Monthly Archives: October 2010

Video Clip of the Week: Monster Parties- Fact or Fiction?

Happy Halloween from BDWPS.com.  In the spirit of the season, I decided to post this classic clip from “Mr. Show” where the boys use the format of a “Fact or Fiction” TV show to explore the world of the Monster Party song.  Could “Monster Mash” have been based on a real party of monsters?

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9. Road Trip 2008, day 6 and 7: Terrorists and the Race Against Time

“Is the glass half full, or half empty? It depends on whether you’re pouring, or drinking.”

Bill Cosby

The hike down was pretty uneventful. This was okay with me. We already had enough adventures: climbing snowy mountain walls and fording rivers.  As we neared the end of the trail, I came upon a sturdy wooden bridge over the stream. I stopped and gave Paul a look of disgust. Bridges are for pussies.

Bridges? We don't need no stinkin' BRIDGES!

When we finally came out of the trees to the relieving sight of the Element, I checked the time to see our hike down had only taken four hours – just as we had been told.  Back at the car we didn’t say much, unpacking our bags, peeling off our soggy socks, and emptying our stinky shoes of pebbles.  Once we had everything somewhat organized, we headed back to Ennis with one thing in mind: must eat now!  A diet of jerky and granola can only hold you for so long.

After scouring the streets for a barbeque joint, we settled on a mom and pop café nestled in downtown. I had a giant chicken fried steak and Paul had a buffalo burger.  We ate in sleepy silence.  At one point the waitress came over and asked if we were all right.  She said we looked like zombies.  I wanted to explain that we had been hiking for two days straight, but lacked the energy to produce any words other than “eh”.

Back on 287 with our stomachs full, we had a dilemma before us. We both were exhausted and in desperate need of rest, but we disagreed on where we should stay for the night. I thought we should drive into Yellowstone National Park and camp there.  Paul disagreed, thinking this would cost us money and we would have to deal with tourists in RVs.  He wanted to stay by a pond about 15 miles north of the park.  We argued for about five minutes; I really wanted to stay at Yellowstone just because, heck, it’s Yellowstone. Paul contended it wouldn’t be like I expected and would cost money.

When we finally reached the pond, my drowsiness conceded to his plan and I pulled into the gravel drive.  We wordlessly walked up the passageway, finally setting up the tent in the first decent area we came upon.  I was inside sleeping before Paul had even started the fire.

We rested late into the next morning, letting our replenished bodies rest for just a little bit longer.  Eventually, we got up and began tearing down camp, stiff joints and all.  My body hasn’t ached like that since two-a-days in high school football.

On the way to Yellowstone, we refilled our ice, and I grabbed a much needed coffee. I perused the beer aisle again, and discovered a couple six packs from a brewery in Victor, Idaho.  In the car I checked the map and found that Victor wouldn’t be too far out of the way if we had enough time that evening.

Back on the road, we began seeing signs saying “Yellowstone National Park Ahead”.  My excitement began bubbling; I’d never been to the famous park and looked forward to seeing more of nature’s beauty.  A few minutes later we came upon the entrance and paid our 25 dollar fee.  Upon entering, we quickly came to a complete stop – cars, cars, and more cars.  It looked like big city traffic jam; just replace the trucks with RVs and mini-vans.  Slowly inching our way down the road, we both wondered how there could be traffic in a park.  I hoped and prayed that an obese tourist would step too close to a grizzly and get clawed to death.

After driving 10 minutes and only moving about 10 feet, a guy suddenly flew down past the line of cars, driving in the wrong lane.

“Where the hell does that guy think he’s going?”  Right as I said this I noticed him suddenly swerving back into our lane and flying off over the hillside…it didn’t make sense. Then, I realized what was happening just ahead of us.

“Dude! We are at a stop because some dumb ass up there is holding everyone up!” Paul screamed.  Others in the line also noticed this, and began passing the road squatter. When we reached the silver Uplander, I saw what they were stopped for.  A bald eagle sat perched on the top of a roadside tree.  As we passed them, I goose-necked and took a picture of the bird.  I examined my photo as Paul picked up speed – It didn’t look like much more than a brown blur.  I couldn’t believe these idiots held up traffic for 10 minutes just to take a picture of what may have been an eagle.

Could be a vulture turd for all we know.

Further up the road we noticed people parked roadside like the eagle loving morons from earlier should have done.  When I looked to see the sight-seeing occasion, I spotted a prairie of tall grass with a family of elk roaming in the distance.  We stopped and joined the tourists, taking pictures.  That’s when I noticed the backdrop of the scene: dead trees stood all around them, and the hillside in the distance was scattered with blackened logs.  I knew the park got devastated by a fire in 88′ but didn’t expect to see the causalities still strewn across the land.

 

"Hey, where can an elk go to find some shade around this place?"

I figured the massacre’s remains would just be seen in one area, but the entire park would end up featuring a landscape of burnt trees. Looking over the land, I mentioned to Paul that this is what the Desolation of Smaug might have looked like (last “Hobbit” reference, I promise).  The drive that I expected to be a highlight of the trip, slowly turned into a depressing ride through a tree cemetery.  I could still see traces of the beauty that once graced the land.  It was a lot like listening to a Times New Viking CD – you think you might be hearing some amazing pop songs, but it’s hard to tell beneath the carnage caused by the shitty recording quality.

 

“I don’t wanna die in Yellowstone!

We only stopped a few more times to look at waterfalls and a few geysers from a distance.  Neither of us wanted to deal with the tourists that ran amuck.  We pulled into the area where you could go watch Old Faithful, but decided against it when we saw the stream of people walking toward the bleachers.  Yes, there are bleachers.  When I noticed a guy pushing a stroller, I became annoyed.

“Why would you bring a baby to Yellowstone? God damn terrorist.”

Paul sat quiet for a second, then said, “Uh, did you say terrorist?”  I looked at him, realizing my word slip-up. I went with it anyways.

“Yeah, fucking terrorists. They’re terrorizing nature maaaaan!” We both laughed and kept using “terrorists” the remainder of the day to describe the sightseers bothering nature.

Disgusted with the entire Yellowstone experience, we sped through the last leg of the drive.  Paul put in some 70s metal band called Cirith Ungol (named after a location in Middle Earth…I know, I know, I already broke my promise).   When track two came on, a song called “I’m Alive”, Paul screamed along to the chorus of, you guessed it, “I’m ALIVE!”  The second verse seemed fitting for our exit from the land of the dead:

I roamed the world in search of life

Death followed in my wake
I searched for truth, I want the truth
And learned more than I could take
I’ve walked the roads of mystery
And it’s aged me much too soon
I’ve pied the piper and I’ve pied him well
But he still calls the tune
I’m ALIVE!

Soon after our exit from the park, we began seeing the outlines of an intimidating mountain range – The Grand Tetons.  We began stopping every two minutes to soak in the grandeur of the Tetons; it was almost like we couldn’t resist stopping to stare.  Back in the car, we would both look off at the distant peaks.  Occasionally one of us would break the silence singing the opening lyric to the Modest Mouse song “Blame It On the Tetons”.

We stopped when we reached a lake that sat at the foot of the mountain range.  We got out of the car and rested on the shore for a while, wishing we had a canoe to row out to the mountain’s edge.  In Bozeman we saw brochures advertising a kayak trip out to the Tetons for the low price of 95 dollars. We passed, but wished the remainder of the trip that we had the foresight to bring a boat of some kind.

 

We'll be back Tetons...

After about 20 minutes, I suggested we get going or our goal of reaching Pinedale, Wyoming by sun down would never happen.  Before heading to Pinedale though, we wanted to make a quick stop in Jackson Hole to visit Snake River Brewing.  Downtown Jackson Hole bustled with activity, people walking up and down the streets visiting the multitude of ski shops and mock saloons. As we drove through town in search of the brewery, I remembered that my brother Alex proposed to his wife while visiting here on a ski trip.  The streets they walked down as young lovers, the bars they perused, and the restaurant where my brother proposed: I felt like I was visiting a historic site, the birthplace of their lifelong relationship.

We parked the car on a side street and walked over to Snake River Brewing, a modern building with a wall of windows out front.  The crowd of people sitting on the patio stared at us like we were homeless.  They were partly right. The only shower we had taken on our road trip occurred in a mountain stream, which we happened to lightly splash across our faces and armpits.  Regardless, I didn’t feel welcome at the brewery.  Even the bartender acted rude toward us, throwing his nose in the air when we told him we didn’t want food, just beer.  I began noticing all the patrons shooting dirty looks at us. What I thought to be a hippie town quickly turned into yuppie-ville.

Even though the walls were lined with world beer awards, none of brews impressed us.  I don’t know how it’s possible, but maybe the snooty atmosphere affected our taste buds.  Every other brewery we visited had a welcoming, down home feel, while Snake River’s ambiance reeked of pretension.  We ignored the asses and began discussing our plans for the night.

“If we leave right now, I think we could get to Victor to try some of that Teton beer.  If we only stay there like an hour, we would be able to get to Pinedale in time to visit Bottom’s Up. What do ya think?”

Maybe the snob beer was stronger than I thought, but I didn’t hesitate. “Let’s do it.” I raised the remainder of my brown ale and chugged it down. Paul smiled and did the same. We had better things to do than hang around this uppity joint.

Paul made a quick phone call to the Grand Teton’s Brewery and the guy told him they would be open until 10.   On the map the drive to Victor looked like a straight shot from Jackson Hole.  Swerving around the mountains, we soon realized it was anything but straight.  The drive took us 10 minutes longer than we had accounted for, so we made it a necessity to make our brew stop quick.

Rolling into the outskirts of Victor, Paul noticed a large white barn to our right with a sign that said Grand Teton Brewing.  I almost missed the turn.  As we approached the building, two horses could be seen strolling near the entrance.  I could already tell that it would be a much more welcoming experiences that Snake River.

Around the back we found a door and rang the bell.  When no one answered, I stuck my head in.  A young earth-child of a woman walked out of the back room with a surprised look on her face.

“Uh…how may I help you?”

“We’re here for a tasting….” She looked confused. “We called a bit ago…some guy said you’d be open.”

"We'll leave the light on for ya!"

“Um…well, we close at eight…but come on in guys,” she said.  Although surprised, she already seemed welcoming to the two smelly strangers. Being the only patrons, she served us every beer on their roster, and as we sipped each she’d give us a detailed description of how the beer was brewed and what we should taste.  She seemed to know every minute detail of the beers.  She gave us the most attention we received at any brewery which amazed me considering she was supposed to be off work.

Soon we moved beyond beers. We told her about our trip and she informed us of her gypsy life that lead her from South Carolina, to Texas, to Washington, and eventually Victor, Idaho.  With the congenial conversation flowing, she told us she had a special treat for us and went to the back room.  While gone, Paul and I whispered in excitement with how cool she had been.  We decided we’d give her an enormous tip. It’s the least we could do.

She returned with a non-labeled bottle saying, “You have to try the stout. We don’t make it anymore, which is a shame.”  She poured us each a shot and we all raised our glasses.  She assessed the beer perfectly.  Best stout I’ve ever tasted, hands down.  Creamy texture, a hint of chocolate sweetness, and an irresistible coffee finish.

“Ah…love the coffee taste,” I commented.

“Yes! I actually mix it with my espresso in the morning.”  We laughed at her Johnny Cash lifestyle of having a beer for breakfast.

Soon we realized we hung out at the brewery far longer than an hour and had to get a moving.  We both bought a couple 12 packs, specialty aged editions of their anniversary beers, and we each left her with a 20 dollar tip.  It’s not everyday you meet such a laid back, chill person. We thanked her about a dozen times and finally hit the road.

We had a problem.  Pinedale laid 90 miles away and the clock in the car read 8:30.

“I don’t think we can make it to Bottom’s Up before closing,” Paul said.

“Dude, the brewmaster at Madison River said we had to stop there. Now, you don’t want to let him down, do you?”

Paul grinned and asked, “What do you want to listen to?”

I told him to pick something that would pump me up. Something that would encourage a lead foot. He didn’t disappoint. When the opening guitar strums of the new Titus Andronicus album “The Airing of Grievances” came out the speakers, I buried the pedal and prepared for the windy road ahead.  We had a race against time on our hands.

The pounding beat kept my heart on pace as we swerved around the peaks. I felt like a 12-year-old again playing “Need For Speed” on my brother’s 3DO, flying through the mountainside at a ridiculous rate.  I’m not saying it was the smartest moment of my life, but it was definitely the most exhilarating drive I’d ever taken.

 

Like "Need For Speed" on 3DO minus the slow motion crash sequences.

In Wyoming we flew through the Manger mountain range, dancing with the Snake River, passing over it every few turns.  Around 9:30 we passed Bondurant, so I asked Paul how close we were.  He informed me that we had probably another 40 miles to go…the bar closed at 10.  I ignored the imminent truth, and continued my high-speed journey for Bottom’s Up beer.

At 10:15 we finally reached Pinedale with Titus Andronicus coming to a close. Perfect timing. We drove down Main Street feeling unsure of whether the race had been worth the effort.  To our right we could see a sign for the brewery and noticed cars in the lot. Maybe we still had a chance.  I parked the car abruptly and we jogged into the bar.

“We’re closed boys,” a frumpy woman with a raspy voice said as she lifted a chair and put it on top of a freshly cleaned table.

“Can we just have one beer,” Paul blurted out.  She looked at the two of us, looking disheveled and hopeful.

“Eh…just one and your out of here guys.” She said with a scowl.

I exhaled.  We had reached another brewery just in the nick of time.  Paul ordered a porter, and I scoured the menu for the perfect beer to finish off our long day of driving.  Mungo Mango Wheat? I’d never heard of such a thing. It sounded kind of gross, but I thought I’d give it a try.

As the bartenders cleaned the bar and continued placing chairs up on tables, Paul and I sipped our beers in satisfaction.  The mango beer tasted refreshing and of course tutti-fruity.  I knew this would probably be the last mango beer I’d ever drink, so I relished every drop (even with the bartenders glaring at us).

Looking at my half empty pint, I thought about how our road trip was already half over. We’d already done so much and the days flew by so quickly.  I raised the glass to my mouth, ready to delight in what my next drink had in store.

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Julian Lynch “Mare”

Julian Lynch
“Mare”
[Olde English Spelling Bee, 2010]

Rating: 8.5

Déjà vu is such a strange phenomenon. Is it just a series of circumstances that remind us of a past experience? Or is it a result of daily routines where it’s inevitable that events are bound to repeat themselves?  Or could it truly be that memories are timeless, that they float aimlessly through our mind, seeping in from the past, present, and future, creating a psychic horizon where there is no end or beginning?

Whatever the case, Julian Lynch’s 2010 release “Mare” is auditory déjà vu, bringing you back to memories that never existed.  Something about Julian’s ambient psych-jazz resembles music you’ve heard before (maybe as a child, maybe on the “Finding Forester” soundtrack”, or maybe in a dream).  Yet, it also sounds like something completely fresh and original, like nothing you’ve ever heard in your before.  As you can imagine, this contradiction can cause some disillusionment. The songs on “Mare” exist in some way within our psyche, a collection of vivid arrangements that whisk you from one memory to another, then vanishing just as you find yourself nuzzling up to the warm feelings that arise within Julian’s soundscapes.

Relax and let the title track overtake your soul:

Lynch’s sound reminds me of Panda Bear if Panda Bear grew up on Miles Davis rather than The Beach Boys. The breezy saxophone on songs like “A Day At the Racetrack” will needle into your brain like acupuncture, calming your soul and sending chills up and down your spine.  The sax solo near the end of “Ruth, My Sister” hoots and squawks the ancient organ procession to a close.

Even the video for “A Day At the Racetrack” is like déjà vu:

Don’t be confused though; this isn’t a jazz album.  On other songs you may hear a sitar, distorted guitars, or a choir of childlike voices.  Julian definitely has a focused sound, yet he understands how to mesh a plethora of tools to appease his listener’s pallette.  Nothing is used simply to be “weird” or “artistic”.  Every instrument, every reverbed vocal, adds to the final product.

You would swear that “Mare” is a used record store discovery from the 1970s because every song drips with a retro vibe. At the same time, I think you would be hard pressed to find an artist in the 70s accomplishing what Lynch does with this album, an atmosphere from another place, another time.  At the risk of sounding cliche – it’s otherworldly while still being grounded in everything you know (or knew in another life).

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8. Road Trip 2008, Day 6: Strider and the Great White Menace

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet. This is not done by jostling in the street.”

William Blake

I continued looking out of the tent, searching for some sign of Paul, but couldn’t see much. I decided I needed to do something. I knew I couldn’t just sit there in fear, hoping for his return. I would have to go on a search mission. As I began stepping out of the tent, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye next to a log. I quickly looked over to find a pair of eyes staring back at me. I squinted, and made out the face of Paul, lying against the log, cuddled up in his sleeping bag. He didn’t say a word, just looked back at me in the shadows.

"Don't mind me Paul. I'll make sure things are safe in here."

I returned to the tent and zipped up the door. I knew exactly why he decided to sleep outside. He told me he would think of a solution to our bear problem, and he did: he would sleep next to the fire to keep the flame burning. He told me earlier in the evening that bears are afraid of fires (I have no verification on this claim). Nestling back into my sleeping bag, I felt kind of like a coward, letting him lay out there to face the wild beasts of the woods. I didn’t feel bad long though, returning back to sleep, feeling a little safer with a guard outside my tent. The remainder of the night, I woke up about once every hour to the piercing sound of cracking wood. It no longer scared me; in fact it comforted me. I knew it was just Paul breaking branches to feed to fire.

In the morning, I came outside to find Paul eating dried apricots next to the remaining embers of the fire. He looked up and smiled, “Man, do I have a story to tell.” He went on to describe his night. After I went to bed, he sat next to the fire and began reading “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (homo). While sitting there, he heard strange growls and rustling branches. The noises became louder, but came to an abrupt stop when they were interrupted by a loud thumping sound nearby our camp. He grabbed the flashlight and shone it into the woods.

There stood an enormous elk staring out into the woods, stomping his hoof against a rock in defiance. He seemed to be angry at something in the woods. Paul ventured to guess that some type of beast (bear, mountain lion, bobcat) had wandered into the area, which also happened to be the home of the elk and his family. After witnessing this exchange, Paul’s fear grew, and he decided he better pay up on his promise to “figure something out”. The remainder of the night, he kept our fire raging, collecting firewood whenever he saw it dwindling.

“Dude, I felt like Strider in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’. You know, the part where he stays up all night toking the fire to protect Frodo from the Black Riders…oh yeah, you never finished that book, douche.”

"Sleep well, young Douche-bo Baggins."

While we ate breakfast, he continued telling tidbits from his crazy night including a shooting star that lit up the entire night sky and a moth the size of his fist that flew into the fire and exploded. I regretted missing out on all of the excitement.

Once we had camp all packed up, I grabbed my pack and threw it onto my back. My aching body wasn’t fully prepared for another day of hiking.  I desperately needed a cup of coffee and realized how serious my dependence upon the black concoction had become.  I began clipping the straps, when I noticed Paul heading toward the path leading up the mountain. I figured we’d just head back down. The walk to our campsite took seven hours alone. Now we were going to go three more hours up, then come back down the same 10 hour walk, resulting in 13 hours of hiking in one day.

“Paul, where you going?”

“…up the mountain?” he answered annoyed.

“I thought we were just going to head back down.  If we go up, we probably won’t be getting back to the car until like 10 at night.”

“Whatever,” he said as he turned and continued up the path.  I couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t even going to be mature enough to have a conversation?  As much as I wanted to reach the top, it just didn’t seem feasible with our plans to see Aimee Mann two days away in Boulder.  Yet there he was, disappearing up ahead into the trees.

What choice did I have?  Start climbing.

While re-treading the same path we walked the night before, I decided I couldn’t be too angry at his choice to act like a child, avoiding a discussion.  I mean heck, he stayed up all night protecting me.  When someone saves your life, they kind of have the right to do whatever the hell they want.

Thinking of the possibility of missing the Aimee Mann show, I threw on my ear buds and listened to “Lost in Space”.  Ever since Paul’s story about the monster moth, I had Aimee’s song “The Moth” running through my head.  The song talks about the careless, risk-taking life of a moth, flying straight into a flame without a concern.

The Moth don’t care when he sees The Flame.

He might get burned, but he’s in the game.
And once he’s in, he can’t go back,

He’ll beat his wings ’til he burns them black…
No, The Moth don’t care when he sees The Flame.

Dragging my feet and listening to the song, I thought about how Paul lives life much like a moth, following his instinct, even when he knows he’s probably going to get burned in the end.  I looked up ahead and could see him in the far distance, walking into the great unknown, thrilled with the uncertainty that lay ahead.

 

The moth heading toward another flame.

We eventually passed where we gave up the night before and continued on our way.  Soon we were surrounded by snow and mountain flowers.  It just seemed like such a strange combination, enemies co-existing side by side.  Two hours into the hike my hamstring began to hurt again, forcing me to slow down a bit.  I didn’t know how I would be able to walk another eight hours.

As the morning progressed, the peak became closer and closer and my hammy pain disappeared gradually. The grass progressively changed to rocks, and the peak slowly disappeared behind the steep mountain walls.  I could hardly contain my excitement: we were almost there.

Coming around a rocky curve, we came upon our first obstacle of the day: a steep wall of snow, smothering our path.  To our right laid a steep incline that would take some skillful rock climbing.  We couldn’t climb the mountain side with our packs on. We needed to devise yet one more plan.  Paul decided he would leave his pack with me, climb up and over to assess the situation.  I didn’t mind; it gave me a much needed rest, sitting on a rock and heaving in the thin mountain air. Five minutes later I heard a loud hoot coming from the West. I looked over to see Paul standing atop the snow covered ledge.

“HEY! YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO CLIMB UP WITH YOUR PACK! YOU’RE JUST GOING TO HAVE TO TRY CLIMBING ACROSS THE SNOW!”

 

And we thought crossing a stream was difficult...

I looked at the white menace before me, noticing how it went up at a 45 degree angle.  I climbed through a lot of snow as a kid, but never in my life had I attempted maneuvering across a steep snow pile atop a mountain ledge.  I walked over to the snow’s edge and screamed back, “WON’T I SLIDE DOWN?”

“WITH EACH STEP KICK YOUR FOOT IN NICE AND DEEP AND PUNCH YOUR FIST INTO THE SNOW! YOU’LL BE FINE!”

I walked up a bit to a spot where the thinnest area of snow laid before me, took a deep breath, and began my first ever snow-wall climb.  I stuck my left foot into the snow and it instantly slipped out from under me. Fortunately I grabbed a hold of a near by rock.

KICK YOUR  FEET IN!” Paul yelled, watching me on the verge of my demise.

I kicked my foot several times in, forming a strong foothold and made my first step.  The difficult part was crossing my other leg over to form the next hole.  I continued across, starting to get the hang of it, although my hands started to freeze, gripping onto the chilly snow.  About half way, I felt as if my hands were going to fall off.  I needed to get across, and quickly.  The faster I moved, the weaker my footholds became, and soon my hastiness came back to haunt me.  With only a few steps to go, my foot suddenly slipped out from under me.  I grasped for snow and dragged my rampant foot, hoping to catch hold of something before falling to my death.  With a pigeon-toed stance, both of my feet came to a standstill and calm returned to the mountain peak. I looked over at Paul with my eyes wide-open.

“I TOLD YOU TO PUNCH YOUR HANDS! TAKE YOUR TIME!”

The final few steps I returned to my careful ways, despite my hands losing all feeling.  Once close enough, Paul grabbed my hand and helped pull me to the ledge.  I looked back at my snow path, proud of my feat and glad it was over.

 

If you look closely, you can see where I became a careless ass.

While rubbing my hands together, he explained his plan. “I’m going to climb back down to my pack, and try doing what you just did.”  I told him good luck while rubbing my frost bit hands, and he went on his way.

I turned and took in the view, a breathtaking display of a dozen snowy mountain tops. The ancient peaks sat all around me, like I was the dealer at a poker table surrounded by the most stoic of competitors.  Looking down into the green valley, I noticed another path, winding down the mountain side…the other path….the horse shit path!  Maybe our climb down wouldn’t be another 10 hours, but four like we were originally told.

A few minutes later, I turned back to see Paul beginning his snow climb.  Knowing about my frozen hands, he used two sticks as ice picks.  He took a lower path, thinking it would be easier, but as he went along, it became apparent that he had a much longer and more difficult journey ahead of him.  At one point, he seemed to be standing straight up and down.

"I'll take a picture if you fall!"

When he finally came to the rocky ledge, he sat down, sucking in air desperately.  It was the first time the entire trip I saw him fatigued.  We sat down for a while, not talking, just looking around at our amazing surroundings, our composure slowly resurfacing.  Finally, I turned to him and asked, “Do you want to climb up a little higher?”

He agreed, and soon we were crawling up the rocky side of the mountain, hopping from rock to rock and occasionally slipping on pebbles.  I stopped when I came upon the perfect resting spot: a large pointy rock, jutting out over the valley below.  I lay down and looked out on the sprawling mountainside while Paul continued climbing up.

I couldn’t believe I sat here, on this mountain, high above the world.  I thought about the rest of civilization, family and friends, all down below going about their normal business. I wished they could be here with me, away from the suffocating grip of modern society. Compared to this place, blessed with the heavens of Montana, everything else seemed so miniscule and unimportant.  All of the possessions, all of the worries of daily life, all of it didn’t matter.  Nothing compared to where I sat at this moment.  It felt like I was in a different world, different air, different smells, different sights.  There were no sounds, just the cacophonous whirring of the crisp wind rushing all around me. I gazed up into the cloudless sky, listening to the wind’s drone, speaking to my soul as if it were the voice of God.

After almost an hour, we decided we’d better head back down the mountainside.  Refreshed and rejuvenated, we walked to the horse shit path, and began our return trip.  A little way down the path we came across a mountain stream, flowing down the valley.  Neither of us had taken a shower since Nebraska, five days prior, unless you count our venture into the waterfalls in Spearfish.  I took my shirt off and began splashing the icy cold water up into my stinky armpits.  I grabbed the soap from my bag, and began washing my arms, then dipped my head straight into the stream, letting the water rush over my face.  I lifted my head and felt the tingle rush through my head.  I’ve never been so refreshed.  Who needs coffee when you can dip your head into a fresh mountain stream?

Nature's Starbucks

Once Paul washed his hair, we returned to moving down the mountainside.  Our new path seemed to descend much more swiftly, and after and hour it seemed like we were already halfway down.  I found the scenery on this path to be more beautiful, although I didn’t regret taking the adventure path less traveled.  It made for quite an adventure: fording rivers, fighting off grizzlies with fire, and climbing walls of snow.

With our conversation at a standstill, I pulled the i-Pod out again, in search of the perfect soundtrack for my return trip to civilization.  I decided to listen to the “Into the Wild” soundtrack performed by Eddie Vedder.  With all of the lyrics dealing with connecting to nature, I knew I had made the right choice (yes, I get the irony that I was one with nature while listening to my i-Pod).  No song fit more perfectly as a backdrop for my day than “No Ceiling” and its lyrics:

Comes the morning when I can feel

That there’s nothing left to be concealed
Moving on a scene surreal
No, my heart will never
Will never be far from here

Sure as I am breathing
Sure as I’m sad
I’ll keep this wisdom in my flesh
I leave here believing more than I had
And there’s a reason I’ll be
A reason I’ll be back

The mountain climbing exploit had been Paul’s idea, and I originally felt lukewarm about hiking up into bear country.  But now, with the beautiful valley before me and the experience of the mountaintop still alive in my soul, I knew I would return.  Maybe not to this peak, maybe not even to Montana country, but I knew I had to return to the wild for another taste of real vulnerability, real adversity, real freedom.

 

"No, my heart will never, never be far from here." - Eddie Vedder "No Ceiling"

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You say Arena; I say Urina.

A few weeks ago, due to a series of mistakes by both Delta Airlines and myself, I found myself sitting in first class, sipping on a complementary vodka Red Bull, listening to The Walkmen’s “Lisbon” and stretching my lanky legs to their limit without fear of kicking or bumping a nearby passenger.  For the first time ever, I was enjoying a cross-country flight.  As I motioned the waitress for my 4th complementary drink, I thought to myself, “I’ll never be able to sit in coach again.”

Of course, I will; for the rest of my life as a matter of fact due to my lack of funds. But just like other facets in my life, the finer things have tainted my opinion of the commonplace.  Why eat a Pink Lady when you can have a Honey Crisp? Why drink a Bud Light when you can have a Dale’s Pale Ale? Why feast on a corn-fed flank steak when you can have a grain-fed t-bone? I refuse to sit in the upper deck at Spurs games after my unforgettable experiences in the lower deck, including the time I sat behind the team’s bench and witnessed David Robinson’s final game (oh, and did I mention they won their second championship that night?).  Not only do I prefer the up close and personal experience over viewing the game from 100 feet away, but the people down below seem more passionate, and dare I say, more knowledgeable of the game.

I’m the same way when it comes to live musical performances, although it’s actually much cheaper to see a band up close in an intimate venue rather than the sterile arena setting.  On average, people pay much more to sit in uncomfortable plastic seats located far, far away from performers  than they’d ever have to dish out at a local venue.

I hold this same sentiment toward outdoor music festivals. Last weekend the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival took place, and like every other year, people who know me as a lover of live music always ask me if I’m going. Back in 2004 I attended the festival, and I haven’t been back since. The experience wasn’t all bad; I did get so see artists like Cat Power, Broken Social Scene, and The Pixies, but I just can’t find enjoyment in the disconnect felt between the artist and the audience.  The bands perform miles away on a double barricaded, bouncer infested monstrosity of a stage.  Frank Black and the rest of The Pixies actually resembled pixies from my vantage point.

I'm pretty sure Kim Deal sat out and let Tinkerbell play the set.

The mixture of people milling around ACL didn’t make the experience much better – a mish-mash of hippies, yuppies, and families with babies in tow (it’s never too early to introduce your child to pot smoke and loud music!).  I have friends who find ACL to be a yearly highlight, but it’s just not my thing.  I’d rather see bands up close in venues with character, surrounded by like-minded patrons who are there for the music and not just an excuse to break out their tie-dye shirt.  If a Sam’s Club style bulk performance weekend is the reason you enjoy festivals like ACL, the South By Southwest Music Festival offers more bands (over 2000 in fact) and the majority of the performances take place in the cozy bars that line 6th Street.

You can go to this:

Or go to this:

In the smaller venue, the “arena detachment syndrome” disappears, and memories are made: Man Man giving the audiences instruments during the set, Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington nuzzling both me and my friend’s beards mid-set,  The Very Best inviting the entire crowd onto the stage, Death From Above 1979’s Sebastian Grainger jumping off his drum set and bull rushing the crowd with microphone in hand. This is what live performance is all about. While arena shows have their pre-planned skits, laser lights, movie screens, and choreography, the primal unpredictability of rock and roll still breathes in the smoky bars across this country.

If Lady GaGa really wants to be unpredictable she can take a cue from Tim Harrington and accost her "lil monsters" on stage.

The last real “arena” show I attended was Pearl Jam way back in 2003 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater (just a hint: if you are seeing a show at a venue that is named after a corporate entity, the show will invariably stink).  Sleater Kinney opened for Pearl Jam, and they sounded great from row 83.  And that’s about all I can say: they sounded good. I wasn’t overtaken by the music, nor did I feel a connection with the ladies giving it their all on the enormous, barren stage.  There was such a wide fissure between the band and I that mid-way through the set I got up to grab some nachos and take a pee.  It’s not like I was missing much – I could always listen to their CD when I got home.

Fast forward two years: my friend PtheStudP and I were standing five feet away from the ladies of Sleater Kinney, doused in sweat and battling with the sea of lesbians that pogo-ed around us.  Sleater Kinney were tearing it up, sending the audience into a frenzy, all yearning in unison for more and more of Carrie Brownstein’s devisive guitar angst and Corin Tucker’s haunting howl that reverberated throughout the legendary SoKol Underground in Omaha, Nebraska.

After six songs, my friend informed me that he had to go to the restroom, an issue I had been dealing with myself.  Unlike my easy submission to nachos at the Pearl Jam show, I wouldn’t give in this time. We would tough it out. Two songs later, on the verge of peeing my pants, a decision had to be made. And here in lies the difference between an arena show and a small venue: at the Pearl Jam show I urinated in a urinal as the show went on; at the SoKol Underground my friend and I both pissed into beer bottles that soon after found themselves on the cement floor.  I can guarantee you’ll never see that level of commitment at an arena show.

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Video Clip of the Week: Jazzmaster Guitar

Last weekend I splurged and purchased a new electric guitar. Not just any guitar though – a Fender Jazzmaster.  The same legendary guitar that indie rock heroes like J. Mascis, Lee Renaldo, and Thurston Moore made famous. Oh, and I forgot to mention that little known artist Elvis Costello…here’s a couple clips of the masters explaining what makes the Jazzmaster so great along with some interesting stories as to how they ended up with the guitars that helped define their sound.

J. Mascis:

Lee Renaldo:

Elvis Costello:

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7. Road Trip 2008, Day 5: Faces of Fear

“It’s a dangerous business, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Bilbo Baggins “Lord of the Rings”

 

Another glorious morning in Big Sky Country.

 

Once again, I didn’t sleep very well with a rock beneath my head and Paul’s jimmy legs kicking me all night. Around 7 a.m. we began hearing cars driving past our tent since we set up right next to the road. Fearing we might be on someone’s land, Paul thought we should get going. I tried ignoring him, grasping for a few more minutes of sleep. My extra slumber didn’t last long with the sun creeping its way over the mountains, shooting waking rays straight through the screen and into my face.

I lumbered out of the tent to find Paul once again taking a morning shit, this time next to a nearby tree: the guy works like clockwork. I went and grabbed some dry cereal and crunched it down while guzzling some water. By the time I finished breakfast, Paul had finished up his business and started tearing down the tent. I walked over to the barbwire fence, and he handed me supplies. While loading the car, I noticed that the scene before me looked like something out of a Honda Element commercial. From where I stood, it looked as if the mountain-scape was pouring out of the back of my open hitch.

 

 

The Element is shitting mountains.

 

We headed back into Ennis because we didn’t know where we should enter Lone Peak; the crazy Montana woman didn’t give Paul any specifics. Once in town, Paul ran into a fly fishing shop to get directions. He came out a few minutes later with a strange look on his face.

“Um…I asked the guy how to enter Lone Peak from here, and he looked at me like I was crazy. He said he’d never heard of such and thing and then asked who gave me such bad information…”

“I told you we shouldn’t have trusted that wack-o! Damn it,” I said. I knew we should have listened to the guys at the brewery, but for some reason, Paul had it in his head that this lady had inside information. “Well, now what are we going to do? We’re already all the way over here.”

“We have some options. The guy said a lot of people climb some mountain called the Sphinx; it’s like a four hour hike to the top. I think we camped right by it. We could climb that, or back track and climb Lone Mountain. It’s totally up to you,” Paul said.

We discussed our dilemma for a minute, weighing our options. To be honest, I didn’t know any difference between the two mountains. The only reason I had my mind set on Lone Mountain is because of the name; the Lonely Mountains are home to Smaug the dragon in “The Hobbit”. I realized my nerdy reasoning didn’t excuse a 100 mile drive out of our way with gas costing $4.10. We decided we would climb the Sphinx, saving Lone Mountain for some other road trip.

After Paul got directions from the fishing store, we went to the gas station to load up on water, and I needed my morning coffee. With all our supplies replenished, we began the southern drive to Sphinx. A few roads past our camping site, Paul turned into a gravel lane that led us along the rim of the mountain range. Around 10 a.m we found a hiking inlet and parked the car.

Seeing another group preparing on horseback, Paul said we needed to get packing quick in order to avoid walking a trail of horse dung. We pulled out our gigantic backpacks, and Paul walked me through the packing process. What seemed so spacious quickly filled up: gallon water jug, clothes, sleeping bag, poncho, more water, pillow, flashlight, and even more water. I crammed the top of my pack with dried fruit, trail mix, a can of soup, and beef jerky. With the bag bursting at the seams, I heaved it onto my back and commenced the tedious task of fastening the multitude of clips and tightening all the straps. My final step entailed hooking a Camelback fanny pack to my stomach. Fanny packs rule.

Walking up to the entrance I saw two trails next to a warning sign: “BEAR COUNTRY!!! The area behind this sign is used by GRIZZLY BEARS”. I didn’t need the three exclamation points to be scared – I saw “Grizzly Man”. I read every piece of text on the sign twice, even the small print. I hadn’t prepared for grizzly bears. It recommended making noise as to not surprise the bears. I hoped the bears would have the same noisy respect not to sneak up on me. It also mentioned hanging all food items 10 feet off the ground. How we’d do this, I didn’t know yet, but I kept mental note: 10 feet, 10 feet, 10 feet.

 

 

I wonder if fanny-packs scare off grizzlies.

 

The horse group made their way up the trail to the right. When Paul saw this, he said, “I hate horses. Did you know they’re not even native to North America?” I ignored his comment, too busy imagining my bald head being ripped off by a grizzly. Paul broke me from my nightmare saying, “I guess we’re taking the other trail.” Without a map to tell us the right way to go, I agreed that dodging horse poop all afternoon sounded like the better option. Making our way up the path, I giggled to myself at the thought of my new modified version of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one with less horse shit,
and that has made all the difference

After climbing up a hill, we found ourselves surrounded by a prairie scattered with wild flowers. In the distance, a range of snow covered mountains loomed. I wondered which peak we would be climbing. It looked so far away. To think I would be standing on top of one of those in four hours. My excitement grew with each step, continuing through nature’s garden.

 

The hills are alive with the sound of douches!

 

The path eventually led us down into a wooded ravine. Entering the forest edge, my excitement turned into apprehension, looking through the trees for a grizzly bear. As we walked along, I would randomly shout, “Hey bears! We’re here! Don’t be surprised!” When Paul seemed annoyed by my yelling, I altered my bear warning strategy by occasionally whistling a little tune. After about an hour of hiking, my fear began to dissipate.

Our hike came to a sudden halt when the path we followed led straight into a bubbling brook. Growing up my family always walked through the local state park, Fort DeFiance, and would occasionally have to hop stones across a creek, but this wasn’t a Fort Defiance creek. The waves crashed into each other, white capping and wrestling with the rocks and logs that lay in their path. I stuck a five foot stick in to test the depth, and I almost submerged it. We couldn’t just hop across this creek like Frogger. We would have to devise a plan.

After locating a few dead trees, we carried them to the creek’s edge and flipped one end to the other side like a pole vault. With four limbs hanging over the rapids, a bridge was born. Paul gave our creation its first test run, maneuvering his way across the logs as they wobbled and rolled beneath him. Seeing them bend under Paul’s weight, I feared what would happen when my fat ass tried crossing.

My turn.  I cautiously crawled on all fours, feeling the bridge buckle. The heavy tree limbs we hauled down now seemed more like twigs. Reaching the halfway point, the middle branch cracked. As my legs dipped down into the cool water, I grasped for the remaining two branches and hung like a stocking. Quickly, I pulled myself up and speed-crawled the remainder of the way. Once to the edge, Paul noticed that the bottom half of my pack also got wet – not good. I kept my camera in a lower side pocket. I pulled it out and dried it off as best I could, then placed it in my fanny-pack.

 

Nice picture camera. Want to take a dip?

 

We were both pretty proud of our little bridge, despite my near-swimming experience. I felt exhilaration from both the water and the adventure of trying to cross the water. We laughed about my clumsy ass, and felt we had dealt with our last issue of the day.

About five minutes later, the path curved back to the right, returning us right back to the creek and yet another white water obstacle. Instead of getting upset, we rethought the process.  We chose to use only two logs but staggering them so that one sat higher than the other. The goal was to create a log to hold onto with the upper body while tight-roping the other. With the bridge complete, Paul gave a suggestion.

“Maybe I should go across first, drop off my pack, and then come back and get yours. That way you won’t weigh as much when you cross.” It made complete sense, but also made me feel like a Boy Scout who needed the Scout master to carry his supplies. I agreed with his plan, with the added idea of putting all valuables in the fanny-pack, which I would toss across the water to Paul to avoid any chance of getting wet electronic devices.

The plan went off without a hitch. Watching Paul cross the logs for the third time with my pack, I couldn’t help but feel like Bombur in Mirkwood Forest, forcing the rest of the crew to carry my supplies (don’t feel bad if you don’t get my “Hobbit” references; I’m a  bit obsessive). I had a much easier time without the added weight on my back.

 

I can't decide whether the bandana makes me look like a bad-ass or a "Luverne and Shirley" reject.

 

Over the next hour of hiking, we would have to create two more bridges, and my role as helpless Bombur continued. The majority of the hike so far had been pretty flat. Either we were just walking in circles around the mountain’s bottom, or climbing up at an extremely gradual incline. The path eventually led us to a rock field, where we took a quick break and snacked. Paul pulled out our plethora of trail mixes. Half of them we bought at the grocery store, and half were purchasd at Target, and let me tell you: Target’s trail mix is the greatest dried food and nut combination you will ever encounter. While Planters provides peanuts, raisins, and M & M’s, the Archer Farms variety features everything ranging from dried cranberries, soy nuts, and cashews. It’s as “gourmet” as you can get while hiking.

Back on the path, the rock field turned into an upward climb. As we came around a mound of rocks, I looked over the edge to see the creek below. I felt relief knowing we wouldn’t have to deal with any more water crossing exploits.

10 minutes later, my presumption was proven wrong with the creek once again raging up ahead. Our problem this time was finding large enough tree limbs to use. After much searching, we came up with one skinny limb. I didn’t foresee myself being able to balance across and let Paul try first. On his first attempt, he tiptoed across like a cat and laid his pack down. After tossing the fanny pack, he balanced his way back and picked up my pack. This time he wasn’t so lucky, falling in right at the end of the log, and quickly pulling himself out. The pack got wet again, but with our fanny pack innovation, it was no longer a problem.

The big deal at that moment was finding a way for me to cross. If nimble Paul couldn’t do it, I knew this lanky klutz wouldn’t be able to. Instead of trying to balance, I just jumped into the waste deep rapids and began walking across, holding the limb to keep from being rushed away. I didn’t care at that point: my jeans and shoes were already soaked. No point in attempting to be a circus act.

After that adventure, I knew not to count out the chances of running into the creek again, and I wouldn’t be disappointed. This time we found a bridge already created by nature with a large tree crossing the creek, although we had to venture a little off the path. Paul walked straight across, and started to come back for my pack when I waved him off. This was not just a limb, but a large tree trunk. I got down on all fours and crawled across the log with little trouble. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this would be our last water crossing adventure. At that point the creek crossing had become a nuisance, but I would look back on the experience as a challenging part of the climb we embarked on.

 

So close, yet so far away.

 

The hike became much steeper and more difficult to ascend. I knew it would only get tougher as we went higher. When we reached a scenic opening in the trees, we sat to take a much needed rest in the shade. After a lunch of beef jerky and dried apricots, Paul laid down to take a nap. I pulled out my I-POD and checked the time – 4:30. That meant we had been hiking over five hours. We were told it would be a quick four hour climb. Looking at the peak in the far distance, I knew we must have taken the wrong path.

As I stared at the mountain in my exhausted haze, a face began to take shape in the side of the mountain. Was I seeing things? The more I squinted my eyes, the clearer the rock face became. I began to wonder if the face in the side of the mountain had anything to do with the name the Sphinx. When Paul awoke, I pointed out my discovery to verify that I wasn’t hallucinating. After a little searching, he soon agreed with me that a face stared back at us from the rocky side of the peak.

I sat there a few more minutes enjoying my discovery as Paul put away his food and prepared to continue our hike. I didn’t know if we were even looking at the actual Spinx Mountain, but I felt proud of what I found. At first it reminded me of Pyornkrachzark from “The Never-Ending Story”, but the more I looked at it, the more it reminded me of Olmec, the talking rock from Nickelodeon’s old school game show “Legends of the Hidden Temple”.

 

If only Nick Gas were around when they went through the process of naming mountains. Mount Olmec? Only in dreams.

 

Back on the trail, my left hamstring began to bother me. At this point, the climb became almost straight up. Paul flew up the incline while I trounced behind. After another hour of hiking, he asked if we should set up camp and just try to reach the top the next day. Sore yet determined, I told him I wanted to keep going. For some reason, I had it in my mind that we could make it to the top. As we came over the crest of a steep hill, a magnificent scene laid out before us with miles of green pasture at the foot of a far off peak.

 

I can't decide if this picture reminds me of the last scene in "City Slickers" or the last scene in "Land Before Time". Regardless, it would make for a great final scene.

 

An hour later, with the mountain peak still miles away, Paul asked again if we should set up camp. My mouth said yes, but my hammy said no. I still had it set in my mind that we would reach the peak by evening’s end. He explained that we could just try in the morning, but I knew we wouldn’t have much time. We had tickets to see Aimee Mann on the 9th in Colorado, and with it being the 7th, we didn’t have days to waste. We came to an agreement: set up camp, empty our packs of everything but food, and continue up the mountain. We would be able to move faster and would have camp set up before sun down.

A few minutes later we came upon the perfect camping area, a wide open plateau, covered with wild flowers, and trees located on the edge where we set up the tent. With our tent set up and filled with pillows, sleeping bags, and water jugs, we continued our climb. Our packs may have been lighter, but our climb became more difficult. At that point, I no longer enjoyed my surroundings, trudging along, staring at my feet, hoping the next turn would open up to the mountain peak. I threw on my i-Pod and listened to some “Opie and Anthony”, letting the radio show chatter occupy my weary mind.

After an hour, we came upon a valley of snow, which lightened my spirits. We must be getting close! With a new pep in my step, we continued up the mountain side, awaiting the arrival of the mountain top. A half hour later, we finally reached the home stretch.

“We’re almost there,” I told Paul.

“Dude, it may look close, but that’s probably another hour or two of climbing. I don’t think we can make it tonight and still get back to camp before sun down.” I looked down at the time – 7:30 – we weren’t going to make it. Bummed and disappointed, I agreed that it would be smart to return to our campsite while we still had light.

The walk back was even less exciting, knowing we wouldn’t be reaching the top after all. But it wasn’t all a loss, after eight hours of hiking, my legs would soon get their much needed rest. Back at camp, I hung my damp jeans and socks from tree branches and changed into clean clothes. I walked down to the field of flowers and sat on a rock, watching the sun set on our long day. I looked to the mountain ledge to my left, and noticed it also resembled Egypt’s Sphinx, with two great legs lying out in front of the mass of rocks.

 

Will the real Sphnix please stand up?

 

Once the sun had set, Paul got a fire started using branches found in the woods. We set a couple cans of soup next to the flames and eagerly awaited a hot dinner. After a few minutes of drained silence, I said,” We’d better hang our food from the grizzlies before it is completely pitch dark out here.”

“Um… I forgot to bring a rope.”

“What?! We don’t have a rope?” Silence. “What are we going to do with our food?!” Silence. “What about the bears?” Silence. “Damn it!” I shouted, throwing my damp socks into the dirt.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”

“How can you say that? We have packs full of food. What should we do? Could we just hang the food off a high branch or something?”

“If we can get to it, a bear can get to it,” Paul calmly answered.

“Fine. I guess we’ll just be bear food then.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll figure something out.”

I couldn’t believe how calm he could be. We were sitting ducks, awaiting our eminent death at the clawed hands of a grizzly bear, hungry for Archer Farm’s Trail Mix. I grabbed my soup and slurped it up in disgust. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t brought a rope. He’s supposed to be the one who knows what he’s doing up here. Instead of worrying about hanging food 10 feet in the air, I should have been more concerned with what device would be used to do it.

Once I finished my soup, I got in the tent and laid down. I knew the polyester material couldn’t protect me from a bear’s claws, yet at the moment, the shelter provided me with mock safety. I tried sleeping but would jump to full alert when I heard twigs breaking and  distant growls. At some point, my exhaustion beat out fear, and I was fast asleep.

In the middle of the night, I awoke to sounds outside the tent. I could see shadows along the wall and hear crackling branches. I sat up for a few minutes, listening for more sounds. Then I looked to my right and realized Paul still hadn’t come to bed. I checked the time – 2 a.m. I took a moment to compose myself, slowing down my breathing, sucking in air, trying to keep my hands from shaking. I had to find out if he was okay. Finally, I unzipped the tent door carefully and glanced out. I could see the fire still crackling, yet Paul was no where in sight. I began to panic. Where had my friend gone?

I stared out into the vast darkness, wondering what I should do next. I was utterly alone.

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