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Hiking the Three-Peak Challenge: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pain

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There’s an outside shot I’ll need a second knee surgery because of a series of hikes that will amount to nothing more than a blog post. This is all because my favorite outdoors retail store, Adventure 16, offered a couple raffle tickets if you summited the three tallest mountains in Southern California. I enjoy hiking and am notoriously cheap, so in the name of the chance to win free gear, I talked my buddy Jeremy into a series of three murderous day hikes that we now regret.

 

The challenge consists of hiking San Gorgonio near Big Bear, San Jacinto near Palm Springs, and San Antonio near the Azusa senior center, in either three months, three weeks, three days or, for a handful of psychopaths, 24 hours. Seriously, a couple of masochists start hiking before dawn and do all three in a day. We put the three hikes on the calendar over the span of June, July and August so that we would have something to say on Fridays when coworkers asked us about our weekends.

 

The thing I like about hiking is that it’s a discernible goal that’s easy to quantify. If you get to the top of the mountain, you win. If you don’t, you lose. That’s much simpler than most goals that involve nebulous measures like happiness and wealth and living life to its fullest and accomplishments and accolades. Not with hiking. If you get to the top you achieve your goal. Also, it costs nothing. Compared to hockey gear, you pretty much just have to walk uphill for a really long time.

 

I didn’t even have a good emotional hurdle to overcome, along the lines of Wild and Into The Wild. Those books were so popular because they weren’t really about hiking. They were about something else that was being worked through while the main character was on a trail. I would’ve loved to have had a mental block, or an emotional breakthrough on my drive through San Bernardino County, but the strongest emotional pull I felt was when we pulled into the West Covina In-N-Out. And that Into The Wild dude was kind of an idiot. I mean he walked into Alaska and died, that’s pretty much the book. Spoiler alert.

 

We knocked the best hike out of the way first, because apparently we didn’t want anything to look forward to on this stupid adventure. Mount San Jacinto was the most spectacular of the bunch, which would’ve been a lot more enjoyable were it not for the blood seeping through our socks. When you drive from L.A. to Palm Springs, it towers to the south of the 10 freeway. It can be hiked as a 10-mile trail from the Palm Springs tramway, 15-20 miles from a few trails starting in the town of Idyllwild, or the Skyline Trail (also known as Cactus to Clouds), which, at 36 miles at 10,000 feet uphill, is the highest vertically-climbing hike in America. We did not do that one.

 

We split the difference and picked the Devil’s Slide Trail from Humber Park in Idyllwild. This presented us with a 16-mile trek from a really nice town where we would’ve been better off spending the day. Idyllwild was a low-key Big Bear without the bling shops. The route took us along the Pacific Crest Trail for a few miles, a view of Palm Desert and Joshua Tree, and brief spells of flat terrain shaded with summer camp pine trees. For around three minutes out of our eight-hour adventure, it was paradise. The final mile was a grueling, rocky climb to the second-tallest mountain in Southern California.

 

On a clear day, you can see the ocean, Mount Whitney and even the curvature of the Earth from the summit of Mount San Jacinto. On the day we were hiking we could clearly discern the Morongo Casino. But views aside, our first hike was done which meant, unfortunately, we had to continue with the other two. If only one of us had broken our legs then we would’ve had the excuse we needed to quit.

 

Mount Baldy was the steepest and most fun (I use the word fun very loosely) of the three. Clocking in at 10.6 miles, Baldy starts at a packed parking lot and climbs straight uphill in a way that makes you question your life choices. The summit overlooks a huge bowl with a half-dozen peaks and a ski resort that global warming is putting out of business. The misery of hiking down a gravel ski trail is alleviated by the bar you encounter at the seven-mile mark. We snapped some photos of the lame zip line, questionable ski lift and battle of the beers before crossing the second hike off the list.

 

The three-peak challenge culminates in the final, worst, most unpleasant, brutal trek of the three: the 19 miles up the tallest mountain in Southern California, Mount San Gorgonio. In the same way I remember middle school bullies, I have nothing nice to say about this hike. There’s nothing redeeming and there’s no sense of accomplishment to justify the horrible pain this hike causes. The bottom of the trail and top of the mountain have vertical climbs determined to force your tibia to pierce through your kneecap. The trail spends most of its time in a forested valley so you don’t get any views. When it does become awe-inspiring, you’re already suffering from altitude sickness and sunstroke so you’re imagining all sorts of random stuff. You’re not sure if you have a great view of the endless high desert or if there are Pokemon everywhere.

 

You know when a dog is out for a long walk on a hot day and then before it gets home it just quits? Like it finds a spot in the shade on the sidewalk and lays down and that’s that? Right, so that’s our knees. With three miles remaining, we were limping like seniors using our hiking poles as walking canes as we took one ginger step at a time down the endless trail with the parking lot feeling like it was getting further away with each step. Until finally we descended with scores of hikers passing us along the way and finally we could proclaim that we never have to hike again.

 

The most insulting part was sitting in the car afterwards. After logging over 40,000 steps in a day, my fitness watch sensed that I was immobile for more than an hour and ordered me to, “Move!” Our enormous physical challenge amounted to topping the 29th-tallest summit in California, which barely fits on a bumper sticker. There was no emotional breakthrough, no real sense of accomplishment and nothing but pain to show for it (although the In-N-Out was nice). And I have a pretty solid hunch that I’m going to come up empty handed on the raffle.

 

I’ll never understand why people do iron mans and tough mudders, which is that race where you electrocute yourself for fun. But I guess there’s something good about setting goals and accomplishing them. It gives you a challenge to anticipate, it makes you push yourself, gives you something to do on the weekend, and you can conquer office small talk on Monday. You might even win a prize or two for your efforts. But the important thing to do before setting out on any endeavors is to make sure that the goals are easy. Because you actually have to work for the hard ones and there’s nothing fun about that.

 

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Crate and Barrel’s War Tactics Tricked Me Into Their Wedding Registry

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No matter how many gifts you register for your wedding, it’s impossible to come out ahead. The value of gifts never surpasses the cost of the wedding. The smart move is to elope, and then use the savings to buy all the stuff you wanted without imposing on friends. That way you can get all your presents for a discount and set a good precedent for marriage.

There’s no room for logic with wedding planning. Reasoning in the face of tradition is like reading On the Origin of Species to the Pope. There’s no point in arguing about the point of weddings. The point is to just have a wedding and not ask questions. The $51 Billion wedding industry learned clever ways to trick you into following tradition whether you know it or not. It was one of those tricks that landed me in Crate and Barrel on a Saturday at 8 A.M.

There was a long list of places I would’ve rather been that a big box home goods store that early on a weekend. Starting with back in bed. We were registering for household stuff whether I liked it not. Crate and Barrel was the least of a whole lot of evils. It was directly across the street from the apartment and offered a private tour for engaged couples. If I had to register for kitchen mixers with the general public, they would’ve found me smashing decorative plates against designer furniture. “Oh, wow, this sectional was hand-crafted.”

The bland catalog store reeked of captivity. It was all stuff. Expensive stuff. It was the 30s-version of IKEA. In 10 years I’d be dragged into a West Elm. The only difference between Crate and Barrel’s $5,000 sectional sofas and a $200 futon was the futon doubled as a bed without annoying cushion gaps.

They tried sedating me and the other dudes with donuts, bagels and muffins. Maybe if they distracted us with some self-immolation, we wouldn’t rebel against our fates. It was a glimpse into putting on a few hundred pounds to deal with the misery of PTA meetings. We spiked the orange juice and balanced pyramids of pastries on our palms to survive the morning.

The Crate and Barrel rep told us we should register for furniture that cost thousands of dollars. “People do it all the time. You can make it a group gift so your friends can contribute to buy you the present.” I was looking for a throw pillow to press firmly against my face. The few possessions I owned would end up in a crate. I was bent over a barrel.

They showed us the thousands of knives we could buy for our marriage. I didn’t know why every life achievement came with knives. When I graduated college, the only job offer I got was a pyramid scheme to sell knives to couples about to get married.

Just as I was about to ditch the tour, store and registry on principle, the sales rep threw out a casual offer. “If you have a grasp on the store layout, each of you can pick up a gun.”

I wasn’t sure I heard him right. “A gun?”

“That’s right,” the sales rep wheeled out a table of weaponized registry scanners.

“What kind of gun?”

“A super awesome fun gun.”

No. No way were they tricking me into partaking in a wedding registry by offering a gun. Although it did look fun. And everyone else seemed really interested. And he did challenge me to shoot the first target. And it made a really cool sound when he made a direct shot. Fine, give me the gun!

I steadied my nerves. I closed one eye to center on the target. I stood three inches away from the bar code. I depressed my finger, the red laser flashed. The gun beeped and I registered my first target. It was a dish set. The couples and staff cheered. I had blood on my hands.

The fog of war consumed us. Beeps echoed off decorative vases. The cash registers dinged. Screams and shrills overtook the store. When the other guys and I recovered, we didn’t remember the details. We could only survey the damage. There were 74 items on our registry. There were corpses littering the battlefield. There was a scorched Earth of furniture.

It wasn’t my fault. I blamed my superior officer. I was following orders. It wasn’t me. This wasn’t a reflection of who I was. It was the shelling, the propaganda, the endless blitzkrieg of weddings that made me do it.

The humanity and depravity has to end. Now I’m surrounded by stainless steel frying pans, cast-iron grills and crippling post traumatic stress disorder. I wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats. I reach for water and see the Crate and Barrel registry glass that made me pull the trigger. I’m haunted by the memory and sweat through the designer sheets on the bed. Amazed and dismayed at what became of me.

What’s The Acceptable Wait Time for the Trader Joe’s Sample Station?

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It’s going on 15 minutes now and there is still no sign of the tiny paper cup of chicken curry I’ve been promised by the freezer. This has gone long past the point of insulting or pathetic and now it’s war. If you think the one sample per person limit is being enforced after the wait I’ve committed then you are mistaken.

 

Let’s not keep up this pretense of how long I’ve been standing two feet away from you. All you’re doing is pouring lemon water for people pretending they didn’t just come by for the sample as well. I am not afraid of who I am, so why are you pretending I don’t exist? You are a food barrista in no position to judge me.

 

If you don’t want me to hover, then you shouldn’t offer a free snack in the first place. What did you think was going to happen? I know that I am waiting for one lone chickpea. I know that in this same amount of time spent waiting here, I could’ve bought a bag, gone home, cooked and eaten a full meal, but that’s not what this is about.

 

If it’s a challenge to see who can out-wait whom, trust me, I have all night. If I had anywhere better to be then I wouldn’t be rounding a double digit wait time for the prospect of one shred of coleslaw.

 

Once you pass a certain point of lacking self-respect, there is no solution except for one simple morsel of a solitary baked cashew. Do you want me to put on a charade? That’s fine. I’ll take a few laps through the store. I’ll pretend that I’m actually shopping and not just trying to get a free dinner that will tide me through until my visit tomorrow.

 

Maybe I’ll go peruse the beer section like I’m some sort of hipster connoisseur. “Oh yes, the seven dollar six pack of Laguinitas IPA is the more sophisticated choice than the Red Trolly Ale. What is this? Samuel Adams and Stella Artois? Geez, this Trader Joe’s has really gone corporate.”

 

Now can I come back to the sample station?

 

No, I am not there for a mini cup of lemon water. If I wanted lemon water, I would have camped out in a restaurant, perused a menu while sipping my lemon water and then fled the scene without ordering anything. No matter what you think of me, Trader Joe’s sample station manager, I am always three steps ahead of you.

 

I’ve already grabbed my miniature plastic fork. Yes, I’ve been banging it on your plastic sneeze guard for the last nine minutes. I don’t care how much longer it’s going to take for you to cut the little snippets of chicken fingers, I’m not going anywhere. This should be clear by now.

 

Maybe we can both point out all the other people pretending to hover-not-hover. There’s that older guy who only has a jar of peanut butter in his basket. We all know it’s not getting purchased. He just had a level of guilt to pretend he’s going to buy something before stopping by the sample station. I don’t need such pretenses. You offer Trader Joe’s finest lentils. I’m here to see what you got.

 

Then there’s the mother of three keeping an eye on the sample station behind him. We all know what she’s planning. That’s right, going to try and claim four samples under the pretense that her kids are just as entitled to the sample station as I am. Have they been standing here staring angrily for the past ten minutes? If she even thinks of using sympathy for being a mother to wipe out today’s samples, she’s got another thing coming.

 

And yeah, after I clean out every last morsel of my little paper cut, you better believe I’m doing another lap around the store. You just inspired me to see what this Trader Joe’s is all about. So if I walk down the obscure cereal aisle that’s kinda like a normal grocery store and then happen to stop by the sample station again, y’know what? I might just be hungry.

 

So start serving, get those little tiny samples ready and let’s eat.

The Secret To Gift Shopping For That Special Lady Is To Only Buy Her Things You Would Hate

An array of presents I hate that she'd love.

Gift shopping is never easy. Whether you want to surprise a loved one, family member or dead stuffed cat, it is hard to know exactly what that special someone will want, especially if you want to stay within budget. Now that I have a girlfriend (see you later, dead, stuffed cat), it appeared as though gift-giving occasions suddenly popped up every month-and-a-half. Between birthdays, anniversaries and having to apologize for things, I have to go shopping as soon as the last batch of presents are unwrapped.

It wasn’t long before I found myself scraping the bottom of the barrel for present ideas. I got through the good stuff early: dinners, plays, dinner-plays (thank you, Medievil Times). Presents that show a lot of “thought” or “heart” or “not-bought-by-assistant,” require both heart and thought. Who has the time for that? I found myself needing to brainstorm stuff to buy my girlfriend that she would like. I quickly came up empty. That was until I stumbled upon a brilliant solution.

Thinking about things she would like was getting me nowhere. That was when I changed my thought process entirely. Instead of trying to come up with stuff that I would like if I was receiving a present, I began thinking about things I would hate. Using this incredible new strategy, I will never have difficulty thinking of presents for my girlfriend again.

All it took was the slightest of changes in my approach to gift-giving and a torrent of ideas made themselves available. I am no longer trying to guess her taste or the things she likes or the places she wants to go. How am I supposed to tell the difference between shiny things or expensive food places? I am a guy. Our brains are too filled with statistics and useless history knowledge.

But then I imagined myself during the holidays. All warm and cozy in my Snuggie, sipping on some Shasta-brand hot chocolate. Filled with anticipation as I open the first present and my hopes skyrocket. Then I tear the box off and crash back to reality. All that build-up for nothing and now I am stuck with a keepsake of lame disappointment. What is in that box? The thing I would hate is something that my girlfriend would absolutely love as a present. Read more

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