Did you know that this university has a sailing team?

Did you know that we used to ride to practice in a mini school bus, but now we carpool to the marina next to Point Defiance?

Did you know that more water flows under the Narrows Bridge per day than flows out of the Amazon? Sometimes I wonder what the ferry employees think of us in our dinky boats, struggling against a strong tide to go around an upwind mark.

Did you know that we compete against Canadians, and at our last regatta we competed against teams from as far away as Massachusetts? They come out to sail our one inter-conference regatta in the glorious venue that is the Columbia River Gorge.

Did you know the Columbia river’s average output is about 1/28 that of the Amazon’s? It is still one of the worlds largest rivers. And did you know that you could have spent your Sunday afternoon floating down the mighty Columbia towards the Bonneville dam, clinging to your capsized boat, overpowered by wind and waves and current?

We were on the second and final downwind leg of the race. The waves were rolling in from behind us, surging us forward with displays of power like the accelerations of a race car. I commented to my crew Nick on how fast we were going and with the rush of another wave following too close on the heels of the last, my grip on the tiller extension somehow weakened and the boat steered itself across the wind, bucking as the sail swung to the opposite side and rolling over. It was not good. We were both dressed for the warm weather, not for the icy chill of the water, and it did not take long for the strength to leave our limbs. I climbed on top of the overturned hull and pulled Nick up next to me. Squeezing my fingers into the small space that the centerboard slid into, I managed to pull it out and we used it as leverage to turn the boat halfway. We righted the boat only to have it tip back over, the centerboard sliding back down. By the time the chase boat had come to help us, we must have floated past the finish line, downwind and downstream of the whole race course. I ducked underneath the boat to rig the bungee so that the centerboard would stay up, claustrophobic in the small breathing space and letting my fingers improvise knots.

We righted ourselves twice, three times, I don’t know how many times, but even with the help of someone from the chase boat the boat did not want to stay righted. I remember thinking that I couldn’t possibly hoisting myself up, and then thinking, “I have to,” and doing it anyway. I remember clinging monkey-style to the centerboard as we were towed back upstream a ways, and then climbing on top of the centerboard and righting us one last time. More help had come; someone was in the boat ensuring it did not tip over again. We were safe. Nick and I were popped in the power boat and sped back to the marina.

Did you know that I sailed for four years at University of Puget Sound? Here’s how the last race of my career went: we started fast, and we ended up surrounded by concerned sailors with towels, blankets, warm clothes, and tea. I got a hug and a rare expression of concern from Wes, the only person that has been on the team for all the time that I have. And I left knowing a little bit more about myself than I did before.

Going the distance

This one goes out to all my senioritis-suffering yet college-lovin’ homies.

I woke up with my eyes facing a patch of blue cut diagonally by a jet contrail.  I’ve woken up in the dark for so many days that I still think I’ve slept in when I wake up to sunlight.  Sometimes the longest distance I travel in a day is the fourteen inches it takes to get out of bed.  The jet that left its trail bisecting my window is miles and miles away now; I hold in my thoughts all those who perished, crashing into a mountain when they thought they were bound for Düsseldorf.  When did it get so hard to leave my bed?  I guess it was that way from the beginning, when as a baby I looked at the far-away edge and knew it would be impossible to get there.  But at some point the impossible became not impossible.  I dragged myself, rolled over, did whatever I had to until the chasm was before me, and then I fell off and hit my head and cried for my tired mother to come pick me up, thus learning my first lesson on achieving dreams.

One of the things I have wanted to do since I got here was bike to Seattle.  Here’s a trick: If you bike to Point D, take the ferry across to Vashon island and then bike across to the ferry going to Fauntleroy, boom, you’re in Seattle and have biked less than twenty miles.  Vashon is an odd blend of country and fancy, where a “general store” out of a converted barn sells patagucci sweaters, and where fancy boutiques line a dusty road that will turn itself into a country highway.

On Valentine’s Day, my back was sore from riding a bike that belongs to someone else.  Brandon and I crossed over the water to this close but other world, fighting our way up the hills and coasting down them in an eye-watering rush, taking up the nearly-empty road with our spinning wheels and shaking frames.  When we got to Seattle, we discovered that the person who was supposed to bring our fancy date clothes was still tied up at a conference, and so we  went to Brandon’s brother’s house to shower and pilfer clothes from his closet.  We showed up at the restaurant dressed tip-to-toe in borrowed clothing, which in my case meant a pair of long johns that I hoped passed for real pants and a sweater that was basically a dress on me.  A meal never tasted so good.

This was baby odyssey.  My riding partner lives the dreamer’s life, keeping in daily touch with his dreams, incorporating his dreams into what his actions, his very breaths.  In the fall, he rode a bike across the state and partway back before his pain-wracked body told him he was done.  Tomorrow, he plans to swim from that same ferry landing in Pt. D across the channel to Vashon Island.  It’s not so much the distance as the chilling cold and powerful currents that make this scary, but he’s going well-supported and I know he’ll be okay.  Later this spring he hopes to complete the Dr. Gordy Klatt Memorial Challenge, running and walking the 83.6 miles in 24 hours just as the Relay for Life founder did.  After that, he has plans to create a record-long hopscotch course around campus and get it recognized as a world record.  World records are nothing new to him.  This one will be the first time his name appears in Guinness Book of World Records, if all goes well, but he treats every impossible  distance crossed as a world record.  Even the achievements  of tiny dreams, like kissing another person while riding a bicycle for the first time, are world records.  The ordinary is extraordinary in his eyes, and those eyes see the bridges over impassable distances.  To me, he is extraordinary for the way that his big dreams never cloud his seeing the small things, how in the mornings he will still open the blinds for me and bring me tea.  That is why when I opened my eyes this morning I saw a patch of blue and I knew that once I crossed those impossible fourteen inches I would have a mug of tea waiting for me.  And so I crossed them.

The every day life

Over breakfast, I listen to my exercise science friend talking about the people who have survived the most extreme core temperature drops. A two-year-old who was found outside with a core temperature of 57 degrees is apparently the record. My friend is going over an article for class that she thinks they might be quizzed on, and tells me the stages that a human goes through: when they stop shivering, when they start hallucinating, when “paradoxical undressing” sets in and the victim tears off their clothing to offset the sudden feeling of extreme heat that comes over them.

I had a class cancelled today, and this has made for a relaxing morning, where I can cook myself a hot breakfast and enjoy some tea and science. But hey, I’m no social science major, so I can’t get too used to it. Being a math majoring Spanish minoring part-time working student means no free days during my week. It has its perks, though. When you practically live in Thompson Hall you get to know the ins and outs, chilling with the other math lounge inhabiters, running across a gaggle of courtyard b-ballers, recognizing the faces of each and every coffee-soaked, laptop-tanned Opp devotee. Having class four times a week with a group of less than ten students certainly leads to some class community, too. Last semester in advanced calculus, we established a tradition of bringing in treats to share every Friday. The second semester of the class is even smaller, which means fewer people in the rotation, but also more treats to go around. We’ve been blessed with a non-allergic, non-picky group of people, so dairy’s in, wheat’s in, chocolate chip cookies are a go, peanut butter anything is acceptable, banana bread has made a few well-received appearances, and the crowning reward to the semester was getting to eat zoo animal shaped waffles during the final exam. Ah yes, from pie on March 14th to cupcakes in linear algebra (for when the whole class could take a test without making some previously established common mistake), being a math major is delicious. So far I’ve made only sweet treats for my classmates, but maybe it’s time to branch out. I’m thinking quiche, hum bao, hand-crepes, deviled eggs, shrimp canapés… and maybe it’s time to stop thinking and start making lunch to celebrate this rare chunk of free time in my life.

Cycle mania!

From the parking lot next to Weyerhaeuser to the shed behind the Expeditionary, from sunny afternoons in Wright Park to muddy fields in the town of Everett, U of Puget Sound bicycling enthusiasts have been on the prowl this semester.  It’s no surprise that there would be bike-lovers among the student body, but of course most of them are still doing their own thing, not yet drawn under the cradling wing of the sinister BIKE COLLECTIVE.

I’ve seen a little of what goes on behind the closed doors and makes the group rides, race outings, and bike polo nights come to be.  You see, I’ve lived with enthusiasts of the two-wheeled trade since my sophomore year here, and been privy to many a conversation about “oh hey we really need to get a bike club/cycling team/riding together club up and going.”  There have been a few variations on these clubs, but wrangling cyclists into organized activity is harder than it looks.

Luckily, there is more to this story than just bicycles and clubs and pipe dreams.  It’s also my little chance to step up to this little podium and spout out some love for someone I admire on campus, my friend and housemate Graham Robinson.  This is a person who was living in a house with a bunch of flighty traveler types, who all individually decided to study abroad in the spring of our junior year.  Graham was going to go abroad as well, and when that fell through for him, I was disappointed and sad on his behalf because hey, what a missed opportunity.  I’m sure he was disappointed as well, but he shrugged and said he’d have the chance to work on some projects back here in Tacoma.

And he really did.  By the time his housemates returned from the far corners of the earth, without the words to do our experiences justice but flowing with stories anyway, he had started up group rides, gotten into collegiate racing, taken over as the coordinator (read: master and commander) of the bike shop on campus, and now even has a sweet little email interface at his disposal to spread the word about all things bicycle-related, from Casual Cruisers rides to mountain bike rack availability.  He even got me hitting a miniature soccer ball around a parking lot with a homemade mallet.

To top off this guy’s bike and organizational skills, he’s got an iphone with some filters he knows how to slap on, so here are a few shots he took of one of the first polo sessions, to remind us all of the joys of summertime and making dreams come true.

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When the strong winds come

Because I came to University of Puget Sound.  Because I joined the sailing team, and because the Northwest college sailing conference scheduled its fall Eugene regatta for this weekend.  Because sometimes life works out this way, I was there, singing to my grandma with a small chorus of other family members.    I won’t question it too much; I guess you could say it was meant to be.

The rain was thrashing down and pooling on I-5 on our way down.  I was in a car with four people I’d scarcely exchanged words with, nodding off to the pounding of weather and windshield wipers and cars.  We got to the house we were staying at, the home of one of the U of O sailors, later than I thought we would and crashed with our ten other teammates in his living room, one person taking a sleeping pad to the kitchen once every nook and cranny of floor space was already full.

A few hours of fitful sleep later, we we were driving past the glassy water of the Fern Ridge Reservoir.  When the wind picked up later it would get a “churned mud” look about it, but with the morning pinks and blues reflecting off its perfectly calm surface, the reservoir was beautiful.

In Spanish we’ve been reading sonnets about the passage of time and the decline of beauty, in which roses are doomed to die by icy winds at the coming of winter.  These icy winds have been playing around campus lately, knocking branches off trees, sculpting icicles that hang off of Jones fountain.  The winds were knocking down branches in Eugene that day, freaking out my mom’s friend Cathy as she drove along a country highway to come pick me up.

The winds came to the reservoir, gusting, powerful but not icy, turning the glassy reservoir into a cauldron of waves lining up to crash against the dam at the far end.  Ellen, my fresh-into-college crew, stayed impressively calm as a gust took us far from the start line, and helped me tack over so we could make our way back on a reach.

There are winds that bear me up, and winds that knock me down, and that day the winds knocked our boat right over, a puff hitting us as we turned downwind.  I stood on the centerboard, pulling, trying to leverage my weight against the inevitable motion, but the boat kept flipping a full 180 degrees and I was forced to fall back in the water.  We righted the boat and climbed back in, but as I was contemplating whether to try and race, the other  boats headed for the dock; the wind was too dangerous to continue.

Cathy and my sisters were there when we got back to the dock, Ellen and I proud to have made it out alive, but ashamed of the mud stain left on the sail from its encounter with the bottom of the lake.

When I was in Chile, I learned about an old rural tradition (I don’t know if it’s still practiced) in which infants that die are dressed as “angelitos,” “little angels,” complete with little feathery wings attached to the backs of their clothing.  As it was told to me, friends and family are not supposed to cry, lest their tears weigh down the wings of the angels.  Instead, they sing, and the baby’s soul flies up to heaven.

Cathy and my sisters took me to my grandma’s house, and we sang to her, barely holding on to life, perhaps entirely unconscious, her soul readying itself for flight.  We sang old Irish and German folk songs and hymns, and laughed until we cried as my mom sang in her munchkin voice a few lines from “Wizard of Oz.”  My cousin played his fiddle.  We said goodbye.  We weren’t afraid to cry, but hoped that the wind of our breath as we sang would buoy my grandma up when she was ready to depart.

The next morning I was back at the yacht club, where the golden sunshine and light breeze signaled a day of easy, casual sailing.  I was thinking about endings, about the beauty of the “last time,” and how there will be so many “lasts” this year, as I say goodbye to a particular kind of life and embark on a new one.  I look forward to the annual traditions that I have taken part in and will take part in just once more, but I know that woven into the fabric of traditions and plans I have for this year are entirely new moments, unexpected and memorable.  Singing goodbye to my grandma.  That golden light across the water.  Remembering what a beautiful and strong heritage I have, and what a loving family I have to share it with.

Hit the ground running

The second-to-last semester of college begins. My schedule: two parts advanced math, one part Spanish literature, and one part digital humanities. It’s recipe that causes me to put brainpower in every assignment that I do, and one that absolutely reaffirms my choice of major. Number theory work can throw me for a loop, but I’d rather be frustrated and confused by math homework than anything else.
Coming home from study abroad, people have been asking me whether I enjoyed it, and whether I’m glad to be back. Yes, and yes! Chile was a fantastic time, and I miss lots of things: speaking Spanish on the daily, my host family, the fun of transporting to another city to go to school, living close to the beach… whenever I run into one of the UPS students who were on my program and start reminiscing, I am reminded that we had it pretty good there.
However, I don’t get nostalgic too often. This year is shaping up to be a good mixture of coming home to the same things I was doing before I left and discovering some new things. One of these special bonuses to the semester was the Race and Pedagogy National Conference, hosted by the university once every four years and taking place in September. It was great and inspiring and motivating to see the dialogue that included students, community members, and speakers and attendees who traveled from all over the country to be there. I know that I will be digesting my personal takeaways over the course of the coming months, and I hope that these issues will remain on people’s minds and as part of a positive discourse on campus. Particularly when hearing from people who live in the Tacoma area, I kept thinking how I wanted to hear these voices on campus more. Of course, this is also a prompt for me to get more involved off-campus. It is hard to fit any new stuff into my schedule at this point, but you can always squeeze in one more thing, right? I don’t really want to get into that final year conundrum of wanting to “fit it all in” without spreading oneself too thin, so I’ll just say that for now a quick pause between class and work is enough for me to stop and smell the roses, and to be thankful for the here and now.

It’s autumn down here

While all of you Northern Hemispheric folks are starting to enjoy summer, some of you starting out a few months of vacation, down here we are hard at work with final projects, papers, tests, sailing, camping, swimming, playing, watching the World Cup, and trying to squeeze every last drop out of this precious time.

Last Friday was my third time sailing here, through my university.  Because there are many people who have dropped out, I officially have a place in the class/team, and they opened it up for other folks to sign up.  So I not only got to practice managing a boat that I’m still fairly new to, but also had the fun and funny experience of teaching brand new sailors, who had never set foot on a boat, how to sail.  In Spanish.  Some of the words are anglicisms, like outhaul and cunningham, while others are terms that I never fully learned in English either.  We got to go a bit away from the harbor, surfing the large swells and enjoying the brisk breeze.

When I left and got back to my house, Chile’s first game had just begun and my living room was awash in red.  Beer and orange soda were mixed in glasses (fanschop, it’s called, meaning fanta-beer), eyes scarcely strayed from the screen to greet me, and a few people were munching choripan (chorizo-pan, or sausage and bread, because Chilean world cup fare is all about the portmanteau).  I felt sticky from spending my afternoon in a wetsuit, so I went to take a quick little shower.  Just as I was toweling off, I heard the unmistakeable ruckus of the first goal, erupting from the television, from the people downstairs, soon followed by car horns honking and yells from nearby houses.  I wasn’t quite downstairs when a second goal followed on the heels of the first.  As soon as I sat down, my presence near the TV seemed to turn the tide and although they continued to overwhelmingly possess the ball, the Chileans were having trouble scoring, and Australia got a few breakaways, and then a goal.

Normally, gatherings with family and friends here seem pretty relaxed, with a free flow of food and drink, but on this occasion I saw the obsessive soccer fanaticism that caused delayed and refills, grabbing chips, or even just taking a sip of beer until the ball was out-of-bounds.  Wouldn’t want to lose concentration for a second, after all.  At one point, I think I went too far into this concentration and came out on the other side, wondering which of these little moving dots of light I was supposed to be focused on, but the yells of my companions brought me back to reality.  We were reduced to a simple worldview pitting Us against Them.  I thought about how in Ultimate, the onus of being a good sportsperson is placed on each player, and the integrity of the game is only held up through self-refereeing.  By contrast, soccer players will frequently argue with a ref’s call, seeming to want the advantage for their team at any cost.  However, you also see them helping players of the opposite team to get up, shaking hands after a contentious moment, and kicking the ball out of bounds when someone on the other team is injured.  These moments remind us that even in an atmosphere of the fiercest competition, there always remains that human element, where brief shows of compassion are expected and as much as shows of great athleticism.

Chile’s Jean Beausejour scored the team’s third goal just before the game ended, and I was there to see it, and to be part of the room of fans, jumping up and down with a pride as if each one of them had personally participated in making the goal happen.

This is a great place to be for the World Cup.  I watched the US-Ghana match as well, this time at a bar with a huge group of Americans, and I have to say we did our country proud with face paint and noise, chanting extra loudly to make up for the fact that there were no car horns outside accompanying our yells. To both of my red, white and blue teams: I couldn’t be prouder, vamos Chile y vamos USA!

Visiting Santiago: Art and Peace

This has been a month of Santiago.  I’ve already been three times and intend to go a fourth before we head into June (yes time flies, no I don’t want to put a number on the amount of time I have left).  Twice were airport trips, to pick up and then drop off my boyfriend Brandon who just finished his study abroad in India.  The other was a class field trip, on which Brandon got to come along.  It was for my CIEE class, which is a history, film and literature course about Valparaíso.  Since we have talked a bit about Pablo Neruda, the iconic poet with a great affinity for Valparaíso’s ocean and way of life, we went to visit La Chascona, a home he built for his lover and future wife, Matilde Urrutia.  In the afternoon we visited the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, devoted to the 1973 coup d’etat and subsequent dictatorship under General Pinochet.

There is a lot of background knowledge about Chilean history that I have picked up in my classes and just by living here, and so that combined with the language barrier made me into a sort of interpreter for Brandon.  We were visiting Neruda’s house because he was not just a poet, he was an activist and politician whose life was tied closely to the history of the country and whose death followed less than a month after the coup.  We learned that his funeral turned into the first protest against the new regime, and we learned more about the Winnipeg, a boat in which Neruda helped transport 2,200 Spanish refugees from France to Valparaíso.

Neruda was communist, but regardless of one’s political leaning, his outlook on poetry as an “act of peace” can inspire us all.  Poetry, and other forms of art, are dangerous to dictators and are frequently the first things to be suppressed, censored, and burned.  Especially during the first part of Pinochet’s dictatorship, the country saw the assassination, kidnapping, and exile of some of its most famous artists and musicians.  Discussions of art and politics are frequently inseparable.  To me, this is an expression of the importance of artists, whether or not their work is political.  We should never take our artists for granted, nor our own ability and freedom to create art.

The Ramona Parra Brigade is a group of Chilean muralists who were forced underground with the beginning of Pinochet’s rule.  As the began to paint once more, their slogan was “Contra la dictadura pintaremos hasta el cielo!” or, “We’ll paint against the dictatorship until we reach heaven!”  It’s a sentiment that makes me want to pick up a paintbrush.

Here is where I dance and run

In my “Conversational Spanish and Chilean Culture” class we just started a unit on contemporary Chilean music, which essentially means that going out to concerts counts as homework (at least according to me).  I went to two concerts in the past week – LaSmala, a band composed of members from Chile, Spain, Brazil, and other countries with a very lively and fun sound, and then a concert at the Municipal Theater in Valparaíso that was raising money for the rebuilding efforts for the fire.  I got there a little late and missed the first band’s set, but watched Dënver play from the upper balcony and then managed to get let in to the downstairs portion so that we could dance in front of the stage for Los Ases Falsos and Astro.  Five bucks for three good bands, an array of funky cartoons and videos they played between the sets, contributing to a good cause, and seeing some of the music that we discuss in class performed live.

Examples, if you want to hear what a couple Chilean songs sound like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGCwdhR_Wqk and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9XuEOHuMu4.  Warning: that second one is liable to get stuck in your head.

Along with dancing, I’ve been trying to incorporate a bit more physical activity into my days.  There are many streets in my neighborhood that I have never had any particular reason to walk down, and so now I am exploring them on my runs.  These runs have taken me to rundown houses with broken car motors in the front yard and loud, territorial stray dogs to faded large houses with walled gardens and surprisingly small, yappy strays.  The hills around here can be brutal, but most of the streets have very little car traffic and the weather is perfect right now, with overcast days slowly taking over for sunny ones.  I love how with runs, the purpose is rarely to get to a destination the most direct way; it is to get there the longer and more interesting way.  So far I have never ended up getting to where I planned to go, and that’s been just fine.

South and further South

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I wrote a bit about the fire in my last post.  It ended up being huge, supposedly the largest in the city’s history, with fifteen people dead and between 2000 and 3000 homes destroyed.

When the fire happened, I already had bus tickets to go to the island of Chiloé with a couple of friends for Holy Week.  I left for a long weekend trip and after nearly two weeks, many changes of plans, and a beautiful adventure later I have made it home.

Chiloé was a quiet little place in its low season with some rain, some knock-your-socks-off cuisine, and a beautiful coastline dotted with little towns famous for their churches.  It was perfect soup weather, and so we slurped up broths with mussels, clams, eel, salmon, beef, chicken, and indiscernible other meats and seafood, garnished usually with lemon, cilantro, and a spicy pepper.  We also had the famed curanto, a preparation of seafood, meat, and potatoes that is cooked in the ground, and chupe de mariscos, a kind of cheesy seafood casserole that would have alone made the journey worth it.  Later, on one of the many bus rides I would take, I met some other travelers who had also eaten this dish, and we had the same speechless reaction, relating to one another through gestures the powerful experience that is this food.

After a few nights of town-hopping and one night camping in the National Park, we took the bus/ferry combination back to Puerto Montt, the big city of the area.  My friends had missed their bus and I had decided I didn’t want to go home yet, so we spent the night there in a funny little hostel where the owner gave us a discounted price saying it only included a bed, a towel, and a shower.  When we brought back some potato tortillas from a mini market nearby and asked to heat up some water for tea, she gave us a stern look and said “A bed, a towel, and a shower.  No cooking!”  Then softened a little, telling us we could microwave it if we liked.

We spent the day in Puerto Varas, a very touristy town close by on the gorgeous Lake Llanquihue, and then got back in time to part at the bus terminal.  We had spent so much money on lunch that I elected to eat carrots for dinner, which ended up making my gums bleed after a bit, but I was so absorbed in a book of mythology I’d found that the discomfort didn’t bother me.

The next morning I flew south to Puerto Natales, and met up with a different set of friends a day later.  We bought food, rented the gear we needed, made dinner, and spent the night in our hostel before waking up bright and early for the 7:30 bus to the Torres del Paine National Park.

This place was astonishing.


We only had two nights, not long enough to do the full W Circuit, but we cut off one of the legs of the W and had a grand old time, enjoying surprising amount of sunshine, more food than we could get through, some amazing fall foliage and glacier sightings, all capped off by waking up the second morning before dawn in a light snowfall to hike and see the Torres.IMG_5042We actually got off the path by accident due to the snow and early morning light, ending up on top of that ridge to the left rather than down by the lake, but no one was injured and we had quite the view of the sunrise, with a big old Andean Condor swooping around us no less.

Honestly I feel like things went almost too well that trip, and aside from some encounters with mice in our food and Australians in our campsite, all was free of those misfortunes that make up a story and instead we had a journey full of the most incredible beauty.

Oh, and I’m kidding about the Australians; Brad and Elise were lovely campground buddies.  My days were constantly brightened by people I met along the way, from the travelers I shared hostels with, to locals helping me out with the bus schedule, to the traveling businessman who came up to me as I was toweling off from a dip in the Strait of Magellan to tell me how impressed he was and with whom I ended up spending the rest of the day with, as he happened to be on my flight and like me wanted to see a bit more of Punta Arenas before leaving.  I spent the last 15 hours of my journey alone, entering Viña in a daze at around 11 am and hefting my backpack that last little ways up the hill to my house before showering, eating, and going to class.  It’s back to business as usual, with a bit of a sleep deficit and a few more fond memories to populate the grab bag of my mind.