Saguaro Man: Is this the real life? Or is this just fantasy?

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It was an hour or so into my 38th birthday when my friends all went to bed.

Not me.

I needed one last post-midnight stroll through the utterly insane fluorescent fantasyland of Saguaro Man. It didn’t matter that the temperature had dipped below freezing and a warm sleeping bag awaited me in my tent. I knew we’d be heading back to reality the next morning and I wasn’t ready to let go.

Saguaro Man is a regional Burning Man event for Arizona and surrounding states. Four nights of total off-the-grid live-in-the-now chaos in the middle of a dusty field outside Snowflake. 

Every time I turned to a friend to talk about how crazy something was, it’d get topped an hour later.

In one moment, we watched a burlesque dancer offer, ummm, titty sprinkles to anyone – man or woman – willing to lick them off her body. The next, two men stripped to their whitey tightys, covered themselves in peanut oil, and leg wrestled while suspended from a chandelier.

For my part, I wore pasties until the snow fell, danced for hours atop a bedazzled double-decker bus, slept thru subfreezing temps alone (despite my best efforts to find a tent-mate), and almost landed in an orgy in a theme camp.

It was anything but the real world.

Once, a fellow burner asked me what I did for work. I was truly confused. Am I even supposed to answer that question here? I don’t even like talking about it back in reality!

We returned to Tempe midway through my 38th birthday. I spent the next few hours lying around the house. After four days and three nights, it was jarring to be back in the real world.

What do you mean we don’t dance to the coffee shop music? What do you mean I can’t just hug that total stranger? What do you mean I have to put on pants?

Jarring indeed.

No girl. No gig. No sense of purpose.

Even before Saguaro Man, I was having trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy.

I started this blog in spring 2013 with the tagline No girl. No gig. Just the road. After spending my 20s defining my purpose by the pursuit of partner (and family) and career, it was time for me to spend some time without goals.

Four years later, those pursuits are dead.

On the girl front, I haven’t met a legit prospect in a year now. I’ve pretty much given up on the whole idea of a life partner. And, at this point, there’s almost no way I’m having kids unless I accidentally slip one past the goalie.

Sure, I may meet someone. But I’m no longer holding my breath.

The only dick pic I’ll ever send.

On the gig front, after four years of building, my business is finally on cruise control. I love what I do and only really do it when I want to. I paid off my house in April. The lack of debt and the lack of spending makes work rather optional.

Sure, I could build more business but I like the 3-1-3 balance. Besides, I have nothing to prove to anyone including myself.

All that said, pursuit of girl and gig does provide structure and a sense of purpose. The lack of those pursuits still messes with my head a bit.

For example, my sense of date and time is totally screwed. Also, I question whether I’m applying myself enough to the future – especially around milestones like my birthday and my re-birthday.

And, of course, the fuckits happen. I only woke up at 9:30 today because I set my alarm and limited my snooze button taps to three. Hell, you should’ve seen my kitchen two hours ago.

And, look now, I’m sitting outside in my boxers past midnight on a school night typing through an existential funk. #YOLO

No girl. No gig. And no more worlds to conquer.

I just finished season 5 of Breaking Bad. Walter White has finally climbed the ladder. He’s built a massive business empire and sits on top of a literal pile of money. And, yet, he’s unsatisfied.

And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.  

(FYI, I’m not as learned as I may seem based on that line. It was spoken by Hans Gruber in Die Hard.)

Unlike Alexander the Great, I’m not weeping. But I am questioning …

Now what?

If neither girl nor gig will provide structure and purpose and keep me rooted in the real world, then what the hell am I supposed to do?

Maybe this is it. Maybe I’m doing it.

Being. Experiencing. Living.

Wear a pink apron and nipple pasties. Ride a five-foot long penis and post the pic to Facebook. Stumble into an orgy – and next time maybe stick around for a while.

What else is there to existence besides all that we touch and all that we see?

A very dear friend nearly died of a rare kind of stroke earlier this year. She’s my age with a cool husband, two beautiful young children, and a booming career.

And yet, when we met for lunch a few weeks later, she didn’t tell me to find my purpose by curing cancer or inventing a longer lasting lightbulb a la Captain John Miller.

Her advice was a bit more, ummm, primal.

“Smoke all the cigarettes. Drink all the booze. Fuck all the women.”

That certainly sounds more like the Saguaro Man world than the real world. So, which is the real life? And which is just fantasy?

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As Yosemite reveals itself, the Meander begins

I left the city in a mad rush. The dash from Fresno’s airport to Fresno’s REI was frantic. I needed more food, more fuel, and warm socks before heading to Yosemite. And I hoped to get there before dark.

The Meander officially began on May 9, but it was vastly different than I’d expected. It was busy. Too much company and commotion. Too much Griswold-ing. I divided 18 days between tourist time with Jamie and my dad in San Diego, then fun time with Keena’s family in Burbank, then three go-go-go days with Jamie driving the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur. These were positive experiences, but whew …

Mt. Watkins reflects in Mirror Lake.

Mt. Watkins reflects in Mirror Lake.

Finally, with 60 miles of open road between me and three nights alone at Yosemite, it was time for the Meander to begin. Except, it didn’t. I was ready for my cathartic moment. I tried to prime the pump with the Into the Wild soundtrack. Nope. With sun setting, I played the second side of Darkside of the Moon. Still nothing.

And then, as Roger Waters let out his last long “mooooooooooooon”, I rounded a corner and the sign for Yosemite National Park appeared. Finally, I started to cry. Soon, I was preparing for bed at Wawona Campground about an hour south of the famous Yosemite Valley.

That night I dreamt that access to the valley itself had been barred. The entry point immortalized by countless Hudson River School landscapes and Instagram selfies was closed. All I could see was ferris wheels, roller coasters, and other commercial recreation in the distance. Wally World was closed. I was crushed.

Day One

I woke up to the light tapping of rain on my tent. I stepped out of my tent into a pine forest and learned my first lesson of Yosemite. Never separate from your camera. A deer stood less than 15 feet away. Welcome to Yosemite!

My first item of business was a stop at the campground reservation office. To my surprise, I was able to extend my stay to a fourth night and relocate to the coveted valley floor the following morning. Not wanting to spoil the surprise of the valley before moving, I honey-badgered coffee from the nearby lodge and headed to the scenic south rim of the valley en route to Glacier Point.

4,000+ feet of Yosemite Falls.

4,000+ feet of Yosemite Falls.

The hour drive toward Glacier Point meanders through thick forest as it ascends 3,500 feet from Wawona. It was under 50 degrees and the whole place smelled like a Christmas tree lot. I stopped for a short stroll to a meadow where I hoped to see more wildlife. I watched trout (?) swimming in the stream for a while before heading to a five-mile loop hike that passed scenic overlooks Taft Point and Sentinel Dome.

Ignite Phoenix presenter Indiia Wilmott said, “I hate the phrase ‘Words can’t describe.’ Of course they can. They’re words. That’s what they do.” So, I’ll avoid hyperbole and accept that words can indeed describe Yosemite. However, I will not accept that words can do it justice.

After two miles at 7,500 feet, I was a tad short of breath. When I made the final ascent at Taft Point, the rest of my breath was literally taken away. I shed multiple tears and cracked a wide smile as I stared across the valley floor 3,500 feet below me to Yosemite Falls.

I’d never seen anything like it. Not even close. The water doesn’t cascade. It free falls 1,400 feet. It doesn’t form a smooth ribbon. It’s blown, spread, and turned into mist by the wind before collecting in a basin.

Half Dome from Glacier Point.

Half Dome from Glacier Point.

I was mesmerized. Imagine my surprise when a few hundred yards later, I discovered that I only saw the upper falls. Beneath the basin, the water falls further – 2,425 feet in total – before collecting and cutting through the valley floor below.

I spent the rest of the day similarly amazed by the setting. From Sentinel Dome and Glacier Point, I saw the back half of the valley. More waterfalls. More granite formations. Snow-capped mountains.

Day Two

The next morning, I packed up my tent, honey badgered another cup of coffee, and embarked on the hour drive to my new campground in Yosemite Valley.

Just before I entered, I was offered a brief glimpse of the valley and then shoved into a mile-long tunnel. When I emerged above ground again, I was treated to an unreal view – and a sudden turn into Valley View overlook.

The valley opened before me. A light mist shrouded the valley floor, adding a surreal quality to the scene. On each flank, granite cliffs El Capitan and Sentinel Rock protected the entrance like the Argonath river statues in Lord of the Rings. Bridalveil Fall dove 620 feet to the floor. Half Dome peaked out from behind the guardians. In the distance, the snow-capped peaks of the high sierra were partially covered in clouds.

The entrance to Yosemite Valley.

The entrance to Yosemite Valley.

As I parked, I instinctively looked away. Why? I have no idea. It was incredible. I shed another tear or two. John Muir said, “It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of nature I was ever permitted to enter.” I won’t argue his point.

I determined that my next stop would be the reservation office, where my stay was surprisingly extended for a fifth night. A Friday, no less.

With three guaranteed nights on the valley floor, I suddenly had all the time I could possibly need. That’s when time stopped. There were no more points of interest to get to. There were no more sights to see. The play-by-play blended together into an infinite series of tress and trails and rivers and mountains.

The Meander had finally begun.