Nepal 19: Thamel House

The streets of Thamel were even more menacing by night.

The shoppers, for the most part, had retreated to their guesthouses and hostels, but the touts and drug dealers remained.

With the reduced foot traffic, this made me a much more attractive target. A young male, traveling alone, I must have looked like a golden goose to these shady figures. With the coming of night, the offers had gotten a little more adventurous, too.

“Hashish?”

“Black tar, brother?”

“Cocaine, my friend?”

“Women? Young girls? Good price.”

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Nepal 4: Delhi

Jet Airways Boarding Pass

You don’t need to go through passport control when you just have a layover in a foreign country, so I never technically entered India.

After you’ve seen enough of them, all airports kind of start to look the same. Same bones: check-in, security, passport control/immigration, customs, a pickup area bustling with taxis and touts… by the time I showed up in India, after five months of travel, I was thoroughly unimpressed with airports.

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A brief history of Sigma Alpha Epsilon being terrible people

Graffiti on the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house at University of Oklahoma

By now, if you spend any amount of time on the internet, you’ve seen (or at least heard about) this video of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma chanting a remarkably racist song (on a bus full of their dates, no less).

First off, holy shit. For those who have claimed that institutional racism does not exist in America, there is your proof. Those young men, bolstered by the status, prestige and social connections they make through their fraternity, will go on to become our future judges and politicians.

Look at positions of power in the U.S., and more often than not, you will find fraternity men.

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Why the ski town is seductive

Vail 2015 World Championships Fireworks

On the amazing appeal of doing nothing.

A ski town is a place of perpetual adolescence.

This fact becomes clearer to me every second I remain in Vail, Colorado. People do not come to a ski town for any particular reason besides looking for something new. People do not come to these places with goals, and as long as they remain, one must assume that things have not changed.

The ski town is simple. All you really need to know is right there in the name: “ski town.” People come to these places to ski, to adventure, and to make just enough money to string things along. If you’ve got a job, a ski pass, and enough for that next six pack or bud sack, what else matters?

The Ski Town atmosphere reminds me a lot of college.

I moved to Vail with my girlfriend immediately after we graduated university. It sure beat moving back in with our parents, and as a lifelong lover of the outdoors, I couldn’t complain about living in the Rocky Mountains, either. The place would be a stopping point; a brief interlude in which to ski and seek out our passions. We’d had our share of people and parties, penis and pussy; college gives you all that, backgrounded by education.

Vail offers the same things, but backgrounded by skiing.

I can justify the college experience, but not the ski town one. Maybe college seems more justifiable to me because it was the first time I found myself in that sort of young wild and free atmosphere. But in my own head, I tell myself it’s okay because, statistically, a college graduate will earn twice as much money over the course of their lifetime as someone who never attended university. In college, no matter what else you are doing, you are at least working towards something.

In a ski town, you are working towards nothing.

Many of the young people who move through these places have not gone to college, or have graduated college long ago and left their ideals far behind. The people who move through these places are lost and wandering. They make lots of money and they spend lots of money. They are rich in experiences, but poor in futures. They are a new class of American drifter.

These are not bad people.

These are good people who enjoy the fruits of the earth and value their bodies more than any Wall Street accountant in New York. Before all else, it is important to establish that people in Vail are happy.

The pervasive happiness is what makes it so very difficult to do anything of substance in this town.

We work towards long-term life goals in order to feel fulfilled. We do it to impose a sense of progression on an ultimately inconsequential and random life. We do it to create happiness, long-term fulfilling happiness of the sort that your grandparents might talk about.

Gratification in a ski town is quicker, and more primal.

Someone once described snowboarding to me thus: “no matter what’s wrong in your life, no matter how badly you failed that test, no matter how many guys your girlfriend cheated on you with, when you’re on that mountain, none of it matters.”

This ode is surprisingly apt— I hope the similarities to the way a drug addict might lovingly describe his substance do not go unnoticed.

When there is instant gratification a few steps from your door, it seems a shame to waste it. And snowboarding is not a bad drug. I firmly believe in the transformative power of outdoors fitness. It has the power to change lives and improve people. This is part of what makes it hard to do anything else in a ski town.

I have 50,000 words of a book to show for my junior year of college. I can now ride double black diamonds; I have that to show for living in Vail. Both are solid achievements. They both took dedication, time, and hard work. I grew from both experiences.

Here, I was going to explain the difference between the two milestones; yet, even sitting at a keyboard with the explicit intention of separating the two, I can’t do it. I cannot explain why one of those experiences should be more worthy than the other. I know, in my heart, that writing the book is the “better” accomplishment. It might, maybe, make me some money some day. But probably not.

Maybe I feel that way because writing a book is more societally acceptable.

Ski culture lives off to the side of mainstream America. Many people from all walks of life enjoy downhill alpine sports such as skiing and snowboarding, but usually for no more than a weekend or two a year. Even the people who spend every possible weekend in the mountains are looked down upon by the hardcore skiers who make their homes in these resort destinations.

“Ever since Vail Resorts moved their headquarters down to Broomfield, it’s just all wrong,” a middle-aged Vail local told me on a chairlift. “They’re all weekend warriors now. They just don’t understand about this,” he said, gesturing to the expanse of fresh, weekday powder shining below us.

Ski enthusiasts and ski bums are a protective group, but they’ll welcome anyone who genuinely wants to share their passion. Anyone. It doesn’t matter how many drugs you do, how much your family hates you, or how short your resume is: a ski town will take you in. Ski towns will accept you for you. And realistically, you can live in a ski town forever without ever changing one iota, as long as you can stand doing the unskilled work of washing dishes or helping people get on chairlifts or serving people food.

In a ski town, there is no push to improve yourself off the mountain.

But ultimately, isn’t all of a human life in pursuit of arbitrary goals? What makes a house in the suburbs and a $80,000 a year job any more valuable than a mountain apartment and a job you can leave at the base of the gondola?

People here in the mountains are direct, grounded, and in pursuit of animal passions. Put to paper like that, this lifestyle is both seductive and scary.

I can see why some people choose to stay here for decades.

But to me, it just feels a little off.

Recovering From a Concussion

Recovering from a Concussion    

So, simply put: I smashed my face on Thursday. Knocked it so hard I don’t even remember the point of impact. I came to on a blindingly white mountain, on my knees, a snowboard strapped to my feet, bleeding from my nose; disoriented, literally without a knowledge of what year it was. I had to check my phone. January 2015. I called my girlfriend. “I just took a pretty bad fall,” I told her. “I think I’m gonna come home.” While we continued to talk, I realized I had blood on my shiny blue snow pants. My bright-green jacket was spattered down the sleeves, too. Droplets of dark red blood continued to stain the icy-white below me. “Okay, good to talk to you. Hey, I just took a gnarly fall, so I think gonna come home. I’ll see you soon.” “Babe? You just told me that,” she said. “No I didn’t.” “Should I come pick you up?” “Did I really say that twice?” “You did,” she told me, grave as can be. “That might not be a bad idea then, yeah,” I said. I took off my helmet and examined it for signs of damage. It appeared fine. My goggles weren’t even scratched. I turned my head left to try and figure out where I was. I saw mid-Vail. “Oh, there’s mid-Vail,” I thought amid the ringing. My eyes saw the landmark but my brain didn’t quite understand how I had gotten to this point. I live in Vail; I am never lost on the mountain. This time though, I was. A concerned skiier stopped to ask if I was O.K. “I don’t totally remember how I did this,” I told the man, gesturing at the blood dripping from my nose. “But I’m headed home now. I live here in town.” “Well don’t take any chances,” the man told me. “Yeah if it gets worse I’ll head to the hospital,” I reassured him. I nodded. I didn’t feel it, but the pain must have been enormous. I slowly slid down the rest of the black diamond.


My brain is foggy.

There is no other way to put it. My brain is far and away the best part of me, so I am afraid to see it go, even for just a quick weekend out. I take a break from writing this essay to watch the Colorado Avalanche on television. The announcer is discussing concussions. “You know the players say this is a game of collisions: at a point it’s almost inevitable.” The Avalanche are losing. They tie it up, and I feel rested enough to continue writing a bit before overtime starts. I forget that there is no overtime intermission. I write nothing. The Avalanche lose, 3-2.


I go snowboarding twice more in the days immediately following my injury; I have made plans which it would be rude to cancel. Friends come from out-of-town to see me. “Are you still concussed?” they ask me. I say yes; I do not nod. I ride conservatively. A careless stranger accidentally bangs the safety bar on the lift against my tall head. The blow rings around inside my helmet, and then inside my skull. I pop three of the innumerable extra-strength Tylenol pills in my pocket. Acetaminophen may be used to manage the pain of a head injury, but non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs such as Aspirin or ibuprofen should not be used, as they could exacerbate a bleed in the brain. The human body can metabolize 4,000 milligrams of acetaminophen in a 24-hour period before the liver begins sustaining permanent damage. That means eight extra-strength a day. I lose track of how many I am taking, but it feels like it is less than eight.


Proper concussion recovery necessitates not only physical rest, but cerebral rest as well. High school athletes are advised not to attempt any homework for up to a week; I am off reading and writing.

I find I cannot do my job, which involves reading and synthesizing information, effectively. I work from home, so I simply set aside the computer. They will go on without me. Instead, I watch the Peyton Manning play in the NFL playoffs, looking aged and inaccurate. The Broncos lose. The next day, it is revealed that Manning played the entire last month of football with an injured quadriceps. That’s impressive; I cannot imagine suiting up to play a game of football with my head swimming the way it is. It is an absolutely unthinkable prospect— and I once waited five hours to seek medical attention after seriously rupturing my spleen. Pain is no stranger to me. As I lay in bed, an icepack on my head, watching the Broncos take hit after hit, my level of respect for NFL players increases tenfold.


My face does not bloom purple; my brows do not swell. Besides a tiny abrasion on my chin and a small cut under my left eye created by my ski goggles being violently pushed into my face, I appear relatively unscathed.

I do not fade away and become gaunt, as I did when my spleen ruptured. I wear no sling. I have my ski town injury, but nothing to show for it. No one who does not know the story inquires about my health. Even those that do know do not seem to understand the thing. My girlfriend takes off work the night of the incident. She softly punches me in the head a few days later while trying to readjust a pillow. The plot of the Friends episode we are watching leaves me; I stare blankly for a few minutes, reveling in the loss of full-fledged, focused sensation.


I pick a fight with my girlfriend.

I tell her I do not think she is going anywhere. I say her dream to move to the Netherlands is likely impossible. She hasn’t put in the groundwork for something of that nature. She has no marketable skills and I have few. I do not care to see it through. “I feel like you have a lot of anger that you’re taking out on me,” she says, stony-eyed. Only later, as the days stretch on and my brain refuses to clear, will I learn that “Irritability, depression, anxiety, emotional lability” are symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. I don’t think I can attribute my being a dick to a knock on the head though. It doesn’t feel right.

Nothing feels right.


As most athletes know, the difficulty in recovering from a major injury is in restraint. The brain and the body run on two different tracks, and those of us who like to play hard never want to lay idle for as long as we should.

Before last year’s Super Bowl, reporters asked Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker if he would play in the game despite concussion symptoms. Welker had suffered two concussions that season. “What do you think? I mean, you want to be out there,” Welker said. “The Super Bowl, this is what you dream about. You’re going to be there, I don’t care what it takes, you’re going to be out there in this game.” The Broncos got clobbered in Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8. I watched the game from the Intensive Care Unit, swimming in a Fentanyl haze as hawkish doctors and nurses watched my ruptured spleen for any sign of further deterioration. If my numbers dropped below a certain threshold, they stood poised to sweep my family and friends away, and to cut me open. My splenic rupture cost me four days in the hospital, two weeks off of university, and months of continuing pain at even the slightest physical exertion.

splenic rupture

I’ve had better Super Bowls

And yet, I was back in the climbing gym two weeks before the date my doctor had told me I was allowed to resume the activity. To a restless spirit- to a competitor- there is nothing worse than inactivity. It is soul-death. This is why, six months after the Super Bowl bout, Welker again found himself rollicked in the middle of a football field, sustaining his third concussion in a ten month span. Critics and commentators around the world of sports called for his retirement, asking “how many is too many?” Yet Welker plays on. What other option does he have?


It is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, especially in light of the mounting evidence that the effects of concussions are cumulative, not to mention the tragic suicides of several high-profile sports players, including NFL linebacker Junior Seau and a few NHL enforcers who made their living by taking (and giving) shots to the head. I’m not denying the stupidity of continuing to play contact sports, or to hit the slopes, or even to refuse rest while in a concussed state. Let me be clear: it is moronic. It is now over a week since my concussion: I have been snowboarding thrice, and attempted work on several occasions. I have written this essay, intentionally, before I have healed. I can think of no other way to properly convey the state of my mind. It is somewhat like being in love: your head and your heart are in two different spots. I know I shouldn’t risk my livelihood. I trade on my brain, and my sentences.

But much like Wes Welker, I am young, and I cannot stand not feeling alive.

Even if that kills me.