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MIT student blogger Chris M. '12

The ________ Outdoors by Chris M. '12

What do you think goes in the blank?

Some people think MIT students as sun-hating organic calculators, whose only concept of the outdoors is an item that is outside the mathematical set “inside”. But that’s not (entirely) true. In fact, there’s a group on campus called the MIT Outoors Club that caters to the surprisingly numerous students who enjoy the outdoors and travel.

If there’s one passion I’m glad I’ve been afforded the opportunity to develop at MIT, it’s Munchkin traveling. Something about clearing security (no small feat, especially for an MIT student), settling onto the plan and watching the ground fall off beneath the plane is exhilarating to me. It makes me feel free and independent and refreshed, even though I always get (un)lucky enough to have an infant within a 3 foot radius who’s extremely unhappy to be sitting so close to me. I even love it when things go terribly wrong and I wind up staying overnight in a terminal, or sleeping in the trunk of my car trapped on the road in 8 degree weather because there’s 4 inches of solid ice covering the road and everything around it. It’s the lack of humdrum “know-what’s-gonna-happen” that keeps it interesting. Traveling always feels like an adventure to me, and if there’s one thing I love more than science and engineering, it’s Munchkin adventure. And this year has been crammed full like my carry-on.

In fact, I just returned from a trip that hopscotched the US, including Oregon, California, and Texas along the way. It’s pretty easy to convince me to go somewhere, and in fact it all started when my friend Michelle said “you should come to Oregon”. After practically no deliberation, I booked my tickets and flew out of Boston hot on the heels of a long, terrible night of pseudopacking. Packing is in fact the exact opposite of traveling. When you travel, you move around and enjoy the simple things you have. When you pack, you stay where you are and hate all the excess stuff you’ve got.

Anyway, not long after finishing my last final, I was landing in Portland and being greeted by my good friends/family (framily?) who let me live in their house while I’m there and put up with my intense but baffling love of complicated technology and the rugged outdoors. My friend Michelle put together an entire comprehensive schedule of activities. She loves scheduling. I seriously think the schedules when to schedule, a recursive paradox that somehow she escapes. It wasn’t long before we loaded up her station wagon with camp gear and two more friends and set out for the great outdoors! Upon arrival, we threw our campsite together and got to work on our first camp dinner: pizza.

You heard me right, we cooked a pizza on a campfire. And guess what? It was delicious. We wrapped it in foil and put it on the grill and waited for what looked like a giant space-burger to cook long enough for us to feel reasonably safe eating it. Sure it took way way longer than the packaging said, but you know what? I didn’t see anyone else out there eating pizza. Though to be fair, I didn’t see anyone else out there, but that’s not the point.

The next morning I woke up, went running, and struggled to build a fire for breakfast with very wet wood and little tinder. Since we didn’t have an axe, I wound up using some rocks to bang on the bigger logs like a chimp in a lab until I made a crack large enough for me to squeeze my hands into and split a log with my bare hands. I instantly grew a beard afterward. Unfortunately, Michelle was less impressed with me than I was (always the case) because the result of breakfast taking so long meant that we were running behind schedule for the days activities. Now considering we were booked to visit a big cat wildlife park and the redwood forest, you can see why you wouldn’t want to be late, but we managed to rearrange our itinerary and do everything we planned.

Now I have to confess, when we stopped at “Great Cats World Park” and saw a few habitats with some large cats, I thought it was one of those highway robbery places you see on billboards like ‘Idaho’s Largest Potato” or “The Creature That DEFIES Explanation!” But our guide came out and explained to us that the company ran a business for photographers and filmmakers taking the cats out to their natural locations and taking pictures or videos without them being quite as dangerous. That made it make so much more sense, and I really enjoyed seeing all the different and rare cats the park was able to show us.

After a non-trivial amount of time in the gift shop, we headed further south for the Redwood forest just over the California border. As far as the outdoors go, I’m hands down a “mountains-and-forest” kind of guy, but the giant sequoias make a compelling case for themselves. You can look at pictures, but you simply cannot truly appreciate the sheer mass of these trees unless you see them for yourself. It’s an absolutely unreal experience walking around trees older than the country and thicker than cars. Feels a bit like the set of Avatar, if it had a set, that is.

Once we returned to camp and bought some cheap, dry firewood, we ran into a small situation. Or a few thousand. Falling from the sky.

Actually, I should take a moment to clarify that camping means different things to different people. To me, the rougher, the better and the rain only made the experience that much greater. Others in our party were less fond of it, and I’m pretty sure thought I was irritatingly crazy for not wanting to pack up and leave. We roughed it out though. Unfortunately a few sleeping bags didn’t weather the weather in the driest of ways, and an unfortunate soul in one of those bags had plenty of time to rethink whether or not they really meant “the rougher the better” when they said it, because there wasn’t much sleeping going on. I’m still baffled by how a fairly small puddle can suck all the heat out of your body, but maybe that’s a question Thermal Fluids (2.005) can answer in the fall.

Dawn showed up eventually and no one was dead, which in my mind constitutes a good day, so we packed up our things and left for the beach.

Wow, that’s quite an entry I’ve got going on, so I think I’ll stop here for now and continue in another entry. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got a plane to catch headed for DC this weekend! Tune in next week!

16 responses to “The ________ Outdoors”

  1. You continue to produce wonderfully lively writing, Chris–a surefire way for me to get distracted from my job! Sam and I spent a few wonderful days in May driving from San Francisco to Coos Bay, Oregon and back. It was my first time seeing the redwoods, Douglas firs, Bishop firs, etc. and I entirely understand your awe. OR is like no other state I’ve visited.

    Stay cool in DC.

  2. Nicolas says:

    The lifestyle you have developed out of MIT never ceases to fascinate me; you make things seem psychedelic, if I may.
    -.-
    U your excused.

  3. Michael says:

    Out of curiosity, is it warmer to sleep in the trunk of the car than in the cab? Because if you freeze to death, they might never find you. Just a heart-warming thought.

  4. Pushpendra says:

    @Chris….You & Snively are the most amazing bloggers in MIT.. smile

  5. souradip says:

    hi there.. i m souradip mitra from india. i m a final year student in computer science and engg. i would like to pursue my masters at MIT. what are my chances??

  6. genius ('18) says:

    Wow…very boyscoutic adventure!
    What is (a)Munchkin?
    have fun in DC!
    ReCaptcha: rambler of

  7. Hey Chris…sorry we missed you. Sounds like you guys had fun! Next time you’re in Oregon be sure to stop by…our door is always open to you and your friends…even if Michael isn’t here!

  8. Anne says:

    Hi Souradip,

    Go to http://www.eecs.mit.edu/grad/ for info about admission to the CS grad program. They don’t do masters-only admission for students from outside MIT Course VI, so you’ll be applying to the doctoral program, where they’re looking for students eager to do academic research. It’s *extremely* competitive for international applicants with international bachelors, as they get hundreds of such applicants for a fairly small number of spaces.

    MIT Course VI undergraduates can the do five-year combined bachelors/masters degree called MEng, btw.

  9. Ryan says:

    ReCapcha: Prank 1970

  10. MIT Student says:

    It’s called the MIT Outing Club (MITOC). An amazing opportunity at MIT!

  11. genius ('18) says:

    The “Munchkin” is MITOC?
    Or am I missing something here?

  12. Amethyst says:

    @genius (’18)–I believe Chris’ reference to Munchkin may be an allusion to the popular boardgame, “Munchkin”; if so it adds a wonderful note of bathos to this entire post… Correct me if I’m wrong, Chris!

    I love love love your writing. smile Most of my middle school years were spent reading Gary Paulsen’s “Hatchet” series, watching British Archaeology/survival shows, and exploring our inordinately large yard/garden/forest in England, and I too love traveling. Hope there’s an outdoors club where I go this fall…(will have to watch out for deer ticks, though!)

    PS Unrelated question: Ok, so I’m working on picking out courses for my college the next few days. I’m taking Chemistry and Calculus, but if I’m looking to make a transfer attempt at MIT next year, would it make more sense for me to take Physics, Biology, or a computer course in the Engineering school? ALL of the four core sciences at Vandy are two-semester, which is different from MIT, I think, and means a little less flexibility. Also, I am required to take a freshman writing seminar (hopefully the one on either Cryptography or Humans and Cyborgs in German Fiction and Film, space allowing, lol) for one semester. I’m wondering–if by some amazing chance I did get in TA, which ones would I be more likely to potentially lose credit for? I want to take all of them eventually anyway, just for my own interests, but I’m trying to figure out which ones I should take *now*…can anybody help me with this question?

    Gracias!

  13. Anonymous says:

    this is kind of a weird question, but how many people order the bedding sets that they send a thing in the mail about?

  14. '14 says:

    is it useful to get solution manuals for textbooks? are practice problems from textbooks assigned or is it just psets?
    THANKKKKKKKKSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!

  15. -- says:

    i am not ordering the bedding set. try target.

  16. Ph.j says:

    @Anne
    Could you please also tell me If i can apply in MIT’s aero-astro for Masters, I am an undergrad student in electronics & communication, m from India too.