Author Archives: Stephen Jaye

About Stephen Jaye

My name is Stephen Jaye, I currently live in Denver, CO, but have lived in New York, Chicago, Indiana, and Wisconsin. I love the weather, I love getting out, being active, and I love exploring places. In this blog are my travel writings.

3 Reasons I am More Hopeful at the End of 2022

I generally try to lean into the positive on this blog, because the world is just filled with too much negativity. However, as much as people tend to lean towards and dwell on negative things, we can’t all be positive all the time. Negativity does happen. It does not need to be ignored. We just need to balance out our thoughts by expressing gratitude and appreciation more and maybe reducing the amount of unnecessary negative content we consume.

It is in this vein that I must acknowledge that 2022 is the first time in nearly two decades I am ending the year with a more hopeful view of humanity and our future. So far this century, it has honestly felt like things were getting worse. People feel more divided, isolated and in worse physical, financial and mental health than they were at the turn of the century. 2008, with the financial crisis and smart phones and social media gaining momentum, seems like the pivotal year. I’ve even taken to labelling the period of time since then as the “Little Dark Age.”

Thinking back, two events in particular gave me a preview of the darkness that was to come. First, I saw a whole city collectively “lose their shit” over the results of an election.

In 2004 I was living in Madison, Wisconsin, a city that is quite beautiful and culturally rich. However, at that time, it felt like they were just a little ahead of the curve in becoming obsessed with partisan politics and being outright mean to anyone who even shows an indication that they are not in 100% agreement on issues that largely split the country 50/50.

Then, my friends started getting smart phones. Normally, it is not a bad thing when someone obtains a new product. However, I began to see more and more people become so obsessed with this device that they would ignore the people that are actually in front of them, just staring at the thing the entire time. I just knew this could not be good for humanity.

The world got darker. But now, I see a coming better era. Three moments from 2022 captivate this sentiment.

1. When I met up with my friend who is a professor

My friend Kevin is a professor at Valparaiso University, where I went to college.

I met up with him at the start of the month. We went out for deep dish pizza and went to the Christkindlmarket, because, well, Chicago in December.

I had honestly not seen him since before the pandemic and I asked him about student’s cell phone use. What he said indicated a marked improvement. He talked about how back in 2016, students were constantly being distracted by their phones, doing things like scrolling through social media. He indicated to me that now it seems like the majority of students’ phone use in class seems to be class related. Maybe they’re looking up an equation or a historical figure to enhance what the discussion in front of them is. This feels like a new generation of people is finding a far more productive way to use this technology that recently disrupted our lives.

2. Random song lyrics

These particular song lyrics hit me hard, in a good way, in 2022. They both represent people looking inward as opposed to outward. They represent a switch from the finger pointing and accusations that were quite common during the pandemic to self-reflection and trying to be a better person. This represents a trend that has the potential to be both less divisive and also more empowering. Focusing on what we, as individuals and communities, can do offers far more hope than dwelling on external factors and obsessing over how to either change or exact revenge on certain groups of people.

This kind of echoes what I have been seeing elsewhere in culture, including movies and T.V. shows. Without getting into detail, It feels like from roughly 2017 through 2020 most of pop culture had an us vs. them theme. Many songs, movies and shows seemed to be strongly advocating that everyone adapt perspectives that are in line with what people in Hollywood think (or, just taking them as ground truth despite them being up for debate generally). This year, I saw Top Gun Maverick, Elvis and Spirited, the new Christmas movie. These films, along with some other things I watched this year seem more themed around how we can improve while still being true to who we are. Thus, combining wanting to be better to those around us with acceptance of what makes all of us unique.

3. People I encountered throughout the year

As the year went by, it felt like I was encountering more and more people with a different focus. It started when the Commons on Champa, Denver’s entrepreneurial hub, reopened the last day of May.

This lead to meeting entrepreneurs from all over Latin America, associated with the Young Leaders in the Americas Initiative. What a wonderful, appreciative group of people. I’ve been told multiple times that people from poorer countries are often better at appreciating what they have as opposed to focusing on getting the next thing.

Then, on top of Mount Antero in August, I encountered some of the friendliest people I’d ever met.

They were friends from California and Arizona on a road trip together. They offered me a ride when my dog got blisters on her paws. They picked up litter they saw on the trail. Everything they talked about was positive, things like how amazing the music they were listening to is and astonishment at the scenery on the hike.

For much of the second half of the year I heard countless people describe things like their desire to get away from a lot of the stress and negativity of recent years and reconnect with themselves, their families, communities and nature. I had many people tell me about what they are doing to reduce their screen time, such as placing time limits or deleting apps and adapting new habits.

This culminated with my experiences in Cancun and Chicago in late November/ Early December. Between that and the messages I got from strangers at the Awake Festival and StartupWeek, I felt a level of appreciation I had not felt in years. Sometimes it feels like I opened a portal to accept certain influences in life. Or maybe, the world is finally moving on from the fear based responses we had to the events of 2012 through 2020 and we are finally doing the work that needs to be done to create a better future.

I coined the phrase “Little Dark Age” based on the term “Little Ice Age”, used to describe a cooler period on the planet from roughly 1300 -1850. The “Little Ice Age” reached its apex in 1816, when volcanic eruptions and a relative minima in solar activity lead to what is coined as “The Year Without a Summer.” However, by 1900, we were clearly out of the “Little Ice Age” (and on the path to better food security). My hope is that 2020, the year that everyone was as isolated as ever and yelling at each other over their responses to the pandemic and racial unrest was that moment for this “Little Dark Age”, and that now, we are on our way out, to a better (although not perfect) 2023.

On Being Less “Numb”

The modern world is such a paradox. We are more prosperous, more secure and more comfortable than ever before. Yet, we also seem anxious, depressed and generally dissatisfied. What is going on? What are we missing?

There is something about the modern wold that, at times, can just feel lacking. Days without any meaning. Activities we don’t truly experience. Conversations where everyone’s not really interested and never lead to a true connections. Activities we barely even remember doing. On bad days, it can feel like we have all turned into robots just trying to achieve metrics, numb to all emotions.

Numbness has been attributed to lot of things. Drugs. Alcohol. Certain psychological disorders. Deciding to be constantly be busy. Engaging in only surface level interactions. And, finally, being in a constant state of distraction. The consequences are dire. When we chose to numb ourselves to avoid negative emotions, particularly discomfort, we also deny ourselves positive emotions. We lose the ability to enjoy life.

Over the past month, what I have experienced is most easily described as the opposite of numbness. First, right after Thanksgiving, I returned to the all inclusive resort in Cancun I visited six years earlier.

It was a similar experience. Warmth. Beautiful sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean.

Activities by the beach and pool. And, like last time, I made friends with both the other guests of the resort and the staff that coordinated the activities. It ended up being a very emotional experience. Every day I would go to Spanish lessons.

And, I would regularly try to conduct conversations with the staff in Spanish. After several days, those that I had spoken to most started telling me how much they appreciated our conversations. They said that only about 5% of the guests that come to this resort even try to speak to them in Spanish. One of the employees even wrote a heartfelt note.

It was quite emotional and made me sad to leave. I often don’t feel appreciated in normal day-to-day life. It often feels like people are trying to mold me to adapt a certain set of opinions or maximize my output. Here, I felt appreciated for being myself; goofy, curious and friendly. I felt like I was leaving part of my heart in Mexico.

Then, I spent a week with family, with Christmastime in full swing in the Chicago metropolitan area.

The setting couldn’t be more different. I went from vacation back to performing my remote job. I went from sunshine and 86°F (30°C) warmth to clouds and temperatures near 40°F (3°C).

The source of appreciation this time came from little children; my nephew and niece, ages 7 and 5. There were activities and just quality time spent with family. One of them, due to the lack of snow was baseball. My nephew drew me a picture commemorating a moment we had in a backyard baseball game when I hit a grand slam and we did a grand slam dance.

Leaving this place was emotional as well. It feels good to feel appreciated. I wonder why we are often so bad at showing appreciation. I wonder why I am so bad at it. I spent most of my travel time between all of these destinations wishing that showing appreciation was something that just came more naturally.

Also, neither of these experiences were completely free of all the mechanisms attributed to numbness. At an all inclusive resort, plenty of alcohol was consumed.

This did not stop me from truly experiencing both nature and human connection in Cancun.

Time spent with family raising children is always quite busy.

But that did not stop me from being truly immersed in the activities.

What was common to both weeks is that life felt “full”, like I was generally truly experiencing connections with other humans, activities and the world around me. Whatever numbness is common in standard day-to-day life in 2022 was just not there. If we all have a kind of metaphysical door that opens us up to emotion and experience, both good and bad, mine was clearly open and despite the heartache of leaving both places after the weeks were over, it felt so much better than having it closed.

So, how can we escape this numbness that leads to all this dissatisfaction with life? One commonality to these two weeks is that they both involved significantly less “screen time”. When factoring in computers, smart phones and television, the average American spends over 12 hours per day (84 hours per week) in front of screens. These two weeks my time in front of screens was 12 and 34 hours respectively. I was also generally free of anxiety, tight timelines and other forms of negative stress. Perhaps, it is these two factors, constantly being distracted by notifications from our smartphones and/or stressed out by drama and tight timelines that keeps us emotionally numb. Perhaps, as problematic as dugs, alcohol and being constantly busy can be, the stress and constant distraction that prevents us from being truly present is the bigger issue right now.

2022 in 15 Lessons

Lesson 1: If someone “ghosts” you, it is likely because they are overwhelmed

Ghosting can be a frustrating experience and it is certainly not the best way to handle things. However, in 2022 I realized that the primary reason this happens is people getting overwhelmed. It’s usually not about you. To account for this, you can cast a wider net to become less reliant on a person who may ghost you. If someone is really of particular interest to you, I would recommend following up something like 4-6 weeks later. This is soon enough for them to not forget about you, but not so soon that you are contributing to how overwhelmed they likely are.

2. Mindset really does create your reality

This is something that has been hard for me to accept. However, there is a logical explanation for this. What you focus on is what you see and what you see will eventually become your reality. My vision board became my reality in 2022.

Therefore, it is important to periodically re-assess what you think about, who you surround yourself with and what content you consume. Because, it will show up in your life.

3. Less is more

We’re trained to think it is better to work more, work harder and always be doing something. However, doing something just for the sake of doing something has a negative effect on our lives. It depletes the energy we have that we may eventually use for valuable pursuits. Sometimes it’s better to do nothing at all.

We need to be okay with doing nothing, stop feeling guilty about not doing enough and trust the people we “work” (using the broad definition of work) with.

4. Most people project

When someone accuses you of something, it’s probably something they are at least insecure about being true of themselves. For example, the person always accusing people or companies of being greedy is likely greedy. It’s a way of deflecting their own insecurities. Do not give in to these people! You can chose to just shake it off, or calmly point out what they are doing, but don’t comply with whatever they demand of you or engage them in the topic too much. It will reduce your confidence. It will also prevent the accuser from actually reflecting on their own insecurities and making positive changes in their life.

5. Most things are a choice

In nearly every situation, we do have a choice. Sometimes, it’s just “least bad option.” Other times, we do not understand our options. It is also common to become blinded by fear of ostracism and fail to see who would actually support the decisions we are afraid of making.

6. Fear is often overblown

After living through countless fearful situations, I have realized that what we actually go through is often way less bad than what we fear. However, there is big money in fear and it is prevalent everywhere. The problem is that often times fear of some kind of negative consequence creates an outcome worse than the event itself.

7. A strong plurality is ready to move on

2020 was us at our most divided and isolated. We also seemed to be reacting, not really thinking. While some people are still in that general line of thinking, and others want to return to some past state, it seems like a strong plurality of people are ready to just move on. We haven’t really decided what is next. Maybe there is no what. Maybe it’s for all of us to determine individually. However, it is time to be intentional about what you want to see next in your life.

8. If someone wants you to cede your power they are not your friend or ally

A true friend or ally is someone who empowers you. We all have our causes, and it’s human nature to want to enlist people in them. However, if someone enlists you in their cause in a manner that requires you to shrink back and give up power, you need to distance yourself from them. You don’t necessarily have to end the friendship in dramatic fashion, but reduce the role they play in your life.

9. What feels good in the moment is usually not what you need

The obvious form of this are bad habits like drugs, alcohol and tasty but unhealthy food. However, it also takes the form of things like instant gratification, some forms of entertainment and the search for validation or vindication. They often feel good in the short term at the expense of something longer term. Sometimes we need embrace what feels uncomfortable in the short run, like hard work and tough conversations.

Scale back on activities that bring you fleeting joy and embrace short-term discomfort for long-term satisfaction.

10. Relationships are more important than tasks

We all have our to-do lists. However, 12 months later our lives are far more likely to be impacted by who is still in it than what specific thing got done on that day. While some deadlines are important and can’t be breached, most aren’t. In more situations than not, you can prioritize taking advantage of an opportunity to build a relationship through genuine connection rather than work on a to-do list.

11. Different preferences are not a personal threat

If someone listens to different music, eats dinner at a different time of day, works different hours or conducts their relationships differently from you, does that prevent you from having your preferences? Probably not. We are conditioned to want others to validate our choices by making the same ones as us, but we should not need that validation. Nor should we feel pressure to validate others choices by conforming. You do not need others to validate your choices and you do not need to validate other’s choices by conforming.

12. More things are about power than you think

We want to believe people live by certain principles that are more important than power. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. Principles are often created as convenient excuses for people to pursue or advocate for things that will bring them more power (or money which really translates to power). Stand up for yourself. Recognize what is really happening.

13. Presence is more important than exclusivity

We focus on exclusivity when presence is what we are really looking for. It is possible to be exclusive but not present or present but not exclusive. Presence is what truly determines the quality of your interactions with one another and involvement in anything. Therefore, presence should be your focus.

14. Consciously decide whose opinion matters

Most likely, at some point this year, you found yourself overloaded by opinions. But, opinions are easy and anyone can have one. They are not all equal.

There are two ways to handle this. You can create a list of people whose opinions matter to you. Or you can learn to assess all opinions given to you by pondering the source. Who is this person? Why did they share this opinion? Do you want to follow in their footsteps? Do they have something to gain from sharing this opinion with you?

15. Perfectionism may be your biggest barrier

We’ve all been raised to fear being “wrong.” However, avoiding mistakes leads to inaction and paralysis. It’s more costly than being wrong. It can cost you your life, as it will prevent you from ever going for what you truly treasure.

It’s time to adapt a new mindset. Remind yourself, daily if you must, that it is better to get something wrong out than to not get anything out at all.

Boise in Early October

Perhaps one of the hardest things for anyone to adjust to when moving to Western North America is that fact that the weather is far more dependent on elevation than latitude. Boise sits at about the same latitude as Portland, Maine, north of Boston. Yet, it is warmer than Denver (in October, as well as most other months), which sits at a latitude just south of Philadelphia. This is because, at 2,730 ft (830 m), Boise is 2,500 feet (760 m) lower in elevation.

As October began, the leaves here had barely begun to turn colors.

And the temperatures were reaching 80 to even 85° F (27-28°C) every day.

It felt like it was still summer.

I spent three days in Boise and it was hard not to see Boise as a newer, smaller version of Denver, the city where I live. Boise is about 1/3 the size of Denver and the metro area is about 1/4 the size. I don’t like being the person who is constantly comparing something to something else, and I did not want to spend much of my time in Boise comparing it to Denver, the city where I live, but it was hard not to. There were similarities everywhere.

Like Denver, Boise is the State Capital.

Has some cool bike trails.

Which pass through city parks.

And to some amazing destinations outside the city.

However, I learned early on that people in Boise, particularly long-term residents, do not necessarily love the comparison. Boise is one of roughly ten cities that are rapidly expanding as people seek out destinations where they can be around other innovative types of people, but in a place that is more affordable than places like Silicon Valley.

I cannot accurately comment on how things are going in Austin, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Salt Lake and Seattle, but some longer term Colorado residents lament how many new people have arrived over the past decade or so. The metropolitan area is more congested, with more traffic. However, what people seem to lament the most is how many more people an always be found on our trails and in other areas of scenic natural beauty. It feels like Idahoans do not want to follow that path. They like how empty the nearby natural beauty is.

It’s always tempting to compare things to what we already know. However, whether we are talking about a city, a music genre, business idea or festival it is important to let it be its own thing as opposed to trying to recreate something that already exists.

After all, if all we did was recreate what already exists there would never be any reason to go anywhere.

Well, I guess there would still be difference in natural scenery.

As well as climate and crops.

But there would be no reason to visit different cities. We would not let places have their own flare with things such as blue football fields.

Really small water fountains you can still run through in October.

And, apparently a happy hour where your dog can drink.

Boise will likely continue to grow, as remote work permits more people to live away from some of our most expensive real estate markets.

How it grows is yet to be determined. As it grows, the place will likely become more exciting, with more activity around town. However, as Boise grows, will it be able to do so in a manner that allows the place to maintain its own unique identity? Will Boise residents still be able to get away from all the noise, all the people and daily concerns in less than half an hours time? Only time will tell.

Ten Days Away From “Reality”

It isn’t too hard to get disillusioned with the modern world. It can be lonely, impersonal, lack meaning, lack purpose. It often feels like people are either running around but never really getting anywhere or are sitting at home consuming unhealthy online content while wishing their lives would change. On a typical day, most people are not looking to chat, connect, find new experiences, try new things or explore new ideas. On a typical day, we all have the things we need to deal with: The work that needs to be done. The developments around us that are causing stress. And, often times other random requests that we rarely think about like the guy on the street asking for money, the unsolicited phone calls and all the junk we all have in our email inboxes.

One of the primary reasons anyone travels, or goes on vacation, is to experience something different than normal, day to day, life.

Even if someone enjoys their typical day to day life, it is common to crave something different. Variety is one of the six basic human needs. Vacations, events, holidays, festivals and other experiences of that sort transport us to a world that operates differently from the one we inhabit on a typical day. The “rules” are different. The “norms” are different. Often what we must do is different and so is what’s expected of us.

For a ten day period in mid to late September 2022 I found myself in a series of places vastly different from one another.

First, the AWAKE festival, an event described as a “weekend-long, wellness gathering to restore, rejuvenate and reconnect.” The event includes a lot of yoga, meditation, dancing and spiritual discussions.

Then, I attended Start Up Week, one of my favorite weeks in Denver. Start Up Week is a celebration of Denver’s entrepreneurial community, but also so much more! It’s about networking, sharing knowledge and spreading ideas.

The following weekend was a friend’s wedding, with all of the typical events associated with a wedding.

While completely different events, these events had a few things in common which made the experiences flow together into one seamless vacation from “reality.”

  1. Lacking negativity. At all of these events there was very little to no negativity. Some of our present day problems were addressed at Start Up Week, but only in the context of showcasing a solution and forging ahead into a better future world. There was no complaining. No divisiveness. Everything had a far more positive vibe.
  2. People wanted to connect. Normally people aren’t looking to connect with strangers they encounter. At all of these events, with a controlled group of people, nearly everyone was willing to connect.
  3. Far less tedious work. None of these events are about things like taking out the trash, cleaning the bathroom, or even performing routine tasks we do for our jobs. Even the job related sessions at Start Up Week were far more about how to run an effective organization than writing code.
  4. Far less screen time. We were living in the real world!

Experiencing three events over a ten day period that were distinct from what most people accept as reality in 2022 in a similar way causes one to look at this reality in a whole new light.

It’s the type of perspective that leads to a rabbit hole of questions, mostly starting with the word “why.” After four days in that rabbit hole, I realized that this is not what this rare confluence of experiences was meant to teach me. It is not about dissecting the problems of today’s world and taking the extremely cynical view of it all I started this post with.

It is about taking what I truly loved about my September, incorporating it into my typical day-to-day life as much as possible and sharing it with my community where I live. With rare exception, we can’t directly control what happens around us. Anyone with the power to tell people what to do will find that power to be fleeting (children grow up, people leave jobs, etc.). What we can control is what we chose to focus on. This is how we actually exert influence over what happens around us.

My “reality” is no longer the one described at the start of this post. Over the course of 2022, I have been reducing my consumption of online content, focusing more on what brings me joy or fulfills my purpose and finding ways to connect with people. Maybe if we all do the same our reality will start to reflect what we truly want. If we stop thinking about the institutions we abhor, maybe they will become less powerful. If we stop thinking about hate, maybe the hate will just fade away, lose significance. If we begin to view the person staring at their phone on the train or in a coffee shop as a person looking for connection, maybe they will be.

Backpacking in Northern Colorado’s Rawah Wilderness Day 3: The Depth

It was the morning I had been dreading. I knew it would be cold. Over the summer I had gotten so used to the heat it’s hard not to feel like a morning with temperatures near freezing would be an extremely uncomfortable shock to the body.

On days like this, it is hard not to wish to just stay in the tent until the sun comes out and has a chance to warm things up for a little bit.

Perhaps, had it not been the final day of the trip, with places to be the following day, this could have been a reasonable course of action. After all, while suffering is a part of life, there is no point in suffering just for the sake of suffering. Suffering needs to be done for some kind of reward, whether it be progress in life or the kind of beauty one beholds on a backpacking trip.

There will perhaps never be a situation in life that better demonstrates the value behind the concept of “layering” than the final downhill day of a backpacking trip. Layering was something I barely experienced growing up on Long Island where it was common to wake up on a winter’s morning with a temperature of 35°F (1°C) knowing the day will have a high temperature of 38°F (3°C). These final days backpacking, where we commonly descend around 1700 feet (500m) tend to follow the same pattern.

A cold start while descending down into dense forest, typically still wearing many layers.

They layers come off one by one, roughly every 45 minutes, followed by a kind of golden hour where the temperatures are ideal.

Since the hike is downhill, this is where typically a lot of progress is made. It also can be where we start to encounter other people more after days of solitude.

Then, typically by 11 A.M., it starts to feel a bit too warm.

Somewhere in here is where these experiences get the most introspective. At some point, everything that had previously occupied the mind goes away. All the food needed for the final miles of hiking has been eaten. All the water has been pumped. A further decent takes us away from landmarks such as alpine lakes and vistas of the mountain peaks. Two and a half days in nature had cleared the concerns of day to day life from our minds. All there is to do is walk the final few hours and get to the car.

I reflected on how much I had dreaded the cold morning on this trip. I reflected on how much I used to dread, in general, the thought of being in the wilderness with no option for shelter, not even a car to go to to potentially warm up or hide from wildlife.

In life we have tons of things we dread. People dread putting themselves out there, having difficult conversations, the less exciting work that has to be done and trying new things. Some people even dread leaving behind what they know they need to leave behind. However, in the end, we all get through these things, one way or another. We overcome the awkwardness of talking to new people when it needs to be done. We have that unpleasant conversation. We do that boring task and move on with our lives. Would our lives be better without these experiences? Maybe to a point. Still, it is hard to envision a life where there is nothing to dread… ever. It’s hard not to be doubtful that such a condition is even possible, given human nature. And, if it were to be possible, would this cause all things to lose meaning?

Backpacking in Northern Colorado’s Rawah Wilderness Day 2: Lakes and Moose

Day 2 was the day I was not necessarily looking forward to. Weather predictions indicated a strong possibility that conditions will be cold and rainy for much of the day. When it comes to outdoor activities, conditions matter. What is fun and pleasant one day can be unpleasant another. This is part of the reason it is hard for outdoor enthusiasts not to obsess over the weather.

The morning was a tease. About half an hour after the sunrise, the fog that had spread across the area the prior afternoon appeared to be dissipating.

Only for it to return.

Leaving the campsite was like stepping into the unknown. In the wilderness, there is no access to weather reports. With how much the weather can vary from place to place, from minute to minute in areas with this type of terrain, there was no way to know how this day would play out. There’s little choice but to embrace the unknown.

These trips always seem to bring up thoughts of the past. Of a time when it was much harder to know what to expect. Of a time when there was no internet, no television. A time when the morning newspaper, or some other form of transmitted information was the only information anyone would have to go about their days. This was a time when embracing the unknown was the only option.

Often, the only way to embrace the unknown safely is to be knowledgable and prepared. We knew not to get too close to the moose we saw only about a mile into the hike, also wandering through the fog.

As we climbed, up towards tree line, towards a pass known as Grassy Pass, we actually walked away from the fog.

For the entirety of the morning, it was likely that the valley where we had camped the previous night was still in thick fog.

When we reached the pass that whose natural features were consistent with its name around 10 A.M., it suddenly appeared as if our time in the fog was actually done.

Anyone who spends a lot of time in the mountains knows how much the weather can vary from place to place due to the complexities of the terrain. But, how often do we see it right in front of us? One side of this pass was still engulfed in fog while the other was basking in sunshine.

Places like this are some of the last places where we can truly embrace something quite human. Here, there is no way to know exactly what to expect.

To know what is going to happen at a specific spot, given the wind direction and every small-scale geographic and terrain feature is pretty much impossible. Each cloud represents a small scale current of wind, a moisture profile and subtle differences in the land with so many components it becomes more of a headache than it is worth to try to determine how every minute of every hour is to play out.

In a world where so many lives have become orderly and predictable, trips like this force us to embrace variety and surprise. They force us to release control. Perhaps, after decades of chasing after inventions and policies designed to enable us to track every development, predict and control outcomes, this is exactly what the world needs.

The defining feature of this section of the trip was alpine lakes.

We passed several of them as we descended into another valley, some close, some far away.

We set up camp at Lower Camp Lake.

And hiked up to Upper Camp Lake.

By the way, when backpacking, one of the greatest feelings is setting down your pack and hiking with nothing on your back. Backpacks weight quite a bit and it is a relief just to walk, or exist in general, without all that additional weight.

That afternoon I was back at the camp site, looking at trees full of pine cones and incorrectly speculating that there were families of birds in them.

In this moment, it suddenly dawned on me that the weather I had been experiencing all afternoon, along the Rawah and Camp creeks, at elevations of around 10,800 ft. (3300 m), was very likely better than the weather back in Denver. The sun was shining and the temperatures were actually quite pleasant. It felt like it was around 60°F (15°C), likely warmer than what was occurring in Denver. Out of the embrace of uncertainty can come some truly beautiful experiences. Sometimes things can work out for the best even when it feels like they might not.

That evening would end with another moose sighting.

Followed by a full moon whose light reflected along the lake.

A chill came into the air as the sun went down, but we still laughed. Some of the laughter was indeed at my expense for thinking that all those pine cones in that one tree were actually birds. Still, the laughter, shared experiences and embracing uncertainty made this experience truly human.

Backpacking in Northern Colorado’s Rawah Wilderness Day 1: Bracing for the Weather

The weather does not always cooperate. It does not always work out the way we hope it will to optimize our experiences. On the two days prior to this backpacking trip, the temperature reached 99°F (38°C) in Denver. During heat waves like this one, it is desirable to get up into the mountains.

However, the evening before the trip, a cold front came through, cooling temperatures at all elevations, and making the weather conditions a bit more variable in the mountains.

For the best possible combination of weather experiences, it would have been ideal for the heat wave to have lined up with the period of time we had already set aside for the trip, as opposed to the week before it. However, we can’t always get things like this to line up exactly with how we want them to. As long as we live in a world where we keep schedules and plan activities like this one around our other responsibilities (as opposed to just responding to conditions last minute) we will always have to contend with situations where things don’t line up as we had hoped.

The weather conditions were not even hazardous. It was actually pretty nice most of the day.

It was just not the ideal setup for us to have experienced a maximum amount of comfortable temperatures, something not worth getting too upset about. As has been the case with other backpacking trips, we were in a beautiful environment.

On this first day of the trip, while ascending along the West Branch trail, we unexpectedly encountered some large hoofed mammals, traveling alongside the few other hikers we encountered along the journey.

The Rawah wilderness is in the far northern part of Colorado. It’s part of the Southern Unit of the Medicine Bow- Routt National Forest. The northern part of this National Forest is in Wyoming.

The trail network here is generally well marked, which is reassuring on trips like these where going the wrong way can lead to some bad results.

After several miles on the West Branch Trail, we turned onto the Rawah Trail, to follow our loop. The trail began to ascend even faster.

When backpacking in this general region of the country, it is quite common for the first day to be the most challenging. Through the course of the day, we would climb a total of around 2,500 feet (760m). While climbing, we would first encounter a waterfall.

And finally got to where the surrounding mountain peaks began to appear.

Hikes in this region (Rocky Mountain National Park is actually only about 25 miles away) are generally full of alpine lakes. This one is no exception. Our final destination for the day was Twin Crater Lakes, two amazing alpine lakes tucked away in the mountains.

At this point the weather was actually close to perfect making for a pleasant afternoon.

We set up camp at a beautiful site in the trees about 3/4 of a mile down the creek from the lakes.

Overall, the day was relatively balanced. We hiked a total of about 9 miles (14.3 km), but were able to set up have camp set up by mid afternoon.

This gave us the time we needed to do the typical camping activities like set up a fire, pump water from the stream and cook dinner before dark without having to feel in a hurry in any way. It also balanced out the day a bit, giving us time to just hand out and be in nature.

My thoughts also felt quite balanced, possibly as balanced as they had been for a long time. I am guessing this is due to a combination of being away from the constant distractions of every day life, not being rushed, having the hike be exhausting but not too exhausting and recently reducing my exposure to news and certain topics that were making me unhappy.

Then, around 4 pm, the weather turned. Suddenly the forest looked like a spooky meadow where anything and everything could emerge from and vanish into the trees, much like the baseball players in A Field of Dreams. This was especially true as day gradually descended into night.

It was damp. None of us knew if it was going to rain. Thinking about the potentially unpleasant conditions brought back a feeling that I tend to get on many of these types of trips. It reminds me to appreciate the shelter we often take for granted, our homes with heating and air conditioning. It’s only relatively recently in the course of human existence we have had this. For almost all of the history of humanity, how comfortable we felt, and how challenging life was depended so much more on things like weather conditions and the cycles of the sun and moon. While it does not sound fun to go back to a world where we have to work harder to meet our basic necessities, sometimes I wish more of us could live our lives in manners that are more connected to these things.

Utah- A Place Like Nowhere Else

Downtown Salt Lake City

Most of Utah’s population lives in a region referred to as the “Wasatch Front“, which is essentially the area from Ogden to Provo, including Salt Lake City, boxed out in red in the map below.

It’s a place I have not previously spent much time, as most of my prior Utah experience had centered around recreation destinations like Moab or Park City, or places I stop at on road trips. However, if you want to understand the culture of a place, it is usually good to visit where most people live.

My entire time in the Wasatch Front region of Utah, I felt this strange mix of feeling partially at home but partially kind of elsewhere. This is probably due to my suburban upbringing and current life in Colorado. Utah’s mountains are quite similar to the ones I visit all the time in Colorado.

Like where I live, the culture revolves quite a bit around hiking, with hikes to beautiful destinations like Stewart Falls.

And, because of the mountainous terrain, the weather can be variable, and the rainbows amazing.

Anywhere in this region, mountains can be seen in nearly all directions. It is also quite suburban. My basic assessment of the area is that it all feels as if they took Schamburg (a suburb of Chicago known for giant shopping malls, wide suburban roads, retail and restaurants) and dropped it into the middle of the mountains.

People will often try to approximate the culture of a place by considering some basic characteristics, such as region, demographics, political and religious affiliation. Utah’s political affiliation is pretty clear as it is a solidly Republican state. However, unlike in many other democracies, in the United States we only have two competitive parties. This makes how much you can truly tell about a place based on political affiliation pretty limited, mostly limited to certain “hot button” issues.

Utah is nothing like Alabama, and, as a New Yorker I learned early on that New York is very different from California.

What makes Utah more unique from nearly all other states is its religious affiliation.

Utah is the only state in the country that is majority Mormon. This gives the state a culture and a perspective that is unique from any other place, as some Christian groups don’t view them as Christian and see them as more different than, say, Catholics would view Protestants. This, and the state’s history, likely gives the place an interesting view of its place in the world.

It is customary for Mormons to go on missions when they are young. In Utah, it is common to hear “while I was on my mission” casually dropped into conversations. In these missions, many people travel to foreign lands and get exposed to other cultures.

As a result, there is much more exposure to other cultures here than one would typically associate with a “conservative” place. However, this exposure to other cultures and these types of experiences does not appear to have shifted the population in the direction of the post-modern sentiment that there is no absolute truth nor towards a nihilistic lack of pride in anything.

There may be limitations to my observations about the culture of Utah, given I was only here for a few days and primarily came to engage with my co-workers in a work setting.

However, it does feel like the people here are more confident and happier than most others I observe.

Hearing about some of these mission experiences it feels as if the Mormon population is well aware that, outside of Utah (and parts of Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Arizona), most people oppose what they believe in, some quite intensely. They’ve navigated being opposed and being hated in a manner that has strengthened their resolve in a manner that actually seems healthy.

I recall going to see “The Book of Mormon” years ago. The play pokes fun at the church a bit and was written by people who are generally skeptical of organized religion.

In the playbill, the Mormon church placed an advertisement that literally said “You’ve seen the play, the book is better.” This told me that this is a community that can take a joke.

Ultimately, what we are all looking for is to be happy.

Sometimes our approaches to happiness can be misguided. We pursue things that actually make us more unhappy, like drugs and alcohol. Or, we can become too obsessed with things that only facilitate happiness, like money and good looks. The formula for happiness is complicated because there is no one formula. We all need something different in our lives to truly be happy. If someone appears to be happy, and they are not harming anyone, why hate? Hate is so much more exhausting than love.

How to Find Opportunity and Positivity in a Midlife Crisis

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Your midlife crisis does not have to be a negative experience. When approached from a different perspective, a midlife crisis can feel more like an opportunity than a curse. This period of upheaval, transition, and reflection establishes the perfect foundation to make changes in your life to better align your actions with your present goals and values. Whether you’re dreaming of quitting the rat race and starting your own business or getting away from everything and traveling full-time, your midlife presents the perfect opportunity to make those dreams a reality!

Start Your Own Business

It’s not unusual to feel fed up with a long-held job by the time you reach your middle years. If you feel the need for a change after working the same job for a long time, consider starting your own company! You could work as a remote freelancer, sell handmade products online, or open a local business in your community. Do whatever interests you the most.

To give your new business the best shot at success, be sure to register your business with your state, open a separate business bank account, and establish an organized accounting system. You’ll also want to set up a solid invoicing process. Remember to include your payment terms in your invoice and, if possible, accept a variety of payment methods to encourage clients to pay promptly. You can use an online invoice generator to create professional-looking invoices with all the pertinent information your clients need. Just choose an invoice template that you like and customize it however you like!

Reconnect with Old Friends

A strong social support system can make your midlife crisis much easier to navigate. This is a great opportunity to expand your social circles by reconnecting with old friends from high school. If you’ve lost touch, you can use online search tools to track down people who went to school with you in the Denver area. Just type in the name of the person you want to find as well as their graduation date and the school they attended. Then, you’ll be able to send your classmate a message and start rekindling that old friendship.

Embark on a Transformative Trip

Traveling is a great way to turn a midlife crisis into a positive experience. By leaving your regular life behind for a little while and getting out of town, you can broaden your perspective and refocus on what really matters. According to Worldpackers, research shows that travel can trigger changes in your brain as you’re exposed to new sights, smells, languages, and ideas. Plan a transformational travel experience by being mindful of how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking throughout the stages of travel. For example, you might find that surrendering to the unknown elements of travel results in a heightened sense of confidence and independence.

Leave Your Comfort Zone

Traveling is an excellent practice in stepping out of your comfort zone, which is key in coping with rocky periods like a midlife crisis. Leaving your comfort zone can help you embrace the unknown and learn to accept change in all of its forms. And facing discomfort sets the stage for growth. If the idea of hopping on a plane and finding your way around an unfamiliar city is a little scary, just go with it! Accept that anxiety is your body’s natural response to uncertainty. The only way to get comfortable with novelty is to face it head-on, so book that trip and see where your adventure takes you.

No one really feels ready for the changes that come with a midlife crisis. The best thing you can do to cope during this tumultuous time is to embrace it rather than try to resist it. Use this period of upheaval to adopt positive habits, explore new places, rekindle old friendships, and pursue new professional passions. It’s finally time to focus on you!