Monthly Archives: May 2013

Everything I Want and Need, I Already Have

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500. That’s apparently the average number of advertisements a typical American will hear or see in a given day. Take a second to think about that in the context of companies telling you how every aspect of your life sucks without their products or services — and that’s what they’re doing! If you keep hearing this over and over, eventually you’ll start to believe your life truly does suck compared to your peers.  It’s no wonder people are always clambering over themselves and spending sickening amounts of money to switch from things like the current version of the iPhone to the newest so they can get their email 1/1,000,000,000,000 of a second faster — or surf the internet more efficiently while they’re driving — or upgrade their current vehicle to get an additional eight horsepower because the current 500hp will only get them from 0-60 in 2.4 seconds instead of the much more desirable 2.3.

I drive a 2003 Toyota Tacoma Extended Cab pickup with 130,000 miles on it. I bought it used, uh, I mean “previously loved” in modern advertising vernacular, with 43,000 miles on it several years ago. It’s not fancy at all but it gets me where I need to be and up to now has been an incredibly dependable vehicle. I’ve put some of my own touches on it like building a system in the bed to make car camping more comfy. I could’ve bought one of those pre-built systems that is super fancy for over $1,000, but instead, a wood working buddy of mine and I spent an afternoon building a REALLY custom one for $104 in materials, $4.80 in Santiago’s green chile burritos and a $8.50 six pack of IPAs. I’ve also lifted the suspension just a little to allow for more aggressive tires to help me more efficiently reach backcountry trailheads. I rock a 2nd generation iPod Mini (read:ancient) that’s played through my car stereo using the old school cassette insert thingy. Some people call it a hippie truck. I prefer to call it “charismatically efficient”.

A good friend of mine recently had to trade his extremely well used Toyota Tundra because he had truly driven it into the ground. To repair it (again) would’ve been about twice as much as the truck was worth. So he got a newer Toyota Tacoma, the sweet looking four door model. It’s a nice truck overall but the thought of having four doors admittedly had me thinking how nice it’d be instead of just having the jump seats my truck has, which are only accessible via climbing over the front seats. Yaddah, yaddah, yaddah…I kinda got caught up in this and decided to look on the internet to explore trading mine in for a four door.

I spent a couple of days daydreaming about how awesome it would be to take four or five people in my truck on skiing, climbing or mountain biking outings without having to contort the jump seat passengers into elaborate origami figures. I thought about how nice it’d be to have a stereo with a USB port instead of having wires and cables dangling all over the place. I thought about how nice it would be to simply have something “newer”. I say newer because I’ve long since done away with the thought of buying a brand new car when good used ones with low miles can be purchased for thousands less.  Anyhow, I got in that deep track and before I knew it was trying to justify spending the money.

I’m pretty good at not getting caught up in the materialistic torrent that is our society. When I do from time to time, like with this new truck thinking, I usually can swim to the edge quickly and get out without getting swept away too far downstream. Fortunately I did it this time too.

I actually like my old school things. They may not be flashy and have the latest sleek designs, but they do what I need them to do and we’ve built a history together. Getting a new truck will not help me enjoy skiing, mountain biking or climbing any more than I already do — and those are the things I love and only use my truck to go and do them. Having a phone with internet and 5g (whatever that is), instead of my horrifyingly old, non-internet flip phone, will not make my words travel faster on the rare occasion I actually call someone or someone calls me. Opting for Gchat instead of just regular Gmail to be “instant” doesn’t make my words more meaningful by getting them to the recipient 10,000 nano seconds faster. I have what I need and I’m happy I’m the kind of person who can be satisfied with knowing that’s enough.

This whole “new truck purchase vs. non-purchase” exercise was a nice little reminder to detach from those every day pressures, live in the moment, and be happy with what I have and not constantly look for the next best thing. I’m likely way off the norm with this crazy hippie thinking here, but so be it. In the end I decided to just be happy with what I had and go do things I love to do.

Yesterday I woke up without a shred of disappointment for not succumbing to The Man and his material pressures. It felt as good as it always does to detach and think for myself. To celebrate this re-affirmation, I loaded my mountain bike onto my awesomely old school Tacoma and went to one of my favourite local trailheads. I also intentionally left my crappy phone at home to further my disconnection. To some I know leaving a phone unattended for more than 30 seconds is downright scandalous! On the way over I listened to Morning Edition on NPR in non-digital format on my old school radio, drank non-designer drip coffee from my beat up and bestickered travel cup, listened happily to the rattles emanating from mysterious places underneath my truck, watched the sunrise through my pitted and chipped up windscreen and smiled with sincerity from the second I back out of my garage. Okay, maybe I am a hippie, but these things are comforting to me and make me happy. They are me.

So, with a very full and happy heart, I set off by myself right around daybreak to ride across the high mesa where the trailhead started, then over into the foothills where I’d climb up onto a ridge to get amazing views back out to the plains. I’ve lived in Colorado for a long, long time and covered thousands and thousands of trail miles around this state and seen some incredibly stunning scenery, but yesterday was one of those incredibly rare times when the spring flowers were more beautiful, the sky was clearer and the mountains more majestic than I ever remember them being.

I have to think some of that was just Mother Nature showing off like she does here pretty regularly. But I also have to think that my little exercise in realizing that I truly do have everything I need cleared my view to see life in its bare, unfiltered glory. I was living in that exact moment and I once again had the correct eyes to see the organic beauty of this world — the beauty that’s always here for those willing to slow down long enough without looking too far ahead to see it.

The things I already have give me all the things I want and need. Why would I ever require more?

Feelin’ groovy today.

Climb high, ski hard, pedal far, paddle long, get off the phone, love what you have, live big.

“I will never call you my friend”

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Mr. Alim, Jason and Me in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Bangkok, Thailand – chaotic

Seoul, South Korea – Intense

Mexico City, Mexico – fervid

Kathmandu, Nepal – anarchic

Kolkata, India – helter-skelter

Dhaka, Bangladesh – ???

When Jason and I got on the plane to leave Dhaka, I was left without a single breath in my lungs, without a normally functioning internal compass, without coherent questions or answers and clearly, without words to describe what just happened. I literally couldn’t formulate a sequence of letters to construct a single word, much less a sentence, so we sat next to each other in almost complete silence as we raced across the sky toward Nepal. Never, and I mean never have I experienced anything like that in my travels, ever.

It’s now been about 18 months since the wheels went up on that flight and I still can’t come up with the right word or words. I’ve actually looked in my Lonely Planet books from time to time and while there is no single adjective in there that strikes me as spot-on accurate, there are some brief descriptions that do partial justice:

“It doesn’t matter how many times you experience this city, the sensation of being utterly overwhelmed is always the same” — Lonely Planet, Bangladesh

Dhaka is more than just a city, it is a giant whirlpool that sucks down anything and everyone foolish enough to come within it’s furious grasp” — Lonely Planet, Bangladesh

The fact that there are so few tourists in Bangladesh means that you won’t ever have to contend with crowds at hotspots or with booked-out accommodation, but it also means that the going can be rough” — Lonely Planet, Bangladesh

I’ve written and told friends about the chaos and maddening crush of people in places like Nepal and India and while that’s been very true and always some fun filled recollections, I’ve never been able to get my thoughts around Bangladesh to say much about my experiences there, or at least enough to feel like I could give it a fair and objective turn — until the last couple of weeks.

If you’ve read or listened to any news source at all, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the horrific building collapse in Dhaka where 1,000+ people have been confirmed killed and still hundreds missing. While this heartbreaking catastrophe happened half way around the world and I didn’t personally know a single person involved, I feel a sense of deep sadness for the city and country as a whole, as if it were my own. And to add to that sadness are the insensitive and hateful comments I hear and read related to the tragedy. I’ve read and heard people here say “they deserved it”, “if they’d educate themselves they wouldn’t have to work in those places” and most pathetically “if they weren’t Muslims it wouldn’t have happened”. I’ve even heard some of these things from people I am causally acquainted with. I find these comments personally hurtful.

I admit I was scared while in Bangladesh. I think I can say with all certainty that Jason felt the same. Just like the quotes from the Lonely Planet book, we found Dhaka to be rough, like a giant whirlpool and utterly overwhelming. Justified to be scared? Maybe, possibly, probably? Again, it’s like no place on earth I’ve ever been. The entire country of Bangladesh is roughly the size of Iowa. The estimated population of Bangladesh is 150+ million. That’s half the population of the United States living in a place about half the size of my home state of Colorado…think about that factoid for a few minutes. Those simple statistics put Bangladesh amongst the worlds most densely populated countries so  yes, it was unnerving.

Add to that the fact that every question or inquiry we would ask was followed by a committee of 30+ people physically pushing in to discuss the situation. Before you get your answer though, there must be at least 5-15 minutes of animated and ferocious shouting in Bengali amongst the committee, sometime with finger pointing and gentle physically posturing for authority. This can make an already crowded and intense space get a little more claustrophobic. This type of thing happens whether asking for something complicated like a bottle of soda or just asking for a simple “point” to the nearest water closet. So intense.

With our time almost up in Dhaka, Jason and I were sitting at the airport, anxious to get on a plane and leave. Again, we were both emotionally and physically shelled to the core and desperately wanted (maybe “needed”) to escape that mayhem (so of course we were flying off to Kathmandu). Well, despite being close to leaving, the Dhaka airport is an extension of the country itself in that the chaos, deafening volume and complete confusion is the norm.

As we were sitting, this man sitting across from us seemed to be staring. Not in a menacing way, but as a Westerner it was a little uncomfortable given that our culture doesn’t generally do that. However, we were pretty used to it so didn’t take it as a personal affront or attack. After a few minutes the man very abruptly asked where we were from, where we’d been and where we were going. This too was very common and not out of the ordinary. Still, we were pretty much on edge and being approached by anyone was unsettling at that point.

Well, as it turns out the man’s name was Mr. Alim. He was  from Dhaka, as was his family and many generations before him. He had children, all of which he had photos in his wallet and was thrilled to dote on them to us, proud beyond description (spectacularly beautiful kids by the way!). Throughout our conversations he asked about our families, our work, our home towns and what we thought about Dhaka. Tricky spot for sure with that last question. We wanted to be honest so we gently explained that we were a little overwhelmed and that we found it hard to be there. He smiled broadly and said that “HE” is overwhelmed by Dhaka! We finally managed our first smile and a small laugh since landing there in Dhaka.

For the next hour or two, we talked and talked and talked. He asked us why we were traveling to Nepal, about our choices of studying Buddhist philosophy and he in return gladly answered all our questions about his Muslim faith — and we had plenty. We had a basic understanding of Islam but this was a wonderful discussion and lesson that both helped explain things I already knew, clarify other things and shed light on things I had no idea about at all. It was a conversation I would be hesitant to have with anyone here in my own country given my eastern beliefs, but incredibly refreshing to be so open and honest with someone I barely knew halfway around the world.

After a while, Mr. Alim said he had to leave to board his flight. We were finally feeling our first hint of being relaxed when Mr. Alim blurted out something that took us aback. Keep in mind that all conversations seem very stern and calculated much of the time so it was oftentimes quite hard to sort out what was going on, especially when we were already on edge. This is how the conversation went down.

Mr. Alim (looking us directly in the eyes): ” I will never call you my friend

<A very uncomfortable silence, maybe three seconds…then>

Mr. Alim: “I will only call you my brothers

<Absolute frantic hugging and shaking of hands from Mr. Alim>

Mr. Alim: “I will always welcome you in my home

Me and Jason: “And you ours”

And with that Mr. Alim walked away and boarded his flight.  Jason and I then let out what is likely the longest exhale of our collective lives.

With only minutes remaining for us in Bangladesh, Mr. Alim changed the entire view of our experience. Yes, it was still the most insane, frantic, unnerving, hair-on-fire chaotic and scary place I’ve ever set foot, but I was also reaffirmed of my belief that people are basically caring, compassionate and loving wherever you go. Mr. Alim spoke for his city and his country and accepted us as his brothers, regardless of religious affiliation, nationality, race or colour. That is the world I will continue to believe is out there, the world I’ve experienced time and time and again, and the world I want to help continue to build.

To me, hatred, xenophobia, bigotry and every other form of exclusion or discrimination are the true weapons of mass destruction putting this world at risk. Anyone who has hurtful things to say about my Bengali family or the “families” I’ve acquired in all the places I’ve traveled, both here and abroad, are not my friends and have no place in my world. I truly believe in one love for all.

Thank you again Mr. Alim, you too are my brother.

Climb high, ski hard, pedal far, paddle long, live big

I Don’t Like Beets, But That’s Okay

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Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Photo by CJ Latham.

Beets. Not going to lie, I can’t stand them. Not sure if I was emotionally scarred early in life with a bad experience, if it’s simply a visual thing, or maybe a texture thing or if it’s just that I never developed a taste for them. I just don’t like them. You can put yams, pumpkin, squash and a couple other things in the same category. Despite my moderately intense disdain of these crimson coloured tubers, a meal with them as a side doesn’t bother me too much, that is unless the juice migrates over and discolours my potatoes. So gross.

Last week we met a few friends at Ras Kassa, our awesome little Ethiopian restaurant here in the valley. It’s probably one of my favourite places to eat because from the very second you walk in, you are greeted with spectacularly beautiful Ethiopian art, décor and most noticeably, the most delightful and genuinely warm welcome from the owners. It’s truly like time travel to a place far, far away. So awesome.

Choosing something from the menu is hard. EVERYTHING looks amazing but there are certain options that have beets as a side. No biggie since I’m cleverly adept at working my way around them. So after several minutes of narrowing down our individual selections, we placed our order and continued our conversations.

Before I go any further with my original thought, at one point we were all talking about ethnic food and were discussing likes and dislikes. That was a fun little conversation for sure, and hilarious. At one point, CJ said he mostly liked food like what we were having because of the richness of flavours, interesting spices, the feeling of being somewhere special and being able to share it with friends. I liked that, a lot actually. Meals should always be about sharing time with friends and having an “experience” rather than just eating food.

Okay, back to my thought.

So, when our food came out, it was served on this single humongous and extravagantly arranged platter. Despite each of us making our own individual orders, it was all served on one plate. So awesome. And one of the most fun things about this place is you eat with your hands. You simply tear off a bit of a crepe looking thing, scoop up your food of choice off the massive platter and stuff it in your yap. If you happened to be all prim and proper and require doilies and dessert forks, you’d be in etiquette hell. Fortunately I require little in the way of etiquette and think the only requirement for enjoying food is that it makes you smile.

Well, once that beautiful platter was placed on the little table between us, it took me about a nano-second to spot those glaring clumps of crimson, one on each side of the platter.  No worries though, they weren’t close enough to my section of food for any juice to make its way over. However, it was close to the lentils that I wanted so I’d have to exercise extreme caution when getting into those.

Long story short, we ate, we laughed, we got extremely messy with the food, we talked of travels (our little group was very well traveled), we talked about life and basically had one of the most memorable meals I can remember. To top things off, we all agreed we’d go for the “Coffee Ceremony” we’d noticed when looking at the menu! That in itself was the perfect way to end the evening. How good was the coffee? Well, coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia so I’m going to say the taste was borne from a long, reputable history.

Bottom line is that despite those beets on the platter, they certainly didn’t detract from having a very special evening with some very special friends.

I know this is probably silly, but that meal and those beets actually had me thinking about a lot of stuff. For example, I’m doing a road trip over on the West Slope this weekend to do a little mountain biking with some friends. The trails we’ll be riding are crazy fun and sometimes challenging overall but admittedly there are some super technical parts I simply can’t ride with my current skill set. Those sections total about 100 meters of a 25-kilometer ride. I’ll probably try to ride them, but if it doesn’t go off, no big deal. Those 100 meters certainly won’t take away from the experience of being out riding in the desert, hanging with some of my closest friends and of course sitting around the campfire late into the night philosophising and drinking a fun new beer or two.

Same goes with my style of travel. Yeah, sometimes it’s uncomfortable and hard to be alone in a faraway place when you don’t speak the language (not very well anyhow) and struggle a little. Those times should never define the entire trip and the richness of exploring a beautiful new culture, food and land.

Beets. Nope, don’t like ‘em, but that’s okay.

Climb high, ski hard, pedal far, paddle long, live big.