Keeks & Nana Take January
“Yeah, but I don’t think the onus of the safety in this project should just be on me.” she said, her eyes locking on mine. She was leaning against a five-foot wall of snow, creating an Anna sized hole in the powder barricade that the snowstorm, Bomb Cyclone, created days earlier. Her yellow hair and blue eyes were even more saturated by the world of white that enveloped her. Are we about to get in a fight? I didn’t know what I was doing and it showed. For the first time in a long time I felt young.
We were hiking Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont, just about an hour out of Middlebury College. Anna had made the plan, plugged the destination into the GPS, told me what to pack, packed extra for me anyway, checked the trail maps along the path, and talked to friends of hers throughout all of December in order to prepare for our winter hiking excursions. I, on the other hand, had never hiked in the winter, never looked at the trail map, and never really even thought to ask anybody about our plan, let alone what precautions to take.
Anna had casually dropped safety facts applying to our general unpreparedness while we lugged our bodies up the snow-covered path. I merely tucked my head down and moved forward blindly, thinking passively about how fun it was to do something I hadn’t done before. Fully ignorant to any conflicts we would immediately run into if the wind changed direction and speed or one of us twisted an ankle in these remote woods, I rattled on and on about nothing in particular. All the while Anna was thinking logically about how at any given second the two of us could be supremely fucked out in the Vermont wilderness.
“Two girls found frozen .03 miles off the Mansfield Trail head. Young 20s. No water, head lamps, food, protective insulating gear, trail map, foam pad, or cell phones on site – woefully unprepared. A Middlebury College camera found on site reporting footage of the girls in their last hours… full of stoke…”
Now we stood looking at each other, me as a child, Anna the frustrated adult.
“That’s fair, let’s turn around.” I answered. It was my first time ever turning around before the summit. A couple of silent footsteps in the snow. One of us makes a joke. We’re back to normal. We trudged back to our car that was parked a couple of miles away from the Mansfield trailhead and headed to campus. In that moment I started to chalk up our first adventure for our class as a failure.
We don’t really fight but when we do it’s usually in relation to my lack of logistics. Through our mutual bond over memes, John Mulaney, staying up late to write papers, and being unabashedly enthusiastic on whatever’s at hand, Anna and I basically dove into hardcore friendship about a year ago. There was no easing into it, testing the waters with what is appropriate, or small talking involved.
We met a month before she was scheduled to bust out to New Zealand for sea semester, in which I earned $20 for completing an incredibly awkward bet she challenged me to, introduced her to maple creemees, and made her a six-hour playlist. I knew almost no solid facts about her, while she constantly gathered information about me,
“So where are you from?…Great, yah, totally. How many siblings?…Oh, cool…And your parents?…Divorced? Was that hard?…Oh, awesome…Wanna go on a hike tomorrow?…Totally, perfect. Yah. What’s your blood type though?…Sweet, yah same…”
Anna inquires, absorbs, affirms. With unfaltering curiosity and eye contact I quickly realized that she was about to become one of the most intense people in my life.
Everybody knows Anna. I heard about her from kids in my grade. She was the one throwing flips, hauling ass in extracurriculars, funny, and low key with the older boyfriend. The second she meets you she wants to know everything about you. She works methodically and carefully for everything, whether it’s making a map of the Planned Parenthoods in VT, or talking to a friend of a friend that she will probably never meet again.
Which is probably the reason I was so surprised when she started texting me random links to podcasts, articles, and stand-up bits. Like, why the hell is this girl so invested. I watched and listened to everything. Even more surprised after the invites to concerts and hikes, why?!
I said yes to everything.
As someone with an unlimited amount of plans, ideas, and excursions that she yearns to venture on, Anna picked up pretty quickly that my trigger answer to anything is “YES!”, which made me a prime friend candidate for her. And that is how we work. Although on paper we make no sense – she works in admissions, has real-jobs in Boston, leads the media for MiddFoods, and has been with a great boyfriend for three years. Anna projects stability; while I flounder, fuck-around, miss my MiddFoods volunteer hours, nude-model for money, and have never had a boyfriend. I am unpredictable.
Road tripping to Canada for the Gymnsastics World Championship, mountain biking with breaks for sips of Sip-of-Sunshine, sneaking into local music festivals, and embarking on nine-hour long gym circuit work-outs – Anna and I adventure together, yet I plan none of them. Anna takes the lead on that front, and I am there, ready to go hard.
Falling into the arbitrary and free-form class, Adventure Writing, seemed only in character for us. The class was an application process, so within fifteen minutes of learning about the mere existence of this class, we were starting, finishing, and sending in our proposals. What were we going to do for Adventure Writing? Yah. Great question.
We were going to walk the two-hundred-seventy-three miles spanning from Canada to Massachusetts that comprised the Long Trail. Trekking through the Green Mountains in the name of Adventure Writing was going to be our January and I was not worried about a thing. We had it marginally planned out, fifteen miles a day, four over nights, drive two cars, we will basically commute from the wilderness to Axinn in order to attend our 1-4 pm class three times a week. Done. It was the end of November and I told everyone I knew. I didn’t even own a car. I planned nothing at all. I was as ready as I ever am.
“Yo why is it doing this?” I start to fumble with the ignition and passively press buttons on the dash board.
“Is she cold? Do you have her in the right gear?” Anna asks from behind; she is currently strapped to her brightly colored Burton snowboard and clutching the fender of the Arctic Cat ATV. The “this” that I am talking about refers to an intense chugging that occurs about seven seconds after I throw the Arctic Kitty into the highest gear—forcing the whole mobile to briefly pulsate before going back to its rigorous speed.
“I have no idea…what do we…I mean…” I linger with my hands to the right of the steering wheel, reading the temperature and gas tank results “…fuck it?”. Everything looks fine. I finally turn my body, mashing together my multitude of layers as I look directly at Anna.
“Mhmmm. Yep. Let’s go.” She says, crushing a cranberry Poland Springs like a freshly chugged beer and throwing it into the ATV bed. I feel energy rush through me. I love it when Anna throws caution to the wind and just rolls with it. I am always surprised by it. It felt almost uncharacteristic for her to just let me tow her around with this very fast yet possibly breaking down vehicle—but whatever, she said yes and she would never say yes if she hadn’t adequately measured risk and reward. And I saw no point in questioning it.
I lean back and fix the Middlebury College camera that we have artfully jury-rigged between two seatbelts, using some scarfs as a cushion for stability. I turn the key and we move down a snow-packed hill into an ice-covered field and start to whip her around aimlessly. We can’t stop laughing at how dumb the scene is. This is our first real footage we are getting for the class and I cannot believe that me towing Anna is homework.
As it turns out, when it comes to the Long Trail we know much more about their Double Bag IPA than the actual path itself. Yes, we were going to walk the two-hundred something miles, but instead, we’re whipping around slick packed hay fields and doing just about anything we want to that involves winter and overall stoke.
From sunrise hikes to mountain tops to midnight bonfires in frigid valleys, our Jterm has not been what we planned, or moreover, has just been unplanned from the get-go.
“Do you have your seatbelt on?” screams my friend Octave, about six hours after Anna and I began to initially tow each other.
“What? No. What?” I answer, I am on the verge of being irritated. I can feel that Octave is about to fix this whole chugging problem within moments while as Anna and I just dealt with it all day, giving up. He runs over and throws the seatbelt on, and starts Artctic Cat up, stomping down his right foot to the ground and jolting forward, maintaining pace without a hiccup. Anna and I look to each other and laugh.
“Whatever” Anna says smiling. We have come a long way. Of course the one thing keeping me from towing Anna properly was putting the seatbelt on. The one safety precaution that you need to take when driving an ATV, and I botched that. We had made it work and gotten great footage—there was no way we were going to let this new information defeat us like our lack of preparation in Mansfield.
We have spent actually everyday together. Writing this, I am sitting across from Anna in, once again, a Wilson booth. We have spent the last eight hours together in which at least two of those hours were dedicated to asking each other how the god damn hell in god’s name are we still able to be near each other and are you sure you’re not sick of me? As January took off I had no idea what my month long excursion would look like with Anna. Early on, I felt doubtful. When you spend this much time with someone it can either break down barriers and make your friendship stronger, or expose cracks in foundation and character, forcing the two to realize maybe we aren’t as good of friends as we thought we were.
Post-Mansfield I wondered if Anna would be able to handle my off-the-cuff and heinous lifestyle. Would she feel burdened by my lack of preparation? Was I bringing enough to the table? Post-Arctic Cat I began to feel stronger in our partnership, as we worked together and whipped around, however it wasn’t until SkiMo that I felt like we both realized that we could make this work. We both made it there, with all of our gear, and ready to skin up for the race. It was so simple, yet I was so proud of myself. I know my weaknesses and although I wouldn’t say that I am completely void of a frontal lobe I can definitely recognize my outstanding lack of organization. Our hiccup with MRG left me a little racked with guilt. I pride myself in saying yes, but what does it matter if you say yes and don’t pull through? I have enough people bailing on me at any given moment to supply the whole student-body with three personal flakes. I did not want to be one of them. Waking up at 7am I called Anna asking where to meet on the trail, having not solidified a plan until ten minutes before. Anna, like any appropriate person, was caught off guard. I like to think that my pulling through at the last minute remains one my more charming qualities, but when you leave people stringing along who are depending on you and who have people depending on them the trait becomes less cute and more irritating.
“People were counting on me for a ride and I didn’t know if you would make it…We aren’t hiking anymore, you didn’t get here in time…” she said. I wanted to say Anna, you know me, I always make it, don’t count me out; but I didn’t know if that was completely true. Anna waits the extra twenty minutes it takes for me to come to the gym, she understands when I don’t make it to Shannon, she doesn’t hold it against me when I fuck up my trip to Westport, again. She, if anyone does, has the right to count me out. “Okay, no worries.” I said, hanging up and jury-rigging a new plan.
I hated the feeling, just like when we stood in the middle of Mansfield’s powder-covered-path, I felt young again. It was humbling. The whole month was humbling.
This month I learned a lot about myself, but mostly about Anna. I have discovered the way she operates comfortably and how she sacrifices half of her comfort just to cooperate with me. Appreciating the tiny leniencies that we allow one another and the glorious outcomes that we experience together has brought me to the overall conclusion that, Yes, this month exposed the cracks in our foundation, however instead of crumbling, we hand-made our own mortar and made it even stronger. Also, no I’m not dating Anna I swear we’re just friends.