I had a lot of hopes while entering 2016. A lot of high hopes that I rested way too much of my happiness upon. I had recently left my previous job after almost five and a half years there and was eagerly awaiting pursuing other opportunities. Opportunities that would afford me the kind of work I wanted to do, the kind of freedom to enjoy life in a certain way I wanted to, and to enjoy a level of happiness I hadn’t felt in a long time. This year ended up being drastically different than what I was expecting it to be. So, here’s my story and it’s super long and I’m being really dramatic through the whole thing but I don’t care. Regardless, I hope you enjoy what I have to say. If you’re reading this, you likely had a part of some kind in making this year what it was to me. Enjoy!
In the middle of January, I made a trip out to Albuquerque to see a singer/comedian/podcaster/all-around awesome guy, Jamie Kilstein, perform. He had a show set in Denver but I guess some issues came up so he had to cancel and, knowing he still had a performance in Albuquerque, I figured this was a perfect chance to take a fun little road trip hours away and enjoy a weekend to myself.
I can’t even remember how I came across his podcast, Citizen Radio, who he co-hosts with Allison Kilkenny. But the first time I listened to them, I instantly fell in love. I had just started to question my previously held shitty beliefs and views on a lot of things and Citizen Radio was a perfect gateway to a level of leftism that I felt was the best way to view and live life, along with never quitting on continuing to expand and learn. But it was also leftism that forced me to hold my own self accountable on many, many things which I am so grateful for. I’ve been listening for a few years now and, in many ways, Citizen Radio really changed my life for the better and I am forever thankful for the random chance I had to stumble upon their podcast. So, that is why I was willing to drive more than six hours to see Jamie perform. Also, I got to rent the cutest little place in downtown Albuquerque via Airbnb and the host was just wonderful.
Anyway! Doing that trip alone was incredibly revealing to myself. Listening to my favorite fiction and non-fiction podcasts, playing really fucking good music, and making a few phone calls here and there while traversing through the sprawling desert was quite an experience. Just so you know, I absolutely love driving long distances alone. It’s something I accidentally discovered about myself a long time ago and this won’t be the only time I bring this love up in this post. The desert is also probably the best type of place to go on long drives in. In the harshest environment, immense beauty can be found. Guess what? I WILL WRITE MORE ABOUT THIS WHOLE DRIVING THROUGH A DESERT THING later on in this post.
I said that trip was revealing to myself because it was when the first inklings of issues I have started coming up. Not new issues, but stuff I have unintentionally, unconsciously, whatever, kept down and suppressed for a long, long time. I ignored those thoughts, though, and drove on through the desert to see one of my favorite performers and to explore a beautiful city. Seriously, Albuquerque is a gem of a place and I highly recommend it to all of you to visit. Oh, and I drove by a really unique looking mountain outside of Las Vegas, New Mexico that I really want to hike. Anyone want to join me?
After more weeks of being unemployed slowly turning into months and having a ton of extra time on my hands, after many discussions I had with my girlfriend at the time, after lots of moments of thinking, I realized I had a big problem that has been around for a long time and I really needed to address it. I sat down for hours and wrote this short blog post about, what I think, is a form of depression I suffer from.
The response I got from it was very overwhelming. I posted the piece and, within minutes, my phone was blowing up with insurmountable love and support that I somehow fooled myself into thinking I wouldn’t have.
I cried really fucking hard the night after I posted that piece because of the love you all gave me.
Real quick, I want to thank all of you who read that piece and reached out to me. Your texts, comments, phone calls, hugs, coffee meetings, etc. really truly honestly meant the fucking world to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your words and actions are things I will never, ever forget. And now I need to move on before I get emotional again just thinking about.
A really special thanks goes out to my mom. She is the reason I was able to get help in the first place because therapy of any kind is ridiculously expensive to do on a regular basis, especially since I was unemployed at the time. Without her love, support, and help, I would absolutely not have made the personal progress I accomplished this year in regards to my mental health and outlook. I wouldn’t have had the genuinely good times and happy moments I experienced if it weren’t for my mom stepping in and helping me out. I love you so much, mom, and every day I am planning on ways I can eventually repay you for all the love you’ve shown me.
Also, without my mom, I would’ve never experience my life change the way it did during my travels in Utah this summer. But, I’ll talk about that more at a later time.
After a lot of hesitation, I finally started seeing a therapist and she is incredibly wonderful. Spent many sessions just allowing me to talk and get things off my chest that have been weighing me down for many years. Then she helped me start to unpack little things here and there which lead to me fully unboxing giant sleeping dragons that I’ve kept hidden out of sight for so long. She helped me get some tools and trained me how to use them when those moments come up.
Usually the ocean is nice and calm and the sun is brightly shining gloriously but, off in the distance, is a thunderstorm that persistently lingers at the edge of the world. I can sit in my 924-foot yacht and wear those dumb small pink shorts that young, rich, white Republicans love to wear and feel like everything is going just fine while sunbathing. Once in a while, that storm makes its way across the entire ocean and really fucks shit up pretty hard. Monstrous waves come through and nothing is stable or still. This storm comes out of nowhere and will stay however long it feels like. When it goes away, though, everything feels back to normal. It’s never been a permanent state of mind for me and I am so thankful for that. I am just so grateful I now have these tools and what feels like a lifeboat to grab onto for when the storm comes rolling through.
Since I made that post and started seeing a therapist, I’ve been better. A lot better, actually. Those moments still roll through occasionally but they seem much more infrequent and the storm takes a lot less time to get over with. What used to be something that would hit me for months at a time seems to now last maybe a couple weeks at a time. And those in-between moments where I feel fine are lasting longer and longer. I cherish those moments so much more now.
I don’t think this thing will ever quite go away, though. That scares me sometimes but I’m aware of it now. I can see it, I can address it, and I know I have the love and support around me to deal with it properly. I’m done with stashing it away and putting a mask on pretending I’m totally fine all the time. Well, not quite done but I’m working on it. Baby steps, you know?
And I am so glad I was able to figure this out because this year took a sharp downturn soon after all this.
After my dad died, I was able to continue life just fine. Mostly. It’s like I was able to see the way I was sort of supposed to but suddenly couldn’t view the color blue anymore. Everything was fine but a fundamental aspect of my vision had changed.
Something like that happened after Laurie.
I’ll never forget when she came home. When she opened the door. When I looked over from my desk and looked at her. When I got up and walked to her. When I gave her a hug and she hugged me back. When she stopped me and said, “I need to talk to you about something.” When I didn’t expect anything so I just nodded along. When I sat down with her and she held my hands. When my heart suddenly started beating really, really fucking fast.
“I can’t do this anymore.”
She kept her eyes locked onto mine. Within this moment, I knew it was real. It was happening. A feeling overcame me that I would not be able to change what was happening before my eyes. So, I didn’t fight it. We talked for a while then I went out to be with friends so I could have some time to process what was happening.
We had first met and started talking almost two and a half years before that night, been in a relationship for nearly two years before that night, and, that night, I was about to watch all of that crash down into an invisible void forming before me. The longer the relationship, the more flesh we give. The more of ourselves. We don’t really get that back, and that’s why relationships are a sacrifice of sorts, you’re literally depending on that person to be there for you and you for them.
I was able to return to a normal routine fairly quickly. A few months later, I felt I could be happy and enjoy company again. Alone. But that lingering pain was always there. It felt like there was just something hiding inside waiting to creep out. And, at random times, it did and I felt like I was literally breaking. Like my body was separating. It would usually only last a few moments then recede again.
It happened less often as time went on, but the residual feeling is still there. I don’t think it will go away for a long time. I do not believe that any two people experience anything in exactly the same way, and knowing the story we wrote together is truly and honestly one of kind that will never be experienced by anyone else is something I’ll always appreciate and never forget. It’s been hard letting go but, as each day goes by, my grip loosens.
I legitimately do not believe we move on from those kinds of experiences, but rather we lay down those bricks into and on top of our foundation as we never really stop building upon it in our lives. We continuously build and build because, if you stop, then that house you’re building will crumble under the next flash flood.
It’s been seven months now and I’m doing and feeling a lot better since that night. I’m learning how to be alone again and it’s really not so bad. I still have my moments where I really miss her, though, and wish I could unwind time and fix what probably couldn’t be fixed.
Laurie will always have a part within the foundation of my life. My time with her was wonderful, frustrating, happy, maddening, exhilarating, life-changing, sad, and every kind of feeling one experiences in a relationship. We went on so many adventures, we laughed so hard, we cried together, we had our occasional fights, we farted around each other, we had our own language where we could look at each other in a public setting and know exactly what the other one is thinking, we had countless plans for the future, we made so many new friends through each other, we experienced pain together, we grew together, and we saw the raw beauty within each other.
I will always be grateful for my time with Laurie. She has so much going for her and so many huge goals that could change the landscape of this community and beyond. I am so excited to see what she will accomplish with her story and how it will change the lives of many people. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience of the two years I was with her and, after all the heartbreak that is normal after a breakup, I will still always have an admiration, respect, and fondness for her.
That picture above is us having our last drink together. We finished watching all of Parks and Recreation and then talked a lot that night and I still have the little note she wrote me that evening. I’ll always keep that note.
Thank you, Laurie.
At this point, a few months have gone by since the breakup that fundamentally changed the path my life was on. The summer that soon followed was something out of a fictional book because it still feels like it was too good to be true. After May, things slowly started falling together with all the pieces of my life linking back together and I was realizing that everything would be okay.
I find it interesting that the woman who basically introduced me to the wonderful community here in Colorado Springs and had a major hand in helping me realize the steps I wanted and needed to take to change my life was now leaving during another pivotal time in my life. This year, she found an opportunity to move to California and she took it. In case if you couldn’t figure it out, I’m talking about Wendy and the photo above is from her going-away party. She’s the one on the far right.
I accidentally “met” her on Twitter in 2012 due to the Waldo Canyon Fire. I wrote about that fire, Twitter, and everything that resulted from it in this post. Except this time, four years later, I had the tools and resources I needed to know which steps I have to take now. It almost felt like she was waving goodbye and saying, “My time here is done! Go, Kevin! Fly! Fly like a peacock!” And, boy, I fucking flew.
This was one of the best summers I’ve ever had and it involved so many different things.
So, I’ll start with Utah.
What an incredible and completely unexpected weekend I spent in Utah. It accidentally became a major turning point for me after the last few months of my life being really downward-spiraling and facing a lot of unknowns. I am going to remember this trip for the rest of my life.
This trip, at its core, was for a family reunion in a small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town. I originally had a big trip planned around it with Laurie in the picture but, since that had changed, I was going to just carpool with my mom. After a lot of thinking, I had this idea that I just shouldn’t care if I was alone and do the originally-planned big trip anyway, with some modifications of course. I was terrified of going alone because I was worried about spending so much time by myself and having too much to think about the sad stuff happening in my head.
I left town around 9PM on a Thursday night so I could get to Moab, Utah before the sunrise. I wanted to see the sunrise at the famous Delicate Arch. While hiking up the trail in the darkness, I was suddenly reminded and pleasantly surprised that I was out there in a perfect setting to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower. I was hiking below a sky of exploding fragments and trails of stardust. My goodness. Every time I saw the sparkles spreading streaks into the sky, I could imagine hearing them. I could imagine what it would be like up there to witness that up close. If you’ve never seen an exploding shooting star, then I sincerely hope you will someday soon because, to me, it just looks fucking magical. It looks like something you’re only supposed to see in a movie with overdone CGI effects. It’s a small example of how truly fantastical the world can be.
When I finally reached my destination, what really surprised me after all the research I did telling me that National Parks at this time of the year, especially at Arches, are overwhelmingly crowded is that I was the only one at the Delicate Arch for about an hour. I had an entire hour all to myself while waiting for the land around me to light up. It was so quiet and serene, which those words don’t do the feelings I experienced any justice. Just sitting there feeling no wind and being deafened by the quietness while watching the sun reach it’s way over the horizon was just… Ugh, I can’t find the right words to convey that feeling.
It was while I was sitting down that a feeling overcame me telling me that everything would be okay. I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely.
I got to watch the entire world around me slowly light up. Going from a dull yellow, to vivid red, and then to the vibrant orange of the dirt all over. It was something I can’t wait to witness again. It showed me, once again, that the desert, despite being such a harsh environment that barely anything is able to survive in it, is also a place of insurmountable beauty. There is nothing else like it.
After this, I explored Arches a bit before leaving to get some holy-shit-this-is-so-good-it-should-be-illegal breakfast at a little place called Love Muffin Cafe. Go check it out whenever you’re in the area!
At this point, after a three hour nap home before starting the trip and a 15 minute power nap in a parking lot at Arches National Park, I had basically been awake for at least 12 hours. My mom was having car problems thanks to a battery dying so my plan to meet up with her was greatly delayed. I figured I’d just go ahead and start on down to the town where my hotel was and relax there so I did! It was a little over two hours away from Moab but I was really enjoying the time of solitude in my car so I didn’t mind doing even more driving.
This is when I remembered that the town we were staying in happened to be right next to another National Park! After checking into the hotel room and getting lunch at a cute little diner, I went on to Capitol Reef National Park and, after consulting with my good friend, Bob, I did an intense hike in 110º weather that brought me 728 feet above the canyon floor for some scary but awe-inspiring views of the Fremont River and the rest of the area.
And I am feeling fucking GREAT right now. I’m sure a large part of that was due to adrenaline, lack of sleep, very hot weather, and maybe a touch of delirium from what I just described. But, anyway, I’m feeling great and I’m practically bouncing off the canyon walls on my way down and passing miserable tourists who look like they’ve greatly underestimated the difficulty of the hike, lack of shade, and how hot it would be. To remind you of what I said earlier, this trip proved to be a major turning point for me. My time at Arches told me that but my time in Capitol Reef cemented that for me. My relationship with nature was proving to be something that is continuing to be essential to my life.
Oh, and the nearly hour-long bath I took at the end of the day was pure bliss.
The next day, I went to my family reunion and it was so much fun to reconnect with my cousins and my aunt along with meeting my new cousins who I never got a chance to meet after they were born. One of them is a teenager and the last time I saw him, he was just a big ol’ bump in his mom’s belly! It was a fantastic time relaxing and catching up and I even went with a relative to go up a hill a couple miles away that was littered with actual Native American arrowheads. We collected a bunch of them and it was fascinating to hear about the history of the area and the process the Native Americans used to create arrowheads and to learn why there were so many scattered in this particular area. It never occurred to me to learn about this particular aspect of Native American history but this random chance opportunity sparked me later spending hours reading about the tribes and people in that area of Utah.
Afterward, we went up to Fish Lake where my uncle’s ashes were spread 17 years ago. So wonderful to be in that place again and create new memories, plus realizing that how I remember the area is still pretty accurate was pretty cool to me. I could still pinpoint the spot I was sitting down on the shore fishing while playing Pokemon on my Gameboy all those years ago.
On my final day, I barely avoided a rock slide that happened right after I left Capitol Reef National Park to go home. Timing is everything because if I had been a few seconds earlier, I would’ve been caught in it. If I had been a few seconds later, I would’ve crashed into the boulders since it happened right after a blind curve. It was quite a really scary moment that I won’t ever forget because that was easily one the biggest, “OH! SHIT!” moments I have ever had.
After that experience, I drove to Aspen and pretended to be a rich person for a moment until I took on Independence Pass. Independence Pass is INCREDIBLE! The winding and narrow road is a little worrying at times but the views along the way and the summit is something everyone should experience at least once. Especially since you can just easily drive up there!
So, that concludes the Utah trip where I can honestly say I feel like it changed my life. Not in a dramatic way, but more so in the sense that it was the first big experience that told me I can still go forward, I can still move on, I can still be excited about the future after the previous months being such a major bummer to me.
Everything will be okay.
The other reason this was one of the best summers I’ve ever had?
Holy hell good God Almighty. My friends fucking made this year for me. First, I’m going to share a bunch of my favorite photos of all of us from this year.
These photos above are just a small snapshot of not just this summer, but what this whole year was with them.
My friends. You guys consistently showed me, consistently reminded me, what real love and friendship is. I sound so cliched and like a repeating record when saying this but, goddamn, I am so incredibly, absolutely, and beyond without a doubt grateful and thankful for your presence in my life. If I could, I would write each of you a long goddamn letter because of the deep impact each of you had on my life in different ways. I felt disappointed and let down by a few people this year but you guys helped me maintain my faith in other people around me.
Earlier in the year, I was experiencing many realizations and a big one was how I was slowly neglecting my friendships more and more. It was all my fault. I was allowing my own issues and struggles to consume myself and cloud my vision enough to where I could no longer see the people right there in front of me. I felt alone even though so many people were so quick and willing to help me at a moment’s notice. Once I snapped out of it, I was afraid I’d be alone due to the obvious distance I put between myself and my friends. But, no, you all jumped in immediately when I needed you. Thank you for that.
I am sorry for pulling myself away from you guys. I hope I was able to make up for that this past summer but I know I still have a lot of catching up to do. There were a few people who I feel, despite knowing them for a long while by now, I was finally able to use my newfound energy and openness to become much closer friends with them. And these people legitimately fucking rule. I really am incapable of envisioning how my life would be right now if I had never met them. If I tried really hard to imagine such a life, I just see a lot of emptiness.
After all my personal shit I was going through, you guys saved me. Seriously. This year had some really low moments, really low moments, and it would’ve been so much worse without you. You know who you are.
And the last thing that made this summer so fucking incredible?
I was introduced to hiking by my great friend, Bob, back in 2013. After witnessing the destruction of Colorado nature by the Waldo Canyon Fire, I felt heartbroken that areas I had never visited were now forever changed. Heartbroken, too, because I never saw the lands before destruction. Thanks to Wendy, who I mentioned earlier, I eventually came to know Bob, as in Hiking Bob. He’s a wonderful guy that, if you don’t know him by now, you need to get out and meet him because he’ll be an important, caring, and valuable friend to have. I will always have him to thank for being the catalyst that I needed to find something to become passionate about. It’s pretty easy to meet him because he’s likely up in the mountains nearby taking pretty pictures so get those shoes on start hiking on a nearby trail.
He hosted a group hike up in North Cheyenne Cañon in the summer of 2013 and I decided to join. Wasn’t too sure how I would feel about going on a real hike for the first time ever (sorry, but a walk through Garden of the Gods doesn’t count as a real hike like I previously thought it did before this point). It was an adventure to a group of old cabins and a campground of some kind deep in the woods pretty much on a completely hidden trail somewhere in the Cañon.
And I fell in love.
Hiking eventually took on a huge role in my life, if that isn’t obvious enough at this point, but I realized there were other larger, more personal components to it that really enhanced my life. Of course, I wrote a lot about that here in this post. Every hike I went on this past year further continued to strengthen my conviction that hiking and the outdoors in general are so goddamn good for the soul.
Williams Canyon, Dome Rock, Section 16, Raspberry Mountain, The Crags, Mount Elbert, Pikes Peak, Delicate Arch, Cohab Canyon, Zapata Falls, Catamount Falls, Sunset Loop, Saint Mary’s Falls, Pancake Rocks, Palmer Park, Mount Buckhorn, Cheyenne Mountain State Park, and so, so, so, so many other hikes. I got lost, I explored, I discovered, I tripped, I found peace, and I fell in love in so many different ways out there.
I’m still trying to figure out what my top three or top five hikes were but it’s a tough choice to make. I’ll say this, though, being able to do two Fourteeners this summer was an unexpected goal I met. I half-heartedly told myself, “Hey, I should do a 14er this summer sometime!” with no real goal or plan in mind. After my Utah trip causing me to become way too invigorated and excited about life, I suddenly decided on Mount Elbert just for the bragging rights. It’s the tallest mountain in Colorado, the tallest in the Rockies, and second tallest in the United States if you don’t count Alaska. At the last minute, I invited two friends and then on we went. I was reminded, quickly, that climbing a Fourteener isn’t fun, but it is so entirely worth it. Every single moment is so worth it.
Less than a month later, I went with three of my closest friends to the top of America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak. Once again, as I oft do on a regular basis, I fell in love all over again with the mountain I practically grew up next to. I had been on Pikes Peak before, as you can read all about here. That time, I went up on the western slope of the mountain via the Crags Trail and Devil’s Playground route. We did it roundtrip and, back in 2014, I was not nearly in the hiking shape I am now so it was a miserable hike that I really just didn’t enjoy all that much despite loving the time I was spending with the people I got to trek up with. This time, I climbed it on the famous Barr Trail. It’s over 26 miles round trip so, thankfully, we got a ride down to home from Jacen’s brother after we reached the top. Going on Barr Trail was a new experience for me and I was in awe every bit of the way. It’s an incredible path with many varying landscapes and I got to spend it with people I’ve grown to love and admire so much.
Another cool thing about Barr Trail and Pikes Peak and pretty much all of hiking ever? Is how no matter the familiarity of the place you’re in, it looks entirely different when viewed from a different perspective. You can see Pikes Peak from Colorado Springs, but it feels like you can see the world from Pikes Peak. Goddamn, I can already feel my blood pumping and the adrenaline being released at just the thought of all the hiking I’ll be doing next year and the new experiences I’ll gain. One of my biggest goals for next year is to do a backpacking trip of some kind. I’m still figuring out the details. I can’t wait.
Some things can only be seen by the results they cause. Winter is a world covered in cold. Ice releases water, to nourish spring. It’s a time for creation and hoping for what is to come. This summer was the time I took it all in, and it was the time I let it all out.
Back in May, I decided to set a personal goal to hike 200 miles. After starting the year off with disappointment after disappointment until the summer, I really need to set a goal and force myself to have something to look forward to that I knew I was capable of accomplishing because, at that point in time, everything felt so uncertain and I just couldn’t even fathom what the near future would like for me.
206.6 miles. Or 363,616 yards. Or 1,090,848 feet. Or I can even measure it by how much elevation I gained which is at 48,526 feet. Which is 19,497 feet taller than Mount Everest! Anyway. I met my goal I had set for myself. I was beyond happy when I hit that goal and had to have a friend take a picture of me in that moment. I was with a group of friends and I felt the need to simmer myself down and hide my pure happiness otherwise Hiking Bob would’ve had to put a horse tranquilizer in me. It was a really special moment to me and it’s one I won’t ever forget. Next year, my new hiking mileage goal will be way more and I am giddy about getting it done. As cliched as it sounds, it’s not just the destination, but the journey, too.
206.6 miles. That’s how much distance I’ve hiked this year. I continuously changed elevations and paths my own two feet were on, I had to face many uncomfortable truths about myself, I started a new job (which I absolutely love), I was broken up with, I got to witness a few of my best and closest friends get married, I made new friends, I reconnected with old friends, strengthened my bonds with the people I love, I tried out new local places for drinks, I ate new food, I had to move out of my old place and into my mom’s place, I moved out of my mom’s house and into a great friend’s home, I went to New Mexico, I went to Arkansas, I went to Utah, I had to get a new car, I cried, I laughed, I got angry, I got sad, I smiled when life showed me moments of beauty, and I kept hiking. I kept fucking hiking. 206.6 miles.
2016 was most definitely not the best year I could’ve had, but I made it a great year anyway. Appreciate every fucking moment. Good or bad. Because our time is limited and death will quickly come and it’ll be as if you never existed in an instant. If I die tomorrow, I’m glad I did the best I could and made this past year something to remember, something absolutely worth it.
I won’t go into 2017 with high hopes, but rather a glimmer of hope. I want to take that glimmer and gently work to turn it into a fiery inferno of light. Wish me luck.
And thank you.