Category Archives: psychology

Five Years in Denver

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A personal narrative..

I cannot believe it has been five years since I moved to Denver, and I cannot believe that 2017 is already half over. I’d say “time flies”, but that is kind of a cliché. Time does not really “fly”, or even go by rapidly. It just appears as such when we think about time in larger chunks. In the past five years, I can think of plenty of Tuesday afternoons where it certainly did not feel as if time were “flying” by.

Okay, enough random psychological ramblings. However, I do want to point out that unlike most social media content these days, I do plan to be forthcoming with my own weaknesses and struggles. Hopefully that is refreshing.

My first five years in Colorado can be thought of as anywhere from a complete success to a total failure depending on how it is looked upon. By the traditional definition of “success”, I guess I am mostly successful. I make good money, live in a good place, and am healthy. By a more modern, and more millennial version of “success”, I’m kind of a failure. This is because I am haven’t gotten to the point where I am using my strengths to impact the world in a positive and meaningful way. I hope my writing encourages others to believe in themselves, find adventure and live better lives. However, life on an average day feels pretty empty. What I do to earn a living is quite insignificant, and has been for almost the entire five years I have been living here.

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When I first moved to Denver, I attempted to recreate what I had in Chicago, particularly the social situation, which I really enjoyed.

This proved challenging for three reasons…

  1. You cannot recreate the past. There will always be something different. Denver is a different place than Chicago, with different people, who have different priorities and expectations. It’s also a different time, and a different phase of life.
  2. Call me spoiled, but this was the first time in my life I have ever had to really try to meet new people. In Chicago, I worked with a ton of fun people around the same age as me. Before that I was in Graduate School, College, High School, etc. People were always right there.
  3. I was not at my best when I moved, due to a really disappointing work situation. Making friends is a bit harder when you’re not in a great place spiritually.

My first year or so here I probably spiraled out of control more than I realized at the time.

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I quit my job out of frustration, and became disenchanted with the working world, a feeling that mostly persists today. Maybe it was my own experiences, the move to Colorado, or even that December 21, 2012 stuff (not scientific, but who knows). I just started getting this feeling that the 9-to-5 lifestyle, the one I had lived for five years in Chicago happily, was outdated, and that there was more to life than corporate structures, office politics, and spending eight hours a day in front of a computer.

I adapted. In place of the late night parties came outdoor activities for all seasons, travel and adventure. The past five years have been more adventurous than I had ever imagined. I ski better than I ever thought I would. I took part in the long distance bike rides I had always dreamed about, and traveled to some remote places!

Day-to-day life, though, remained a challenge. Finding a new job ended up being challenging. Being “rejected” time and time again took its toll on my sense of self-worth, and confidence. I spent a lot of time inside my own head, oscillating back and forth between blaming society’s outdated structure, and blaming myself for my own misfortunes in this department.

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These misfortunes continued. The job I eventually found went relatively well at first, but took a turn for the worse when I asked to report to quite possibly the most selfish and judgmental person I had ever met. I’d be hard pressed to find a stronger de-motivator, at work, than having a boss that makes everything about himself. I got out of that situation, but still haven’t found something that gets me excited to get out of bed in the morning.

I put myself out there, and, through various means, met a lot of people, some of them really good people that I have come to really enjoy hanging out with.

 

However, due to some combination of different social styles in Colorado, being a little bit older, and how the digital age has impacted society as a whole, I never reached the status, socially, that I had in my life’s previous “chapters”. People observing my life would probably think I have done extremely well in this category. However, I do have a yearning, at times, for more social activities and more meaningful connections.

This is related to quite possibly my biggest struggle of all … “adulthood”. Where does my life go from here? This is the fear that keeps me up at night, as the average life of a full-fledged adult (as opposed to an “emerging adult” which generally refers to the late teens and 20-something lifestyle), as I observe it, to be honest, doesn’t interest me. I just feel like life, just being alive and human on planet Earth, is a blessing in many ways. With so many amazing places, and so many amazing people, I don’t want to spend my life keeping up with TV show characters, and working extra to accumulate money so I can remodel my kitchen (you know, because those cabinets look so 1980s) and spend weekends at shopping malls accumulating more material possessions.

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This is probably the best reason to be in Colorado. This state feels like it was designed for people who feel exactly the way I feel about life.

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Which is the main reason that, despite the previously mentioned struggles and knowing that there are other places with better career prospects, I really hope to make my life work here in Colorado. While I cannot describe my first five years in Colorado as a complete “success”, I am happy with a lot of what I have done, and feel good about recent personal growth. Life is a journey, with many chapters, plots and sub-plots, destinations, and, unfortunately, also some detours. Finding your true purpose, the role you were meant to play in 21st Century society, is not a trivial endeavor. It can be quite challenging, and can take many years. It feels worthwhile though, and almost necessary for a life that is truly fulfilling.

An All-Inclusive Week At Cancun’s El Dorado Royal

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Day 1: Every time I land in another country, something feels different.  I had this feeling when I first landed at the airport in Cancun, despite the fact that much of my surroundings were remarkably similar to what I experience at home.  As is the case at many U.S. airports, the airport signs are written in both English and Spanish, with the English words on top.  Even the mix of people didn’t feel too terribly different from many places around Colorado where I live. It was the little differences I observed; some different looking buildings, speed limits in kilometers per hour, and the driver of the van that took us to the resort from the airport trying to sell us Coronas (or Mexican water, as he said) that made me feel as if I had actually traveled to a place that is different than the place where I live and the places where I spend most of my time.

We arrived at the resort in the middle of the afternoon.  A resort this size takes a little bit of time to become acquainted with, as it has multiple sections, with different types of travelers having different types of experiences, a whole bunch of pools, and a ton of restaurants.  One of the great things about being at an all inclusive resort is the fact that, once guests arrive at the resort, everything, particularly food and drink, is taken care of.  This is good because I arrived hungry.  It would be the last time I would really experience hunger for the duration of the week.

Day 2: Like most Americans, a majority of my travel involves an itinerary of some sorts.  This makes the transition from what is referred to as the “real world” to the world of that particular voyage seamless.  The normal day-to-day concerns, work, schedules, responsibilities, etc. are replaced by the schedule- the itinerary of the trip.  Today I have meetings at 9,10, and 11, and a document that needs to be finalized by the end of the day transitions smoothly to tonight we are staying at this hotel, they have a continental breakfast, than we’re gonna get to this attraction by 10:30-ish.

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On this vacation, there was no itinerary; at least not at first.  There was just enjoying the weather, enjoying the beach, the pool, the activities, and a week off of not just work but many other sources of stress, such as chores, social situations, etc.  This often leads to a gradual process of letting go.  Over the course of roughly 36 hours these concerns gradually slip out of the mind, to be replaced, miraculously, with nothing!  I bet there are some people that do not even know what that feels like anymore.

Day 3: I decided I wanted to go the full day without taking any pictures.  Now that the process of disconnecting from the “real world” was complete, it was a good time to live in the moment, and, not think about anything else, not even what I would write in this blog!  It was on this day that two of the things that typically happen during longer resort trips happened.

First, I actually started to settle into a quazi-routine. El Dorado Royale offers a lot of activities, activities I more or less took advantage of.  At 8 A.M., there was yoga on the pier.  9 A.M. Spanish lessons.  11:00 volleyball.  12:00 Aqua-aerobics.

Since guests do not need to cary around money, ID, and such at an all-inclusive resort, these resorts can offer amenities such as swim up bars.  We found ourselves, after the noon Aqua-aerobics, swimming up to the bar to have some drinks in the pool.  And since I was typically eating breakfast a bit later (10 A.M.), an hour or so of drinks would then be followed by lunch, and then the day’s afternoon activities, which varied a bit more day-to-day.

Day 3 was also when I began to make vacation friends; other tourists who had also managed to disconnect from their “real world” concerns, and had been drinking and enjoying themselves in the pool.

The resort has a lot of great restaurants, but their signature restaurant is one called Fuentes. This restaurant is a dinner show, with a famous chef that demonstrates how each course is cooked while serving the food.  The dinner and cooking demonstration lasted two and a half hours.  Each course featured food from a different region of Mexico.  It was not just a meal, but also lessons about both geography and cooking technique.

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Every evening at El Dorado Royale, there is a show.  It typically starts at around 9:45 and lasts about an hour.  This is followed by dancing.  I found the meal/cooking demonstration exhausting!  I ended up electing to skip the dancing, calling it a night earlier than I typically do.

Day 4: A strange thing started happening on the fourth day.  Each day, I got drunker than the last.  On this day, after noon Aqua-aerobics, I took multiple shots at the swim up bar, and then took part in tequila tasting.  Yet, my hangovers were not getting any worse.  In fact, they were getting easier.  It was like I was hitting some sort of groove, which also involved the consumption of alcohol.

Also, having taken advantage of the 9:00 Spanish lessons, and through some conversation with the resort’s staff, whose company I truly enjoyed this week, I was suddenly getting back into the groove speaking Spanish.  Those that do not know Spanish could easily get by at this resort, as nearly all of the staff speaks English.  But, the lessons ended up being a great opportunity to speak Spanish with some native speakers and recover some lost knowledge.  By the end of the 4th day, I was instinctively starting to blurt out phrases such as “querimos jugar al volleyball por la playa ayer, per due demaciado ventido”.

Day 5: This day began to feel like the apex of the trip.  By the middle of the day I had made a good number of vacation friends, I was given two different nicknames by the other guests at the resort; “Denver” after where I am from (as it is hard to remember a lot of names), and “Maya Riviera”, after a rainbow colored drink that the resort offers.  It is a very sweet beverage, but I still managed to drink a ton of them.  In fact, one of my favorite things to do was to bring this drink under this fountain in the center of the pool, and drink it feeling as if I could not be doing anything more tropical at that particular moment.

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I also got accustomed to some of the other specifics about taking this kind of worry free vacation.  One which tragically took too long for me to adjust to is the proper application of sun screen.  Unfortunately, I got quite burnt over the course of this trip.

The other is something I wish I could do more of in normal daily life.  In most situations, when eating at restaurants, it is most cost effective to order one item.  Without such concern, most meals involved multiple items of food.  Additionally, the portion sizes at El Dorado Royale are such that it is typically possible to eat 4 or 5 course meals.  The resort has two Italian restaurants.  Traditional Italian meals involve an antipasto (appetizer), a soup, a primo (first, which usually involves pasta or risotto), and a secondi (second, usually a pice of meat of some kind).  Here, there was absolutely no reason not to order one of each.

At the end of the evening, though, I got slowed down again, this time by heart burn.  Apparently, there is a limit, as well, it had been quite some time since I had drank five days in a row, and I do not plan on becoming a “functioning alcoholic”.

Day 6: The previous early night made it easy to wake up in time to watch the sun rise over the ocean.  As someone who lives in a land locked city, this is something I try to do, if possible (last time it wasn’t), any time I am on the East Coast.

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The early start changed my routine up a little, but this turned out to be another fabulous day of activities, both in the pool and by the beach (beach volleyball).  I even amazed myself with my confidence levels.  Mexico has a warm place in my heart for this reason.  When I was younger, I had a very poor self image, and low confidence levels.  Then I got a part time job working at a restaurant, where most of the staff was (still is) Mexican.  I achieved my first real boost in confidence at the age of 16 when I was welcomed and appreciated by that community.  I thought about that experience, as once again in Mexico, I was feeling welcomed and appreciated, by the other guests as well as the resort’s staff.

But, I knew the “real world” would find a way to make a comeback.  At the start of this trip, I made a conscious decision to take a true holiday and stay away from reading about, taking about, or thinking about two things; work and current events.  Those were the two things that had been most likely to cause me angst over the past few months, and my mind needed a holiday from that way more than my body needed any kind of rest.  However, I did start to become curious when I saw a newspaper that reported that the president-elect had selected a treasury secretary.  I couldn’t help but wonder what it meant, even though I was wanting to not think at all about that stuff.

It’s also all but inevitable that something will happen over the course of a trip like this that will trigger a concern from “normal life”.  After all, these concerns do not go away, they are just temporarily out of one’s thoughts, and if something triggers it, the mind will come to the realization that there’s concerns will have to be addressed upon return.  This is more likely to happen to closer one gets to the end of their vacation.  Luckily for me, this was just a brief moment in a week that otherwise felt amazing!

Day 7: Sometimes it can be a real challenge to enjoy the last day of a trip.  Everything I am doing, I have been enjoying all week, and know it is the last time.  We all know it’s best not to think about this, but, it is inevitable. It ended up being the perfect day for a side excursion.

El Dorado Royale offers a lot of side excursions, for an extra charge. These include activities as simple as jet skiing to the more involved (and more expensive) voyage to the Mayan Ruins.  This is what is not part of the all-inclusive aspect of the resort.  It doesn’t cost any extra money to play volleyball, go to the batting cages, or take part in one of the many other activities, but it does cost for excursions like deep sea fishing, or swimming with the dolphins.

It’s possible to have a great week without doing any of these extra cash, but we finally decided to go parasailing, on the last day, which is one of the quickest excursions available.  With this excursion, we kind of got a two-for-one, as it both started and ended with a short ride on a jet ski to get to the boat.

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The activity ended up being one of my favorite parts of the whole trip.  It is surprisingly easy.  Some would see how high in the air para sailors gets done be intimidated by the activity.  I honestly expected to have to use a bit more energy holding on to the rope that attaches me to the sail.  But, it is actually quite safe, and is possible to let go of the ropes and just enjoy the ride.  It was a particularly spectacular view of the coast from several hundred feet in the air.

Due to the sunburn and travel, my body is exhausted.  My mind is neither exhausted nor refreshed.  But, my spirit is refreshed in a way it has not felt in quite some time.  The question now is, how to bring that spirit with me back home and keep it as long as I can.

Celebrating Our Accomplishments

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Life is full of events, both events in which we have control over and events which we do not.  This is true for everybody, from the most successful and confident people to the most disillusioned.  It’s also true that all people will experience both positive and negative events.

There are a lot of cheesy sayings out there that get to the same general point.  The one that sticks out in my mind is…

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Every time I’ve ever read this statement, I imagine the author primarily referring to those “negative” events- the kind of events that can cause anxiety, and, when not properly handled, have long lasting negative consequences, including a reduction in confidence and self-worth.

However, I feel as if this statement can apply both ways.  The same way the impact negative events can have on our lives can be minimized through the proper response, the positive impact of certain events can be truly realized, both with regards to life circumstance as well as confidence and self-worth, with the right response to a good event.

That is why it is important to celebrate accomplishments whether major or minor.  When celebrated properly, a person’s accomplishments can reinforce positive perceptions they have about themselves- without doing so at the expense of others, the way so many mistakenly do.

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I wanted to reach the 2,000-mile mark, celebrating the biggest cycling year of my life, at a location that is iconic as well as meaningful.  I might have selected a place right in the middle of the Central Rocky Mountains, had it not been for the basic fact that it is November.  While the weather has been warm, to the point that it doesn’t feel like summer actually ended, the month of November still comes with constraints.  70 degree temperatures will not change the fact that by 5:00 it will be getting dark.  And, in the mountains, there is more risk for trouble, in the form of precipitation, wind, and chilly mornings.

Luckily, there was a reasonable place to host this event; Davidson Mesa, a moderate sized hill, that sits about 600 feet above town, roughly six miles East of Boulder.

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The view of the Flatiorns to the West on a clear day is magnificent enough to warrant the Colorado Department of Transportation putting in a scenic overlook, which is particularly popular among tourists to the area driving from Denver to Boulder.

As is the case at the top of Vail Pass, the rest area is shared between motor vehicles and bicycles, as there is now a bike trail that follows highway 36 between Denver and Boulder.  As a regular visitor to Boulder, I have ridden on this trail about a dozen and a half times over the course of 2016.  So, it felt both scenic and meaningful to celebrate reaching this mile marker at the most scenic location along the trail between Denver and Boulder.

What makes events like this truly special is sharing them with others.  For me, this meant even sharing the event with someone who had a more significant accomplishment, mileage-wise, than I did.  In fact, I know that there are a lot of cycling enthusiasts who ride far more miles than I do, some even topping out at over 10,000 miles in one year!

2016 was a memorable cycling year for me, and the fact that I hit this milestone, 2,000 miles is only a small part of it.  When I look back upon the year, that is now almost over, and think of the cycling I have done, it is about way more than numbers.  It is pedaling around Niagara Falls

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The Adirondacks

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Over the mountain passes of New Hampshire

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And reaching the ocean, after six days, to have a fresh lobster.

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It is treks to places like Cheyenne and Castle Rock.

It is countless rides long the Platte River, Cherry Creek, and Route 36 bike trails.  It is even commuting for work.  This celebration for me, was about all those experiences way more than it was about reaching a milestone.  In a way, I was celebrating a year’s worth of positive and healthy experiences on my bicycle.

And I got to share the event with others, some of whom joined me for the 25-mile ride from downtown Denver, and some of whom joined me along the way.

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I even shared the event with a friend who was celebrating a more significant accomplishment than mine, 3,000 miles.  The true way to celebrate our accomplishments, both big and small is to do so in a way that does not take away from the accomplishments of others.  Knowing there are people out there who accomplish more, ride 3,000, 5,000, even 10,000 miles, and have gone to more destinations, some even riding across countries or continents, does not take away from what I have done.

I know I am not a super hero, or someone saving the world because I do some interesting bike rides that add up to 2,000 miles a year.  And, I know my life will have some more significant accomplishments.  But, I also know how to properly harness an event like that.  And, it is certainly not by using it as a means in which to compare myself favorably with some people for an artificial self-esteem boost.  Nor is it by dwelling on how much more others have done.  It’s by simply being joyous, celebrating, being happy for others, but most importantly, allowing myself to be happy for myself.

Pure Instinct

Day-to-day life over the past month or so had left me kind of burnt out.  I was inexplicably feeling exhausted.  I was not at my best- which I truly hate.  I’d realized weeks ago I would eventually need a day to disconnect.  We all need that every once in a while.  I figured out that I would not want to hear everybody’s recap of the election (regardless of the result), and Wednesday’s weather was forecasted to be unseasonably warm.

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So, I took Wednesday off, got in my car and just started to drive.  I had no plan, no idea as to where I would be headed when I left.  I purposely refrained from making a plan.  I didn’t look into options, or pre-meditate in any sort of way.  I wanted to try something different than what we all typically do when we travel.  I wanted to lean simply on my instinct, and just let it determine where I should go as I go.  Everywhere I went, every decision I made regarding when and where to turn, I made on the fly, just based on what felt right.

I went west out of Denver, following highway 6 through Golden, than 93 north, and 72 west towards Nederland.  I continuously resisted the urge to pull out my map book, or my phone, or turn to any other source of information to achieve a welcome break from one of the things that may be exhausting all of us in the mid-2010s.  This is the process of gathering information.  In this era, often gather way too much of it, agonizing over it, to the point where we delay actually making the decision, sometimes far too long!

Along the way, I experienced this strange hyper-emotional calm.  I began to tear up.  I was breathing heavy.  But, it felt really good.  It felt as if for the past couple of months, emotions were one by one filling up inside my head, bouncing around like molecules until they gradually started to reach a critical mass, where there was no longer room for them to move around.  They had just become jammed .  And, now, with whatever barrier that was keeping them inside removed, I was suddenly free to just let them out, and let them all out at once.

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As I continued along this windy path, this strange hyper-emotional calm became accompanied by a feeling of optimism.  I felt like I knew I was in the right place, doing the right things, and making progress toward where I wanted to be.  I’d freed myself from all the data, all the second guessing that gradually erodes away at our confidence.  I knew that, both that day, and in life, I was moving in the right direction even when I didn’t see the destination.

For a while, I had no idea as to why I was experiencing burnout.  The term typically conjures up images of someone working long hours into the night, neglecting their friends, their families, and other areas of their lives.  Burnout is people working 70+ hour  weeks, which I most certainly had not been for the duration of 2016.  So, why was I burned out?  Why did I feel drained so often?

Having searched for answers regarding this, through reading, conversation, and observing people, I came to a series of important realizations about burnout, which run contrary to the image of long nights with pots of coffee.

It’s not the amount of work that burns us out.

Workload can contribute, but more important is how we feel while we are doing our work.

The primary source of burnout is feeling as if we are being phony, or fake.

Pretending to be someone else, for whatever reason we do it, is exhausting.  It is not sustainable.  The only way to be is our true selves.  That is what our instincts tell us to do.

Negative energy in all forms leads to burnout.

One of the nastiest forms is fear, trying to prevent some sort of bad outcome such as loss of job or status.  When we act out of fear, or anger, hate, etc., everything we do is significantly more draining.

One of the most exhausting things we do is try to prove ourselves.

I’ve seen plenty of instances where someone is working long hours, but is not burned out because they are doing what they love and they feel confident while doing it.

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My instinct even took me down a random dirt road, something I otherwise never would have done if it were not my previously specified destination.

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I ended up at a place called Rainbow Lakes, part of the Indian Peak Wilderness.

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I hiked roughly 2.5 miles, getting to the treeline, which was surprisingly nearly snow free!  This is definitely not encouraging for fans of winter sports.

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As, well, as can often be the case in our lives as a whole, the change of season that winter sports fans are waiting for is simply not happening yet.  This hike, on Wednesday Nov. 9th, felt shockingly similar to the way it would have felt in the middle of the summer.

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Just over the ridge, I got myself to a place that was extremely inspiring.  Unfortunately, I did not get a photo, as, well, my phone died.  It was a sign that what I needed to do was disconnect, and, once again, connect to my own thoughts.  Just for good measure, though, here’s a pic I found of the exact place where I sat.

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I actually stared at that one little gap in the rock straight ahead.

Our subconscious thoughts do take into account recent information, even as our conscious minds look for more info and don’t know what to make of it.  My subconscious mind, my instinct, though, processed all of this; the election, interactions with people, my own feelings, and summed it up neatly in one sentence, a sentence that simply popped into my head…

The age of deference is over

Make what you want of that.

I also came to another revelation regarding a matter that is more specific to my life.  I had been thinking a lot about the concept of acceptance.  It is why we are always trying to prove ourselves, and often exhausting ourselves.  Afternoon exhaustion, dissatisfaction, lack of inspiration, all of these concepts are inter-related.

We want to be accepted, and can only be accepted as who we are.

But, for each person individually, myself included…

If we want to be accepted as who we genuinely are, we must do so for others as well.

We’re all looking for acceptance, but if we make it easier on each other, as well as ourselves, we might all have a bit more energy leftover for other things.

The previous night’s election, regardless of how any of us feel about it, is yet another example where sometimes more information, more data, is not better.  The best models, based on every piece of data available, made predictions that were quite flawed.  My instinct, many months back, came to a more accurate conclusion about what was to occur.

In an era where we have access to unlimited information, and are often bombarded by it, sometimes we need to realize that less is more.  I, for sure, will, going forth, make a better effort to rely less on data and more on instinct.  After all, it brought me to Rainbow Lakes, without even so much as looking at my atlas, or my Google Maps App.

 

Backpacking in the Weminuche Wilderness: Day 3

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The Weminuche Wildreness appeared to be particularly devastated by the recent Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic.  While a portion of the second day was spent above the tree line and in storms for much of the journey, we wound our way in and out of the forest, alternating between hiking through the forest itself, and hiking across an open meadow where we could gaze upon the forest to both our left and our right.

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Throughout the State of Colorado, and throughout the West, I observe areas where the Pine Beetles have decimated the forest, changing the ecosystem forever.  Nowhere, though, have I seen a higher concentration of dead trees.  I would estimate that, over the course of the trip, some 70-75% of all the pine trees I saw, were, in fact, dead.

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But I did notice some signs of life, particularly at the campground Sunday (Day 3) morning.  Tucked away amongst the densely pack forests of decimated trees, little signs of life seemed to appear.  It reminded me of many American cities, circa 1982, decay being the overarching theme but, signs of life and pockets of hope beginning to appear here and there for those willing to observe.  Maybe indeed, the worst has now passed for this particular forest.  As was the case for many of our cities, it is possible that in a decade or so, we will revisit areas like this, and see once again a thriving forest, albeit, as was the case with our cities, with a different character?

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As is typically the case on a three day excursion like this one, the last day was primarily a descent.  As we descended, we quickly reached elevations where Aspens, rather than Pine trees made up a significant proportion of the forest.

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Maybe it is different at this latitude, farther South than the Denver area, where I live and spend most of my time.  But, it feels as if in this wilderness, Aspen trees are able to grow at some pretty high elevations.

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We figured out the tree line here to be somewhere close to 12,000 feet in elevation.  When looking upon sections of forest from afar like this, it is easy to picture some of these Aspen trees living at elevations close to 11,00 feet.  Over the course of my four years in the Denver area, I had grown accustomed to them disappearing between 9,000 and 10,000 feet.

Sunday’s hike was a 7.3 mile trek along the Ute Creek trail (the East Ute Creek trail we had followed the previous day merged with the main Ute Creek trail).  The trail alternated a bit, climbing up and out of the valley formed by the creek for some sections, and descending back toward the creek for others.  Due to the previous night’s onslaught of rain, which likely impacted the entire valley, the trails on this, the final day, were at times even muddier than the were the prior two days.  At the end of three days, our total distance came out around 25 miles.  I speculated as to whether the extra distance we traveled stepping around puddles, and veering left and right to avoid some of the muddiest sections of trail, over the course of three days made this a mile or so longer than it would have been had the trails been completely dry.

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I personally added some distance on top of that.  I love side excursions, whether hiking/backpacking, cycling, or on a road trip.  And, in addition to the side excursion to the feature known as “the window” the previous day, I took one completely on my own the final day.  Roughly halfway through the hike, I saw a place where I could cut down to the creek, and see a mini-waterfall.

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The final part of the day consisted of a small climb out of the Ute Creek valley, followed by a descent back towards the Rio Grande Reserviour.

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It is inevitable that, on the last day of any trip, we all begin to ponder our return home, and a return to our “normal lives”, whatever they may be.  This return, though, is somewhat unique, as a trip into the woods is not just a journey away from our jobs, or certain responsibilities, it feels more like a complete separation from the modern world, or as some people refer to it, the “real world”.  All of us were separated, not just from work, but from TV, from the news, from Twitter, and even the manner in which society is structured in the 21st Century.

Since my return to Denver was a return to, after being completely separated from, the “real world”, I started to contemplate the “real world” as one big entity, which, even for a big-picture abstract curious minded thinker like me, turned out to be strange.  I feel like we often compartmentalize the “real world” into buckets; the working world, the relationship world, the school world, etc.  We will write blogs, have conversations, confide in others about our hardships, or celebrate our successes, with respect to one specific bucket of the “real world” at a time.  Some people will even chose to accept or rebel against the modern world on a bucket-by-bucket basis.  “I’m a freelancer, happily married with two kids and a picket fences house.”  “I work 9-to-5 for a large corporation, but I only eat organically certified food.”

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with any of the partially-rebellious lifestyles I am describing here.  We often try to oversimplify the actions and lifestyles of others as being either “conformist” or “rebellious”.  When I thought about life in the woods, and the few people that actually do it, live off the grid, and off the land, I think of those people as “rebellious”.  But, then I thought of human beings as part of the animal kingdom, and thought about what all non-domesticated animals do.  They live in the woods.  They hunt their food, many wandering around nomadically.  When thought of in that manner, it is us human beings, and our domesticated cats and dogs, that are rebelling against the way the rest of the animal kingdom works by farming our food and setting up permanent shelters.

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At the conclusion of our journey, we had to actually wade across the Rio Grand River to get to the car, as the trail ended abruptly at the river.  This likely explained why we did not see any other people the entire time we were on the East Ute Creek and Ute Creek trails yesterday and today.

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Shortly after leaving the trailhead, I saw what looked like baby mule deer living along the steepest part of the hill.

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Like the journey to the Wilderness, the journey home took us by some of Colorado’s highest peaks and most stunning mountainous features.  I thought of the “real world” I was gradually re-entering, the life I live and the journey I just took.  It is not important whether we are “conforming” or “rebelling”, because, like life in the woods, it can be thought of as conformist or rebellious depending on perspective.

Those of us that are honest with ourselves, and with those around us, will undoubtedly find ourselves in both situations.  We’ll find ourselves in a place where our choices are the same as those around us, and be suseptable to being labelled “conformists”.  We’ll also, at some point, find ourselves in a place where our choices are not those of the majority, and be met with skepticism, hostility, and possibly even pressure to change.  What matters most, is not fitting into an image we may have of ourselves, whether it be the upstanding citizen, rebel, outcast, or whatever, it is that we have the courage to be all things, depending on our setting, in order to be true to ourselves.

Taking it to Another Level

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I must be insane!  The same thoughts have kept popping up into my head about my upcoming trip ever since I planned it roughly six weeks ago.  I am so conflicted.  On one hand, what I am doing is significantly outside the realm of what “normal people do”.  On the other hand, compared to most long-distance cyclists, my plan is actually rather tame.

My upcoming trip involves cycling (or attempting to, we’ll see how it goes) 600 miles over the course of six days, starting at Niagara Falls, New York, and ending on the East Coast at Portland, Maine.  I am actually joining my friend Clay for half of his 1250 mile journey, which he started in Chicago.  So, while I am taking this cycling thing to a whole new level, I can’t help but think about the fact that there are plenty who do trips that are way more elaborate than mine.

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This map represents an approximation of the route that I will be taking.  There are a few things that are still up in the air, and we may improvise a bit.  But we are certainly planning to head northeast through the Adirondack Mountains as opposed to taking the most direct route through Saratoga Springs.  It will add a few miles to the trip, but we will get to see places like Old Forge, Saranac Lake, and Lake Placid.

Last year, I joined my friend for one of his journeys, but chose a much shorter segment, from Bozeman, MT to Jackson, WY.  This 230 mile bike ride took me through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, and at this point is still the longest and most exhausting bike ride I have ever done.

This year, I took on a much longer ride for reasons that are somewhat personal.  I grew up on Long Island, just outside of New York City.  However, I moved away when I was only eleven years old.  Still, at face value, it always seems odd to people when they hear that I am from New York and have never been to Niagra Falls, as well as countless other places in the region.  In fact, there are nine states I have never been to, and Vermont is one of them.  In about a week’s time, my number of remaining states to visit will be down to eight!

I can’t fault myself for having not been to these places.  After all, it takes many people until nearly the age of eleven to start developing an individual identity, and for many it takes even longer to develop an appreciation for travel to places of natural beauty.  I remember taking the ferry from Orient Point on Long Island to New London, Connecticut several times as a child.  While I remember the smell of the salt water, I do not remember appreciating the scenic coastal town in front of me.

After months of what still doesn’t feel like enough training, I am ready to take on the longest bike ride of my life, and see many of the places I “should have” seen as a “New Yorker”.

I feel anxious.  Will I make it?  Did I train enough?  Will it rain?  Will it get windy?  Will some other hazard emerge?  Or, will the lower elevation and relatively easier terrain (for the first half of the ride along the Erie Canal) make it feel easier than my normal cycling around Colorado’s Front Range?

Whenever I plan to do something major like this, there is also always this tug of war that goes on inside my head.  Maybe this is normal.  I don’t know.  On the surface, I understand what it means to go outside of one’s comfort zone, and do something unique.  There is a greater risk and a greater reward than sticking to activities that are easy and familiar.

Sometimes, particularly when doing something major, a part of me gets this nagging feeling of guilt inside my head, like I am skipping out on some kind of responsibility.  It’s strange, and I don’t know why it occurs.  In a way, it bums me out that this feeling occurs at all.  I know that life was meant to be lived, and the world was meant to be explored.  Yet,  in the back of my mind this feeling just occurs, making me feel like I should be doing something boring, like work, or house cleaning.

I wonder if others get that feeling too.  I wonder if we’ve been conditioned in some way to feel guilty about taking extended periods of time to do something for ourselves.  I’m glad I’ve learned to work through this feeling, preventing it from costing me countless opportunities over the years.  Still it would be nice to silence it altogether.

Sometimes we need to push ourselves, or be pushed, to truly figure out who we are.  Perhaps this requires the right level of insanity.  Last weekend, I attended two weddings, one in Breckenridge, CO, and one in Chicago, IL.  They were on back-to-back days.  This is, in some ways insane.  Yet, I did not do anything out of control, that could land me in jail or on a hospital bed.  Perhaps I have already found this proper level of insane!

Ideas I Am Not Giving Up On

Ideas are powerful!  They can outlive the people, and even the places and things originally associated with them.  Rome was all but destroyed in the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries.  The people that created Rome, and the representative republic which governed Rome for the first five centuries were long gone.  Yet, these ideas made a resurgence in the 18th Century, when the founders of a new country called the United States of America created a representative republic in a new land far away.  The writings of ancient Roman authors, from those that formed the Republic after overthrowing a King of their own, to those that later tried to defend the Republican form of government from power hungry politicians, are said to have provided inspiration for the country’s founders.

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For all intensive purposes, Rome was a place that no longer existed.  Yet, ideas that originated from this place had found their way to a land that Romans had no idea even existed, at a time over two thousand years later!  Over the next Century, these ideas would proliferate, inspiring additional revolutions all over the world, and even counter-revolutions.  Roughly a century later, that idea would actually find its way back to the very place it originated, when Rome, now part of a nation called Italy, would adapt a roughly similar form of Government.

It is for this reason people are often more threatened by ideas than they are by specific people.  Today, when those of us look at someone like Osama Bin Laden, or any specific leader of ISIS, what we are looking at, and what we are threatened by goes way beyond a specific individual.  Even Bin Laden, long the subject of ire for many, needed the aid or cooperation of many other individuals to successfully carry out the attacks he carried out.  Simply put, for many of us in the United States, he became the face of an idea, and one that we largely found repulsive.

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We all have ideas.  Even those of us that do not consider ourselves creative, or inventive people, have ideas.  It doesn’t have to be world changing like the invention of the computer.  Maybe it is something as simple as the idea that it would be nice to have a train line or an additional road built to alleviate traffic.  Or maybe it is the idea that animals should not be mistreated by their owners.  Either way, as long as one understands the idea, why they feel the way they do about it, and has enthusiasm for it, the idea is worth pursuing and standing up for.

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I have a ton of ideas, and many do relate to how I feel the world should work.  Lately I have been hearing all the time that some people see the world as it, while others see the world as it could be.  I would consider myself firmly in the later group.  I commonly see some aspects of our society, and how it works, and think to myself (and sometimes say it to people around me) “we can do better”.  After discussion, I will often hear from others what has come to be my least favorite sentence of all time: “It is what it is”.  This is because, in many cases, I really see no reason it has to be that way.  Some people see this as the mark of someone who refuses to mature beyond a state of artificially prolonged adolescence.  However, I see it as refusing to give up on me, and what makes me unique.

I see an entire generation of people pursuing college education, and, more and more, post-graduate degrees, in interesting intellectually stimulating subjects just to join the workforce and be asked to perform menial, repetitive job duties and have their ideas rejected due to their low standing on the corporate totem poll.  We can do better to nurture and develop these promising young minds.

I see people not being true to themselves, in their actions, their behaviors, and attitudes.  We encourage one another to conform, to act like everyone else, and to live life according to a script written by and for a culture that no longer exists because many fear change and the potential loss of status associated with it.  But each person’s individual and unique way of doing things is part of what makes this world an interesting place.  We can be better about encouraging people to be true to themselves, and not being threatened by their unique way of life.

I see countless missed opportunities in the lives of countless people based on adherence to rigid rules and policies that do not make sense.  This is where fear takes it’s greatest toll on society.  Many take comfort in rules and structure.  However, why should someone who has completed their work, and has no other obligations (meetings and such) be sitting in their cubicle at 2:30 on a warm, sunny afternoon?  And, why should one person making a mistake with something lead to a law or ordinance preventing everyone from taking part in this activity?  We can stop taking comfort in rules, and start taking advantage of all the beautiful opportunities this world provides us.

And, I see people who have failed to make deep and meaningful connections with other human beings.  Many go through their lives feeling like they do not have the support system needed to get through the rough patches of their lives.  This is because we live in a society that does not place a high value on building social capital.  Many of us spend our days in work and social settings where we do not feel comfortable expressing our emotions and showing one another who we really are.  You cannot develop a meaningful friendship with someone that does not even know who you really are.  As is the case with the other ideas listed, we can do better on this one as well.

Periodically, I am pressured to give up on these ideas.  I admit nobody has ever specifically told me something like “don’t be who you are”.  But, I definitely feel it.  “You need to act more professionally”.  “Fireball: What are you?  Still 22.”  “Grow up, be a man.”  “You can’t just….”  These types of statements, and many more, come based on the idea that there are certain expectations of me that I do not believe need to exist.

There are even some that have given me sincere advice that I need to stop worrying about these overly philosophical issues.  After all, there are actual reasons for all of the things that frustrate me, and those that defend the current way we do things in this world probably have some valid points.  But, while sometimes I do experience frustration and rejection by acting the way I do, the alternative sounds way more depressing to me in the long run.  The alternative, to me, is giving up on who I am.

I would rather encourage people to pursue their intellectual ideas, even if occasionally their bosses come down on me.

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I would rather continue to show people who I really am, and continue to enjoy the activities that bring me happiness, even if I am periodically given negative feedback by judgmental people.

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I would rather take advantage of all of the great things this world has to offer, all of the wonderful places to visit, interesting ideas to pursue, and experiences to enjoy, even if that periodically earns me “reprimand”.

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And, I would rather occasionally get burned by someone who uses information about me for their own selfish ambitions than cease showing people who I truly am.

Essentially, I would rather get rejected as myself than be accepted by pretending to be somebody else.

We are all people of value, in our own unique way.  And, for any one of us, if we go out there in this world, and find a way to be the best version of ourselves, but still ourselves, we will naturally find people who like it, and people who see us as valuable individuals.  We all long for acceptance, but in order to be accepted in a true meaningful way, we need to overcome the fear of rejection, and stand up for our ideas.