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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

Endless Summer

I have been experiencing summer and all the adventures it brings for the past eight months. It started in Moab, Utah for spring break. Escaping the snow capped mountains of Colorado for the dry mystical playground of the Utah desert. My two best friends and I took an old red and white Dodge van, stuffed it full of climbing gear, mountain bikes and as much food as we could eat in six days and headed west for one heck of an adventure. Sometime after, spring and summer finally came into Colorado and two weeks after graduation from high school I set off on trips across the country from the local campground that overlooks my home Boulder, Colorado to Jasper national park in Alberta, Canada. I was home for approximately a month or so during my four month period of experiencing the great outdoors everywhere and anyway I could. From bikes to my two feet, my friends and I were in it experiencing the world and proving the old Mark Twain saying wrong”Youth is wasted on the young” day in and day out. This trend continued when I arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia with 12 other sleep deprived and groggy kids ready to dive head first into our new lives for the next 12 weeks. Within the first few weeks we had already gone on a hike above Samaipata, Bolivia and a four day trek outside the city of Sucre getting our first taste of the Andes mountains and continuing the pattern of being in the woods living in a way few ever experience in their lifetime. Carrying a backpack that has your entire life in it outside access to the typical definition of civilization. Your clothes, food, water, tent and other essentials are in a 40 pound pack on your back while you walk on roads and trails that can date back to the Incan empire, through peoples backyards to camp in small Andean communities. It was my dream since I was a kid to be doing this and I never wanted it to end. For a while it did. When we all arrived in Tiquipaya, Bolivia for our month long homestay I was not expecting to have my house situated at the base of 17,000 foot peaks and to look up at glaciers before the rainy season comes in. I also wasn´t expecting to realize my attachment to the mountains due to my lifestyle I  have been living this year and for the most part my entire life.  The need for an escape into the wild and find solace in the beautifully rugged and tranquility that the mountains offer. Spending the better part of a month, reading books about mountaineering, exploration and travel. Learning about Andean Cosmovision and understanding how it affects society and having monstrous peaks at your finger tips but having no way to access them did a number on me. I was getting stir crazy and everyone knew it. Finally, A free Sunday came along with no plans and some students and I lobbied to climb Tunari, the iconic peak that overlooks Cochabamba, Tiquipaya and numerous other cities in this valley. That sunday morning at 6 am we set off to climb the peak and return home exhausted and ready to tell our homestay families about our big adventure. That short hiatus of almost a month broke my previous record for 2018 of 10 days outside of the mountains. My time here and this 6 weeks in particular has shown me that before I took the mountains and all the joy it fills me with for granted and simultaneously shown me a different perspective on how the woods and outdoors are viewed. Here, Andean communities are a part of the wilderness. You may be watching the sunrise over a valley and halfway up a mountain is a tiny little house with a farm. Here, the mountains and the people coexist. While back home we have sequestered “wilderness” into these little nooks separating population centers such as a wilderness area or a national forest, maybe a national park. Before, people lived in these areas. Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and others had relationships similar to what is alive and well down here. We sequestered wilderness into these places where development is illegal now because back home we had the idea of manifest destiny and decided to take what was ours without considering the ecological or cultural impacts it has. I also learned to fall in love with a city like Tiquipaya. The culture, the people and the idea that I can survive without having such a creature comfort as the mountains in my back pocket ready for access whenever I need an escape. This past month pushed me in a way I was not expecting and I now know that the mountains will always be there, ready to greet me with open arms any time of year and that I don´t need it to be comfortable in my life.