Hiking the PCT through California. Getting in-state status at UCLA. More crypto stuff. My 2022 in review.
It was sort of disorienting seeing so many of my friends graduate from college this year. After three years of not focusing too much on school, I seemed to have forgotten the reason that everyone else my age was still taking classes until graduation pictures started flooding my Instagram feed last May.
As for me, 2022 was not very academic. After enrolling at UCLA as a nonresident student in Fall 2021, I decided to take time off while remaining in California to work towards qualifying for in-state tuition.
From January to September, I worked various odd programming jobs, continued messing around in crypto, bounced between LA and SF visiting friends, and did a lot of bumming around in the California wilderness.
In September, after emailing back-and-forth with the residence deputy for four months, meticulously tracking the number of days I spent out-of-state for an entire year, and sending hundreds of pages of banking and financial documents, my petition for California residence classification was finally approved, and I re-enrolled at UCLA this most recent fall quarter.
My expected graduation date is Spring 2024, and now that I have resident status, I don’t plan on taking any more time off.
With that, this year truly feels like the end of one personal era — the work- and travel-oriented period of the past few years seeming to end now in a more enduring way than 2021’s temporary return to school — and the genuine beginning (commencement?) of a new one. The next few years for me are looking to be quite different from the last few, and I’m excited for what’s to come.
After spending three weeks in Pennsylvania for the winter holidays, I returned to California in early January.
Back in Los Angeles and once again no longer a full-time student, I made use of the extra time by starting a new contract gig with a decentralized finance protocol called Rari Capital, where I wrote code to connect the protocol’s website to smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain.
I also took some time to explore more of the nature around LA, hiking classic spots like Runyon Canyon and Griffith Park along with other nearby trails in the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains. Still close by, but slightly further away, I spent a weekend in January out on Catalina Island with my brother Hanson hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail, and it was some of the nicest backpacking I’ve ever done1
January seems like a perfect time to hike the Trans-Catalina: the temperature was neither too hot nor too cold, and it was sunny the entire weekend — in stark contrast to the backpacking trip we did a year earlier, in January 2021 in Shenandoah Park, when we camped on snow and endured two frigid nights on the Blue Ridge Mountains.× Close
Apart from nature, I also dabbled in some of the high culture that Los Angeles is famous for: I saw the Lakers play at Crypto.com2
I generally stayed put in Los Angeles during these months. I’d already spent three weeks away from California over the winter holidays, and the limit to qualify for in-state tuition at UCLA was six weeks out-of-state, so I tried my best to limit my travel.
I was honestly just curious how elections worked and it seemed like it could be fun, although it ended up being pretty boring; only about 25 voters showed up to the polling place I was working at.Mail-in ballots are automatically sent to every registered voter in California, so I’m assuming most people vote by mail nowadays.× Close
; then went to Denver for a week for ETHDenver, an Ethereum conference where I met many of my Rari Capital coworkers in person for the first time along with a bunch of other crypto friends; and finally to Montana for two days to ski with my friend Sam at Big Sky before heading back to LA.
While I was in Pennsylvania for winter break, I’d grabbed coffee with Nimay, an alumnus of my high school who said he was planning on thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail starting in April.
I was briefly a Boy Scout in my younger days, and I have (generally) fond memories of the camping trips we did, so my interest was piqued. Moreover, the first 65% or so of the PCT is entirely within California, and going deep into the wilderness sounded like a great way to keep me far enough away from airports that I wouldn’t be tempted to fly out of state.
I asked if I could join him (at least for the California section), and he said I could come along, so in April, I handed off my projects at Rari and made my way down to San Diego to start hiking.
On the PCT, I saw a completely different side of California than what I was used to. Far from the coastal metropolises, California is dominated by arid desert, snow-capped mountains, and lush forest. Small towns not out of place in the rural Mountain West or Appalachia served as resupply points every fifty to one hundred miles, and I met hikers from all over the world who were all similarly drawn to the extraordinary experiences and sights of the trail5
Some off-trail highlights during this time include visiting UCLA when the trail passed close6
The trail passed through a town called Acton, which has a train station that connects directly with Union Station in downtown LA. In total, it was about a three-hour train + bus journey back to Westwood.× Close
to Los Angeles, and when my family came to Lake Tahoe when I was nearby and we took a boat out on the lake.
Some off-trail lowlights include the (first? second?) crypto crash of the year in May and the winding down of Rari Capital, but to be honest I wasn’t paying too close attention — maybe another benefit of being on trail during these months.
I hit PCT mile marker 1,671 (about 20 miles short of the California–Oregon border at mile 1,691 and about 1,000 miles short of the northern terminus at mile 2,650) before hopping off trail at the end of July.
Starting from Seiad Valley (the last PCT resupply town in California), I hitchhiked7
I’d never hitchhiked before doing the PCT, but with trail towns usually far from the actual trail, it was often a necessity for timely resupplies. Once I got the hang of it, I found it pretty fun!Thank you Anna, Dmitry, and Dave for the rides down to Sac!× Close
300 miles south to Sacramento and then caught a train to San Francisco, where I attended a conference hosted by a startup community I’m a part of called Contrary. It was admittedly an abrupt reintroduction into regular society, but I enjoyed the time to catch up with folks and meet some new people too.
Afterwards, I headed to Yosemite with Noah, a friend from Michigan who’d just moved to SF, and Michael, a new friend I’d met at the Contrary event. We hiked together during the day, and in the evening they returned to the city as I stayed in the park to ease myself out of my hiking routine. Over the next few days, I hiked from Tuolumne Meadows, on the eastern side of the park, into Yosemite Valley, doing five to ten miles per day instead of the 15 to 25 I was averaging on the PCT8
The net elevation change from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley is about -4,500 feet, which also helped with easing out of things.× Close
It was a thrilling conclusion to my summer hiking season — on the way in, I summited Clouds Rest and Half Dome (seeing amazing panoramas of Yosemite Valley from thousands of feet above), and savored the views of Nevada and Vernal Falls from the Mist Trail.
After I arrived back in Yosemite Valley, I caught the YARTS bus to Fresno and then took a train to Los Angeles where I met up with my parents, who had flown out west to move Hanson into his new apartment near USC for his third year. I spent a few days in LA before flying east to run in my high school cross country team’s annual alumni meet, where it was great to see all of my close Pennsylvania friends again.
About 48 hours later, I boarded a flight back to California (having used 39/42 days out-of-state by this point) to attend a crypto hackathon (Hack Lodge) and conference (Stanford Blockchain Conference/SBC9
The official conference website says “Science of Blockchain Conference” because apparently someone at Stanford told the organizers they couldn’t use “Stanford” in the conference name anymore (in previous years, it had been advertised as “Stanford Blockchain Conference”).Regardless, most people refer to the conference as “SBC”.× Close
After Hack Lodge11
Compared to ETHDenver, SBC was a very different type of conference — it was much more technical and academic, whereas ETHDenver felt like a weeklong party.I enjoyed both, for different reasons.× Close
, I couchsurfed around San Francisco until school started13
. I spent most of my time hiking and biking in and around the city with my hosts, hitting Rodeo Beach and Hawk Hill in Marin; the Russian Ridge Preserve in the South Bay; and Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, and Dolo (the classic spots) in the city.
I stayed over in Berkeley in the last few days before school started — my first time staying there overnight — where it was nice to get a quick taste of the UC Berkeley student experience14
The biggest surprise to me was that the food options in Berkeley were (in my opinion) better than those in Westwood; my meals at Mezzo and Gypsy’s were both quite good, and quite cheap (one reason might be because Westwood is dominated by chain restaurants, whereas there seemed to be more independent restaurants in Berkeley?). Regardless, I still think UCLA dining hall food is better than Berkeley’s.× Close
before heading south to LA.
As school started, I picked up work with another crypto15
company (this time, a more consumer-focused startup working on smart contract wallets) and I mainly took math classes, giving another go at analysis and taking my first abstract algebra class. The classes were definitely challenging, but manageable, and I could tell that I’d learned a lot by the end of them; honestly, the feeling when the quarter was over was not unlike that after summiting Mt. Whitney or when I finished my PCT hike this summer.
During an office hour last quarter, one of my math professors was hyping up complex analysis, saying something along the lines of how it was a “pinnacle of mathematical beauty and human intellectual achievement” or something like that, so I’m especially looking forward to working through the prerequisites next term and taking complex by the end of this academic year; it seems like it could be a fitting Kilimanjaro after the Whitney and Half Dome of basic algebra and real analysis.
Outside of classes, I mostly stayed in LA during fall quarter (besides a brief trip to San Diego and a Big Sur excursion with the Backpacking Club over one of the long weekends), and like last year, my parents came out to Southern California for Thanksgiving. So my main travel this quarter was my return east for the holidays: after classes concluded, I flew to New York and crashed with my high school friends Matt and Sam and their roommate Pat (who’s actually a friend from elementary school!) for a few days, before heading back to the Philadelphia suburbs to spend time with family.
The last four years have been an amazing adventure: leaving school, moving to San Francisco, immersing myself in the startup scene, making new friends, visiting old ones, and generally traveling and staying on the move. I was immensely fortunate to be well-positioned going into the pandemic — out of college and working a software engineering job — and to have stayed mostly healthy throughout the height of the coronavirus. As tech went remote, I enjoyed the opportunity to spread my wings beyond California and try out living in Montana, New York City, and Seattle, and with my savings from my employment between 2019 and 2021, I had a blast walking around in the wilderness for a significant chunk of 2022.
It’s been interesting to see various decisions play out over the last few years, both my own and those of others. Aspiring founders with little more than an idea who I met when I first arrived in San Francisco in 2019 have since then founded companies now worth millions of dollars; dropped-out CS students I worked with are now leading teams, shipping mission-critical products, and sitting on significantly appreciated equity. The people I left behind in school have almost all graduated.
A few years ago, the success experienced by my peers16
More so my peers in industry — I’m pretty content with graduating when I graduate for now — but the passage of my original graduation year is what got me thinking about this again.× Close
might have made me feel concerned about falling behind. Now, though — having spent sufficient time in the startup scene myself (and having seen how the sausage is really made, to a certain extent) — my reaction is increasingly the opposite.
Now, seeing others’ amazing achievements stresses to me the degree to which there is actually no “race” at all. Instead, these success stories demonstrate the massive opportunity there is in tech to make your own destiny regardless of when you start. Surely, the successful individuals I’ve had the privilege of meeting are talented and have had to put in immense effort to get to where they are, but my thinking is that if I can develop the same skills, drive, and dedication17
(and to a certain extent, luck)× Close
, when I’m ready to swing for the fences, I’ll be just as well-positioned to be successful as they were.
Moreover, while my path to starting something may not end up being as deliberate or focused as those of some of the founders (and future founders) I know, I don’t think that my choices and experiences have been completely orthogonal to that end, either. Living in a bunch of different places has made me more comfortable with novelty and change, and has shown me that the world is much bigger place than I thought. Visiting friends, old and new, has shown me the importance of checking in on the people I care about and the fulfillment that comes from finding and working with people that I share core values with. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail has made me scrappier and more independent; it taught me that if you walk 17 miles per day for 100 days, you’ll walk 1,700 miles. Most of all, my experiences over these past four years have taught me how to make decisions for myself rather than copying those of others.
In other words, while some of my choices over the past few years — especially some of the more recent ones — haven’t necessarily been made with the intention of continuing to accelerate my career in startups18
, based on how things have played out for myself so far I do have a certain faith that things will all work out in the end.
So for now, I’m focused on my classes, and the unique opportunity I have to engage in learning for learning’s own sake. Much more lastingly so than last year, it’s the commencement of a new chapter for me — a different sort of commencement than what many of my friends experienced last May, but still a commencement nonetheless — and I’m looking forward to the year to come.