chapter one: Costa Rica, a satirical poem-memoir, follows an unnamed protagonist’s recount of his summer trip to Costa Rica. As he explores the villages and rainforests of this foreign land, he simultaneously ventures into the jungles of his own soul, reexamining his place and identity in pivotal 2016 America.
Slightly to our right was a small and dark hole within the walls of this forest, like an accidental cavern, a careless cavity in the cracks of a valley’s furrows, and next to it stood a crude wooden sign, crooked and limp, on which some letters were slapdashedly carved. It read: “CERRO CHATO. LAGUNA LAKE CHATO”.
We had reached the base of the volcano.
“Cerro Chato SIIIIIIIIIII” I proclaimed, and with a deep breath and a strong forward step we entered the uphill forest that is the sloping backside of El Cerro Chato volcano.
We pierced the dark dense thickets and began our ascent, the whole of which proceeded at about a thirty-five-degree upward angle into endless weaving caverns of green wood. The path was practically unmanned by human hands and had pretty much been formed by enormous horizontal roots of aging trees whose unders had been exposed by centuries of erosion. This natural circumstance left behind a long continuous stable path of tree roots which served as steps upwards into the forest. Within the first few steps I felt myself panicking.
“Shit man,” I said. “How the hell am I going to do this for 3,700 feet into the air?”
Adam said, “You’re not. If you think of it that way then you’ll never make it. When I was on the Appalachian Trail, had I headed out from Georgia aiming for Maine, I would never have made it. You focus on the step in front of you. You proceed in small goals. Baby steps.”
So I did just that: I forgot about the summit and focused on the steps in front of me. And as we ventured forth diligently, Adam would periodically share with me some hiking wisdom:
“Keep sipping water. If you start feeling thirsty it’s already too late.”
“Keep your heart rate down by taking small steps.”
“Exert as little energy as possible. Choose the path that requires the least effort.”
So I did what anyone else would do in my position: I ignored his advice completely. I carried on hopping about and lunging in large strenuous steps and climbing with my hands until just minutes into this idiotic approach I was already entirely out of breath. I paused, regained my composure, and proceeded then exactly as he had instructed. And what do you know! It seems that after a decade of rigorous experience and knowledge, Adam knew what the fuck he was talking about after all! Hell, whaddya know about that! So I carried forth in baby steps. Sipping water. Keeping the heart rate down. Conserving energy. Enjoying the view.
At some point in our upward sally Adam bestowed his gracious wisdom upon me once more when we came upon a sharp ascending slope that was streaked with giant roots and jutting rocks. Here he commanded me to pause and think: observe the situation before us and try to determine which course would be the best for upholding the basic tenets of hiking (which for purposes of this discussion we can narrow down to two things: keeping the heart rate down and conserving energy). So we stood there calculating intently and deliberating about which of the numerous courses to take and once I had calculated my own conclusion, Adam said “go for it”. So I lunged over this rock and tripped over that root and found myself six feet higher, but when I turned around I saw that Adam had chosen a different angle and had transcended the obstacles I’d faced with far less exertion. Here he explained to me his thought process and I could see where I had erred in my decision. So some feet farther up we did it again: we stopped before the next few feet of climb and deliberated, and once I had chosen my path I went forth with it and to my utter elation Adam also followed suit!
“Good,” he said, for my calculations had proven successful.
We continued on doing this every few minutes and it became quite an exciting mental game, almost a physical manifestation of chess. After some more practice I had developed some very intricate theories and wild evaluations about the pros and cons of rock formations and the multi-angular growth of tree roots and pretty soon I had overcomplicated the matter entirely and had fallen into grave over-analysis, and once Adam recognized this he brought the whole house down on me at one point when he asked “Ok, so which path should we take here?” Once I had mapped out an insanely detailed intricate lucid strategy he quickly pointed in another direction and debunked me. So I recalculated and reorganized and reassembled my meta-theories and once I was certain enough to bet my life on it he flung the whole matter around in yet another direction and stumped me again. Finally I was mentally drained and thoroughly puzzled and it was then that Adam imparted the greatest wisdom of this entire climb: “The lesson here is that there isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ path when climbing. Sometimes there’s more than one way to walk the trail”.
My friend Adam is a wise motherfucker, my friends.
Read more from chapter one: Costa Rica.
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