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I'm on Top of the World
I had been craving an adventure.
As I looked out over the mountain, I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. For the first time in my life, I felt proud to have been able to leave the block and explore the world. All my life, I’ve felt as though I was tied down to the same 10 mile radius around my neighbourhood, and was never able to explore the outside world. I felt this way because once you’re born into this community, you usually end up staying here without ever having a chance to get out. I once dreamed of being able to visit another state, but my momma always told me that we didn't have enough money, and so I made it my mission to save up all the money I could in order to take a trip to nearby Virginia.
“Daquan, get your black ass over here, boy,” said my mom as she cleaned the dishes.
“What do you want, momma,” I replied.
“Didn’t I already tell you to help you brother with his homework” yelled my mom.
After school, I walked the same four miles to the nearby grocery store to start my 8 hour shift. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I’d be able to borrow my friends’ bike if I was short on time, to avoid being late for work. To put this into perspective, not many people in my neighbourhood had even been to downtown Baltimore to explore our very own city. Hugo, my best friend at the time, had always been there for me, and so, when I told him of my idea to visit another state, he asked if he could come along. He was the one person in my neighbourhood who truly understood
all the family issues I was dealing with at home, but also my dreams of exploration.
“You got any room for me to come with you?” asked Hugo as he tied his shoe.
“Yeah you can come, but you gotta raise your own money” I responded.
“How much will I need?” asked Hugo as he got up.
“You gonna need 200 dollars,” I said.
Every night, before I went to sleep, I’d count up all the money I’d been stuffing under my bed, and every week that went by, I got closer and closer to my goal of 200 dollars. Surprisingly, I was able to keep my money hidden well enough so that if my siblings went into my room, it would be impossible to find. Despite the overwhelming effort it took to acquire this money, it felt more than worth it because I’d finally be able to explore a place other than South Baltimore.
To be totally honest, I hated my job. My boss was an egocentric maniac, and my fellow employees were all outsiders who did not understand the condition of life around here. Finally, after two months of saving up, Hugo and I reached our goal and so, we decided to embark on a three day journey to Grayson County, Virginia. Before we could plan out how we’d spend our time there, we had to figure out a way to get there, which proved to be no easy task.
“Hey momma, you got any ideas on how we can get there?” I asked as I packed a bag.
“Just sign up for the bus downtown. I’m sure there's a bus going down there,” she said.
The next morning, Hugo and I headed downtown to sign up for the bus and luckily, there were 2 seats left on the bus going down to Grayson County.
“Bro, I’m actually nervous about this trip,” said Hugo.
“Don’t be a baby. You’ll be fine,” I said.
“I guess you’re right. I have nothing to worry about,” said Hugo as he quivered.
For the first time in either of our lives, we were to be away from the only place we’d ever known. Even though the two of us were 19 years old, it felt as though we were set to conquer a new world with the fears of a 10 year old. Neither of us knew what to expect, but we knew one thing: always expect the unexpected, especially when in new territory.
During the first hour of the ride, I couldn’t help but take notice of all the scenery around me. I had never even seen the outskirts of Baltimore, yet here we were, ready to take on a whole different landscape. Despite the rather slow traffic,the bus ride was still peaceful, and rather soothing. After the fourth hour, all I could hear was Hugo's’ grumbling stomach, and the sound of the bathroom toilet constantly flushing. Ew, it was gross!
After nearly six hours on that bus, Hugo and I arrived to the small town in Virginia. What surprised us the most was that this town sat at the bottom of a 6000 foot mountain, and yet, the tallest thing we’d ever seen was the 30 story apartment we both lived in. Luckily, the hotel was a short five minute walk from the bus terminal. As we approached the hotel, I looked over to Hugo and noticed his eyes light up at the sight of this building. Moreover, his exact words were “I love this place already”, even though he hadn’t stepped foot inside yet.
The next morning, we decided that we were going to get to the top of the mountain before the end of the trip, and that we were going to finally look down on the world, rather than having it look down on us. Later on in the day, we proceeded to ask one of the locals approximately how long it would take to hike all the way to the top. It took us nearly 20 minutes to find a local that seemed willing enough to help two African-American boys with directions. As I approached the man, I took notice of his Martin Luther King Jr. poster that hung from the door of his shed.
“Excuse me sir, but do you know how long it would take to hike to the summit of Mount Rogers at walking pace?” I asked politely.
“For you young boys, I’d say around 2-3 hours without breaks,” he calmly replied.
The next morning started with the two of us waking up at five am for an early morning swim before beginning our hike up the mountain at 8. As Hugo stepped into the frigid water, he couldn’t help but scream in excitement, for he felt connected to the environment around him. The beauty of our surroundings captivated us both, and I could’ve sworn I saw more trees there in 1 minute than I ever did in all of Baltimore.
“Hugo, we gotta get going, man. I’m tryna get to the top before it gets too hot,” I said.
“I’ll be ready in a minute. Quit stressing, bro,” he yelled.
We started the hike up the mountain at 8:30 in the morning while the temperature was neither too hot, nor too cold. Along the way up, we couldn't help but take breaks every now and then just to examine the landscape. The higher the elevation, the less oxygenated the air was, which made it tough to breathe on the mountain. I could feel the needles of the pine tree as we brushed up against the edge of the trail, and towards the light shining through the trees. The only thing either of us could smell at the time was the smoke from a barbeque close-by.
To my surprise, we even stumbled upon a garter snake, which scared the living crap out of Hugo. Not only did we take hundreds of pictures, but we also decided that once we got back home, we’d make a photo album of the trip. It would be titled, The Chronicles of the Outdoors.
At 11 am, Hugo and I finally made it to the summit of Mount Rogers, and the feelings were surreal. I could feel the change in altitude because it became harder to breathe, and my lips became chapped. The higher we got, the more Hugo grunted, and struggled to take full breaths.
“We finally made it, homie. Feels weird to be up here,” shrieked Hugo.
“Yeah I feel you, it's crazy to be looking at the world from 6000 feet,” I responded.
“We’re just like any other kid on this planet, so why is life tougher for us?” he asked.
“I wish I could give you an answer,” I responded as I poured water on my face.
Now that we made it to the top, I was finally able to just sit down. As I ate an energy bar, I couldn’t help but wonder why none of us inner city Baltimore kids got the chance to explore the world we live in. Maybe it was because we didn’t have enough money, or maybe it was because we were meant to be isolated from the rest of the world. As I dove deeper into this idea, I heard Hugo yelling that he had just seen a family of three deer! Truthfully speaking, this was the happiest I’d seen my best friend in a very long time. Ever since his dad passed away a few years ago, his life hasn’t been the easiest. On top of that, his mom has been battling stage 3 Ovarian Cancer for over two years, and unfortunately, the doctors do not think the chemotherapy will help the tumor shrink.
To both of us, this was the adventure that we had been searching for our whole lives. Not one with a predictable start and finish, but one where we could control all the variables just the way we wanted.
“Look at me, bro,” I said as I stepped onto the ledge.
“Look at what,” he replied.
“I’m on top of the world!” I screamed in excitement.
After an hour at the summit, we decided to head back down the mountain in order to catch the bus back home that night. Moreover, we had extra spending money, and so, we went to grab lunch at one of the restaurants in town. As I looked for a place, I took notice of someone that had a Confederate flag flying in their backyard. I couldn’t help but think of the man that had the Martin Luther King Jr. poster, and ponder what his reaction to this sight would be.
It took us nearly 20 minutes to find a McDonalds in the small town, and per usual, I ordered a double big mac, fries, a small sprite, and a mcflurry to top it all off. Hugo ordered the same thing except for that he chose to get a quarter pounder with cheese, and a small grape soda. We couldn’t help but go back to our old roots, even when in a new place.
Before we knew it, it was already time to say goodbye to Grayson County, and head to the bus terminal. On the way to the bus, Hugo and I each bought a small keychain that we could hang up in our rooms at home to remind us of this great memory. By the time we stepped onto the bus, I looked at my camera and realized that we took a whopping 213 pictures in the span of three days!
The bus departed Grayson County at 5pm that night, and to my surprise there were only 15 other people on the 50 person Greyhound bus. Hugo and I decided to each have our own row of seats so that we could lay down in comfortability. I sat in row 11, while Hugo sat one row ahead of me in row 10. For the first 30 minutes we just looked through all the pictures from the trip, and couldn’t help but burst into laughter every so often, much to the displeasure of the other passengers. This trip meant so much more than just two boys heading for an adventure. This trip was our way of proving to everyone that we can make it out of our neighbourhood, and into the real world.
We arrived back in South Baltimore at precisely 11:10 that night. As we boarded another bus, the South Baltimore transit bus, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic towards the trip. The memories that lasted three days would forever live in my mind, and in my life.
The moment I stepped through the door to my apartment, I felt my brother run up and grab my legs. This was when I realized it would all go back to reality. My life in South Baltimore would go back to they way it was before the trip, and back to the way it has always been.
At last, after a 7 hour journey, I was able to lay in the comfort of my bed. As I lay there, I contemplated Grayson County, and whether or not I’d ever want to go back. The answer was simple. Yes! Finally, I said goodnight to my family, and went to sleep.
I was exhausted.