I turned 30 years old back in October of 2017. Spent all day with my family and all evening with my close friends and here’s me blissfully smiling at the end of the night because it was such a genuinely great birthday. Oh, and my friend decided to put on some makeup to make me pretty.
But, during the days leading up to my 30th birthday, I was heavy in thoughts and emotions about the ten years before leading up to this point. And, holy shit, so much happened. I remember I was at work and was struck hard with the weight of processing every single thing that had happened to me in those years. While those years seemingly passed by so quickly, ten years is still a very, very long time.
I can very clearly remember when I was 19 about to turn 20 and I was such a lost little boy with no aim of any discernible sort and definitely floating through life just in whatever direction the flow of life took me. I was in my first “adult” relationship and was a lousy boyfriend to her. I was still rekindling my relationship with my parents after moving out at age 17 and not speaking to them again until just after my 19th birthday. I was surrounded by friends who I had some fun and memorable times with but was slowly feeling a disconnect from them. I had a pretty neat job at an electrical engineering laboratory that I didn’t take as seriously as I should have. Oh, and I also got my first apartment all by myself! All of this was happening yet I still felt very lost.
The first tumultuous upheaval to happen was my dad being diagnosed with cancer a few months after I turned 20. I had experienced relatives getting sick and passing away but it was never anyone so close as my own parent. I still vividly remember being at work and getting that phone call from my mom. Her sobbing as she told me the news and me having to run into the bathroom after hanging up with her for fear of throwing up. It literally felt like I got punched in the stomach. I calmed myself down, took my lunch break, and cried hard nearly the entire time in my car. That evening, I spent time with my parents and my dad remained relentlessly positive about the whole situation.
It helped me grasp onto some small semblance of hope for his recovery.
Almost exactly a year later, on my mom’s birthday nonetheless, my dad’s cancer came back after being in remission. Oh, and on that same day? I lost my job. We were well into the recession and the company I worked for struggled so they eventually had to make cuts and, to be honest, I was a weak employee. In hindsight, it all makes sense, but at the moment, I was panicking big time. Had no backup plans, had no savings, and no idea how I’d be able to pay rent along with the other bills I had.
So, I took a leap of faith.
I had no attachment to Colorado Springs. I thought it was a boring city with nothing to do. I felt extremely unhappy and frustrated yet couldn’t articulate why. I felt very disconnected from the friends I had and my dad’s prognosis for going back into remission again was hopeful so, during a phone call with my best friend, the thought occurred to me, “I should move to Indiana.” Solely because my best friend lived there and I was desperate for a change of any kind and this was the easiest way I could get that. About two weeks later, I was on the road to Indiana with everything I needed packed tightly into my little 1996 Toyota Camry.
Besides getting a job, there was no real plan in place for after I moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Yet, everything just simply worked out. I started making new and meaningful friendships with people I absolutely adore and, still do to this day, talk to on a regular basis. I discovered how much fun it was to explore new areas around me, I got to visit some major cities and fell absolutely in love with Chicago and Indianapolis. Things were settling in for me and I found a new zest for life and felt genuinely happy for the first time in years. It felt like the Midwest was becoming home to me and I was excited to see where life would take me.
Then my dad fucking died.
We had a complicated relationship when he came into the picture but once we started getting genuinely close, becoming actual father and son, cancer had to arrive and take his fucking life. Goddamn, I am still so very bitter about this. I worry I won’t ever stop being bitter about this.
My biological father left soon after my younger brother was born and I have no memories of him. He died in 2004. I’ll never get to know him and this is something I’ve accepted and am okay with. He left me a half-brother who I finally got to meet last year during my travels in the southwest. His name is Jack and he is a really cool dude.
Then the man who I consider my real dad, Mark, arrived. I was always the “man of the house” until he showed up. We fought so much. So, so much. I will never forget this one fight we had where he really was in the wrong and, in the end, he looked over to me, started crying and said he was sorry. Something hits extraordinarily hard about seeing an old man cry. When someone has experienced far more years than you and many more heartbreaks and tragedies start to cry, you know it’s real, it’s from the heart. I don’t even remember him crying when his own father died. But, at that moment, I knew we could be on the path towards a real relationship. After a rocky few years, he became one of my best friends. I made some of my biggest life choices, for that time, thanks to talking with him while we sipped on coffee at a nearby Starbucks.
And I didn’t realize how truly lost in life I felt until after he died.
His death forever changed my world. It made me start out my twenties with tragedy and it colored my perception of my life ever since. It’s been almost nine years at this point and I still struggle with him not being here. I was already a cynical and pessimistic person who was finally starting to crawl out of that hole because of how wonderful things were going for me in Indiana. Then this event made me regress even further down into that self-defeating cynicism. Much like the phone call I got from my mom to tell me he was first diagnosed, I can still vividly remember every detail of the phone call I got from her to tell me he had passed away. I had to work a full shift after that and didn’t really process the reality of what had happened. When I got home, I jumped in the shower and cried harder than I ever have before. I don’t think I’ve cried that hard since then.
His death informed every major decision I made after that. It intrinsically changed who I am and who I wanted to be. It took me a while, though, to figure that out. Like I said above, I didn’t realize how lost I was until he died. Especially because I couldn’t ask him what to do, ask him for advice, pour my heart out to him, to listen to his wisdom, or to even get a reassuring hug. I’ll never get any of that again and I would do anything just to sit down and have some coffee with him while talking about life.
The last time I saw him alive, he was dropping me off at Denver International Airport and I was doing everything I physically and emotionally could to hold it together. He hugged me for a really long time and told me, “Keep the faith, Kevin,” and we looked at each other for a while. He got back in the car with my mom and they took off.
Every single time I go to that airport, I think of that moment.
I’ll post what the Twitter user, @jonnysun, recently tweeted: “when a person dies, that person cannot be replaced. but the space that person creates in their leaving is the last gift they leave behind. that space creates space for something new”
Now here I am in Indiana. I’ve established myself, made quite a few friends, some of whom I consider lifelong friends and still keep in touch with regularly, and work is going well. But, my mom was alone in Colorado. And my brother decided to join the Army so he’d be leaving soon. Decided to take another, albeit minor, leap of faith and move back to Colorado. It was really hard to leave the midwest. I felt like I had some potential of building a life out there. But I just couldn’t stand the thought of my mom being alone with two sons on the other side of the country.
Okay, I moved back and suddenly hit that wall again. The feeling was immediately familiar to me from before I moved to Indiana except, this time, I had the knowledge and tools to figure out how to break through that wall. It took a couple years for it all to click and for things to fall into place but that final piece of the puzzle was the Waldo Canyon Fire.
I wrote a lot about that experience here.
Besides finding a sense of community in this city and slowly figuring out a way forward for myself, one of the biggest life-changing things to happen was discovering my absolute love and passion for hiking. You all very clearly know this about me.
I obsessively talk about it and, at least several times a day, I’m researching what my next hike will be and how I can do bigger and better adventures with my limited time and income. Thank goodness I not only live in Colorado, but I’m also a short day drive away from Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico (sorry, Kansas!). Over the years I have gotten in better shape and figured out more ways to expand my adventures outside. I only started backpacking last year and I fell so in love with it. So much so that I wish I could just strike it rich right now and, instead of buying mansions and fancy cars, I’d just buy a nicely equipped Subaru to travel the country with and backpack for months at a time. Oh, and I’d buy all the backpacking gear with that fancy cuben fiber that is currently way too expensive for me to afford.
Hiking has vastly improved my quality of life, not just in my physical health, but for my mental health as it provides a release, an escape, and a window into a form of spirituality I never knew I needed. It caused me to finally, after years of trying and failing, to become passionate about a hobby and to turn it into a legitimate lifestyle for myself. As each year has passed, I’ve developed it into something more meaningful and impactful for myself and now I’m attempting to do that for others with my new Wild Westendorf project.
What’s Wild Westendorf? I’m still figuring it out. Just taking the baby steps for now but I’m really excited about the ideas I have and the potential for it. I genuinely believe it’ll be a somewhat unique take on what you usually see online from hiking enthusiasts. My ultimate goal is to make hiking exciting for other people and to inspire them to experience the world in a whole new way. If I can convince at least one person to discover a love of the outdoors, then my mission has been accomplished. Also, I have big plans that will come into play soon and I can’t wait to talk about it!
So, my twenties started off with tragedy. I’m 30 now and wanted to do something that would make my thirties start off on not just a positive event, but an adventure that I’ll remember for a lifetime. I have the ability to choose how to make my next decade happen and adapt to it even when unexpected things happen, as they always do.
For my 31st birthday in October, I’ll be hiking from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to the north rim. Then back again. In one day. Hopefully less than a day. I am unbelievably excited about this, even though sometimes I feel nervous. I’m going with a great group of people and I know I’ll be able to do this. I am counting down the days and can’t wait to share my adventure with all of you. Hoping it’ll convince you that the Grand Canyon is a place you need to see with your own eyes at least once.
I hope this will be the one major event surrounded by many smaller events that have already happened and will continue to happen that will shape my thirties. I have a foundation now, I feel. It’ll always be under construction but it’s strong enough now that I’m confident a flash flood ripping and roaring through won’t destroy it like it so easily could in my twenties.
It also helps that I’ve made some of the greatest friends I’ve ever had. These people… I will never have all the words to describe how I feel about them. You know who you are and, again and again, I thank you for being a part of my life and being there for me and being bluntly honest with me and sharing your lives with me.
One more thing. What drastically improved the latter half of my twenties (and explained a lot of stuff in my early twenties) was recognizing I needed help. Things weren’t feeling right and I needed to see a therapist. And it changed my life so much. I wrote about it here. It’s not a quick cure, it never will be, but I am so thankful to my ex-girlfriend for being that big push I needed to suck it up and admit I needed help. Since then, I found out several of my friends were already seeing a therapist but were secretive about it, and others decided to finally seek help and I am so proud of my friends for doing so. I want to take a moment to urge all of you to find a therapist. Even if you think you’re fine, you’d be surprised. Because, I’ll be bluntly honest, a lot of y’all need a little therapy in your lives.
I’m still going to mess up. I’m still going to be an idiot and piss people off or hurt someone close to me. I will still make mistakes at work. I’m human and I know the same will happen to me from others. That’s normal. That’s life. Just know I’ve learned a lot and will keep trying to learn. Gotta keep building upon that foundation, you know?
Life is amazing and varied and it is beautiful and it absolutely fucking sucks. I’m going to embrace all of it and enjoy all of it. Here is to a decade in the thirties that has already started off amazing and will really kickstart with an adventure that will last for a lifetime. I am ready for my thirties and expecting nothing but growth to come from it.
Anyway, I think I’m done talking about my twenties and my hopes for my thirties.
Now I’m going to share something I’ve shared a few times before but I just love it so much. It’s a good way to live life, I think.
“I love being horribly straightforward. I love sending reckless text messages (because how reckless can a form of digitized communication be?) and telling people I love them and telling people they are absolutely magical humans and I cannot believe they really exist. I love saying, “Kiss me harder,” and “You’re a good person,” and, “You brighten my day.” I live my life as straight-forward as possible.
Because one day, I might get hit by a bus.
Maybe it’s weird. Maybe it’s scary. Maybe it seems downright impossible to just be—to just let people know you want them, need them, feel like, in this very moment, you will die if you do not see them, hold them, touch them in some way whether its your feet on their thighs on the couch or your tongue in their mouth or your heart in their hands.
But there is nothing more beautiful than being desperate.
And there is nothing more risky than pretending not to care.
We are young and we are human and we are beautiful and we are not as in control as we think we are. We never know who needs us back. We never know the magic that can arise between ourselves and other humans.
We never know when the bus is coming.”
— Rachel C. Lewis