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!