All posts by Christen

Christen ~ On a mountain near Everest

Sibuje 5

On the second night in Sibuje, some of us opted for sleeping on the lawn, under the clear sky, far from any light pollution. It meant a gentle awakening as the sun began the day from behind the mountains. Breakfast was served picnic style on a tarp on the lawn. So far from everything and 8,000 feet above the sea, it felt like a morning just for us.

Then, a phone call for Karma came. The day changed. That feeling stopped.

As the information came, in spurts and through language barriers, all feelings stopped.

An avalanche on Everest. Only Sherpas on the mountain there. Not Sherpas. Porters. Guides. Staff. Not all staff are Sherpas. Only staff on the mountain there. No tourists. No clients. Clients were lower down the mountain waiting to summit later. Probably 100 local staff up there during the avalanche. Seven of those are from here in Sibuje. Not sure of the death count. 12? 20? 16? No names yet. Biggest mountaineering disaster in history. Worst case math done in the head. Seven less incomes in this village would be devastating.

This morning has now become-

What we were doing when Everest fell…

Entering Sibuje - hiker silhouette

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82513

Christen ~ Sibuje and a school day

After a few days of hiking, Luke says to me (referring to our porters), “I think you are earning their respect.” As I am out of breath constantly and stop us often to catch it, I cannot see how this can possibly be true, but Luke says, “Yes, but they can see how hard this is for you and I have not once heard you complain and these have been full days of hard hiking. You just stop to catch your breath and, with a determined look on your face, you keep going. It’s impressive.”

I thought back through the last few days. He is right. I am not complaining, not even quietly inside my own head. It seems that my mind has dismissed the usefulness of complaining in lieu of just concentrating on the doing. A much more efficient use of brain power than before the trip when it would fill moments of silence with, “I have to hike a mountain.”

That does not make this easy, but I am still smiling. Laughing, actually, because I get silly when I am tired, and hiking makes me tired. I was very grateful to arrive in Karma’s home village of Sibuje where we were stopping for a couple days. (Although, “rest day” in the hiking world has little to do with rest, I have found. You still hike. You just return to sleep in the same place. Feeling a little tricked on that misnomer. Harrumph.)

We stayed in the home of Karma’s parents and attended a ceremony at the little, one teacher, through 3rd grade, school that they have, to celebrate the donation of school uniforms. This meant an all day affair, including endless cups of tea, being adorned repeatedly with scarves, and ending with an impromptu dance party. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. The day was getting a little long for me.) Luckily, I got to spend the day behind one of Luke’s fancy fancy cameras, so I was completely content.

It is always the people who have the least that seem to give the most, and they just gave and gave to us. Warm, welcoming, affectionate people, who easily partake in my silly side. My kind of people.

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Bits from the letters ~

“I’m a bit jealous of all the adventure – I can’t even get away to go to the grocery store by myself, and when I do, I have the guilt to hurry up and get home (guilt I put on myself of course).”

“Christen, enjoy it.
Keep smiling.
Be resilient.
I can’t say it enough,
Appreciate the journey,
because you make an impact.”

“Frequently people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action.
-Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Nobel Peace Prize winner

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3563 US Highway 26
Dubois, WY
82513

Christen ~ Figuring it out, slowly, slowly, slowly

I cannot climb a mountain all at once. I can only climb what is in front of me.

This has been clear to me from the beginning, but that clarity is crystalized as I look up at the steep inclines or long declines in front of me. So, I just pull down the brim of the hat and just keep my eyes on the next few steps. It is surprising how much easier this all seems, how much faster I get where I am going, and how manageable it is when I keep it that simple. I am not sure why I find it surprising. That is how I approach everything else in my life and it makes sense there, so I am not sure why it had not occurred to me that it would be the best approach to this, as well.

It has, also, come to my attention that I cannot have the rest of the group in my eyesight. With the rest being avid mountaineers, the natural inclination to ‘keep up’ is not wise. That is how I will make mistakes. I am much better served if I drift back a bit and just focus on my own pace. ‘Slowly, slowly, slowly’ is the mantra our personal porters, Pasang and Chongsba, keep chanting beside me, whenever I start to go too fast for my own good.

The slower pace, also, gives us the feeling of more freedom to stop and film as we go, without the visual pressure of seeing people wait for us.

Trekking 6

[Sidenote: When I say avid mountaineers…we each brought one book with us to read on the hike, with the idea that we could pass them around as we finished each. When I asked which book each of them brought, every single one was a mountaineering book.]

It meant that when we met people along the way, we could stop and have conversations, learn new words in Sherpa or Nepali, or have tea with the locals (as long as the water was boiled properly).

When we met a fun-sized, stylish woman in her eighties, I asked her (with Karma translating) if she had any unfulfilled wants or any regrets in her years. She chuckled and said, “No.” Then, she paused and amended her, No, with, “Well, maybe a couple more pretty things to wear.”

May we all be so lucky.

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Bits from the letters ~

“I pray that you are able to use your talents and gifts to serve the people you meet along the way.”

“You chose this because your heart is huge and your care for the world is infinite. You chose this because love makes us courageous as much as it makes us kind, makes us humble as much as it makes us limitless. You chose to do this because you love, and that is your strength, your clarity, your comfort, and your sustenance.”

“Friend, you are a divine mingle-mangle of guts and stardust.
-Frank Capra”

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Luke Mislinski Photography

3563 US Highway 26
Dubois, WY
82513

Christen ~ From Zero to the Himalayas

After some weeks of transitioning my position at work into the next hands, trying to organize for this trip, and putting my physical home, once again, into storage, I was grateful when my normal inner calm returned as I sank into my seat on our flight out of Seattle.

Ooosah…

Seattle to Vancouver to Guangzhou to Kathmandu to…Nope, wait, the flight from Guangzhou, China to Kathmandu, Nepal is cancelled. There goes our one buffer day to pick up need supplies for the trek. (Thank you, Glen, for handling that for us.) A night in a hotel in Guangzhou with our fellow waylaid passengers meant we met a great group of people who were excited for their upcoming adventures. One of many great things about meeting other travelers-by-choice.

One of these was a fellow who is guiding a Discovery Channel film crew up Everest to film some dude base jumping off the summit in a squirrel suit…as you do.

We finally get to Kathmandu on Monday evening (having left Seattle on Saturday morning), in the middle of the Hindu new year celebration, hauling suitcases, backpacks, and gigantic duffel bags full of donation clothing, through the packed streets.

We get to our rooms, start organizing what needs to go where, and having Glen pare down our trekking items into necessities-only. By the time we are done with this (and a quick glance out on the streets at the tail end of the new year celebration), we have three hours left to sleep.

No, wait, scratch that. Luke and I are still a little wired from traveling. After giggling like 8 year olds at a sleep-away camp when we should be sleeping, we get about an hour and a half of sleep, before getting up at 5am to catch our flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, and begin our first day of hiking.

We would not want to make any of this easier on me, would we.

 

Lukla plane

Lukla: “The most treacherous airstrip in the world”

I had been looking forward to this flight all week, since I had learned of its reputation. I was pretty disappointed by the uneventful flight and the gentle gliding into the landing. (The flight from San Francisco to Medford to visit my brother, John, in Ashland, OR, was by far more exciting.) I resigned myself to the idea that not exciting was ultimately better than too exciting, and moved on to the rest of the day.

Lukla airport first day 1

As porters were being organized, Luke and I opted to add two personal porters for our packs. This was a decision for which we were grateful every single day for the rest of the trek, not only because of the weight of his camera gear and my inexperience, but because it meant we provided two more people with an income for those few weeks. $250 well spent.

16,500 feet, here I come

For the rest of our group, all avid trekkers/outdoorsy people, the attitude was, “What? It is just walking.” As we started hiking up the inclines soon after we began, I would have to disagree. It is more like endurance Tetris with your feet, stepping on or around rocks, that may or may not be stable, with each step. I am not the most graceful person on flat ground, so my “training” may have been improved by that dancing video game that lights up dance steps on the floor for you to follow. No matter.

I was pleased by the muscle memory of breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Less pleasing was the overpowering sound of my breathing seeming to have my eardrums in a wind tunnel.

The several hours of hiking on this first day (on an hour and a half of sleep, and two days of travel from the other side of the world) became a repetitive cycle of sucking wind until I could no longer listen to the sound of it, stopping to slow and recalibrate my breathing, and starting again, along with a fairly steady passing by people with hands pressed together in front of them, “Namaste.”

Biggest lesson learned on the first day of hiking: You cannot climb a mountain the way you climb a long flight of stairs, taking it two or three steps at a time, even if you are built, as my mom would say, “like a flamingo”. Hiking, it turns out, is much more of a trudging thing than a sprinting thing.

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Trekking 8

Namaste (You knew I would have to talk about it, didn’t you.)

Not having been a participant in yoga, Namaste is not a part of my vernacular, nor am I certain of the definition. Not having access to the inter webs here on the mountain, I am going with my vague recollection that it means, ‘The divinity within me greets the divinity within you’.  In a ‘God is in everything and everything is God’, Spinoza, sort of way. I can dig it.

It is an interesting perspective of respect in a culture that operates openly on a caste system. As I find my way up these mountains, I am met at every turn by someone greeting my inner divinity, most often by children who are too young to understand the implications of where they might stand or my being considered casteless.

Worn out, in need of sleep, and with several more hours of hiking scheduled for tomorrow (and the day after, and the day after, and the day after…), my inner divinity bids your inner divinity, Goodnight.

[Sidenote: So many wonderful people were kind enough to send along letters for me to read on the mountain, so I thought I would include bits from them with these entries…]

Bits from the letters ~

“In the army we had a tradition. When we rolled out of our bunks in the morning, we would say “X, and a wake up!” “X” being the number of full days we had left before that final wake up and getting the hell out of there.

Let this be your mantra when you wake up, and you feel you can’t go on, which will probably be days 2 through 20.”

[…]

“Remember, pain is weakness leaving the body. Next time I see you, you will be the strongest person I know.”

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Luke Mislinski Photography

3563 US Highway 26
Dubois, WY
82513

Christen ~ Here we go, yo.

There are a lot of things about this trip about which I am not excited. I am focusing on that about which I am.

I am excited to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the views.

I am excited to have the people we meet, and the way they live, put my life into a new perspective.

I am excited to not be dealing with the tedium of the details of the trip anymore and to be just getting to it. Anything we do not have or did not do is just what it is.

Mostly, I am really excited for Luke to be pointing the camera at someone other than me.

They just started boarding our flight out of Seattle. Wish us luck!

Love you.

https://karmadocumentary.com/2014/03/26/christen-invest-in-karma/

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Dubois, WY
82513

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Christen ~ Counting crows

Luke wants me dead.

Or, at least, maybe his subconscious does.

Maybe he thinks it will make better footage.

We were supposed to go on a hike this morning…again. This is either the seventh or eighth time that he has made plans to pick me up for a hike in the last few weeks, where it has not worked out for it to happen. This means that I have exactly one hike under my belt. One.

He said, after that short hike the other day, “We will hit one with a view next time.”

Ha! Next time. Yes, well, since the next one is going to be in the Himalayas now, it better have more than just a view.

It is really too late anyway. One more hike was not going to save me.

I am laughing as I write this, as I am sitting here wishing I had the coffee he promised to bring me for the hike this morning, and I noticed that three crows have joined me on the patio. I seemed to remember something about three crows meaning something so, in looking, I found this:

“Crows are associated with the Celtic Goddess Morrigan. She is a Goddess of war, chaos, death and rebirth. She is also a triple Goddess (maiden, mother and crone). The 3 crows would signify that you are coming into a time of major change, whether you are prepared for it or not. There may be some major disruptions involved, but it will all be for the best, you will have a ‘rebirth’ and new paths on your journey will be opened to you. Go with the flow and all will be well.”

Whether you are prepared or not…seems fitting.

https://karmadocumentary.com/2014/03/26/christen-invest-in-karma/

Clouds
http://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/photos/3050639/

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82513

Christen ~ We do not know what we do not know

Hey Mom and Dad, maybe skip this one. (I am going to bury the lead a bit to even give you more time to do just that.)

So, it has been established that I do not really have any idea what I am doing in all this. I knew it would be unlikely I could make this trek in my converse. I guessed I would need hiking boots, a backpack, maybe a new winter coat (since I have not lived in winter for a while), and probably some gloves and a hat. Apparently, there is a lot more that goes into a packing list than these.

For starters, you cannot just throw on a pair of comfy jeans for hiking in the Himalayas. (Okay, makes sense. Add hiking pants.)

In fact, you cannot wear anything that is made with cotton. (Okay. Add multiple layers of synthetic shirts for varying temperatures.)

ANYTHING made of cotton. (Okay, going against the well known mantra of women needing to wear 100% cotton underwear, add a couple pairs of wool men’s boxer briefs. Whoa, those are not cheap.)

And, then you need socks made for hiking. When I was trying on hiking boots, Trent, our helpful man at Second Ascent in Ballard, handed me a pair of socks and told me to make sure I put them on the correct feet. I thought he was messing with me. They are socks. Nope. There was a little R and L for right and left feet. (Add a couple pairs of expensive socks, so that you have socks to wear while you wash the others.)

You need different levels of coats for varying temperatures, long underwear for under those hiking pants, a pair of waterproof hiking pants to go over your hiking pants, a pair of gators for hiking in the snow to keep the snow out of said hiking pants, a headlamp for hiking in the dark, a pair of polarized sunglasses that can protect you from glacier blindness, face masks, goggles, lighter gloves, arctic gloves, and it all just keeps going…

All of this is fine and, of course, good (though expensive, which is inconvenient). It is good to be prepared.

Now, during all this this supply prepping, I have, also, been acquiring information prepping, as well. Not by my own choice. If I am going to do something, I do not really see how researching is helpful in cases where it is not going to change anything. In those cases, I am best when I focus on what I need to do now.

(On our hike the other day, I had to keep telling Luke to stop telling me the distance we had left to the top. It does not help me. I cannot climb the whole mountain at once. I can only climb what is front of me. If I continue to climb what is in front of me, I will get there, albeit slowly.)

(Mom and Dad, if you have not already, this is where you want to bow out of this. Truly.) With this in mind, I had not looked at the itinerary. It seems of little use to me. I cannot change it. It is what it is and I will deal with it as it comes. It, also, means that I had not looked into the various stops and had not been privy to this next little tidbit of information.

We land in Nepal in Kathmandu. After a couple days, we fly to Lukla, where we will begin the hiking bit. Tenzing-Hillary Airport, also known as Lukla Airport, happens to be (by many counts) the most treacherous airport in the world…

The most treacherous airport in the world…

When I was told this yesterday, I just started laughing…of course, it is. Why wouldn’t it be?

Oh, on a similar note, another thing I did not realize I would need. Evacuation Insurance. Again, makes sense, but…

There is a never ending list of things to get and to do (including, but not limited to, moving out of my place) and it does not feel like I am even making a dent in it, as much work as I am doing towards that every day. And, somewhere in all of this, I need to try to find time to go on some hikes at some point, which are just hours I do not have at the moment.

People plan for a year for these kinds of things. I have had a few weeks.

Oh, well. I know it will all work out. Things always do. However, if someone could, somehow, buy me just a couple more days, well…no matter. I am just going to take a couple deep breaths, and then get back to it, because I can only do what I can do.

https://karmadocumentary.com/2014/03/26/christen-invest-in-karma/

She Walks on Water 6

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3563 US Highway 26
Dubois, WY
82513

Christen ~ All fun and games until you actually have to climb a mountain

I am under no delusions that I will be all ice cream toppings and cupcake frosting on this trip. I get crabby and when I get crabby I get snarky.

Lesson learned from my first real(ish) hike: Hiking makes me snarky.

I came on to this project with just enough time to put in my notice at work, get it organized to hand it over to my replacement, and to start getting my living arrangements put in order to move out. Attempts to go hiking have been for naught in these last few weeks. A full time job that runs on slightly off hours and limited daylight hours, in combination with coordinating with someone else’s schedule, has left little time to make it work.

Training - Roller Skating photo

In the meantime, the goal for training was to just start trying to use muscles that I have not been accustomed to using in a while. A few games of pool one night, an evening at the rollerskating rink (cardio, right?), some time at the driving range (I was wearing the hiking boots, so it counts), and a Pilates DVD that my friend, Janelle, gave me more than ten years ago that I never got around to using.

Training - Driving range (1)
Photo credit: Jeffrey L. Tenderbone

With finishing my last week of work, and going into the homestretch before we leave, Luke finally got me up on a bit of a mountain yesterday. Three miles up and three miles back, with an elevation of roughly 2100ft. Not exactly death defying, but I had to stop a lot and I was more than winded by the time we reached the top.

When we got to the top, I glanced around at the less than impressive view (Tiger Mountain, if you are curious), and attempted to recalibrate my breathing. Some guy, noticing my fatigue [understatement] and scoffed, “Um, ha, yeah, this is the easiest hike in the area.”

Oh yeah, Captain Wilderness? Well, you are spending your time standing on top of the easiest hike in the area pointing that out to people. Time well spent?

I just gave him the thumbs up and a tight smile, “First hike.”

As we made our way back down the mountain a few minutes later, Luke mused casually, “I think the hardest thing about all of this will be the three weeks of hiking.”

Fancy that, we have a scholar in our midst, ladies and gentlemen.

I was, also, informed on our hike yesterday that there is no real endgame on our hike through the Himalayas. Not sure why I thought there would be mostly up for the first two-thirds or so, and then mostly down for the remainder. Nope. It is up and down multiple thousands of feet of hiking, every day, for the entirety of the three weeks. So…there’s that.

I guess I should have looked up the definition of rugged terrain trekking…

It is Tuesday. We fly out on Saturday.

https://karmadocumentary.com/2014/03/26/christen-invest-in-karma/

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82513

Christen ~ Words With Friends: Ange and Charlie

Only ten days until we leave.

My full-time job is making it difficult to get in any real hiking, other than a couple of short, barely elevated, trails. It has been established that I am, woefully, physically under prepared for this trip. Sitting in my office, staring out the window, I am starting to feel the pressure of the challenge ahead of me. There is the knowing I need to be out practicing hiking, and the knowing I cannot get out of work long enough to be doing it, that is making these last ten days before we go feel like they are squeezing in on me. It is coming quickly.

It really makes you appreciate your friends. Two in particular, Ange and Charlie, dear friends that are very different from each other and from very different parts of my life, have something very specific in common. They are two friends that will not hold back their thoughts when they do not approve of something I am doing. It is a quality that I value highly in each of them. (Granted, I rarely tell anyone what I am doing until I have already decided I am going to do it, so their welcome commentary is usually too late to change my course, but welcomed nonetheless.)

Christen and Ange - Words With Friends

Ange (whose talented work in advertising you can see here: http://angieschoemer.com/ – in particular, I love her Cosmopolitan Las Vegas ads), has always had a way with words. When she took the time to write this the other day, it was the couple deep breaths that I needed to find my zen again, while sitting in my office, and it reenforced my knowing that we will still, somehow, make all of this work. Thank you for this, Ange. I love you.

“one of my oldest + dearest friends (we call each other CLF “common-law friends” after 31 yrs of friendship) Christen, is taking part in a documentary which will take her on a 16.5k ft trek up a mountain in Nepal. UP. A. MOUNTAIN. beautiful, wicked smart, wily and witty CLF isn’t your typical ‘trekker’ to say the least. she smokes. keeps really really odd hours. doesn’t really ‘do’ nature. doesn’t exercise unless you call dancing around & running to tackle hug someone exercise. and is one of the most stubborn and brave humans I know. she has made a life of ‘taking her own path’. she’s lived all over europe + the states and isn’t one to shy away from adventure. she’s fearless. and rarely gives decisions like this a second thought. for that I am all at once deeply proud, befuddled but not surprised, worried as hell, highly entertained, and, as I’ve always been, full of mad love and support for her and inspired by her next adventure.

BONUS! christen was brought into this adventure via fellow awesome kindergarten alum, Luke, who is taking the helm as director and producer. one south dakotan is a force. two is a formidable team that will protect, persevere and do justice to a truly incredible undertaking. luke, take care of christen. christen, listen to the voice in your head (I’ll do the same, as promised).

perhaps most importantly, the film’s premise is truly moving and makes me want to dig out and dust off my hiking books, buy a 12 pack of inhalers and book a ticket to join them. see more here (and support the film if you’re so inclined)”

> https://karmadocumentary.com/2014/03/26/christen-invest-in-karma/

~

Charlie is my good dude friend from when I lived in Florence. He has said to me, many times, “I am harder on you than anyone else in my life.” He has no problem stopping me in the middle of a story to tell me, “This interests me very little, Christen.” He never pulls punches when calling me out on what he perceives to be my shenanigans (which, for him, include most things I do).

Charlie called to find out about the film project and, since Luke was there, he filmed the call.

Christen’s Call with Charlie from Luke Mislinski on Vimeo.

Thank goodness for friends who take a few minutes to bring me back to the moment at hand.

I have yet to doubt whether I should be going on this journey. I know the going is right. That answer came to me quickly when I was asked to go. And, although, I do have my moments where I wonder just how over my head it will be, which is distracting, all I can do is focus on today and this moment. For now, I just need to finish what is in front of me. I will worry about getting up the mountain when I am getting up the mountain.

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Luke Mislinski Photography

3563 US Highway 26
Dubois, WY
82513

Christen ~ Bullfighter

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When you are not an outdoorsy person [understatement], and you tell people who know you that you are going to spend three weeks hiking a mountain in an undeveloped country, the reactions vary.

Oh, wait, it is not just hiking a mountain, I am told. Even though I am not going to the very peak (no one thinks that is a good idea), I am going up to base camp, which is 16,486 ft of Mera Peak.

Let’s put this in perspective. The south and north base camps for Mount Everest are 16,900 and 17,958 ft, and people have to qualify to climb that. Since I just bought the first pair of hiking boots I have ever owned, for this trip, it probably stands to reason that I do not qualify for anything at this point.

Having mostly guy friends, they give me their reactions pretty straight, so I have had quite a few that have simply said, “Dude, you are probably going to die.” One even went so far as to sit me down for a serious conversation and say, “This is the dumbest decision you have ever made”, to which I responded, “Well, that cannot possibly be true.”

[I did try to walk off a broken foot through London with Nerdstick for a couple weeks by just tying my chuck taylors tight.]

These are the reactions that make me laugh, and they are quite helpful. I am prone to acting as a devil’s advocate on any topic, so to have others taking that side relieves me of the need.

Most responses have been supportive and of the “Once in a lifetime opportunity” variety. These are quite helpful, as well.

All three of my siblings are behind me on this trip. If you ever saw the four of us try to pick out candy together when we were kids when we could only get one thing, you would realize how astonishing this is that we all agree on something. I appreciate their support, because they do not often unite as a cohesive front behind my choices.

Then, there are those who hold a special place in my recent memory.

~I told a friend in NYC that “I have been asked to be in a documentary. It requires that I take a three week trek up a mountain. I leave in a few weeks.” He said, “Is it a comedy?”

~A friend in LA had the first reaction of, “Oh, I see Academy Award winning documentary all over this. You will be a comedy of errors in all of this.” He calls occasionally, laughing, to check in on my progress and to tell me that the more people he tells, the funnier he finds it.

He called on a Tuesday night around midnight and asked, “What are you doing?”

“Eating cinnamon rolls.” I said.

“At midnight?!”

“Yes, why not?” [What the time of day has to do with it, I have no idea.]

“Is this part of your training?” He says, laughingly.

Swallowing around the too big bite of the cinnamon roll I had just taken, “I am wearing hiking boots.”

~My dearest guy friend, Nerdstick, in Chicago, watched the first bit of footage and said, “I get why they asked you to do this. You are absurd.”

The reactions are entertaining and I love that I have such wonderful people in my life that even entertain having reactions. I guess it really comes down to the really ridiculous, stoner sounding, stream-of-consciousness explanation that I gave Luke when he broke into my place one morning to ask me if I wanted to go on a hike (and he filmed it…).

Bullfighting from Luke Mislinski on Vimeo.

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