Friday, November 27, 2015

How I Can Travel Indefinitely

Last night I was out for dinner with four new friends, one each from Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Holland. They were shocked to hear that I have saved enough money to be able to live/travel on $1500/month for the next 10 years. Their ages range from approximately 30-35. It is my understanding that two of them have professional careers similar to what I was doing at their age, and they may not have been as shocked as the other two.

It got me to thinking: how exactly did I get to this point and why do people find it so odd? I've done nothing extraordinary and I made less money than most of my close friends from home who had similar upbringings and education.

One of my new friends (Dutch) noted that the four of them likely pay higher taxes in their home countries than I do in the USA. After all, her university was paid for by the government and my Austrian friend is actually getting paid by his government to study Spanish language in Argentina. So I imagine it to be true that they pay higher taxes than me, and it is definitely a factor, but this post is not going to get in-depth on international tax policy.

Let's examine the various factors that helped lead me to this life of long-term travel.

1) Upbringing

When I was growing up it was my expectation that I would (1) go to college, (2) get a good job at a big company, (3) work my way up the corporate ladder, and (4) retire at age 65. So when I went to college I majored in both math and economics -- math because I liked it and was good at it, and economics because of reasons (2) and (3) above.

Until I was about 40 I continued to live out my obedient childhood where I mostly did as I was expected (except for getting married and making babies) and gained favor from my parents, grandparents and other older relatives. I believe my parents raised me as they did because they came from strict households headed by 1st or 2nd generation Americans who lived through the Great Depression and passed on to them the values of duty, diligence and obedience. Their upbringing was probably not too dissimilar from the stereotype we are familiar with today of Asian-American households, many of which are headed by citizens who survived the Korean or Vietnam war and have made large sacrifices for the benefit of their children.

2) Income

With my double major from a well-respected liberal arts college I achieved an initial salary of $18,000 at an entry level job with a Fortune 500 company who sold life insurance and financial planning. I worked hard and for three years I received promotions until I decided to become a ski bum at age 26 and live in Utah for two years where I earned minimum wage of around $6-$8/hour.

Do you remember Y2K when the world was going to end because computers were not originally programmed to handle the year 2000? Because I had a math degree I got hired back by the same financial services firm after my ski bum years. They paid me $40,000 plus a $5,000 signing bonus. Awesome! This was a huge surge in my income and I can attribute it to (1) math education, (2) crisis in the market, (3) my willingness to learn new skills, and (4) good relations I had built up at that company.

1998-2005 was a good time to be a computer programmer because the field was exploding and, with it, demand and salaries. I hung on for the ride and it was the longest I would ever work in any one discipline. Every day I was being challenged and learning and seeing visible growth/results. The instant feedback provided by computer programming was great. I could change code, re-run the program, and instantly know if I was on the right track or not. This was valuable for my happiness.

But I didn't see a future for myself in IT management. I wanted to be in Marketing because I identified more with the personalities I saw in management positions there. I knew, though, that I needed a bridge job to get into Marketing because I had zero experience in that field. So I got a job in Internal Audit which allowed me valuable face time with Marketing management, something I knew would help me in the transition.

It worked. After two years in Internal Audit I got the hip, innovative job I wanted. I would be helping to develop new startup business ventures under the safety of the corporate umbrella. I got to work for a startup with with very little personal risk. My salary rose with it until several years later when I moved to Montana in order to better align my lifestyle with my personal values (i.e. living fully in mountains and skiing frequently). I had gotten a taste of management and it wasn't for me. I was prepared to make less money but live a lifestyle more in line with my personal values, which I had spent time cultivating with help from my longtime employer.

And make less money I certainly did. I became a financial rep selling life insurance and mutual funds and made far less money. Then I took another financial step backwards when I quit that to buy a small business hair salon franchise in Colorado. I lost money as an entrepreneur, but I'm glad I gave it a shot.

3) Saving & Expenses

Aside from the last five years I was always pretty conscious of my expenses. Spend less than you earn seems so simple, but it eludes many Americans. After the 2008 financial debacle President George W. Bush urged us all to go shopping in order to help the economy.

When I got my first job out of college making $18,000 I immediately purchased a brand new car for $12,000 even though I already owned a perfectly good car in good shape with very low mileage (but it wasn't very good looking). Can you imagine buying a car that is valued at 2/3 of your annual income, even though you know it loses 30% of its value the minute you drive it off the lot? Perhaps you can. Many of us have done it. This photo is not my actual car (same make and model, though), but you can see why I wasn't too enamored with it as a suit-and-tie wearing, upwardly mobile 23-year old. Or maybe you are envious of me and my sweet set of now-vintage wheels.


In my 20s and 30s I always spent less than I made (see: Upbringing) and at age 29 I thankfully succumbed to the programming of working for a mutual fund company and finally began saving. For the next 12 years I maxed out my IRA contributions and put 20% of my salary into a 401(k) which was partially matched by my employer. I even put a little more into non-retirement mutual funds.

From ages 42-45, however, I earned about zero dollars and only lowered my spending by a little. As you can see via the above graph I was putting a significant dent into my savings.

College Expenses

In the United States it is not uncommon for parents to pay for as much of their kids college education as they are reasonably able to, at least among my peers. It is fairly normal for parents to try to pay between $10,000 and $20,000 per year for each of their child's 4-year college education. In many European countries they are essentially paying the same, but they do it through taxes. Or probably they contribute less in taxes because the expense is more equally shared among all the population, not just those with children. Since I never had children I don't pay this expense either directly or indirectly. However, since I do still value education, most years I donate a small sum to my alma mater.

When I was in college I believe it was less common for parents to pay for their children because college wasn't nearly as expensive back then. But I was fortunate that my grandparents paid for my college, so while some of my peers paid first for their own college and then paid again and paid again for each of their children, I paid never.


The average American spends $8000 per year (data here is a few years old) for each automobile they own. I always owned fuel-efficient, practical vehicles and ever since 9/11 preferred to ride my bicycle to work and to errands around town as much as possible. In the years before that I always took the bus to work. I don't know my annual transportation expenses, but they were significantly less than the American average. I also chose to live in central locations which helped minimize this expense.

Health Care

Some countries have extensive government sponsored health care and the people pay very little out-of-pocket to the doctor. Of course they still pay it, but they pay it in taxes. USA did not do this and the fact that I am a healthy person means I pay very little in health care expenses. I pay less for health care than non-healthy Americans and probably also less than many healthy Europeans because I don't pay as much to support others in ill health.

Current Expenses & What I Need to be Happy

I'm quite happy owning only what I can fit in a carry-on sized backpack, bouncing from hostel to volunteer farm to hostel over the next several years, and keeping my spending low.


On the income/expense graph at the top of this post you can see that I was doing quite well financially for myself until age 42 when I decided to scratch my entrepreneurial itch. The past three years I spent much more than I made, which took a big chunk (>$100K) from my savings. However, it just so happened that, after losing my mother to cancer in 2001, my father died of cancer this past April barely three months after diagnosis. From him I inherited almost exactly the amount I had lost the prior few years.

Which brings me to now.


So how can I afford to travel for about ten years on $1,500 per month?
  1. I got a good education for free
  2. I was obedient enough to work hard for 20+ years in jobs that, while I wasn't passionate about any of them, paid me a reasonable wage
  3. Kept myself healthy
  4. Took calculated risks that sometimes worked out (IT career) and sometimes didn't (entrepreneurial career)
  5. Save, save, save. Didn't get caught up in consumer culture.
  6. Lived in a lower tax nation (compared to some) that allowed me more control of the money I earned
  7. Understanding that material possessions do not bring me happiness
  8. Fortuitous timing
Last night's conversation sparked this analysis and it's been beneficial to me to write this. I look forward to more discussions with new international friends in order to better understand the world and myself.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Staying Healthy While Traveling

So far in my new world of travel I've been doing a good job of staying healthy. Historically when I'd travel for a week or two it made for an easy excuse to go out drinking every night and eat gelato and fried street food daily. But if this is to be more of a lifestyle then I can't be doing that. For long-term traveling to be a sustainable lifestyle for me I need to be more conscious about what I'm putting in my body and also about what is coming out of my wallet.

Eating & Drinking

Around town there are many little markets selling fresh fruits and vegetables so I've been picking up apples and bananas and kiwis to carry around with me as snack food. The hostel has a kitchen for residents, but I'm still really not a fan of preparing food so I'm not sure if I'll use it. Yesterday I found a little bakery near the Spanish school and had a tasty veggie quiche kind of deal for lunch - $3. Today is my fifth day and I still haven't drank any of the famous wine (quality vino can be had for $5/bottle) or eaten any of the legendary steak ($10 for the best steak of your life, I'm told). Tonight might be the night for yoga followed by steak and wine, however.

The hostel breakfasts have been disappointing health-wise, but I bought some granola at a grocery store last night in order to spice up the thin yogurt that they serve along with bananas, bread and sugared cereals. The below photo is my breakfast this morning and I imagine it will be for the better part of the next month. The tea is matte and, after vino, it's the national drink of Argentina.


Last night I went to a yoga class and it felt great. In fact I'm much more interested in doing more yoga and not even partaking in the whole tango scene. Tango dancing is a deep part of the culture in Argentina and I feel like I should do it because of that, but I really don't care much for dancing and would rather spend a couple evenings a week doing yoga. Over the past year I've really learned to enjoy yoga and prefer it to working out at the gym or going for a run.

Yoga isn't quite as expensive in Argentina and last night was also a good way to meet some other foreigners. The class I attended was recommended by a German student in my Spanish language class and also acted as an impetus to get me on the subway (crowded like Tokyo at rush hour) and out to a charming neighborhood that's about an hour walk from where I'm staying. After class I walked home in the dark and was refreshed by the cooler evening air.


In other news, first day of Spanish class yesterday was great. There are just 4 of us in the class -- me, a guy from Chicago, a woman from Germany and an Austrian gentleman. Good folks, all, and the four hours of class went by surprisingly rapidly.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Arrival in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Travel from Denver to Buenos Aires, Argentina (via Toronto and Santiago, Chile) went smoothly, with the only challenging leg being the final one via taxi from the airport to my hostel which took close to 2 hours due to congestion caused by traffic accidents. 

During the long, slow drive I was excited to see wonderful bicycle conditions including many protected bike lanes and even bike-specific traffic signals. When the little dude on the bicycle is green, that means go.

Alas, my joy of a bicycle paradise was short-lived upon realizing that Argentina suffers from the same struggles as the United States -- motorists enjoy parking their automobiles in the "dedicated" bike lanes. Perhaps we are not so different after all.

The hostel I'm staying at is quite nice and I have a private room w/ simple breakfast for about $16/night. I'll stay here for a month while I'm taking 20 hours of Spanish language lessons each week. My room measures 7' x 11' so, yes, it is slightly smaller than a sheet of writing paper. But it's bigger than my camper van so it feels palatial to me. Not pictured to the viewers left is a little wardrobe where my clothes are hanging.

The hostel has a very nice common room with couches, a pool table, a bar selling very reasonably priced wine and beer, and usually has several other travelers lounging around all staring intently at their personal electronic devices.

So far I've yet to meet another native English speaker. It turns out many of the visitors here are from other South American nations like Brazil and Ecuador, but I did chat in English last night with a couple nice German frauleins.

Take a Walk

Yesterday I went for a walk to check out the surrounding neighborhoods. If you look at a map Buenos Aires is situated on a small inlet of the Atlantic Ocean and just across the bay is Uruguay. There's an ecological preserve along the ocean a short walk east of my hostel so I headed there to enjoy the lovely weather -- 70s and sunny every day so far.

It turns out that Buenos Aires kind of turns its back to the ocean because the shoreline is actually quite marshy. The seashore has always been more utilitarian and a port was developed in the 19th century to service ships. But the original port was decommissioned over 100 years ago and moved down the coast. In the last 20 or 30 years some infill was added to allow for the new condominiums that you see here. This photo was taken from the eco preserve looking back across the marsh toward those flashy new condos on the edge of the city.

This flower struck me as being particularly pretty. Wouldn't you agree? It's springtime here now and this flower is on a tree and appears to have been the first one to bloom. Hopefully the tree will be full of them soon.

About a mile into the eco walk I got to the beach. It's a little rocky and actually many of those rocks you see are worn chunks of concrete (some with visibly jutting re-bar) that once made up the port here. Many people were hanging out and there are a number of benches under lovely trees, but it's not exactly a beach for surfing and sunbathing.

That's it for now. Tomorrow I begin my Spanish lessons and I'm excited to get started and meet the other 5 or 6 people in my class.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Today is the first day of the second half of my life. Like the day I was born, I own zero keys and only the clothes I carry on my back.

Today I depart on a one-way ticket for Buenos Aires, Argentina where I will spend a month studying Spanish and exploring the city. After that I expect to fly down to Tierra del Fuego and begin slowly making my way north. I expect to be traveling for at least a couple years and have no definitive plans to return to America (though I'm sure I will at some point).

I accidentally deleted the photo of everything in my backpack that I was going to put here, but here's my carry-on size, 46-litre backpack, the Osprey Porter:

What is it like in life to have zero external obligations, zero commitments, zero dependents? In one way there's a level of freedom that feels amazing because I've thrown off the shackles of jobs and bills. In many ways it feels to me like an achievement, and I feel good about that. But there's also a high level of the unknown, which is always slightly unsettling. I think slightly unsettling is good to have in our lives, though. It keeps everything fresh and exciting.

I used to pretty much know how every day was going to play out -- wake up, get ready, bike to work, eat lunch with the same crew at one of a handful of different places, anticipate going home, go home, hang out or go out, sleep, repeat 5 times until hallelujah the weekend.

Of course I still have internal obligations -- be a better listener, eat healthier to combat hypertension, find love -- and those tug at us just as strongly as the external. So perhaps it's not that the burden has lessened so much, but there are fewer pieces so it's easier to navigate and make sure I stay true to my north star.

And so I take a big leap towards what feels to me like the most KIRK I can be -- traveling, learning, understanding, helping, discovering.

I'll continue to share my thoughts along the way. This blog is not to be confused with a travel blog (i.e. one where the goal is to provide a modest income in order to fund perpetual travel). It is and always has been merely a record of my thoughts and experiences that is foremost for my own benefit. We've all been told that journaling is healthy, right? Secondarily I hope some people enjoy reading about what I've been up to, perhaps even becoming inspired to take a similar leap. Life is too short to know how every day is going to turn out.

Travel is fatal to prejudicebigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." 
                  ― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It.
I'm looking to achieve much of what Twain describes in the above quote and I know that it cannot be gained by "vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime". I want to kill my personal prejudice and bigotry and broaden my mind. The recent terrorist attacks remind me that progress comes from the bottom up and we are all responsible for building bridges between cultures.

If you have any friends who live in different parts of the world, please make the connection if you think we would enjoy meeting each other. Gracias.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Kirk's Travel/Life Plan

Kirk's Travel/Life Plan

  1. See the world
  2. Don't make a plan

In a little over a week I fly one-way to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I'm 45 years old and it's likely that my life is about half over. Much of the first half was spent being a good boy and doing as I was told. The last several years, however, were spent asking questions about what is important to me. The last several years were spent stripping away much of the cultural baggage I grew up with and trying to understand myself from a broader perspective.

It is easy to see many benefits in the way I grew up. I received a very good (for it's time) formal education for free (thanks Grandma & Grandpa!). I was taught the value of planning for the future. 

The future is now.


Money is obviously a reality of travel. As stated above, I was taught early on that saving money was a good thing. Then I had a 20-year career in the financial services industry where I was similarly brainwashed that saving for retirement (whatever that means in the 21st century) was critical. 

I am thankful for those lessons.

If you look at a map of the world, 80% of the land mass includes places that are quite inexpensive compared to the USA. Aside from the US, Canada and western Europe, a solo traveler can pretty easily live on $1000-$1500/month. That would be just my bill for gasoline and auto insurance if I was road-tripping around North America in my old VW Eurovan.


I've always been a planner, but I'm putting those days behind me and taking a leap. Do I have enough money saved up to completely retire and travel the world living in exotic locales for the next 45 years? No.

But do I have enough money to travel the world for the next several years while keeping my eyes and ears open to potential future income streams? Yes, but I'm only interested in income streams that will be mostly enjoyable instead of mostly a grind. 

I've always been jealous of people to have careers that they actually enjoy. It was pretty cool for me to work for a not-for-profit that gave to charity over $1 billion during my tenure. But still, virtually every day on the job I would have rather been doing something else.

The Plan

Right now my plan includes formally studying Spanish 20 hours per week for a month in Buenos Aires. After that it's up in the air, though I do have an outline of what things might look like. 

A likely scenario is that after getting a couple semesters worth of Spanish in me I'll fly down to the southern tip of Argentina and work my way north at a leisurely pace. I'll do some trekking in Patagonia and take my time winding up through Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. I could spend days or months in any of those countries. Then I'll make my way through Central America, the whole time looking for opportunities to do extended bicycle touring along the way.

The one constraint I have is that I want to get to China while my buddy Mike is still living there, so sometime in the next 2 years or so. Perhaps when I hit Mexico City is when I'll fly to Shanghai.

When will I be back stateside? I honestly don't know and don't care. At this point I have no plan to come back to the US. We'll see how the reality of long-term travel matches up with whatever is in my head. I'm sure I'm romanticizing large portions of it, but also have read the blogs of many people who are happily living the sort of vagabond lifestyle that I'm envisioning -- stay put in cool places as long as I want and move on whenever I please. I can certainly see myself at some point having a home base from which to launch long-term jaunts, but that home base could be in any number of nations that are less expensive than here.

Travel is People

If you have any friends in any of these places that you think would be fun for me to meet, please let me know. The greatest benefit of travel is connecting with and learning from all sorts of different people in all sorts of different cultures.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Kirk's Bucket List

As I set out to travel the world, here's my bucket list:
  1. Fall in love. Mutually. With, you know, a woman.
  2. Achieve pretty good mindfulness (or at least peace of mind by quieting the voice in my head)
  3. Stand up (go to jail?) for something I believe in
  4. Help a friend accomplish something on their bucket list

Friday, October 30, 2015

Travel is Fatal to Prejudice, Bigotry and Narrow-mindedness

The more I live, the more I'm learning that I don't want to settle down in any one place for the rest of my life. Curiosity overwhelms me, and perhaps after I take one complete, leisurely lap around the planet then I'll be more content with my understanding of the world and more able to find one place that satisfies me for the long term.

I'm driven in part by the truth in this quote from Mark Twain:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

I desire to have "broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things". I believe the world would be a better, more peaceful place if more of us, especially us Americans with our big stick, used travel as a means to better understand our fellow man.

None of us chooses where we are born, and yet we almost entirely ascribe lofty patriotic ideals upon whatever happens to be the nation of our birth. It's called brainwashing and it's usually not meant with ill intent, unless you happened to live in Korea north of the 38th parallel after WWII. But all nations use propaganda to encourage patriotism among their people and it's important for all of us to understand that and seek different perspectives.

Soon I will become a homeless traveler, owning nothing more than that which I can carry on my back. At age 45 it feels like I'm beginning the second half of my life and I feel prepared. I was given a good (for its time) formal education and have augmented that with many more personal studies of my own. I have some wisdom and I have some money and I have many questions.

I'm ready to go.

Early Thoughts On Veganism

Last year in October I went hunting for the first time ever and killed a few pheasants. I've eaten meat my whole life and no doubt have countless objects in my possession that include animal product of some sort in them. As hunters like to say, hunting (for food, not trophies) is a more honest way to eat meat than buying it wrapped in plastic in a store.

But it occurred to me the other day that we as humans (at least in developed nations) now possess the knowledge to grow and eat healthy foods without killing other animals.

And I know we have incisors which historically have been used for tearing meat from the bone. That makes complete sense because historically that's what humans did.

In my personal journey through life I'm beginning to wonder if "because it tastes good" or "because my ancestors did it" are valid reasons anymore to take the life of another living being. And after watching the film "Cowspiracy" on Netflix the other day it sure seems like raising cattle and the clear-cutting of rain forests in order to do more of it is a huge contributor to global warming.

Those are my current thoughts. Soon I'll be traveling to Argentina where they love beef more than any other nation on the planet. Right now I probably eat beef once or twice a month. Dairy (ice cream) and eggs, though, I eat multiple times per week.

I'm not sure where this will lead for me, but I just wanted to record my thoughts as of now.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Negotiating: Greed & Ego vs. Honesty & Love

I've been a part of some negotiations recently and noticed something about negotiating that disturbs me.

Negotiations tend to be driven by greed or ego.

Greed: I want to sell the house for as much money as possible because I want more money. On the flip side: I want to buy this house for as little money as I can get away with because I want to keep more of the money I've earned. I deserve this value because of such and such reasons that I justify to myself. Blah blah blah. Both parties do it.

Ego: I want to win the transaction by not giving in too much to what the other person wants so that I can get more of what I want. I deserve to get what I want because of such and such reasons that I justify to myself. Blah blah blah. Both parties do it.

Please help me understand anything I may be missing.

If I was trying to negotiate from a position of pure honesty I realized I would be "taken advantage of" because the other negotiator likely did not share my love of honesty. One option is to honestly state up front what you believe to be the value of the house you're selling. But everyone knows that you can't do that because you have to say more than what you hope to get because you know the buyer will talk you down. That's the game.

To me, setting an asking price that's higher than what I think the house is worth is a form of dishonesty. It's playing a game that is driven by greed or ego.

I understand that negotiating/haggling/dickering has been a part of humanity forever, but I'm still struggling with the greed/ego part of it because I don't want my actions to be driven by greed or ego.

I see this in early dating relationships, too: Don't call her back for at least 3 days because you don't want her to know that you're actually interested in her.

This is all bullshit.

Why does our society reward those who play these games?

Of course it depends on your definition of "reward". Beyond a certain point, money should not be seen as a reward. Unfortunately it is by most Americans.

So where am I going with this? I guess I'm sharing a disgust with our society that doesn't feel right to me. You probably have things about our society that disgust you as well.

Thanks for listening. I choose the road of honesty and you are welcome to take advantage of me because that's the best I can do for myself right now. Your thoughtful comments are appreciated.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Success is Personal

One of my favorite podcasts is The Tim Ferriss Show where Tim, the author of The Four-Hour Work Week, interviews people who are thought leaders or highly regarded as being successful in their field. Two recent episodes I recommend are discussions with:

One question he always asks these people is: When I say the word success, who is the first person who comes to mind?

The first couple times I heard that question I admit that the first person who came to mind was Warren Buffet. After all, he's worth a shit-ton of money so he must be successful, right? He figured out how to win at picking stocks so that must mean he's successful because it's something that our culture seems to value highly.

But after I thought about it more I began questioning what it means to be successful and why my mind went straight to one of the wealthiest men on the planet. Because when I really think about it, money has very little to do with my idea of success, and yet I feel like culturally it's where many of us Americans go initially when presented with such a question.

What is Success?
At its basic level, successful means completing a task or reaching a goal. It's when a person accomplishes the thing they set out to do. Due to lack of food resources, the smoothie I made for myself this morning was an experiment that consisted of a base of frozen broccoli, layered with beets from the farmers market, bananas, cucumber and cinnamon. It actually tasted really good. Success!

But when we examine the idea about a life lived as being successful we realize that it is an extremely personal question. We cannot accurately say that someone else is a success unless we intimately understand their personal goals.

For instance, I think that Tim Ferriss is a successful gentleman. He's written 3 best-selling books, has a very popular podcast and has helped thousands of people live better lives because of the ideas he has explored and shared. He's also worth millions of dollars and hangs out with other wealthy Silicon Valley angel investors. He travels the world regularly and is a champion tango dancer. 

But when I listen to him, it's clear that he doesn't consider himself successful. He's still striving for a level of success that he has defined as being far higher than where he is now (which feels plenty high enough for me). So for me to suggest that he is successful and should be happy with his life is insulting to him because it's his life.

Success is Personal
So I guess what I'm saying is that success is personal. It isn't right for us to suggest that someone else has lived a successful life unless we truly understand what makes them tick. The question shouldn't be only "when I say the word success who is the first person who comes to mind?", but should be "what is your definition of living a successful life and who is an example of someone that you emulate in your striving to achieve it?"

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Old Man of the Inland Sea

Here's how I spent a rather joyous evening yesterday.

1. Was checking out this cool River Signal blog where some folks are cruising down the Mississippi River on a pretty sweet boat and chronicling their journey in story and with local musicians.

2. There I saw this performance video from Mpls musicians Tree Party

Tree Party from The River Signal on Vimeo.

3. I dug the song so I checked out the band's website. It turns out they made an album last year that's compiled of songs all based on interesting historical characters in Minnesota lore like John Beargrease and Dorothy Molter, the famed root beer lady of the BWCA.

4. Their website contained this super cool animated video of the same song that they performed on the boat (above) -- Helmer Aakvik: The Old Man of the Inland Sea.

5. I wanted to learn more about Helmer so I googled him and found this historical account of his harrowing adventure on Lake Superior back in November of 1958

Good times. Great music combined with a sense of discovery and learning about historical personages. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

On Being Parentless

For three months now I've been parentless. My mom had ovarian cancer back in 2001 and my father died from esophageal cancer this past April, one day before his 78th birthday. I'm 45 and can only think of a few friends who have lost even one parent and no others my age who have lost both.

It's not like the relationship that my generation has with our parents is anything near as intimate as what people under the age of 30 today seem to have with their parents. Many kids today graduate from high school, move out of their parents house and still communicate daily with one of their parents on the phone for years and years. I never did that so this isn't a sob story. It also isn't a sob story because my parents went relatively quickly and I have friends who are dealing with situations with living parents that I do not envy.

In fact I'm still trying to figure out what kind of story it is.

It isn't a comedy or a horror flick and it certainly isn't sci-fi. Maybe it's just a slice of life piece like a Richard Linklater arthouse film -- the ones that just kind of follow a main character through a time in their life where nothing particularly dramatic happens and you wonder why they ever made a movie about it. Maybe.


Several years ago I was having a discussion with a girlfriend about what we learned from our parents growing up. She's from Pennsylvania and was (probably still is) significantly more emotional than I. It was a difference that came to be a challenge for us. She said that from her parents she learned passion. I said that from my parents I learned manners.

I never knew that passion was something we could learn from family because passion and 19th century Norwegian immigrant farmers aren't normally used in the same novella. Obviously my parents weren't of the 19th century but they seemed to retain many of those values that were handed down to them:

  1. say please and thank you, 
  2. be responsible so as to not be a burden on anyone, and 
  3. the salad fork gets placed outside the dinner fork on the left side of the plate.

These were wonderful skills for drawing loving nods from great aunts at family dinner gatherings, but different than what I needed to intimately jibe with the girlfriend from back east.


There's definitely a sort of empty feeling being parentless, but I'm not sure how much of that feeling is because I'm parentless and how much of it is because I'm also childless, girlfriendless and dogless. I do have a sister who's awesome and a fantastic niece and nephew, but they live 1000 miles away.

The emptiness is also compounded by a feeling of being in purgatory -- that my life is kind of on hold while I'm finishing out this Denver lease and trying to figure out what comes next for me. I have a lot of options.


The options in my life stem from the freedom of being parentless, childless, girlfriendless and dogless -- not that lonely freedom is any great shakes, but it does open up an entire world of futures.

I mean, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to Christmas becoming a thing of the past in my world. Oh I'll still send gifts to my niece and nephew but I'd much rather see them on a ski trip to the mountains than over Christmas Eve dinner (though I will miss our fun/weird family Xmas menu). The only reason I've kept any connection at all to Christmas is because of the family tradition expected to be honored by my parents. I'll be fine with 12/25 being just another day on the calendar and happy to no longer have expectations of travel at that time of year.


So what kind of story is this?

I don't know. It's not clear. We can't tell because it's my story and the story ain't over yet.

But I have a feeling there might be a twist in Act III.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Psychology of the Motorist

Psychology of the motorist as presented by Goofy in 1950. I notice this in myself sometimes and it's one of the reasons that I cherish riding a bicycle so much -- riding a bike is joyful while driving a car is often stressful.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Skål to Rik

Skål to my father Rik who died this morning from esophageal cancer one day shy of his 78th birthday. If you don't have aquavit, feel free to raise a cold can of Blatz or Hamm's.

Friday, April 3, 2015

My Father is Dying

This morning my Father's ashen, gaunt face was an all-too familiar reminder of my Mother's 14 years ago. Ovarian cancer took her and esophageal cancer is taking him. They say drinking alcohol can cause esophageal cancer so, of the two, I'm more worried about that one.

Three weeks ago the oncologist said he had 6-12 months. At 6am this morning the on-call hospice nurse who came by the house said he has days, maybe a week, tops.

Over the past 3 months I have been able to help fulfill his wish to die at his home, and for that I am grateful. If he makes it to Monday he'll turn 78 years old.

Here's a poem I read this morning that struck me...

Shifting the Sun

When your father dies, say the Irish,
you lose your umbrella against bad weather.
May his sun be your light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Welsh,
you sink a foot deeper into the earth.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Canadians,
you run out of excuses. May you inherit
his sun, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the French,
you become your own father.
May you stand up in his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Indians,
he comes back as the thunder.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Russians,
he takes your childhood with him.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the English,
you join his club you vowed you wouldn't.
May you inherit his sun, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Armenians,
your sun shifts forever.
And you walk in his light.
"Shifting the Sun" by Diana Der-Hovanessian, from Selected Poems. © Sheep Meadow Press, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Diatribe on Big Vice's Evil Marketing Schemes Toward Our Impressionable Youth

What you are about to see will disturb you. Even shock you.

There is a dark side to humanity that Big Vice wants to keep hidden from you because they stand to make obscene amounts of money by keeping it a secret. Their power and influence in Washington, D.C. cannot remain hidden.

The purpose of this post is not to shock you, but to educate you, because I believe that only through education can we have any hope for the future of humanity.


This is me, but a simple lad full of life and promise. Judging by the fashion and hairstyles it looks to be either 1973 or 1974. It appears as if I'm attending some sort of afternoon golf playdate, probably with my loving, yet unsuspecting, father. You can see that I'm in the arms of none other than the world famous Hamm's Beer Bear with his cheeky grin and welcoming furry embrace. In retrospect we can clearly see that this mascot was craftily engineered by Big Vice in order to lure pliable youth like me into it's treacherous underworld. But, alas, I was caught unawares.


And this is me yesterday, more than 40 years later, proving beyond a doubt that clever marketing of vices to children is indeed the most evil plot ever by Big Vice to subvert our society and force us into mindless service to vile corporations. I mean look at me. The photo is timestamped 2:33 pm on a Thursday. 

What kind of upstanding citizen finds himself alone in a bar at 2:30 on a weekday!

Dear citizen, please take this as the warning it is meant to be. 
The next step is up to you.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Best? Or Simply My Favorite?

Decided I'm going to try to stop referring to things as "the best" and instead say "my favorite". This is in response to my current understanding of the world and its 7 billion different realities. I think it's important to recognize that each person lives in a different reality from the others, each as defined by their own life experiences.

Why can there be really smart people who are hardcore Republicans and really smart people who are hardcore Democrats?

Cuz we each live in our own reality and see the world through our own personal experiences.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ski Like You Mean It

I wasn't able to do much skiing this year, but here are my 2 favorite ski clips from the past 5 years or so...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Kids: Don't Stay in School

I love this song. It challenges the status quo in a thoughtful manner. And, if that weren't enough, you can dance to it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lake Superior Ice Caves

Last weekend a friend and I drove 4 hours up to the Lake Superior Ice Caves near the Apostle Islands on the mainland of northern Wisconsin.

We parked along highway 13 and walked along a road about 1 mile to the lake. From there began a stretch of ice caves and formations over the next mile or so of lakeshore. We walked on the lake for a few hours finding wonders around every corner.

It was super cool. You should go. Here are some images. Click here for more.

 That's a tree with the big clomp of ice around it...

Ice stalactites...frosty...

Some of the best spots were found by worm crawling through a small opening on the lake and being greeted by a mini Fortress of Solitude...