I Didn’t See It On Facebook, But I’m Pretty Sure it Still Happened

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Exactly one month ago I decided to go on a Facebook fast, and I’m feeling better about it daily.

Not really a bold step since I had been paring down “friends” for a while in order to get it down to the people who I actually knew, who I actually had an interest in, and yes, eliminate some people who basically annoyed the crap out of me.

So, being that I found myself having to partake in that culling exercise, one evening I decided to completely deactivate the whole thing — without first posting that I was doing so. I unceremoniously cut the cord and let it drift away. However, after my quiet liberation, I emailed about a dozen of my close friends and told them to just call or email me for a while and let me know what they were up to.

Maybe my idea of what Facebook is supposed to be about is wrong but I thought it was a platform where I could access topics to be entertained, to be amused or to catch up on the latest offerings from businesses I’m interested in. I always like seeing the latest skis, mountain bike gear or seasonal movie premieres from Powderwhore, Teton Gravity, Warren Miller, etc. Instead, it got to the point where all I saw was a constant flow of political and religious opinions (most hateful and bigoted), updates on people’s latest dietary malaise or endless diatribes about why a particular sport or activity is far superior to anything else on earth.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with loving what you do, I guess I just don’t understand why if it’s such a huge part of your life why you would stop doing what you love to log on to a device to let other people know you are doing it. Does it matter if they know? If people love hiking or backpacking “to get away from it all”, why would they stop and reconnect by posting on Facebook that they’re currently hiking or backpacking and getting away from it all? If a person does yoga in order to center their mind-body-soul, isn’t it counterproductive for them to break out of that “centerdom” in order to snap an Instagram photo, key up Facebook and let people know they’re currently in the middle of being centered?

In the last week or so here in the Boulder Valley we’ve had rains that have since been described as “biblical”, “epic”, “historic” and “500 year in nature”. My little neighbourhood had an official total rainfall of 16.8” in a matter of four days. A neighbourhood in South Boulder actually had over 22” in that same time period! It’s been crazy to say the least. News footage of scenic mountain roads getting completely destroyed and seeing people’s homes collapse and fall into raging torrents that were once just babbling mountain streams has been both shocking and heartbreaking. And even more tragic is that people have lost not only their livelihoods, but their very lives.

I admit I was tempted to reactivate my Facebook account to try and get as much information as I could…really tempted in fact. But before I hit the button to open that world up again, I decided I wouldn’t. To be honest, I wanted to keep the experience inside my small little circle of family and friends and sadly, I didn’t want to open myself to the pissing contest I knew would be unfolding where people would be trying to post the most shocking things in order to get “likes” or comments.

I called the people closest to me who I thought might be in harm’s way to make sure they were safe and accounted for and assured them if they needed anything I’d be available. I then watched the news on television and on the internet in order to stay abreast of what was unfolding around us and to keep apprised of the events in my own neighbourhood. Even though I wasn’t dialed into Facebook, I never once felt disconnected to the situation. In fact, I’d say I was more connected because I wasn’t distracted from what was actually happening to me personally. Furthermore, I never felt compelled to post a picture of myself checking our window wells and sump pumps in the basement every half hour to make sure the water wasn’t flowing into the house just to let people know I was experiencing a flood.

After a couple days of positively pouring rain, we got a little break where the flood water began to recede and the sun actually tried to break through for an hour or two. I took that opportunity to jump on my mountain bike and go out to survey the damage in the community as well as a few of the open space trails where I typically ride. It didn’t take long to see just how random and widespread the destruction was since Mother Nature hit our communities hard and without mercy. As I left my house, part of me said to leave my camera at home and just go experience it, but part of me said to take it. As much as I love taking photos I decided I’d take it, plus I could show Donna some of the area when I got back.

It was sad to see our community hurt and bleeding. The trails I normally ride were heavily damaged and in some areas they were completely gone. Creeks that normally had beautiful tree-lined paths and lush parks were completely wiped out. A picturesque turn-of-the-century ranch just down the hill from us had been completely inundated and the land surrounding it scarred deeply. A meandering country lane with nostalgic concrete bridges, reduced to ruins.

This was my community, the one I love and call home and this was how I was seeing it first hand — with my own eyes. Yes, I was shocked. Yes, I was heartbroken. Yes, I saw hope and perserverence as my neighbours were already picking up the pieces though the threat of even more “epic” rain was imminent. I did stop here and there to take a photo (about a half dozen over the couple of hours I was out), but I never once felt the need to validate my experience and emotions by posting them on Facebook. I knew what I had seen and it made me sad. Would a “like” or a comment make it more real? Would it make me feel better for people to feel sorry for our community? Would it make me feel important or add validity because I was “there”? The fact is I felt more connected to the experience by being disconnected. I was free to see it as I needed to see it — see it without filters.

I’ve debated this Facebook thing now for a month and most likely I will reactivate my account in a few weeks, but with a strict set of rules. I want to be entertained and not be preached to, competed with or told incessantly how one thing is far superior to another or how one thing or another is ruining our lives. I know this sounds mean, but if I truly want to make Facebook a tool to entertain me, I myself have to make it what I want and not let it be the dictator. I know getting to that point might mean paring down more “friends”. It’s like watching television. If I don’t like the content on certain channels then I have the very real option to turn it to a different one or discontinue my cable service altogether.

I really do want to see what the people I know and care about are doing, I do. But when looking at my news feed starts to resemble watching reruns of the same old tired dramas or sitcoms day after day after day, well, it’s then that I have to decide whether to change the channel or discontinue my service and catch up the old fashioned way — over a beer.

Although I didn’t see our flood on Facebook, I’m pretty sure it still happened and I didn’t need to “like” it.

Travel light, climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live big

“I am sorry sir, there is a problem”

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I’ve really been missing international travel lately. Of course I miss international travel anytime I’m not actually traveling internationally, but I seem to be in a real funk about it lately. Whatever the reason, I’ve been spending more and more time thinking about all the trials, tribulations, adventures and downright comical things that have happened during my prior travels. Thinking about that of course just makes the withdrawals worse. Such a viscous cycle. Fortunately I’ll be traveling again in the not too distant future and can break that annoying cycle!

Something I always love about recounting previous travel experiences is the fact that the things I remember most are never the “big” things I expected to remember before I left. Instead, I always treasure those little moments along the way that made me laugh or something that touched me in a way that changed the way I saw the world.

One thing Jason and I learned in very short order was that nothing will happen the way you think it will in Nepal, nothing. Even while traveling around Mexico, Europe, South America and other Asian countries, things don’t tend to happen exactly the way you think they will. Well, Nepal and India can take it to an entirely new and unattainable level of lunacy. If you don’t have a good sense of humour and some legitimate patience, it can be downright maddening and your trip will be nothing more than an exercise in frustration. If you do have those things, which fortunately we do, it will definitely make for some of the best experiences and most entertaining stories you’ll ever have. I don’t think I’ve ever been more frustrated or laughed so hard as during my times spent in Nepal and India.

The first thing we learned when we landed in Kathmandu was that regardless of what you want or need, there will be a problem, that’s a guarantee.

For example, once we collected our backpacks from the carousel inside the terminal, we exited and immediately had to sort through a rabble of aggressive taxi drivers to secure one that seemed reasonably safe. When I say safe, that’s relative because there is no such thing as a safe driver in Nepal. Then comes the price negotiation portion of the transaction whereupon you suggest a price, he suggests a price, you counter, he confers with the other forty drivers intently listening in to the negotiations and then comes back with another counter offer. You counter again, he counters again while his team of syndicators await, and finally you somewhat agree.

Once the price is set, there is joyous discussion amongst the other drivers (spoken in Hindi or Nepali), and then you begin to think you just got screwed.  You think that until you realize you just spent ten or fifteen minutes negotiating this guy down a total of USD $0.10 for a half hour taxi ride. Regardless, within seconds you and your backpack are unceremoniously packed into a taxi about the size of a medium sized ottoman. Oh, and lest we forget that some other dude will invariably get in the taxi, someone who was never part of the negotiations.

One driver, one mystery guest, two passengers, one mechanically challenged taxi the size of a nightstand, two oversized backpacks stuffed with climbing gear, no command of the language whatsoever, all in a chaotic city you have absolutely no clue how to navigate…yeah, awesome situation.

So, once we were stuffed into the taxi like sausages, we repeated our request to be taken to an intersection in some neighbourhood we could barely pronounce where we think we can find a hostel. That was our first introduction to the phrase we affectionately came to simultaneously love and loathe for the next couple of months…”I am sorry sir, there is a problem”.

The “problem” was naturally multifaceted. First, we were told that there were no hostels in the area we requested. This was bogus and we knew it, or sort of knew it. Okay, we hoped there was. There, I said it.

We firmly restated our request to be dropped off at that intersection. It took some time but we finally made it clear where we wanted to go, and that he would take us there, or we would get out. Getting out was certainly a crappy plan B, but it’s what we had.

Then, we had the problem of having to drop off this mystery passenger before we got dropped off. Not surprisingly, our mystery passenger was a would-be “trekking guide” and we needed to stop by his shop so we could be convinced that we could not travel anywhere in Nepal without his services. Bogus. Once again we insisted that we be taken to our intersection or else we’d get out.

We finally got to where we thought we needed to be and got out — only to be accosted by another regimen of aggressive taxi drivers ready to repeat the process.

Hostels, always a problem. Bus travel, always a problem. Everything is a problem. The Nepali people are always rather nice, but there are always those words, regardless of what we did…“I am sorry sir, there is a problem”. After two months of travel in Nepal we became very accustomed to things always being a problem. In fact, problems were so frequent it got to a point where they weren’t really a problem anymore.

As we neared the end of our stay in Nepal, we were back in the Kathmandu Valley (though not staying in Kathmandu proper) and decided that we wanted to go back to a little café in the city we’d found in our first few days in the country. We liked it because they brewed real coffee and NOT Nescafe, though we’d disturbingly grown to love Nescafe over time. There was also a little Tibetan bookstore right next door to the café and we wanted to hit that up one more time to exchange some of our books before we left for India.

The way meals are sometimes served in Nepal are in “sets”. You can get a Nepali “set” which usually consists of dahl, rice, saag, naan, curry and various other things. Basically a “set” is like ordering one of those value meal things from a Wendy’s or Burger King or something similar. Essentially you get certain foods all bundled up for a reduced price instead of having to order everything separately. The most interesting set we encountered was in up northwest Nepal when we saw a sandwich board proudly advertising the offering of a “Vagitarian Set”. We obviously knew it meant vegetarian, but that one had us both in stitches, and we knew we had to go in and have it.

Well, our little café there in Kathmandu offered something called an American Set. The meal consisted of two eggs served any style, bacon (I hoped was some kind of pork), toast, sausage (again, I hoped it was pork), the always misspelled hasbrowns (hashbrowns) and a large pot of black coffee. A large pot as defined in Nepal was about as big as a Vente sized cup from Starbucks. The food there had been consistently good, the service was always friendly and they had a little outside area where we could sit, write and watch the madness in the streets of Kathmandu unfold. Oh, the entire meal for both of us was around USD $5.

When we went inside this time we immediately noticed the waiter had changed. This wasn’t a huge surprise given that we’d been gone a while, but we were a little disappointed since we’d sort of gotten to know the person who worked there before and he would always recognize us when we came in and knew what we wanted before we even asked. It was kind of a nice to have a “family” of sorts there since we were so far from home.

Anyhow, the new guy was also very, very nice and just as welcoming. We ask if we could sit outside, which of course we could, and just like always, there were only about two or three other local people eating there. Keep in mind the entire place probably seated around ten at most.

We got situated and the super nice new guy comes over, greets us with the customary “Namaste” and asked us in very broken English if we’d like tea. We returned the pleasantry and instead ordered our large pot of coffee, the very reason we’d come back. He smiled, said “very good sir” and off he went.

When he returned with our coffee he asked if we were ready to order our food, again, in very broken English. We told him we’d each take the American Set. Here’s where things went off track, just like we knew it was destined to do.

Keep in mind that the American set featured two eggs, any style. Jason ordered the American Set and requested wheat toast, his only special request. I also ordered the American Set, but I requested scrambled eggs and wheat toast. Our waiter was genuinely delighted, scribbled something down on a  small sheet of paper, smiled his enormous smile which showed all his pearly white teeth, bowed slightly, said “Very good sir!”, and off he went to put in our order.

About five minutes later, I could see our waiter making his way from the kitchen area back to our table. His mannerism told me straight away there was going to be a problem. His shoulders were slouched, his head hung low and his pace was slow and shuffling. He honestly looked as if he was coming to tell me my favourite pet had been run over by one of those sketchy taxis. Clearly there was grim news and he was none too amped about delivering it.

Waiter: “I am sorry sir, there is a problem”, he said with a sincerely apologetic tone.

Me: “Oh, really, what is it?”, I replied, trying to act surprised.

Waiter: “The egg sir. We no have skamble egg”.

He was honestly upset and I seriously tried to look concerned and sympathetic and not laugh.

Me: “Oh, well, huh, let me see”.

I looked over the menu for several seconds before coming with an alternate plan to help everyone save face.

Me: “Do you have eggs?”, I asked as if I didn’t already know the answer.

Waiter: “Yes sir!” he said very excitedly.

Me: “Then I’ll have eggs!”, I replied just as excitedly.

Waiter: “Very good sir! Yes, very good sir!”

And with that he literally ran back to the kitchen to inform the cook of the revised order.

Jason and I both immediately knew the problem was that he didn’t know the word “scramble” and we felt bad that he was put in such an uncomfortable situation. For us, it was just another normal transaction in Nepal, but he was clearly embarrassed and sad that things were amiss. Like 99.9% of the people we’d met, he’d been so incredibly nice to us and there was no way we were going to further his dilemma or embarrassment by trying to explain what scramble meant.

Admittedly, we were both curious to know exactly what he wrote down for “scramble” on that piece of paper when I’d originally ordered! And we could only imagine the discussion that ensued back in the kitchen!

When I got my American Set I indeed had two eggs (I assumed from a chicken), both of which had essentially been cremated. This was exactly as I’d had them countless times in the cafes, monasteries and teahouses all over Nepal. I was happily stoked with my fried eggs, Jason was stoked with his fried eggs, our slices of mystery meat looked as amazing as always, the waiter was proud to have served such a wonderful meal, we were stoked that he was stoked, Jason and I got another good laugh, everyone was smiling…no problem!

While we waited another two hours for the bookstore to open, we drank great coffee, wrote in our journals, talked about all those little experiences in Nepal, and as frustrating as it had been to travel there, we became a little melancholy at the thought we’d be leaving in a few days. Most notably, while were sitting there we were genuinely treated as if we were family. We got to practice our Nepali/Hindi with our waiter and he asked to practice his English. It was actually kind of sad to leave our little café knowing we wouldn’t be back there during our travels.

I think those are the things I’m missing most right now. Those little things we can only experience when traveling internationally that really mean nothing, but mean everything at the same time. I love adapting to other cultural methods, systems and ways. I love all the trials and tribulations of learning a new language and trying to apply it in different situations. I also love playing charades when the language skills fall short! And I love building families all over the world through those little offbeat interactions.

It’s amazing what a little patience, acceptance and a simple “thank you”, “gracias”, “merci”, “kop khun kha” or “dhanybhad” can do for making new friends and bringing a collective smile to our planet. I have no problem with that.

Namaste.

Travel light, ski hard, pedal far, live big.

A Fine Red Line.

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After two days in Kata, Thailand, Donna and I had seen enough. Our brief travel diversion to this SE Asian version of Cancun wasn’t a complete bust, but almost. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful, incredibly beautiful, but even during off season it was crowded with tourists. And nothing was as cheap as we’d become accustomed to in the rest of Thailand.

We sat in our little room to escape the sweltering heat, humidity and torrential rains, and after a little research decided to leave the next day and head on over to Rai Leh. The entire reason for coming to Southern Thailand in the first place was to climb and see why every climbing publication ever printed touted it as a “must do” destination.

We’d caught a cheap flight from Bangkok to Phuket (USD $40 one way) but really hadn’t thought much about how to get across the Andaman Sea to Rai Leh until right then. Some friends back here in the US had told us a ferry was the only way to go. Fast and cheap they’d said, no worries.

We consulted our Rough Guide as to where we’d need to go the next morning to catch one of those fast and cheap ferries, which turned out to be about an hour ride in a sketchy ass Toyota Hilux pickup converted into a taxi…otherwise known as a songthaew. There were actually some decent looking ones around, ours didn’t happen to be one of them. Anyhow, the worst part was having to pay about USD $15/each, which paying that amount for just about anything in Thailand is bordering on absurd in our opinion. The driver was nice (as always) so we kind of blew it off.

We got to the ferry station and stood in the queue to buy tickets with a pretty large group of rude tourists, almost all who were heading out for tours to some of the more popular islands. The large pushy group dynamic didn’t agree with us much, but this was the means for us to get somewhere else, so we endured. Once we got to the window to purchase our tickets, the plan made an abrupt change. It seems they wanted USD $125 for the 2.0 hour ride via jet catamaran!

Whaaaaaat? We immediately stepped out of line and hit the reset button. Where was that fast and cheap part? We scoured the fare board posted on the wall and sure enough, regardless of what ferry line we took, it was going to be pricey. We then sat, dug out our Rough Guide and initiated Plan B which could be found under the title, “Other Modes of Transportation”.

We quickly discovered there was the option to take a local bus, our normal option if available anywhere we travel, but that would take roughly 4-7 hours (yes, a nice tight schedule) and could be “an experience” as the the book described it. The bus depot was a short tuk-tuk ride away so we threw our backpacks in and went to check it out.

The first thing I noticed was there were only about three Thai people in the entire depot and not one sign posting the fares to various towns and villages was written in English. The lettering was beautiful for sure, but pretty useless to us. Undeterred as always, we approached the ticketing window and told the attendant of our desire to get to at least Krabi or Ao Nang. From there we’d have to figure out other modes of transport, but that appeared as close as the bus would get us. From there we’d just figure it out.

For the three minutes prior to approaching the attendant, I practiced how to ask for a ticket in the native Thai dialect. In the three seconds following that attempt, I knew I had horrifically failed to execute the request as the stunned attendant blankly stared at me as if I’d suddenly grown a third eye. New plan, get out the map and just point.

The attendant smiled, said “yes, yes!” and immediately started scribbling letters on a little blue sheet of paper as I clumsily sifted through my wad of baht to pay for the ticket. All of a sudden, we looked and noticed our bags were not there! Oh sh#$%!! Then Donna saw a guy loading them on a bus. She ran out to make sure they didn’t drive away without us, while I anxiously finished the transaction.

Armed with two pieces of blue paper, I ran out of the terminal to Donna to make sure everything was okay. Fortunately our bags were on the right bus! Whew. The bus she was standing by was painted with so many bright colours it was close to giving me a seizure, which sort of help take the edge off my anxiety about the bags.

The same guy who had loaded our bags turned out to be the boarding attendant, bag handler, chef du cuisine at the nearby pad thai cart, station petrol pumper, the bus’s guest services ambassador and yes, our driver. We were still reeling a bit from the thought of our two backpacks going on a potential walkabout until he smiled, bowed, vigourously shook our hands and welcomed us onto the kaleidoscope that was his bus.

Sawatdee kha! Yes, yes…prease on”, directing us to get on.

So awesome. We knew right then we’d made the right choice.

There were three things we noticed upon boarding. First was the fact that we were the only Westerners aboard, perfect. Two, the advertised “luxury air conditioned service” consisted of what could be described as an ancient GE Window Unit sticking out of the rear section of the bus. Given the oppressive heat and humidity of Thailand, this was a concerning development. And third, and most importantly, was the circa 1960s television precariously mounted above the driver’s head blasting a Thai music video at a volume level equivalent to a jumbo jet. Nevertheless, the tightly schedule 4-7 hour bus ride to Krabi cost us USD $6 total and it had the all the markings of a good adventure, so we were in it for the duration.

Before the bus pulled away, Donna asked if I’d looked at a map to see what route we’d be taking. Uh, no. I think between the confusion of actually purchasing the tickets and the gut wrenching episode of turning around and seeing our bags not there, I really hadn’t had a chance to further flex my brilliant command of the language and inquire. I then dug our well worn map out and began looking.

From the recognizable towns listed on our ticket, I traced our route on the map along a long, thin red line which had no more than 1mm distance of straight lines for the entire distance. Our reaction to that was that air conditioner better work or it could make for a very long, very queasy day.

Thankfully the air conditioner thing kind of worked, kind of. The video we discovered, was an old VHS tape on “loop mode” so we had the pleasure of hearing one song, at those jumbo jet level decibels, repeat every 6-8 minutes…for six hours. We also discovered there was an official ticket taker on the bus. This was probably the most curious thing of our entire travels in Thailand. When the bus initially pulled out, he walked through and inspected everyone’s ticket, some people paying him right then, which seemed odd because we had to go through the ticketing attendant, but nothing out of the ordinary really. Then, inexplicably between stops, he would randomly walk through and inspect everyone’s ticket again. I can understand after we’d stopped to pick up or drop off passengers, but no, this happened randomly between stops for the entire trip, sometimes two or three times between stops. This was his job and he was obviously quite proud of it. Bravo him!

True to the squiggly lines depicted on the map, the road never straightened out for more than a quarter of mile. That fact didn’t seem to register with the driver because I can’t really recall him ever hitting the brakes other than at bus stops, both the designated ones and random ones. The bus would lean so much at times going around corners the windows beside us would form gaps around their perimeter from the twisting of the fuselage, and I’m not even kidding.

The air horns, all of them, worked beautifully. Any pedestrian within 100 meters of the road would receive the full, eight horn fury of the Kaleidoscope bus. And every time he would pull the string to blast some poor farmer back into his field, I would almost jump out of my skin. Judging by the driver’s frequent glances in our direction via his mirror, I began to think he was trying to impress us with his driving skills. We couldn’t decide whether he was the crappiest driver on the face of the earth, or the best. Whatever it was, he was at least confident and always had a smile.

We made lots of stops along the way, sometimes in amazingly picturesque villages. The way the local scheduling seemed to work is the driver would lay down on the horn as he approached the villages and people would know that “it’s time”. Anarchy would always ensue as soon as the bus would stop. People would simultaneously get on and off the bus amongst pure and unfiltered, mass chaos. Then, once the people getting off were off and the people getting on were on, we’d sit for a half hour…with the air conditioner turned off. However, that was 100% okay with us because in each village, a vendor would get on the bus and sell little cups of sorbet! It was like pure heaven in a cup! I think we became legends because we’d buy three or four each at every stop! For less than USD $0.05, it was the deal of the day! That’s the Thailand we were accustomed to, not what we’d just left in Phuket.

After a full day of travel, dozens of ticket “verifications”, about a gallon of lychee sorbet (each) and no less than 400 loops of that mind numbing Thai pop music video, we finally pulled into the Krabi bus terminal. It was a collection of dilapidated buildings complete with a food cart serving pad thai, a 1970s vintage soda box and an adjoining field full of other Kaleidoscope bus carcasses. We both had to laugh when we looked up and saw a sign on the side of a building, written in English, which read DON’T PANIC. That made us both laugh out loud. Obviously others without a good sense of humour and sense of adventure had passed this way before.

Once we got off the bus we were welcomed by the customary wave of tuk-tuk, songthaew and taxi drivers wanting to take us to our next destination. “Sawatdee kha! Yes, yes, I take you!” was the coined phrase even though they had no idea where we wanted to go.

From our research during the NASCAR worthy bus ride, we had concluded we needed to somehow get to “the pier”. That was it, that’s all the info we had…“the pier”. We knew that was the way things worked so we sorted through the phalanx of drivers, made our selection based on nothing in particular and confidently requested, “the pier”.

Sawatdee kha! Yes, yes, I take you pier, 40 baht! Korp kun kha”.  (40 baht was about a $1 at the time)

And with that we got in a nice young guy’s rickety little taxi, along with his daughter and I assume his dog, and pulled onto yet another thin red line.

Forty five minutes later we arrived at “the pier” just as he promised. We knew this because there was a sign that read, “The Pier”. Another 45 minute in a longtail boat and we found ourselves in Rai Leh, with very few other people, a cold Singha beer in hand, sitting on one of the prettiest beaches on the planet.

Travel on a thin red line…I say $6 well spent.

Oh, the climbing? Yeah, “must do”.

The Less I Have.

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Me with my Lowe Alpine Countour IV on a climbing trip in the Bugaboos (Canada)

Over the past few weeks I’ve been assessing a lot of things. Some of those things include where I am and where I want to go. This isn’t something new for me since I’m generally in a constant state of living the dream and fully accept that not all paths we think we’ll take are the ones we’ll actually walk. If you really think about it, can any of us say with complete honesty we’re exactly where we thought we’d be 20 years ago? I’m sure as hell not, but that’s not a bad thing in my world.

One thing I’ve never been a big believer in is that “things” equal success. I think it’s kinda sad that most people see it that way though. Ads bombard us constantly telling us how much our lives suck without their products. To get these products we must have a better job. To have a better job we have to sacrifice our free time. When we sacrifice our free time we eventually miss it and look for ways to get more of it. Sadly, we’ve been trained to think that technological gizmos and more stuff will make our lives easier and give us more free time. In reality, we have to work harder to afford those gizmos, thus taking away from that free time. It’s a stupid cycle and one I played for a short while right after attending university. Fortunately I saw the viciousness of the vortex pulling me down before it was too late and I swam to shore — and have been there since.

If you saw the cell phone I carry, you’d probably be appalled. Hell, most six year olds would be appalled! Most everything I have is well used. Why? I am a firm believer that when I buy something it needs to have a purpose and I’m willing to use it until it’s no longer useful, even if it’s not the “latest”. To use my phone as an example, I bought it to make calls and to have when people want to call me. Crazy huh? As old and low-tech as it is, it still allows me to make calls and every once in a blue moon, it will buzz and voila!, there is someone is on the other end who wants to talk to me. I love this science fictiony type stuff!

Now I’m not very tech savvy, but I’d be willing to bet my words wouldn’t travel through cyber space any faster, nor would the words of my friends get to me any faster if I had the latest, and most expensive iPhone. And if those words did get to me 1,000,000 nanoseconds faster, would it really be worth spending hundreds of dollars for the privilege of simply being able to tell me friends about it? Apple wants you to think so but it’s just not all that important to me.

Anyhow, in this process of thinking about the path ahead, I naturally thought about what necessities I should take with me. Since I love to travel as much as I do, my very first thought was that I needed to significantly lighten the load. If you’ve ever schlepped a backpack around while traveling, you know the value of packing light! You learn quickly to take the minimum. However, I’ve seen people get out of taxis and watched a dumbstruck cabbie unload a mountain of suitcases onto the curb. Traveling that way is certainly not efficient and truth be told, is sort of stupid. If you “need” that much stuff to travel, then maybe you don’t need to travel. Obviously the ads I mentioned above work on some people.

Donna and I aren’t the types to accumulate a lot of stuff, but in the course of living things seem to pile up. Like magic, one day you walk into your basement and are puzzled how it got so cluttered. There is no way I could’ve accumulated all that stuff, but yet, it happens. Okay, a lot of mine is super important gear, but still…

I procrastinated for a couple of weeks, thinking I should start the process of sifting through some of it and downsizing the fleet, but I just couldn’t bring myself to start. So, instead of forcing it, I let the idea simmer, thinking about my reasoning and trying to understand exactly how that accumulation occurred in the first place. More importantly, I wanted to understand why now was the right time to cast away some of the weight! Then, early one evening I went to the basement with a strong sense of detachment and got started.

The hardest part is starting. The next hardest part is stopping! Once I got rolling everything was being considered for elimination. If I hadn’t used it in a year, it got strong consideration. Two years meant immediately it was out the door. Although I use most of my gear a lot, I was still a tad surprised how much I had accumulated over the years. But I was committed so everything was given unbiased review.

When I got to my collection of backpacks, I soldiered on with my cause despite becoming a little more emotional about the items. One backpack in particular, a Lowe Alpine Contour IV 90+15, made me stop, sit in the floor and think about the process in a different way.

You see, a backpack has always been my symbol of freedom and simplicity. When traveling internationally, it’s all I’ll take with me. It’s simple and easy to carry through airports, on busses, tuk-tuks or simply walking from one place to another.

When Jason and I were bumming around South Asia for a couple of months, we had everything we “needed” in our  backpacks (mine being the aforementioned Lowe Alpine one). And for two months we lacked for nothing. Other than a new book or a trinket here or there, we lived with what we had. We’d sometimes trade a couple of books at local bookstores for a new one because we either didn’t have room in the packs or simply didn’t want to carry the weight. We seriously kept it about as simple as you can imagine. By keeping it simple we were able to move around freely and efficiently and always according to the compass of our imagination. Living the simplistic lifestyle of a backpacker is ultimate freedom. Being free allowed us to see things we might not otherwise have seen. Seeing those things facilitated emotional and spiritual growth like I’d never imagined. Another viscious cycle…but a beautiful cycle in this instance.

So, as I contemplated that Lowe Alpine backpack for downsizing, I wondered whether I should just keep it. After all, it had well over 100,000 miles of sentimental value wrapped up in it. But then I looked on the floor around me and saw that I had about six other backpacks of all different shapes, colours and sizes and I was immediately refocused on reducing the weight of having more than I need. I thought it ironic that my symbol of freedom was also something that could be construed as an anchor. In the end the backpack was put in the pile to be listed on eBay.

I’m still in the midst of this downsizing process. Clothes, shoes, tools, cameras, lenses and everything else inside the walls of my house is getting scrutinized and the listings on eBay and Craigslist are growing accordingly. I thought this process might sometimes make me sad or I’d feel pangs of regret, but in actuality it’s making me feel better and more ready to set course for the adventures ahead. I always claim to be a simple guy with simple tastes and simple needs and perhaps my absence of regret in this downsizing process is a good confirmation that my claim is true.

My style of being a traveler is incredibly simplistic and keeping my day to day life in tune with that style keeps me smiling everyday and keeps me nimble and ready for any adventure that comes along.

Less is more.

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

Suffering Nicely, Thank You…

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This past weekend was filled with many, many miles on my mountain bike. Some of those miles were solo, some shared with Donna and some shared with my friends Adam, Carin and Ann.

The thing I sometimes forget, or maybe have just come to accept since I’ve lived in Colorado so long, is how the terrain here can be a little less than friendly unless you can learn to enjoy a little pain from time to time.

A good percentage of the ski resorts here now offer lift rides to mountain bikers. In Vail you can even ride up in a cushy gondola with your bike, have a leisurely lunch of haute food complete with mind blowing views across the Rockies, then hop on an expensive, full suspension rental bike and literally coast all the way to the bottom on trails ranging from smooth fire roads to higher consequence, technical singletrack trails. It’s like skiing…ride up in comfort, ski down via your choice in terrain, repeat.

If you’ve read any of my blog entries from prior winter months, you already know that me and my friends will get up in the middle of the night, drive an hour or so to our ski resort of choice and climb to the highest point at that resort long before the lifts ever open. Then, at about 15 minutes or so before they drop the ropes  for “first chair”, we clip in to our bindings and rip some solitary turns back to the base. We have a monster workout and beautiful ski down done before the first person’s butt even hits the chair.

Cold? Yes.

Hard? Generally.

Painful and miserable? Can be.

Worth it? Always.

Knowing that about my winter preferences for ski outings, it’s probably no surprise that those preferences roll over into the summer months when my mountain bike gets top billing over my skis. Like skiing, some of the best terrain is not served via inbounds lifts so accessing it requires some work. But even on the days when we want to ride the terrain inside the resorts, we still prefer to work for the downhills, even if it is for only one trip down.

My friend Carin has been here in Colorado for a couple of months (from CA). Strong rider for sure, but something I was reminded of when I started riding with her was the fact that we live at over a mile high in elevation to start with and everything we typically ride involves going up from there. For someone coming from lower elevations, that’s a recipe for some serious pain. However, while it was fun to giggle as she gasped for air while climbing steep singletrack for hours on end in the first two or three weeks she was here, something inherent in her spirit came shining through those gasps — she loves to ride.

Carin, like Adam, Ann, Danny, Kris and a few more of my friends, actually enjoy working hard on a bike. It’s a matter of deep appreciation for something you’ve created. Sometimes you stand atop a ridge after a couple hours of grueling climbing, hands on your knees, quads completely pumped out, lungs heaving in oxygen dep and you’re left with nothing except the knowledge that YOU, and no one else (including a lift), got yourself up there. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not instant, it’s not always “fun”, it’s not always pretty, but at the end of the day when you lay your head on your pillow, you are 100% satisfied that you did something to fill your soul.

We are extremely fortunate to live in Colorado and get to ride in some amazingly beautiful places. Sharing that with people who enjoy the suffering and understand the rewards is just icing on the cake.

Here’s a quote from my friend Adam. Pretty much explains why I love riding with him.

Even with the scrapes, bruises, and thoughts of giving up encountered while biking, somehow I still smile every time I go for a ride…..” 

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

One Day I Decided to Build a Sailboat

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Let me start off by saying that I know little to nothing about sailing — probably closer to “nothing” truth be told. But this morning I was reminded by my friend Liz Clark http://www.swellvoyage.com/ why I’ve always been fascinated by sailboats. Liz is currently readying her boat Swell to be launched and find herself solo sailing the world again after a brief break.

Before I met Liz, I had some other friends who decided to buy an older sailboat and restore it top to bottom with the ultimate goal of sailing it around the globe. One of these friends had “some” sailing experience, another had less and the other had, well, let’s say they had limited experience.

In the process of restoring it and upgrading its systems, they would of course intimately learn all those systems (even designing and building some of them), get familiar with her handling nuances and understand her capabilities and limitations. It was the most fundamental process of not only building/restoring the boat, but building a personal relationship with her along the way.

Naturally, the restoration of the 37’ Valiant, sailing under the name of Syzygy at the time, was not without its challenges and setbacks. Yet, these three friends championed on for months and little by little Syzygy began to truly become worthy of the adventure they initially had their sights set upon. Not only had Syzygy morphed into what they had dreamed, but I could also tell from conversations with them that they too had personally morphed into something different.

To make a long story short, when the day came to set off, one friend had dropped from the mix, and in his place a new wife of one of the others stepped in. The husband and wife would sail her across the Pacific and the person who was still on board from the original crew would join them in the Tuamotus two or three months later. Syzygy sailed for well more than a year, eventually being sailed solo by the person who joined later in the Tuamotus, and then was ultimately sold in Australia. I might point out here that the couple onboard was expecting a baby and came back to the States to start that adventure — a far more challenging one.

As I watched them transform Syzygy into something they dreamed of and sailed it under the Golden Gate Bridge, I began to realize just how much of a lost art this is — to have an idea or dream and build it from ground zero. It’s just too easy to lay down some cash these days and get right to the “adventure” part. It’s also the reason many of today’s “adventures” mean little more than just ticking off another box on the bucket list.

As romantic and alluring as sailing around the world sounded, I knew that type of thing wasn’t probably going to happen in my world. I think my main obstacles were having no sailing experience at all and my disdain for physically being in the ocean. I like the ocean, but it doesn’t “call to me”. And then there’s the whole shark thing…but I digress. But as a result of them tackling this project and seeing it through, I found myself wanting to build my own sailboat, if only metaphorically.

As the title of this blog suggests, I like to ride bikes. I’ve always had a bike and a few years ago even dabbled in racing them (road racing) in a fairly competitive environment. For the past 25 years though, I’ve only ridden mountain bikes. It’s something I really, really like. It didn’t take long for me to put all the pieces together and decide I was going to build a mountain bike from the ground up and let that be my sailboat.

I spent weeks, probably months, researching and jotting down notes on what features I wanted (and didn’t) and what frames best suited my physique and style of riding. I honestly had no idea how vast the options were until I started looking. Naturally I employed the opinions and expertise of friends who ride casually as well as professionally so I could build a complete picture of the options before I would finally decide. When I had it narrowed down to two or three frame models, I then set about finding a good deal.

Being that I’d always just bought a bike in the past, I’d never really thought too much about the individual parts of a bike up til then. Therefore, I spent a considerable amount of time researching every component associated with the bike — every bolt, cable and link. I wanted to make decisions based on why, not just because it would fit. I wanted to build it with purpose. Time consuming? Yeah, because it was a lot of new territory for me, very much so. But as the project moved forward, the bike and every single component would become a part of me…and me part of it.

After two or three months of patiently shopping the internet, I had all the parts and was ready to build it. I might add that my patience saved me 60% off of MSRP!

There were certainly points where I would sit in my basement working on it, getting frustrated to the point where I’d have to walk away (i.e. hydraulic brakes). But I’d realize it was a learning process and the frustration was just part it. I had to remind myself that sometimes the things we really want, the important things, aren’t always attained so easily. Running a 100k was hard. It was hard to train for it and hard to run it. But I was patient, put in the work and eventually I finished. By doing so, I discovered what I wanted to discover about myself. The bike was my sailboat, a tool I wanted to use to sail off into adventures on, something I may need to depend on at times, so I practiced patience and I learned.

Now, when I go out to ride in the mountains here in Colorado, I believe every mile means something a little different than it would’ve had I just laid out some cash and rode it out of a shop. If it breaks, I know I can fix it. It’s a sense freedom in a way, independence. There is no app and no shortcut for that feeling.

I’ve built other bikes since and the process has admittedly become fairly easy. It’s only easy now because I took the time to understand the details and let them become part of me. There are a couple of things I still want to try like building a wheel from scratch, a true art, but that’s for another day. For now, I’m content to throw my chile pepper red sailboat on my truck four or five days a week and sail off into adventures that mean something, if only to me.

Thank you Liz Clark, Jon Haradon and Matt and Karen Holmes and a special thanks to Jesse Horton.

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

Thanks National Geographic, I’m Not Afraid

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My next round of travel outside the borders of the USA isn’t all that far away so I’ve started reading a little about the countries where I’ll be. I always find travel more interesting if I know a little history of places I’m going, know some of the characters who have shaped that history and also to see what contemporary things are happening in the region. I do this reading not to alleviate the unknowns before venturing off on my own to an unfamiliar place, but more to accumulate even more questions so I can truly travel with a broadened sense of wonderment and curiosity. My curiosity when related to travel could probably be clinically diagnosed as “hopeless”.

This “hopeless curiosity” thing isn’t all that new for me really. In fact, it started developing at a very young age.

When I’d go visit my grandparents as a kid, one of the things I remember most was the giant bookcase they had with basically every National Geographic issue ever published. Having access to that ocean of yellow magazines gracing those shelves was like giving me the keys to a world of adventure. And you better believe I had no qualms whatsoever with taking those keys and stomping the accelerator.

The typical scenario was I’d read a few articles then strike out for the woods to imagine I was in those exotic places, meeting exotic peoples, eating crazy foods and doing all kinds of adventurous things. When it came time to come inside for the day, I’d pick up another couple of issues, crawl into my blanket fort (which typically encompassed about 80% of the living room) and bury myself in even more adventures. Sure, my friends and I would have grand adventures of our own in the desert surrounding our community, but seeing all those different faces and cultures and reading about faraway places was doing nothing but planting mutant seeds of curiosity to a bigger world I couldn’t wait to go explore.

I’ve since been extremely fortunate to have gone roaming about the planet from time to time and to have experienced firsthand a lot of those places I once only dreamed about. I feel even more fortunate that sowing those early seeds of adventure helped give me the right tools to travel independently and not be afraid to strike out on my own without the need of tour guides or group dynamics. That’s not to say I’m not scared from time to time, but I’ve never been too afraid to buy the ticket and just go figure it out.

One difference from today and when I was a kid is that I no longer share my dreams of travel and adventure so freely amongst the people I know. I have a small group of likeminded friends who I share with, but for the most part I keep my planning, emotions and feelings regarding my travels to myself. This is for the simple reason that so many people have become terrified of other cultures and adventurous travel and will do nothing but tell me why I shouldn’t be going. I blame a lot of this on media sources who generalize other cultures into narrow categories and spread fear amongst the masses.

Seeing a woman in a hijab thirty years ago was a source of exoticism, mystery and beauty. Today it carries an unfortunate stigma and an erroneous correlation to terror. The word Africa use to mean exotic animals, safaris, ancient tribal customs, mind-blowing landscapes and now all I hear is terrorism in Somalia, Libya, etc. — when all those beautiful landscapes are still there and 99.9% of the population is still welcoming to those willing to come. Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos…undoubtedly some of the most beautiful places on earth with some of the most astonishingly beautiful people who ever lived are still senselessly feared due to a war fought before many of today’s potential travelers were even born. All those places once highlighted in the pages of National Geographic as epicenters of adventure and mystery are being executed by fear mongering media sources. This makes me sadder than I can ever explain.

Part of the good fortune I mentioned above is that by traveling to off the beaten path places, I’ve blindly eschewed all these stigmas and been able to formulate my own opinions through experience rather than through hearsay and speculation. I’ve traveled extensively in places where Islam, the sad target of so much hate these days, is the predominate religion. Not once, and I mean not even once, has anyone ever treated with me anything but complete and utter respect — always welcoming me into their homes and making sure my travels were satisfactory. Native cultures of South America, same. Hindi regions of South Asia, same. Anywhere in Europe, same. Southeast Asia, same. Mexico, same. Korea, same.

Have I been uncomfortable? Yeah. But I’ve been scared and uncomfortable more here in the US than anywhere else I’ve been. There are mean people everywhere. Would I myself ever want to be categorized with the likes of Timothy McVeigh, Ted Bundy or a Ted Kazinski just because they were Americans and so am I? That’s stupid. So why in the world would I think that everyone in another country would be like a few rogue bozos who happen to speak their language? That’s baseless fear and I refuse to let that dictate how I perceive this world. I believe with all my heart that people the world round are basically kind and caring and I want to go meet them.

Thank you National Geographic (the old kind, not the new ad laden offshoot versions) for giving me those seeds of travel and adventure at such an early age. I’m happy those seeds have bloomed and I can move around without all that baseless fear and truly experience the beautiful places and people of this world you’ve introduced me to.

Ready to write the next chapter in my journal…

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