On Friday we hiked up to Williams Lake above Taos Ski Valley. This was one of the hikes we took with Austin in September three years ago before he went to U of C. While we rested, Austin dashed about exploring the lake and climbing the large, rocky outcropping, then we hiked further to a beautiful waterfall. It was a lovely day for our family.
Our recent hike was on the third day of an uncharacteristic monsoon weather pattern, so the trail was a shallow stream bed and our ponchos soaked through. The lake is still lovely and we decided to visit the waterfall again. Near the waterfall a man hailed us--he hiked Wheeler Peak with his son then the rain hit and they couldn't find the trail out (old trail map). They were bivouacked for a day and a half in the rain and he'd been praying for help.He told us we were his angels, but he was mistaken. We were only there because of Austin's love for the spot. Overall, the hike was cold and wet, but one Austin would have loved because for him more challenge always meant more fun.
I've been wanting to post a story for quite a while, but haven't been able to face it until now. You have all been so generous with your stories and thoughts, and that means so much to me. Austin and I weren't particularly close for much of the time that we were at home together, but our relationship blossomed when he went off to college. Through our skype calls, my family learned a lot about his life, and about how happy he was in Chicago. Our skypes would cover the big events, like his classes, trips he'd taken, and particularly memorable social interactions. But of course, an hour or two (or three) long conversation once a week can't capture all the aspects of the life he was leading. But when Austin was home for the holidays, I would sit on his bed, he would sit at his desk, and we would talk late into the night about his life and mine. It was during these late-night conversations that I got a sense of all the little pleasures, moments, and decisions that came together to make up his life. I had never had these kinds of conversations with him when he was at home, and I treasured and continue to treasure the openness and emotional connection we had after he went off to college.
The stories you have all shared are the kinds of things we would talk about. These snapshots help me know the Austin that you all did; the Austin that I didn't get to see very often, but who I knew I loved and respected, and perhaps most importantly, enjoyed spending time with as a friend. You knew this Austin, and I can't tell you how much it has meant to me to be able to read your stories, and through them, get to know him better. You all have given me so much.
I haven't been ready to post anything until today, but I have wanted to give back to you all as soon as the stories began pouring in. You have given me a better picture of what Austin was like as an adult, as a friend. What I can give you now is a better picture of who Austin was as a child, and as a brother. I hope that those stories mean as much to you as your stories have meant to me.
When Austin was in his early teens, he absolutely loved the Need for Speed games. He had Porsche Unleashed, Hot Pursuit, and Need for Speed 4, but his first love was Need for Speed 2. The graphics were old and grainy, the physics were dicey, and the announcer was super cheesy, but it was the first racing game he had, and he loved it.
I would sit next to him in the computer room and watch him play. He was very good, and always beat out the AI with no trouble. He always set the view to the one where you are "inside" the car. You could see these arms on the wheel and the windshield frame. At the time, I didn't understand why he loved that view so much; it made playing the game harder. I always used the view above the car when I played. But I get it now. It was the same reason he loved Gran Turismo so much. The interior view made the game more immersive.
After a time, we discovered that the game had a split-screen mode. Naturally, we decided it would be fun to race each other. I remember we played the Mystic Peaks track first, a fun track, but it had a lot of twists and turns. (Here's a link to someone playing through the track, though they aren't nearly as good as Austin. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDSOzaJ_WaY)
Austin was kind enough to give me the car with the best handling, the indigo. It wasn't very fast, but gave you a lot of control. I was used to driving the fastest car in the game, the McLaren F1, which had terrible handling. The physics of the game were so forgiving that I was so used to bouncing off walls instead if actually steering that in the indigo, I kept ramming into walls head on and getting stuck. Despite Austin's best intentions, I was hopeless in that race. He beat me handily.
But this is the sweet part. He saw that I loved racing with him, even though I wasn't very good, so after that race, he got into the habit of purposefully putting himself into one of the worst cars in the game. I had the fastest one, which meant I actually had a shot at winning. I didn't win every time, far from it, but his choice to handicap himself meant that we really got a chance to play together in a way that was fun for both of us. When he played split-screen with me, he put aside the things he most enjoyed about the games so that we could have a different kind of experience, and share the moment.
As much as I enjoyed racing against him, it's true that I also loved watching him play. Racing required a certain amount of strategy, and he always set them to as difficult a mode as possible. He hated when unrealistic physics made the game too easy, which is probably why he stopped playing Need for Speed a few years later, after he discovered Gran Turismo, a racing game that is more accurately described as a driving simulator. I was the one that gave it to him for Christmas, and it was great to see him enjoy it so much. In Gran Turismo, the slightest mistake can cause your car to spin out. The AI opponents are actually very good, so a mistake can cost you the win. One afternoon, I went upstairs and saw that he was playing it. Remembering Need for Speed, I asked him if I could have a go. He gamely handed over the controller (after he finished his race, of course). I gave up within the first five minutes after I fishtailed, spun out, and ran aground on the grass, my AI opponents leaving me in their digital dust. I decided it wasn't my kind of game, but it was definitely Austin's. Austin took back the controller, and I settled on the corner of the bed so I could watch him play.
Fall is the time for college recruiters to visit Albuquerque Academy to speak with prospective students.
Today we had a visit from Andrea Mondragon, our rep from the University of Chicago. Despite her busy schedule for the afternoon, Andrea wanted to go out to our Medicine Wheel on campus after she was done talking to our current seniors. She brought a small token from the Univeristy of Chicago, which she left at the Medicine Wheel in memory of Austin. It was a glorious day, and we shared some thoughts and memories of him in the serenity of this beautiful place.
Collecting stories so that everyone can see who Austin Hudson-Lapore was to each of us.