Mental Health is not Social Media

FeaturedMental Health is not Social Media

2020 has been a weird year so far. To be fair, every year feels like that. However, this year feels… uncertain… bleak… long. But not necessarily bad. It’s just… there.

These past few weeks, I’ve been ruminating on words to type onto the screen, debating what needs said and how to say it. There’s a lot to say given the world we currently live in. I’m not sure I can even put all my thoughts into words; after all, some things cannot be captured in syllables and consonants. Some things are better off existing in the in-between, where we know what it is even if we can’t exactly put letters to it. Maybe that sounds crazy, but also… I can’t put it into words.

Like everybody else, I wanted to start 2020 with a bang. I wanted to do ALL the things, conquer ALL the goals. I wanted to continue bettering myself mentally, physically, and spiritually. Some of those things I am doing.

My mental health is much better this year than it was last year, but I still need to be careful of what I let in–more on that later. Physically? Well, if you were to ask me where the nearest gym was in State College, I’ll simply pretend I didn’t hear you as I watch the next new show on Netflix. Not to mention my newfound addiction of zebra cakes of which I bought eight boxes to use as an in-class demonstration—a demonstration I never did, which resulted in me (and my zebra cake BFF) to sneak in sugary snacks throughout the school day as if they were little rolls of crack. Spoiler alert: they are; we’re down to one box in less than a week. And spiritually? I do feel I’m better in tune with my surroundings, finding my own zen, if you will.

I’m writing more, reading more, and focusing on my students more. I’ve been taking small steps such as walking to work vs. driving the .2 miles there, cooking meals at home, and actually paying attention to the things I buy–not that I don’t buy things. I do. Target is a magical place.

However, I’ve noticed that one place that has no magic, despite all its promises of social sorcery, is that of social media.

Okay, fine. Maybe it does have magic, but it’s the dark kind, one that boils in pits of tar and swallows reason and logic as if it were a parasitic slug.

Up until December, I’d taken a two year break from Facebook and a six-month hiatus from Twitter. Why? Well, it’s full of fake news being touted as facts, narcissistic personalities reigning free all for a like or a hundred, and endless debates on morality that never actually does anything but irritate people and cause divides. Oh, and to be fair, I’m guilty of some of these things myself. I am, after all, human.

I did enjoy my first few weeks back on Facebook: I publicly came out as gay and received much support from friends even if I didn’t get much support from family members because, in their misunderstood interpretations of the Bible, they feel I’m an abomination for loving men, for my biological attraction to them. But it’s okay. They still love me–they just don’t love what I am. Oh well. I’m finally free being out. I enjoyed calling out social injustices. I spent an hour or so purging my friends list because why not?

Then I found myself getting into little debates here and there. Some with friends/family and others with strangers, both on Twitter and on Facebook. I started finding myself devoting considerable time each day to these feeds, procrastinating from doing things more deserving of my time. I’d scroll and scroll and scroll, laughing at Baby Yoda memes until I cried, watching dog videos until they morphed into videos of people talking to their pet cactus (it’s real), and becoming depressed at how terrible and deadly ignorance, racism, sexism, and Trumpism is in the digital world. My time and mental health were being assaulted.

Sure, I can keep up on the news easier this way. I can keep in touch with awesome people through these platforms. But… do I really need to know what Jane Doe is eating for Sunday Funday? Is it necessary to read how John Doe is drooling over Jon Snow on Game of Thrones? What purpose does it serve for me to see memes, comedic or political when all it does is either waste away time or make me upset at the degrading morality of our nation?

The answer is: no, it’s not necessary. No, there’s no purpose except to get sucked into the vortex of self-important posts and cat videos.

I try to justify keeping these platforms to use my voice, to speak up, to stay connected. But really all I’m doing is opening myself up to mental attacks and judgment on others and from others. I’m sitting behind a screen, feeding some strange appetite while I’m really starving myself from the beauty life has to offer.

Remember my adventures in California? If not, feel free to check those out, but… I didn’t have social media when I was in CA. I had my phone, yes. But no Facebook–no Twitter. It was just me and the world–connections with strangers, embracing the beauty and wonder of nature, feeding my creativity with experiences outside of a digital screen. God, I LOVED THOSE DAYS! They were energizing, fresh, invigorating. My soul has been longing for that magic to return. Friends, if I told you how many times I’ve looked at Air BnBs and flights and wonderful places to see in the past month, you’d probably think me crazy. I want another adventure. Hell, I want to return to Mt. Shasta so bad it hurts. Alas, money is a wicked and limiting thing.

But so is social media when you consider all it keeps you from.

The reason why I enjoyed life so much in those two weeks was because I was free from the burden social media holds over the lives of so many people. I was free from the negativity in the world. I was free from the baggage of feeling like I had to post something or like a status or comment on Suzie’s post about how sinful and wrong a Super Bowl half-time show was but yet blindly praise a man who treats people poorly daily with terrible names and intentional lies, a man who breaks up families and fuels an “us vs. them” mindset with human beings.

All of that noise was gone, and I was better for it. So, as 2020 starts picking up steam, what’s the point in keeping the two platforms that cause me so much anxiety, depression, and unproductiveness? I can’t come up with many reasons.

Therefore, the best thing I can do is delete both accounts. Entirely. In this way, I won’t have any accounts to return to. There will be no temptation to hop on and see what’s up with people or get into debates. It will be deleted along with my accounts.

You might say, “But Josh! This won’t shield you from the horrible things in the world!”

That is true. I’ll still follow the news. It will continue to make me sad, to make me cry. It’s my duty, however, to be informed without exposing myself to what I see on social media. Folks, our democracy is dying. Some of you will not agree with me. Some of you see it just as I do. We live in uncertain times where a president can commit a crime and get away with it. People of his own party admits to his wrong doing but won’t vote him out. We are seeing the death of democracy and justice and the rise of an authoritarian system. I only wish I was exaggerating. I only wish my family didn’t so eagerly support and love a liar, a racist, and a man who contradicts all their religious morals on a daily basis. It hurts to see people I love and care about become so easily manipulated by lies and the degradation of human beings. I can’t tolerate it on social media any longer, as it does nothing good for me.

I’ll get my news through the internet, but in this way I’ll avoid the comments and responses. I’ll use my voice, not on social media platforms, but in my community. I’ll speak up against the injustices in the world by writing my stories and posting on here. I’ll help raise an intellectual army in my students, encouraging them to research and explore and form their own opinions–to love, to forgive, to continue being the awesome human beings they already are. That’s where using your voice makes the most impact–in the real world. Not in the social media world.

We are in strange times. 2020 is uncertain at this point. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of year it’ll be and who it’ll make me at the end.

I refuse to let Facebook and Twitter be the things that shape me.

So, with that, I’ll leave you. You will not find me on either platform anymore. You can find me on here where I’ll write when I can. You can reach out to my cell phone. Should you find me outside the digital walls, hopefully you’ll join me in the wilderness of real-life, enjoying nature and making connections.

This is the way.

2020: The Year of the Metal Rat

Featured2020: The Year of the Metal Rat

No, you didn’t read that wrong. 2020 is the year of the Metal Rat. I was doing some reading on the Chinese Zodiac signs. The rat is the first animal in the Chinese calendar cycle and, in Chinese culture, rats are actually considered a sign of good luck.

As this is the first animal in the cycle, the Year of the Rat is a sign of renewal that indicates new experiences. The attachment of metal to this particular year is said to symbolize success.

We are entering a new decade. That in itself seems symbolic enough to me of a year of renewal and new experiences.

And it’s something I want to take to heart.

If you’ve been following my sporadic posts and adventures throughout the year, you know I’ve been dealing with a lot of changes. I’ve been speaking my truth. I’ve laid everything out on the sand while also drawing lines where necessary. I’m going to enter 2020 free.

And I’m yearning for more adventures, desperate for them. My favorite memory of this past year was definitely my adventure in California. I adored that time and I passionately miss it. I wish I could afford to go back, but finances aren’t looking promising in that regard. It’s simply an experience I’ll never ever forget. I hope it is a preview of what’s to manifest in 2020.

Interestingly enough, 2020 is the target for perfect vision. So we have clear vision, success, and new experiences attached to kickoff of a new decade.

Ten years ago, I was a terrible person. I was close-minded, said I was “color-blind” which is a highly racist thing to say, I was intolerant, fighting my true self, and didn’t think about my opinions–only went with what my family said.

Ten years later, and education has taught me a lot about the world. My perspective (2020) has changed. I’m more open-minded. I’m openly gay. I see race so I can help fight against racism, but also appreciate the diverse cultures in the world. I’ve learned the power of research. I’m not the “cookie-cutter” person I was told to be my whole life.

I’m entering 2020 hoping to still grow and learn, as there is much to still uncover.

I’m entering 2020, a year where I will gain my Master’s in English and Creative Writing and, hopefully, be accepted in another Master’s or Doctorate program for Equity and Diversity in Education.

I’m entering 2020 with a clear vision and momentum for the novel I’m working on–the foundation of my California trip.

I’m entering 2020 with a goal to disconnect more, to reconnect with nature, to make a difference where I can.

I’m entering 2020 proud of what I’ve become, eternally grateful I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago. That guy was awful!

This is the Year of the Metal Rat, the year of new experiences and success.

How will it define you? Or how will you define it?

Brave, Bruised, Who I’m Meant to Be. No Apologies.

FeaturedBrave, Bruised, Who I’m Meant to Be. No Apologies.

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

Yes, yes it has.

The last time I posted was fresh off my exciting California trip, just as I was preparing to begin teaching a whole new group of students. I had every intention of blogging at least once per month. We all know how that turned out.

But I’ve been putting a lot of effort into my teaching. I’m in love with my job again. I’m trying so many new things with my students from self-assessments to taking a step away from full-class reads and allowing students to choose books within a genre to read instead. It’s exciting. Fresh. Scary. Wonderful. It makes me feel bad for the teacher I was the past couple of years, but I also realize that’s part of growing. For the first time since I started teaching middle school, I feel like I’m able to actually focus on teaching vs. directing. Not that I regret my years doing drama, but it was time to grow in other areas.

My mental health is much better. That’s not to say I don’t have ups and downs or that I always manage my time wisely. I’m human, after all. No amount of medicine can make me productive. Except coffee. Coffee always wins. Your argument is invalid.

A lot has changed since that post in August. Besides trying to be the best teacher I can be, I’ve finally announced my truth. What truth? The truth that I’m 100% gay–always have been. It’s been a slow process over the years. I’m not sure I ever discussed it on my blog post.

But here I am. And I’m not apologizing for it.

I started with close friends a few years back and was met with nothing but support, both local and long-distance. Those friends mean the world to me. You know who you are.

During a heated political argument nearly two years, I told my mom. It was the opposite of support. The slow process continued. Friends offered support, but most of my family did not. I expected as much considering I was raised in a highly conservative evangelical home. I grew up in a place of White privilege where the norm was the White straight male and women submitting to men. I hardly questioned it growing up. Why would I? Instead, I hid who I was because I knew the response would be terrible.

Oh, I tried to pray the gay away. I tried to make deals with God. I did my fair share of self-loathing because I thought there was something wrong with me, that I was a defect on the human assembly line. After all, I was taught that homosexuality was an “abomination” and a disgrace to God. It was the message of “love the sinner, hate the sin” that is really a facade to justify hatred and inequality. Trust me. I know. I grew up around parents who would balk at any signs of homosexual relationships on TV. I remember when two guys in Glee kissed my parents freaked out, muttering how disgusting that was and that nobody wanted to see that–that showing love between two guys was immoral and shoving the LGBT+ community down their throats. When Once Upon A Time introduced a fierce lesbian couple, the show was banished because how dare they show that!

A lovely thing to see! We need more LGBT+ representation!

Yet the heterosexual relationships were never questioned. How was it fair they get screen time but people like me don’t? What message does that send to people hiding in the dark, afraid to speak up about their truths?

Instead, this disgusted response to the rising gay community only made me hate myself even more. I was trained to think I was disgusting, a mistake, an abomination in God’s eyes. I was cursed. Doomed. Unworthy. And I knew that if I came out during my teenage years, I’d probably be put into some sort of gay conversion camp.

So fear stayed my tongue.

I lived a secret life.

I stayed in the dark, hidden away.

But then I moved away from home–like to another state. I still hid for quite some time, but education is a powerful thing. I began to learn more and more that there was no shame in who I am. I did studies that actually add context to the “hate verses” evangelicals use so frequently against people like me. I researched. I found I was not an abomination or a mistake or defected.

I’ll never forget the first words from a family member when I came out to them: “No. No. I did not give birth to that.” It went on that this family member told me that they cried themselves to sleep that night. Future discussions would accuse me of being selfish because I hadn’t considered their feelings when I told them I was gay, that I wasn’t considering how hard my truth was to them. It was even suggested that me being gay was a mental illness and that I should talk to someone so they could “fix” me.

Those are words that can’t ever be taken back and even though I know none of what was said by them is true, it still sucks. Words stick.

There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m normal. I’m who I am and nobody will keep me quiet.

A few months ago, I told another family member I was gay. Yes, it was during a heated political argument once again. Maybe it’s not the best time to tell family I’m gay, but alas. It happened. Through text, I was “laughed” at and told that the joke was on me because they always knew I was gay. When I said I kept quiet because I feared the reaction, they said I was simply trying to shift the blame to somebody besides myself. Again, it was my fault. Maybe in part it was, but the fault doesn’t rest solely on my shoulders for keeping silent.

And then I was told that my dad had always hoped my mom would pass away before she found out I was gay because of the trauma he feared it would cause her.

Just… take a moment to consider that.

Thinking about that too much makes me angry and sad.

I’m sure their side of the story would be vastly different as an attempt to save face, to save names, would be made. But the damage is done. The words have been spoken. It hasn’t been an easy process; it was never going to be.

I posted on Facebook (ya, I’m back on there for some reason) that I was gay and mentioned some of what I faced from family due to being gay. I was met with an abundance of support and love from friends and people I haven’t talked to in years. I had some people reach out privately to me, saying that too, were living their truth in secret for now.

I noticed I was completely blocked by both parents, not that it mattered. We have vastly different views of the world and politics, of what humanity looks like. But that’s a story for another post. One of them tried to call me a few hours after my post; I ignored the call. I can only imagine the screaming and yelling I would’ve been met with. I’d probably be told I was selfish to post that, to expose my gay nature to others, to talk about the words said upon me coming out. But I don’t regret it. It needed to be said because this kind of shit happens to people daily.

There’s no mystery as to why suicide rates amongst the LGBT+community are high. It’s because of stuff like this. I mean I’d be lying if I said I never contemplated that path growing up or even weakly tried it.

People need to know that it’s okay to be who you are. I know it’s a cliche thing to say, but I can’t stress the freedom that comes with being honest with who you are and being open about it–to not hide. I used that as a brief lesson with my students when talking about being true to your identity during a ROAR lesson. I told them I was gay because how could I tell them to be true to their identity yet still hide mine? I had to be vulnerable and trust them as human beings. None of them reacted poorly. They actually hardly flinched, but they were all smiles. And I love them for that. To them, it didn’t seem abnormal at all. There’s hope for the future.

I don’t regret coming out, nor should I. I’m proud. I’ll never forget a line Jennifer Lawrence says in the movie X-Men: First Class. Despite persecution against who she was born as, a mutant, she finally says, “Mutant and proud.” That always stuck with me. I’m gay and proud.

I’m just glad I’m not the same person I was ten years ago. As I said earlier, education is a powerful thing. It has allowed me to be more informed, more accepting, and a better human. It doesn’t mean I’m flawless. I have much to learn. There’s a lot of education still to be had as I try to see past my White privilege, to continue living my truth, and working to be the best I can be.

So, be yourself. Be true. Be open. If you’re afraid, I get it. I’ve been there. Will you lose friendships or maybe even family by being true to yourself? It’s hard to say for sure. Whatever your truth is, whatever you feel you have to hide from those around you, don’t. Life’s too short to keep parts of yourself hidden. If you hide in the dark, that darkness will infest your mind. It will whispers lies to you, make you feel like garbage, and shame you. Relentlessly. But if you open yourself up–if you let the light in–nothing can squash who you are. You can live your life free and happy. The risk is worth it.

There’s a powerful song that I adore, a song that captures everything about this process. I want you to listen to it. No, I want you to do more than listen to it. I want you to hear it in your heart. I want you to study the lyrics. Embrace them. Live them. Maybe you need to listen to the song multiple times. Sit back. Close your eyes. Let this piece of art work inside you as it has for me. Be empowered.

Make no apologies. Don’t let the shame sink in. Burst through the barricades. Be warriors. Don’t let people break you down to dust because there’s a place for you. BE YOU!

Be fierce.

And see The Greatest Showman if you’ve never seen it because that song (in context) is such a powerhouse. It captures the message.

I’ll leave you with this, something I told my students when I came out to them, something to fight the fear of being true and open to those around you:

The people who matter will accept you as you are.

Back to Reality, Back to Battle

FeaturedBack to Reality, Back to Battle

Since my Caliventure experience, it’s taken some time to return to the world of adulthood.

And, spoiler alert, I’m not a fan.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some good moments going on. There are. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t some bumpy moments happening either. And by bumpy moments, I mean a resurfacing of past demons.

On a more physical sense, it took me a couple of days to readjust to the altitude and, more or less, stop suffering from what I presumed to be a mix of jet lag and altitude sickness. I mean driving my own car back in Pennsylvania was enough to make me nauseated. I was ready to give up driving for the rest of my life.

Then some highs and lows hit me.

Randomly. Without warning.

During the teacher in-service week, I recall sitting down at a faculty lunch. When I sat down, I was fine. But, like a switch had been flicked, my mood darkened and the tendrils of depression started gripping me once more. It was so sudden. So unexpected. Crippling. I turned into the cloud at the table. I didn’t interact with people. I don’t think it was noticed much, if at all. To keep it that way, I ended up retreating from the social environment, vanishing into my classroom.

I’m being reminded of just how complex mental health is. Or, maybe, it’s not so much of being reminded as it is continuing to learn what this process is truly like. So many times I think people assume depression and anxiety can be cured like one can cure the flu or the common cold.

“Here, you sad person you, take these pills. In a few days your symptoms will wear off and VIOLA! You’ll be healthier than ever.” #Winning

Except, that’s a mainstream myth that only people who suffer from depression and anxiety realize. The people around them? Well, they can never fully understand that, despite their best intentions. Winning is a daily process with mental health.

As for my highs, I’m so glad to be back with my dog, Logan. I missed him immensely and it means the world to me to be able to curl up on the coach with him once more, using him as my favorite pillow and telling him how much I love him and how much of a good boy he is. I’d be lost without him. I really would. Next time I go on an adventure, I want him to come with me. He’s my sidekick.

I have been happy to be back in the classroom. Frankly, I love my kids. I always have loved the kids I get. This year feels fresh in so many ways because it’s the first year where I can devote the majority of my time into my classroom. I don’t have to worry about the huge demands of directing the drama club productions this year. I can focus on teaching. Focus on my students. Focus on me. I’ll miss drama, but I’m excited to see what this year holds without it.

I’m already having more time to do different things. I was able to put a lot of time (and money I really don’t have) into my classroom. For real, it’s been completely overhauled with cozy lighting, a reading nook, and Marvel decorations. I assigned an array of diverse and powerful Marvel characters to each my classes; characters that are younger, a new generation–characters I want the kids who love Marvel to get to know and explore. I have a Shuri class, the sister of Black Panther (and sometimes Black Panther herself in the comics) and African Princess; there’s an Ironheart class, an intelligent young Black woman named RiRi Williams was a mentee to Tony Stark, a girl who fashioned her own iron suit–fantastic character; I set up a Ms. Marvel class, the first Muslim-American superhero with shapeshifting abilities that pale in comparison to her incredible heart; there’s a Ghost-Spider class (also known as Spider-Gwen), the punky White girl who is an all-out boss with her spider abilities; and then there’s my Spider-Man class fashioned after the Miles Morales version, the middle-school aged bi-racial Black/Puerto Rican boy who has to fill the roles of the iconic Spider-Man after he’s bit by a strange spider.

I know that may not seem like a big deal to you all as my readers. But for me? It’s huge. I want to create a classroom where all are welcome. I want to make sure I’m representing all voices. These characters are a start and for every character, I made sure to buy some of their graphic novels so the kids could get to know them.

It was funny because in my Ironheart class a young boy was heard saying, “Ironheart? Who’s she? And why are we a classroom set up after a girl?”

I smiled and said, “She’s an incredible character. You should be honored! She’s got so much heart and loyalty.”

Another boy was quick to ask, “Mr. H, do you have Ironheart’s graphic novel? I want to know more about her!”

It filled me with joy during the first week, a week I always get anxious and excited over. It’s a week where building relationships is key. I love taking the time getting to know my new students, kids I hope to each and also learn from over the next nine months.

These moments fill me with such joy. I’m teaching lessons with passion. Grading essays with more thought because, yes, I already assigned writing to the poor souls.

But there’s a part of me that still wishes I was on the West Coast, having adventures.

Exploring.

Hiking.

Taking risks.

Seeing the world.

Ignoring adult responsibilities.

As I said in my season finale post, I’ll never forget the lessons California taught me. While my bank account and finances were hit majorly from my trip, I don’t regret what I did. I’d do it again. I learned much about myself. About the world. About nature. It gave me hope. Joy. Happiness.

My return to the adult world has been jarring at times. As I said, I’ve had my ups, but I’m having my lows.

Random bursts where I just lay around and stare at the wall, despite the fact I’m on my anti-depressant medication. And, yes, I Googled whether it was possible for my body to build a tolerance to the meds. And, yes, it’s possible.

I suspect that’s what’s happening and that I might need to talk to my doctor about this. Which, sadly, means more medical bills I can’t pay. A 20 minute session with a doctor costs me almost $100, and that’s with insurance.

It’s getting worse. My mood swings. This past week I spiraled into it a bit more. No motivation. No drive. Last weekend, a friend I work with invited me to her place for a pizza party. I was immobile on my couch, unable to do anything all day, hiding from the world.

Right now, I’m struggling to understand how to prevent myself from self-destructing some friendships that mean a lot to me, from pushing away people I care about. I have a friend who’s done a lot for me, but a friend who doesn’t know how to best support me anymore. So this friend has put up barriers around themself because they don’t want to take on the battle I, myself, have to deal with. While it’s hard to process this friend’s words, I can’t necessarily blame them. This friend is probably right: I have to take care of me. Once I do that, things will fall into place.

I’m trying to grasp and understand it. And I also know that it doesn’t mean I won’t face this mental health issue more in the future. I just have to get better at parrying it, like it’s an epic lightsaber duel on Mustafar between Master and Padawan. Every blow violent and striking, but every swing met with equal resistance. And maybe I’ll stumble here and there because it takes energy to stay on your feet. One wrong step and a mortal wound could slice through you–through me. But, sticking to the analogy, I have to use the Force… use what I know, my weapons, and the strength within to fight back.

It’s not going to be something that permanently goes away. It’ll always be there. Always ready to pounce. Dark vs. Light. Depression vs. Joy.

That’s what it means to be back to reality–to face life head-on. I’m not hiking through the wilderness of California anymore. I’m hiking through the unpredictable forests of life, and I can’t let my guard down. I have to do whatever it takes to take care of myself for myself. For my friends. For my family. For my team. For my students.

I may stumble, like I did on the powerful slopes of Mt. Shasta, but I have to keep going.

And I have to stop using metaphors because, really, how many can I pull out? The answer is… a lot. I mean I am listening to epic instrumental music while writing this, so… are you surprised?

Anyway, life has been interesting since returning. I thought my adventure ended when I left the West Coast. But really? I think that’s where it all began. It’s where my perspective shifted, where I gained back some confidence and willpower, where I overcame fears. And California Josh came back to the East Coast. He’s adjusting. He’s slipping.

But he’s still on an adventure.

Because do adventures ever really end?

The War, The Call, and the Leap into Adventure

FeaturedThe War, The Call, and the Leap into Adventure

You ever take a leap into a part of life you never thought you would? Like so much that the jump you’ve made has you both excited and, yet, terrified all at once? That’s me. I’m dropping aimlessly from the ledge I jumped off. 

Spinning. 

Spiraling. 

Eager.

You have to understand something about me first before I tell you about this crazy leap I’ve taken.

You see summer is the time of year us teacher folk look forward to. Life slows down a little bit. We can do things or we can not do things. It’s up to us. Our structured schedule gets a little respite. Netflix, sleeping in, playing video games, reading ALL the books—we’ve earned the right to be a little lazy. Sure, we still have some meetings to attend or planning to do, but it’s not as rigorous. 

tenor

Personally, my summer has been lazy and low-key and, trust me, I’m 100% okay with that. This past year of teaching was, perhaps, one of my most difficult years. Ever. It broke me in ways I didn’t expect. Last year I was juggling way too much. No, really. I was. Here’s what I was doing: 

  • Planning/Teaching/Grading four different preps across two grades—7th and 8th English
  • Taking multiple grad courses online for my Master’s in English and Creative Writing. Lots of reading. Tons of writing. 
  • Planning, promoting, organizing, and directing the middle school’s production of The Lion King Jr. which had nearly 100 students involved. Long hours after school. Lots of demands. 
  • Trying to take care of myself.

But that last one? It didn’t work out very well for me. Actually, I broke and I broke hard. One of my best friends always says to me, “It’s all about balance.” He will also tell you that balance is not something I’m particularly great at. You see, when you spread yourself so thin that you can’t even take care of yourself and/or do what you want to do, consequences will be paid. It came at a high price. 

I entered a fierce war with both depression and high anxiety. I was a walking human (or not so human) shell. Most days I’d go through the motions at work, but then there’d be days I’d shut down and withdraw around my peers/team because I’d spent all the energy I had into the kids in my classroom and drama program. It was easier to cocoon myself. And it turned me into a soulless jerk at times.

tenor-2When I’d go home, I’d sit on the couch and stare at the wall for hours and hours sometimes too depressed to even turn on the TV. I’d sleep. I’d do nothing, which actually fed into my high anxiety because then all the things I had to do weren’t getting done. It’s a vicious cycle. While it seems easy to tell somebody like to me to push through it, it’s not always that simple. It’s like a parasite, leeching off you, drawing out your very essence and power. 

I wish I could say I was graceful in this battle, but, really, who is? With the help of my buddy, I agreed to see a therapist. It helped for a little bit, but depression is such a nasty monster. It adapted. It found other ways to bleed into my life, to cripple me, and suck me dry. Closer to the performance of the school musical, my teaching powers vanished. I lived at the school. My beard grew out, my hair became wild. I literally looked like a crazed mountain man. Really surprised the school didn’t call the police saying, “Um, yeah, so… this caveman has infiltrated one of our classrooms. Send help.” 

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Everything’s fine. I’m fiiinnneee. Don’t be scared, kids.

When the consuming work of the musical ended, my depression  still swung its fists. Understand that I adore my students, both in my classroom and in the drama club. I regret NONE of the time spent with them. They truly are wonderful kids, and, honestly, intuitive. Quite a few students regularly would ask if I was okay. I’d smile and say, “Of course!” but there were other days my patiences levels were so low it betrayed my struggle. And these kiddos endured and supported me and forgave me when I acknowledged moments I didn’t handle a situation correctly. Again, I love the kids I work with. And, so, I had to get better.

With both the suggestion of my therapist and a few of my closest friends, I looked into taking some medicine to help . I resisted at first, but that was only hurting myself. I was ashamed it’d come to this and for some reason the medicine seemed to be a physical icon, telling me I was weak. But depression is a crass liar. So, pushing past those lies, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to at least try. I’m glad I did.

I’ve been on anti-depressants since May, I decided to step down from directing the drama club at the school (a very hard decision), and I’m preparing to enter a school year where I can actually pour everything into teaching. Sure, I’ll be taking grad courses, but things will be much more manageable. This year will feel fresh. Different. Life-changing even.

But… this summer… something has been missing. 

Adventure. 

Don’t get me wrong. Reading the books I’ve been reading, watching the great shows on my TV, spending time with my doggo, and playing video games has been wonderful. But I haven’t gone anywhere.

So, what was I to do? What adventure awaited me?

Well, I got a new shiny story idea a few weeks ago. One that I am extremely excited to write and explore. I love meeting with the characters of this story, enjoying their company, their flaws, and their voices. I look forward to spending time with them. #WritersAreWeird. 

And then I started planning the setting of my story last week and it was revealed to me that the setting to my new novel would be on the West Coast, specifically Northern California. One problem, though. I’ve never been there. How could I write realistically about a place I’ve never been? Sure, Google is a powerful ally, but experience is even greater. And sure finances are not my strong point. You know how some people should never get credit cards? Well, I’m the poster-child for that.

But there was something deep inside me demanding this adventure. And the yearning to go to Northern California has been wildly intense. I know how that sounds since this tug has only surfaced within the past week. But I just feel like this is something I have to do. Something that’ll be good for me. Something, personally, I won’t regret. Let’s not ask my bank account, though.

tenor-4

So, after some crazy and daring decisions, I board a plane to San Francisco in less than two weeks. By. Myself. I’ve never done a solo adventure trip like this. 

From there, I’ll rent a car, drive on Highway 101, stopping to see whatever I want, exploring the majestic Redwood Forests, and then settling into Redding, CA where I’ll be primarily stationed. I didn’t know a thing about Redding a week and a half ago. So, you may be wondering, why there of all places? 

I was drawn there by the call of the mysterious Mt. Shasta, which will play a key role in my new book idea. It’s perfect. Mt. Shasta has a ton of weird events and mythology surrounding it ranging from portals to other dimensions, to a mysterious underground crystal city called Telos where the ancient Lemurians are rumored to live, to people seeing mysterious figures roaming the area, to a haunted volcanic tunnel where a malevolent entity is rumored to reside. Also? Bigfoot sightings.

Fun fact: After I booked everything, I read an article that stated some people visit Mt. Shasta because they feel summoned there by the landmark and when they leave they feel changed. Weird, right? Not saying I’m buying into that. But could that explain my weird drive to explore it? Who knows.  Mt. Shasta is full of stories to be unearthed and explored. It’s scary and exciting. Don’t worry. I plan to be smart. I’m not going to jump into a portal to another dimension (as tempting as it may be) or have lunch with a malevolent spirit (or, rather, become lunch), or lodge at an underground crystal city (even if it sounds beautiful). At least, none of these things will happen intentionally. I will be smart. I will keep in contact with people at home and my hostess in CA. But the possibilities are endless. So, this trip is screaming adventure.

tenor-5.gifI’m a lone traveler. Me and the world—okay, it’s just California, but it feels utterly magical. It’ll be my first time utilizing an Airbnb. My first time traveling to the West Coast alone. My first time hiking and exploring nature solo. I feel like this trip will be powerful, spiritual, and needed after the mental war I fought this past year. This trip will take me right up to the near-start of the school year. I’ll end summer with a bang exploring the unknown, researching for my book, and taking risks I may not normally take. I’m giddy just thinking about it.

But wait, there’s more! 

I’m going to document it all. I have a traveler’s journal and pens sitting in my backpack.tenor-6 I’ve bought a few travel necessities, including a new backpack and hiking shoes. And I’m going to blog my adventure with words, pictures, and crazy sketches. The journey beings August 4th, and I’ll be updating my blog daily with my adventures. This is going to be a full-on experience. I’m going to remain mostly disconnected from social media and my phone (save for taking pictures). I’ve already disconnected from my Twitter and that already feels great. I just want to break away from society and immerse myself in a whole new world.

To embrace nature. 

To face adventure. 

To lose myself in creativity.

To grow wings and soar away from the ledge I jumped from.

Stay tuned.

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Quick Links to Caliventure Episodes:

Pre-Caliventure

Caliventure Chronicles Episode 1: Vagabond Part 1

Caliventre Chronicles Episode 2: Vagabond Part 2

Caliventure Chronicles Episode 3: Ancient Giants

Caliventure Chronicles Episode 4: Taking Flight

Caliventure Chronicles Episode 5: Cave Adventures and Horse Whispering

Caliventure Chronicles Episode 6: The Day of Weird

Caliventure Chronicles Episode 7: The Falls

Caliventure Chronicles Episode 8: The Power of Shasta and the Talking Crystal

Caliventure Chronicles Episode 9: The Mountain, the Journey, and the Creature

Caliventure Chronicles Episode 10: Adventures in San Francisco 

All GIFS taken from Tenor.com

Featured Image credited to: https://www.backpacker.com/trips/americas-best-trail-towns-mt-shasta-ca

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 10 (Season Finale): Adventures in San Francisco

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 10 (Season Finale): Adventures in San Francisco

Forgive the delayed response. School is starting back up. I’m back in Pennsylvania. The adventure has ended. But. I have more stories to tell. So… how did my final two days in California go? Well…

I won’t bore you with the details of me driving out of Redding except that I stopped at Dutch Bros one last time.

And ordered two different drinks.

Judge me.

The drive was mostly boring with desert scenery until I drew close to San Bruno. That’s when the traffic started to increase. And when I say traffic, I mean traffic. While I was only 12 miles away from the rental car drop-off point at the San Francisco Airport, my GPS kindly informed me that it would take an hour to reach my destination.

And not just any hour. An hour full of inching in crazed traffic where people make up their own driving rules, making the guy driving a rental car pretty nervous. I mean people would whip around you on the shoulder and weasel their way in front of you and it would all happen so fast that all you could do was stare in both awe and pure anger.

Eventually when you get pushed enough, you push back. Well, some weasel tried to force his way in front of me, but I gunned forward both blocking him and forcing myself into another lane. I felt like a boss–and also a jerk.

San Francisco traffic, y’all!

After a couple hundred years, I was able to return my rental vehicle but then I got lost in the airport. Airports have designated areas for Lyft/Uber drivers to pick you up. I rode a shuttle around the airport, went to a parking garage, ended up on some rooftop and finally admitted defeat and asked somebody for help. Mind you, I’m carrying around a large bag and a carry-on. Not entirely pleasant! Especially for my blistered feet. I finally made it to my Lyft driver, at least.

After I checked in with with my AirBnb hosts, I called a Lyft to drop me off in San Francisco. I had no set plan or agenda so I just had the guy take me to Fisherman’s Wharf. It seemed like a good place to start. This driver, unlike my super friendly prior driver, was as quiet as a rock. He barely said hi and bye. Also? He had no problem zipping through traffic like a madman. Add the steep hills and inclines to the experience, and I was swimming in motion sickness by the time I was dropped off.

I enjoyed just walking around. Me and my little drawstring bag against the piers. I saw the seals (they smell awful), visited a handful of shops, and tried what was labeled “the famous fishwhich.” I ate that fishy boy while I sat on the peer, gazing out at the harbor where boats lazily swayed in the water and daring seagulls and pigeons tried to steal food from unsuspecting tourists.

Don’t worry. I was a suspecting tourist. They dared not draw near to me.

I walked to Pier 39 and during my walk I had a bizarre encounter. It’s San Francisco. No doubt, you expect it to be a fairly progressive place.

I was wearing my Black Lives Matter shirt when a balloon animal vendor smirked and yelled out, “Oi! Black Rifle Lives matter too!”

That should’ve been my first sign to keep walking. Alas, I paused and said, “Huh?”

He repeated it and said, “You know, like guns?”

Bizarre.

“Oh, I thought you were talking about a group or something.” It was my attempt to save face.

Then things got a bit weirder.

He pointed to my shirt and said, “Nah, all lives matter, man. I’m not into that racist shirt you’re wearing.”

I furrowed my brow and said, “Of course all lives matter. However, this is trying to make people aware that certain groups of people are being treated with systemic inequality.”

“Of course, of course, but it’s calling attention to one group–excluding people.”

As a White male myself, I recognized this man’s White privilege showing. I used to have a similar view as him. I would say, “Ahem. All lives matter in response to Black Lives Matter.” That was before I became educated on the matter, did research, and talked to people about the subject. He, like most White people I know, say All Lives Matter to detract from the racial inequality Black people face in a system run primarily by White people. It’s like looking at a burning house and, from inside your own non-burning house, saying, “All houses matter!” However, one house in particular is under fire. At that particular moment, that burning house needs support the most. That’s what Black Lives Matter is trying to say. And this man did not seem to want to understand that.

But wait. He gets even more… uh… well… you be the judge.

Gesturing to my shirt he said, “Black rage. Ever hear of it? It don’t matter what shirt you wear. They’ll kill you all the same.”

Ah, so clearly, in his perspective, all lives mattered, however, he wanted to generalize/associate Blacks with bad behavior. It is probably safe to say my shirt triggered him.

And then he brought the LGBTQ community into the mix. As a gay man myself, I tensed up. Of course, he didn’t know I was gay. I wasn’t sure where he was about to go with this. He said he supports fair treatment for all, but he attacked trans people, declaring that they were messed up and, essentially, disgusting. He focused on the fear-mongering bathroom issue. I did my best to defend the trans community, but it was going nowhere–and he was becoming agitated.

So I said, “Sorry, man. Look I’m a teacher and–”

“I’m busy now,” he snapped, fumbling with a balloon animal even though nobody was approaching the stand.

Interesting. Me being a teacher was a threat to him?

So I said, “That’s okay! I don’t have the time to listen to discrimination. I don’t tolerate that. Have a good day!”

As I walked away, he shouted at my back, ranting against trans people. Loudly.

How is this man allowed to sell balloon animals? Like… seriously.

Anyway, I decided to take an hour and a half cruise around the San Francisco Bay. It was wonderful. I stood at the front of the ship, giving me a great view of the descending sun sprinkling light across the bay waters. I got fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, even going under it. We even got near to Alcatraz, but didn’t go on the island. By the end of the cruise, I found that I was super drowsy. I almost fell asleep leaning on the railing of the ship.

That would’ve been… unpleasant.

So, after buying a frozen coffee drink, I ordered a Lyft to take me to Barnes and Noble because I wanted to buy a book called How To Be An Antiracist (a good read so far, by the way!). As I was nearing my pickup location, a friendly Black man smiled at me and said, “I love your shirt, man! It’s great!”

I had almost forgotten the shirt I was wearing. Like an idiot, I glanced down and said, “Oh! Thanks, man!”

We passed each other and then he shouted, “Hey! Wait! Can… can I get a picture with you? My wife will love this!”

Considering what happened to me earlier, this made up for it. It was a cool moment. I didn’t think to ask for a picture of myself with him, but that’s okay. It wasn’t about that to me.

My Lyft driver, Gloria, was a fantastic woman. Spunky, fun, and a lady who talked to bad drivers as we went along. I found myself liking her even more as I quickly discovered our political views were similar. She was especially concerned about racial issues in our country as she herself is a Black woman. She expressed her disdain for what the president said about Baltimore when he attacked their black leaders and said no human being would ever live there. Heartbreaking.

I felt like I left a friend when she dropped me off as we talked about so much during our 30 minute drive. Gloria, if you’re reading this, keep being you because you’re awesome!

This pretty much concluded my day. I went home, thought about writing a blog post and/or reading my new book, but I passed out at 9:30 PM.

The next day was the day I was looking forward to. A lot. Why? Because whales, that’s why.

Thursday, August 15th saw me waking up fairly early to get a Lyft to the Golden Gate Bridge. With much fervor, I began to march across the bridge, snapping beautiful pictures of the sun rising above the bay. Pedestrians and fellow tourists walked and/or ran along the bridge, while bikers zoomed by. If I lived here, this would be a morning routine for me. It was beautiful, exciting, and powerful. I mean you could literally feel the bridge hum beneath your feet with the traffic.

Far below, waves crashed against rocks. I could see dark spots of seaweed bob on the surface of the deep waters and boats dart along the water. I even saw some surfers riding the waves far below. Like…. far below.

I made it to the other side in about 45 minutes and realized, perhaps, the biggest mistake I’d made for this day.

Wearing flip flops.

Look, don’t cross the Golden Gate Bridge in flip flops. I had the mindset that my feet would be happy to be open and free from the blistering confines of my hiking shoes. They were not. While my ankles and blistered toes seemed moderately okay, the bottoms of me feet screamed with fire. And I still had to walk back across the bridge.

I took a 20 minute rest, drinking in the scenery, before I hauled my angry feet back across the bridge. I debated on buying shoes and tossing my flip flops. If the opportunity arose, I was going to do it.

For now, I called a Lyft and visited the Palace of Fine Arts. It was absolutely gorgeous. Lush green grass and trees framed colossal structures next to a gentle pond. Sure, it meant more walking, but the sights were worth it. When I stepped into the dome structure, I felt like a tiny human. It was massive. As you can see below, I had some fun taking pictures!

I had two hours before my whale watching tour was to begin. I started walking toward Fisherman’s Wharf–a 45-minute walk according to my phone, when I stumbled across a tourist bike rental station.

My feet demanded I take advantage.

I did not deny them. I rented an electric bike for the day. I was going to get around town much, much faster now. I biked up winding pavement in a nice park, out onto a pier (where I totally ran into the back of my foot with a pedal–ow!), and then decided I was going to check out the famous twisting Lombard road.

Worst. Idea. Ever.

I followed the map and quickly realized that biking on the roads in San Francisco is pure torture. Even with an electric bike, it’s extremely tough to bike up the hill. When I realized my attempts were futile, I hopped off my bike, pushed it onto the sidewalk, and walked it up the hill. Within 30 seconds, I was dripping with sweat and panting with exhaustion.

And I still had more steep hills to push my bike up.

I was near death when I finally made it to Lombard street. And by the time I arrived, I really didn’t care too much about the street because, well, there was no way I was riding my bike down that death road. So, I decided to walked along the sidewalk that ran parallel to the road, going down.

A sidewalk that had stairs.

Listen, this was a moment where I should’ve hung a flashing neon sign around my neck that read, “STUPID TOURIST! RIGHT NOW! ABSOLUTE AMATEUR! WHAT A FOOL! LOOK AT THIS GUY! HE SUCKS!”

I had to walk that electric bike down the step steps. I was already exhausted. I was soaked with sweat. Luckily, a nice man walking behind me helped me by picking up the back of the bike, while I carried the front.

I decided that if I ever saw Lombard street again, it would be too soon.

To forget that torture, I biked my way to Fisherman’s Wharf, parked the bike, grabbed some food, and got in line for the whale watching tour.

I. Was. First. In. Line.

This made me so happy. It didn’t seem to make the lady who appeared .2 seconds after me happy. In time, we actually had friendly conversation–once she stopped staring at me with her dagger eyes. Can it be known that people, mainly tourists, do not seem to understand how lines work? I felt like I worked for the whale tour because when people would bunch up near me in the front of the line I’d be like, “Are you here for the tour?”

“Yes!”

“Nice. Well, there’s a line.” And I’d point to the growing line of people behind me.

Most people awkwardly smiled and walked to the end of the line, entirely disappointed. Hey, not everybody arrives an hour early to a whale tour. Better luck next time, peasants!

Anyway, one group I told simply stared at me as if I were an ant and they were the boot. Like they were challenging my place in line. I repeated myself to them.

They stared.

I was prepared for war. If the gates opened and they tried to steal my spot… somebody was going to end up in jail–and probably not see whales.

Thankfully, it all worked out and I was the first on the boat. I sat in the back corner. On one hand, it gave me a great open view of the ocean. On the other, it also made sure that I was splashed by water enough so that I bought a poncho.

Literally. I was the only one who bought a poncho.

The captain and the two young ladies who worked on the boat carefully explained everything they knew about the wildlife we may see. They talked about humpback whales for the majority of the time since that is what they said we could expect. The tour before us had seen a whale and they were certain we would too.

We got to the spot they’d seen whales earlier, but there was nothing.

The captain said he was pushing us out more. We were over 18 miles from the shore. I couldn’t even see the Golden Gate Bridge anymore or, really, the coast. I could just barely make out the mountains that lined the oceans behind us. In front of us was nothing but blue. I was starting to worry we may not see whales. I mean we were far out there and whales are wild animals. You can’t pay for a whale tour and be guaranteed to see these majestic beasts.

I was on the verge of resignation when a shout went out from the captain of the ship.

In the distance, I saw something I’ve only seen in the movies… a puff of mist and water shooting into the sky. A whale was surfacing to breathe.

And then the body, black against the blue waters, sliced through the waves. I saw a fin. A tail. A humpback whale! I was–

Another shout.

And another.

And more.

Did you know that humpback whales are primarily solitary creatures? They don’t stick together. Well, today was a treat. They were everywhere. In fact, the boat had to slam on the breaks–or whatever it is the boat does to stop suddenly–because a humpback surfaced right before us.

They were surfacing, flopping their fins, their tails, and lunge feeding. It was stunning. Absolutely unbelievable to think we were surrounded by these beautiful sea creatures. I tried my best to capture pictures or footage, but the whales were unpredictable. I do have videos of the whales, but I can’t get them to upload here. Feel free to contact me for them. It’s nothing to0 spectacular, but it makes me smile when I watch them.

The whole way back, I was grinning like an idiot. I couldn’t believe I got to experience that. I told myself that it’s something I want to do again. Except next time I want to see my favorite whales: Orcas.

After I got back, I decided to go through the San Francisco Bay Aquarium. It was nothing special, but after whale watching, it felt right. Hey, I even saw two snakes in the aquarium–and I wasn’t freaked out. Something had happened to me on this trip. If anybody knows me at all, you know I run at the sight of a snake. On this day, I peered into their glass cage and smirked in defiance. Okay… maybe not that dramatic. But I did take a major step.

After I returned my electric bike, I grabbed pizza at a place called Patxi’s Pizza. Deep dish heaven, let me tell you. I sat at the bar alone, drank a beer, and ate half the pizza. However, I had three slices left and, well, since I was to leave early the next day, I didn’t want to waste it.

I explained my dilemma to my waitress who looked at me and said, “Go give it to somebody on the street.”

I nodded. “How will I know who is homeless and who isn’t?”

She laughed. “They sleep on the sidewalks. Any of them will be happy for the pizza.”

So I set out on my mission. I did see one man within two minutes, but he looked like he was on some sort of acid trip. I had a feeling it was best to leave him alone. In hindsight, perhaps the drugged out man would’ve been more sane than what I encountered twenty minutes later.

I approached a man who was curled under a blanket on the sidewalk. His clothes were brown with dirt and grease. His beard was a tangled mess and his eyes looked haunted and broken. He wore a baseball cap over his matted, uncut hair. He was maybe in his late 30s, but the streets had taken their toll on him. The wrinkles and lines on his face made him appear like he was nearing 50.

“Excuse me, sir? Would you like the rest of my pizza? I couldn’t finish it and don’t want to throw it away.”

He sat up, regarding me with fierce skepticism. He narrowed his eyes as he looked from the small box in my hand and then to my face. “Is it poisoned?”

I stopped myself from snorting in amusement. He wasn’t kidding. So, I simply said, “No” and held the box out to him.

Tentatively he grabbed it, but he looked at it as if it were a bomb. “Hmm. Do you have any money so I can buy some marijuana?”

“No,” I lied. “I only have credit cards on me.” Did I feel bad about lying? Yes. But I didn’t think it wise to pull my wallet out. I was getting weird vibes.

“Oh.” He looked at the box, raising his eyebrows. “You’re sure this isn’t poisoned?”

“No,” I assured him. “It’s fresh out of the oven. I just couldn’t finish it.”

“Because the homosexuals are trying to poison me.”

I stared.

He stared.

I stared some more.

“They are always trying to poison me.”

Note to self: do not tell him that I’m gay.

“Oh. That’s… I’m sorry…” I muttered.

“And they are also trying to persecute Christians. All of us.”

This was taking a turn.

“Did you know the homosexuals killed Jesus?”

Didn’t see that coming. I could only widen my eyes and say, “I-I did not know that.” I mean I wanted to correct him and tell him it was the Romans, with the urging of the Jews that killed Jesus. But you don’t argue with a man who thinks you might’ve poisoned the pizza in his hands. You play along.

“Yeah. Homosexuals poison everything. They got me, you know.” He stared at me.

I stared at him.

“They gave me genital warts. They gave it to me bad.”

Lordy. Listen. Clearly this man was… somewhere on some level of something, but those were words I just did not expect to come out of his mouth. I honestly wish I were making this up.

I am not.

So I did what I thought best: I continued to stare and pretend to be shocked-I didn’t need to pretend to be grossed out that a strange man had informed me of his genital warts. Not an image I wanted to have pop into my mind.

“You see they stick it in the pooper.” He demonstrated by putting his index finger into the circle he made with his other finger. “It’s not meant for that. No. It gives you genital warts. It’s how I was poisoned.”

“That is awful. I’m so sorry that happened to you.”

Did you know I was going to wear my pride Pete Buttigieg 2020 shirt that day, but decided against it? Good thing, right?

“So… you’re sure the pizza isn’t poisoned?”

“Yes. I’m so sorry about what happened to you, but I assure you that it’s good pizza.”

He opened the box. “Wow! It’s still warm!”

“Yup! I has pepperoni, black olives, and green papers on it. Just be careful as I don’t know if you’re allergic to anything or not.”

His head snapped up. “It’s not poisoned, is it?”

“Nope.”

“Hmm. I just will take the black olives off.” He looked up at me. “Thank you! Thank you so much. I was starving. Seriously. I was going to go down to Pier 39 later and massacre people for food. Now I don’t have to.”

Welp, that sounded delightful… and terrifying.

“You know, just so many people waste food and it makes me so mad.”

I nodded eagerly. “Yes, yes. Me too. That’s why I couldn’t throw it away! Have a good-”

“It’s really not poisoned? Because I don’t want to die.”

“Not at all.”

“Thank you, man.”

With a final smile and a nod I ran walked away. Had I just saved the world? Did I stop a massacre from happening? Did that encounter really happen? What sorcery just happened?

I needed ice cream. That would make everything better.

And so that’s how I found myself buying an $11 sundae in a ritzy square in San Francisco before I hailed a lift back to my AirBnB.

That is how my night in San Francisco ended. Expensive sundae, a poisoning conversation about genital warts, and an understanding that the world is just full of surprises. Maybe those surprises lurk in your own backyard. Maybe they find you on a self-ordained adventure. Maybe they whisper to you when you least expect it.

But they are out there. It only requires one thing from you.

Step out into the world. Do things. Live. Breathe. Embrace the unknown. Look around you. No, really look around you. See the world. See the people. Appreciate all of it because it’s only then that you can uncover the surprises life offers.

I ran into this trip with arms wide open. I did things I never thought I did. I talked to people I never expected. I overcame some fears. I received inspiration. I was invigorated. What’s more is that I did all of this on the heels of a battle with depression that crippled me for months. A depression that kept me from the surprises of the world.

And, yet, here I was. Ending a grand adventure on the other side of the nation. Exploring. Existing. Adventuring.

It has been a wild ride. It has been something that, while my bank account/credit cards regret it, I never will.

This trip was everything. It was freedom. It was a true adventure.

And I need more.

Until next time.

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 9: The Mountain, The Journey, and The Creature

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 9: The Mountain, The Journey, and The Creature

Today was it.

The last day in Redding, CA. The last day to explore the area, to climb the mysterious Mt. Shasta. The grand finale of sorts.

How had time flown by so fast and yet… it feels like I’ve been here for months. I don’t say that in a bad way. I think it’s because so much has happened here.

Because I am not the same Josh leaving Redding, CA as the one who entered it a week ago. I didn’t quite see the change until today. The pieces didn’t quite add up until I was talking to a really good friend as I went on an adventure on Mt. Shasta. It kinda hit me all at once in such an amazing moment.

Let’s back up.

You may be wondering why I didn’t cover the events of Monday, August 12th. Or maybe you’re not wondering, which is fine. I really don’t have anything exciting to report about Monday. I spent the day in two different coffee shops writing Episode 8 and then I returned to my Airbnb where I finished watching the first season of The Boys. Um, if you haven’t watched it yet, what are you even doing with your life? Anyway, there was no need to make a whole episode/blog post about it, if you ask me. And let’s just pretend you did ask me for the sake of making me feel good.

So, Episode 9 will be focused on the events of Tuesday, August 13th.

Last time I went to Mt. Shasta, Panther Meadows was closed. I was pretty sad about that. Thankfully, Panther Meadows opened on Monday so on this day I was going to brave the mountain once again! Panther Meadows takes you high up the mountain. It’s the pathway where the road stops and you can no longer drive up the mountain. It’s about 7,000 or so feet in elevation.

Behold. The Bob
Behold. The Bob.

After ordering a drink called The Bob at Dutch Bros (because why wouldn’t you order a drink called The Bob–Dark Chocolate, Banana, and Coconut coffee), I was on my way. I wasn’t feeling super well the whole ride. I woke up feeling weird–woozy. (I had some suspicions it was my talking crystal because sorcery). This weird feeling stayed with me until I made it to Panther Meadows. I drove up to the highest point I could, hopped out of my car, and the adventure began full of wonderful sights.

It was a rocky hike to start. I came across two other hikers as I wound my way closer to the jutting rocks and blankets of snow. They informed me that breathing would get harder the higher I go and, as a result, snakes and other dangerous wildlife were probably not going to be found. That made me feel more confident so away I went!

I could probably spend pages and pages describing the mountainside. It was a magical journey to put it simply. Imagine walking up rocky earth and without warning BAM! lush green grasses roll up the hills. It was like I’d stepped into another dimension. But little did I know how amazing things would get.

I heard a slight roar. No, not a creature. The roar of water. As I continued to move, I came across a beautiful area where a small mountain stream bubbled over the rocks. Butterflies glided all around me, one landing on my shoe. Patches of flowers reached for the sun. I was in complete and utter awe. I stood grinning like an idiot. Mystified.

Behind me rolled the mountains, covered in tall trees. I planted my butt on the ground, touched the ice-cold waters, and marveled at how beautiful this place was. No joke, there was a fierce energy about that place. Call it what you will, but it was powerful. It was something I’d never experienced before. It was then where I’d realized something in me had shifted.

I was no longer somebody afraid to hike in the woods, on the mountains. I’d done the unthinkable. I had the urge to rush into this adventure to California all by myself. I’d propelled myself out of my comfort zone, took a leap of faith, and here I was…. standing in a magical, astonishing place on a mountain full of myths and legends. It was liberating. As if the bubbling water was a symbol of a new chapter of my life, flowing over rocks of the past, feeding new bursts of life and energy.

And so I stood. Grinning. Like an idiot. I will never be ashamed of it. The pictures truly do not do it justice.

After I marveled for a good twenty minutes or so, I continued my hike with more pep in my step, brandishing my walking stick like a magic wand. I continued to grin as I found more water, more greenery. I still smiled when that all vanished into rocks and actual patches of snow even though it was sixty degrees where I was.

I climbed up a mountainside on all fours, using my stick for balance. I seriously felt like I was in Middle-Earth, carrying the One Ring to the fires of Mordor myself. If there were snakes in the rocks, I didn’t care. They weren’t going to stop my magical journey. If I saw one, I might even have said, “Hey there, buddy. I’m just passing by. Carry on being a demon and all. Peace.”

I climbed until I reach 9,207 feet. Can you believe that this entire time there was complete silence save for the whisper of a breeze and the tiny buzzing of insects? It was as if the world had been put on mute as I sat gazing far below the mountain.

After some time just sitting and staring at the beauty of creation, I made my descent down the mountain. It was just as mystical–minus the part where I actually fall down a steep decline. I caught myself on the back of my leg where I have a nasty looking scar. Did that ruin my joy? Nope. I just shook my head muttering, “Classic Josh.”

After I made it back to my car, I drove to the actual Panther Meadows. This was a place with a lot of superstition behind it. It was here where people claimed to see faeries and gnomes and tall people from the mountain. While I sadly didn’t see any of that, I honestly can see why people may have said this. Large trees rose on either side of the path. There was an open grass meadow with a cool, refreshing stream snaking its way through it. It was a place so pure, you could feel it in your bones. To highlight this even more, clouds of butterflies swarmed the place, completely unalarmed by me and the other hikers I came across. If faeries were to live anywhere, it would certainly be here.

I ran into a female couple, huffing and puffing. One of them asked me if I was okay. I nodded with a smile and decided to take a break. We had a nice conversation about how fascinating and wonderful the wilderness is. How life-changing and mystical and therapeutic it was. The other woman said, “You don’t get this in the city. People are so consumed by their electronics, always looking down, and they miss all this. And here when you come across people, they look each other in the eye and say hi and it’s just genuine.”

And she was right. Nature returns us to our roots, to a time without technology and the busyness of life. It makes us happier, if you ask me. It truly was exciting to see other people and greet them only to have them respond warmly. It was like the nature around us connected us all together in a great web or, dare I say, circle of life?

The rest of the day wasn’t too crazy. I grabbed lunch, had an orange-mango milkshake, and I stopped to see some mini-waterfalls on the way home, able to get up close to one of them. I could’ve stood under the water, but there were too many people around. Besides, I still had to pack and get ready to leave the next day. And, to be honest, my feet were killing me. I had a fresh wave of new blisters and they were not as magical as my hike was.

Despite that, I drove into town to visit Barnes and Noble (where they totally did not have the book I wanted), swung by Best Buy to buy Avengers: Endgame, and then back to the place to pack.

That evening, I decided to go eat at a place called Mosaic. It sat near the Sacramento River, nestled very close to the Sundial Bridge I talked about in a prior episode. I decided to sit at the bar. The only seat open was one in the corner, next to a couple that insisted on flirting with one another in an annoying fashion. Oh well. I ordered a mojito, a burger, and enjoyed my last meal in Redding.

But what’s a last night in Redding without a little excitement?

I decided to go see the Sundial Bridge lit up at night. As I was walking next to the little forest near the bridge, I heard something large lumbering through the foliage. There was a shadow passing by and, fearing I’d be eaten by a mountain lion on my last night in California, I put a little pep in my step, shooting frantic looks at the dark forest. There were certainly other people around, but still. Mountain lions.

When I turned the corner and saw the magnificent bridge in the night, there was another thundering crash because clearly the mountain lion was hunting me.

Alas, out of the shadows of the forest pranced a young buck with pretty antlers. He briefly stared at me, looked around, and just started cruising through the mini-parking lot like he owned the joint. Silly buck! He had me fooled he was a carnivorous mountain lion.

And then I saw more movement out of the corner of my eyes.

It was small. Close to the ground. Black. White stripes. Thirty feet away.

A SKUNK!

Having never seen one in the wild, I wasn’t sure what the social expectations were when you see a skunk scuttling across a parking lot. I mean people were around. Would the skunk run away? Clearly, Skunky wouldn’t approach human life willingly. I glanced at the guy sitting on the bench nearby, watching the bridge. I glanced back at Skunky. He was sniffing the tire of a car. I glanced back at the man. He looked like he wanted to be left alone.

Figuring it wasn’t a big deal, that Skunky was too preoccupied with the tire (and hoping he wouldn’t get run over), I started walking back to my car.

Terrified screams erupted behind me. Multiple screams. High-pitched.

Probably what you can expect to hear if somebody, oh I don’t know, unexpectedly came across a skunk in the night.

Wide-eyed and wondering what smelly fate I doomed fellow humans to, I jumped into my car. Admittedly, I was chuckling a little bit because I have no soul. Also, because all I could picture was Skunky chasing terrified humans around the bridge.

What a sight to leave me with on my last night in Redding.

Redding was a fun, adventurous trip. Relaxing, even. I loved my AirBnB. I melted over the views. And I grew into an adventurer, learning things about myself, nature, and the world. Does that sound cheesy and cliche? Yup. But it’s true.

I’d love to come back to explore Mt. Shasta again. Such an amazing place, full of mystery and awe. I only scratched the surface of it–literally.

There’s still much, much more to explore.

It’s been real, Redding. Now it’s time to do some creating for my book because I leave with tons of inspiration–and a talking crystal, of course.

But, wait! The adventure doesn’t quite end yet!

In the next episode, you’ll be able to experience the streets of San Francisco, as well as the Pacific Ocean, with me during my two day stay there.

And trust me… there are some stories to tell. Here’s a sneak peak of what to expect:

  • The woes of traffic and airport confusion
  • The adventures of Pier 39 on Fisherman’s Wharf, including an encounter with a racist
  • Whales. ALL. THE. WHALES.
  • Flip flops vs. The Golden Gate Bridge
  • A fear conquered
  • Conversation with a homeless man that will leave you scratching your head and questioning everything.

The next episode will come either later tonight or tomorrow! See you then!

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 8: The Power of Shasta and the Talking Crystal

Caliventure Chronicles-Episode 8: The Power of Shasta and the Talking Crystal

The day arrived. The call of Mt. Shasta was upon me. I woke up early, loaded all the necessities into my car, and headed to Dutch Bros Coffee because, well, you need coffee before entering a mystical mountain. Duh.


Naturally, I ordered the Peach Cobbler (thanks, Mom!). It was delightful just as the hour and twenty minute ride to Mt. Shasta was. I traveled on the I-5 Highway which eventually twisted and turned enough so that I could see the stunning snow-capped beast loom on the horizon.

Fun sight: I saw roadkill–a black bear. That was unusual and kinda sad. It’s the closest I’ve come to seeing a bear in the wild. Not sure how I feel about this.

As I drew closer to the mountain, I drove through a misty cloud. Obviously, it’s a totally natural element, but given the nature of Mt. Shasta it created a very mystical atmosphere as I drew closer. It’s almost like I could feel the fierce power of the mountain reaching out, drawing me in.

I drove through a very tiny town at the base of the mountain. It was still asleep as I was passing through about 8:00 in the morning. I made a note to check it out later as I drove past a very small high school. Their mascot? Black bears. I dared not tell them I might’ve seen their mascot dead on the road a few miles back. Poor school.

Anyway, I drove up the side of the mountain, careful to keep my eyes on the road instead of staring at the wondrous sights because, well, one wrong move would probably mean death. So. That was fun. Anyway, I was trying to get to a place called Panther Meadows. Apparently, it’s this place with pure crystalline springs. It’s also deeply revered by Native American tribes with reported sightings of tall people from inside the mountain, faeries, gnomes, and UFOS because obviously. One book I read about this place charged people to not visit this sacred site unless they felt the “spirit” calling them there.

I mean… is research a spirit? Because… I had to see this place. That being said, I was sad to arrive only to find the road to Panther Meadows closed. I guess I wasn’t called! I parked at a camping site at the base of the closed road and decided that I would hike. I came all this way, so might as well explore.

It was in the 40s. Cold. Thankfully, I had my rain jacket from yesterday and my new handy-dandy walking stick. I geared up, grabbed my stick, and ONWARD! I marched confidently up a path, electing to take a route that promised a 2.4 mile hike. There were other people around me, so I didn’t feel isolated as I was hiking. To be safe, however, I shared my GPS location with a group of close friends so they could see where I was at all times. I want you to keep this mind as you continue reading. Write it down if you must. In the parking lot, I was at an elevation of 6,897 feet. Memorize that number. Okay. Let the hike begin…

The trail was beautiful. Towering, ancient trees stood all around me with neon green moss hugging their trunks. A cool mist was receding as the sun continued to rise. Here and there, some of these ancient trees had fallen, broken on the sides of the paths like defeated giants, shattered by an unknown force. The more I hiked, the less people I saw. I did see a cairn, a manmade tower of stones, on my journey. It was a hint at the mysticism I was about to encounter. To be fair, it was hard to not walk this trail and just feel a majestic aura about this place–to marvel at creation all around me.

The trail was marked with pink ribbons tied in bushes and trees. I obediently followed them until suddenly the ribbons stopped. I was a little disheartened because I knew that on the other side of a steep, earthy hill I would see the Mt. Shasta summit. So, I did what any person who wanted adventure would do. I left the trail. Now, before you start preparing a lecture to chastise me, I did cement landmarks in my mind and I used my walking stick to carve symbols in the ground so I could find my way back.

Also, I decided to test my handy dandy bear mace spray. Good news. It worked.

Anyway, I huffed my way up a grassy incline, stepping over rotting tree trunks, and climbing on large rocks. It was deathly silent. Just me and the forest around me. Nothing else. The only sound was my heart pounding in my chest as I drew in deep breaths. I couldn’t shake the feeling that somewhere out of sight something was studying me, watching as a lone hiker traversed wild grounds. But I was here for adventure. And I had bear mace. So, don’t worry.

You might also point yet that snakes should be a huge concern. After all, where did my fear of these reptiles fit into my journey? Well, it was at the back of my mind. However, I figured with the cool forty degree weather, it was unlikely I would encounter Satan’s spawn. I wasn’t sure if they were even this high on the mountain. If they were around, I didn’t expect they’d be super active due to the temperature. Then again, I wasn’t 100% certain of that. Most likely, I was wrong. Regardless, I used my hiking stick to prod rocks and the other side of logs before placing my feet down. Better to be safe than sorry, right? If I were to be bit, there was nobody anywhere near me. I had to be smart even though we all know what I was doing was not smart.

I traveled for miles. The grassy hill turned into a steep incline of dirt and branches before leveling out into a dew-ridden plain of neat looking plants. I pushed on, seeing a crest not too far off where I was certain I’d see Mt. Shasta. The journey led me up into a rocky rise. If there were snakes, certainly they’d be here.

There was a moment in my journey where I hiked into a small green area with twisted tree trunks and weaving leaves. I froze because I was fairly certain I either heard a low growl or the huff of some beast. Instinct told me to leave that area. I decided to take the rocky incline because it did allow me the ability to see all around me whereas where I had heard the noise, my sight was limited. Of course, I’d be in the open so I’d be easy to see too. At least I’d have the chance to prepare for attack in the open–less chance of being taken by surprise.

As I continued, I heard something else.

Voices.

In all reality, these voices were probably other daring hikers. However, I couldn’t see anybody at all. Voices of hikers? Or mysterious beings of the mountain? I’ll let you decide.

I continued my journey. Up. Up. Up. Banging my walking stick on the rocks, loudly announcing my presence to any reptiles that may lie in wait. I figured neither of us wanted to encounter the other. I was doing both the snakes and myself a service by banging my stick around. That or I was calling attention to my location for a hungry bear or mountain lion. But bear mace. I’m good.

Anyway, during this hike I was texting my dearest friend Amanda. She was with me in the cyber world, watching my journey. It was reassuring to know that she was actively monitoring my progress. I was alone, but I also wasn’t. I kept sending her pictures of my journey. At a particular point she texted me saying, “Uh, you know you’re on a ridge, right?”

Nope. I did not know that. However, I could see that ten feet from where I stood was a drop that would mean death. I tried not to think about that as I pressed on, heart catching in my throat a few times as I slid on rocks that weren’t embedded in the ground.

Once, I thought I heard a rattle, but it could’ve been my imagination. Probably. Hopefully. Maybe.

I eventually reached a ledge that I’d set as my goal, hoping to see the peak of Mt. Shasta. It was literally just on the other side of the ridge. But the strangest thing happened. I was encircled by a cool cloud of white. The sun didn’t reach me. My visibility was limited to maybe 30 feet all around me. I was surrounded, my sight obscured. Pure silence.

It was terrifying and amazing all at once. It was as if the mountain had placed me in a prison of mist, deciding what to do with me, watching, waiting. I nervously asked Siri what my elevation was, my voice sounding unnatural in this hazy vortex. Her response? 8,690 ft.

Wow.

If you kept track of that number earlier, you’ll realize this meant that I had gone up nearly 2,000 feet. I would have never thought I’d do this. Ever.

After breathing in this moment just a few more minutes, I began my descent. That posed a whole set of new challenges, forcing myself to test my weight as I danced down stones. A few times I lurched forward, sliding on smooth rocks. I kept my distance from the ledge. Regardless, if I did fall, I’d still rock over sharp rocks. It wouldn’t be pleasant.

When I finally made it back to one of my landmarks, I turned and entered the silent forest once more, climbing down the embankment. It was then that something caught my eye. Blue. Not a blue natural to the forest.

I had to investigate, so I veered in that direction where I found an abandoned blanket, maybe a jacket, and some other clothes. Not too far away was a pillow. I wondered what story this told. Whose was this? What had happened to the owner? Why would they leave this in the middle of the forest? A weird sensation of being watched creeped up my spine once again and I pushed forward.

But, alas, I didn’t quite recall where I was. I mean I knew that going down was good, but was I facing the right way? How was I to know? I was a little turned around. Whispering to myself to not panic I continued moving down until finally I recognized a fallen giant.

Then I came across my crudely drawn symbols in the dirt which led me to the familiar pink ribbons of the trail. I was going to make it. No bear attacks. No mountain lion snacking. No snake bites.

My legs were pure jelly as I walked the trail, smiling a little too happily at hikers passing me. The sights were still bedazzling even on the hike back to my car. I had to have traveled at least 8-10 miles on Mt. Shasta.

I decided it was time to get some food because hiking was draining. On my drive back down the mountain, I turned onto a dirt path to explore a little bit. I came across a woman and an old man. They were performing some sort of ritual, the man lightly banging an erected gong as the woman stared intently into the wilderness until her gaze fell on me. She looked annoyed. I turned the car around and left these people to whatever it was they were doing. I would’ve taken a picture, but I truly didn’t want to be disrespectful to their ritual. I later learned that this is not unnatural to find on the surface of Mt. Shasta.

But if you think that’s weird, wait until we enter the small town of Mt. Shasta.

I need to preface the events you’re about to read with a snippet of my story idea. My story, as you may know, will be tied to Mt. Shasta. In fact, I have plans to have a crystal from the depths of Mt. Shasta play a key role in the origins of my four superheroes/antiheroes because, well, one of the four is a jerk and not a hero type. He’s so much fun to write. Anyway. Crystals. I felt I should buy some kind of crystal from this town for reference.

So after I parked my car I saw a little shop called Crystal Matrix Gallery. Figuring this was a good place to start, I tried to open the door. It was locked despite the fact the store was clearly open. There was a sign saying I should ring a bell as the worker was doing something in the back. Figuring it really wasn’t worth all that trouble, I moved on. Not even ten steps later, the door swung open and a strange old man appeared. There was something quirky about him. Short gray hair, large nose, beady little eyes that seemed to look beyond you. Strange.

Feeling obligated, I entered his shop. It was small and there were so many beautiful crystals. The man, Mazebah (obviously the name of a wizard, if you ask me), went to various crystal conventions/markets and collected crystals and rocks from all over the world. I saw tokens from Australia, Africa, Brazil, Chile, etc. Beautiful things locked behind clear cases. No wonder he kept the front door locked. What made my experience all the more unnerving was the way he constantly studied me as I moved about the store. If I suddenly moved out if his line of sight, he’d shift his body so he could watch me.

It quickly dawned on me that most of the items in this shop were very expensive. I’m talking $60-300 for pieces of crystal and rocks. The other thing that became clear to me was that if I left the store without buying anything, he would certainly put some sort of curse on me. I just knew it. So I began to seek out some cheaper items. I found potential in some black rock of which I can’t recall the name. Pieces ranged from $4-21. This was probably my best best.

Then dazzling green and blue glass rocks called my eye, drawing me near. Turns out they were volcanic rocks from China. They were absolutely stunning. The color was so pure and mystical. I had to have one.

“These are amazing. How much are they?” I asked the beady-eyed man.

“$1 a gram.” He apparated next to me.

Pretending I understood what that meant, I nodded my head. I mean how many grams were these things? I wasn’t about to agree to buying one without knowing. So I asked, “And… how many grams are they?”

“Oh, only about 100 grams.”

Only. Only. He saw the look on my face and smiled before saying, “You have to understand. These are special crystals. If you choose the right one they can elevate you to the Elemental Plane.” He paused. I stared.

“And I happen to be one of the very few people in the world who knows how to get people to that plane.”

OH MY GOSH! HE WAS A WIZARD! I KNEW IT!

The words, “Oh. That’s really… cool” exited my mouth. He snatched up two smaller rocks, one blue and one green. He weighed them. They were about 75 grams–$75. He really wanted me to buy one of these. However, what if he was a dark wizard? I wasn’t taking chances.

So I said, “I’m just gonna buy one of those rocks.” Rocks were safe. He hadn’t offered to transport me anywhere with a rock. So I spent $8 to at least appease the wizard-man in hopes he wouldn’t cast me into another dimension or something weird. As I left the store, I could feel his gaze on me.

I wish I could say things returned to normal from there.

They didn’t.

You have to keep in mind. I’m in the town of Mt. Shasta. This mountain is known for its superstitions, mystical properties, and elevated planes/realms. It’s a holy and sacred site for a ton of people and, as such, it draws a lot of people to it.

I entered the Mt. Shasta visitor center, grabbing some fliers about the area and buying a hiking book and a book on Telos–the lost crystal city inside Mt. Shasta. I also grabbed some pamphlets on the mystical properties in the area. I really need to look at all the things for my book. Tying my story to these elements will only enhance the story, I think.

Anyway, I tried to find a place to eat. As I was walking along, happily studying the very small town I watched a middle-age woman pull out a recently purchased necklace. From a leather band hung a pink crystal that glimmered in the sunlight. To her friend sitting next to her she said, “And this! I bought it and it has been charged full of energy that will let me connect directly to the Lemurians.”

I wish I could tell you she was joking. She was not.

Naturally, what choice did I have but to enter a store called Spiritual Encounters? New Age? Check. Crystals? Check. Weird artifacts? Check. In I went, where I was surprised to see the varied customers inside the store. What I’m about to say, please know I don’t mean it in poor taste. I’m just trying to help paint a picture. Let’s just say there were lots of people who seemed like they would be good buddies with Wizard-Man Mazebah from the crystal shop, people who totally belonged in a store like this. I mean nothing ill by that. Then there were people that appeared normal in every aspect of the word. There was even a young group of fraternity looking guys in the store, one of whom thought it entirely necessary to blow into this tribal horn causing a random unleashed dog to run around the store. Nobody paid the dog any attention, just another normal day in Spiritual Encounters.

Conversations ranged from stars aligning to Lemurians to chakra to visions. It was crazy. The mood was set by ritualistic music over unseen speakers. I stumbled across a set of animal tokens. They looked cool, each token engraved with a golden animal. Lo and behold I found one with a Tyrannosaurus Rex on it. Due to my obsession with the Red Ranger on Power Rangers and his T-Rex zord, I had to buy it. Each animal represented something different. This one meant lizard king. Not sure I’m a lizard king, but I’ll go with it. I also found an orca stone and then a cool-looking unicorn one. Funny. The unicorn stands for individual/unique–kinda like my trip in a nutshell.

IT’S MORPHIN’ TIME!

I also couldn’t resist picking up the cheapest Lemurian crystal I could find. It promised to allow me to connect to the ancient beings in the mountain and bring peace. Apparently, if you walked around sacred sites with the crystal in hand, it’s supposed to do some weird mystical stuff to you. I bought it for research so I can model the crystal in my book after it. Plus, I’ve always been fascinated with Lemurians and Atlantians.

After shopping a bit more, acquiring a cool wolf necklace, I decided to check out. The woman at the register rang out my items. Then she touched my Lemurian Crystal. Out of context, that sounds weird. Good thing you’re reading this in context. I hope.

“Oh. Oh my. This is a great crystal. Powerful. The crystal is speaking,” the woman said in a vibrant voice. “You’re going to have great results with this.”

For the thousandth time, I could only stare dumbly and say, “Oh… that’s cool. Yay.”

Good to know the crystal I have speaks. The moment I hear an other worldly voice coming out of this thing, I’m going to toss if off the nearest cliff face and go into hiding. So if I ever vanish unexpectedly, blame the talking Lemurian crystal.

The thing is, in all seriousness, the people in this area genuinely believe in this stuff. It’s curious. They are very friendly, nice people. I find their beliefs and traditions unique and kind of neat. I personally don’t buy into all that, but if it makes them happy, who am I to impose?

After grabbing some food, I decided to make one more big journey for the day. McCloud Falls, another well-known waterfall location.

Let me say that I know this post is a bit long. But the day was epic. So, if you need a break–go for it. If you’re ready to live in the beautiful falls with me, and encounter the daring thing I did, then read on.

McCloud Falls is known for having three parts: Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls. Each area encourages people to swim in the deep blue river waters. More on that later.

To see all three falls, you’d have to walk three miles. Bring it on! I parked in the parking lot that gave me direct access to the Middle Falls. A viewpoint allowed me to look straight down, maybe 40-50 feet down (I’m honestly bad at guessing distance) to peer at crashing falls and people swimming in the water. It was gorgeous. I had to get down there.

I followed a path that led me along the face of the mountain. On my left were jutting rocks and trees and on my right was a steep drop to the river below. I eyed my left side, suspicious for snakes.

I found the Upper Falls, another beautiful sight. People were swimming below and, again, I had to wonder how they got down there. I couldn’t find a trail that would lead me down there.

I did, however, find a lizard. If this is the only reptile I see on this trip, I’ll be fine.

Deciding I missed a trail somewhere, I started back the way I came. I asked people I passed by on how to get down to the river. One guy informed me that some people seemed to make their own path. By the Upper Falls, I found a steep dirt path that led down to the river. I went halfway down it, but it got too rocky and congested for my tastes. I really didn’t want to chance it with wildlife. I decided to find a way to the Middle Falls instead.

Thankfully, I found a trail that led down to the Middle Falls. Excited, I wound my way down the path until I emerged upon a rocky outcropping that stretched over to the blue pool, glistening water columns feeding it from above. A young lady sat nearby with her dog and I asked her how I could get to the water. She told me I had to climb around the rocks and she assured me there haven’t been any reports of snakes in the rocks.

Excited, I clambered over the rocks. Sliding into crevices, finding footholds, and hoisting myself up until finally I made it. People crowded the rocks in bathing suits. I beheld the sight in awe. In the sunlight, it was amazing. I had to stand in the water and play with my underwater camera some more.

As I took off my shoes and socks, a young man leapt into the water, swimming the twenty feet to the base of the waterfall. He came back with a look of pain, pulling himself out of the water. He growled, “Man, I don’t think I’ll have kids. F**cking cold!” I laughed and slid my feet into the water, staying ankle deep.

It was freezing. He was not lying at all. I took a few pictures before climbing back onto the rocks just to take in the view. The young man returned with the girl I’d talked to earlier; they were a couple. Together, they jumped into the water and I had to smile. She freaked out at the iciness of the water, swam halfway and came back while her boyfriend again swam to the waterfall and back. She got out of the water, hugging a sun-soaked rock and saying, “C-c-can’t b-b-breathe. S-s-s-ooo cold.”

And so I watched, letting my feet dry in the sun, watching some other visitors brave the cold pool.

Oh boy. I began to realize that I’d come all the way to California, to this place, and… well, shouldn’t I make the leap into the water, too? Was putting my feet in enough of an experience? My body told me yes. My heart said otherwise.

I recalled my missed opportunity the other day with Alicia and her invite that I declined and regretted. I didn’t want to relive that regret. I couldn’t.

I was on an adventure. I was doing things I may not normally do. This included jumping into a freezing waterfall pool in Northern California. Even if that meant I had to take off my shirt and show the people around me just what eating a lot of pizza does to your body, especially compared the guys around me who all had abs. Ugh. Oh well.

I asked the couple if they would take my picture saying, “I will regret this, probably. But I have to do it. I came all the way from Pennsylvania.”

The “freezing-my-balls-off” guy said, “Dude! Pennsylvania! Hell yeah! You definitely have to do this. I’ll let my girl take the picture.”

I took my shirt off, stood ankle-deep on a rock that dropped off into the depth of the dark pool, and I contemplated my newest life decision.

This was going to be cold. I mean shouldn’t waters in California be warm? I looked back to the couple, nervous. I counted and then I propelled off the rock.

SPLASH!

I screamed at the frigid touch of the pool. It. Was. BITING. Regardless, I forced myself closer to the waterfall. I was halfway there when I understood just how hard it was to breathe. The cold waters made such a simple function a chore. I wasn’t going to make it to the base of the waterfall. That was okay. I’d done the unthinkable. I’d jumped in the water. I just needed to avoid drowning. I spun around and flailed back to the safety of the rocks, hugging their warmth.

“Y-y-y-ou w-w-weren’t k-k-idding,” I stammered to the guy, who laughed.

But I’d done it. I took the leap. It was a physical leap, but maybe it was also metaphorical of my entire trip. Jumping into the unknown, navigating, propelling myself forward even if it’s hard to digest or breathe at times. It didn’t matter. I was doing it.

I drank in the sun’s warmth on the rock for almost an hour, just watching the falls, addicted to their roar. Such peace. Such tranquility. I watched as a husband and wife (graduates of Ohio State) enjoyed the cold waters with their three little girls. We had friendly conversation and helped each other take pictures in front of the falls. They were such a nice family and I was glad for their company, even if I never got their names.

After my time there, I started my journey to the Lower Falls. It was a bit of a hike through the forest and I started to realize that it was after 6PM. Daylight was fading. I didn’t want to be caught in the darkness on these trails. I walked as fast as I could, making my way to the Lower Falls. I spent less than five minutes there. Enough time to take a few photos so I could hightail it the mile or so back to my car before daylight ran out. I was fine, returning with plenty of time to spare.

The rest of the day was nothing special. I drove back, got a Fire Lizard tea from Dutch Bros (strawberry, banana, orange SO GOOD), tried to go to a bar, but everything was closed, and so I ate leftover pizza and watched two more episodes of The Boys. Such a good show; a very dark take on superheroes. Love it.

This has been a long post, but I feel like this was my favorite day yet. It was ripe with adventure. I’d forced myself to step out of my comfort zone many times from hiking alone in the mountains despite my paralyzing fear of snakes to jumping into frigid waters. The day was full of beauty, wonder, and power. Mt. Shasta did not disappoint. It met my expectations and then some. It was everything and I felt like I conquered so much on both a physical and personal level.

This trip is everything. I’m enjoying it and I’m honestly sad that in less than a week it ends. But, hopefully, this won’t be the last trip like this.

I will return to Mt. Shasta tomorrow (Tuesday). The Panther Meadows will be open then, and I plan to explore its sacred beauty.

Thanks for taking the time to read my adventure. I’m still processing yesterday, adrenaline from the day still racing through my veins.

Until next time…