Saturday, June 22, 2024

2024 Celtics Parade in Pictures


Scenes from one of the most electric roams in LUSH & Todd history. Celtics Blessss 💚🍀🏆

Go Celts!

-Z.B. James

Thursday, June 20, 2024

On the Trail #2 - Mount Whiteface & Mount Passaconaway

June 16th, 2024

Mount Whiteface & Mount Passaconaway

[Old man from northern New England enters the frame]

Old man: Oh, yah goin up Passaconny-way, ah yah? Be careful goin' up Passaconny-way. Lotta history up theyah. Lotta trouble too. Some say the beyah man's still up theyah. Even heard about beyah dogs roamin' trails now n' again. If yah heyah a bahk or a growl, run like the frickin' dickens. Yep, lotta history up theyah. Ain't nothin' good goin' on up Passaconny-way.

[Ominous music starts to play as the picture slowly fades to black]

After a wash-out last week (LUSH crew was supposed to hike Cannon Mountain last Sunday but it was raining up north) I decided to send it on Father's Day up to the Sandwich Range in Grafton County, NH. All signs pointed towards a beaut of a day. Lows 50s in the early hours and mid 60s by noon. A perf Sunday to check a couple more 4,000 footers off the list. The two big dawgz in my sites this time around: Mount Whiteface and Mount Passaconaway. About a 12 mile loop. A mondo as they say. It was time to up my game 😤

I woke up early af at around 3:30AM and was on the road by 4:30 AM. I wasn't planning on hitting it that early (I swear lol), I just happened to wake up naturally then and decided against trying to get another hour of sleep in. Fate wrestled my eyes open. I was happy to roll with it. I'll sleep when I'm dead.

It was an hour 45 min jaunt up to the Ferncroft Road trailhead and I enjoyed every minute of it. It's always cool to catch the sunrise while on the road, and the sky was clear and still as the light slowly poked out above the horizon. A glorious site to bare witness to anytime it falls upon your lap.

I've been slowly and steadily reacquainting myself with The Bible these last few months. I'm not a devout Christian - I don't accept Jesus Christ as my lord and savior. But I'm fascinated by the moral and ethical bedrock that Christianity has provided the western world. The good and the bad. And I'm a huge admirer of the good, as even the most secular of us should be. Believing in universal human rights, caring for the sick and the elderly, seeing honor in suffering, and treating those less fortunate with dignity and compassion. These are all Christian moral principles at the end of the day. Secular humanism, agnosticism, even atheism - these are trees that have grown out of a Judeo-Christian garden. If you ask most atheists what their moral stances are, chances are their beliefs are rooted in Christianity. For those reasons (and other reasons that are my own) I'm dustin' off The Good Book once again. I've only ever read a children's Bible when I was young, and I've read through various books within it here and there over the years. But this time I'm trying to do the whole thing through. 

We'll see how long it takes, or if I can even stay with it lol.

I mention all this because I listened to a little bit of the Book of Exodus at the start of my drive. I've been doing this hybrid style of book consumption lately, where I'll read chapters and listen to chapters in audio form too. I basically zigzag as I go. It's a nice way to power through a book. Sometimes I'm just not in a reading mood and would rather listen, and vice-versa. And The Bible is certainly a book that takes some perseverance. By any means necessary, baby. As long as you go chapter-to-chapter it's pretty easy to keep track of where you are. With The Bible it's even easier. It's crazy how well-broken down it is. Down to every couple of sentences. Exodus Chapter 20 was especially moving on my morning ride. The Ten Commandments. Holy hell. So much weight in those few paragraphs. The course of entire civilizations were bent and shaped to those words. There's your bedrock. Pretty remarkable.

Towards the end of the journey north I switched over to another book I'm hybrid-reading called Black Elk Speaks. It's about a Lakota medicine man who lived in the late 1800s / early 1900s named Black Elk. He sat down with a writer named John G. Neihardt and told him his life story (through his son Ben Black Elk who was his English interpreter). So much of Native American history has been lost over time, so the book feels like a cherished historical document. It's been a great read so far. There are autobiographical accounts, and also old Lakota myths / stories mixed in. It's interesting to note the similarities with Exodus. Moses is leading the Israelites through the desert after finally escaping years of enslavement by the Egyptians. Black Elk is one of the last of the free Native Americans, wandering the Great Plains in search of safety and salvation from the Americans. The Israelites suffered. The Native Americans suffered. Both tribes of people are - in hindsight - revered for their nobility and stoicism while dealing with immense tragedy. To quote the famous verse from Exodus (2:22) - they are both 'strangers in a strange land'. The parallels are remarkable.

It ended up being a blessing that I got after it earlier than I had intended. The lot was already getting packed when I got there. It was half full - at 6:20 in the fucking morning! Hikers are an early-bird bunch, that's for sure lol. Good lord. No wonder I love it so much 😏

I went up the loop clockwise, ascending Whiteface first. The first couple miles heading in were pretty even-keel, and then the last mile-and-a-half up to the summit was absolutely brutal. One of those stretches that just kicks your ass. Huff-and-puff city. You gotta get up to 4,000 ft some way or another, and in this particular situation it was hard and fast. Most of 'em are at the end of the day lol. 

The last half mile or so had some rock scrambles in the mix, which was badass. A lil sketchy at points, but not too wild. Fortunately the views at the top of Whiteface were well worth it. What a scene. Barely a cloud in the sky, and a full view of Mount Chocorua to the east and the big New Hampshire lakes to the south. Absolute gem town.

I wanted to do this particular hike on Father's Day because my Dad wrote a book in the last years of his life called Bald Mountain. It's loosely based on his own experience hiking Chocorua when he was a kid (there's a smaller mountain right next to Chocorua called Bald Mountain, hence the title). I haven't read it in full yet, so I didn't want to do that hike this time around. But I thought it'd be a cool way to honor him by going up to the same mountain range that inspired him to write an entire book. I love how I'm finding my own inspiration now as I'm writing this. Funny how that works. The legacy continues.

In Black Elk Speaks, Black Elk talks about how his ancestors are with him when he goes on the hunt, or out into the wilderness. When he and his people walk, they walk in a sacred manner. And in The Bible, Moses repeatedly talks with God on top of various mountains. The burning bush incident happens on Mount Horeb. The Ten Commandments are delivered while God is on Mount Sinai. All those things were swirling around my mind as I pushed forward on the hike. Something along those lines is on my mind every hike I go on, if I'm being honest. But today it was a little more in-focus considering the holiday. It's no accident that both those cultures and their origin stories revolve around the wilderness. It is the root of our species. It's where many of us go to find answers.

After a long sit at the top thinking about this rich melding of ancient and personal history, I found my own particular answer. One that I wasn't even searching for to begin with. I decided I'd try and read Bald Mountain before next Father's Day. That'd be a helluva sacred walk for next year. 

After a brief chat with a mountain momma at the top of Whiteface (she was a badass backpacker who gave me some tips on camping in the mountains, as I hope to do a overnight backpacking weekend soon), I trudged on. The second stretch of the walk towards Mount Passaconaway wasn't very difficult at all. Basically a simple walk in the woods, with an easy descent from Whiteface and a long run of flat trails toward Passacony. Easy breezy. I've always loved that portion of a 4K hike, when your up in the clouds. Such a sublime feeling. Such a sense of accomplishment. The air is crispy and the pine trees smell sweet and minty. The birds are chirping. The squirrels are rustlin'. Pure magic.

Goin' up Passaconny-way (way up theyah 😂) to the summit was tough, but not too shab. At that point in the hike I was in the zone, just truckin' my heart out and feelin' real good. A hikers high, if you will. It wasn't nearly as tough in terms of scrambling, but unfortunately the views at the top were suss compared to Whiteface. There were a couple clearing views which were deece. But nothing spesh. I shot off the main trail north toward a small clearing view of the Presidentails and was glad I did it. That was by far the best view on Pass-the-cone-my-way🌳💨

Once again I stood face-to-face with Mount Washington. Great to see George again, and so soon after my last visit. What a treat! He's doing well. Standing as tall and proud as ever. He's always a monumental site to behold, as are all his Presidential buddies beside him.

We are still coming for you George. Don't you worry about that.

The descent was nice and steady. My knees weren't doing too bad, my dawgz weren't barking (yet lol), and the rocks weren't too sketchy. Towards the latter part of the trek down the trail got even more forgiving. AKA no major rocks to traverse. And by the last couple miles it was back to flat(ish) ground. Sweet relief, although it did drag on a bit (it always does). 

After I got out of the woods I came off the trail right next to a beautiful old farmhouse. Such a peaceful parcel of land. I'd love to buy a plot up in that area one day soon. It'd be so sick to have a little base camp spot for LUSH crew in the summer. And maybe one day build a small little cabin or a tiny home, with heat for the winter. In the words of the great Kevin Garnett - anything is possible!  (Go Celts! Banner 18 baby LFG! 🏆🍀)

I ended the loop with a welcomed phone call from my old friend Jake the Snake. Perfect timing. He's driving back to San Diego from Michigan right now, and was hauling ass through Nebraska toward Colorado when we talked. Somehow he knew I needed a distraction, and lord knows he was lookin' for one himself lol. I know that drive through Nebraska. Them Plains is tough. Keep on truckin' brotha. See you on the Ipswich River come September.

I was once again lucky enough to be able to log this hike, thanks to good (enough) cell service. Here are the breakdowns:

The ride home was super chill. No traffic whatsoever and sunny skies all the way through. The weather was absolutely perfect all day, I felt truly blessed. Somewhere out in the ether or up in the heavens, I'd like to think my old man Matty B was looking down on me keepin' the skies bright and blue. Thanks pop.

For about half the ride home I soaked in some Paul McCartney and Wings. Their newly released album One Hand Clapping is dope af. It's a studio session recording from back in the mid 70s that they just released last week. There's some cool alternate takes of his mega-hits, and some deeper cuts I had never heard before. What a creative force that guy was / is. If I had to pick the greatest human being alive right now, I'd be hard-pressed not to pick Paul. What a treasure. 

The rest of the ride was a mix between my two hawttt and freshhh summer playlists. Summer of Country of courese - LFG! And the other is a poppier playlist that I've been curating on the side too (with some rock and rap in their 🍅 as well). Charli XCX is certainly making a case for the Summer of BRAT lol. What an album. My god. Her fiance's name is George, which is a hilarious coincidence. She name-drops him a lot on the new record. She must've known it was the Summer of George too lol. 

'I wanna dance with George'

She's all over it.

After a quick stop at Market Basket to get some groceries / dinner, I made it home. I was tired but not too tired. All in all it was a great day. MWB is no longer on this plain of existence, but he still is inspiring me to get up and at 'em and enjoy every Sandwich. Glad I could exercise that inspiration on Father's Day of all days. I also came home to find out that my brother Q shot the round of his life at Wenham Country Club that very same day. Unreal. Matty B working his magic.

Happy (belated) Father's Day to all the pappas out there.

Hope to be back at it next weekend. We're supposed to sneak that Cannon hike in at some point either Saturday or Sunday. But it's looking like more rain. Praying the weather holds, but who knows. We'll see where the wind takes us.

-Z.B. James

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Banner 18: Beantown Lounge Style


Holy shit the Celtics won the NBA Finals last night. Their first title in 16 years - to the day. It still hasn't fully sunk in yet. It feels surreal.

I wanted to do a quick in-the-moment post just cuz this has been a long road back to title town for the Cs. And I've been on the pulse the whole way through, as have many of the LUSH & Todd squaders (shout out Chuckleheads, our purest Greenteamers in the crew. It was an honor and a privilege to watch with y'all last night. Celtics Blessss 🙏🍀).

I also wanted to write something up because, in many ways, my Celtics fandom is a major reason why I became an avid writer. 

During my college years a few buddies and I started up a blog called Beantown Lounge (shoutout Q, shoutout Colin). It was super similar to this one, except almost exclusively focused on Boston sports. We were students with a bunch of free time, trying to do a less in-the-gutter and way less ambitious version of Barstool essentially. There were hints of Grantland in the mix too, and some Boston Dirt Dogs inspo as well. And at the time the Celtics were still fighting for that second title with the Big 3. They were a hot-ticket item, as they have been for the better part of the 21st century. Then we lost Ray and traded Pierce and KG to Brooklyn. By the end of the blogs run Ainge had just got Isaiah Thomas at the deadline. It was a wild turning point for the franchise. And today on the heels of their 18th banner it all feels like a lifetime ago.

Back then, when there was wonder for what was to come, the Cs were my favorite thing to write about. Diving into the ins-and-outs of the NBA salary cap, reading through the trade rumors, speculating on what could be done to improve our chances. It was all so interesting and fun. There was so much hope. And a lot of fear too. A title could never come again. It always felt like it would be next year. So many teams and fans never get there. You just never know. 

But through it all during those college years, I genuinely loved honing in my writing chops talkin' Celts. I lost the email that hosted that blog, so the archives are gone. The website no longer shows up when you search for it. And my writing interests have shifted in the years since. But my fandom has never wavered, and my passion for writing has only grown stronger. Those OG Beantown Lounge days were where the embers first sparked up. And the Celts were the flint. For that I will forever be grateful for the Cs 💚

The Celts are also a link to the past for those of us born into fandom. I've been rooting for them ever since I can remember. My Dad told stories about Bird and McHale all the time when I was growing up. Even told stories about Russell that his father had passed down to him. You hear about the legacy and tradition and can't help but want to add to it. Can't help but want to carve out your own chapter with your own guys. And get the older generation to acknowledge that what your teams did was damn good. Maybe not as good (I can hear my Dad now saying they've still got a long way to go to catch Bird haha). The Jays will never be on Russell's level. And probably never will be on Bird's. But being able to add another notch in the belt means so much. It's very much a family affair in that regard.

And the last time we won back in '08 I was a burgeoning teenager at just 15 years old. Just over half a lifetime ago. To think of what has happened in those years since is wild. I watched that title on a tiny little 20" TV in my kitchen lol and couldn't wait to talk about it with friends the next day. Last night we watched on a massive flatscreen and I was texting my buddies the whole time. And was all over social media the whole night when I got back home. The world is so different. 

There were also huge trials and tribulations for the Celtics in those 16 years. And there were many ups-and-downs in my own life too. Successes along the way. Good decision-making. But also pain and heartache. Costly mistakes. The Cs had many different team iterations in the decade-and-a-half since the last banner. And I too have had many different people come in and out of my life. But the core has stayed strong through it all. The Jays have been here their whole careers. Pritchard is our dude. Hauser is our dude. Mazzulla is New England to the core. And I know who my ride-or-dies are. A victory like last night's makes that all so clear. Sports reflect life in so many ways. It's why a championship means the world to so many of us.

So yeah, I’m feeling pretty damn good right about now haha. Boston is so back, baby. Unreal. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Our own guys from day one. You can't write this shit. They had always shown signs of being the next great Celtics to hoist the trophy. They even got us 2 games away from it back in '22. But they hadn't quite gotten over the mountain. And it was a scary place to be. They had always given us solid teams and deep playoff runs. But they had yet to deliver, and the last place you wanna be is in that best-to-never-win-one category. This is the Boston Celtics. Legacies aren't secured with just dominant regular seasons and Eastern Conference Finals appearances. I don't say that trying to be a douchey Boston sports fan lol. I'm just stating the facts. The expectations are insane here. The tradition is hallowed. The burden is heavy. And finally the weight is off the Jays shoulders.

The eye-popping stats from this season have all been validated. A title is what makes the all-time great numbers actually mean something. Anything short of that and it's mute. But now the haters and doubters can't say shit. Myself included. I was never a hater (Celts 4 Lyfe baby), but doubts admittedly crept in. This team had ripped my heart out many times before. For an offense this historic, their dry spell shooting sprees were beyond mystifying. Anything could happen with them - good or bad. And after a handful of years of the rollercoaster, it was a put-up-or-shut-up season. And they put the fuck up. What they gonna say now? Ain't shit.

That's all I got. I could spend some more time polishing this up, but I'd rather it be raw and pure. In the words of the great Kevin Garnett - I'm so hype right now. I want that hype and all it's scattered messiness to show itself in this moment.

Much love to all Celts fans. We did it!!! Horford you fucking dawg you finally got one! The Dirty Horrrrr!!! KP, DWhite, Jrue, Paypay, Hauser, Kornet, fucking Tillman aka P.J. Brown 2.0. What a squad! 

Can't wait for the parade on Friday. LFGGG!!!

-Z.B. James

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

On the Trail #1 - Mount Webster & Mount Jackson


I haven’t hiked a 4k in New England in a long time, and Lush & Todd has also been pretty dormant as well (the last post was over a year ago). So I figured a quick post about my return to The Whites had to be paired with an L&T blog drop. It was time to reawaken both beasts.

The ZB James 2023 USA Tour is now officially in the books (although I am working on some longform material to immortalize those jaunts 👀🔥💀...not totally done with those roadies quite yet lol). Time to get back to the New England roots. I might try and make these hike logs a series over the course of this year. I want to do a lot of 4ks in 2024, so hopefully it’ll end up being a nice little string of journals. Anyways, good to be back on Lush & Todd grounds.

Now onto the piece:

Webster-Jackson trailhead
Webster-Jackson trailhead

June 2nd, 2024

Mount Webster & Mount Jackson

This was a highly anticipated hike. I hadn’t hiked a New England 4k in almost two years (!) and hadn’t done a New Hampshire 4k in nearly three. I spent last year hiking all across the country, summiting over a dozen mountains from Cali to Georgia and many states in between. So it wasn’t like I was slacking or anything like that lol - just out adventuring. Out jauntin’.

But to get back to the roots was a major moment. There is nothing like the White Mountains for me. It is and forever will be my home range. I have plenty of love for the other New England ranges - the Greens, the Berkshires, and the Mahoosucs - but there is something incredibly special about the Whites. There is a powerful sense of divinity there. A spiritual essence that calls to you once you’ve heard its whispers and seen its wonders. All significant mountain ranges have that. Hell, that spiritual force can be found in any patch of nature if it's the right combination of sentimentality and wonder. But some places are bursting with it - and the White Mountains are one of those places.

I woke up early at 4:30 AM to do a day-trip up to the Webster-Jackson Trail Head in Crawford Notch State Park. About a 2 hr 20 min drive from Byfield, MA (homebase). Got on the road at around 5 AM and was at the trail head right at 7:30 AM. I went up the fastest / most efficient way: I-95 ---> Rt. 101 ---> I-93. Then Rt. 3 (right past Franconia Notch) --->Rt. 302. It’s actually quite a simple drive. There aren't many major turns at all, which is nice. And it was a glorious cruise - I listened to plenty of music. The new Willie Nelson album, a new indie EP called Heaven by the group Softcult. A relistening of The Saint of Lost Causes by Justin Townes Earle (RIP legend), and then that Johnny Cash and June Carter record from back in the day with “Jackson” on it. Had to sneak in that song before hitting the trail.

Luckily there weren’t many cars at the parking lot. I sent it up that early mostly because I didn’t wanna be fighting for a spot. Even after I finished the hike the lots weren’t too crazy, which was a solid sign. In hindsight I think it’s safe to say that the weekend after Memorial Day is a good time to go up for a hike. A lot of people get their jollies in the weekend before. I'm sure all of Caroll Country was a zoo seven days prior.

The trail was beautiful. It was a perfect day to be up in the Whites. Around 50 degrees at the start, and then around 70 by the end. I did the loop counterclockwise which took me to Mount Webster first, and then up to Mount Jackson. Webster has an awesome view of Mount Wiley across Rt. 302 and Mount Carrigain farther to the southwest. You can also peep Mount Washington and the surrounding Presidentials if you look to the north. It’s a sick spot. It was around 3 or so miles and 2.000 ft of elevation gain to get to the summit of Webster. Certainly no cupcake. But also relatively easy when compared to some of the other 4k mondos.

Mount Jackson is just as much of a beauty at the top, if not more so. You’re that much closer to the big-dawg Presidentials which is truly amazing. I sat on the northern face of Jackson for a while and just stared out at Washington and Eisenhower and Pierce. They are might pillars reaching to the heavens. It's a view that I cherish dearly - I remember hiking Pierce with an old friend Phillip years ago and being totally blown away by the summit and landscapes before me. Such a powerful aura. I'm not one to pray or thank God or Mother Earth often - but at the top of a beautiful mountain like that I find myself thinking how lucky I am to be able to witness such wonder. And I find myself whispering prayers of thanks. I can’t wait to hike Washington in August. The Agile Five and Co. are ready. I had a long chat with George and told him we are coming for him. He said 'bring it on'.

Oh, we will Georgie boy. We will.

There were some gray jays on top of Jackson flying around which was especially cool. I had never seen one in person before. Majestic creatures. A lot of swagger. They were darting around like they ran the place lol. The climb down was a bit of a slog, which is typical. But still no major complaints. My knees were a bit banged up - ironically because I tripped while at the top of Jackson, not during the precarious climb up. It was a clumsy and insignificant stumble that didn’t look bad at all and was in no way dangerous. I just banged the fuck out of my knee and it was sore city from then on lol. It's still sore now 😫

Gray Jay perched over Bretton Woods

I also hiked with a pole for only the second time ever (the other time was hiking Medicine-Bow Peak in Wyoming) which was a nice aid at times. I definitely like having it on the ascent, but it held me back on the descent. I like to plow down the mountain like a bat out of hell when I’m going down lol, and the pole was making that difficult. I put it in my backpack pretty quickly. Still learning the tricks of the trade.

I got back to the truck and was fortunate enough to have had cell phone service at the very start of the hike, so I logged it on AllTrails. Here’s the breakdown:

Length: 6.9 miles (giggity)

Elev. gain (elly g): 2,533 ft

Moving time: 3 hrs 52 min

Total time: 4 hrs 38 min

All-in-all a pretty solid trek. I wish I stayed stationary a bit more at both peaks. It’s hard for me to sit still for a long time when I’m in the thick of it; when I’m in the cut. Usually I’m better when I’m hiking with people. Next time I go I’m gonna try to make a point of it to chill at the summit for a solid 45 min (if conditions are worth it of course 😉).

After heading out of Crawdaddy Notch I actually went the back way home. I went east on Rt. 302 through Bartlett and North Conway. I went even further east into Maine to check out Fryeburg real quick too. A nice little ho-hum boon town. The visitor’s center there was pretty nice and Fryeburg Academy seemed prestigious. I definitely wanna go to the Fryeburg Fair at some point in my life, I'm sure that's a hoot. So many little nuggets picked up while cruisin'. It felt good to get back in the swing of things being out on the road - soaking in the views, taking the backroads, changing plans on the fly, just seeing where the wind was gonna take me. Can't wait for more Maine action when me and Poolhouse go camping in the Great North Woods for the 4th. Should be a blast.

After Fryeburg I hauled that ass home. Listened to a couple history podcasts on the way - the final few episodes on The Fall of the Sioux by the Rest Is History guys, and the first couple episodes on America's founding by the Empire pod. Both great listens. I love a post-hike podcast. It's nice to reflect. You get hyped going in with music and then wind down after with some thoughtful banter.

In the final stretch I stopped in Seabrook to grab a vape and take a leak. Then a quick bite to eat in Newburyport. Overall one of the more memorable 4k hikes, not only for the epic views that Webster and Jackson had to offer, but also for the grandness of my return to the home range.

George in the distance

I’m back, baby. Lets fucking go! Washington - we are coming for you 😤💪🌄


- ZB James