Some of my first memories of my life are in school. I spent some of my earliest days in pre-school, learning about rain, puddles, and sprinklers (I liked water back then too). School for me has always been a dominant part of my life and how I invest my time, so when it came to my graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May, the idea of finishing school inherently didn’t make much sense to me.
As I walked across the stage for my Biology graduation, I couldn’t help but think of all the work that had led up to this day. The hard work in high school. The late nights in college. The research experience I had gained in my time as an undergraduate.
And I suppose what hit me more was that it was almost all ending.
My interesting classes over, my time in the lab drawing to a close, even the documentary that I had spent four years filming had just finished. Many of my friends were moving home or on to their next step, which left me with the simple question: with all of this ending, what was beginning? At the very least, I figured it would take at least a summer to find out.
Thus started my summer of procrastination. Careers can wait, l want to have one more summer break!
Adventure 1: The Road Trip!
While an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to complete a study abroad program by Sea Education Association (SEA). As a part of the program, I conducted marine science research and marine policy research, all while sailing as a crew member aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer from Puerto Rico to Bermuda and to New York. The experience was incredible for so many reasons, from sailing to research experience, but most of all in made me and my fellow shipmates a family.
Every year in May, SEA hosts an alumni reunion for anyone interested in attending in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. I originally had told my shipmates that I would be unable to make it, but what’s life without a little spontaneous adventure? I decided I would be at that reunion, and, using the reunion as an excuse, would see some friends and family along the way. With that, I filled my car with the following: a duffelbag of clothes, a sleeping bag, a camping backpack, a box of miscellaneous instant foods, and a backpack containing my laptop and camera.
I set out for two weeks, with my only plan being to come up with a plan on the road. On the way up I took the time to visit some family and friends that I was long overdue to spend some time with: My “Step-twin” Mitch, my “twin” cousin Jon Jon, my partner-in-crime on the Cramer Anthony.
With each person it was the first time I got to visit them in their home, and really see the life they have chosen to live. These people all had a very special place in my life, but also had very established lives in their homes that I was happy to be a part of, if only for a night. And thanks to these three, I learned a couple things I would not know otherwise: how awesome sleeping on a giant bean bag is (hint: super), how to play “ride the bus”, and how to longboard (as well as a lot of ways to crash a longboard).
When I finally reunited with my shipmates in Woods Hole, the energy was unreal. Hugs were shared, stories were swapped, but what was most important is that we were together again. We had spent two months living in pretty close quarters with one another, which meant we had gotten pretty used to being close together. Going from living in the same ship to worlds apart from each other is quite a change.
One thing that I knew would always be true: my shipmates would always be there for me, wherever I was, and wherever I was going. We certainly missed our shipmates who couldn’t make it, but I suppose that means I will just have to go visit them (Caroline, Margaret, Sarah, Lena, Olivia, Ryan, Lizzie, watch out! I’m on the way!)
With the reunion come and gone all-too-quickly I bid farewell to my shipmates and hit the road, now thirsty for a way to cap off my adventures of the northeast before heading back south. Once Anthony gave me a suggestion I knew my fate was sealed: I was off to Acadia National Park.
From my haphazard research while staying with my shipmate Liz in Boston, I planned an action-packed weekend in Acadia. In the early morning I set out for my first ever excursion to Maine and six hours later was pitching a tent in Acadia National Park, getting oriented and mapping my first hike for that evening. A 7 mile loop later, I not only couldn’t believe the pace I had managed to pick up, but the striking coastline of Mount Desert Island astounded me as well.
There were powerful waves that smashed into the shore, carving out steep (but climbable) cliffs. Then with an abrupt turn away from the shore I switched from ocean views to mountainsides that rose up from the coast.
I hiked as long as the light would allow, but eventually was forced back to camp for the night.
After a night of firelight, jambalaya, fresh popped popcorn, and a good book Anthony had given me, I woke up feeling refreshed at approximately 5:45am. I was never much one for sleeping with the sun up, so I grabbed a quick breakfast and set out for the trail. The day was “Picturesque Maine Weather”, aka Foggy. I had hardly climbed 1000 feet before I found myself walking through a cloud.
The steep trail continued, and before long I found myself walking on a solid granite face in foul weather gear, still in my trusty chacos sandals of course. It would all be worth it, however, for a chance to reach Acadia’s tallest peak: Cadillac Mountain.
…Only to discover there was a parking lot there.
Don’t get me wrong, the hike was gorgeous and fun and I don’t regret it one bit. But the fact that my fellow mountaintoppers had managed to reach the same point is me using only their right big toe was combined with the feeling of disappointment from a complete lack of a view (thanks fog…).
At least the temperature was nice.
I continued and my day only got better. After a strenuous hike down the steep side of Cadillac and back up to the top of Dorr Mountain, I enjoyed a lunch with a newly cleared view.
The rest of the day consisted of gorgeous trails through rugged mountains and beautiful streams, and as I watched the sun set from the bottom of a trail, I thought “Man, it sure would be amazing to see the sun set back on top of Cadillac Mountain”. Then in a moment I remembered my wonderful discovery earlier: There was a parking lot on top of Cadillac Mountain.
So I suppose I can’t be that upset with the parking lot, seeing as I used it. I just hope they don’t add any more.
After another firelit night and day of amazing hiking, I left Acadia with 40 miles under my belt, and a sense that I had brought myself to a place that was truly for me to experience.
I will never forget that confidence and ambition I had tackling each trail, and the sense of accomplishment and wonder after each summit. I hope to hold on to those exact memories forever.
The journey from Acadia to North Carolina would be a long one, but my family certainly would never make it feel that way. Stop one was an evening in Boston with my cousin Jackie, who very graciously took me in to her home and let me shower and sleep in a real bed. After Jackie I made a stop in with my great aunt (whom I just call “Tia”, which is just spanish for “Aunt”). Tia was very excited to see me (and to feed me), but even she was not as excited as my two little cousins, Sophia and Logan. An afternoon and morning later, and I was back on the road, stopping in one last time with Mitch in Virginia before my journey brought me home.
With the road trip over, it is hard for me to summarize the whole trip succinctly, or even characterize why I had done everything I had done. In some ways it was for my family. Whether step-family, cousins, or SEA-family, the people I have in my life have supported me for so much, and I was reminded of that care throughout the trip. In some ways it was for the adventure, I loved the spontaneity, the freedom, and the carefree nature that came about making my own schedule, hiking and driving at my own pace. And in other ways I did it for myself. Sometimes taking a step back and step away can help you realize that everything is ok. When I was in school, there was all this pressure to know exactly what my next move is, to get a research position and start my career right away in May. I know now that I would be able to take some time to do exactly what I wanted, and right now that was to live in Chapel Hill and finish my documentary. Graduate school and my dream of being a marine scientist still in the near future, as I still apply to graduate schools this winter, but a year off from being in school sounds like another adventure that will go well.
There was one other event on my road trip. At the beginning of my trip, I got a call saying I had been offered a job with the UNC Friday Center as a media technician. I had graduated, seen my family, and gotten a job in one of my fields. Not bad for not planning.