Friday, October 24, 2014

Things That Pop Into My Head While Meditating

Things That Pop Into My Head While Meditating

  • relax
  • feel the weight of your body
  • become one with your environment
  • focus on the breath
  • set your intentions... my intentions are to be more mindful to avoid junk food and be a great listener (by which I mean I want to impress the ladies with my amazing empathy so that one of them might want to actually spend significant time with me)
  • just breathe...
  • that Janine is really cute... I wonder if she'd go out with me
  • it's okay to lose focus on the breath... just gently bring it back to the breath
  • I'm really doing well today. That was a long streak of uninterrupted breathing
  • c'mon now... back to the breath... good...
  • I should tell Janine about how well I'm doing with my meditation
  • I'm pretty sure Janine rides a bike around town... bikes are awesome...
  • Note to self: remember to check your tire pressure before biking to the library today because there's that slow leak in your rear tire
  • c'mon! Stop making to-do lists while you're meditating...
  • just focus on the breath
  • breathe...
  • it's okay to lose focus on the breath... just bring it back...
  • losing focus is part of meditation, that's why it's a practice... just breathe and empty your mind
  • breathe...
  • I think I went, like 15 breaths without interruption. Yes! Janine would be so impressed!
  • I should write a blog post about all the things that pop into my mind while I'm meditating. Maybe it'll be McSweeney's material.

My Bicycling Origin Story

There are three moments that I remember as being big parts of my development as a bicyclist.

I remember my first time riding a bike with training wheels along our sidewalk when I was a kid, maybe 5 or 6 years old. Pretty soon I had the freedom to explore all over the neighborhood and my friends and I found all sorts of fun together.

My next bicycling memory comes when I was about 14 and learning how to play golf. I used to ride my bike 3-4 miles to the golf course with my golf bag slung over my shoulder. I just did a google image search for that and this is the only example anywhere on the interwebs, so it appears as if kids today don't do that anymore.

Then I got into high school and college where it was far more cool to be driving a car than riding a bicycle and I barely touched a bike for 15 years. I mean, c'mon. Why ride a bike when you can cruise chicks in a 1980 Ford Fairmont Futura?

It wasn't until about 2003, after 9/11, that I had my awakening and realized that the only reason America was at war in the Middle East was because of our addiction to oil. Quickly I understood that I wanted to minimize my part in that addiction so I started bicycle commuting to work (and I remember being really nervous about it).

My commute was a beautiful one down stately Summit Ave. in St. Paul (which had a bike lane) and then along the Mississippi River to downtown Minneapolis. It was just under 12 miles and usually took me 50 minutes.

But I had the normal concerns that everyone has:

  • What route would be best to take?
  • Was it safe to bike on the road next to all those cars?
  • Would I be all sweaty when I got to work?
  • Heavens to Betsy -- what would happen to my hair?!

My greatest fear was of getting doored while riding in the bike lane down Summit Ave. Getting "doored" is when bicycling by a parked car, the driver of the car opens their door right in your path and you hit it, sometimes hard. My fear was that that would happen and I'd get flung out into traffic and run over by a truck.

Here's how I overcame those concerns:
  • What route would be best to take?
    • I looked at a map to find friendly streets and bike paths where available. The city provided a physical map of bike trails, but it's much easier now that Google Maps is quite skilled at giving bicycling directions.
  • Is it safe to bike on the road by all those cars?
    • I bought a helmet, wore a bright jacket and biked in a safe, predictable manner while constantly gazing into the parked cars to see if anyone was behind the wheel, waiting to take me out.
  • Would I be all sweaty when I got to work?
    • There was technically a shower at work, but it was not a pretty thing all tucked away in the maintenance bowels of the building down there. I began by taking the bus into work with my bike attached to the rack on the front of the bus and then only biking home. Eventually, as I became more comfortable with biking I started biking both ways and using the shower (which really wasn't so bad). I also recall at first only riding my bike on casual Fridays during good weather to make it easier.
  • Heavens to Betsy -- what would happen to my hair?!
    • Helmet hair is a serious concern for people biking to work or to an important engagement. I avoided this problem as noted above -- first by only biking home from work and later by using the shower at work.
A couple years later I was organizing group bike commutes to work from different parts of the city in order to help new commuters feel more comfortable. The bike commute into work became a highlight of my day and I still gain great pleasure from a leisurely or practical ride about town. It's amazing how we can transform after simply taking that first step out of our comfort zone. 

Marriage Thoughts

I went on two dates recently with women who are not interested in getting married, which is cool with me because I share the same sentiment. I think a lot of people don't think objectively about marriage because it's been such an institution in our society for so long.

There are three thoughts that now run through my head when I think about drawing up a legal contract with the government and pledging in front of God and family "til death do us part".

  1. First, in his mind-opening book How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World Harry Browne said something to the effect of "Why would I want the government and the church involved in my relationship?" Makes sense to me. Obviously commitment is an important part of any long-term relationship, especially when children are planned. But it seems to me like the marriage contract is somehow being used as leverage (or a crutch) between the two partners in order to make up for a lack of trust. Shouldn't love, trust, dedication and, most importantly, frequent and honest communication be enough so that a contract with the government isn't necessary? Without those traits one probably shouldn't commit one's life to another (or make babies together, for that matter).
  2. What does "til death do us part" mean to a 24-year old today? With medical advances in stem cells, robotics, nanotechnology and greater awareness of the toxins most of us put into our bodies every day, people may soon be living long past 100 years. A 24-year old making a legal agreement for their entire life could very well be entering into a 100-year contract, far different from the 20-40 year contracts of old.
  3. Historically the two partners in a marriage needed each other -- society said that the man was supposed to make the money and the woman was supposed to manage the home and raise the children. The husband was CEO of the family and the wife was Vice President of Homemaking. Their roles were clearly defined and each needed the other. Today we live, obviously, in a very different world where those roles are no longer limited by gender. Relationships today are (supposed to be) far more about two people loving each other and wanting to explore their lives together -- to learn from each other and grow together. They can have kids or not. They can both work or not. If people grow apart and don't want to be together anymore, it shouldn't require government process, paperwork and legal teams.

Here's an introduction to Harry Browne and the freedom traps that many of us fall into...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Denver Faves: Mayan Theatre

The Mayan Theatre is just a 5-minute bike ride away and has become my favorite arthouse cinema in Denver. See photo for awesomeness...

What a beauty!

The interior is similarly designed and has a bar on the 2nd floor where they let you take your beer into the theater. It's one of those old theaters that used to be one big theater with a balcony, but now they've divided the balcony into 2 separate spaces and still have the larger space on the main floor.

Every week I check to see what films are coming because they show indie/arthouse cinema. I saw "Boyhood" there, for instance.

It's a Denver fave for sure.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Turn $100 into $1500

In 2007 some co-workers and I each kicked in $20 to Kiva so that we could support entrepreneurs in developing nations around the world.

How Kiva Works
1. We read personal business profiles like below and decided who we wanted to help. The entrepreneurs are searchable by region, country, gender & business. There are NGOs local to the individual entrepreneurs that vetted the businesses for Kiva.

2. Our $100 was then broken up into smaller amounts (micro-loans) and loaned to people like this...


3. Other Kiva investors also loaned money to these businesses and the loans were paid back monthly over the course of a year or so.

4. Those re-paid dollars went back into our account so we could loan the money out again. Our initial $100 has been loaned out to the tune of $1,475.

Here are the cumulative stats for the entrepreneurs that my co-workers and I have supported in the past 7 years:

As you can see, there's a default rate of 6.78% which is about the same as what American borrowers have experienced in the same time period.

If you've never tried Kiva, I highly encourage you to check it out. It's fun reading through the bios of the different entrepreneurs and is an easy way to help out.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Things I'm Unlearning

Our first years of life are filled with learning. We know nothing and therefore everything is new and our brains are sponges that soak it all in. Personality and sense of self develop on top of it.

Of course we’re constantly learning all through life (good Lord willing), but the first 18 years where we’re legally classified a minor are the most foundational. Our first 18 years is where we rely most on our culture to guide us. 

The below items are things that I was taught that for one reason or another are no longer beneficial ingredients in my world. They were taught to me by our culture & society -- school, parents, friends, neighbors, television, radio, newspaper, magazines, advertising, government, etc. Some of them I probably even taught myself.

What you were taught was certainly different, but in my adult phase of life I’ve learned that each of these is, at best, out-dated or inaccurate and, at worst, toxic filth perpetrated to strengthen the ruling elite.

Things I'm Unlearning
    • Change your oil every 3,000 miles
    • Cooking is done in the microwave
    • Skinny is beautiful 
    • Do what you’re told
    • Conform to society
    • If you don't go to school and get good grades then you won't get into a good college and won't get a good job
    • Get a job (working for someone else)
    • USA is best country in the world
    • Government is here to help
    • The rules are for your benefit
    • Without rules there’d be chaos
    • Fear those who don’t look like you
    • Other cultures are (scary/wrong/weird)
    • People are supposed to get married and have children
    • A house looks like this
    • Driving a car is how we get around town
    • Renting an apartment is like throwing your money away
    • People on TV or radio are experts in whatever they’re talking about
    • People like me (Norwegians) are stubborn and don’t express their feelings
    • Food Pyramid is for your benefit, not the benefit of the current food production establishment who has pull in D.C.
    • Memorization of data is how we learn
    • Every vote counts
    • Politicians are public servants
    • etc.

 ...we also learn many more personal untruths that can affect our sense of self for decades.

This list was sparked after reading Practicing Radical Honesty by Dr. Brad Blanton.  The book surprised me because it went much deeper than simply touting the benefits of being honest with everyone all the time. In fact it barely touched on that and instead went looking for the root cause of why we lie so often and how it shapes us.

Practicing Radical Honesty helped me to understand why Americans in their 40s start to re-examine their lives -- where they’ve been and where they’re heading. It’s not so much a “mid-life crisis” as it is an evaluation. It seems it often takes us 20 years post-upbringing to be able to build up the life experiences to see that so many of the things we learned in our first 20 years are folly.

Fun Exercise

Here's a fun exercise:
  Take mental note each time you lie to yourself or other people, even the tiniest lie. 

For example, yesterday I was recounting to friends some work I had done the previous week. I'd done this work Monday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday but decided it was easier to just tell them that the work was done every weekday last week. I did this because conversationally it was simpler, but then that got turned into the story in my head. I began believing that my business benefited from me working 5 days last week when I only actually worked 4 days. Will my business thrive if I only do 80% of the work while convincing myself I did 100%?

I constantly lie to myself and others, usually in ways that are meant to make me look better, but often the lies are negative and restrictive like "That attractive woman is way out of my league. She'd never want to go out with me."

Who Cares

Why do we do this? Does it even matter?

It does matter. Over time we create our own personal story that's not a true reflection of who we really are. We become convinced that we're smarter than everyone else, a better driver of our automobile than everyone else, or shy or unattractive or anxious or whatever. 

Our personal narrative then defines us and restricts our world.

I don't know about you, but I don't want my world restricted.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Blogging vs. Facebook

I've noticed that I get about 2x the hits on any blog entry if I post a link on Facebook, but I don't care because this blog is for me.

Fuck Facebook. I've been done with it for months.

RSS still rules for ingesting information.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Communicating Without Judgement

About a year ago when I began to simplify my life I also started trying to learn how to meditate. Meditation was not something I’d done before, but increasingly as I read about people I admire they said how daily meditation was key to improving their lifestyle and to achieving what they did. Like this guy...

As we do, I googled it looking for mp3s of guided meditations that I could play to help me out. And I found one in particular that I liked -- a 20 minute meditation called Breath Meditation. It taught me to focus on my breathing and nothing else. Seems easy, but it’s incredibly hard because our mind is constantly racing. I was lucky to get in a breath or two before I got distracted.

Just recently I started using an app called Headspace that has nice guided meditations that are set up for beginners to grow with. The Headspace app works better for me because it is thoughtfully set up as a learning experience and not just a bunch of random meditations. I’m seeing progress.

But it wasn’t until I started using that app and was asked by it to clarify why I’m actually meditating that I really thought about why I’m doing it. To better live in the moment? To free my mind of clutter? To achieve some sort of inner peace or mindfulness?

Why I Meditate
Books like Mindfulness in Plain English and Non-Violent Communication (horrible name, I know) helped me realize that the reason I meditate is because I want to listen and communicate without judgement. Because if I ever want to be in a kickass relationship there's got to be good communication, right?

I’ve learned that I often carry too much personal baggage into a conversation and, as a result, don’t fully hear what the other person is saying. I have my own filters that block my brain that make it difficult to empathize. Much of that is because there’s always chatter from predispositions and stereotypes and worries and whatever that clog my mind. 


We all do it. We see someone and instantly form an opinion on them based on virtually no information. We all have strings of thoughts going through our heads all the time -- some of it is beneficial and some is not (that’s why we don’t speak everything that comes into our brains). But even when not spoken it’s still there clouding our empathy.

Something I learned while spending 6 weeks backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail earlier this year was that almost always the stuff going through my head is completely worthless. With that much solitude all I had was my own mind to keep me company, and my mind wasn’t as cordial and riveting a dinner guest as I had hoped. Over and over and over the same crap kept popping up, like...
    • how I might describe this particular place to others in the future when I recap my hike to them
    • what I want my future life to look like
    • women I’d been on a date or two with
    • women I’d never been on a date with but wanted to go on a date with (what can I say... I’m a guy)
    • how much longer until I’d take a break
    • etc.
And the most maddening thing of all was that the same ones would keep coming back and coming back. Ten minutes after I’d had a little two-sided mental discussion about something, it would come back again, demanding more attention. And I’d just repeat the same two-sided discussion in my head from ten minutes prior. Again and again.

I started saying to myself: “Stop thinking about that! It’s worthless and you already addressed it ten minutes ago and now you’re just repeating yourself. Just stop.”

Eventually this inner dialogue evolved to: “It’s interesting how these identical pointless thoughts keep popping up. I’m going to ignore you and simply use this experience to add to my understanding that this is how my brain wants to work.”

Upon further reading on mindfulness I learned that virtually everyone’s brain has been programmed to act like this. It’s only after we learn to calm the mind that we can truly be present and communicate without judgement.

So that’s why I’m learning to meditate -- because I want to quiet my mind's filters and communicate with more empathy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Random Shots

I picked up these mugs at Goodwill ($0.49 each) the other day and it feels like they have a story to tell.

Replacements T-shirt
This should go down in the annals as one of the all-time great rock band t-shirts.

Soul of Skiing
Steve Casimiro tells the story of bucking convention and using this amazing photo on the cover of Powder magazine’s Soul of Skiing issue back in the day. Apparently the cover photo wasn’t full of enough beautiful bodies and didn’t sell well at grocery stores. But if this isn't the soul of skiing then I don't know what is.

My backpacking trip to The Bob a couple weeks ago was with two friends who love foraging and wild mushrooms. We didn’t see any of these, but you can bet I was keeping my eyes peeled.

Hybrid Tree
Also in The Bob I saw this tree and should have taken a video to fully capture it. The bottom 4 feet of bark is dramatically different from the rest of it. On top, it’s a birch tree, but the bottom looks like a cottonwood or maple or something. Anybody know how/why this happens?

Personal Values Exercise

This values worksheet is something that helped me identify my goals and path in life when I was introduced to it several years ago. I’ve shared it with dozens of college students and they found it beneficial as well. I posted my top three values in my cubicle at work where I would constantly be reminded of them. It helped me to make decisions that were in line with my values when oftentimes competing options tried to take control of my life.

What do you value?
When push comes to shove, what is most important to you?

Click on it to download.

When you look at this list, many (most?) of the words will jump out to you as something you value. But the important thing to figure out for yourself is which few are the most important. 

It’s easy for us to say that we value the environment and education and freedom and happiness and loyalty and relationships and faith. But do we really? When faced with a decision between convenience and the environment, which do we choose?

How to Measure
The way we can best measure where we place our values is by looking at how we spend our time and our money. When we say we value happiness most of all, are we actually acting out our life in a way that supports that value? Is our time being spent doing things that make us happy? Or have we gotten caught up in going along with societal norms (what supposedly makes other people happy) at the expense of our own true happiness?

If you’ve never thought about your values before, I encourage you to complete the exercise. It’ll only take a few minutes.

In our society, it is super easy to get caught up in the crowd and to just go along with the flow because everyone else is doing it. That’s why it’s important to step back and examine the path we are on to make sure it’s the path we want to be on. After all, we are each captain of our own ship and it’s up to us to make the life for ourselves that we will cherish.

Simplifying My Life

This past weekend I moved into a 450 sq. ft. studio apartment in Denver historic neighborhood and it feels like I’ve been released from prison. Previously I’d been crashing with a buddy in the southern exurbs of Denver that was rural scrub brush 20 years ago and wholly designed for automobiles not people. Now I’m centrally located and can walk or bike to anywhere I want to go. I’m in a nice old neighborhood with many bars, restaurants, coffee shops, thrift stores and tattoo parlors. I’m also a block off of the Cherry Creek Trail which is a main bicycling thoroughfare in Denver and deserves more national recognition like the Greenway in Minneapolis. 

artist's rendering - not actual neighborhood

artist's rendering - not actual neighborhood

This is the first time as an adult that I’ve lived in a studio apartment and I’m diggin’ it. 450 sq. ft. feels just right because all I need space for is:
      • a place to sleep
      • a place to prepare food
      • a place to cleanse & relieve myself
      • a place to sit comfortably
      • minimal storage for seasonal and outdoorsy things
Anything more feels like wasted space to me since a whole city’s worth of parks and trails and entertainment is easily accessible via foot or bicycle.

Simple living is something I began taking baby steps toward about a year ago. This understanding of space needs came to me in my prior 1100 sq. ft., 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment when I realized that I always sat in the same chair and walked far more than was necessary to get to the kitchen or toilet or my bed. With thoughtful design and architecture, we can get a terrific feel of comfort and space out of a smaller place. Unfortunately, many Americans have not spent quality time in a thoughtfully designed space because we are all used to living in houses that were built in a manner that maximized profit for the developer.

I also realized I owned all sorts of stuff that I rarely or never used. At first it was hard to get rid of stuff. I started by moving unused things from, say, the kitchen into a closet. Then I gave myself a month to see if I actually needed them from the closet. If not (which was 99% of the time) I took them to Goodwill. There was even stuff packed in boxes that I moved to Bozeman from St. Paul 2 years prior that I had never taken out of the boxes! The guys at the drive-thru Goodwill dropoff became like brothers to me.

Books were more difficult to get rid of. To me, my bookshelf was a symbol that showed people who I was as a person. It didn’t matter that most of them were read 10 years ago (or never) because I thought it would help people to understand me and what was important to me. 

So I started by just grabbing 5 books that I thought I could do without and took them to Goodwill. That wasn’t so hard.

A couple months later I noticed that I hadn’t missed those books so I unloaded 5 more. This repeated itself a couple more times when I realized that I could by a Kindle and purchase digitally any books that I deemed I simply must own. 

Then I bought a Kindle Paperwhite after thinking through the fact that the Kindle would only be to replace my library and I didn’t need full color or quality web-browsing or anything else out of it.

Sayonara to the rest of my library! And I only ended up buying about 5 books on Kindle that I thought were essential for me to own. Now I read a lot more because it’s super easy to carry my entire library with me wherever I go -- it’s about 1/3 the size of a dime-store paperback.

Now I’ve been living for close to a year without those things and I can’t think of one that I wish I still had. I’m able to save money by living in a smaller place, never have to do Spring cleaning, and appreciate more that which I do have.

Simple living fever: Catch it!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bob Marshall's Chinese Wall

Last week was the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and I had the absolute pleasure of spending it in the amazing Bob Marshall Wilderness ("The Bob") in western Montana.

The Bob encompasses over 1.5 million acres of pristine mountains, rivers, forests and meadows and all the critters, from pika to grizzly, that call it home. The entire Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex includes the Great Bear Wilderness and Scapegoat Wilderness and sits just south of Glacier National Park in western Montana.

The Bob welcomes Dixie & me...

Who was Bob Marshall? Bob was a legendary outdoorsman and wilderness activist in the 1920s and '30s who died young at age 38 in 1939. An average day of hiking in this wilderness for him was about 35 miles and he was said to have hiked 70 miles in one day. In a word, Bob was a badass.

The goal of this trip was to visit the famed Chinese Wall, a 12-mile long natural stone wall that rises an average of 1000' above the valley floor.

First glimpse of the Chinese Wall...

Sunrise with tent beneath the wall...

My partners for this trip were Andrew and Dixie and they were terrific to hike with. We backpacked an average of about 12 miles per day in our lollipop loop that took us up to the wall, along the wall, up to Larch Pass, and back through the amazing meadows along the Sun River.

This pic is from a picturesque lunch spot at a dramatic inflection point where the wall makes a left turn...

The wall, it just keeps on going and going for 12 miles. We saw many cougar, wolf & bear tracks and scat on the trail through some really dense forest just east of here...

Contemplating the meaning of life, untrammeled wilderness, suburbs, jobs and cubicles...

Here's another view of the wall from it's shoulder on Larch Pass...

But it wasn't all about The Wall. There were gorgeous meadows and prairies, too, full of grouse & deer...

But the highlight of the trip for me was when I scattered my Mom's ashes in a meadow at the base of the wall. I knew this would be an amazing place and decided that 13 years after her death it was time to send this little portion of her back to the earth.

Saturday morning I left camp early and agreed to meet up with Andrew and Dixie later down the trail. I hiked a few miles to the wall and saw it for the first time in all its monolithic glory. A side trail lead to a meadow beneath the wall where I pulled the ashes out of my backpack. As I reached into the pack a nearby raven called out and sent a shiver down my spine. Then I opened the jar and the raven called again as tears welled up in my eyes. I spread the ashes and the raven rang out 5 more times over the next minute before launching itself from the tree eastward towards the rising sun. Now the tears were flowing like the nearby Sun River and I was immensely thankful for this amazingly special moment.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Daily Observations

  • 8/20: Pills? For the rest of my life? Are you fucking kidding me? It turns out that even if I eat a perfect diet rich in leafy greens, plentiful in micronutrients, and devoid of sugar ‘n booze I still wouldn’t be able to lower my blood pressure to a healthy level. This according to a preventive health care cardiologist who works with the Denver Broncos and Colorado Rockies. I guess the bright side is that I found it now and can relieve my genetic mutation before it does irreparable harm. I'll still be talking to a naturopath, however, for a second opinion.
  • 8/21: I’ve been obsessing over small houses lately. Not tiny houses that are under 200 sq. ft., but small houses that are under 1000 sq. ft. I plan to own one of these on a couple acres with a view some day, hopefully sooner rather than later. For me it could easily be a primary home, for simple living is a beautiful thing. But I also hope to have a second small home (condo?) in an urban setting.

photos via

  • 8/22: A pet peeve of mine is going to a bar for a beer and being served a frosted glass. Don’t the idiots running the establishment realize that that the frost on the glass quickly turns to water both inside with the beer and outside where my hands are?
  • 8/23: The other day I was reminded, in a refreshingly humane way, that they still occasionally fuck you at the drive-thru. To err is human, right? Of course I forgave them.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Daily Observations

  • 8/14: Since I backpacked for 600 miles along the PCT earlier this summer, one would think that I enjoy hiking. Today would seem to counter that argument because I’m at Grand Teton National Park and can’t get myself to gear up and go for a real hike. I’m quite content just to hang out in or near my van and chill, even though I’ve been sitting on my ass driving here for most of the past 2 days. The momentum of stillness can be overwhelming sometimes.
  • 8/15: Today is the day I worked up the courage and talked to Laura K. She’s mesmerized me from the first time I saw her but I always came up with reasons that she wouldn’t want to go out with me. We’ll find out Sunday if the agreed upon meeting takes place. #counteresperanto
  • 8/16: It took me all of 2 minutes being back in Bozeman to bump into a friend. I need to expand my horizons in Denver so I’m meeting cool new people. First up: volunteer next week at the Bike-In Movie event.
  • 8/17: It doesn’t even matter that the mesmerizingly gorgeous Laura K. canceled our date tonight, as I suspected she might. The most important thing is that I overcame my fear of approaching beautiful women and asked her out. Who’s next?
  • 8/18: Podcasts are the greatest thing for road trippin’ since the advent of the mix tape. Nothing like listening to 10 hours of humor, education and mind-expanding experts discuss whatever it is you’re into.
  • 8/19: Relationships are hard. Helping someone else figure out relationships is even harder.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Journey's End

Seven weeks after departure I'm on a train heading back to Denver from Oakland. Actually I'm on the California Zephyr which will continue on to Chicago and I'm listening to Ben Gibvard's song "California Zephyr" on repeat. 

My last week was spent in Carmel, CA visiting my aunt and cousins. Carmel is a great place to have family. It's neighborhoods and ocean bay setting are like out of a fairytale. I am thankful for my living family. 

Highlights from Carmel included (1) spending quality time with my aunt and her wife and (2) riding her pink bike along the scenic 17-mile drive that winds through Pebble Beach golf course, past Lone Cyprus and along the gorgeous coast teeming with rocks and seals and otters. No Clint Eastwood sighting this time, but I did see former Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson at my cousins church Sunday morning. 

Lone Cypress...

This is the culmination of my longest ever journey, almost twice as long as the time I spent in Indonesia a few years ago. Traveling is something I highly prioritize and I'm always thinking about what adventure comes next. Six weeks in and around Paris is sounding pretty damn good next spring. We shall see. I've always wanted to just hang in Paris for awhile and get to know her. 

Trip Summary
It felt empowering to finally get confidently dialed in on my backpacking skillz. Backpacking is something I've dabbled with since trips to the Boundary Waters Camoe Area in my early teens. But it's never been something that I've done seriously. I now have the confidence that would allow me to just take off from virtually anywhere and go hike for a week or two. This is valuable to me because so many of the places I find truly beautiful in our world are off the main road a piece. And now a few nights out camping seems like nothing. Also, the joy that comes from witnessing beauty is heightened for me by being among few people as well as by the journey itself. As Clark Griswold said: getting there is half the fun. 

The most powerful emotional moment of the journey occurred on the day when I truly entered into the heart of the High Sierra. I'd been hiking with friends up over Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT at 13,200 feet. It was the gateway to Kings Canyon National Park and the amazing mountains and valleys I've written about previously. I put on my headphones and hiked out ahead of my companions for a couple hours. I sat down for a break to enjoy the phenomenal view of mountain peaks and was listening to the Morphine album "Cure for Pain" when the title track came on with the lyrics:

I'm free now
Free to look out the window
Free to live my story
Free to sing along 

It helped me feel excellent about the life choices I've made but made me miss my mother who died 13 years ago because I know how proud she would be of me. I had a really good cry as the confluence of the mountains, those lyrics and memories oft my mother was quite powerful. 

I'm not sure what this says about me, but  I seem to be in my most heightened positive emotional states when two of these three are present: a beautiful place, music that I love, a couple beers. There's gotta be room in there for a beautiful person too.  

Moment of Stupidity
After surviving six weeks of backpacking with nothing worse than a tear in the seat oft my rain pants from glissading down the snowfield from Mather Pass, I lost my glasses in the ocean in Carmel. My eyes are as bad as anyone I know and so I'm used to thinking that I can do nothing without my glasses. I intentionally didn't bring ong a spare pair because I knew its just be extra dead weight in my pack every day hiking. So I went surfing with my glasses in (including a strap). Even though I was just in the shallow water the strap want tight enough and they were taken from me by a small wave. I spent most of the next day at an eye care chain and am now wearing temporary contact lenses that allow me to see far just fine, but for which reading is extrely difficult. Please excuse any typos. 

The silver lining is that I ponied up to get the latest in bifocal technology called progressive lenses that I think I'll grow to appreciate. I used to think bifocals were for old people but clearly I was mistaken. 

What's Next
One journey's end is another journey's beginning. Back in Denver my goal for the next couple years is to generate an income stream that doesn't involve me having a boss or working for somebody else. The income stream does not need to be substantial for I have few obligations. Most important to me is freedom with my time. It'll likely include ownership of one or more SuperCuts hair salon franchises and maybe some rental real estate too. 

In Conclusion 
We only go around this crazy world once.  I'm trying to thoughtfully align my actions with my values by living fully and treading lightly (see prior tattoo post). I think I've been doing a good job in the physical or intellectual sense of living fully. But I know  I could do better on the emotional side and I look forward to exploring that further. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

On Nationalism

On this Fourth of July, what does it mean to be an American?

One answer: It means you're a patriot who believes in the constitution, freedom of speech, one person one vote, a free market, the pursuit of happiness, apple pie and baseball. 

Another answer: It means you are a part of one small slice of (God's?) humanity who finds yourself living between certain imaginary lines drawn on a map. 

In a recent post I mentioned that you would be the first to know when I solved world peace. Upon further reflection, I think the only thing holding us back from world peace is cultural understanding and the empathy that inevitably results. 

In recent years we've seen the dissolution of nations that were devised by post-world war policies into smaller tribes defined by sameness of culture and beliefs. 

Nations are simply geographical groups of people who have a common government. Tribes are groups of people with a common cultural or ancestral heritage. 

Are nations a crutch used by humans who don't yet have the capacity to understand each other's cultural difference? 

Do nations exacerbate cultural differences through territorialism and war? 

Or are nations meant to be a ladder for humanity to help it reach something higher?

And does nationalism necessarily follow the creation of a nation? Is rooting for the USA in the World Cup (or in WWIII) any different than being a Viking or Packer fan? It's all essentially based on where we were born and that seems a silly reason for allegiance. 

The more I've had the pleasure of traveling the world, the more I feel the idea of nationalism is folly. Our nations are just like groups of NFL fans. We all think our nation is the best and tout its strengths with pride while overlooking its weaknesses. We rally behind a decorated flag and go to battle in support of ideals that are essentially the same as everyone else's. Only when it comes to the pursuit of happiness there are enough Stanley Cups to go around for everyone. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

PCT Diaries: Where To Go From Here

The first five weeks of this journey were spent hiking north for 500 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail and concurrently for 210 miles the John Muir Trail (which terminates in Yosemite National Park). 

The sixth week has been spent enjoying the breathtaking splendor of our most popular national park from perspectives and vantage points I'd never experienced before. 

So frankly, after the mind-blowing JMT and the beauty of Yosemite I'm having a hard time thinking that anything better awaits me north of here on the PCT. 

Yosemite has been a nice respite from the rigors of hiking long days without feeling that I had enough time to really stop and smell the flowers. The reality of the PCT is that it is often 100-150 miles between resupply points. The slower you hike the more food you need to carry and hence the slower you hike -- a downward spiral. So it behooves one to try to do about 20 miles a day and that means, for me, hiking about 7am - 6pm with some
short breaks but not enough long breaks. 

Five weeks and 500 miles of that was just the right dose for me. I enjoyed it greatly and I'm done going northbound on the PCT. 

But that doesn't mean I'm done. First I'm going to visit family in Carmel, CA and hopefully do some surfing. Then, as is now penciled into my date book, I'm going to head to Lake Tahoe and check out the 165-mile rim trail that circles the lake up in the mountains. Parts of it are supposed to be spectacular. Then I'll likely catch the Amtrak from Reno back to Denver. 

All this is subject to change of course. Don't touch that dial.

Yosemite Falls...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

PCT Diaries: Yosemite Detour

Technically I've been to Yosemite National Park before, but only technically. 

Once as a teen my family drove into Yosemite Valley, was turned off by the hordes of people more than turned on by the majestic beauty, and promptly drove out after spending a couple hours looking around. A couple years ago I made a similar visit and neither of them came close to doing justice to this place. 

This is me standing atop Cloud's Rest with Yosemite Valley behind and beneath me. Famous Half Dome can be seen on the left...

So now that I'm in Yosemite with no schedule to keep I believe it is time for me to do it up right. That means taking a detour from the Pacific Crest Trail hike for a week or more and exploring the place that first sparked the idea for national parks. 

Not bad, eh? Fifty shades of grey, indeed. 

And in how many places do three bucks cross a river right toward you?

 ...or can you see a coyote stalk a prairie dog?

The prairie dog was no fool -- it simply went underground. 

In order to keep hiking here I'll have to get backcountry permits and will need to go see a ranger about that. On the southern end of the park is the Mariposa Grove of sequoia trees which was the original impetus for protecting this area. I'd like to see that. And Hetch Hetchy is a famous valley that was sadly dammed up for the damn southern Californians who keep reproducing in a place that doesn't have its own water supply. 

So that's the plan for now. I won't make it as far north on the PCT a originally planned, but this feels like a much better use of my time than just ticking off northbound miles. 

p.s. The most facial hair I've ever worn enjoyed waiting out the first real rain of the past five weeks. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

PCT Diaries: A Day in the Life

Of course every day is slightly different, but this one is pretty typical of a day spent hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014. I'll do five or six of these in a row and then hit up a small town for resupply of food (beer) and a night or two in a hotel to rest up my feet and mind (beer). 

• Awaken around 5:30 to the sound of the birds welcoming the dawn. 
• Depending on how cold it is, get out of the tent around 6:30. If it's super duper cold like that night cowboy camping by the Kern River then I'm already up and on the trail trying to warm my ass up. And no, I'm not using a donkey to carry my gear. 
• Eat a Clif Bar or Pro Meal Bar for breakfast. 
• Hit the trail around 7am. If I'm planning to hike around 20 miles then it'll likely take me 10 hours to accomplish that, including appropriate rest and one good foot soak in a cold lake or stream. 
• Second breakfast around 9 or so. I'll stop for 5-10 minutes, eat something and rest my feet for a bit. 
• Keep on hiking, snacking, occasionally resting and admiring the gorgeous views until mid-afternoon, say 2ish. Food consists of sausage, cheese, Triscuits, nuts, dried fruit. 
• I've probably got a good 15 miles in by 2ish and the dogs are barking. It's time for a nap. Find a lovely spot preferably next to a babbling brook or singing stream and lay down. Shoes come off, socks come off and get hung in a nearby bush to breathe, and I spread eagle it out on my back and feel the fatigue flow out of me. Remain here for 60-90 minutes. 
• Crank out the last five miles with my rejuvenated body and search for a good campsite. Above 10,000 feet I'm more selective because the nights can get cold -- stay away from water and avoid geological depressions. For the past week I've been at low enough altitude that that hasn't been an issue. I'm using a 35-degree sleeping bag while most hikers are using more like a 15-degree bag. That means mine is smaller and lighter but I need to be more thoughtful about where I sleep. So far I've only had two nights that were too cool for comfort (see Kern River above) and the high mountains are behind me. Every night I wear long underwear, my puffy down jacket, rain jacket atop that, and a balaclava on my head. Maybe gloves. 
• Make dinner around 7pm. I'm eating one hot meal per day and that's normally at dinner. Beef Stroganoff is my favorite and the scrambled eggs with bacon are horrible. Note to self: try to trade rapidly accumulating bags of freeze dried scrambled eggs for beer or cheap liquor at next town. 
• 8pm hit the sack and read for a bit. Right now I'm reading "Lonesome Dove" and enjoying it very much. I've struggled to appreciate fiction over the past decade  so I'm happy when I find one I can get into. 
• 8:30 lights out. I'm beat. But twice tonight I will arise to empty my bladder and enjoy the glory of the Milky Way, the stars, and the moon when she is shining.  I think there has only been one cloudy night out of more than 30 so far. 

What Do You Think About?
That's 10-12 hours of hiking every day. Doesn't it get boring?
What do you think about?

The answers are, quite simply...
  it can
  mostly useless crap. 

Allow me to explain...

When faced with hours of contemplative time day after day, I've found that mostly my mind thinks of worthless crap like "how would I describe this experience to someone who might ask me about it in the future" or "would I rather own a ski condo at Bridger Bowl that has no cell service or internet or own a condo at some bullshit Colorado faux resort where the ski terrain is lame?" Actually getting a song stuck in my head is a relatively good thing. Recently I've been reminded of amazing Minneapolis summers courtesy of Semisonic's "Sculpture Garden". 

Perhaps half this hike I've been hiking with other people and that can provide occasional stimulating conversation. When alone, I'll put on headphones about half the time and listen to music or podcasts that are good at energizing my brain. 

What I've found about myself is that left to its own devices, my brain is a long ways from solving world peace. It loves to ramble on and on about worthless crap. Perhaps it is self-indulgent crap. 

So far I have had two lucid thoughts:

1. See the prior post about abortion. Ha! You may not deem it lucid and it's only semi-formed and to be clear I still love abortions, but I think it makes a sound debate point at the very least. 
2. Upon my return I will be a sign spinner for SuperCuts DU. Yaaaay SuperCuts!!

Given what I've learned in my recent practice of mindfulness and meditation, I take this to mean that I have simply not yet reached the point where I'm able to clear my mind of all the noise and clutter that come with being a part of modern American society. It is also my understanding that few actually achieve this but I believe it is something worth striving for. I've read the blogs of other PCT hikers who talk about all the demons they are trying to overcome and I'm thankful that I don't have demons. 

So yeah. That's what I think about. Or don't think about. 
When I solve world peace you'll be the first to hear about it. 

p.s. Nice marmot. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pro-Life Stance Doesn't Go Far Enough

In the abortion debate that has thankfully taken a backseat in recent years to far more important national issues, the pro-life stance states that life begins at inception and that a fetus should be protected from being murdered. 

I don't believe that protecting a fetus from murder goes far enough. 

If the fetus is to be considered a citizen with human rights, then I believe we should protect it In other ways too - specifically from pollution (

Millions of babies each year are born at a disadvantage because they were not allowed to develop properly due to all sorts of chemicals being forced upon their developing minds and bodies. There are established pollution laws outside the womb in our society, so why not inside too? If life begins at inception then I believe that life deserves the right to good health, too.

I'm Pro-Health, Pro-Happiness, Pro-Future, Pro-Hope. 

For instance, a pregnant woman who smokes cigarettes would be committing a crime. As would one who ingests too much processed food containing certain chemicals known to be unhealthy to a developing child. 

Obviously this wouldn't be the easiest law to uphold, but what it would do is teach young people over the course of a generation that it is wrong to poison children with toxins of many forms - not just drugs and alcohol, but junk food and soda. It would help us as a society to be more thoughtful about how treat our bodies and especially for those who don't have the ability to make their own healthy choices.