TMCC Memoir “Blog Style”

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Most of the pictures from my first backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail are blurry. I was six, horse crazy, and I had a disposable camera. A hoof print in the baked dirt, a picture of a stream cut in half to remove a thumb, a hazy picture of the hut, Castle Peak, the sky. I took a picture of my Grandma and my Dad as we rested, both smiling, the Sierras spread behind them.

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“I want you to send me a copy of that picture, Okay Amelia?” she said to me, but I never have. The only copy is still in my collection, their grins stretched and blurred by my unskilled six-year-old hands. I remember the walk home, the three miles endless for me and my brother.

“Are we there yet?” I would moan happily, grinning, over and over again.

“Wait up!” my three year old brother would yell from behind.

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The next year my Dad and I returned to Peter Grubb Hut with my Mom and both of my brothers. This time we didn’t have the hut alone. It was thru hiker season. A soft spoken, red haired Australian and two friends who were hiking together joined us. They, like all thru hikers, wore beards. I listened shyly from afar as they talked.

“Yah, I went to Australia to photograph the Great Barrier Reef.”

“Yah, well you might as well see it before it’s gone,” said the Aussie, and the both of them nodded grimly.

I knew about the Great Barrier Reef. I had done a report on it for school. My righteous eight year old self felt a jolt of shame and outrage. Who were they to say that, just give up? (I had read Sierra magazine, soon to begin a three year phase of devout readership). I was awake for a while that night listening to their voices drifting up to the hut’s grubby loft, drawn to these strange people who pronounced Truckee wrong, ate candy bars for dinner, and who had been to so many places.

A sign? Shhh...
A sign? Shhh…

I was nine when I went for my first real backpacking trip. My Dad and I reached the trailhead after lunch; I donned my new backpack, weighing a blasphemous twenty or thirty pounds -definitely incompliant with the pack/body-weight ratio- and we were off. The sun blazed down at us as we shuffled forwards, the pace stop and go as hundreds of city tourists from California commuted the mile to Eagle Lake. We took our side trail exit and escaped the congestion. The trail wound into the forest- and then straight up. The only consolation was going down the next morning and watching the day hikers struggle up past us, sweating, pointing in disbelief to my towering pack: “You got up there with THAT?” There were two things my Dad forgot on that trip; half of our water, and the foresight to check the contour lines on the map.

Now, six years later, I come out on the trailhead from a day hike up to Mt Judah, the first signs of evening appearing in the sky. I feel spit out, chewed. As we had been coming down the trail, our dog had given a warning bark. Seconds later, a man wearing blue corduroy pants stalked up the switchback.

“If your F**king dog comes any closer, I’ll put my foot through his face.”

I stepped aside to let him past as my Mom yelled at him and he cussed back.

“No wonder my dog didn’t like you, you #$@&%* (depletive, blankety-blank)!” My Mom shouted over her shoulder, getting in the final word.

As we wait at the trailhead for my Dad and brothers to catch up, a backpacker comes behind us, bends over. He’s out of water and dehydrated so I offer him my Nalgene. He and his friend are ending a 100 mile section hike of the PCT here and we commiserate on the dryness of this last piece, having done it ourselves. Another hiker and his family come up and join the talk. The sun sinks, sky darkens, bugs chatter in the woods a few hundred feet away; the rich aroma of night envelops us, and the tiredness in our bodies feels good. Although I am still shaken up from the freak anomaly that was Blue Corduroy, as we say farewell I am keenly aware of this culture I am part of.

These moments of connection are what make the trail; thru hikers call it trail magic, I just call it community. However many times I have said I hated backpacking, however miserable and gross I feel, how many secret oaths I have sworn to never go again, I will return. For that little quirk of humanity that allows us to forget the miserable parts and remember the good, that lets us continue; Thank you.

Personal Statement TMCC Blog Style

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Five of us lay in a soggy three person tent, the odors of damp goose down and dirty bodies filling our nostrils, the sound of thunder muted over the rain assaulting our shelter walls, reading the emergency manual’s advice on what not to do in a thunderstorm. The weight of a heavy pack on my back, the miles of dusty mountains stretching out behind me, I love it. I am who I am because I am hard working, and I am willing to experience discomfort to achieve my goals. My unique education allows me to find what I love and follow these passions with enthusiasm. Although I don’t know what I am going to do with my life, before college I want to backpack all 2,600 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail has a culture, in which people can come together and connect, and it feels good to be part of that community. Especially when you are doing something where the first question isn’t what grade are you in?

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Or, where do you go to school? As a homeschooler, this and the questions that inevitably come after are not easy or exciting to answer. It’s a way of life, something that is part of me, but I just can’t find a way to explain it to someone whose entire life has revolved around the public school system. Often people seem to view us as an elitist cult or fad; Entire rooms have quieted and gone abuzz with talk when I’ve mentioned I’m homeschooled. Homeschooling isn’t always easy. I don’t know what my life will be like year to year; my friends go to school, I move on to different co-ops and groups, and I experiment with different curricula until I find something that works. Each school year it is a fresh challenge to find a routine and fit into an entirely new group of kids. Even though homeschooling is challenging in its own way and often misunderstood, it allows me to explore my passions: Hiking, Latin, drawing and photography, reading and writing.

I’ve been a reader and a writer even before I could read and write. It just clicked. I grew up on The Hobbit, Watership Down, and The Lord of the Rings. I love older books, and inherited my Dad’s ‘boyhood’ collection, adding Anne McAffrey, Piers Anthony, and Ursula K. LeGuin to the ranks. Although I was ‘good’ at writing, it wasn’t until I left school in fifth grade that I slowly began exploring. Writing structure? Sentence variety? Clauses? All of this I had never been taught in school. For a few years I only explored and honed my knack for words. It wasn’t until WATO, when I was 14, that I recognized my dual passions for writing and the outdoors.

 This essay, written by one of this year's Writing & the Outdoors students in response to her summer experience, is so lovely and touching, we just had to share!  (Here and Now - by Amelia Pease)

This essay, written by one of this year’s Writing & the Outdoors students in response to her summer experience, is so lovely and touching, we just had to share! (Here and Now – by Amelia Pease) -From NMH SS’s Facebook

Northfield Mount Hermon boarding school lies just south of the Vermont border in Massachusetts. My Grandma gave me the opportunity to go to summer school there, and I took it (She’s a very cool Grandma). The class I took was WATO, literally Writing and the Outdoors, and it exposed me to writing, poetry, and personal freedom more than any other experience I’ve had. It was the first time I was given an opportunity to receive critical feedback and to then improve my work. Throughout the class we went hiking, camping, biking, and rafting, and read outdoor writings from Thoreau to Dickenson to Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I think my classmates despised me for my enthusiasm.

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WATO helped me realize what I am passionate about. Although I don’t know what I am going to do through and beyond college, I know what I love doing. I want to continue seeking like-minded individuals and communities through learning, being outdoors, and writing, as well as to continue challenging myself and exposing myself to new experiences.