Eagle Pass, California 2018 by William Bryan

“Most people do the John Muir Trail in 30 days, but I think we can do it in 15.”

My cousin Mark had texted me offering a backpacking trip as a graduation present.

“Uhhh, I don’t have 15 days for a trip Cuz. I’m not even going to be in California that long,” I replied.

I figured that was easier than trying to convince him that the JMT in 15 days wasn’t exactly reasonable. After some more texting back and forth that included a few date changes and some gear talk we decided on a three-day trip in California’s Emigrant Wilderness just north of Yosemite. We were both familiar with the area and realized we didn’t have that much time for a wilderness trek after all.

Meetup with Mi Wuks

After running into road closures that added another hour to our drive we got on the trail around noon as we looked at nearby snowy peaks and talked about how lucky we were to be able to find any way into the backcountry this early in the season.

While we hiked my cousin told me about hunting in the region and how he met a Mi Wuk couple who owned a 100-year lease on cattle land that we’d be hiking through. He hoped that they’d already be living in their Cooper Valley homestead at 8,000 feet so he could see them again.

We made quick work of Eagle Pass but still only arrived at the homestead around 5 p.m. because of our late start on the day. The Mi Wuk couple wasn’t there but the little cabins and outhouse made for a picturesque place to make camp so we decided our hike was done for the day.

As we started a fire and cooked dinner we broke into a fifth of Crown Royal that we’d carried in (with its felt sack) to pass the time. A few hours later when we reached the bottom of the bottle and the end of our wood pile we scattered the coals and hit the sack.

Suffer Fest

We woke up the next morning to everything in the valley covered in frost. We made our way over to our camp kitchen to start on coffee and breakfast when we noticed the bottle of Crown Royal sitting in the dirt, empty. Suddenly our headaches made more sense. After the coffee kicked in we got to work planning our day over some hearty homemade granola.

“There’s this peak, Granite Mound, that I’ve seen in the distance when I hunt this area. I’ve always wanted to climb it but never had the chance, you up for it?” Mark asked.

“Sure. We’ve just got to hike through this valley, and this valley, and this valley, and then make this part of the climb to 10,000 feet without a trail,” I said as I pointed at the map that was laid out between us.

“Yup,” he replied, as if it would be as easy as skipping a rock.

We hiked in and out of mosquito infested valleys all morning, crossed a half-dozen streams, and lost the trail in huge swaths of snow along the way, until we finally got a glimpse of Granite Mound two miles in the distance, according to Mark’s GPS. We haphazardly planned our summit route from afar and then embarked on the portion of the hike that was off-trail.

An hour and two false summits later—which dashed my hopes more than I’d like to admit—we stood in the middle of a field of snow with soaked boots and looked up at the summit. It still felt impossibly far away, but there was no way we’d turn back now. We scarfed down some salami sandwiches and gummy bears before we slogged our way to the top as we huffed and puffed from the altitude.

When we finally made it to the top we looked off in the distance at Yosemite Valley and turned in amazement at the 360-degree view that surrounded us. We saw the valley that our camp was in and plumes from forest fires in the distance. I had barely caught my breath when I looked at my watch and thought we should head back home if we didn’t want to be hiking the last mile in the dark.

As we hiked back all of the fields of snow that we’d traversed on the way up became sledding hills on the way back down, and with our tired legs we didn’t care about wet butts.

We were still a valley away from camp when I asked Mark how far he thought we’d walked.

“Today wasn’t that far, I’d guess seven or eight miles.”

“Total? Or one way,” I asked incredulously. There was no way we’d only hiked eight miles, I thought.

“Total,” Mark responded coolly. Don’t forget, this is the same person who thought we could hike the John Muir Trail in half the time that most people do.

I didn’t have the energy to argue so I focused on the trail ahead and the freeze-dried backpacking meal that waited for me at camp.

Our home valley didn’t end up being the warm welcome we were looking for. The three minutes it took the water to boil for dinner felt like an eternity as we were swarmed by what felt like all of the world’s mosquitos. Despite the heat we bundled ourselves in every bit of clothing we had to try and keep them at bay while we ate our food in silence, too exhausted to talk. I was the first to admit defeat in the battle against the bugs and trudged to our tent to lay down and rest. Mark wasn’t far behind.

In a daze, we pulled out the map to sort out how far we’d actually hiked that day. After some quick math, we realized Mark was way off. I wasn’t shy in rubbing it in that his estimate was so far off.

“16 MILES. Ha! Man were you off, Mark. 16 miles to a 10,000-foot peak,” I remarked.

He wasn’t embarrassed to admit how wrong he was as he folded up the map.

We didn’t need Crown Royal or an hour of reading to help us sleep that night as we curled up at 8 p.m. trying to find a position, any position, that didn’t hurt.


Compared to the day before the hike home was uneventful. We meandered our way up and out of Cooper Valley and back down to the car, an easy 5-mile stroll. We rinsed off in a stream and cooled off our blister covered feet before getting back on the road. The first place that sold burgers was our first stop on our way back to civilization and crazy times in the world. (Trump and Kim Jong Un met while we were gone.)

Seattle, Washington 2017 by William Bryan

Olympic National Forest is only 26 miles from Seattle as the crow flies, but driving there involves navigating Puget Sound, a dozen other beautiful little bays, and more than 2 hours on the road. But I still had my parks pass and I’d be damned if I didn’t get my money’s worth so of course I insisted on dragging Sach and Kev to Olympic National Forest. We had no idea where to go once we got there but we thought we’d just ask some rangers at the visitor center for some hike recommendations.

The southern fork of the Skokomish River.

After an early wake-up and two-and-a-half hours on the road our phones told us we were in the national forest but there was no visitor center to be seen. We turned back to the nearest town and noticed a small community center that looked almost like a visitor center and hoped they might have some info for us. Inside we found an elderly volunteer that was short on hiking guidance but full of kindness. She had two hiking recommendations: a flat 4-mile river trail or a 2.5-mile, 3,000-foot climb to the summit of Mount Elinor. We wanted expansive view’s more than a meandering water-way so we decided to concede our distance goals and tackle the summit of Mount Elinor instead.

It turned out that 3,000 feet in only 2.5 miles isn’t much of a hike, it’s more like climbing a ladder—straight up. After a couple hours of huffing and puffing our way up the steep barren slopes of Mount Elinor we arrived at the top to expansive views of Olympic National Park and Oregon’s Mount Hood in the distance to the south. After scarfing down our lunches, we hung out with a mountain goat friend and took in the views before sliding our way back down the steep shale mountainside to the car.

After our hike, we drove north into Olympic National Park (just to say we'd been there) and spotted some teenagers enjoying an end-of-summer lake trip with plenty of beer and boulder jumping for those that had the courage.

Lake Cushman boulder-jumpers.

Lake Cushman boulder-jumpers.

Oahu 2014 by William Bryan

Today was the first day of snow in Boston. I walked around the city browsing through stores looking for good Black Friday deals and got a little too cold on the walk home. Sitting here with a cup of tea looking out the window I caught myself thinking about my trip to Hawaii this summer.

My friend Kevin texted me: “Come visit me.” He lived in Hawaii and said it as a joke. He had told several of his friends from his freshman year in college to come visit him on his island in the middle of the Pacific. Most people responded with various reasons for why they couldn’t, but I said “OK.”

Later that day I asked my Dad if we could go to Hawaii later in the summer. We had been planning a Father-Son trip for August anyway, so after deciding to take the easy route (we were considering destinations like Mexico City, or Antigua, Guatemala), we booked flights to Oahu.

When I told Kevin that my Dad and I had just bought tickets to spend a week in Hawaii, he didn’t believe me. “Wait, really?” he asked. “Yes, really,” I assured him.

After landing in Waikiki at 11 p.m. I turned on my phone to a text from Kevin: Sunrise hike, I’m picking you up at 4:45.

Gulp, I wasn’t prepared for that. Even with the time difference helping me out I wasn’t excited to wake up that early to go for a hike. But hey, he was the local and knew what to do in Hawaii. That was half of the reason for coming to Hawaii anyway, I didn’t want to spend a week being a tourist going to the wrong beaches and eating shrimp at the wrong shrimp shack. I replied and we confirmed our plans.

The alarm rang at 4:00 and I slowly lumbered out of bed, trying to stay quiet so my Dad wouldn’t wake up in the other bed across the room. I mindlessly showered, pulled on some board shorts, and gnawed on a Cliff bar.

He picked me up outside of my hotel and we drove through the empty streets of Waikiki to his friends house. After picking her up we headed to McDonalds (the only place on the island that opens early enough) for some early morning grub. We ate our breakfast sandwiches as we drove to Makapu’u, watching the light in the sky grow brighter and brighter. I’m not sure about the other two, but I started to doubt our timing as the sky got brighter and brighter.

Needless to say, we made it in time:

The hike itself was relatively short, 20 minutes at most, so more of a sunrise walk, but I’m not complaining.

We made our way to the summit and then spotted a lighthouse below us that we wanted to explore as the sun rose.

The lighthouse.

We got to the lighthouse and discovered a fence separating us from our goal.

(We managed to get a little bit closer to the lighthouse).

My hiking companions.

After watching the sunrise, we hiked down a cliff and snorkeled in these tide pools.

This photo, and the next two below are from a hike up Diamond Head (not a sunrise hike, but still an early one) that I went on with my Dad later in the trip after I had recovered from the first Hawaiian hiking experience.

Thousands of houses are packed into the hills beyond the ridge of the inactive volcano.


Two trees compete for space, somewhere on the North Shore.

Obligatory underwater photo.

Ireland 2013 by William Bryan

For the first semester of my freshman year at Northeastern, I was able to study abroad rather than go to the Northeastern campus in Boston. I could study in Australia, Costa Rica, Greece, England, or Ireland. I chose to go to Ireland. I chose Ireland for several reasons. First, there was no language barrier like there would have been with Costa Rica and Greece. Second, Ireland seemed relatively safe (at the time, there had been student riots in Greece because of unemployment). Third, I was going to be 17 at the start of the semester – the England and Costa Rica trips required that I be 18 upon arrival in the country. Finally, I’d never been to Ireland before, I had travelled to England and Australia before, and I wanted to travel somewhere new.

The program was split into two groups, science majors and business majors. Science majors attended the University College Dublin, and business students attended the Dublin Business School. At the time I was studying psychology, so I was enrolled at UCD. I lived in an off campus apartment, cooked my own meals, went grocery shopping, cleaned up after myself, and took a 45 minute bus ride to campus every morning. In short, I was 100% independent (except for money) for my first semester away from home.

I loved it. I met amazing people who were also part of my program, and went on weekend trips that really immersed me in Irish culture. We went to a farm and jumped into a bog, made bread and learned how to play Hurling. We traveled to the Cliffs of Moher, County Cork, Howth, the Aran Islands, Causey Farm, Northern Ireland, and County Sligo where we stayed in an eco lodge and surfed in a freezing rain.

For our first weekend in Ireland we took the Dublin Area Rapid Transit to a small seaside town, Howth. The town was quaint and beautiful, and framed by sweeping landscapes of the ocean. It was a great first place to visit outside of Dublin to give us an idea of how beautiful Ireland can be.

After having some time in the town of Howth, exploring a farmers market and the small harbor, we went on a coastal hike. This is one of the spectacular views that can be seen while on the trail.

Jumping into a bog at Causey Farm, extremely messy, but extremely fun. (I’m in the air).

Stunning, breathtaking, awe-inspiring, jaw-droppingly beautiful, terrifying; these are all apt descriptions of the Cliffs of Moher. I couldn’t have gotten any luckier with the weather when I went. No fog, no rain, some clouds but not too many; perfect for experiencing the terrifying heights of the Cliffs of Moher.

Looking along the coast, rolling green grass gives way to cliffs that are up to 700 feet high.

If you look really closely, you can see tiny specs on top of the cliffs. Those are people. That might give you an idea of how high these cliffs really are.

A view from above. It makes it seem like the water is so close to the grass. That couldn’t be more wrong.

More tiny specs (people) can be seen in the distance.

Members of my program “relaxing” on the edge. It was scary sitting on the edge myself, but even scarier watching my friends do it.

It’s hard to understand how green Ireland really is until you go there yourself.

A cow stands guard over a decaying farm house on the Aran Islands.

These cows are standing at the top of some very tall cliffs on the Aran Islands. They seemed to be more comfortable with heights than I was.

Standing on a cliff’s edge.

This is a view of the University College Dublin, where I took classes for the semester. Being from California, it was my first real experience of fall colors.

Dead leaves on flourishing ivy.

A view down a road on the grounds of Blarney Castle in County Cork.