The Jaws Of Defeat

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Niagara, Railroads, Rochester

They say an adventure is a well planned trip gone awry — what the hell is it when a piss-poorly planned trip goes to hell? It seemed so easy in “Into The Wild”: get on the train, and wait for it to take me places. I decided to give it a try with a week of reading period and less than scholarly study habits, and packed my bag for some semblance of a backpacking trip. A little bit of research seemed to show that the westbound tracks led to Chicago, or at least Cleveland, or failing all else Buffalo, and I know people in any of those who would go on an adventure if I got that far. So Saturday night at around 3am, head still spinning from Phi Tau, I started walking toward the train yard, where a collection of corn cars was waiting enticingly. I picked one about two-thirds of the way through the train, climbed in, and waited.

4am passed, and 5, and 6 and the damn thing refused to move. I fell asleep on the heaping pile of corn, out of sight of anyone at track level, and half buried in the soft bed of grain for added protection. At some point in the morning, while I was still sleeping, the train started moving. By the time I woke up, it was backed up into a factory on some side track, getting devoured one car at a time by the jaws of an enormous crane that lifted and upended the cars, dumping the corn into giant hoppers.

FUCK!, I soon realized, my time was about to come! Those were grainers just like my seemingly ideal ride, and there was nothing else on the train. This thing wasn’t going anywhere but in, and one more car length and I’d be inside the factory gate, five more and I’d be buried alive in the silo, or crushed into chicken feed, or whatever happened next. This wasn’t Chicago. It wasn’t Cleveland. It was a grain elevator in the middle of fucking nowhere!

I threw my pack overboard, climbed off the abbreviated stub of a train, left my sleeping bag behind in the chaos, and ran into a marshy field of last year’s hay, hoping no one would bother to chase me. I could have made up something epic about what happened next, but I just walked through the farmer’s field for what seemed like far too long, trying my best to avoid the farmer, in case he was out there somewhere, and eventually made it to the road. Which was just route 31. I’d barely made it out of the county, let alone out of state.

The milepost said it was 41 miles back to Rochester, and about that much forward to Niagara Falls. If I really were Chris, if “Into the Wild” really were my story, I think I would have tried to go farther, hitchhiked or just walked it. But one defeat was it for me. Freight trains were off my bucket list, and pretty well off my to-do list too. Maybe if I had no destination, infinite time, and no fear of my parents wondering what became of me. Not sure what else to do, I called my roommate and had him see how I could get home. He found me a bus home from Albion, so after a cold, rainy walk of shame on 31 and a roundabout trip on city buses, I was back in my dorm about 12 hours after I left, down $8 and a sleeping bag, and more than content to just wait around for finals and get ready for my trip to the 46 peaks. Someday I may try again, but probably not even that… I’ll try anything once, but I think I know better than to do this one again!

Dental Dispensary

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Institutional, Rochester

Unfortunately I lost all my photos from 2007-08, so this is all I have left from one of the first and still best places I’ve ever explored, the Eastman Dental Dispensary.

Solitary staircase
Missing steps
Extra steps
Forgotten steps
Unloved (all its long existence)
Unclimbed (at least half)

Unforgiving atria
Revulsive chambers, still
Echoing silence louder than sound
Ceiling (palate) nesting parasitic aviae.
Cubicle tongue stretched through unfound door
Vitreous teeth
Sharper than canine
Protruding unsteady exfoliate walls;

Fluffles of feathers
Visceral confetti
Surrounded in sanitary-green destruction
–One last victim of long-lost therapy
Resting in newfallen snow~
Dissected, forgotten–
Spattered essence of pigeon:
Decaying experiments in crumbling labs
Apparatus to be unearthed

White walls
Glass blocks
Sterilized prisons with multitude doors
Voluntary interment beneath halogen light.
Hypocrites of Hippocrates:
Operate here!

One last sharp instrument
Remains from the complement:
Tortuous tentacle of dentistry’s field

Darkened corridors
(Lights hang helpless beheaded)
Racked by decades bleaker still
Dolorous names for
Sanguinous games

Bleaker, blacker still
Larynx and Pharynx
Architect airways
Swallowed down
Coughed up on call
Glass-enclosed capsule pills
That now sit digested
Forty feet below!

Great fallen (falling) entities
Floors intent on Newtonizing bypassers
Jagged holes above and below
Obscuring the darkness
Meteorical exponential disaster—
Who was next?
Everyone rides gravity.

That featureless emotionless repulsive green
Pervades all, even peeling
Always older, never aging
Hideous plumbous ambivalence by the gallon
Maybe once soothed the misery
It now reeks of!

A scream:
One of those days.

An order:
¡Si no sacas la muela AHORA, TE PEGA UN TIRO!
An abscess: ¿sín anestésia?
Dispensary of pain; 312-A
Squeamous organic stains abounding
Could he have?

The sun shines down the riven roof
Exposes a spider web
A spider brooding
Myriad spiderlings scurrying
Among Dipteran decimations

Another voice:
Séquese las lágrimas.
A third:
“We’re leaving.”

Apollo 12

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Adirondacks, Outdoors, Uncategorized

I said I was looking for adventure — it didn’t take me long to find it! I climbed Mt Marcy (5348′, highest point in New York State) last weekend with my scout troop. Lesson learned: mountains are big! It was an epic experience, even if it’s an experience that a certain someone doesn’t believe I could ever do, despite the photo evidence!

I should have known from the start that this was a bad sign, that not many people go this way.

The beginning of the hike was flat and easy enough, about 5 miles to Calamity Pond, where we got the first clear view of the mountain we were about to climb

And here it is (just a bit) closer, from the Flowed Lands

The Opalescent bouncy bridge marked the approximate halfway point in terms of distance getting to the mountain. Half the troop mutinied here, realizing by basic calculations that the hike would go after dark, which many didn’t plan for.

The rest of us, 11 people or so, started climbing faster up toward the top of the mountain, which seemed to drag on forever. When another few hours of climbing only got us to Tear of the Clouds, it became obvious that now was a good time to turn back. Being less than a mile from the summit, my scoutmaster decided to send me and Christian up to the top so at least someone from the trip made it!

And, almost as soon as they went back on their way, the skies opened up and it RAINED!

Of course we only kept climbing higher, ignoring the signs along the trail saying to turn back in severe weather, and the raging torrents of water pouring down the path.

The final approach looked like this: bare, slippery rock, above treeline, with heavy rain and raging winds. By the time we got here, it even appeared to be raining UP onto us, not entirely unlike the inside of a car wash.

Finally, we made it to Gray Peak, and saw Marcy in the not too far distance (it looks far, but trees at this altitude are only 3 feet tall!), and decided we might as well push on to the true summit, the weather having taken a break from deteriorating for a bit.

And then this happened: back into the rain and clouds again, and now there was something frozen falling too.

The view from the top, or something like that:

And finally, some proof, even though Scott thinks I photoshopped myself in.

Yet this was only halfway. The way down was mostly a living hell, through 11 miles in a soaking wet, increasingly chilly maelstrom. The only other person we saw the entire way was right off the top, a Russian guy in an orange and blue tracksuit, thoroughly lost looking for the way down to Keene Valley, who crossed paths with us at least twice.

From there, the descent took forever as night fell and the mud only got deeper. In the darkness, we lost any track of time and distance, and we’d already sent our map off with the first group of mutineers. The miles dragged on as we regretted giving away our food and water to people we thought needed it more, lightening our own loads at the expense of running completely out of energy in the cold rain. Making matters worse, we kept hearing voices and music out of the woods, and seeing lights in the distance, all of them of course hallucinations, to the point that we’d have to stop and look, and ask each other if it was real. And even then it wasn’t always obvious, sometimes we’d even hallucinate about the same things.

Finally, almost by surprise, we made it to the parking lot, which was empty except for one car and one tent. The scoutmaster, Larry Root, stayed behind for us, having given up hope that we’d make it out of the mountains that night, assuming we found shelter in a lean-to or something. I’m actually kind of amazed he didn’t call for a rescue on us; he must have trusted my reputation in the troop as the wild one, or remembered that i spent the last four summers teaching survival. His shock at our appearance was incredible, especially once we told him what we’d experienced up there, and even more so when we both decided we weren’t at all scared of returning, and thought it was a lot of fun!

The next morning, reunited with the rest of my troop, we told our story to them. I almost didn’t want to, knowing what they all missed out on, but they actually found it quite a relief, to know what they had been saved from! But if this is what it means to live life into the wild, I’m ready to take it on again. 2 peaks down, 44 to go!

In The Beginning

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Uncategorized

I should have seen the signs for a while, maybe I even did see it; summer of 8th grade year, getting absolutely covered in poison sumac, and all I did was apply to be a CIT at my camp, come back for four weeks of it. Then once I got there, it was almost a calling, teaching wilderness survival. It came naturally to me, I felt like it was useful knowledge I’d need someday. Sure, I could have avoided a lot of deerfly bites specializing in basket weaving or rugby, but I couldn’t stop learning the ways of nature. Then there was that time in 2004 I bolted out of a hockey game I was at with the staff guys and bought a map of the Adirondacks and a CD of “De-Loused in the Comatorium”. And I wonder whatever happened to Derin, after our adventures under Boston last winter; if you ever see this, I hope you made to MIT, I sure didn’t! No one told me yet what urban exploration was, although I’d find out soon enough, coming here for engineer’s week, pretending to be a freshman transfer, and falling in with the Concrete Discussion Group. I broke out of my shell one tiny piece at a time, a little taste of freedom here and there in the summers at camp, or on occasional trips to math league tournaments. 18, or rather, 18 and a day, hit me like a bag of bricks the morning after my first drink (a bottle of Saranac) or ten (Jack and coke, tequila rose, Jaegerbomb, so much more) at the Thirsty Moose. I was ready for the summer, for being set free, it was our time, that the strange would inherit the world. It was only a matter of time until we’d find our limits, and that was my goal, and Christian was the only one who seemed to understand. We were unlikely roommates in 113, but that too just had to be, it was written all along, or at least since 2004, in fluorescent glowing green paint on my tent. So when the search party finally hauled us in from one of our nights of wandering around away from the mass of humanity, it only made us stronger, set us into a pact to look for bigger and better things in years to come. I didn’t bother to think for quite a while longer how I could possibly explain those bigger and better things away to my parents though–as far as they knew, I was still the kid who was too smart for that!

Then yesterday morning before class I read a review of some art-house movie in the New York Times, “Into The Wild.” Even from the critic’s distant perspective, I could tell that it was my story, or may as well have been, set into film. Sure, Chris dies in the end, but it doesn’t take a jaded critic to know that the real story here wasn’t how to die, but how to live – that Chris died not out of martyrdom or necessity, but out of failure, and failure is always an option but rarely inevitable. And, better yet, backwater Rochester has a theater screening it, one of only four in the entire nation! I tried asking a few friends if they wanted to go see it but it didn’t feel right to drag anyone else into this one, and I was somewhat relieved that none were interested, and just accepted the awkwardness and took a red line shuttle to the late showing tonight. I wasn’t the only one with this idea; about a dozen of us students all drifted toward the Little Theater, alone together. Perhaps the call of the wild is also the call of the weird.

Just as I had expected, “Into The Wild” was nothing short of transformative. I won’t give too much away here; I don’t think I even need to. (That being said, I STRONGLY recommend seeing it!) By the end, it was evident: I am Chris McCandless if anyone is. Maybe we all are, and most of us repress it. Maybe I’m somehow different. I don’t know, and I’m not sure it matters. But this is it, I’m out now, I’m strange, I’m adventurous, I’m — wild. When my time comes in 2011, when I too am graduated, with a whole world in front of me, this will be me, finding a way somehow to make that tacit “fuck you” to my parents, my college, my career, and spending as long as it takes seeing the world and searching for the edge. And then coming back and picking up where I left off, I’m sure, in “normal” life, but at least always knowing that I’ve found and followed the path for as long as I was able.

Leaving the theater, I knew I couldn’t just settle for walking back to Eastman and catching the bus home. It was that immediate, I had to find some kind of adventure NOW. Which, luckily, was easy enough for me. Despite being in my own hometown, there is so much I haven’t seen even in the streets of Rochester, when I spent my whole life up to this time in the stifling shelter of my parents’ guidance. When the only places I knew were places they took me or sent me, and a few hops across the fence on occasional trips and days off from camp, everything was new and different. But I could tell where I needed to be. The three flashing lights at the towers of Pinnacle Hill called to me. It wasn’t much, but for now, they would be my mountain. So I wandered determinedly toward them in the drizzle, and found a trail up the hill, getting rained on beautifully all the while. At the top, I understood exactly why I was drawn here: there is a fourth tower, under construction, without the shock of 500 kilowatts of TV coursing through it! I took a few tentative steps up the ladder. It wasn’t too slippery, there was no one watching, no security cameras, my red-brown flannel shirt even kind of blended in with the tower paint. So I kept going, all the way to the top, what had to be 300 feet up past the top of the hill. I think I spent about an hour there, perched on the little round base of what was about to be channel 8’s antenna mast, taking in the view of the entire city, then being completely hidden in cloud as a fog descended on the city, seeing nothing at all except the alternating red and white flashes of the beacon light next to me, soaking up the rain and wind and mist and isolation, deep within the wild in my own city! Once I got off the tower, I called Christian – even this made sense now, how there could be bigger and better adventures in our future. We’d find a way to climb Mt Marcy together, and maybe find a way to go on from there, maybe even climb all 46 someday. Where are the rest of the people who “get it”? I’d at least like to think there are more, that there’s a bit of Chris McCandless in all of us, even though we don’t all drop everything and hitchhike for two years anymore!

I finally got back to my dorm room at about 3AM, more inspired than I’ve ever been, perhaps. Except maybe for the search party night, or that time I bought the map, but maybe those were all preparation for this. I’m done being normal. I’ll say it here and now, I’m looking for a life of adventure, and I think this is where it all begins. I’d been thinking about starting a website for a while, now is as good a time as any for it. And so here it is, named both after the exploring I hope to do so much more of in the future, and for one of the songs on the CD I bought the day it all made sense for the first time. I doubt anyone will see it unless I tell them to, but you never know with this kind of thing. At least I don’t need to worry much about my parents finding it, not that they’d even believe it was me if. they read it, that’s the idea anyway. Most people probably won’t get it. I know my roommates don’t; they came back drunk as always after another night at Sigma Chi, made me turn off my Mars Volta (they hate that shit) just so Scott could put that fucking reggaetón song on repeat. For some reason I let him read what I’d written up to that point; he already thought I was weird, it’s probably beyond saving now.

But I have a feeling I’ll always remember tonight as one of those nights I found myself, and I can only wonder what might be ahead of me as I find the freedom and inspiration for more. One thing I know for sure won’t be ahead of me? The seeds of the wild potato!