Category Archives: social

Exactly What Was Expected

Sometimes in life, for better or for worse, things go exactly as expected.

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An average November produces only six clear days in Chicago, compared to 18 cloudy ones. December is even cloudier, averaging 20 cloudy days.

The weather I experienced, visiting Chicago over Thanksgiving and into early December was exactly what one should expect. With the exception of a few hours on one day, it was cloudy. There were stretches where it even got foggy.

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A couple of days, it rained. Temperatures where in the 30s (-1 to +4°C) pretty much the entire time.

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It could have been worse. Chicago is prone to cold air outbreaks, and while late November into early December is not the heart of winter, it is still possible for temperatures to drop down close to 0°F (-17°C).

Thanksgiving is not about pleasant weather, being outdoors or any specific activities. It’s not even really about the food or drink. It’s about gratitude. It’s also about spending time with friends and family.

The Thanksgiving feeling is that conversation, usually around the table, where everyone feels safe, supported and not judged. Everywhere we go in life, we feel the need to prove something. We are always trying to prove to our bosses that we are worthy of pay raises and promotions. We are often trying to prove to those in our social scenes that we are worth inviting to parties and events. With social media and smartphones, much of our lives have become trying to prove to people that we are interesting enough to warrant their attention. Thanksgiving, when done right, is a reprieve from all that!

Holidays are not without their struggle. Flights to visit family are often expensive and we are often forced to make tough decisions regarding visiting family at Thanksgiving, Christmas or for some other holiday. This year’s trip turned out really well, as my time in Chicago started on Thanksgiving, November 28th and extended about a week. I got to experience both holidays, as we had Thanksgiving dinner, but also were able to set up the Christmas tree, start singing Christmas songs and watching Christmas movies.

For many other reasons, the entire trip to Chicago ended up pretty closely aligned with expectations.

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When trips to visit friends and family fall in line with expectations, it is almost always a good thing. However, in other areas of life, sometimes what we expect is not what we actually want. This is technically true of work right now. Well more than half of U.S. workers are not happy with how their jobs turn out. As of the end of the 2010s, going into any job, one would have to unfortunately bet on a poor experience.

In every area of life, from personal relationships, social endeavors, politics, to just going to the supermarket, an experience can be typical or it could be abnormal. How anyone feels after a “typical experience” depends on three factors.

1. Personality

Specifically, this often relates to how open we are and how optimistic we are. Optimists tend to have high expectations. This is generally a good thing, but can be frustrating when some anticipated better than normal experience does not come to pass. People who are more resistant to change would likely be more satisfied having an experience that falls in line with what is typically expected.

2. How one feels about the current state

This one is easy to reconcile. If someone likes where they are in life, and feels things are moving in the right direction, then they will be happy with a typical life experience. However, when someone feels like something in their lives or what they are observing around them needs a change in direction, a “typical” experience can actually lead to some level of depression.

3. Recent events in our own lives

Both ancient and recent philosophical writings have described the need for some kind of balance between the predictable and the chaotic. Too much of the former can lead to stagnation and that nagging feeling as if something is missing. Too much of the latter can lead to that feeling that everything is out of control and nothing can be counted on. Experiencing exactly what one expects falls into the category or order or the predictable. For someone whose life has felt out of control, an experience that follows the order of things can feel refreshing. For someone who feels antsy and stagnant after seven identical weeks following a constant routine, another typical experience could just add to the frustration.

 

Gratitude and Atonement

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I suck at gratitude. Forever thinking about the future and how to correct wrongs, both in my life specifically and with society as a whole, I often neglect to be grateful for what I do have.

The problem is not isolated to myself, or any specific subset of society. I can think of several people in my life that are great at showing gratitude. They make people feel good about themselves by giving compliments, and sounding grateful for anything anyone does for them. More importantly, they sound grateful to people just for being who they are and being in their lives. They are the ones that will occasionally just thank me for the way my mind works after I make some kind of comment.

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This is the exception rather than the rule. I have encountered far more people who are fixated on what they don’t have or what’s wrong. If I had to express my behavior with respect to being thankful vs. resentful, I would put myself somewhere in the middle of the curve. That is, however, not good enough. A lot of people recognize this as a problem. It’s now commonly recommend that people keep a gratitude journal in order to alter their focus.

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A decade is coming to an end. A decade full of ups and downs. A decade full of experiences. A decade full of joy and pain.

Throughout the decade, I can point to times when my behavior was positive, selfless and encouraging. I can also point to plenty of times when my behavior was erratic, self-destructive and not exactly fair to the people around me.

In the new decade, I am done with the tyranny of expectations, the fear of letting people down and the need for approval from others; especially authority figures. However, there are people in my life who genuinely helped me, were there for me during some rough times, encouraged me, and enriched my life just by being a part of it.

This Thanksgiving, it is time to

  1. Show people that I am grateful for them being in my life
  2. Tell them why I am grateful for them, and tell them that I care
  3. Show remorse for those who I have treated unfairly or taken for granted
  4. Truly let go of some things I am still holding onto

What I did can be thought of as trying to cram multiple years worth of gratitude into a single month.

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I decided to write notes to people who impacted my life in a significant way over the course of the decade. I’m sure I still left some people out. It was a list I agonized over. In the end, I wrote about 85 letters.

I spent two weeks writing what I should have been telling the people around me all decade. The notes mention specific qualities about people I enjoy. They express gratitude for shared experiences. They described the positive impacts certain people have had on my life. They express remorse for the situations I did not handle well.

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Writing the letters was quite emotional. In some cases, it felt like reliving the ups and the downs, the moments I am proud of and the ones that make me cringe. Overall, writing these notes made me feel better.

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Bringing these notes to the Post Office turned out to be even more emotional than writing them. There was something amazing about the act of dropping all these letters into the mail slot. At that specific moment, a giant weight lifted from me. I had finally done the right thing. The past could be put behind me. This season of reflection, gratitude and atonement makes me ready for life’s next chapter.

I’m not sure how anyone is going to respond to these Thanksgiving notes. Some people, especially those I have not talked to the last few years, may even be a bit bewildered.

While I am sure I will hear from some people when these notes are received in the mail, I am not anticipating anything specific. That’s not the point. I wasn’t doing this to have anyone tell me how great it is that I am finally showing some gratitude or hear from people who have not been in my life for years. The point was to tell people they matter. Assuming nothing goes terribly wrong at the Post Office, that mission is accomplished.

In Between Seasons

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The first few days of November in Colorado’s high terrain is the quintessential example of an in-between season. The first few storms of the year have removed all the colorful leaves from the trees. All of the “leaf peepers” have gone home. Snow covers the ground, but not in a manner that is deep and consistent enough to enable many of the activities associated with the winter season. Some of the ski resorts have opened, but likely have only one or two lifts operating.

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Almost everything, from the sounds of nature to the volume of traffic along the highways, is much quieter than usual.

It is a familiar place for most, and not just with respect to seasons and outdoor activities. It is present in all cycles of life. No matter how hard some may try to remain consistently occupied, there will always be that time period, when one activity is done and the next has yet to begin.

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This has become even more prevalent in the 21st Century. The world is changing faster. Gone are the days of having one job or one main activity for nearly the entire duration of adulthood. Nearly all people must periodically learn new tools and expand their knowledge base on a regular basis. The average job tenure is now 4.2 years, and it is now common for people to switch to a completely different line of work from time to time.

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Olympic Gold medalist Lindsay Vonn discussing her new line of makeup at Denver Startup Week 2019

It’s long past time people stop asking those they meet for the first time “What do you do?”  This question needs to be replaced with something more appropriate for the current reality, such as “What are you up to?” One’s tenure at a specific job, like raising a child starting a bueiness or renovating a home is a project with a finite beginning and ending.

Early November in the mountains is that time period between one ending and the next beginning. What to do?

This in-between time represents an opportunity that the manager of six groups raising two children caring for an elderly family member and building a new garage does not have. For someone accustomed to being constantly on the move, this in-between time can be confusing and even disorienting. Whether expected, like the time between fall and winter, or unexpected, like a project cancellation, in-between seasons are a great time for what often gets neglected in typical daily life.

The most important things to do during in-between seasons are…

Rest

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While it is certainly possible to rest too much, periodic rest is important to meet all of our physical and spiritual needs. Much has been written recently about the importance of getting good sleep. This is something few people prioritize.

Learn

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Learning is commonly a part of everyday life. However, learning is typically dictated by demands related to jobs or other responsibilities. During this quieter time, there is the freedom to learn anything that actually pokes one’s curiosity. Many, including Google, understand the value of self-directed pursuits.

Improve

“Be better than you were yesterday” is a common mantra. Many people, especially those that are the most successful, are constantly working on themselves. The time between the ending of one activity and the beginning of another can be a unique opportunity to give some form of self-improvement the focus it needs to guarantee it come to fruition.

Work on Relationships

It is hard to imagine something more neglected by modern society than the need for human connection. Some believe that this neglect is behind most mental health problems. Relationships of all kinds need attention in order to thrive. Breakups and explosive fights between best friends and family members garner a lot of attention. However, people lose far more relationships due to neglect, when both parties cease making an effort.

Re-evaluate

Perhaps most importably, a life that is constantly busy provides little opportunity for re-evaluation of things like time use, spending habits and priorities. During times like these, more people have the ability to clear their heads of things like daily task lists and ask themselves what really matters. This will inform things like which relationships are the most important ones to working on, what to learn, what improvements to make and what the next beginning should be.

It won’t be long before the next season is underway.

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The odds of that next season being successful is improved when individuals improve, are well rested, and have the right priorities and relationships. While this can be done in many different settings, it is often done most effectively in places like these, where there are far fewer distractions.

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The Next Three Months

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It is hard to believe we have already reached this point. There are only three months left in this decade! Soon, it will legitimately be the “20s”. Although there is a reasonable argument to be made that there is nothing special about milestones somewhat artificially created by our calendar, there are seasons and cycles to life. This one happens to correspond with a need to reflect. At least that is how I feel about my own life as well as our culture as a whole.

My Personal Story

Saying my life has undergone some major changes over the past decade would be a rather generic statement. It’s ten years! Of course life has changed. The idea that someone is living the same life they were living at the start of 2010 indicates a level of stagnation that would make my head spin!

Some aspects of my life were quite different at the start of the decade. I was living in Chicago working at my first “real job”. At the surface, I was living the life one would expect a 20-something in Chicago to be living.

I also, for the most part believed in the system and the institutions that we had put in place (mostly over the 20th Century). I was fortunate that the 2008 market crash had remarkably little impact on my life.

It wasn’t perfect, but I was riding high. A couple of years later, I would move to a a different part of the country. I suffered a series of disappointments, primarily related to jobs. It caused me investigate and take a more critical view of the current state of our culture.

I still love to goof off and have fun.

However, my attitude towards a lot of things have changed.

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I see our established institutions, such as work, education and social expectations as in desperate need of an update.

I started spending far more time traveling and seeking experiences, particularly in the outdoors, as well as attending the types of events that inspire people to buck the trend and seek out something more from life.

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The 2010s

I can’t help but feel like when I think of the culture of the 2010s, the first thing that will come to mind will be a bunch of people staring at their phones.

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Social media and smart phones were a major disruption to our communication and social patterns we have yet to fully process. Over the course of the decade, we continued to embrace these technologies while simultaneously worrying about the consequences. We observed some alarming trends such as increases in suicide rate, opioid overdoes and violence, and have wondered whether loneliness and depression related to social media and smart phone distraction have played a part.

Our political discourse certainly went downhill. Despite a few trends here and there I find promising, I all but completely lost interest.

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The 2010s have, in many ways, brought some level of awareness. The sad part, for some, was the revelation of truth around people formerly regarded as heroes, like Bill Cosby and Lance Armstrong. Of course, this does mean a lot more people will get treated more fairly in life.

Also, in parallel with my own personal journey, a lot more people have come to the realization that many of our institutions, from work to education and social structures, could be improved upon to create a better human experience. In arenas such as TED talks, people are discussing what that future could look like.

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The Middle of an Uneven Transition

At this moment in time it feels like both my life and our culture as a whole is in the middle of a transition, with a result yet to be determined. New enterprises are re-imagining systems such as education, healthcare and transportation. More minor adjustments like flexible hours and married people maintaining separate bank accounts are more common. In general, though, we are still trying to define this transition, what the future state will look like and how we get there.

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My life’s path is in a somewhat similar place. I’m trying to get my life in alignment with my personality, values and interests. I am only part of the way there, and have encountered resistance of my own.

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My Plan For the Next Three Months

The last 12 months of my life have been exhausting.

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With the 2020 milestone coming up, and a need to better define the direction my life needs to take, now is a good time to stop and focus on the following.

  • Slowing down
  • Processing ten years worth of events
  • Meditation and Mindfulness
  • Reconnecting with my true authentic self
  • Gratitude and atonement
  • Finding some direction
  • Personal development
  • Determining how to help bring about the changes our culture needs
  • Being there for those that matter

This unfortunately means less travel and activity. However, I am hoping it sets me up for an amazing new decade and even better adventures to come!

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The Highest Point in Colorado

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I hiked Mount Elbert last Friday for a few reasons…

I wanted to reach Colorado’s highest point.

Also, it has been a hot summer in the Denver area, with August’s daytime high temperatures running about 4ºF above average.

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At Denver International Airport, the average high temperature for the month of August (through the 23rd) was over 91ºF (33°C). Getting up in elevation, where temperatures would be far cooler sounded refreshing.

Despite the heat, I could feel summer’s end approaching, with sunset getting earlier and earlier.

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I was starting to feel as if I was allowing my Colorado summer to pass by without that many mountain adventures to show for it.

Finally, as recently as a six months ago, the idea of needing a day away from people would have seemed inconceivable to me. Things changed, and last week I was seriously feeling the desire to spend a day alone (well, with my dog). I guess it is true that even the most extreme introverts need human interaction and even the most extreme extroverts need some time alone.

So, I did the only logical thing. I left Denver at 3:45 A.M. so I could arrive at the Mount Elbert Trailhead at sunrise- in time to get the last parking spot in the lot.

It certainly was cooler. At the start of the day, the temperature had dropped into the mid 30s (≈2ºC).

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The Northeast Ridge is the most popular, and most easily navigable route up Mount Elbert. The first mile of this hike follows both the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide trail.

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This first half of this mile is fairly steep, with switchbacks, followed by a flat section.

One of the greatest things about starting a hike this early is being there the moment the sun first hits the top of the trees.

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I reached the tree line an hour into the hike.

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The Arkansas Valley and the town of Leadville gradually disappeared from behind the trail, as if I was on an airplane taking off.

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Due to the time of day, and sun exposure, it began to feel warmer. The trail also got even more intense.

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One of the reasons people hike 14ers is to get that feeling of being on top of the world! Because the Mount Elbert Trail is pretty steep right near the tree line, that feeling comes sooner on Mount Elbert than it does on other 14ers. I looked back only about 15 minutes after reaching the tree line, and already felt as if I was looking down on all else.

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The other common 14er experience that comes a bit earlier on Mount Elbert (compared to other 14ers) is the “scramble”. This is a really steep and rocky section where there is often not one specific route. On most 14ers, the “scramble” comes right at the top. However, on Mount Elbert it comes a bit earlier.

After a couple more miles of alternating steeper and flatter sections…

An intense “scramble” presents itself.

The top of the scramble, however, is not the summit.

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Exhausted from the scramble, the trail seems to drag on forever (although in reality it is about 30 minutes). It is the kind of hike that forces a lot of hikers to reach, deep inside themselves, and find the energy and stamina they did not think they had.

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I was able to summit right around 10 A.M., a safe time to summit given the thunderstorm threat is primarily in the afternoon.

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Shasta (pictured with me here) was far from the only dog to hike Mount Elbert that day. However, I was surprised to see a mountain bike at the top of the mountain.

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A hiker carried this bike up the mountain on his back, and then rode it down the East Ridge- WOW!

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The man who carried the mountain bike to the top of the mountain was far from the only person I talked to on this hike. I talked to dozens of people, many others with dogs and even one of the trail volunteers who was helping build an erosion preventing wall along the trail just above tree line. It was not nearly as solitary as I had thought.

I really didn’t mind. In fact, I enjoyed talking to all of the people I met on the trail and felt it made it a better experience. Maybe what I really needed was not a break from all people, just the ones I felt were being demanding.

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Downhill was also an adventure. The views are commonly different, as it is much closer to the middle of the day. Some places feel like they took on a somewhat different color.

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It also presented a challenge of its own, as parts of the trail were slippery.

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And, as was the case with the trip up the hill, it also felt like it dragged on longer than anticipated.

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While I had grown tired of all things “demanding”, this hike made me realize that some of the best experiences in life are the demanding ones. The ones that force you to give more than what you were prepared to give. The ones that force you to reach deep inside yourself, both physically and mentally, and find what you did not know you had in you.

There are different kinds of demanding experiences. Some build something in us, such as hikes like these, the basketball coach that wants their players to reach their full potential, or a great boss or mentor that knows going soft on someone with real talent will shortchange them.

Then there are other ones, that do nothing but feed someone else’s ego, or squeeze every last hour of work or bit of energy out of you to line pocketbooks. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference, especially when tired. I know there were sections of this hike where I was barely able to hold a thought. Somewhere deep inside, we all understand what is going on. All we need to do is trust our instincts and ask ourselves this simple question…

Am I Being Built or Harvested?

Be thankful for the experiences that build us, no matter how frustrating or exhausting they are. Run as fast as you can from those where we are being harvested.

Hogback Ridge Trail Before Work

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Things may change in the future, but living a balanced lifestyle in 2019 requires planning and creativity. We have a culture that is out of balance. Most jobs now involve sitting in front of a computer, sometimes for more than the standard 40 hours a week. Some of them involve spending nearly all of that time alone. Technology has increased the amount of time we spend alone outside of work, and our mainstream culture still places a relatively low value on social life and connecting with one another. This has taken its toll on our physical and mental health.

Many are starting to re-think our values and priorities, particularly those younger than me. However, our culture is not going to change overnight. To cope with our culture in its current state, I believe we must take every opportunity we can to participate in activities where we are not alone, indoors and seated. This includes rearranging schedules, additional thought and planning, and even doing things that make us uncomfortable and activities that don’t make logical sense. It is worth it.

Luckily for those that live in Colorado, it is easy to squeeze in a quick hike before or after work. During the hottest part of the year, a pre-work hike is very much preferable.

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High Temperatures Thursday July 18th

On Wednesday, July 17th, the official morning low temperature at Denver International Airport was 72ºF (22ºC). Later that day, the high would reach 97ºF (36ºC).

Finding a hike that would take roughly 90 minutes close to Boulder is not too much of a challenge. The Hogback Ridge Trail can be accessed from the Foothills Trailhead right off of highway 36 at the far north end of town.

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The 2.8 mile loop begins with a tunnel under the highway. The difficulty level of the hike is quite moderate most of the way.

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The first thing I noticed was an interesting perspective of the Flatirons to the South with the morning sun shining directly on them in the distance.

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The trail winds around a bit, offering several great places to overlook town.

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I have alway loved overlooking towns from above in places like this. Whenever I encounter a view like this one, I feel like I am backing up, getting out of the nitty gritty of day-to-day life and looking at humanity from a broader perspective. It feels clarifying to overlook the rhythm of life, especially at a time like this when many are on their morning commutes.

Getting to the top of the trail is somewhat of a mini-scramble, which is always fun.

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This trail is supposed to offer interesting views of the mountains to the West, but for some reason I was fixated on looking back into town, and to other nearby features.

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It’s almost like the focus of this hike was less about exploration and more about getting better balance and perspective on my day-to-day life, which involves looking East into town rather than West into the rugged mountains.

We would all benefit from spending a bit of time outdoors, moving and socializing in the middle of the week, regardless of our situations.

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Going for a hike in the morning in Boulder is relatively easy. The only way it could make anyone uncomfortable would be if either of us were worried about being a few minutes late into the office.

Two days later, I would take part in an activity that actually did cause discomfort and made no logical sense: Tube to Work Day.

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On this day, something like 1000 people all grabbed tubes and rode them on a 3/4 mile stretch of Boulder Creek. Many, like myself, neither live nor work along the creek. There were even people there who did not technically have a job taking part in the event. Riding in this tube required going quite a distance out of my way, getting rides to and from the creek and having a change of clothing with me. Seriously, there was nothing logical or convenient about any of this. It was pure absurdity!

My tube slid out from underneath me, causing me some physical pain. I hit a rock hard with my knee, which lead to a major bruise that disrupted my weekend. Six years from now, I will remember having taken part in Tube to Work Day. Those that didn’t will probably not remember the fact that they got to work on time for the 12th day in a row or didn’t unnecessarily lose sleep in the morning.

I feel it is inevitable that our culture will shift in a manner that places greater emphasis on sharing experiences with others and having time to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Until then, I plan to continue to find ways to rearrange my schedule, factoring weather patterns as well as other people’s schedules, to get as balanced of a life as I can.

Finally Forced to Slow Down

I couldn’t believe I had made such a dumb mistake. Shortly after entering Kakdu National Park, the vehicle we had rented suddenly started sputtering.

The car slowed down, and we had to pull to the side. We were stranded.

It didn’t take long for us to realize what had gone wrong. At the gas station we had stopped at right before entering the park, at the Mary River Roadhouse, we had accidentally put the wrong fuel in the car- diesl.

When visiting another country, it is important to learn some things about how that country works, especially when it comes to getting around. Besides the most obvious difference, that Australians dive on the left side of the road, there are differences in fuel, with disel being far more prevalent here than it is in the United States. Most gas stations here have all options presented at the pump like this.

There was no excuse for the mess up at the Mary River Roadhouse. The pump I used to gas up the vehicle was labeled quite obviously.

And the nozzle did not even fit properly into the gas canaster. Yet, I continued.

It’s not the kind of mistake I typically make. In fact, I often pride myself as to having never made other similar mistakes, like locking my keys in my car. This one just happened, costing us hours as we had to arrange a tow to get the car’s gas tank drained and re-filled with the proper fuel.

In this situation, the easiest thing to do is have a break down. After all, tons of activities await us in Australia’s largest National Park. And, we have limited time here.

Yet, there was noting to do but wait for roadside assistance. Lamenting over the mistake would not get the car repaired any faster and becoming anxious about what activities were being missed could not make the ones we do end up being able to do any better.

After a deep breath, I ended up spending most of the several hours having some fairly in-depth conversations with people, both people who had come with me to the park, as well as strangers that helped us out by giving us a ride to our hotel room.

All while just taking in the scenery that was in front of me.

We talked about life, we talked about travel, how we handle our personal relationships, and what we had learned from our experiences. Some of it was quite deep and personal. I came away feeling more connected to the travel companions I came to the park with, and with a new connection to a nice Australian couple who had just retired and were now able to travel all around the country in a nice camper.

Overall, it still ended up being a good day.

My uncharacteristically dumb mistake was really life forcing me to slow down. The two months prior to this trip were stressful and exhausting for a variety of reasons. I felt like I had -2 minutes to spare at all times, constantly rushing from one activity to another. What I needed, at that time, wasn’t to reenact a scene from Crocodile Dundee. It was to slow down, capture my thoughts and become more connected with what was around me. Through the process of exhaustion, and random luck, the forces of life gave me what I had needed.