In my motel during the first week in SLC, I was reading an article about changes to the city’s New Years Eve celebration. The locals were considering replacing the traditional firework show with a giant disco ball, because of something called The Inversion. I read the word again. Thinking that I had missed an important sentence somewhere, I searched the article for some sort of hint as to the nature of this ominous proper noun.
My mind began to spin. Could there be a more menacing sounding phenomenon? You might as well call it, The Event or the The Occurrence. What could it possibly be? My mind began to come up with bizarre explanations. Do people turn inside out? Do men turn into cats? Do dogs sleep with women? Does it rain salt? Does everyone wake up in a new body?
And most disturbing of all, why didn't it like fireworks?
I chewed on this for sometime, always apprehensive that I might stumble into an alley somewhere and run into The Inversion.
After talking to people at work, I learned that the Inversion was not, as I was secretly hoping, some supernatural anomaly, but a rather mundane meteorological one. This local phenomenon occurs as a result of the surrounding mountains.
As we were all taught in high school science, hot air rises and cold air sinks. During the winter, a layer of cold air gets trapped within the valley. I was familiar with a similar temperature stratification happening in large bodies of water during the winter, so I guess Salt Lake City is essentially at the bottom of a large air lake. Supposedly, if you look down from the mountains you can see the layer of smog filling the valley like a vast fog sea. I can report that from the ground it just looks like a gross overcast day. The mountains do disappear, which is a bit disconcerting.
Because of this lingering pocket of cold air, airborne particles, such as the ones belched up by cars, linger too. Salt Lake City does not produce an unusual amount of pollution compared to other cities, but its location concentrates it. Because of this, the Inversion is a major concern for the city. There are times during the year that the air quality falls below federal standards.
As an obligate pedestrian, I do feel a twinge of pride about the fact that I haven’t contributed any further air pollution to this city. Well, except for the several airplanes I took to and from here. Oh, never mind, maybe I'm part of the problem too.
People are often surprised when I tell them I walk to work every day. Their surprise turns to disbelief when I tell them my commute is 30-40 minutes one way. Their disbelief turns into disgust when I say I regularly hit the arbitrary recommendation of 10,000 steps a day. Disgust boils over into abhorrence when say I don't have a car.
How did I become this reprehensible person?
Of all the things that I thought would come to define me, I never thought walking would be one of them. Becoming a full time pedestrian started when I moved to Philadelphia. I had managed it there for two years without issue. It felt slightly less taboo because I was a grubby graduate student walking to class from my apartment. Here though, I feel like an alien.
It took me awhile to get used to full-time walking in SLC. After my first long walk here, I of course got lost, and returned to my apartment with a pinky toe that had swollen to the size of my big toe and a sense that my feet would never work again. But my feet adjusted. My body adjusted. SLC turned out to be a fairly walkable city. The sidewalks are broad, there are many crosswalks, and the drivers are generally considerate. Sure, the terrain starts to get a little steep around the periphery, but that can be exciting too.
Being a full-time walker has shifted what I consider to be a walkable distance. If I can walk to a place in an hour, I consider that to be walkable. More than that, I'm going to be hurting on the return trip.
You can’t traverse multiple crosswalks each day without developing some contempt for the ubiquity car culture. Watching the roads getting choked with morning rush hour traffic has made me think about the nature of cities in general. I’d love to see how the character of city could change if it was entirely carless. It fills me with a bit of sadness to see so much space dedicated to roads, parking lots, and parking garages. I keep asking myself, “Who was this city made for? People or Cars?”
Since I am not above hypocrisy, I think I will eventually get a car (Though I am secretly hoping the era of the autonomous car will peak its head out early). I would prefer to not have to use it for a daily commute, just for outings on the weekends. There is so much of this state that sadly can only be accessed with a car. I do dread having to trade in my MA license for a UT license. It feels like some sort of a betrayal of the last vestige of my New England identity. I do hope the let me keep my intrusive R’s.
I have really come to appreciate my daily commute, or maybe more truthfully, I have a lot of time to think of justifications for it. I like the intimacy I get with my surroundings, the exercise, the time to let thoughts swirl in my head, the time to mentally prepare for work or unwind from it, the satisfaction of being my own source of transportation, and the privilege of being able to smugly glare at drivers trapped in gridlock. I never run into traffic. I never have to feel paranoia about hidden police cars.
Sure, it can be inconvenient at times. Rain sucks. Snow is a challenge. Summer heat is gross. At the grocery store, I only buy what I can physically carry back. On several walks to work, I have forgotten something at home and had to make a return trip, doubling my miles for the day. I had once received a late night invitation to karaoke. To get there at a reasonable time, I had to book it across town at full speed. I arrived sweaty and entirely out of breath, which is a great state to be in for karaoke.
For a brief time, a bike fell into my possession. One day I noticed that someone had just left a bike on my apartment's front lawn. There it sat for a few days. I eventually hoisted it up and brought it around back. It was missing a pedal and the gear shifting mechanism had rusted over, but it mostly worked. I like to think its appearance is connected to my bike that was stolen in Philly, a karmic balancing of the checkbook. Sadly, it too disappeared one day.
As I finally sit down to write this story, I notice my pulse quickening. My fingers are shaking. In all honesty, it might be the caffeine. Even after a year, the feeling of panic is still easily accessed. I had a lot of little positive gym experiences, and one catastrophically bad one.
The start of the new year in a new city seemed like a fine time to cultivate some good habits. I signed up for a gym membership at the downtown Planet Fitness.
I had been going to the gym for less than a month. The gym was divided into two sections: the street level entrance with the front desk and a basement level with the locker rooms and most of the equipment. I went in one Saturday afternoon.
I left my phone and my wallet in my backpack, put the backpack in a locker, and then locked it. I did a quick run on a treadmill and the returned to the locker room to check on my stuff, not because I thought something was wrong, but because by default I am a little paranoid.
My backpack was in locker 37. I examined my lock and noticed it was severely damaged. It looked like someone had taken a hatchet to it. I tried to unlock it. To my horror, I discovered that the mechanism was jammed. I felt a chill.
At this point, I was thinking that I had discovered an aborted attempt to break into my locker, and not an attempt in progress. More worried that I couldn't get into my own locker, I left the locker room and went upstairs to the front desk for help.
I wasn't sure what to say. I think I mumbled something like , “I uh... I can't get my lock to open.”
The girl at the front desk smiled.
“Do you want the bolt cutters?” she asked.
“The bolt cutters.”
“Oh... Yeah. Thanks.”
That's right. If you ask for bolt cutters at a Planet Fitness, they will give you a pair of bolt cutters without questions.
I had to wait for her to help another customer, before she went into the back and brought out a giant pair of yellow bolt cutters, but by then it was too late.
I ran back down to the locker room. Immediately, I saw that several things had changed in the interim. My lock was entirely gone. Through the grating of the locker door, I could see that my backpack had been flipped around. I could hear a thud as my heart hit the ground. I looked in my backpack. My phone and my wallet, which had my driver's license, debit card, credit cards, cash, an Eagle Scout card, and a beloved library card, were gone.
I returned to the front desk, even more shaken, clutching the bolt cutters impotently.
“I was too late,” I stammered, on the verge of tears, “Someone broke in and took all my stuff.”
“You should call the police. You can use our phone.”
At that point, something in me changed, something snapped into place, something awoken. It was a sort of disaster mode version of myself. I call him Captain Adrenal. Rather than crumble into a mound of sobbing despair, as I was about to, the Captain calmly and coolly took the helm, cracked his knuckles, and did all the things that were in his power. I called the police and filed a report. I called my bank and shut down my debit card. I closed my credit card. In changed passwords.
It must have been a hell of a sight. The Planet Fitness employees were trying to help people set up new memberships, while I was standing behind them, still in my gym shorts, sweaty and disheveled, shouting into a phone, “Shut it down. Shut it all down!”
I was excited to finally have an excuse to use the Find My Device feature on my phone. I logged into my iCloud account and tried tracking my phones position. There was one 'blip', and it was a little ways south of the gym.
The employee looked over my shoulder at the map, her eyes sparkling with subdued excitement.
“Are you going to follow him?” she whispered.
I looked at her.
She shrugged, though deep down, I could tell she wanted me to chase the guy through an alley. I wanted to chase the guy through an alley.
The walk back to my apartment was harrowing. Captain Adrenal had called it a day, and a dazed emptiness settled back in. I felt so light. I felt so vulnerable. I was in a distant city with virtually no support structure. I felt like a slain buffalo, with all my parts being fondled by the hands of strangers. I played the situation over and over in my head. Someone had obviously been watching me at my locker. I had probably walked by the person who had done it. I had come so close to preventing it.
Not all was lost. I had luckily taken my keys with me while running. I had my passport and some emergency cash back in my apartment. The week before, I had a premonition to remove from my wallet all the Subway gift cards with $0.34 balances. I would survive.
I was assigned a SLCPD detective. We exchanged information over the phone and in person. One day he alerted me that two men had been apprehended. They had been caught, I imagine for a different crime, with my license in their possession. I imagine that right now, my old MA license is sitting in a ziplock baggy in an evidence locker at the police department.
I haven't heard anything since then. Planet Fitness has been silent about it. I did notice they started enforcing a new card swiping policy to get in. It's a strange feeling having one's misfortune becoming the impetus for future security measures. Well, good for them.
Thinking about the event from the vantage of the present, I don't know exactly what to think. I had trusted my lock, I had trusted Planet Fitness' security, and I had trusted the general goodwill of humanity. Big mistake. After a month or so, I started going back. It was hard. I even used locker 37 again, to break the spell. I've made some changes. I no longer bring any valuables into the gym. I check the condition of my lock impulsively. I give everyone in the locker room a steely glare.
Importantly, I learned that even if you loose all your stuff, you still exist. Pretty much.
I’ve been doing some recreational writing lately. I’d like to share an account of my first year in SLC. Here’s part one of The Salt Year:
The Salt Year - Part One
I have never been an innately adventurous person. While most kids at summer camp were taking part in the ropes course or the archery range, I was hanging out in the warm terrarium light glow of the nature center. During my stay at Providence College, I hardly ever ventured off the insular campus to explore the surrounding city. I had cultivated for myself a very comfortable comfort zone.
In recent years though, I have tried to manually override my risk averse instincts. I will impulsively try to say yes to the strange and unknown, even while another part of me has turned white with dread at the prospect. I don't know the exact frequency, but let's say I'll venture a Yes for one out of three requests:
“Hey Dan, wanna come to the medical school campus to see the cadavers?”
“Hey Dan, wanna go on a pub crawl dressed as Santa?”
“Sign me up.”
In a strange way, I like to watch myself squirm. I have a sort of detached curiosity with my own discomfort. There's probably a German word for it. I have become both the eager parent tossing his child into the deep end of the pool and the horrified child screaming for his life.
In November of 2014, I found my inner child wailing out loud in a strange city, in a new state, and unsure how long I would be there. Previous migratory models projected that I would continue moving south on the eastern seaboard. Instead, I found myself more than 2000 miles west in a state shaped like a book with a giant protruding bookmark.
I am of course talking about The Beehive State: Utah, and its capital of Salt Lake City.
I remember the very first day.
After taking a heavy nap in my motel, I strolled out into the evening city, eager to witness this unfamiliar western civilization. As I opened the door, I was greeted by utterly frigid conditions that were gripping the city. I had packed my single roller bag with nothing but winter clothes, but the cold penetrated through all the layers I could throw at it. As I walked, I felt like the guy who wasn’t going to be make it back to the Echo Base.
Christ, I came here to die, I thought to myself.
Almost immediately I became lost and disoriented, despite being situated on the tidiest of grid layouts. I had no bearings, no sense of direction. I vaguely set out to see the Temple, so I headed out in a vaguely north direction. I didn’t get there that night. On the verge of experiencing hypothermia, I stumbled into the first welcoming building I could find. As my aqueous humour returned to a fluid state, and sight returned to me, I looked around. It was a bustling mall, The City Creek Mall to be exact, which appropriately had an artificial creek running through it. Stocking the indoor creek with actual trout was an interesting choice, though for whose benefit I cannot imagine. The creek commemorated the historic creek, the one that I suppose had to be bulldozed over to build the mall.
Shedding layers, the one thought in my head, that still rings in my head, was, What is this place?
Upon my arrival, I knew as much about Utah and Salt Lake City as I did about Panama. The only things that came to mind were easy jokes about polygamy, Utahraptor, the 2002 Winter Olympus, and a great lifeless body of water where it was slightly easier to float. I was aware of a few local musical groups: Imagine Dragons, Neon Trees, the Tabernacle Choir, and the Utah Jazz. I didn't just have a blind spot for Utah, but for most of the west. For me, the west began somewhere around Connecticut. Utah, and indeed most of the western United States, was not on the edge of my internally charted world, but on an entirely different map.
It was not just geographically distant, but the region's entire narrative was new to me. I don't know the exact divergence point, but let's say shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, United States history gets kind of fuzzy for me. I didn't find that segment of history any less interesting, it just never was never the focus. I forget that people kept moving west, writing new chapters, and founding new cities.
Why was I, an aloof chowder-loving New Englander, wandering around in The Crossroads of the West? The move was not some quarter-life crisis, or an attempt to flee law enforcement, or a desire to embark upon some western journey in search of the true meaning of America, or because Joseph Smith's revelations had struck a chord within me. It was a job.
After graduating Drexel University in 2014 I feverishly blanketed the digital world with resumés, desperately hoping to be given the privilege of elevating my years of experience from zero to some other whole number. Two hundred and sixty resumés later, I had only bite, but oh boy was it a bite.
By some miraculous lapse in bad luck, I landed a three month internship at Avalanche Software, a studio within of Disney Interactive.
Allow me to explain the exciting specifics of our company hierarchy. Disney Interactive is one of the more recent pillars of the Walt Disney Company (the other pillars being Walt Disney Studios, Disney Parks and Resorts, Disney Media Networks, Disney Consumer Products, and Disney's Dark Animatronic Horde). Disney Interactive has since merged with Disney Consumer Products to form the cumbersomely named Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, DCPI. I'm still miffed that our contribution to the acronym is only a single measly letter.
Founded in 1995, Avalanche Software, not to be confused with Avalanche Studios, started off as a small independent Salt Lake City game studio. They worked on a wide collection of games including: Tak and the Power of Juju, 2 on 2 Open Ice Challenge, Ultimate Mortal Combat 3, Rugrats in Paris: The Movie, Rampage 2: World Tour, and more. Avalanche was acquired by Disney in 2005. Avalanche is one of Utah's most well kept secrets. Most Utahans are completely unaware that Disney has any presence in the state.
Avalanche and several collaborating studios are now the developers of the Disney Infinity franchise. Disney Infinity belongs to the fairly recent genre of toys-to-life games (Activision's Skylanders, Nintendo's Amiibos, and most recently those bastards at Lego). These games feature collectible figurines with implanted chips that communicate with a video game. Disney leverages it's deep roster of classic characters (plus Pixar, Marvel, and most recently Star Wars) and throws them into a sandbox environment. As a rather conservative example, you could play as Aladdin riding a Tron Lightcycle while your friend follows along as Ironman in Skywalker's landspeeder, while the two of you tear through an army of Davey Jones' henchmen.
Several copies of my resumé had been sitting inertly in their applicant server for a long time before I got a call. Getting a call back from a branch of Disney was exciting, though I had encased myself in a heavy chrysalis of skepticism after enduring months of rejection. Rejection I could deal with. Getting a second call was unusual. Getting a Skype interview was baffling. Getting a second Skype interview was unheard of.
My mind reeled, Why haven't they said no yet? What are they waiting for? Why haven't I received an email with, “We regret to inform you,” yet? What game are they playing?
After graduating from Drexel, I had adopted a whimsical, Wherever the wind takes me, philosophy, not because it was a terribly good philosophy, because it isn't, but because it was a convenient response to the most terrible thing you can ask a recent graduate, “Where are you going now?”
The second most terrible thing you can ask a graduate is, "Huh, what can you do with that major?“
The thing about adopting the Wherever the wind takes me philosophy is that you kind of have to follow through when the wind blows. When Avalanche asked me if I was willing to move out to SLC, within the month, my voice cracked as I gave a kind of understated, “Um... Sure.”
I started November 17th 2014 at 10 AM. I was giddy to the point of nauseousness. I can best illustrate how surreal it felt by saying that once I entered the lobby, I took a seat next to a life-sized, fully hairy, model of Sully and Mike Wazowski. There were four of interns starting that day, myself, two animation interns, and a QA intern named Brielle, who was transferring to Outsourcing with me. As we were lead through the concept art lined corridors, the rows of past game titles, the cereal bar, I was awestruck. I swooned. I had a feeling that I had only felt a few times before. Ringing through my head was the phrase, I have arrived.
I was part of the Art Outsourcing Department. It was myself, the other intern Brielle, and my two supervisors Landon and Colby. We're an odd sort of department, currently tucked away up on the 10th floor, sometimes feeling like an island of misfit toys, and other times like a pivotal powerhouse for the company, sometimes reviled, and sometimes emphatically praised. Our role is to work with external vendors to create art assets (3D models and animations) for the game. Everyday is a little different, but we mostly spend our time reviewing incoming art assets for quality and visual conformity with our Disney Infinity style. A lot of the time, I get to pretend to be a fancy Art Director. It's great. It flexes a whole suite of creative muscles I wouldn't normally get to flex.
One of my jobs was to make sure that our collection of characters could fit reasonably within the newly created vehicles. This was a considerable challenge as our playable characters varied in size from the Yoda and Stitch range to the Wreck-It Ralph and the Hulk range. The Hulk became a close friend of mine, as all cockpits had to be large enough to accommodate him. He was the upper limit, the golden standard, until of course we came out with the Hulkbuster, which ruined everything.
While looking for work in the video game industry, I was open to just about anything, with the exception of casino game development, which I perceived as just too soul crushing. Hell, I might have even accepted a job working for a sports or racing video game franchise. It came as a huge relief to discover what Avalanche was working on. When I arrived, the studio was firing up the next edition of its toys-to-life platform, Disney Infinity 3.0, which was going to feature the addition of a little known indie franchise called Star Wars.
Have you heard of it?
For months I was unable to tell anyone that I was working on a genuine Star Wars game, spanning the old, the new, and the super-secret new new trilogy. My days were often steeped in researching deep Star Wars lore on Wookiepedia (I now know all the musical instrument names in the Cantina scene), learning obscure alien names (Droopy McCool, Momaw Nadon), looking up concept art (I've become very well acquainted with the amazing work of Ralph Mcquarrie), and I couldn't mention any of it to anyone. I wanted to shout it from the mountains.
During the whole of development, I was worried that by some strange mishap, I would end up leaking something about the game. I was terrified that I would wake up one day to discover that I had accidentally uploaded the entire game directory to the internet. Or even something as small as posting a photo with an accidental Ewok image in the reflection of a window. Luckily, my mandatory employee confidentiality collar never went off. Contrary to popular belief, the collar doesn't actually administer a lethal shock of electricity when you breach your NDA.
It will however, let you know when you are getting close.
I joined Avalanche at an interesting time in the studio's history. When I came aboard, it was the first year that Disney Interactive had been profitable on its own, a large part of which was due to our game. To show their appreciation, Disney shipped a bunch of props from California to SLC and threw us a giant holiday party for the developers and their families. Having been there for a month or so, and likely not responsible for the company's success, I nevertheless attended. It was the first two-story party I’ve ever been too. I can also say it's the first party I've been to where Mickey and Minnie showed up. There I had my first churro.
In February, we also switched buildings. The move was partially to to accommodate our expanding number of employees, but also because the old building was beginning to show its age. You could reasonably estimate the age of the building from the whimsical carpeting alone. The new building was also downtown, and practically in eyeshot of the old building.
I can report that the new building is quite wonderful. It's bright and roomy and feels like a place where some serious creative stuff can get done. The view from my office is an incredible vista of Salt Lake City nested between mountain ranges. When other developers come to my office and look out the window, they say incredulously, “You interns get this view?”
I then respond by placing a vertical index finger over my lips in the universal sigh for, “Don't tell anyone.”
2015 also turned out to be Avalanche's twentieth anniversary. Watching an industry that is so volatile, it's surprising to be a part of one that has lasted two decades. The studio held a party at the Olympic Park, the site where they held some of the 2002 Winter Olympics. The park has since converted the ski ramps into extreme tube ramps. I rode down the impossibly steep ramp in an inner tube and discovered, reconfirmed really, that I was not Olympic material.
I suspected there would be mountains, but I wasn’t prepared for how breathtaking they would be. They aren’t just in the distance. They are right there. They encircle the city. They push against the city, and the city extends meekly into their slopes. The peaks change throughout the day and with the weather, often dramatically. Sometimes you can see every detail, every crevasse, and every snow-covered surface. Other times when the light is behind them, they appear as a flat, unreadable blue expanse. On cloudy days, the peaks sometimes disappear into the sky.
I've discovered a strange satisfaction in watching something as carefree as a cloud crash into an obstacle. Serves them right.
The city, for all its charm, seems an almost inadequate addition to the landscape. Tall buildings interrupt the panoramic view. One only needs to see an Arby’s framed by immaculate crystal blue peaks to realize the absurdity of human civilization. The mountains seem immutable, indomitable, until you see where strip mines have carved some of them into naked ziggurats. It's a sobering realization to see our impact on the landscape. Not even mountains are safe.
The beauty of this area does not abate. Even after a year, I will still stop and just stare at the mountains, imperiling myself as I stop in the middle of a crosswalk to do so.
My co-worker at Avalanche, Landon, is an avid outdoorsman and skier. Landon is the sort of person who shows up for work everyday, unless of course there was a fresh later of snow that morning. Ski days are completely valid reason for taking a day off.
Snow sports are a heavy presence in SLC. The 2002 Winter Olympics really changed the city and made it a hotspot for cold sports. Snow sports dominate the culture in ways I didn't expect: Equipment rental shops are nearly as common as coffee shops. You will occasionally see front yards with picket fences made of old skies. There's a wall chart in the local Wholefoods that lists snow totals for all the resorts. Ninety percent of all bumper stickers are of preferred ski resorts.
I had imagined that children here are brought onto the slopes within moments of being born. I wasn't too far off. Apparently starting children at the age of three or four is not unheard of.
Listening to skiing enthusiasts talk to one another has become a small joy for me. It is like listening to a cryptic language. Here are a few sentences I've recorded:
“I was rippin' a groomer, and then I caught an edge and highsided.”
“The cat-track goes around the horn. When I got there, they blasted the bookends.”
“It was pow-tastic.”
Finding myself in SLC without gear, surplus funds to buy gear, and filled with sober certainty that my 28 year old body had lost the majority of its youthful 'bounce', I did not partake in the exhilaration of flying down a mountain.
I did however partake in the blissful agony of trudging up one or two.
Landon, eager to get me out of the city, invited me on a few hikes. The first hike was in February in Big Cottenwood Canyon (confusingly smaller than Little Cottenwood Canyon). Landon drove me up this narrow valley road between the two mountain ridges. Even the ride to the parking lot was breathtakingly beautiful and would have sufficed.
I had luckily brought my heavy duty boots. For the most part, the trail was perilously covered in snow, though occasionally it was perilously covered in mud. I tried planting my feet in the tracks that Landon had created, but his long legged gate was impossible to match.
On a distant peak, I think Mount Raymond, Landon pointed out the aftermath of a past avalanche, where a sheet of ice and snow had carved a broad path through the pine trees, leaving an entire face of a mountain bare.
I tried not to think about avalanches.
It was an exhausting ascent, but the view at the top was well worth it. The top of ridge presented an incredible snow glazed vista. It was eerily silent, no wind, no birds, no people, and no congratulatory trail marker saying, “You made it!”
On a distant peak I saw a tiny red shape detach itself from the snow and rise into the air. It was a helicopter dropping off back country skiers onto the slopes.
The exertion of the ascent had warmed me up sufficiently that I could strip my winter coat off. I plopped down on the snowy ridge and ate some clementines.
Coming down was a small nightmare. Landon had brought a two pairs of snowshoes, so we decided to try them on the way down. I fell on my ass at least sixty times. It felt like someone had plucked my center of gravity and repositioned it twenty feet above my head.
The second hike was to Red Pine Lake (within the wider Little Cottonwood Canyon). The hike started in the lush green warmth of June. A few minutes in and we stumbled onto a juvenile moose grazing on the trail. We froze. I scanned the area, looking for a protective parent to come barreling through the woods. The moose stared at us with disinterest and causally walked deeper into the woods.
Out here, the wilderness is never far away.
The higher we walked, the more previous months seemed to linger on the trail. We started to see patches of old snow hiding in the dark corners of the forest. Further up, snow coated the ground entirely.
We passed several hikers coming down on our way up. They gave us words of encouragement like, “Almost there” or “You guys are ten minutes away.” It was fascinating to observe this etiquette among strangers. It was as if we were part of some unofficial community.
We reached the lake, nested beside a fog covered peak. The lake had a frozen sheet of ice in its center but was thawed around the shore. I saw marmots scurrying about the stones. It was serene and gorgeous.
Speaking of lakes, I have yet to set foot in the city's namesake, the Great Salt Lake. I have however seen it from the air. It is a massive body of water bordered by salt encrusted shores and marshes. The Great Salt Lake has some interesting geological history to it. It was once part of a much larger prehistoric lake called Lake Bonneville. If you look at the surrounding hillsides, you can still see a faint band or bench where the ancient shore use to be. There is a hiking trail which follows its ancient shoreline.
I went on a solo hike at a place called the Red Butte Gardens. The main attraction there was a network of lush botanical gardens, each given a unique theme. North of the manicured gardens were slightly more wild hiking trails. I ambitiously took the longest and highest one. Within moments of passing a sign warning about the presence of rattlesnakes, I walked by one on the trail. It was lazily slithering across a slope of earth, parallel to the trail. I had never seen a rattlesnake in the wild before. I afforded it a wide berth, and in return it did not rattle. The thing about encountering a venomous snake at the beginning of a hike is that you become hyper focused on the ground for the rest of the journey. Every movement, every shadow, and every rattling leaf sent a shot of adrenaline through my veins.
I have never been an rugged outdoorsman, despite my most optimistic self-images. I don't have a ton of endurance, but I can shoulder a fair amount of discomfort. My sights are now fixed upon a trail that leads up to Mount Olympus. Yes, like the mountain in Greek mythology. This peak, which I can see from my office, has become in my mind a personal rite of passage. I dream of reaching the summit, of staring down at the hazy city below, and then of reaching into my pack to pull out some lightning bolts.
Let the smiting begin.