Category Archives: holidays

What Independence Day Means for Travel and Adventure

img_0231-1Every year, we Americans celebrate the founding of our nation on the Fourth of July. This commemorates the day in which the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, officially declaring our intention to separate from the British Empire and form our own Nation, or more accurately at the time, confederation of states.

It is an active day, and often an active weekend for the country as a whole.

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Some use the time off to explore some of the country’s most spectacular places.

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Others use it to visit vacation homes, or have quiet weekends by the lake.

Some also flock into cities, to visit friends, and attend festivals.

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As is the case with many holidays, I often wonder whether or not this one loses its meaning. Those that know the true meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day, Cinco De Mayo, and Memorial Day will often observe that the way most people celebrate these days is inconsistent with the actual intent of these particular holidays.

What about Independence Day?

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Are these large firework displays appropriate? What are most people thinking about, as they are exploring parks, visiting friends, barbecuing and watching these colorful displays?

How many people are thinking about their own lives vs. the Nation we are celebrating? Or are our minds on regionally specific considerations? For example, in the Rocky Mountains, the Fourth of July is kind of the start of the season for high altitude hikes. After a three-month process of snowmelt in the highest terrain, many trails are finally free of residual snowpack and mud.

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In fact, there is even a trailhead just south of Rocky Mountain National Park that was named the Fourth of July Trailhead.

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Trails originating from here provide access to a series of high peaks just east of the Continental Divide. This particular section of the Central Rocky Mountains is commonly shadowed from the sun and heavily forested. At places like this the snow melts the slowest in the springtime. This trailhead was given this name because it is generally not recommended for hikers to hike here until the Fourth of July!

What people chose to do on the Fourth of July may have something to do with how people view the United States of America.

There’s a spectrum of people across this country, from those that take extreme pride in being “American”, to those that take a more critical view and may wish we adopted some policies of other nations. Where someone stands on this spectrum may have something to do with whether someone sees July 4th as extremely meaningful, or just as a convenient day to have off in the middle of the summer.

Being who I am, I cannot help but reflect, and come to a conclusion that is a bit more nuanced. One of the virtues that this nation was founded on is individual liberty. Even if we have fallen short of that ideal on certain occasions past and present, it still represents an ideal that we aspire to. Liberty, and self-determination are considered a justifiable end here. There are other places where it is not.

As someone who yearns for adventure, it is easy for me to view, with envy, European countries where vacationing for the entire month of August is common practice, and work weeks tend to be shorter. However, that is not the full picture. There are large areas of the world where most people cannot take vacations at all. There are places where the majority of the population lacks the prosperity and/or individual liberty that makes everything we do here possible.

Reflecting on this, it needs to be understood that we are indeed quite fortunate. This does not mean we should not yearn for more, as, in many ways, we can and should do better. It does mean having everything put into proper perspective. With the right priorities, most Americans at least have the opportunity to have an adventurous life. This is something we all should be grateful for.

My 2016 Thanksgiving List

Thanksgiving is a holiday we need more than ever. Like many holidays in the U.S., Thanksgiving has an “official” meaning that is often overlooked by many. While celebrating they holiday, some are prompted to share what they are thankful for. This serves a very important purpose, as it is often common, and part of human nature, to focus on our needs, desires, what is wrong, what we do not have (and wish we did), or what we wish were so (but isn’t).

At this holiday, we reorient our minds, onto what is right, what we do have, and what we should be grateful for. This is important because this celebration (Thanksgiving) will be followed by a period of generosity (Christmas), and a period of reflection (New Years).

Over the last several weeks particularly, it’s been hard not to, unfortunately, end up with our minds focused on what is wrong. Over the past three months, Americans just endured a very divisive election, had levels of daily sunlight decline by several hours, and many have not had a day off of work for a while. This re-focus on gratitude, thankfulness, and enjoying what we already have will provide for alliances end of the year reflection.

In that spirit, I provide a list of the 15 things I am Thankful for this year (in no particular order).

1. The Chicago Cubs World Series Championship team

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I’ve been following this team for 23 years, and it’s good to finally see them win one!

2. Being a part of the Boulder Co-Ed rec league summer championship team

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I find being part of a team like this to be one of the most rewarding experiences around.  I get exercise, get to spend some time outside, and do so in a social way.  I also believe we need to celebrate our accomplishments, both large and small.

3. Personal Growth

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For me, 2016 was a year of fantastic personal growth. I came to a lot of realizations about life, and worked on things such as being confident in who I am, not trying to please/ prove myself to others, enjoying the journey and not being too obsessed with the destination, trying to be a more giving person, and putting that which makes me anxious into its proper context. I’m hopeful this is setting me up for even better things to come.

4. Seeing people around me do the things they love

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I see people around me taking part in artistic pursuits, theater, performing music and other things that make them happy. I’ve seen some even start their own businesses; restaurants, non-profit charities, real estate, and side-hustles. I even know people who have done things like hike the Appalachian Trail, travel the world, and take part in overseas projects.

5. The adventures I had in 2016 and the people that joined me for them

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2016 included a couple of bike trips, a lot of skiing, some great hikes, a backpacking trip, a rafting trip, and trips to places like Iceland, Vegas, New Mexico, and Cancun (upcoming). None of these experiences were alone, and all were enhanced by each and every person who joined me for them!

6. Feeling appreciated by people

It’s easy to dwell on those difficult exchanges with people, and the times that people frustrate me, but there are plenty of times in life when people show appreciation for one another and give each other the gift of acceptance.  I recognize how lucky I am to have people that do accept me as I am.

7. People from past chapters of my life that have not forgotten about me

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Once someone moves to another city, it gets harder to stay in touch and stay involved in one another’s lives.  I am very much appreciative to still hear from people who live hundreds to thousands of miles away.  These enduring friendships have produced some great experiences, and there are more still being planned.

8. Where I live

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When I see what is going on in various places around the world, I must be thankful to live in a place where I feel safe, and don’t worry about an attack, military coup or anything like that. Denver also has a lot of fun stuff to do around me. I’m particularly blessed to live 3 miles from the REI flagship store, and around a lot of people who also wish to #optoutside.

9. It’s in the air

I guess I just have this feeling of optimism. That both me individually, and we as a society, are finally prepared to free ourselves from the limitations that have been holding us back and the outdated assumptions that are no longer serving us well, and advance to something greater. I hear it in dialogue of people around me-everywhere. I see it on shows, in books. The age of defferance is over.

10. The war on uprightness


That we’re fighting back, against all the “You should…”, “You can’t just….”, and “How could you….” stuff.

11. Emotions


I can be a turbulent person. But I am grateful for the emotions I experiences, including the negative ones. I reassures me that I still feel, I still care, and have not turned into a robot as I feel the working world wants us to do sometimes.

12. Basic comforts

Food. Water. Shelter. There are still a lot of people that suffer without them.

13. My health

I can still wake up every morning, even though there are some days I do not want to. I can run, bike, hike, etc. and still feel pretty good doing it. Many have health problems that are not of their own doing. I am blessed to have a body that permits me to take part in the activities that bring me joy!

14. Everything that makes the world interesting and magical


Waterfalls, buildings, rainbows, storms, rivers, tress, dogs, horses, the way people smile, children, lakes, compassion, enthusiasm, the smell of campfire in the woods, games, the taste of food, and, yeah, the list goes on and on- infinitely!

15. Music

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The fact that it exists, in a variety of different forms, and has the power to inspire, energize, and provide many with an outlet for creativity.

 

 

 

Going Back to My Roots

“If you know your history, then you’ll know where you’re coming from”, Bob Marley explains in his classic hit song Buffalo Soldier.  It’s hard to really know how many places the functional equivalent of this phrase has been uttered throughout the history of mankind.

What does it mean to “know your history”, or “know where you’ve been”?  Is it sufficient to know your personal story?  Or, do you need to know the story of your parents, and your family’s ancestors?  How deeply must we understand the cause and effect relationships of events in the past?  After all, history, whether we are talking about it in an academic sense or in a personal narrative is about more than just facts.  When asked, nearly all people can recite the rudimentary factual aspects of their lives.  Where they were born, what schools they attended, when they moved, married, changed jobs, etc.  I always wonder, though, whether they understand their life’s events more deeply, how certain things impact one another, what emotions were involved, and what events were significant.  In other words, do they understand the “story” of their lives?

This holiday season, and by holiday season I am referring to Christmas and New Years, was kind of a trip back through my own history, or at least the places where said history took place.  First, Christmas was spent in the suburbs of Chicago, with my immediate family.  I spent a little bit of time in the City of Chicago, with friends, which is where I spent the four years before moving to Denver.  But, I largely spent that time in Buffalo Grove, a sort of typical suburb 35 miles northwest of downtown, and the place where I spent my Junior High and High School years.

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It’s been said, particularly of Millennials, that young adults go home for the holidays and revert into their teenager mode, subconsciously, because they have returned to the setting of their teenage years.  For me, it is a little bit more complicated.  Some things are the same, but some things are different.   Some things get a little bit more different every year.  There is the obvious course of change any particular location undergoes over time; that restaurant that closed, with a new one opening in its place, the road that was reconstructed and widened on the other side of town, and the new neighbors.  But there’s also a strange change in how we respond to things, sometimes things that are exactly the same as they were in previous years.

Over the course of our lives, we periodically re-examine things (I do this more than most).  Maybe it’s a different experience, or being exposed to a different point of view on something, or some major event.  Each year we come back with a slightly different perspective, and, that experience, which was the same exact one we had last year, the year before, and back when we were 14, is viewed differently in our own minds.  When it comes specifically to what my family does, both during the holidays, as well as in life in general, there are mixed emotions. There are some things my family does that I did not really appreciate with I was younger, but have found a new appreciation for.  There are other things now seem strange to me.  I am guessing many people who have moved a significant distance away from “home” have a similar experience at the holidays.

The Chicago area is not my full history.  The first 11.5 years of my life, I lived in New York, outside of New York City on Long Island.  I didn’t specifically travel to New York on New Years Eve as part of some plan to revisit my past.

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But, the two practically back-to-back trips did line up in a manner where I could not help but think along these lines.  New Years is already a time when people reflect on their lives.  Having just spent time in the place where I spent my recent past, and now being in a place where parts of my early childhood unfolded, I could not help but think it is time for me to re-connect with who I am.

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The move from New York to Chicago, my college and graduate school experience, jobs and more recent move to Colorado are the rudimentary facts of my life.  My “history”, is the memories, the periodic experiences, the kind of person I was and the kind of people I was around.  It is something that is remembered, hopefully accurately, and something that can be reconnected with, but only partially.  The New York of 2016 is not the New York of the 1990s.  Neighborhoods have made transitions, different kinds of people have both left and moved in, and some of the things one will experience here are significantly different.

However, some of the things are the same.  And, while I was not reliving a childhood event, coming back to the places where our formative years unfolded can help us reconnect with our roots. Through this experience, I feel like I am being called to return to my roots, the person I am, naturally, rather than the person we are all pressured to become as we adults in today’s world.  It’s like 2016 begun with what the year’s theme needs to be.  Outside of whatever negative feedback we have received, the adjustments we have made to be accepted, and who we were told to be, there is a person inside of all of us, the person we naturally are.  In this midst of everything I do in my adult life, this is a person I need to not lose sight of.  It is a person many of us need to reconnect with.  It is my sincere hope that in 2016, we all reconnect with our roots both individually and collectively.

Happy New Years

This is going to be my year! This is going to be the year I land my dream job, meet all the right people, have that once-in-a-lifetime epic experience, save tons of money, buy a new house, become a better person, and lose all of the unnecessary fat in my body! All I have to do is change the following five or six behaviors…

Well, that is quite the tall order for a year that actually started out like this…

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With the primary memory of the first hour being this…

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Which really isn’t too terribly different from how any of the last seven years began for me! And, based on the number of bars that offer $75 packages that include all you can drink and get sold out weeks before Christmas, this is the way a good number of people will begin their year.

Yet, today many of us will put together a list of resolutions that we plan to begin acting upon tomorrow when all of our hangovers subside. Of course, there are those among us that will buck this trend- either choosing to skip the New Years resolution thing, or looking in depth into last year’s resolutions and trying to assess what is realistic in some kind of way. But many of us do follow the pattern that is way more common in the political world than everywhere else; over-promise like the statements that began this post, and then under-deliver. Only, in this case, we are not cheating anyone other than ourselves in this process.

That being said, and even knowing that I am not completely immune to this cycle of over-promising and under-developing, I still made a New Years plan. In fact, it is quite in-depth, and involves six over-arching goals, with sub-goals falling into each category. That is quite in-depth for someone who is now dreading how crowded the gym will be for the next three weeks with people who made New Years resolutions that will last approximately three weeks.

However, the process of reflecting on our lives, and pondering making changes is the entire point of New Years. Without this process, New Years Eve is functionally the equivalent of Blackout Wednesday (the day before Thanksgiving). Tomorrow is a day off, so let’s go out and get drunk. And, tomorrow we can be kind of lazy.

One of my favorite people, and one of the inspirations behind my writing style is David Byrne. While with his band The Talking Heads, he wrote a song titled Once in a Lifetime, one of the deepest songs of all time. And, while the lyrics can be confusing, David Byrne describes the song as being about living life on auto-pilot and never questioning or examining the direction it is taking.

Unfortunately, inertia is a pretty powerful (apparent) force in our society. And, nearly all of us slip into a routine where we just operate our day-to-day lives from time to time. In those periods of our lives, that inertia will simply carry our lives in a specific direction. Sometimes that direction is good, but sometimes that direction is less than ideal.

This is why we build into our schedules times like this, where we reflect on the direction our lives are taking, and, often times, come up with plans to make changes. The fact that many of these plans do not pan out over the course of the next few months should not discourage us from taking this time to reflect on our lives and determine what needs to be changed. And, while over-promising and under-delivering is cheating ourselves, never making those promises is even worse. If over-promising and under-delivering equates to our Republican form of government in it’s current state, never making promises, and never asking questions equates to a totalitarian dictatorship. I certainly hope that most would agree that no matter what we have to say about the current state of our country, it is way better than a dictatorship.

I won’t bore you with the specifics of my intricate set of New Years goals and sub-goals. But within this entire plan lies one over-arching resolution that relates to New Years itself, and that is to avoid the kind of “defaulting” that leads people into ruts, and routines, and allows them to simply be carried through life exactly the way David Byrne describes it in his song. By this I mean doing the same things over and over again, watching the same shows over and over again, going to the same websites over and over again, and never even considering trying something new.

In 2014, I published 26 posts on this site. That means that in that 12 month period, I considered 26 experiences worth writing about. One of the things I am trying to avoid doing is write about the same place multiple times. I know I have a couple of times, and I have reserved that for experiences that are different enough for me to feel that another post would not be redundant. So, in a way, the number of posts I make on this site is related to the amount of new and unique experiences I am having in life. So, if my overarching 2015 goal is achieved, I will have had at least 26 blog-worthy experiences in 2015.

Happy Independence Day

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In honor of the holiday today, I decided to write a somewhat different kind of blog than what I usually write.  Typically, as is the case with most travel writing, I visit a specific destination (or multiple destinations), and write about the experience.  Following the lead of some of my favorite travel writing, I also tend to include my thoughts on the place I visited, the experience I had, or the significance of something related to it.

But last night, I traveled all of 12 blocks to Denver’s Civic Center Park to watch the firework show put on by the City of Denver.  Not exactly a major trip- I walked there!  However, just as certain places and experiences can lead to significant pondering and revelations, specific events, especially ones of historical significance like this one, can also lead to similar conclusions.

I found myself pondering what it means to be  an “American” and whether or not this is something I should be proud of.  Over the course of my life I have heard a wide variety of perspectives on this.  Many in this country sincerely believe the USA to be the greatest country in the world.  Some say this based on blind Patriotism, but some say this based on well though out reasoning.  On the other end of the spectrum, we have those that do not place that much pride in their country.  They either believe that taking pride in a specific nation is a silly concept, or are ashamed of this country based on something about it that they find foolish.

I grew up being pretty certain of America’s greatness.  But, that was at a time, the 1980s and 1990s, when it was quite easy to place a lot of faith in the USA.  The new millennium has been a bit rougher for this country.  Since the dawn of the new millennium, we’ve had a more shaky economy, more controversial events and political decisions, and some social movements that have angered people on all sides of the spectrum.  Nearly every American, from every part of the country, from every sociological, economic, political, or ethnic group, and of nearly any personality type, can point to something that the USA has done since 2000 that has made them feel utterly ashamed of our country.

What I realized while watching the fireworks last night, and pondering the anniversary of our Independence today is that while there are some things about our society and our country that are messed up, unfair, and inefficient, in the grand scheme of things, we are still pretty well off, and we are still a truly great country.  Most of us can count on a lot of the basic necessities of life, like clean water.  When we speak our minds, about any issue, we worry about being shunned, or dismissed, rather than being imprisoned or executed by those in power.  Anybody can make their best effort at being anything, and we are all free to associate with whoever we please.  And, while we have a political culture that has become polarized, and verbally vicious, violence between “warring” political factions in the U.S. has been very minimal thus far.

And, we have a variety of different adventures we can pursue right here in the U.S.  The breadth of the travel opportunities is quite possibly our greatest asset.  Within the borders of the United States, you can find everything from the frozen tundra of Alaska to tropical Hawaii.  We have the peaks of Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, as well as the perfectly flat regions of Northern Illinois and Indiana.  From the Grand Canyon in Arizona to Isle Royal National Park in Michigan, many different types of natural scenery can be found right here in the United States.  From the hustle and bustle of New York City to the quiet ranches of Wyoming, every pace of life can be found.  And, nearly every activity, from skiing to sailing can be found in great abundance here.  As a matter of fact, I cannot even keep track of the number of places I would like to visit, the list just keeps on getting longer as I hear about more and more great places.

I am not one of those rare people that has absolutely no shame regarding any aspect of my country at this point in time.  Like most of the rest of you, I have a list in my head of things I would love to change.  I undoubtedly count myself amongst the clear majority of Americans that believe this country is on the wrong track.  And, I would genuinely like to see some action taken on certain items to make this a better places to live.  However, on this Fourth of July, I would like to show some appreciation for what we do have, and how fortunate we are to have enjoy the freedom and prosperity that we do enjoy.  And, while I do not believe there are no other great places to live in this world, I am still proud of the one that I call home.