Category Archives: Personal Development

The Prescott-Skull Valley Loop

This 54 mile loop is a common ride for road bikers in Prescott. It is even an annual event. The official ride starts and ends in Prescott, which is called Arizona’s “Mile High City”. It’s official elevation is just over a mile at 5367 feet (1636 m). The official ride starts with a short climb and then a major descent into Skull Valley, whose elevation is closer to 4000 feet (1200 m). Then, the larger climb back towards Prescott is in the second half of the ride I, however, decided to start my ride at the ride’s low point, in a town even smaller, called Kirkland (not to be confused with the Costco brand).

From this side, the ride starts out with a relatively shallow grade up into Skull Valley.

Skull Valley is also quite tiny, feeling mostly like a randomly placed trading post along an old western trail. It is also where the climb starts to get intense.

There was a total of 20 miles of climbing along county highway 10. The road felt quite accommodating the entire time. There were not too many cars and with the exception of a couple of bridges, there is plenty of shoulder space.

Unsurprisingly, the other bicyclists I encountered were traveling in the opposite direction, the official direction of the ride.

The road reaches it’s summit at a place called Iron Springs Pass.

And then descends into the town of Prescott.

This was the other advantage I saw in parking in Kirkland and riding the loop in this direction. Not only does it feel better to do most of the climbing earlier, but it was great to stop in Prescott in the middle of the day and hang around the courthouse in the center of the city.

There were a lot of people out and about on a mid-April Friday and there seemed to be an interesting natural feature in the background in every direction I looked. As was the case in many other places I had explored in Arizona on this trip, there were definitely signs that a lot of ex-Chicagoans had settled there. I even had a true Chicago style hot dog.

The trip back into the valley follows state highway 89 through Prescott National Forest.

There was one last hill climb, of a little under 1,000 ft. (300 m). It was the last climb of the last ride of my weeklong trip down to Arizona.

There was still about 15 miles left in the ride, but it was all downhill. On rides like these, it is quite common for a feeling of accomplishment to set in around this point. The last true challenge was done. This rapid paced downhill part, with much of the same natural beauty of the climb earlier in the day, felt like a victory lap of sorts.

I could gaze out upon the mountains in all directions feeling like I was doing exactly what I had came out here to do.

Whenever taking on any kind of challenge, anything that requires doing things that are hard, that require effort and getting out of our comfort zone, a common question is why. This is a question we are asked by others but also ask ourselves.

On both the uphill and downhill portions of the Prescott-Skull Valley loop, my why once again became quite clear as this was the exact type of bike ride so many of us work towards. It is the feeling of using my own power to traverse beautiful mountainous terrain while feeling the air in my face and smelling what is around me. The immersion in these surroundings cannot be replicated inside an automobile. The experience also becomes far more special when one has the capacity to enjoy it rather than focus single-handedly on the pain they are enduring just to make it up these big hills. Rides like these are a reminder of how we “level up”.

And then, inevitably, we enjoy the rewards the come with it.

Suburbia Continues to Expand

This recently built “active adult” community is an hour’s drive from downtown Phoenix and surrounded in all directions by sagebrush and cactus. This spot is one of many places all over North America where previously untouched land is being developed into homes and other facilities.

It is a trend that really began in earnest following World War 2. Despite the much talked about “urban renaissance” of the 1990s and 2000s, suburbia continued to grow. Houses continued to be built on previously untouched land.

Just ten miles to the East of this randomly placed community is the City of Surprise, an outer suburb that has recently grown from a population around 30,000 at the turn of the century to over 140,000 today! This rapid growth occurred right through the height of the “urban renaissance” and the housing market collapse of 2007-2009.

Demand for suburban homes is expected to expand once again as people continue to embrace remote work after the pandemic. The emerging consensus appears to be some kind of “hybrid” scenario where people have an office to come into for meetings and group work, but also have the flexibility to work at least half of their time from home. This is the perfect scenario for continued expansion of outer suburbs like Surprise, as an hour commute is far less painful one or two days a week than five. With this scenario, people will now desire homes large enough to be comfortable in their home offices.

As is the case with any trend, some will appreciate it while others will not. At any given point in time, nearly everyone will be able to point to at least one trend they are enjoying or encouraged by and at least one other trend they view far more negatively. When observing things like these, it is important to remember a few things.

First, no trends are permanent. A look back into history can show examples of countless trends that found a way of reversing themselves. The “hippies” of the 1960s and 1970s became the “yuppies” of the 1980s and 1990s. In an even a more recent example, most of the 2010s saw pop music get slower and more depressing. Over the past several years, this trend has reversed itself. It would be foolish to assume any trend will continue on its current course forever.

Second, it is quite difficult to try to reverse or impact any of these larger scale trends. They are often the result of something far more major. Right now, suburbia is becoming more attractive because of the need for space for home offices with increased remote work. Developments like the expansion of ride sharing companies like Uber and the promise of self-driving cars are also making larger suburban homes more attractive to some. Similar explanations can be made for other trends and observations. Much of what is going on right now, socially and politically, are the result of a combination of human nature/ psychology and recent technological advancements. The only people who are able to have any real impact on trends like these are the ones that are both influential and relentless.

Finally, for those that are not in a position to impact societal trends, the best thing to do is to anticipate and react accordingly. This is most effectively done by understanding the mechanisms behind a trend and observing when it feels like the underlying conditions are going to change. This is the part that has the potential to be really enjoyable for curious people who love to speculate about the future. On the flip side, it is possible for some to spend too much time lamenting the trends they do not view as positive developments. In many cases, it leads to people focusing too much on what they can’t control and can have unfortunate negative impacts on their ability to live their best lives. Those that can control this urge and anticipate shifts in trends, however, will be well positioned for the future.

What I Want From My Summer 2021

I am not sure how to describe the emotional feeling of coming out of one of the toughest winters we’ve ever experienced.

When the third wave of the coronavirus brought on new restrictions last November I knew this would be some sort of “winter of despair” as we waited for the vaccines to be produced and distributed. I managed to maintain some level of sanity by skiing and going all in on a new initiative.

Yet, hearing an Avicii song on Spotify a week ago made me emotional in a way I find hard to describe. The lyrics reminded me of the beauty life has the potential to be if only we were to stop wasting time on that which is meaningless, without soul, and all those unnecessary sources of distraction and stress.

Once upon a younger year
When all our shadows disappeared
The animals inside came out to play
Went face to face with all our fears
Learned our lessons through the tears
Made memories we knew would never fade

Almost instantly, likely due to the combination of the music and warmer weather, a different setting entered my mind. It was not of a real place, but of a place that is not completely out of the realm of possibilities.

It was a place with beautiful sandy beaches, DJs and dancing, where people were truly present. People laughed. They cried. They interacted with each other. It wasn’t without conflict, but it was without all of the conflicts that many of us have been so preoccupied by over the past several years.

Maybe this sudden burst of imagination is just the result of what people this year are referring to as “Zoom Fatigue“, or simply too much time spent alone, indoors in front of a screen. Maybe it’s just me idiotically longing for a younger year where I can make memories that will last a lifetime. Or maybe it is secretly what we are all longing for after a year of restrictions, fear and isolation.

As the weather continues to warm up and many of the activities we have been denied for a little over a year now return, what I want from this summer is close to the exact opposite of what most of the past year was.

I want to get out from behind a computer (or phone) screen and connect with the world.

I want to explore places, beautiful places, either with the windows down or on a bicycle, where I can smell the trees and feel the air flow.

I want to gather with people, both familiar and unfamiliar, listen, laugh, talk, be heard, smile, try new things and make memories.

I want to feel truly alive and witness others feeling truly alive.

I want to dance, not as if nobody is watching me, but like it doesn’t matter who is watching me. After all, it doesn’t. All that matters is that the people dancing poorly are enjoying themselves more than the people laughing at them.

I want to throw away all that made us distrust one another, socially distance and hide our true selves, both from others and from ourselves.

I want to silence the voices telling me I need to change or hide parts of who I am.

I want to stop holding back.

I want the feeling of smiling at a stranger and SEEING THEM SMILE BACK.

And, this time, after the events of 2020 exasperated the problems of distrust, division, isolation, excessive screen time and victimhood mentality that were already present in our culture, I want to appreciate what is in front of me. I want to take this extended year of excessive restrictions as a lesson for us all to live in the here and now and stop focusing so much on the negative sides of things.

One thing I feel a lot of us, myself included, failed to appreciate before it was gone, is community. I imagine today that nearly all people have experienced life both with and without community. School naturally becomes a community and we have all lived through this pandemic.

When we did have community:

Could we have perhaps spent a little too much time focused on that one person in our social circle that we don’t particularly vibe with?

Did we possibly lament, too often, the times when we had to compromise on what we wanted to do because most other people in the group had different preferences?

Could too much thought have gone into that one conversation topic we were sick of hearing?

Were we too focused on what makes us different from those around us, and how our unique perspective needed to be appreciated more?

I know I feel I had made those mistakes. The past year has certainly reminded me, and hopefully others that it is better to have a community with the above frustrations than none at all. It feels like enough people feel that loneliness has become a major problem that some form of community will be built in the aftermath of this year of isolation.

Hopefully our favorite activities and freedoms come back soon. Hopefully, we also improve our communities.

When we do so, and start having the moments that make life truly worthwhile, the ones we will never forget, let’s truly immerse ourselves in those experiences.

Here’s to a better summer and a post-pandemic life with more of what makes life worthwile.

Crested Butte January 2021

The way we talk about the weather is quite peculiar. There are many that consider the weather amongst the most mundane topics of discussion, the thing people talk about when they don’t have anything more interesting to discuss. However, there is perhaps nothing that has a greater impact on the human experience than the weather. Every single day, the activities a person takes part in is at least partially determined by the weather. Activities like skiing and hiking are associated with seasons. Any outdoor sporting event has the potentially to be cancelled by inclement weather. Changes in long-term weather patterns, or climate, have brought down entire civilizations.

Perhaps the reason highly intellectual individuals prefer not to talk about the weather is the manner in which the topic is simplified. The weather anyone experiences is a result of scientific processes so complicated that despite our advanced observational and computational technology, it can still only be predicted to any degree of accuracy about a week out. The impact weather has on things like health, culture and happiness is the subject of countless articles and dissertations.

Yet, most discussions about the weather are boiled down to simple descriptions. It’s often described as simply “cold”, “warm”, sunny”, “rainy”, etc. Perhaps the most significant oversimplification of the phenomenon that we call weather is the description of weather conditions as ether “good” or “bad”. Generally, people refer to sunshine and pleasant temperatures as “good” weather, while any kind of unpleasantness, from rain to extreme temperatures or strong winds, as “bad” weather.

However, too much “good” weather can often lead to some terrible outcomes. The entire planet’s food supply is dependent on rainfall. Last summer’s wildfires across Western North America demonstrated that there are few businesses that have absolutely no exposure to what can happen when a region experiences too little precipitation, or “bad weather”.

Skiing, is perhaps the most obvious example of an activity that requires “bad” weather. Four years earlier, Crested Butte ski resort was buried under 100 inches of snow.

The winter of 2020-2021 has been far less snowy, making for pleasant days to ski, but perhaps not the best snow conditions.

Skiing is the most obvious example, but nearly every activity in life requires a certain amount of “bad” weather. It is a reminder that simply describing weather conditions as “good” or “bad” as they pertain to a specific day’s activities may be fine for a children’s nursery rhyme, but fails to accurately represent what combination of weather conditions are necessary in the long run. For the world’s food supply, farmers need a combination of rainy weather for the health of their crops and pleasant days to tend to their plants and animals. Skiers need snow, obviously, but benefit from days with good visibility, low wind and pleasant temperatures.

Nearly every activity, as well as life on Earth itself, requires a combination of different weather conditions. The key is to properly manage the expectations for each day based on our changing weather.

In Crested Butte, residents and visitors alike are dealing with both the ongoing pandemic and snowpacks that are about 30% below normal for this time of year. Yet, people are finding a way to continue with their lives. It is hard to be too negative in a town this beautiful.

While the ground may be a bit rocky in the trees, or on bump runs, a mild sunny day is the perfect time to admire the beauty of the morning sky while flying down fast, steep groomed trails.

The town itself, like everyone’s favorite optimistic and quirky friend, does not seem to be discouraged by what nature has brought.

Perhaps one of the reasons so many people dislike talking about the weather is because it represents something that cannot be controlled. It can only be responded to. It is, in a way, a metaphor for life. People generally have minimal control of what happens to them. The only thing that can be controlled is the response. Crested Butte, in January 2021 has shown that the proper response to all that life can throw is to be versatile and adjust while also remaining true to oneself.

Five Percent Better After An Extremely Annoying Year: My 2020 Story

My highlights from 2020

2020 was a tough year to have a lot of travel experiences to write about. Like many, I spent a good part of the year trying to find the right balance between my social responsibility to avoid any potential spreading of the virus and my mental health needs. Spending too much time at home can be distressing for almost anyone. For me, an extrovert who loves to travel, it was especially rough.

For a variety of reasons, 2020 turned out to be an extremely annoying year. In 2019, as a decade came to an end, I took stock of our culture and current challenges. Three of our key societal issues would become an even bigger issue as a result of all the events of 2020.

  1. For the sake of our physical and mental health, it felt obvious that we needed to spend less time alone, indoors and seated. If anyone managed to spend less time alone, indoors and seated in 2020, well, I would seriously like to meet you!
  2. With the nastiness and divisiveness of our political culture, I seriously felt like we needed less politics in our lives, particularly identity politics (usually about race, age, gender and economic status). In 2019, I was proud to say to anyone that brought up the 2020 election that I had personally decided I would only think about the 2020 election in the year 2020.
  3. It seemed obvious that our culture was too risk averse. In 2019 I told people that if there is a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 being taking no risks on anything and 100 being constantly taking over the top risks like the main character in Uncut Gems, the ideal state is 50. Our culture seems to default us to somewhere like 25 or 30.

2020 would force us not to gather in large groups.

Cheesman Park in April 2020

Close many of the establishment where we would gather.

The main Inn in Redcliff, CO in May 2020

Force us to often stay home alone looking at social media, and place a greater emphasis on both identity politics and avoiding risk.

A June protest in Denver, CO

I struggled not to fall into dispair.

I went through four of these between March and June

I got myself through by imagining how we will come out of this better.

I took a lot of screen shots of my songs on Spotify this year

I started to imagine a future world where work is less oppressive. One morning in September I woke up with all kinds of ideas in my head.

I imagined a world where we rediscovered the importance of friendships and community. I imagined that, with concerns about health, and our loved ones, we would prioritize the things that really matter. No longer would anyone be asked to come into work when feeling sick.

With a lot of stuff cancelled or shut down, and large groups discouraged, I embraced more 1-on-1 meetups with people, cultivating better relationships. Slowing down also allowed me to connect to a more spiritual side, through things like meditation. This all culminated with the spiritual experience I had on an August backpacking trip.

Since then, I have never felt more clear about who I am and my purpose in life.

I am also ending the year with a better job, better financial position and I actually managed to lose weight during the pandemic. Perhaps there really is something to cooking rather than eating out.

Still, I certainly could have done better with all the spare time I had this year. Looking back on 2020, there were three things that occupied too much of my time, preventing me from making even more progress.

  1. Drinking while watching television: Drinking can be a great social activity, but drinking in front of the television is not the greatest use of time. While stuck at home, it is far more productive to read. I could have finished all these books!

2. Scrolling on my phone: My screen time was up again, some weeks I averaged close to three hours per day

3. Overthinking: Sometimes you have to just make decisions and stop worrying about all the factors and what could potentially be better.

In 2021, we will be ready to move on, hopefully not back to the world as it was prior to the pandemic, but to something new, something that produces a happier overall human experience. When the vaccines get distributed and we re-engage in many of the activities we previously took part in, like travel, concerts and nights out at the bar, hopefully we take the lessons learned from all this, particularly about health, community and priorities into our new lives. I am under no impression that 2021 is going to be easy. On the contrary, through this and my many other endeavors, I plan to work hard in 2021 to ensure I at least have an input into what our world will look like moving forward.

Thanksgiving 2020

I’m tired.

I’m tired of this pandemic. I’m tired of not being able to do many of the things I love doing. I can’t be social and go to many of the places and events I love going to. It hurts to consistently walk away from the people I see in the streets. I miss the small amount of joy I get trading smiles with a stranger.

I’m tired of not being able to travel and experience the world.

I’m tired of spending time alone, but I am also tired of always doing everything over video chat. It’s not the same as being face to face in front of people. I’m just tired of being alone in front of a screen.

I’m tired of everyone, near and far, whose actions made it so this virus would spread and continues to threaten us. But, I am also beyond tired of hearing people complain about people who are not following mask and social distance recommendations.

I’m tired of the expectation that all things begin with a search on a computer or smart phone screen. Want to learn how to do something? In 2020, it always starts with a Google (or DuckDuckGo if you’re privacy inclined) search, not asking a friend or neighbor what they know.

I’m tired of loneliness. I am tired of lack of community.

I’m tired of this extremely divisive political culture and the fact that discussions that do not initially or inherently have to do with politics turn into political discussions.

I’m tired of big data. I’m tired of work environments that treat human beings as resources and encourage us to behave more like machines.

I’m tired of discussions about anything to do with the home. I’m especially tired of the jokes and memes about things like vacationing to the basement, attic or kitchen. All it does is remind me of the 748,291 places I wish I were traveling to.

I’m tired of hearing the same cultural topics discussed, in the same way, from the same point of view. I’m even more tired of those who cannot appreciate that some people are focused on different problems or coming at our current ones from a different perspective.

I’m tired of who I feel like I have become over the past several months. I’m just…well…tired.

Yet, no matter how annoyed I get, I need to understand that most of the things I am tired of are just coping mechanisms. These are some unprecedented times.

Different people have different methods of dealing with things. Some like to try to be optimistic. Some like to try to make changes. Some like to shift their focus to something else. Some need to vent. Others turn to humor. Some still try to use it as an opportunity to get things done, grow personally or take part in other activities they enjoy.

As much as many people’s coping mechanisms have been getting on my nerves, I am sure plenty of people are tired of my coping mechanisms. I’m sure people are sick of hearing me talk about self-improvement, or my speculation about a better future age, where our work culture, institutions and cultural expectations have sufficiently updated themselves to create a happier existence.

This article was written shortly after the pandemic hit and is likely still true today. It is an aspect of our culture that has been especially slow to change.

Thanksgiving is an underrated and important holiday because it is all about gratitude. Like the first half of this blog, many of us spend far too much time focusing on what is wrong, what we don’t have, and what we don’t like about our situation and surroundings. However, many people have found that keeping a gratitude journal or regularly expressing gratitude has improved their lives and their outlook.

On Monday, I rode my bike around town looking for Thanksgiving decorations. At the first house I stopped at, the owner happened to be in her car. She saw me stop and take a photo of the decorations and offered to turn them on for me.

We talked for a little while about the importance of gratitude and I expressed gratitude for simply being in good enough shape to ride my bicycle. Having experienced debilitating shoulder injuries, she told me to appreciate that. Already I was on a happier vibe.

This Thanksgiving, 2020, it is time to reset our minds, as I am sure we are all annoyed with something. Let it go. First, I plan to forgive myself. I forgive myself for all the ways I have fallen short this year. I let go of the opportunities missed and the progress I feel like I am making far too slowly.

It’s also time to let go of the frustrations I am feeling towards some of the people in my life. At this moment in time, people just need a break. It’s easy to get our minds focused on petty annoyances, especially in times like these. Hopefully this year Thanksgiving reminds us of the good things about where we are in life, the good things about ourselves and the ways in which the people around us enrich our lives.

Going Great; Going Poorly

I was riding my bike on a 76 degree (26°C) day in November , a day which tied a previous record high (November 17, 2020).

By early afternoon I was riding home but still 20 miles away. All of a sudden I heard the sound of a light piece of metal hit the road. Before I could react, my pedal was no longer attached to my bicycle.

I had to slowly brake without putting myself in danger. I walked 1.8 miles (2.9 km) to what appeared to be the nearest bike shop. The place was empty. Research would show that this was a new business that had yet to fully occupy that address.

What to feel?

When you’re lucky enough to be able to spend a day like this outside, it is hard to feel too sad. Sure, I was sitting in a suburban parking lot waiting to get a ride to another bike shop. The air temperature and the sky were perfect, though. It’s hard to imagine getting better sun in mid-November.

The first 20 days of November has been unprecedentedly warm, almost 8°F (4.5°C) above average. At a time of year when people are typically forced indoors, as it becomes increasingly cold, dark and cloudy, nature has provided the opportunity for abundant adventure!

Yet, this very same weather pattern, which has been around for several months, has lead to a drought across much of the western United States.

Each warm dry day in the mountains was a great day for many. Yet, each one of those warm dry days took us one step closer to wildfires so powerful and destructive they could be seen 60 miles (96 km) away!

This particular fire lead to people having to flee their homes in panic!

The very nature of existence seems to always mix the good with the bad. Life has so many components to it, it is hard to look at a specific person or find a specific period of time and not see both positives and negatives. Some of the years when my career was truly going nowhere were also the years I had some of my best travel adventures. This year has featured a lot less travel than I would prefer, but with work I can do remotely, and a recent change in outlook on money, my financial position has improved. Between our homes, careers, social circles, relationships, adventures and hobbies, likely 90% of all people are doing great in some respects and doing poorly in others.

In my home country, November 2020 has become an exaggerated demonstration of this very phenomenon. Every week more progress is reported about the development of vaccines to finally end the COVID crisis.

There is hope it could be distributed in time to make all of our summertime activities possible! Yet, the current situation is dire. The case numbers are spiking, hospitals are running out of beds and staff and people are dying. Many states are reimposing restrictions and lockdowns. We are preparing for a dark kind of winter of despair.

Meanwhile, we are coming off an election whose results gave pretty much everyone, across the spectrum of ideologies, something to love and something to hate.

In truth, almost everything has a component to it that is good and a component that is bad. Tough situations have the potential to lead to personal growth and innovation. Even wars are often credited with scientific and technological progress. Meanwhile, many who had a comfortable and sheltered upbringing are entering the world without the skills to cope with adversity. Maybe one of the lessons 2020 is trying to teach us is that we need to be far less quick to assess things with a broad brushstroke as good or bad. As we realize things like the limitations in using GDP as a measure of success, we accept a more nuanced view of what is in front of us.

Goals and Metrics Put in Context

The debate about how to set goals and determine “success” is quite well aligned with the debate over how to approach life itself. On one side, there are those who say “everything can be measured.” In places like the United States, only a fortunate few have never been asked to set SMART Goals.

The SMART Goal system

This goal setting method has plenty of support, especially in the world of business and personal development [1][2][3]. To be fair, setting goals in this manner does prevent them from becoming vague, disorganized, unrealistic pursuits where one can easily lose focus and have no idea when they have been achieved.

This is the path of the left-brained, the detail-oriented, the driven, often the successful, those who build things and guarantee quality.

After all, it is more effective to describe an athlete as someone who can run 100m in 10.4 seconds than to simply say this person is “really fast”, and it is easier to contextualize a video with 100 million views over one that is “really popular”.

However, those more vague terms represent the actual goal. People tend to think of those on the other side as the more artistic types.

However, there are plenty of people in more traditional and even corporate types of leadership critical of the extremely numeric style of goal setting exemplified by the SMART goal system [1][2][3]. They are criticized, and rightfully so, for possibly putting a cap on one’s activities and being too short-term in focus. Once the specific number is reached, what’s next? Is mile number 2,001 pointless?

What about the day after the year ends?

Perhaps more importantly, these goal setting systems are charged with lacking emotion and having no connection to the underlying reasons for the state of our live. Goals like riding 2,000 miles in a year have no connection to the manner in which habits and mentality truly shape a person’s life. In essence, they miss the center of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.

Whether or not one believes that everything (or most things) can and should be measured depends on experience and personality. It’s where the focus is. There is no sensical way to create a quantitative measurement of watching a sunset over a lake while a distant wildfire slowly expands.

Many other areas of life, both professional and fun, ARE all about numbers and only numbers.

Whether or not any individual should set a specific measurable goal depends on their personality and situation. However, not in the manner that most would expect. A person can understand that the ultimate goal in life is to be happy, or fulfilled, but have no idea how to go about finding that happiness or fulfillment. Likewise, one can toil over quarterly numbers and annual targets but one day find themselves completely disconnected from any meaning behind what they are doing. Both these states are recipes for depression.

At any given time in life, what a person needs is the piece of the puzzle they are lacking. Therefore, it is the unfocused creative with a vague idea of wanting to “make the world a better place”, that could benefit from a goal like getting 10,000 people to listen to their podcast. Meanwhile, the highly driven analytically-minded professional on the verge of burnout could benefit from laying off these numeric goals for a while and focusing on their mental state and underlying reason for wanting what they want.

After all, many of these experiences would not have been too much different had the year 2020 ended with only 1,900 logged miles, as opposed to the 2,200-ish it will likely end up at when the year ends.

Backpacking the Holy Cross Wilderness: Day 3 Nature and Spirit

I became fascinated with weather as a fairly young child. While looking into weather, I would often find old books, written long before people could look up a weather forecast on the computer or even turn on The Weather Channel. These books would describe how sky and wind conditions indicate likely changes in weather. This knowledge seems generally obsolete. However, the combination of knowing how weather patterns typically shape up in late August in the Rocky Mountains and observing the morning sky lead us to expect to be able hike the final 6.2 miles back to the trailhead before encountering rain.

One thing that did get somewhat frustrating on this and other recent camping trips, is the equipment. It is common for people to buy equipment for activities such as camping or hiking and feel as if they are done making purchases. However, on this trip, it became apparent that this tent was going to soon need repair or replacement.

The same can be said for my hiking pants and spork.

It’s taken me a while to realize how warped most people’s view of money and finance is. It seems common to focus only on expenses we can psychically see and on the short-term. When it comes to outdoor and sporting equipment, the line between renting and owning feels quite blurry. The more one uses an item, the sooner it needs to be replaced. So, with certain variance for the quality of the item and how well we take care of our things, even when we buy our own equipment, we are still sort of paying per use. The first dozen or so times anyone uses something like a tent, they rarely think about the cost of eventually replacing it and how those trips are taking them closer to that inevitable expense.

Throughout the trip, we continued to encounter deer up close. We must have chosen to set up camp in their territory or something. Once, when I left the tent to go to the bathroom before going to sleep, I encountered a deer and got startled. By Sunday morning, with clear weather, it almost felt as if we were hanging out with them!

Looking at us, I was wondering if the deer were having their own “Low Key F2020” type of experience. I can imagine them thinking….

Ugh! First there is all this smoke, then this hailstorm comes through, and now these humans are in our way! Can we do like the bears, hibernate and skip to 2021?

Heading back across the valley, the sky continued to point to a more typical late August scenario and the expectation that rain and storms would come, as is more typical, in mid-afternoon.

Heading across the rocky area, we encountered some more furry creatures.

Then headed up fancy pass, a slightly higher pass than the one we had trekked in on Friday.

Heading up the pass, it got kind of windy. I wonder how the people who set up camp closer to the pass, in an exposed area, had fared that morning.

This was the challenging and exhausting part. First there was the nearly 1000 foot climb up Fancy Pass, where we could clearly see that Missouri Pass was lower.

Then, the other side was a steep, rocky downhill, which can be just as tiring as the uphill.

The Fancy Pass Trail experience was a bit more pleasant than the Missouri Lakes Trail experience two days prior. There was no crazy avalanche area where the trail was covered with downed trees and difficult to pass. Also, all of the trail’s features were quite exquisite in the morning sun.

First, Fancy Lake (okay, maybe the names of these things need more variety)

Then, just below the lake, the water funnels into an amazing tall, skinny waterfall.

The final three miles trail is pretty homogenous: a gentle downward slope through a pine forest.

It was in this section that I had a spiritual experience!

As I walked through the woods for what was the final hour and a half of this journey, I suddenly felt as if I was getting some deeply profound messages about my life. They were the kinds of messages that gave me clarity about what I am meant to be doing, confidence in who I am supposed to be and context around some of my more unpleasant past experiences. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

It felt like the result of a confluence of several circumstances.

  • I was tired enough to slow down my mind typically very active thought process. Yet, I was not so exhausted that it was all I could focus on.
  • There were not too many distractions in that section of the trail (i.e. fantastic panoramic views, wildlife, waterfalls, etc.)
  • My mind was somewhat de-cluttered from having done no-news August and having spent three days without access to Wi-Fi

While people believe different things, I genuinely believe that I received messages from either God or some kind of guiding spirit and came away from it with an unexpected boost.

It also gave me that answer to a question that had been looming on my mind for years. There is no question that our modern technology and conveniences have made our lives better. People live longer, are healthier and have more free time and other fun experiences than they did before we had all of our modern technologies. Yet, some chose to forgo conveniences like running water, electricity and computers for periods of time to take part in activities like this one. Regardless of whether or not one believes God speaks to us through nature, taking a break from the modern world gives us the opportunity to connect with something we don’t typically connect to.

The Monsoon the Never Arrived

The North American Monsoon typically arrives in the Southwestern United States in mid to late July. Unlike some monsoons in other parts of the world, this one does not bring a consistent or steady rain. After all, it is a very dry region. Normally, for four to six weeks, most days will feature scattered thunderstorms across the region.

As has been the case for many expected events this year, the 2020 monsoon never happened.

Many places, particularly in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Utah received little to no rain along with hotter than normal temperatures. While there is variance in how strong these monsoons are from year to year, this year it seriously NEVER ARRIVED. 2020 is tracking to be the driest summer ever in Phoenix, while Las Vegas is on the verge of breaking a record for its longest streak without rain.

This has lead to widespread drought, raging wildfires, particularly across central California and Colorado, road closures, and smoke everywhere!

It feels as if Denver and the other front range cities have been under a constant barrage of smoke, with air quality alerts every day for the entire month. Day in and day out its been the same story. It is usually pleasant at sunrise.

But, this pleasant period is reserved only for early risers. It only takes a couple of hours of sun for it to begin to feel quite hot. Some days a few clouds show up as a teaser.

But the storm never arrives, just a hot wind. The last time there was any measurable rain was the first of the month, and that wasn’t much at all.

Each day, I’ll check the forecast only to see more of the same.

Forecast for August 20-23, 2020

If there is one theme to 2020 thus far, it’s monotony. We all endured some amount of quarantine, where each day, day in and day out, we have been doing pretty much the same thing. What fascinates me about this whole time period has been different people’s responses to two aspects of what is going on.

First, the monotony. Some people thrive on routine. I don’t! My response to a world where there are no concerts, many special events are cancelled and any travel or socializing comes with an additional risk is to try to create as much variety as possible.

Both the pandemic and the extremely hot summer required many to adjust their routines. COVID-19 forced many people to embrace things like preparing their meals at home as opposed to eating out, working remotely, and finding new ways to connect with their friends.

When hot summer days arrive, it becomes advantageous to wake up earlier to take advantage of the most pleasant part of the day.

Okay, I’m just using this blog as an excuse to show off sunrise photos

So, for many, this is not just a routine, but a new routine. The responses I have observed to this seem to be dependent on three factors…

  1. Does someone like routine or variety?
  2. Is the person enjoying the different routine that these events have created?
  3. How flexible and emotionally mature someone is.

It is hard for me not to dwell on the feeling that this entire year has been far more manageable for the introverted homebody types who love routine. I’ve had to almost entirely rely on item #3 to get me through this. Specifically, I’ve embraced this as the year to fully examine my mindset. How do I embrace gratitude rather than blame? Is there anything in my life that is still holding me back? What am I wasting energy on? Am I still getting trapped in too many negative thoughts? How do I really believe in myself? And, the list goes on and on.

It’s a strange journey because it requires two seemingly contradictory forms of internal dialogue. One one hand, for anyone to reach their true potential as a human being, they must be brutally honest with themselves. This means no more excuses, no more denial about shortcomings and taking responsibility for where one is in life. At the same time, it also requires radical self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. After all, it is important to not deny our problems, but one must love themselves for who they are and be confident in their value as a person to live a full life.

The monsoon is also far from the only expectation that the year 2020 has failed to meet.

Nearly everyone has had an event or a trip cancelled, had a career prospect not manifest, or even had to delay a major life event like a wedding or having a child. It has kind of become chaos, a kind of boring manifestation of chaos, but chaos nonetheless. 2020 has managed to cancel even the most basic things, like happy hours, the summer monsoon and travel on I-70! Handling this feels like an exercise in patience, flexibility and resiliency.

The question that 2020 is forcing all of us to answer is…

Can we put up with the flow of life taking us toward something different than what we had imagined it to be? Can we be ready to adjust to an unexpected change in circumstances? Can we stop fighting and blaming each other? Can we embrace something new? Can we let go of unnecessary assumptions: about the world, about life, about ourselves and about each other? Can we even find a way to come out better for it?