personal

“Breakfast / Desayuno”

Whoa! I’m back!

It’s been a rough semester, and I haven’t had the time to blog until now, so I’ll try to compensate this unplanned hiatus by blogging more frequently than normal during the break.

Back when I had free time, I used to write short stories in my free time. I didn’t develop them well enough, but here’s to it… I just hope a future English professor doesn’t find this!

Breakfast / Desayuno
“Hija, cómetela!”
“Sí, mamá.”
Right before the microwave oven, who had a severe case of arthritis, popped out my cinnamon Pop Tarts, my older brother walked into our kitchen. We could barely fit in the closet-sized room–it was meant for three pairs of shoes, not people. A single lightbulb hanging down on a single copper wire flickered as we walked past each other in silence, already accustomed to bumping our heads. He grabbed a slice of pound cake. Seizing his weary, wrinkly backpack from the ground, Pedro startled it from its easy sleep and ran off to the high school two blocks down the street. “Don’t be like your hermano when you grow up,” my mother used to say. “Not even a word to his own mother todos los días!”
“Sí, máma.”
That day I had just started second grade. They said that I was the smartest one in my family, destined for great things outside of our dingy subdivision in East Harlem. They said that I wouldn’t have to beg the supermarket ladies to let us use our expired food stamps or eat Uncle Ben’s rice and canned beans for three weeks straight or have to be late to work because the buses weren’t running on time. With this hope, after brushing my teeth and putting on my uniform, I let mi mamá walk me to school.

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“Hija, cómetela!”
“No, mom. I’m already late!”
Now it was tenth grade. With much difficulty, I had tested into Stuyvesant High, some two hours away by subway. I rattled my way around the box for the last Pop Tart, still in its shiny wrapper napping comfortably, and gripped my backpack before slamming the door shut and hopping down the stairs two at a time, all while peeling away the wrapper and voraciously biting into the cinnamon filling. My mother, with a vacant look in her eyes, stared out the window onto our ever-so-familiar 132nd Street we knew and loved. Facing away from me, she always held her daily companion, a mug of watery coffee, and said not a single word for four years as I did this todos los días.

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“Hey, wanna grab a bite at the commons area?”
“Sure.” I shut my Macbook and went downstairs.
Maneuvering through the chairs pulled out, I swiftly headed toward the usual line, now snaking around the breakfast nook. It was a typical Saturday morning. Pajamas replaced the usual jeans and sweatshirts. Thick gusts of syrup and jelly circulated the room, and the old-fashioned heater in the middle smiled with his orange glow.
“The usual, Marcia?”
It was then that I noticed a new offering. Hiding in the very back of the kitchen, I could barely make out the blue box, coyly tucked behind some neon-green Nutri-grain bars. There he was–cinnamon pop tarts. My whole childhood, with Pedro and mi mamá and that pesky light bulb, flashed before my eyes.
“I’d like those pop-tarts, please.”
That night I called my mother for the first time. After a short pause, I spoke my first “hola” since I started college. My heart fluttered when I heard the tears streaming down her worn face, the wrinkles carved in stone now dancing in delight, smiling at the crackling sound of my familiar voice.
“Te extraño, hija.”

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It’s been three months since my mom moved to Florida, twenty since I graduated from college. When I got the word that she was nearing her end, I flew down to Miami immediately.
My flight was delayed for three hours, and when I got to Miami, my phone experienced the worst seizures in its life, all from phone calls from family members worried sick.
Some time later, I rush into her room straight out of a cab. The driver’s still yelling at me, insisting that I give him a tip.
She says nothing, her face a crossword of multifarious expressions and her body a raisin in the sun, and slowly lifts her hand up to reach for a box of dulce de leche Pop Tarts on top of her drawer. I carefully cut open the wrapper and place them into a brand-new microwave oven Pedro bought her the other day, just like how mi mamá tucked me into bed each night.
After a suspenseful few minutes, the oven, in its last call to duty, enthusiastically shouts out, “Ding!” My mother, hands shaking with every inch closer to the radiating oven, lifts out of that time machine the pastries of my long-gone years. Carefully, the capsules glide onto the small table next to the dense forest of translucent orange medication bottles. The brilliant rising sun beams down into my mother’s room, the effervescent scarlet and honey and fire heralding a new era.
Finally, with one last breath of air and a slight smile, my mother set her hands on her laps and forcefully whispers, “Hija, cómetela!”
“Sí, mamá.”
I couldn’t help but smile as well.

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personal

Pop! goes the bubble

I’ve lived in a bubble for most of my life–first in an Asian bubble in my old suburban town, then in my current top 1% community. This summer, I’ve had the chance to escape North Texas and headed for a camp down south near San Antonio.

The two weeks I have spent there were at first incredibly scary, as the prospect of a sea of strange faces daunted this little introvert. Out of my emotional destitution, I clung onto my classmates, who also went to my camp, like algae on a rock. I believed that I was inept at making new friends; others counselors’ smiles morphed into jeers in my mind.

However, as I slowly started to become weary of my old friends, my self-induced paralysis lost all its power over me. I started sitting next to new people during lunchtime and introduced myself. Through this, I found out that new doesn’t have to be bad, that familiar warmth can burn. I broke free from my own trap and stepped into the cold water whose waves were greeting me the whole time, nipping at my reluctant toes. The new friends I’ve made are similar to some of my friends here at home, but it’s nice to meet new people nevertheless.

The second week went by much smoother after I learned my lesson the week before. I immediately opened myself up to others and their weird inside jokes (which I also got into). Even though we were all counselors, we had two breaks throughout the day, and through these precious few hours, we got to know each other a bit too well. We shared ramen. We found a bucket of ice cream together and shared with everyone in the dining hall. We laughed. We cried. We learned to love one another.

One moment that I remember right now is the last few moments of my first week. The dining hall was filled up by a tortuous snake of eager counselors ready to feel some real AC. I pulled out a deck of playing cards that I stuck in my pocket since the first day of camp and asked someone I met the day before to play a game of cards with me. She called some of our fellow counselors, and we settled down and started to play gingerly. It wasn’t until fifteen minutes into the game that all the walls between us were finally smashed down; we let loose and ended up staying until the last of the last finally checked out for the week. It’s moments like these that I’ll keep in my pocket… along with a deck of cards.

 

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Reblog: “Canto on the Statistical Improbability of Happiness”

Good morning! Last night, as I was looking through the Internet for famous poems and speeches, I happened to stumble upon this poem written by a user, Peter Benoit, on the website allpoetry.com

I’d just like to share this poem, as it deftly weaves through the realities of the multifaceted gem we call happiness.

Enjoy!

“It’s far from evenly distributed
This cherished thing I’ve come here to describe
And if my research has contributed

One little bit to insight in your tribe
I’ll have improved the little life of man
So take a moment, if you will, subscribe

To what I tell you and my master plan:
The thing that we’ll henceforth call happiness
Is rare indeed and in the finite span

Of life is felt perhaps ten times or less ―
And maybe most of them in younger years.
It does not understand the numberless

And suffocating presence of the fears
That come to choke our crippled conscious hours.
This wondrous thing, a rarity, appears

In newborn baby’s cry, and nuptial flowers,
When we are recognized for what we do
And love the best, but just as soon it sours

And disappears, and it is only through
The miracle of memory and dreams
We take our starveling world and fill it new.

When we examine closer still it seems
That happiness is merely an oasis,
Or like the little bubbles on a stream

Where breathless minnows come to press their faces,
Because a breathless thing must pant and live
Before it swims away to other places.

Why would a loving Providence not give
A greater quota of this precious thing?
Or better yet, why not let it outlive

The much more common daily scorns and stings?
Instead, it comes unheralded and swells
The breast of life itself, but only clings

The barest second. It must live in wells
That we redrill because they have run dry;
It seems so long between the rainy spells.

A practiced statistician might apply
The apt analogy of Benford’s law
And I will not, as one of them, deny

There is some truth in it, but there’s a flaw:
Although the greater measure’s laid in youth
Before we find that we must strive and claw

Our way sometimes, when we are long in tooth
It still may like some hooded cobra rise
From depths whence it is piped and charmed, and sooth,

Thrust out its tongue and hiss with ancient eyes
That pierce the very pillar of our soul
Before it disappears again and dies

And yet these ten encounters make us whole.
So I conclude that happiness is rare
And yet at that it plays a vital role

In which more common sadness has its share.
We bottle not, but drink it from a stream.
And though we’re thirsty it is everywhere.

Why we can even find it in a dream
But it is gone before we’re woken up.
Sometimes it’s there for us to drink it seems
But fools we are forget to bring a cup.”

full link: https://allpoetry.com/poem/12200728–Canto-on-the-Statistical-Improbability-of-Happiness–by-peterbenoit1

personal, time capsule

*KD Dallas–Singin’ the SAT Blues

Karen Dillard’s College Prep–THE SAT, ACT, and college preparation company that’s been in the DFW area for more than 20 years now. A staple in the eyes and ears of the blessed children of Plano, Dallas, Colleyville, and Frisco. The ubiquitous yellow binders signify an era of intense competition in the noxious college app environment, the pervasive anxiety in middle-class circles, and the indelible socioeconomic inequality in the US that starts from the womb and ends at the grave.

It’s been around a month since the KD Dallas office closed. I started going to this location since the summer prior to freshman year. Although it seems ironic that I’ve developed such an attachment to this tiny elitist prison (Lilliputian doesn’t even begin the description of each room), I have made new friends, both peers and teachers. I’ve matured mentally here, grown up here; and learned just a bit too much about the state of standardized testing here. At this turning point, I’d like to take a wandering stroll down Memory Lane for a second or two.

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My first day is hard to remember. It all started out with the view from the picture below. The “Command Central” consists of two to three people standing at the front desk ready to help, albeit usually talking amongst themselves most of the time. (This desk seems cute in comparison to Plano’s.) On that fateful day, I coincidentally saw two of my classmates, which helped soothe my nerves. After getting set up, I headed down the hallway shown below to my first ever experience here: orientation, which took way too long for a restless middle-schooler. Workshops? Practice Tests? Classes?? Vocab “lab???” I felt even more enervated. All I could do was read each email KD sent me over and over again. I hoped for the best.

Unexpectedly, I did receive the best. That summer I started classes at KD. They were rather uneventful; however, the school year brought new friendships with the instructors and strengthened old ones with classmates from school. Sometimes after workshops, my friends and I would go to Subway, where we would laugh and talk until our parents grew antsy and picked us up.

Sophomore year came along; these are the times that I remember most clearly. I got to know more of my instructors even better and gradually began to joke around with the “command central” (i.e. front desk) workers and even directors. Waking up early Saturday mornings to eat breakfast at the nearby Einstein’s and later to attend two-hour workshops and became a part of my weekly routine.

One day, I was mindlessly working on the vocab lab, which I had already completed through once, when I bumped into one of my closest friends–surely enough, as in a chain reaction so familiar to us chem geeks (we met in freshman chemistry), more and more of my classmates started to come to KD as well (probably just part of the mold we’re subjected to in HP)! I realized that workshops were so much more bearable with friendly smiles, so we created a group text to coordinate our attack on the SAT. The hours spent in this prison (Exhibit A: grey-painted brick on the interior) turned around from near dread to delight.

(Side note: this place reeks with the stench of the classic SAT: the restrooms are decorated with erudite vocabulary words that high school students used to memorize. Glad those days are over!)

 And here we come to this day, a new leaf has turned… or more accurately, has moved twenty miles north into the heart of Texas-sized suburbia. Ever since the Dallas KD location closed, I’ve been stuck at the Plano location–a giant icebox full of teenagers on the brink of bawling out the next Biblical flood, according to one of my Dallas instructors who moved with me to Plano. (A note about the temperature: when I say it’s freezing, I mean you could store ice cream and it wouldn’t melt. In each room, the AC is cranking out a cool 60 degrees, and a ceiling fan AND sometimes a side fan are on full power. If they paid less for their energy bills, maybe we could pay less as well!) Every so often I get to see a familiar face: ANYONE from Dallas I welcome with a smile, greeting, or even a warm hug. It’s hard to find sane people in that strip mall, but we’ll deal (hopefully) until the end of this year.

To end on a positive note, I have met some amazing and über-qualified teachers, whose professional experience ranges from copy editor to mechanical engineer, some of whom have been teaching for decades now. I’ve met even more great people on my test prep journey… and perhaps a penguin here and there.

-MX

Note: Some of my favorite teachers include: the WS game lady who lowkey got fired and who I saw at Einstein’s more than once; Bryn, whom I am friends with on Snapchat and who carries a sizzling watermelon purse; York, the one and only chill teddy-bear; Donna, my lovely Southern jean-jacket wearing snail; Debby, the one with no chill whatsoever; Michael Wang, who’s lowkey intimidating 🙂

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*Sophomore Reflections

It’s been two weeks since school ended and a week of Latin summer school completed; now is a good transition–a time to reflect on what happened this last year at HP.

First impressions? The most conspicuous difference from freshman year to sophomore year was the addition of AP courses. I took four this year (Biology, Chemistry, Calculus, and World History), which wasn’t as bad I thought it would be. Along the way I’ve met great teachers who go beyond what is called for in order to instill a newfound understanding and appreciation of the classes they’re teaching: Mr. Sanders made sure we were awake first period by telling the most *dad* puns I’ve ever heard in my life, Ms. Leediker roasted us from the first core lab (which actually involved a titration, so it’s not exactly biology) and never stopped, Mr. Chuang burnt sugar on fire for us in Chemistry, and Dr. Wright greeted our Calc BC class with a smile every day. The teachers in my life have continued to make a difference in all of the students’ lives (including me!) and have inspired me to give back to my community as they have. I’m now interested in taking a few classes in history or linear algebra two years form now in college, even though it has nothing to do with my planned major (biophysics? biochemistry? chemistry? something like that).

Another wonderful addition to my life this past year was participating in my school’s U.S. Academic Decathlon program, endearingly referred to as “AcDec.” AcDec was another very conspicuous addition to my already-hectic schedule (I only go home at 3:30 on Fridays >__<). On top of Monday afternoon meetings that regularly go to 5, AcDec required me to read at least 1 to 2 hours a day outside of other homework from my other classes. On top of all of this, the overarching topic was “India,” something I knew next to nothing about (I probably know more about you than I did about India before this year!) However, I can say that I’ve truly enjoyed every minute absorbing more foreign culture than I could’ve ever hoped for (except Social Science: that was a pain). I also memorized a painfully-awkward speech, wrote numerous bland essays that somehow scored well, and took part in interviews with deceptively-friendly faces. The best I got out of this program so far is definitely the new friends I’ve made for a lifetime! I’ve never met such a concentrated group of smart and funny people in my life. Go Decathletes!

This was also my first full year of Student Council (last year I was stuck in Latin most of the time). Every day I looked forward to meeting with this lovely bunch, especially the freshmen (freshmen!!?! We’re supposed to avoid them like the plague, but some of them are better than what you’d think). We started and supported many projects, old and new, especially Project Purple, which seeks to reduce alcohol and drug use among the high schoolers in our community. I’m also really proud that we’ve paired up with many wonderful organizations, some of which have been started by HP alumni, including Bonton Farms, Project Starfish, and One Million 4 Anna. What I enjoyed the most was my “family,” composed of two seniors (our “moms”), one junior, two sophomores, and one freshmen. We got to eat off-campus and hang out, and I’ve never felt so carefree and relaxed. I’ll hold these memories dear to me for a lifetime!

A last note about the club with the most explosions: Applied Science Club. To be honest, initially, I was afraid the hours I spent on my cathode ray tube would be wasted, time that could have been spent on AcDec (I’m totally not a nerd..psh…). Instead, opening myself up to the club and its members have been wise choices, as I’ve gained hands-on knowledge on building my own gadgets and have had some interesting, memorable experiences.


Finally, less formal than a school organization or club, my “squads” have been there for me! I loved solidifying our bonds and making a few new friends as well–they make life in high school much better than it seems. They’re glial cells to my axons, peanut butter to my jelly, vitamin D to my calcium. Graduation was especially bittersweet, as in a few months, I won’t see some of my best friends lurking the hallways of this high school anymore. One senior said to me, “See you in the afterlife,”… I hope to see them before that!

P.S. I’ve just thought of another observation: compared to last year, even though this year’s teachers were fantastic, I still feel that I haven’t connected as much with my classmates, teachers, and courses. I distinctly remember one day in second semester of WHAP that I thought to myself, “When will I stay becoming conformable with this class? I still feel like it’s the first day of school.” Maybe it was just the unadulterated fascination with high school as a freshman last year… all I hope for next year is a renewed sense of belonging.

opinion

Fahrenheit 451: Some Burning Thoughts

For the most part, reading books for English class may be described as a chore, a redundancy, or a task to be pushed to the night before the test. Sometimes, it may not even occur at all, thanks to our trustworthy buddy Sparknotes, who still thinks themes are three-word phrases. But I read every book assigned to me, sometimes to delight, sometimes to disdain; this time, my latest book to read was Fahrenheit 451, a canon of American literature, the pièce de résistance of the acclaimed author Ray Bradbury. Thus, I have already read it two times before this year, but, as all of my English teachers say, every time one re-reads a book, one will spot something different. This time, I fell in love with Bradbury’s mastery of stringing together just the right words…

From page one I realized how delicate and poised the language is. Bradbury artfully ties together unique similes, beautiful metaphors, and engaging dialogue. I don’t drag my eyes, I prance from line to line in delight, my mind spinning around as I absorb the beauty that lies between the lines of prose; I find poetry of the imagination, paintings from my memory, sightings from my perspective.

Some examples:

“This book has pores. It has features… You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion… So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless” (79).

“The way the clouds moved aside and came back, and the way the stars looked, a million of them swimming between the clouds, like the enemy disks, and the feeling that the sky might fall upon the city and turn it into chalk dust, and the moon go up in red fire” (88).

“Mildred ran from the parlor like a native fleeing an eruption of Vesuvius. Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles came through the front door and vanished into the volcano’s mouth with martinis in their hands. Montag stopped eating. They were like a monstrous crystal chandelier tinkling in a thousand chimes, he was their Cheshire cat smiles burning through the walls of the house” (89).

“[T]he old man would go on with this talking and this talking, drop by drop, stone by stone, flake by flake… [H]e would not be Montag any more, this old man told him, assured him, promised him. He would be Montag-plus-Faber, fire plus water, and then, one day, after everything had mixed and simmered and worked away in silence, there would be neither fire nor water, but wine… And one day he would look back upon the fool and know the fool” (99).

“There was a crash like the falling parts of a dream fashioned out of warped glass, mirrors, and crystal prisms. Montag drifted about as if still another incomprehensible storm had turned him” (108).

“It [the house] bedded itself down in sleepy pink-gray cinders and a smoke plume blew over it, rising and waving slowly back and forth in the sky… the great tents of the circus had slumped into charcoal and rubble and the show was well over” (111).

“Montag caught it with a bloom of fire, a single wondrous blossom that curled in petals of yellow and blue and orange” (114).

Also invigorating were the connections I made with myself and my world; the dystopian society lacking in any depth at all, seems too close to home. In the fictional setting of the novel, Americans no longer read any print material; instead, housewives fill their time with interacting with their “parlor families,” displayed on all four screens in its own room. Cacophonic and vapid, the parlors allow not an iota of thought, for it’s simply responding to the prompt given. Likewise in today’s society, we have become more vacuous, constantly focusing on the newest cat video or latest meme to break through.
Instead of pondering, thinking, wondering, we are tweeting, snapping, and browsing. Sooner or later, we may become like the insipid simpletons found in F451, a scary thought to behold.

 

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Alaska ’16

This past April, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Alaska for USAD Nationals. Although the competition itself was also exciting (I met fellow decathletes from around the world, all of whom were very nice), the few days we spent before and after the actual testing days were most invigorating.

“The Last Frontier:” Right from arrival, I could feel the majestic land living up to this state nickname. I first noticed that my cell signal was provided by GCI, a company unique to Alaska, and not the typical T-Mobile (however, sometimes T-Mobile showed instead). Second, there are operating Blockbusters in Alaska! In 2016!!!

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The afternoon after our arrival, our team took a “wilderness trip” to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. As the age-old adage goes, the journey is more important than the destination; it definitely applied to this trip! The breathtaking Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm (named as such when one of Captain Cook’s fellow explorers was disappointed in the dead end and decided to turn again) kept me awake–monstrous mountains jutting right out of the ocean spanning miles, further than the eye can behold, a fierce rain slamming against our poorly-dressed bodies, the deadly coolness and stillness lingering in the air–brought out a distinct first impression of Alaska.

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Guiding us was Kevin, a very knowledgeable Wisconsinite (albeit without the adorable accent that typically accompanies), who definitely treated us kinder than the weather! (Fun fact: Prior to guiding tours, he was a German teacher.) From him I learned that the murkiness of the waters wasn’t from light effects or typical sediment, but rather from a special glacial silt that inhabits the Cook Inlet and its many arms and sells for high prices due to its cosmetic effects. He also told us about the best restaurants in Anchorage, including the Moose’s Tooth, Simon Seaforts, and Crow’s Nest, the restaurant on top of Hotel Captain Cook that used to be the only establishment in the area to require a dress code. The drive was fun and informative, a combination the world needs more of. Even though the sun was not to be seen behind all the grey clouds and dreary rain, Kevin shone on.

As any Discovery Channel junkie may know, there are a plethora of shows filming out of Alaska, and those of us in the lower 48 most want to see large wild animals when we are watching about Alaska. Therefore, it comes to no surprise that Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet was filming the day we came to the center, and so we were the only general visitors admitted. No wonder the animals seemed extra lethargic–there were no innocent tourists to flaunt to!

We saw many different animals, some of whose names I can’t recall. My favorite by far was Hugo, the female grizzly bear. Even in this grim weather, she decided that she needed a mental health day and gave herself a nice bath in the stream.

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Later on in the week, at the Egan Convention Center, where all the testing and subjective events occurred, our team met Keith Cox, a professor at University of Alaska Southeast (UAS), alum of our high school and co-owner of Seafood Analytics, which tests seafood products for quality of fatty acids, how long the product will last on shelves, etc. It is the first company to offer such technology! He was actually an Interview judge for the competition, for which we are eternally grateful.

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After the competition was over, the Saturday and Sunday we had left was for natural excursions nearby, the most vivid of all being Flattop Mtn. At 3,510 feet, this mountain soars into the sky. Climbing this beast was quite the challenge, the most physical exercise I have exerted in years; through this experience, I’ve learned a few lessons…

  1. Life can become difficult unexpectedly: The first few minutes of the hike were relatively easy-going, with gentle slopes, cleared paths, and a cute husky trotting back and forth. However, after this portion came a steep hill that I chose to climb (who knows why). All of a sudden, tiny pellets of snow came hurling down forcefully, and the slippery snow on the ground was no help either. The howling wind ripped at my face, clawing and scratching… like a “hangry” toddler after his Cheerios spill. Nevertheless, I persevered, only to meet another, even-larger challenge ahead of me.
  2.  One can make life more difficult than necessary: As in the little knoll, on the actual mountain, I most certainly chose paths that others did not take–the snugly-placed footsteps were wooing me to walk away from my current path, but to no avail, as I was too far away from the beaten path. Thus, I continued, but it was truly painful, especially if you’re afraid of heights and barely hanging onto a near-90-degree-gradient cliff like me! Going down, I chose easier paths and had a better time climbing down… But, that isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy my way up. Sometimes the hardest paths are the most rewarding. I’d say, if I hadn’t taken such an arduous path up, I wouldn’t be writing this blogpost at all!
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  3. As true to the byline of my blog, take life one step at a time: on my way up Flattop, I couldn’t help but plan only my next few steps. It was painful to see so much ground ahead of me, but as I carefully managed to take the journey step-by-step, sooner than later, I reached the top of the peak, which took my breath away literally. 3,510 feet dwindled down to a few inches by using this technique.

As you can see, the trek was definitely worth it! These views will stick with me for a lifetime. I undoubtedly enjoyed my few days in our 49th state and hope to come back again.

Cheers,

MX