous before. I’d definitely recommend finding a similar remote portion of the wall to hike yourself if you have the chance.
Jumping Out of a Plane
My friends and I decided to skydive about two years ago. We purchased Groupons and finally did it last August. I was all for it until we were in the plane rising into the air. That sinking feeling in your stomach seemed to get worse the higher our plane went. Naturally, we had opted for the high-flying package, which meant a longer and higher fall. Sitting faced backwards on two parallel benches in the cramped plane, my trained jumping partner started joking about the parachute and asking how many flips we’d do on the way down. He told us what maneuvering we’d have to do once we’re out to right ourselves and get clear of the plane. Then we were level and the clear plastic door lifted up, letting in billowing wind and practically drowning out all speech. Before I knew it I had been shoved onto the edge of the plane, staring at the ground 12,000 feet below and eyes open wide behind my tightly sealed wind goggles. While it felt like longer, it was only 2 seconds before my partner shoved us out of the plane into free fall. It’s a feeling and adrenaline rush like nothing else! Now wait what did he say? Tuck my arms in and legs bent back up into his butt? Or arms out like an eagle? Or was that only after he tapped me? As we hurled down from the plane my jumping partner somehow got us level with our arms out and then with a giant jerk on the shoulders our parachute was out; red, white, and blue to match my American flag pants. From there it was smooth sailing. Some tight turns and tricks made the journey down more exciting, and the scenery was spectacular and unrestrained unlike the view from your commercial airliner. We didn’t even have to sit down on the landing, coming to a running stop. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but I’m not sure if I’d be more or less afraid the second time.
As road trip across the country to the Los Angeles area, where I’ll be working this summer, I can’t wait for all the amazing experiences I’m about to have in America’s heartland.
You may be wondering how I’ve afforded so many great experiences: this was not as expensive as you think. My semester in China was the cheapest so far, including airfare and all of our travels. Road trips throughout the semester and on breaks can be kept inexpensive by bringing food with you and getting clever with your overnight arrangements. Having friends and making friends as you travel is important — they will enrich your experiences when you visit their home areas, and if you’re lucky, will host you for free, saving you some of the biggest costs of traveling.
I hear often that people can’t wait for a chance to travel, and put a million locations and locales on their bucket lists. Why wait? I can’t imagine waiting to do the things I’ve done until I’m older: it would make me so sad to realize how amazing traveling is and how little time I’ve left to do it once I finally get started. There is no reason travel and adventure cannot be done early — in school or starting work. You can get into trouble right where you are if you have a little daring, and day trips were some of my best memories from this past semester. I’m studying engineering and working during breaks. There is nothing holding you back from travel and adventure as a lifetime except yourself.
Traveling has shown me that the world is so. much. more. than myself and pushed me far past limits that I thought I had. I have been blessed to have and find so many opportunities for travel over my short life and will keep at it until the day I die. The most interesting people, food, lodging, and partying I’ve been a part of happened while I was traveling. Invest in your free time so that it enriches and betters you: the benefits will pay out and compound for the remainder of your life.
If you want to keep up with my travels this summer, check out my Instagram. Go forth and adventure!