Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Bucket List

I'm taking a few years to travel the world and hope to continue to live a life of consistent wonder and discovery. I've been reading the blogs of other world travelers in order to learn about places to visit and gather wisdom on the lifestyle. Some of them have their bucket list displayed on their website and we can follow along as they check them off: go skydiving. check. see the Taj Mahal. check. swim with dolphins. check.

Last year I decided to write down my bucket list and I will share it here:

1. Fall in love. Mutually. With, you know, a woman. 

Aside from youthful puppy love with my first girlfriend, I have never been in love. It is the one void in my life that I would really like to fill. This is the one area of my life that I really feel like I'm missing out on something special (perhaps along with being one of those people who actually enjoys their work/job). One of the reasons I'm traveling the world is because it was extremely difficult for me to mutually connect with a woman over the course of many dates in the last 15 years. I'm hoping that if I better understand myself and lead a life that is more close to my authentic self that it will be easier to meet the right person who also understands herself and is living authentically. And when I say "understand myself" and "live authentically", I really mean being able to go beyond what society deems as normal or expected of us. I mean digging deep to understand who we truly are and what we truly believe when unfettered by the pressures of society or our parents or the Joneses next door.

When I was going on countless first dates, there was always this barrier for me of: she has a career she likes or she has two dogs or she just bought a house. These are all signs of someone who does not appear to be compatible with the abnormal life I'm interested in living. At the time, however, I could not have articulated it as such. It was buried down in my subconscious and only recently have I been able to bring that part of me to the surface where I really understand it. It took me more than 20 years after college to unlearn much of what I was taught (read more about that here).

Love. It has eluded me. I hope I'm getting closer to experiencing it. It is #1 on my bucket list.

UPDATE (2/28/17): I wouldn't write this goal the same way today as I did when it was originally written. First of all, I think the idea of "falling" in love is part of the problem. When we "fall in love" with someone after a few dates, it's usually driven far more by lust than actual love. What is love, exactly? It's a word that I think is thrown around too liberally these days. Second, being part of a long-term committed monogamous relationship doesn't interest me right now. Achieving that sort of relationship is one definition of success in our culture, but for me I don't see the value in placing such a high desire in conforming in that way. If I do grow to love a woman and we choose to have a traditional relationship, then that is okay. But I no longer have this as a top goal. My life is awesome right now. I'm very happy with myself and the path I'm on. I'm taking chances, exploring the world, learning new things, pushing my boundaries, and growing as a person. This is what I want in life...well, this and the physical pleasure that comes from great sex. I may have been doing a lot of meditation and spent 3 nights recently at a Buddhist temple in Koyasan, Japan, but I'm a long way from becoming a celibate monk. So I rescind "falling in love" from #1 on my bucket list. The rest of the items here are still valid, though.

2. Achieve pretty good mindfulness

TV's "Brain Games"
What I mean by this is that I want to have a clear head. I want to quiet my monkey mind that's always chattering in my head about stuff that really doesn't matter. I want to be able to thoughtfully respond to potentially challenging or shocking comments instead of just immediately reacting, without thought, often in a negative or unhelpful manner.

I wrote a little about this when I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014. Being alone on the trail with nothing to do but walk for 8-10 hours a day for weeks allowed me to better understand what my brain is doing. Mostly, it's doing a lot of worthless crap. I plan to write more about this in the future, about what science understands about our brain and how the brain is not the perfectly evolved instrument that we sometimes believe it to be. For more see Daniel Kahneman's book "Thinking Fast and Slow" or the TV show "Brain Games" that is available on Netflix.

Bottom line: our brain is not always our friend (it likes to take shortcuts) and it behooves us to better understand how it really works.

3. Spend regular, quality time with a couple close friends

Friends are fun. 
Relationships are vitally important to happiness. 
As I've matured, however, the number of good friends I spend time with on a day-to-day basis has drastically declined. In grade school and high school and college I was always surrounded by friends. In my twenties I lived with roommate friends. In my later twenties many of my friends were getting married. Some were moving to different cities. In my thirties it felt like time to buy my own home because we all knew that (1) professional adults own homes and (2) renting is like throwing your money away. My thirties were spent living alone in a condominium while my few remaining single friends also bought homes of their own. At this point gatherings of friends were the occasional happy hour after work or going to a bar at night, perhaps to see live music, or to a hockey game. The gatherings always involved alcohol.

In recent years I've been (1) at a stage in life where most potential friends have a life partner or children, and (2) not spending much time in any one place. As a forty-something vagabond introvert it is not easy to make deep, lasting friendships. Pretty much all the new friends I made in the past 15 years I made in Bozeman, MT and some of them don't live there anymore either.

This bucket list item appears to clash with my current lifestyle. It might need to wait until I either settle down somewhere for awhile, fall in love with a new best friend (see #1 above) or until my lifestyle re-aligns with other long-term friends.

4. Help a friend accomplish something on their bucket list

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. It would be great to help a friend accomplish something important in their life. This sort of action would deepen a friendship and make me feel good, both of which are desirable things. Plus I'm sure I would learn something either about my friend or about a new place or activity that would also enrich my life.

5. Work to help something I believe in

This is another one of those items that falls under the category of both loving and selfish. I won't get into whether true selflessness actually exists or not. Did Mother Theresa devote her life to helping people because she was completely selfless, or did she do it because it made her feel good? It doesn't really matter. It helps us feel worthy as a human being to think that we are making the world a better place, whatever our definition of "better" is. So maybe it's worthiness I'm looking for. If I had children of my own then I imagine I would devote much of my life to encouraging them to be full of love and generosity. I don't have children but I still want to make some sort of positive impression on the world. It probably stems from a selfish place, but I'm okay with that.

During my travels, I'm hoping to find a new passion -- a cause or a place or a woman (hopefully more than one at the same time) -- that will force me to change any plans I had made. For the cause, I could see it being something related to the conservation of nature or education. I dunno, but I think I'll know it when I see it.


So that's my bucket list. If your bucket list also includes "help someone accomplish something on their bucket list", then by all means feel free to introduce me to your cute, single female friend who enjoys a life of consistent discovery and wonder.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Torres del Paine National Park

The past 5 days were spent trekking through Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonian Chile. Here's a quick photo dump while I have a moment online.

Puerto Natales is the town from which one departs for Torres del Paine. There used to be giant sloths here like my new friend...

Approaching the mountains of Torres del Paine via trail from the south...


At camp one morning. The hiking here is quite popular in the peak season of Jan-Feb. The trails were actually fairly crowded, which feels weird when traveling so far from home. A reminder that the middle of nowhere is always somebody's home.

Jamee is a friend from Denver and she and I did this trip together. We spent 5 days in the park with the Torres (below) being one of the highlights. 



Another highlight included seeing many natural avalanches coming down this mountain, some of which were quite large. It was super cool. I don't believe I've ever seen a completely natural avalanche before, only ones that were triggered by humans for safety at or around ski areas. This is the mountain that was dropping avalanches all day long.

And finally, this little video was shot on Day 3 after hiking up the middle tine of the W trek to this amazing 360-degree cathedral atop Britannico valley. I call it "In Patagonia"



In red is the hike we did from east to west, with the tail to the south on the final day. 





Thursday, January 7, 2016

Perito Moreno, Big Ass Glacier

About 80 km outside of El Calafate, Argentina sits Perito Moreno glacier and it's pretty amazing and huge. I had the pleasure of visiting the other day.

Some stats:

  • 97 sq. miles of surface area ice
  • 19 miles long
  • 3 miles wide
  • 150' high (and 4x that height below water) 
  • It's actually growing, proving that global warming is just another liberal plot to destroy successful businesses.


It was calving a little bit, but not as frequently as the glacier I visited in Alaska some years back. Most of the action was way around the right edge of this picture, out of site of the viewing platforms.



Plans From The Tail of the Americas

Here's a quick status update on where I am and where I'm going.

For the last couple days I've been in Punta Arenas, Chile, where I am now gazing out over the Magellan Strait. As you'll recall from 8th grade world history class, Ferdinand Magellan was the first to sail around dangerous Cape Horn and he did so in 1520, dodging sea monsters all the while. Understandably, they love Magellan around here. Here he is along with his namesake Strait which is right outside my window.

I've met my friend Jamee here. Jamee works in Antarctica for a few months each year and I know her from Denver, CO. She works on a research boat and I took a tour of the boat this morning. Pretty cool, though most of the science was way over my head. Mostly stuff about water and microbes and fish and core samples of mud.

Tomorrow Jamee and I head north on a bus for 3 hours to Puerto Natales, Chile. From Puerto Natales we will access Torres del Paine National Park, another amazing spectacle of rock, ice and water. Hoping for good weather and more great photos to follow.

After 3 nights camping in the park I am heading back to El Chalten, Argentina where I was last week accessing Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy. For that is where my new bicycle awaits me!
I bought this bike last week from The Adventure Junkies Antonio and Amanda. They are a Spanish gentleman and California woman who have been biking around Latin America for over a year. I found them because I follow their website and they recently mentioned that they were biking around Bariloche, Argentina where I was a couple weeks ago. I reached out to ask if they or any of their readers knew how I could score a bicycle down here. It turned out that they are wrapping up the bicycle portion of their journey and that we were going to be in El Chalten at the same time. Pretty cool. So I am now the proud owner of a Koga Signature World Traveler bicycle. Koga is a Dutch manufacturer of quality bicycles. The bike has been well taken care of and I was able to acquire it with everything -- panniers, tools, spare tubes, etc.

With the bicycle my plan is to ride north at least to Santiago (about 2000 km). If I like it I will keep going. If I don't like it I will stop. I will ride along the Carretera Austral which is, for much of Chile, the only north-south road. It is 1200 kilometers of gravel, and if you know me then you know I couldn't be much more excited about that. And it'll begin, for me, with a 6k hike-a-bike up and over the border pass from Argentina into Chile and a couple ferry boat rides to get to Villa O'Higgins (as shown on map below).
As a result of its epic coolness, it sees a fair amount of long-distance cyclists and it sounds like most days I will see another. There are also plenty of small towns or villages along the way, so most days I will be able to buy food, and there are endless places to camp in my tent, which is what I'll be doing most nights.

Fun!

Majestic Fitz Roy or Gratitude, Part Deux

As I hiked closer and closer to majestic Fitz Roy I was overcome with emotion around how lucky I was to be there and how grateful I am for the people that helped make it possible. 

I've met many Europeans whose discussion of Syrian refugees helps me understand the fortune, good or bad, that is bestowed upon us by something as fundamental and out of our control as our birthplace. For those refugees, it will likely be generations before any of their descendants have the opportunity to travel to a place like Patagonia. For me, I'm benefiting from the fact that my grandparents and great-grandparents endured the struggle of emigration decades ago. For this I am extremely grateful.

 I am also grateful for the rest of my family, friends and mentors who each helped guide my development in their own way, whether they are actually proud of the results or not. As a race we are still figuring out parenting, but each generation does a little better than the prior. My parents did their best and I wish I would have been able to learn more before they died about their experience of parenting.  
The hike to Fitz Roy was amazing. It is only about 6 miles from the town of El Chalten, Argentina and is accessible for almost all hikers on a moderately easy trail. The peak is visible from town and beckons one closer. It is also visible for much of the hike, enriching the whole experience by lengthening the wonder.

I have much to be thankful for.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Gratitude

As I hiked closer and closer to legendary Cerro Torre I was overcome with emotion around how lucky I was to be there and how grateful I am for the people that helped make it possible. I've met many Europeans whose discussion of Syrian refugees helps me understand the fortune, good or bad, that is bestowed upon us by something as fundamental and out of our control as our birthplace. For those refugees, it will likely be generations before any of their descendants have the opportunity to travel to a place like Patagonia. For me, I'm benefiting from the fact that my grandparents and great-grandparents endured the struggle of emigration decades ago. For this I am extremely grateful.


I am also grateful for the rest of my family, friends and mentors who each helped guide my development in their own way, whether they are actually proud of the results or not. As a race we are still figuring out parenting, but each generation does a little better than the prior. My parents did their best and I wish I would have been able to learn more before they died about their experience of parenting. 

The hike to Cerro Torre was magical. It is only about 6 miles from the town of El Chalten, Argentina and is accessible for almost all hikers on a moderately easy trail. The spire is visible from town and beckons one closer. It is also visible for much of the hike, enriching the whole experience by lengthening the wonder.

I have much to be thankful for.