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 Patriotism

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...