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.

Guest Post: The Busy Person’s Guide to Improving Your Health

This is a guest post written by Henry Moore. Henry is the co-creator of FitWellTraveler. The site blends two of his favorite subjects (travel and health) to provide readers with information about how to get the most out of both. 

Image: Pexels

Let’s face facts; life can get a bit hectic. Juggling professional and personal obligations is difficult for many people on the best of days. If you add in the occasional dose of the unexpected, it shouldn’t be a surprise that healthy living falls by the wayside.

Usually, people make unhealthy choices out of convenience. It’s easier to stop for fast food than it is to cook a fantastic meal. We get it. The thing is, if you approach wellness the right way, it’s just as easy to work into your life as anything else. If you want a straightforward strategy that can work for nearly anyone, The Action Story presents a quick busy person’s guide to improving your health.

Hour-Long Workouts Not an Option? Embrace Short-Interval Exercise

When you’re rushing between work and home, the idea of heading to the gym for an hour-long sweat session might seem impossible. Similarly, getting up at the crack of dawn to exercise for 60 minutes before heading to your work might not be practical. Luckily, neither of those is a necessity.

Yes, just as the American Heart Association explains, it’s true that adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week to support good health. However, you don’t have to use long workouts to reach that target. Even 10 minutes here and there can do the trick as long as you get into moderate-intensity territory every time.

So, don’t focus on carving out big chunks of time. Instead, squeeze in 10-minute sessions two or three times per day throughout your week. That way, you can hit the target without derailing your life.

Need to Fight Fatigue? Get Your ZZZs

When it comes to wellness, you can’t underestimate the power of shuteye. While you’re sleeping, your body does amazing things, like repairing tissues, replenishing energy, and some serious mental organization.

Quality sleep needs to be a priority. For adults, that means getting at least 7 hours of ZZZs each night.

Additionally, you want to create a functional bedtime routine. This includes forgoing caffeine and alcohol late in the day, saying “no” to electronic devices, and taking some time to relax. That way, when your head hits the pillow, you’ll be out like a light.

If you constantly have trouble falling or staying asleep, or you never seem to wake up feeling rested, the CDC notes it’s possible you could have a sleep disorder. If that might be the case, see your doctor right away. Then, they can discuss your symptoms and develop a treatment plan that will help you get the rest you need.

If your living arrangements aren’t conducive to getting as much quality rest as you need, look into moving to another location. Maybe it’s an apartment on a quiet street. You have plenty of options available in the area; in fact, you have your pick of nearly 5,000 rentals in Denver, CO. Search online and use Apartment List’s map to find the right neighborhood for you.

Need a Change of Scenery? Take a trip!

Sometimes simply getting away on a short trip is enough to get you out of a rut. It could even be a weekend getaway, a good option if you don’t want to use up your workplace’s vacation days. Explore nearby towns and destinations, and consider getting in a little exercise with a hike in a park you’ve always wanted to check out. The possibilities are endless in locales throughout Colorado, a region known for its outdoor adventures.

Job Got You Down? Make a Change

For many people, their jobs are a source of constant stress. When you aren’t inspired by your work, feel bored every day, or start seeing signs of burnout, it’s normal to feel a bit miserable. Similarly, if your workplace is toxic, you might experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, making a tough situation harder.

In any of those cases, a career change might be your ideal solution. Heading toward something new might brighten your mood and reignite your passion. That’s all outstanding for your wellbeing.

Alright, changing jobs doesn’t sound like a simple way to improve your health. But in reality, it can be if you use the right approach. By enrolling in an inexpensive, flexible online degree program, you can start a new chapter while maintaining a ton of flexibility, allowing you to maintain a balance while you get on the path toward a brighter tomorrow. Whether a job in IT is your dream or you prefer something in the medical field, there are schools with programs that can make it happen.

Living busy is commonplace these days, but that doesn’t mean you need to live unhealthy. Snag a workout here and there, make sure you go to bed when you should, and if your job isn’t conducive to happiness, give it a refresher. With just a little tweaking, you can ensure that living full days goes hand-in-hand with living a long, healthy life.

A Social Contract for 2022 and Beyond

To live in a community, a culture, a society or a nation….

What do we owe one another?

What is our obligation to one another?

How much must we do for the common good rather than pure self-interest?

To what level is it necessary to defer our best judgement to “the group” for a functional society and community to prosper?

The debate about this is likely as old as civilization, it is at least as old as Ancient Greece. The result of these discussions is often referred to as a “social contract.” A Social Contract includes both written and unwritten rules to live by. For example, nearly all places in the world have laws against theft. However, all cultures have unwritten rules around things like acceptable attire, punctuality and relationships. Where I live it is almost rude to show up at a party that starts at 7:00 right at 7. Showing up at 8:30 is normal. But, the same is not true of meetings.

In this time of isolation, it becomes necessary to revisit the social contract.

Recently, those who share my concern about how lonely people have become have taken aim at our culture of rugged individualism. Unfortunately, some manifestations of this criticism have missed the point. Outside of immature insecurities, a person being true to themselves does not prevent them from interacting with others. Our constantly-connected world has increased conformist pressure. This has not lead to better human connections.

Most debates regarding the social contract involve people advocating for less or more of it on two dimensions.

  1. Shared Resources

This is your standard debate between laissez-faire capitalism and those who argue for the redistribution of resources, at one level or another, from the wealthy to the poor. However, it can also take on a non government related form, such as the expected shared resources among certain faith-based groups (ex. tithing) or the way people tend to think more positively about people who give back.

2. Behavioral Expectations

Behavioral expectations can be coded into law but are often enforced through other means. An example of this nearly all people have experienced or observed is a high school group not inviting a person to parties or other social functions based on their preferences and behaviors. Adults do this as well, as it is currently common for people to pressure one another to conform to behaviors deemed consistent with their race, age, gender, political affiliation and line of business.

Many who have become concerned with the negative impacts associated with loneliness have advocated for a stronger social contract. However, the focus has continued to fall narrowly along the lines of the two axes which have been the focus of debate for at least 100 years. Thus far this young century, there has been no shortage of ideas and actions taken to enlarge our social contract on these two axes. Yet, loneliness is even more prevalent than it was in 2000. Sharing resources can only make someone less lonely if they do it through means like sharing a meal together. One person having less and the other having more makes neither of them less lonely if they are still apart. Forcing people to use the same verbiage, wear the same clothes, listen to the same music and frequent the same stores just makes more people boring!

So, what do we owe one another?

Is there a new way to look at the social contract?

Yes, there is. No man is an island, no matter how desperately we want to be one. There is a common prosperity. It is improved whenever people are encouraged, listened to, empathized with and appreciated. It is improved when people are able to be their more authentic self and therefore more productive. It is improved when people share meals, experiences, laughter, dancing and even sadness with one another. It is improved when people have someone to confide in during tough times.

A new social contract requires rethinking power and priorities.

There are a few things we can all agree, universally are harmful and need to be punished, such as murder, theft and blocking traffic. However, we have also often felt the need to “punish” people for things that are not really harmful, like dressing differently or choosing different manners in which to orient their lives. Our predominant work culture has lead to depression among people who are naturally “night owls”. The most recent iteration of this is what we have begun to refer to as “cancel culture”, which has “punished” numerous people for actions that are not actually harmful.

Meanwhile, there are actual harmful behaviors that have historically been ignored that need to be considered when discussing our future social contract. Many people have mistreated their employees, manipulated people or completely disrespected people’s time without suffering any consequences.

So, what do we “owe” each other?

We DO NOT OWE each other…

  • A repression of our authentic selves to avoid making someone uncomfortable
  • Restrictions on behaviors that don’t actually harm anyone
  • Significant amounts of our resources transferred to a central authority

We DO OWE each other…

  • A service each and every one of us can provide for the good of our communities and nations
  • Building communities, being present, listening and understanding, being respectful and encouraging one another
  • A focus on our common humanity and giving all people a fair chance
  • Striving, always, to be better human beings

If we focus on the right axes of our social contract, we can revive our communities and reduce the harmful impacts of isolation WITHOUT sacrificing our freedom. In fact, we will be more free and seeing someone radically different from us will no longer threaten us.

When the Next Season is Late to Arrive

The Middle Fork of the Platte River 10,000 ft. (3km): Sunrise December 4th 2021

Life is full of patterns, rhythms and cycles. We anticipate them. We prepare for them. Depending on the cycle sometimes we dread certain phases. At other times, we eagerly await them, desperate for their arrival.

Sometimes, as is the case with events like the sunrise and sunset, we know exactly when something is going to happen.

Seasons, like many of life’s more puzzling cycles, can be unpredictable. This year, in Colorado, winter is late.

Temperatures over the past months have been about 7°F (4°C) above average. Basin-wide snowpacks are about half their average amount. On a weekend I expected to be at the ski slopes, instead, I was hiking.

Temperatures warmed into the 50s (≈+13°C), which felt warm with no clouds or wind at a high elevation. The vibe, reminiscent of a totally different time and place then early December in the central Rocky Mountains, was impossible to ignore.

The sun kissed the entire river valley in a manner that made it hard to believe that this is really December.

Meanwhile, rather than airlifting skiers to hospitals after injuries, emergency management personnel were evacuating homes and trying to contain a wildfire.

Some welcome the continued warmth, and love the fact that they do not yet have to shovel snow and put on winter boots. Others are frustrated, losing patience, or even fearful. The weather is something that can be predicted fairly accurately about a week out and prepared for. However, like nearly all of nature, it cannot be controlled.

The weather may be one of the clearest and most present examples out there of that which we cannot control. As is the case with a lot of what life will hand us, we can only control our reaction to it. I was bummed that I was not skiing, as I had previously anticipated. However, when that door closed another one opened.

We hiked

We saw some places appear in a totally different light

And, I got to awkwardly combine holidays while wearing this strange Krampus t-shirt.

When seasonal shifts in weather arrive early or late it can be frustrating. However, this frustration can sometimes pale in comparison to unexpectedly early onsets or frustrating delays in other areas of life. Almost everyone can relate to having to wait longer than expected for a new career opportunity, to find a good relationship, or for a loved one to correct problematic behavior. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine too many people who haven’t been blindsided by an unexpected and unwelcome change.

The same way snow sport enthusiasts in Colorado are eagerly awaiting an overdue change in seasons, millions, possibly even billions, of people are eagerly awaiting what feels like an overdue change in our overall situation. The virus and the fear that goes along with it is still causing some restrictions. Most people seem tired of our partisan divisions, lack of human connections, excessive screen time and work culture that doesn’t make sense. Yet, like the onset of winter and our emergence from the pandemic, progress feels quite slow. Sometimes things go into reverse.

The timing of cultural shifts is harder to predict than weather patterns. There is no snow now, on December 5th, but, there will certainly be snow by February 5th. Shifts in the circumstance in our lives can arrive tomorrow morning, or never arrive at all. At this point, all we can do is hope and try to find the right balance between optimism and realism, between focusing on what we can control while trying to affect our surroundings, and accepting our current reality while trying to create a better future.

Our Journey

The second half of November is an interesting time of year. In some ways it’s reminiscent of moments like seeing the team behind by 14 points in a football game fumble the ball away with five and a half minutes left. There are six weeks left in the year, but the final result is starting to feel settled. The rest of the year will be consumed by Thanksgiving, the Christmas season and wrapping the year up.

Luckily, the first fifteen days in November produced enough nice days for a few good bike rides around the area.

Other than that, there hasn’t been too much travel since the end of a major trip two months ago.

It’s mostly just been trips to routine types of places in the area as life had me focusing on other aspects of the human journey.

For most people, two months without “considerable travel” would be quite normal. Beyond those that are far more content with routine than I am, some people have recently written some thought provoking rebukes to the increasing importance we have placed on travel. However, after COVID-19 forced many people to spend far more time at home than they are accustomed to, it is hard not to get the itch to travel more, even after a relatively active summer.

I want to travel everywhere except two places.

I generally try to avoid being negative or controversial on this blog. Perhaps I’ve taken this too far. True, the vast majority of us are experiencing some form of fatigue related to people we know who repeatedly rant about the same things and are always trying to stir up a debate. However, that does not mean the rest of us need to be voiceless. I don’t believe the solutions to the problems we are currently experiencing will come from the places where they were created. Therefore, I have no desire to visit Washington D.C. or Silicon Valley at this point in time.

As we start the long process of winding down 2021 with holidays, family time and reflection, a better approach to pondering where we are and where we are going involves understanding and respecting nuance, while also embracing a common humanity. As is the case with nearly every other period in human history, there are cultural developments that I find encouraging and others I feel we need a course correction on. As should also always be the case, some people will agree with me and others will disagree.

I’ll break down my thoughts on where we are all headed into three categories.

  • Awareness and focus on mental health, and a greater acceptance of those who are struggling with mental health issues.
  • More people, especially younger generations being interested in entrepreneurship or similar paths and questioning the rigid 9-to-5 work culture of the 20th century.
  • A greater interest in self care and spending time in nature.
  • Consciousness: People wanting to be more conscious of the decisions they are making. Over three dozen people have told me “doing nothing is still a choice” this year.
  • Often underreported continued global progress on issues like diseases, extreme poverty and literacy.
  • We still continue to move more stuff online, in a world that desperately needs more community and “in real life” experiences.
  • “Safteyism”: How it has created unnecessary bureaucracy and limitations. How it has taken away resiliency, especially in children and created a fragile culture.
  • The politicization of everything. Can’t someone just go to the Chick-Fil-A with their trans friend without pissing everybody off?
  • Identity politics: It’s great that we are acknowledging how people’s experiences differ based on race, gender, etc. but there is SO MUCH MORE to who a person is and we need to stop reducing people to these surface level aspects of themselves.
  • For some reason we are still getting more obese.
  • Now, inflation.
  • Oh, and what’s with all the auto-tuner?

This has got to go already

  • The entire job search process. Seriously, with all of our machine learning and AI, we can’t make this process less time consuming and frustrating? Also, why can’t we make career transitions less daunting?
  • The default assumption that answering all questions and solving all issues begins with a web search at the computer. We humans need to solve issues together.
  • Conformity of all kinds and the limitations we place on ourselves. Who we can and can’t have friendships, emotional connections, experiences and relationships with. Rules about what activities are done at certain times, how we can and can’t dress, etc. I’ve come to realize that they are all based on insecurity and are all limiting the human experience.

As the sun sets on 2021 and each of our individual outcomes for the year become settled, I dream of what 2022, 2028 and 2035 will be like. It is my hope that we move in a direction that provides for more genuine expressions of self and away from the divisiveness, limitations, loneliness, fear and insecurity present in our more disturbing trends.

There is far more nuance than most people want to admit. Entities, from the internet, to social media, our education and financial systems and religion have had both positive and negative impacts. The key is to take these things and use them for positive purposes. Unfortunately for those who want a simple solution (usually based in Washington DC or Silicon Valley), the way we improve the outcomes for humanity is from the ground-up. It’s the sum of all of our individual efforts and something we can all vastly improve if we do what lights us up and reflects our authentic selves in our day to day lives.

In that respect, 2021 has mostly been a disappointment. Hopefully we can overcome the fear to obtain a better future. I’m starting today by more and more living and speaking my authentic truth.

Moderate October Activities in the Front Range

October is the perfect month for people who prefer to sleep in and take it a little bit easier. In summertime, it is often imperative to get an early start on most activities, before the heat builds. The long days provide opportunities to climb to the tallest peaks, go places that are inaccessible at other times of the year and push ourselves to the limits. By October, the days are shorter and the mornings are chilly. 5 A.M. goes from being dawn to as pitch black as the middle of the night. 7 A.M. goes from the ideal time to start outdoor activities to a chilly sunrise. And, 10 A.M. goes from the time when heat starts to really build to when the sun has finally warmed the air to a comfortable temperature.

Unlike the middle of the winter, there is still plenty of nice weather. It’s not time for those that shy away from unpleasant conditions to hibernate just yet.

However, the shorter days and cooler conditions give many of us permission to take the pressure off ourselves a bit. The 100-mile ride, the 14,000 foot peak and the trek deep into the wilderness are now out of reach. The time has come to take a somewhat more relaxed approach to our activities and just simply enjoy being outdoors wile it is still pleasant to do so.

In that vein, two great activities that are simply enjoyable are Left Hand Canyon outside of Boulder and Evergreen Mountain (not surprisingly, outside of Evergreen).

Left hand canyon is an 8 mile (13 km) bike ride up a mostly relatively gentle grade. The total climb to Jamestown is about 1300 feet (400m).

Jamestown is cute little town of only 250 people frequented by other cyclists making the same or similar journeys (the road does continue upward and connect with the Peak to Peak Highway).

There are plenty of great places to just sit and meditate by the river or grab a bite to eat. The downhill is most enjoyable, as it is steep enough to go fast, but not so steep as to frighten most cyclists.

With chilly mornings, October is also the perfect time to take on shorter hikes, like Mount Evergreen, a hike with an 816 ft (250m) vertical and a total distance just shy of five miles (8 km).

In the summer time, this is probably an ideal before or after work hike for residents of Evergreen. The trek is a combination of some sections that are quite easy (i.e. flat).

And some areas that are somewhat more challenging.

Near the top there is a short side trip to a scenic view of the town of Evergreen that should not be missed.

And, there are a couple of great vantage points of the taller mountains further west from a couple of points at the top.

As an active Coloradan, both of these activities feel relatively easy, or, at the very least moderate to me. However, as we approach November, the season of gratitude (based on the holiday Thanksgiving), I must reflect on the fact that these activities are not easy for everyone. Some people are not fortunate enough to be in good health and have the capabilities to climb 1300 ft. (400 m) on a bike or hike up 800 ft. (400 m). It is good to show gratitude for having functioning legs, a good circulatory system and the means to eat a healthy diet.

It is also important to remember that the easier activities would not feel so easy without the hard ones, the ones where we truly push ourselves.

For a sedentary person, these two activities would be hard.

If we do nothing but push ourselves, many of us will never truly enjoy the activities we take part in. However, if we never push ourselves, our range of possibilities would be very limited. We need both.

Perhaps that is what the changing of the seasons is all about.

However it manifests in the specific places we live and in our specific pursuits, it reminds us that different parts of the annual cycle and other cycles of life require us to focus on different needs.

20 Years Later

Okay, so I know this blog is a couple of weeks late. On September 11, 2021 I visited the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska to honor the 20 year anniversary of one of the most horrific events of my lifetime.

Sometimes, it is difficult to explain to those who were not yet alive or too young to remember how this event made a lot of us feel.

Many people describe the period of time between the end of the cold war (1989) and the September 11th attacks (2001) as a “break from history” of sorts. 12 years is not a long time when considering the overall course of history. However, 12 years is significant when it comes to the course of one’s own life. Many people, especially those who were quite young during that time period, got accustomed to a world that did not seem that dangerous.

It is why Trying to Make Sense of It is a very appropriate name for this exhibit. On that day, and for the weeks and months that followed, what most of us were trying to do is try to make sense of it. I recall it was the era of AOL Instant Messenger and when we were away we would put up away messages that would function as kind of an auto-reply to anyone that messaged us. That day mine was…

So we’re different colors and different breeds. And different people have different needs. It’s obvious you hate me though I’ve done nothing wrong. I never even met you so what could I have done? (Depeche Mode, 1985)

Yeah, I like to quote song lyrics.

The museum exhibit is a really good one. It contains some writing about how we all felt during the event.

There was also bunch of tables where people can use blocks to create their own art. I think it is mainly for children, but I made one anyways.

Typically, when I get a chance to do something creative, I try to do something off the wall. However, with the memories of growing up in pre-9/11 New York, all I really wanted to do was create two identical square shaped towers and remember how the skyline once looked.

The main part of the exhibit is a series of quilts that were made to honor those who died that day. There were a lot of them, some had names, some had flags and other designs. There were people from other countries that died that day, and those flags are represented here too.

Already emotional, the thing that got me into tears was actually seeing the faces of some of the victims. I guess that is how human emotions work.

That day I was generally fixated on the past, listening to a station called XM-FLY, which plays a lot of music from that time. However, I began to reflect on the event’s lasting legacy.

The first few months we seemed so united. For a little bit of time, a moment in history, all of our differences didn’t matter. All that mattered was that we were all American. We were all sad, mourning the deaths and pledging to be strong and continue living as free and prosperous people.

This would be the last time in American history anything would feel like that. It wouldn’t be long before we would first become divided over our response to the attacks and military interventions in Afghanistan and then Iraq. Then, a financial crash would cause us to lose faith in many institutions. Social media would further divide us. The economic stress and loneliness caused by these two developments would lead to all new divides, including the generational divide that created “those damn Millennials” and “OK Boomer.”

I wonder what the people who perished that day, especially those who heroically took down flight 93 before it could crash into the White House would think about where we are today. Maybe some of them would understand. Maybe some of these large scale trends are more powerful than any one event. Recently, after viewing some mean spirited content on Nextdoor, an app meant to connect neighbors, I came to the realization that any platform that facilitates asynchronous chat where people do not have to see people’s facial expressions will descend into nastiness, the same way Facebook, Reddit and Twitter have.

Part of me misses that world of national unity. However, it is important to be realistic. First, it was never going to last. The fact that another tragedy that has lead to far more deaths, COVID-19, has only made us more divided is evidence of these more powerful cultural forces. Second, times of national unity commonly revolve around a crisis; the War of 1812, the World Wars, terrorist attacks, etc. Maybe it is time to find some national unity around something positive. However, sadly, with where things are it feels like we could not be further from that moment. There’s too much fear around us.

Pittsburgh- a City That Feels Everywhere at Once

For people who love putting things into categories, Pittsburgh has to represent an absolute nightmare! Known as the “Steel City”, no regional map would not place it firmly in the rust belt. Like other rust belt cities, it fell on some hard times when many key industries collapsed in the final 30 years of the 20th century.

However, Pittsburgh is also known for having made a comeback. It’s considered a blueprint for other cities looking for a revival after suffering from the decline of their primary industries.

Pittsburgh’s revival is commonly attributed to versatility in embracing new industries like health care and technology. The education infrastructure and leadership with a more long-term focus is credited with creating the conditions needed for the city to once again thrive.

The story is reminiscent of countless personal stories of people who suffer major setbacks in life and later make a comeback. These stories often involve people who become complacent and stagnant. Typically their livelihoods get disrupted by external events they are unprepared for. Their personal revival stories typically revolve around a combination of adapting a new way of looking at things and tapping into core strengths they possessed all along.

For a long time, Pittsburgh was a place that valued science and education. It is home to several major universities.

Benefiting from it’s hilly terrain, it is also home to the Allegheny Observatory, an observatory over 150 years old where countless star distance calculations have been made.

The hilly terrain makes Pittsburgh unique in other ways.

One of the city’s top attractions in the Duqeuesne Incline, a reasonably priced and dog friendly tram one can ride to overlook the city.

It’s also a historic commuter train as walking up the side of a bluff is often treacherous.

In fact, the entire layout of the city is forced by these geographical features. The city’s downtown is situated where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers converge into the Ohio River.

Both the football and baseball stadiums are right downtown.

Along with your typical big office buildings and a square which surprisingly seems to attract a lot of loud cars and motorcycles.

To the east of downtown, sandwiched between the Allegheny River and a densely forested bluff is the strip district, which seems like a standard tourist destination.

Pittsburgh’s most unique quality has to be legitimate hiking within the city limits. Riverview Park, on the north end, is one of several places with a system of trails that have significant terrain and fairly dense forests.

It is also a place with plenty of other parks.

When many think of Pittsburgh, they may still think of it as a rust belt city with a rough exterior.

That, of course is only part of the truth, one aspect of the city’s culture. Many of the things Pittsburgh was about before the decline and subsequent revival are still there. There is still all the ketchup.

Pittsburgh’s history also involves a lot of food and traditions based on Eastern European culture.

However, the city has managed to incorporate the amenities demanded by talented urban professionals in the 2020s.

We all are, in a way, every chapter of our lives. A tour through Pittsburgh shows the city before the steel industry declined, during its dark days and in the current era. It’s a reminder of all of our personal stories and how even during the more prosperous times in our lives, the bumps we experienced along the road, as well as who we were before experiencing these setbacks are still a significant part of who we are. Battle scars don’t go away, they are just put into context.

Despite my sincere desire to avoid categorization or labelling, I could not help but want some kind of quick description of what Pittsburgh is. Do people think of it as on the up-and-up or in decline? Do people know how Pittsburgh is viewed by others? What region do they consider themselves to be in?

Pennsylvania has recently emerged as quite possibly the most important state in presidential politics. Walking around town, I could not help but wonder if people here were already starting to dread the inevitable onslaught of political ads that will be absolutely impossible to avoid in the run up to an election that is still over three years away.

When people try to make sense of this state, they will often say the state has a genuine east coast city in Philadelphia, aspects of rust belt and Appalachia and a midwestern city in Pittsburgh. But, some aspects of Pittsburgh felt downright eastern to me. There are the tunnels.

The bridges.

Some neighborhood have really tight roads, reminiscent of the Northeast.

As it is on the East Coast, the roads are often not in straight lines and the intersections are often not 90 degree angles.

In just over 24 hours, my long dormant east coast instincts regarding driving, walking pace, how to act and how to time things kicked back in.

What does the future hold for Pittsburgh? Based on what I have read and seen, it seems like the ability to adjust, long-term focus and unique spirit has not gone anywhere. So, most likely it will be a good one.

As long as people don’t get sick of cloudy days.

A Very Special Day for a Friend in Akron, Ohio

What we seek out, what we invest in, and what we are willing to spend our time and money on has undergone an uneven and somewhat nebulous transformation thus far this century. Perhaps this is because I grew up in the suburbs, but at the turn of the century, life seemed to revolve around shopping malls and the pursuit of material possessions. Since then, my focus has undergone two major shifts, one at the start of the century and one quite recently.

I now have nearly a decade’s worth of entries in this blog, primarily about travel and experiences. The transition from focusing on the material to focusing on the experiences, society-wide, can be seen on Instagram. The Instagram era, and what many people see in their feeds, is the embodiment of people switching from seeking out bigger homes and more stuff to put into them to seeking out experiences in general, many of which have been shared on Instagram over the past decade.

As I pointed out in two earlier blogs [1][2], this year, after all that recently happened, I suddenly found myself most interested in connecting with people. There are a lot of people who have and/or continue to play an important role in my life. At this point in time, this feels like the most important use of my time and energy.

We’re also seeing this shift society-wide. More people are talking about the importance of connecting with locals and local culture while traveling. People are now sharing tips and even building apps to facilitate this pursuit.

To end the Summer of 2021, I went to Akron, Ohio.

To go to a Minor League Baseball Game.

Traveling 1300 miles (2100 km) to go to Minor League Baseball game is not something that is going to appear on anyone’s bucket list. As was the case with my earlier trips this summer, the purpose of this trip was connection.

That being said due to its location in the “rust belt”, Akron often gets a bad rap. However, there is more to the place than industrial decline. It’s probably not the most desirable place to live but it is certainly underrated.

It has a fairly lively downtown.

There are other interesting neighborhoods with some interesting places to go.

And, there a lot of outdoor places to explore.

The Summit Metro Parks are right next to the city.

In this park there a series of trails with dense deciduous forests and a little bit of terrain!

The Buckeye Trail runs right through the park.

There are also some other hidden gems.

This particular railroad crossing reminded me of another time and place where people would commonly run or dismount a horse and jump into the open car of a moving freight train.

The other gem close to Akron is Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Hiking in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is fairly similar the Metro Parks hikes. There are the trees and rolling hills.

Cuyahoga Valley is one of the free National Parks. It also does not appear to be as crowded as some other National Parks can be.

Akron is also right in the middle of an 87 mile trail that connects it with Cleveland, as well as Canton and New Philadelphia. Following the Cuyahoga River, runners and cyclists encounter some scenic spots.

As society shifts it focus from the material to experiences and connection, as we shift our priorities, expectations, habits, and how we perceive work, value and power, our patterns of travel will shift. The conciseness on the post pandemic world where we use virtual meetings more, is that there will be less travel for work and more travel for pleasure. It also feels like more combination trips are in our future. This is because, it is possible to meet people and coordinate work virtually, without having to spend time, money and energy traveling. However, to CONNECT, whether it be with other people, with places, cultures or ourselves, will still require significant amounts of travel. What will likely shift is where we go, when we go there and how we get there.

My Thoughts on Turnpikes

The Indiana Toll Road and Ohio Turnpike are not the most exciting of journeys. Much of the area looks exactly the same. The terrain is quite flat. There is corn and soy everywhere. The road connects a series of medium sized cities, coming close enough to efficiently connect them without actually passing through them. It is a form of transportation that maximizes one thing and one thing only: temporal efficiency.

In the Midwest, all roads start and end in Chicago. It took me a while to realize that, while Chicago is right in the middle of the region known as the Midwest, and is its unofficial capital, Chicago is really nothing like the rest of the Midwest. It is a big international city. It moves at a pace that is closer to that of other large cities than the rest of the Midwest.

Once someone leaves the greater Chicago area, they are likely to encounter a completely different mentality and a completely different way of life.

Chicago also kind of divides the Midwest. There are some subtle differences between what lies to the West of Chicago and what lies to the East. These subtle difference are probably only commonly thought of by those of us who have lived in the Midwest and those of us who have driven across the entire region and had time to observe it.

While there are farms everywhere in the region, the Western part of the region, West of Chicago seems to be built more around farmland. They have leveled enough trees to increase surface wind speeds (dense forests tend to reduce surface wind speeds) enough to make it a good place to build wind farms. The economies of many of the medium sized cities in this region are centered around farming equipment,

East of Chicago, trees are more plentiful. Medium sized cities here are a bit more frequent and they have more of a “rust belt” feel.

Cities here tend to have nicknames around what product are manufactured here…

  • Gary the Steel City
  • South Bend the Wagon City
  • Elkhart the RV Capitol of the World
  • Toledo the Glass City
  • Akron the Rubber City

As is the case with the subtle but noticeable difference between the region to the West and the region to the East of Chicago, there is also a subtle but noticeable difference between driving on turnpikes and driving on other highways.

Turnpikes tend to have elaborate exit ramps to facilitate toll collection. As a result, exits are often quite far apart.

Two things happen. First, rather than pulling off at an exit to stop for gas, restrooms and food, it ends up being more common to stop at rest areas.

As homogenized as standard highway driving is compared with traveling on roads that go through the center of town, turnpike driving is even more homogenous. All of the rest areas on the Ohio Turnpike look exactly the same and many of them have the exact same food options.

Also, with the exits fewer and father between, it becomes far less likely that drivers will follow the most direct path from their origin to their destination. Getting to a location is more about finding the nearest exit than the series of roads that provide the most direct path.

Turnpike driving maximizes temporal efficiency, but it is not my favorite method of transportation.

When traveling from place to place, sometimes there are things more important than getting to a destination as quick as possible. There are places to experience along the way. The experience of traveling along the Indiana Toll Road and Ohio Turnpike is a reminder of what we lose out on when we focus on one metric and one metric only, in this case temporal efficiency. While South Bend, Elkhart, Toledo and Sandusky will not top anyone’s list of top vacation destinations, whizzing by them from 10-20 miles away on a homogenous turnpike still feels like missing out on something that has the potential to be a worthwhile experience.

Reflection on Iowa

After yet another drive across the State

In my younger years, my experiences with the State of Iowa were not always positive. One time, I was at a conference in downtown Des Moines and found it surprisingly challenging to find a suitable place to eat. When I was 21, I visited Ames. I recall taking a series of shots, one green, followed by a yellow one and then a red one. I believe the tradition is called the “stoplight.” Energized by these shots along with my then usual rum and coke I was ready to let loose. I asked “what are we doing”. The response was “sitt’n and drinking.” The 21 year old version of me, always looking for more activities, found this absolutely ludicrous.

Iowa is primarily known for corn. It’s the top producer of corn and the only state that lies completely within what is known as the “corn belt”. The fact that those who drive across the state see nothing but corn was even the subject of a funny song that barely lasts half a minute.

The drive across the state can be pretty monotonous, especially considering that Interstate 80, the highway most people use to cross the state, does not even go through the center of the towns it connects.

It is all pretty much the same thing, gentle rolling hills, farms, small towns, and, yes, tons and tons of corn fields. After a while I start to imagine what life is like here. What do people do on a day-to-day basis? What are the interesting and exciting activities? What worries them?

Was I only demanding these perfect restaurants in downtown Des Moines because I have become so accustomed to having so many options where I am from? Why is “sitting and drinking” not good enough for me? What am I chasing and is it making me happy?

It is easy to imagine life in Iowa being a kind of beautiful simplicity.

There are certainly uglier things to look at than corn fields kissed by the sun in the early evening hours on a late summer’s day.

Maybe what I dismiss as boring is a life that is actually satisfying to millions of people. Maybe the farmers across the state feel a sense of pride in growing the corn that feeds the nation’s cows that feed the nation’s people. Maybe people here love their communities. Maybe they love seeing people they know, deeply and personally, every time they go to their local grocery store or their local restaurants. Maybe they go over to each other’s houses and just play games. They could even enjoy just feeling the fresh air and watching the corn stalks sway in the wind.

Maybe that experience provides a deeper sense of satisfaction than having all the fancy items in the grocery store and five star restaurants with exotic food. Could it be that we are chasing the wrong things? I think to my own life and how happy all the expensive things we are all working so hard to be able to afford are really making us. Is it worth the stress?

While I still don’t imagine myself being happy living in Iowa, the realization that there are people happy here does make me re-evaluate my own life. There is a part of me that is always striving for more. The world, of course, needs people like this, to consistently move humanity forward. However, there is also a part of me that gets excited over some of life’s more simple pleasures.

The world’s largest truckstop, in Iowa

Crossing Iowa, looking upon all the small towns and farms and imagining people who are perfectly content here inspires me to be present, pay attention and notice these small goofy things that make me happy. Sometimes in life that is all we have.