One man’s summer pilgrimage: Dustin’s summer of hiking, failing and growing facial hair

By Niki Fritz

Note: To get the full pilgrimage experience, read this article while listening to the Scottish band’s classic “Walking on the Waves.

When Dustin first started talking about his summer plans last spring, they involved a trip to London to assist in Susan Kelly’s script class and then some vague notion of a “pilgrimage.”

“I wanted to do something completely me. Something completely alone and see what that was like. To rely on myself and no one else. I needed that,” Dustin explained. Originally the plan was to spend 3 weeks in London in class, visit a friend in France and then head to the Camino de Santiago in Spain to get some alone time, spiritual awakening and most likely blistered feet. In the end, Dustin’s pilgrimage didn’t take him anywhere he expected, but it took him everywhere he needed to be.


For three weeks, Dustin was in London helping Susan Kelly with her script writing class and doing it up tourist style. They went to the Globe, the Tower of London, Stonehenge, and all the usual must-see places. The class also hit up some popular film sites such as the Harry Potter Museum and took a James Bond tour. But it was a weekend trip to Edinburgh in Scotland that changed the game for Dustin. He fell in love with the highlands and decided he needed to explore Scotland.

Dustin at the Globe in London with his newly acquired skull

Dustin at the Globe in London with his newly acquired skull.


But Dustin’s trip was not a straight shot from London to the mystic beauty of Scotland. The adventurer had a week before he was supposed to meet up with a friend in France so he decided to hop on a plane and head to Ireland without much of a plan. In Dustin’s words he chose Ireland because … well … “Green is my favorite color … so Ireland was ideal for me.” After a brief stay in Dublin, which Dustin said had cool music but was a big city like any other big city, the now vagabond headed to the small fishing town of Doolin.  Dustin explored the Cliffs of Moher and biked around Inishmore  in the Aran Islands, one of the places that inspired Tolkien. After his brief tour of Ireland, Dustin got himself back to Dublin and then on a plane to Paris.

Dustin is that tiny littl figure on top of the Cliffs of Moher

Dustin is that tiny little figure on top of the Cliffs of Moher.


What was awaiting Dustin in Paris was a dramatic, unexpected time change and – surprisingly – no cell service. Dustin got into Paris around 2 am, when everything was closed and no one spoke English. He couldn’t find the bus to get to his friend’s house and he had no way of calling him. Dustin said it was his “first true moment of ‘oh my god no one can help me.’ I was truly helpless. I felt like an idiot … But it was cool to be kind of helpless and lost. I think because it sobers you.” Eventually a lovely, generous soul let Dustin use his cell phone and Dustin’s friend came and found him. Dustin spent some time exploring Paris, seeing the Eiffel Tower and touring Versailles. (There is an AMAZING video of Dustin and a fellow traveler singing “Stand By Me” in a row boat in Versailles if you are lucky enough to find it on Facebook!) But mostly Dustin was realizing his plan had changed. He didn’t need to walk the Camino de Santiago; Scotland was calling him.

Dustin as the hunchback in front of Notre Dame

Dustin as the hunchback in front of Notre Dame.


From Paris, Dustin flew straight to Edinburgh and then to Fort Williams to start his pilgrimage. In Fort Williams, Dustin found a little beatnik hostel filled with locals, one of whom gave him direction to climb Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. Unfortunately Dustin didn’t realize the guy had guided him to the professional mountaineer route, the one that would have required a lot more gear than Dustin had. After five hours of climbing, Dustin found his way back to the day hiker route. Six hours later he had finally completed the journey to the top and back. And although he missed the views from the north face side of the mountain, he had made it. He spent the next few days recouping from his six-turned-11 hour hike before he attempted to make another hike.

Dustin on his grueling 11 hour hike up Ben Nevis

Dustin on his grueling 11 hour hike up Ben Nevis.

This time Dustin wanted to hike the West Highland Way, a hiking path from Fort Williams all the way to Glascow. It is usually one of the best marked routes in Scotland but this year they were doing forest construction, meaning they had taken down the route markers and filled the path with confusing and contradictory detour signs. Dustin headed out from Fort Williams in the morning and walked for six hours before he conceded that he was not going to make it over this mountain to the next city on the route. He had to give up and head back. It is a day he calls the “Day of Defeat.”

“It was releasing to fail. I set out to do this and I couldn’t,” Dustin explained. “I’m a perfectionist and I failed. And I was okay. I had to get over my pride.”

Back in Fort Williams after the Day of Defeat, a few new hostel friends invited him to stay longer and enjoy the city, but Dustin knew he had to give it a go again. He hopped a ride with some Australian hikers to a few towns over where he hoped the path would be clearer.

The morning view when Dustin woke up on "Devil's Staircase"

The morning view when Dustin woke up on “Devil’s Staircase.”

This time Dustin made it to the top of some hellish sounding ascension called “Devil’s Staircase”  which overlooked Glen Coe . There Dustin decided he would pitch his tent and sleep on the side of a mountain, which he realized midway through the night was going to be a miserable idea. It was freezing on the mountain. Dustin got up early the next morning, fog and dew enveloping him. He was wet from fog and sweat and shivering from the still cold temperatures. That is when he saw a vision, a random inn in the middle of nowhere. There he got a hot breakfast and decided he was done with his camping attempt. “I knew I was done … I didn’t need to prove it to myself that I had to do it.”

Instead Dustin went on a Mac backpacking tour that took the group around Scotland in a less body-crushing, frostbite-infringing way. During the next week, Dustin got to see Loch Ness, hear local bands and relax and absorb the beauty of Scotland.

“I had a few moments of profound beauty. There were some moments that made you feel so small because they were so beautiful and profound.”


After Scotland, Dustin decided to make the jump over to Northern Ireland. But after a few days exploring, Dustin realized he was a little homesick and out of money; his pilgrimage was over. Well almost …

“Even when I was [in Scotland] I realized I went on this pilgrimage but it wasn’t over until I got back. I’m a believer in the there-and-back-again. To have an adventure, it is not so much going on the adventure, it is coming back.”

After Dustin got home to the States, he promptly shaved off the beard he had cultivated over the past month of hiking. But after his face was smooth, he realized his missed the beard, without it he didn’t quite feel like himself anymore. It was possible his pilgrimage had changed him in some permanent ways.

“[A pilgrimage] is you trying to go out and be with yourself or your higher power. It was figuring out if I could do something by myself. I don’t know if I succeeded but I know it was important,” Dustin said. “I think it has made me hungry for life. I’m tired of being content. I want to live.”

Dustin, sporting his new beard, on top of a mountain over looking Glen Coe

Dustin, sporting his new beard, on top of a mountain over looking Glen Coe.

May the Best Boat Stay Afloat

By Edo Steinberg

Not the thinking man's game - The Telecommandos.

Not the thinking man’s game – The Telecommandos.

If curling is the most ridiculous sport you’ve ever heard of, word of something called “Intramural Battleship” must have never reached your ears. In this game, the main rule is “sink or be sunk”. Each team has a little canoe, two paddles, two buckets and a shield. They need to splash water into their rivals’ vessels to make them go the way of the Titanic while defending themselves from the same fate.

Yesterday, Dustin Ritchea, Garrett Poortinga, Alexis Ovitt and Steve Myers, who dubbed themselves Team Telecommandos (originally Telecombat), participated in their debut Battleship game. They wore matching shirts with the letter C for Commandos, as well as pirate and Viking regalia.

“Steph and I were AI’ing together and looking for things to do in our free time,” Dustin remembers. “We looked at different clubs on campus. Battleship came up, and I said ‘what is this?’ I got super excited when I figured out what it was.”

He had a hard time finding people to join his team. Steve was the first to jump on board, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Alexis was excited to join as well, at first. When Dustin texted everyone to remember to bring five dollars and a bathing suit, he got a text back from Alexis asking “what the hell did I agree to do?”

“I thought we were going to play the board game Battleship,” says Alexis. “Competitive Battleship, that would be fun. When Dustin said to bring a swimming suit I didn’t understand why.” She doesn’t even really swim.

The electric excitement started even before the game began.

“As soon as we showed up and nobody else had a costume on, I feel like we already won,” Garrett jokes. “After that, we were just following through with the prearranged rules.” I should point out that this was their only victory.

“When a staff member asks to take his picture with you, that’s pretty good,” Steve chimes in.

“That was more of a political move on our part,” Garrett says.

“We’re old and we just don’t care,” says Steve.

“The thing to remember about Battleship is that it isn’t the thinking man’s game,” Dustin laughs, quoting something one of their rivals said in all seriousness between rounds.

The team members don’t think there was anything wrong with their strategy. “The winning team was made up of 80-pound girls,” Alexis analyzes their defeat.

“Sinking was fun, but disappointing,” Alexis says. “Especially when I found out there were T-shirts on the line.”

“We never tipped,” Dustin says proudly. “Our sinks were always graceful.”

“There was a moment, just for a second, where it was like we could survive,” says Garrett. “We’re going down. No, we’re not. Yes, we are!”

Unfortunately, Battleship won’t be played again until next year, so you won’t be able to see the Telecommandos playing live for a while. For now, you could settle for watching the video footage.

Time to Write a Novel

By Edo Steinberg

This semester Whitney Eklof, Dustin Ritchea and an undergraduate are cooking up something novel. As part of an independent study with Susan Kelly, the two graduate students will each write a 150-page novel, the undergrad will write a comic book, and Susan herself will write a script. All four will critique each other’s work on a weekly basis.

“I talked to Susan, as my advisor, about courses I should take this semester,” Whitney says. “We got on the topic of writing, because I had been in her scriptwriting class previously and she had seen some of my work. She asked if I had been doing any writing. I said I hadn’t done any in a while, but I’d like to. Susan being Susan, she got excited and said ‘take an independent study with me and just write.’”

“I got an email from Susan asking me if I want to join,” says Dustin. “I just jumped on board. I didn’t have to get it approved, because Whitney had done all the legwork. I owe her one.”

“When I was an undergraduate here, I minored in creative writing,” says Whitney. “I was in a lot of classes in the English department, but it was all short stories. With a novel, the big difference is the planning, making sure you have enough content. Before, I would just sit and write, without planning ahead.”

One approach is to start with an outline of the plot. Another is to outline details about characters. “For me, it’s been helpful so far,” Whitney says. “Even simple things, like going through my main characters – what do they like or dislike. I have a character who dislikes the smell of roses. It’s just a little quirky trait he has. Thinking about those little individual things gives you more things to play with when you’re writing.”

Dustin also has a degree in creative writing, as well as scriptwriting. “Writing novels is different. I like it a little bit better. With a novel, I can go anywhere and do anything, and if something fails, I can go back and fix it. When I’m writing a play or for media, I’m always thinking about the final product. I’m always thinking about what it’ll look like when it’s done. I’m not writing this particular page, I’m writing the entire finished vision.”

Dustin's illustration of his novel's setting.

Dustin’s illustration of his novel’s setting.

Dustin came to the class with a story in mind. Whitney didn’t. “That was the challenge at first,” Whitney says. “Coming up with something I was interested in enough to dedicate an entire semester to.”

As mentioned above, not only will the students’ work be critiqued, so will Susan’s. This won’t be the first time that Whitney will be voicing her opinions about Susan’s scripts. “Between the time I graduated as an undergraduate and coming here as a graduate student, Susan sent me some work and I critiqued it for her. Last semester she also sent me a screenplay that she and Robby Benson are working on.”

“That will be an interesting experience,” Dustin says about criticizing Susan’s work. “I did it in high school with a teacher, but I was brash and arrogant. This time will be different,” he laughs.

Sine Qua Nonsense

The Halloween Report

Isaac and the roasted pig (photo courtesy of Alicia Eckert).

Isaac and the roasted pig (photo courtesy of Alicia Eckert).

Halloween may officially be tomorrow, but the Telecom costume party took place last weekend. Rachel Bailey hosted the shindig. Isaac Knowles and his friend John Killian, a professional chef, roasted a pig, decapitated it and placed its head on a spike for all to see and fear.

The costumes varied wildly, but I believe they were all meant to convey subliminal messages. Teresa Lynch, for example, dressed as Executioner Miralda, a character from the video game Demon’s Souls. This is her attempt to promote the death penalty, especially by beheading. The bodiless pig’s head drove her point home.

Dustin as Captain Morgan (Photo Courtesy of Michelle Funk).

Dustin as Captain Morgan (Photo Courtesy of Michelle Funk).

While Dustin Ritchea, Mona Malacane and Yongwoog Jeon wore very different costumes, their underlying message was the same. Dustin as Captain Morgan, Yongwoog as Sherlock Holmes, and Mona as the government shutdown were embodiments of the libertarian worldview. Less government is better. Private citizens like Captain Morgan could do a better job roaming the high seas than taxpayer-mooching Navy SEALs. The best detective in literary history was a private investigator, solving the crimes the inept official police couldn’t. And again, the main course helped convey the message that if Telecom students can cut the pork, so can Congress!

Nancy Tyree dressed as a bearded artist. Her boyfriend Jon was a canvass. They brought markers and encouraged others to draw on the canvass. Just like Tom Sawyer got his friends to paint a fence, Nancy got her own friends to do her job for her. I believe she was trying to teach us to delegate authority – if you’re smart enough to get others to do what you’re supposed to do, you aren’t being lazy.

Yongwoog as Sherlock Holmes and Michelle as an alien (photo courtesy of Michelle Funk).

Yongwoog as Sherlock Holmes and Michelle as an alien (photo courtesy of Michelle Funk).

Irene Van Driel and Mariska Kleemans brought a taste of the Netherlands to the party. They wore orange wigs and red, white and blue clothes. Orange is the Dutch national color, and red, white and blue are the colors on the Dutch national flag. This was a veiled attack on American Exceptionalism. They tried to subliminally remind us that the flag of the United States is not unique in its choice of colors, which it shares with about 30 other countries. This was also a pro-monarchist, pro-House of Orange message. They may be planning to topple our government.

Edo as the High Road (photo courtesy of Michelle Funk).

Edo as the High Road (photo courtesy of Michelle Funk).

Dan Levy promoted peace and tranquility as The Dude from “The Big Lebowski”. He wore a blond wig and a bathrobe. He also walked around with an empty carton of half and half. That carton really tied the costume together.

I conveyed my own message to the world, as well. I wore yellow and white stripes, a hippie vest, an Interstate sign and buttons with the peace sign, psychedelic colors and the word “love”. I also held a comically large joint with fake marijuana made out of green pompoms. I was “the high road”. Get it? Oh, you had to be there.

And no, my subliminal message had nothing to do with drug legalization. I was trying to promote the use of puns while raising awareness of the flimsiness of our nation’s infrastructure.


Every Story Needs a World

By Edo Steinberg

Dustin Ritchea

Dustin Ritchea is fascinated by storyworlds. These are the geographical, cultural, political and historical settings of fictional tales. Dustin points to Star Trek as an example. “You watch the series and the characters, but they belong to something larger. The world it encompasses has history, depth and mythology. I think those are the most interesting stories to watch.”

In his junior year, Dustin won a McNair Scholarship, which he used to work on a paper titled “Realistic Fantasy and Sub-Creation: A Narratological Approach to Storyworld Construction by Using J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth”. He presented his research at a McNair Scholars conference at UC Berkeley and published a paper in the Augsburg College Honors Review.

“I got to read into narratology, how narratives are structured,” Dustin says explaining his research. “I got to read all of Tolkien’s work. I essentially got to go through Tolkien’s entire universe.”

The conference at Berkeley changed Dustin’s life. It was the second such life-changing event. As a high school junior, he went to a weeklong event at Purdue organized by the Hispanic Organization Promoting Education (HOPE). “I went through all these lectures about following your dreams, doing what you want to do. And so I ended up switching my majors from engineering to theater.”

Dustin sees many similarities between his experience with HOPE and the McNair conference at Berkeley. “I was in the McNair Scholarship, which is also for underrepresented groups, and I got in because I was Hispanic. At Berkeley, it was just lecture after lecture about what it takes to go through graduate school and what your motivation is for going. They said you really have to know why you want to do this, because you’re giving up time.”

That message resonated with Dustin. “My original goal had always been to become a theater professor. I settled on the idea that I actually want to go out and work for a while. I want to create things. I fell back on a storyworld I had been creating since fifth grade, finished my English degree, did the research for McNair, and then I wanted to come and learn about storytelling and storyworld construction, about managing and producing creative work.”

He still wants to work on his own storyworld. “I created it when I was in fifth grade for fun. I used to sit on my grandmother’s couch and just write. Over the years I kept trying to write it, and I’d write thirty pages and think this is not good enough. In the words of Tolkien, it’s tough to do, because I want to make it so very badly, but at the same time, I don’t know if this is something I want to do to make money or I want it to be my contribution to the universe.”

Dustin might turn his storyworld into a series of books, the first of which he is currently working on. “I’ve been working on it for three years. It is my take on a fairytale and it integrates into the larger world as a whole.”

Dustin has rewritten his story three times but has not made a final decision regarding a few key issues. “It all comes down to how you want it to feel. Do you want it to be a young adult novel? Do you want it to have depth? Do you want it to feel like an epic? How do you want to write it and how do you want the narrator to be?”

In a few years, look for Dustin’s name in the Science Fiction and Fantasy aisle at the bookstore (or if brick and mortar stores aren’t around anymore – under the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category online).