Category Archives: sociology

Utah- A Place Like Nowhere Else

Downtown Salt Lake City

Most of Utah’s population lives in a region referred to as the “Wasatch Front“, which is essentially the area from Ogden to Provo, including Salt Lake City, boxed out in red in the map below.

It’s a place I have not previously spent much time, as most of my prior Utah experience had centered around recreation destinations like Moab or Park City, or places I stop at on road trips. However, if you want to understand the culture of a place, it is usually good to visit where most people live.

My entire time in the Wasatch Front region of Utah, I felt this strange mix of feeling partially at home but partially kind of elsewhere. This is probably due to my suburban upbringing and current life in Colorado. Utah’s mountains are quite similar to the ones I visit all the time in Colorado.

Like where I live, the culture revolves quite a bit around hiking, with hikes to beautiful destinations like Stewart Falls.

And, because of the mountainous terrain, the weather can be variable, and the rainbows amazing.

Anywhere in this region, mountains can be seen in nearly all directions. It is also quite suburban. My basic assessment of the area is that it all feels as if they took Schamburg (a suburb of Chicago known for giant shopping malls, wide suburban roads, retail and restaurants) and dropped it into the middle of the mountains.

People will often try to approximate the culture of a place by considering some basic characteristics, such as region, demographics, political and religious affiliation. Utah’s political affiliation is pretty clear as it is a solidly Republican state. However, unlike in many other democracies, in the United States we only have two competitive parties. This makes how much you can truly tell about a place based on political affiliation pretty limited, mostly limited to certain “hot button” issues.

Utah is nothing like Alabama, and, as a New Yorker I learned early on that New York is very different from California.

What makes Utah more unique from nearly all other states is its religious affiliation.

Utah is the only state in the country that is majority Mormon. This gives the state a culture and a perspective that is unique from any other place, as some Christian groups don’t view them as Christian and see them as more different than, say, Catholics would view Protestants. This, and the state’s history, likely gives the place an interesting view of its place in the world.

It is customary for Mormons to go on missions when they are young. In Utah, it is common to hear “while I was on my mission” casually dropped into conversations. In these missions, many people travel to foreign lands and get exposed to other cultures.

As a result, there is much more exposure to other cultures here than one would typically associate with a “conservative” place. However, this exposure to other cultures and these types of experiences does not appear to have shifted the population in the direction of the post-modern sentiment that there is no absolute truth nor towards a nihilistic lack of pride in anything.

There may be limitations to my observations about the culture of Utah, given I was only here for a few days and primarily came to engage with my co-workers in a work setting.

However, it does feel like the people here are more confident and happier than most others I observe.

Hearing about some of these mission experiences it feels as if the Mormon population is well aware that, outside of Utah (and parts of Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Arizona), most people oppose what they believe in, some quite intensely. They’ve navigated being opposed and being hated in a manner that has strengthened their resolve in a manner that actually seems healthy.

I recall going to see “The Book of Mormon” years ago. The play pokes fun at the church a bit and was written by people who are generally skeptical of organized religion.

In the playbill, the Mormon church placed an advertisement that literally said “You’ve seen the play, the book is better.” This told me that this is a community that can take a joke.

Ultimately, what we are all looking for is to be happy.

Sometimes our approaches to happiness can be misguided. We pursue things that actually make us more unhappy, like drugs and alcohol. Or, we can become too obsessed with things that only facilitate happiness, like money and good looks. The formula for happiness is complicated because there is no one formula. We all need something different in our lives to truly be happy. If someone appears to be happy, and they are not harming anyone, why hate? Hate is so much more exhausting than love.

Four Days Without the Internet

I am starting to grow tired of the internet. Every day feels like the same thing. The same feeling of rejection when I’m reminded of the social experiences people are having that I am not involved in. The same feeling of aggravation and isolation around people’s responses to current events. The same feeling of fear around societal trends and possible future events. And, perhaps most importantly, the same stale feeling around yet another hour in front of a screen, typically sitting down at home, consuming content that is all too similar to the content I had consumed the last hour I spent online.

As you can see, even before this, I spent less time on my phone than most

In the context of most of the world in 2022, going four days without the internet sounds extreme. We do everything online. We’ve spent the last two decades congratulating ourselves for making things more efficient by moving them online. However, I am not so sure this is a good thing. David Byrne famously pointed out five years ago that all of our new technologies have one thing in common. From online shopping to robots and those self-scanners at the grocery store, they all eliminate points where humans would have previously interacted with one another. This is one of the primary factors that lead to a loneliness epidemic being declared even before it the pandemic came and made it far worse.

My theory was that if I spent less time online, and distanced myself particularly from news and social media, I would be a lot happier. After all, I knew that there are people out there that care about me. I know there are people that see things the way I see them. The whole world has not descended into finger pointing and panic, and there are tons of great new experiences to be had if I just look around me. I just had to stop letting the internet tell me what to think about.

The very first thing I noticed was noticing more things.

I spent time observing trees, clouds, storms and all the things that we often forget to look at when our minds are occupied.

Soon, I became lost in thought.

Behavior analysts will often point out that if someone wants to move away from an undesirable behavior, like smoking or excessive hand washing, it is far easier to do so if the behavior is replaced with a new behavior. I sincerely believe this to be true, but I removed the internet from my life rather abruptly without selecting alternate activities. There was not always a suitable alternate activity, no matter how much I enjoyed this book!

So, in order to stick to my pledge, I ended up spending time just in my own thought. While at first my thought processes went to all of the things that had been frustrating me, soon I ran out of things to think about on that topic. This is where we all have the potential to tap into our creative sides.

It feels like we were more creative before we became constantly distracted by smart phones. Just the idea of people tapping back into this side of themselves and coming up with all sort of ideas gave me chills.

By the time I returned home, I was happier. But, as is the case any time people go on vacation, I did not know whether I was happier because of my hiatus from the internet, from not reading the news or being on social media, or if I was happier because I had just spent the weekend out of town with friends. This is something it would take all week for me to figure out.

After returning to Denver, I felt like I was still observing more than before.

And I had some pleasant conversations with the people I encountered.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to reconsider what our relationship with the internet should be. From increasingly using LinkedIn to network and find jobs to the use of QR code scanners for menus at restaurants, societal trends seem to pulling us closer to the internet, having it become more and more a central part of our lives. But, is this what we want? Is it what we need right now?

After a week of reflection on this experience I started to ask myself why I’m happier. What am I trying to escape? Am I trying to escape people? Or am I trying to escape a certain behavior pattern that the internet and particularly social media seems to encourage? Am I fed up with the way people interact over social media? Or am I fed up with the way people interact in general? And, is the way we interact in general a reflection of how social media has changed us over the past two decades?

Sometimes an experiment like this one, meant to answer a question, only leads to more questions. But, sometimes, despite what we all learn when we study science, if we experiment with something and it leads to a positive result, like being happier, maybe we need to stop obsessing over the reasons why and just be happy with the result.

Places Extroverts Love

It’s been hard to know what to expect the last two years. First, places that are typically lively, full of people, full of life, suddenly became empty as the pandemic shut down businesses and places of gathering.

Then, for nearly two years, our experiences became variable and inconsistent.

It felt like the whole world was suddenly subject to mood swings that are impossible to explain or predict. Maybe we are still in this period of uncertainty, but I was pleasantly surprised by the energy levels on my last two trips.

The last weekend in March, Moab was quite lively.

The town was busy! There were a lot of people out and about, walking around and having experiences. Traffic actually made it quite a challenge to make a left hand turn. People all seemed lively. The energy was just great!

The same can be said of Chicago a couple of weeks later.

The energy, the spirit of the big city could once again be felt both on a Thursday evening with horrible weather and a Saturday night with better weather. There were a lot of people, out in groups, in the bars, as well as along the street where there is typically a lot of nightlife. It felt good just to know these places are back!

These places could hardly be any any different. Chicago is a city of 2.75 million with many skyscrapers and what can seem like endless unique neighborhoods to explore.

People who visit come for a truly urban experience, doing things like going to museums, summer festivals, professional sports or visiting friends and family.

Moab, by contrast, is a town with barely over 5,000 residents adjacent to two National Parks.

Most of the people one would encounter here are tourists who came to explore the outdoors. Moab is known for Jeeping, mountain biking and hiking among other activities.

These settings, while different, warmed my heart in a similar way. There is something about seeing people out and about, interacting with each other, interacting with the world, and doing so in a way that feels joyous. It is the combination of joy and crowds that extroverts have missed so much over the past couple of years.

These recent experiences have demonstrated that there are often multiple ways to obtain the same underlying feeling, and maybe it is a good idea not to get too attached to one specific experience. There are often circumstances that require versatility. Sometimes the weather is not what we were hoping for.

Other times it’s our schedules, our health, someone else’s needs or just plain bad luck.

When this happens it is helpful to know that sometimes a different experience, but one that is feasible given whatever our circumstance is can be a really good substitute, providing almost the exact same underlying feeling we are looking for. So far this spring, I have been in lively joyous crowds both in a tourist destination surrounded by people on vacation and in a large city surrounded mostly by people who live there. Next time we find ourselves disappointed by not getting the exact thing we want, maybe we should try to think about the underlying reason we wanted it and try to find another path.

Homesteading in Southern Colorado

Location undisclosed

I did my best to keep up, as Homesteaders discussed things like tools, setting up electrical systems, building wells, cultivating crops and guns and ammo. Much of it is just to build many of the conveniences we in the city take for granted, like plumbing, food, running water and heat. All of our homes have complicated systems of electricity, water, piping and plumbing, which enable all of the conveniences of modern life. I know nothing of this world. It is all a part of this nebulous category of things that are somehow taken care of with the money we shell out when we buy our homes and pay our monthly bills.

When I entered this place, one of the first things to cross my mind was the fact that the nearest sushi restaurant is over an hour away. This, as well as many other conveniences and sources of excitement that define urban and suburban living are not easily accessible.

The concept of “homesteading” makes me think of the 19th century, when pioneers were settling vast unsettled parts of the country and President Lincoln signed The Homestead Act. What would make people decide to do this in the 2010s and 2020s? Could it be the sky high housing costs in many of our cities? Could it be something else? The homesteaders in Colorado point to a couple of other factors.

1. Energy and Lifestyle

I heard talk of not liking the energy of big city life. The city is full of pressure. It is fast paced. This appointment at 10, this meeting at 2, pick up the kids at 4, etc. Here, the day of the week and even the time of the day are far less significant. Alarms are not set. People don’t set aside a specific time to meet up, they just come by and see if their neighbors are home. It can be relaxing but certainly requires a different frame of mind. It requires abandoning concepts ingrained in modern life such as maximizing the number of tasks performed in a day.

2. The Necessary Skills for Life

For decades, the skills needed to build and upkeep our homes and other structures, often referred to as “the trades”, have been held in lower regard than most corporate jobs. These skills have become somewhat of a lost art. Recent shortages in “skilled trade labor” serve as a reminder of how important these skills really are. Homesteaders here mention preserving these lost skills in an era of desk jobs and specialization.

3. Society is Fragile

There was also talk about how fragile our society is, and what happens if we experience a collapse or state of emergency. Culture does periodically collapse. In Western Culture, there are two prominent examples of times when some combination of mis-trust, mis-management and mindless destruction lead to a fairly advanced era being followed up by a darker age. The first one was when the Bronze Age collapsed around 1177 B.C. The next is the fall of Rome, just over 1500 years later.

1500 years later, could another collapse be possible? There are plenty of legitimate reasons to be pessimistic about the future [1][2]. There are also plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Regardless of what is to come, it is probably a good thing that a significant portion of the population is interested in learning these skills.

Life here feels like life as it was two hundred years ago with the aid of some new technology. The focus is on more basic needs like food (agriculture) and shelter (building). New advanced technologies, like efficient solar power conductors and extremely accurate scopes on rifle guns, still make it feel clearly easier than 200 years ago.

As is the case whenever there are options, there are trade-offs. In the city we have pressure, pressure to perform for our organizations, pressure to earn enough money to pay our mortgages or rent as well as buy food and all the things we want. There is the need to maintain a certain status in our chosen communities and a need to plan around things like traffic patterns, our schedules and anticipated crowds. However, there isn’t the need to worry oneself with how we get our food, water and shelter. There is also the opportunity to have a more significant impact on people, our society and our culture. It is this burning desire that will likely keep me in cities for the foreseeable future.

However, if there is one thing our current era of division and isolation can teach us, it is to stop looking at all people who make different choices based on different preferences as enemies, or threats.

Our differences make life more interesting. It is a big part of what makes travel worthwhile. If everywhere began to look and feel the same, something would certainly be lost. I do not expect a new dark age to descend upon us. However, regardless of what happens, I think it is a good idea not to piss off the group of people who know how to make our systems of food, water and electricity work.

A Social Contract for 2022 and Beyond

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

What do we owe one another?

What is our obligation to one another?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Shared Resources

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

2. Behavioral Expectations

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

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

So, what do we owe one another?

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

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

A new social contract requires rethinking power and priorities.

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

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

So, what do we “owe” each other?

We DO NOT OWE each other…

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

We DO OWE each other…

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

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

Our Journey

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

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

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

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

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

I want to travel everywhere except two places.

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

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

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

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

This has got to go already

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

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

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

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

My First Two Flights After COVID

Okay, this blog should have been titled “My First Two Flights After Vaccination.” There’s this new variant of the virus that is causing an increase in sickness and death in some places. However, given my situation and the statistics presented to me about the effectiveness of the vaccine I received, I returned to living a mostly “normal” life this summer, which included hoping on an airplane for the first time in over a year (although I did still have to wear a mask).

It is often said that people’s actions are a better indicator of what they truly value than their words. When I returned to traveling, my first trips were not to explore some far away unknown place, even though I still really want to do that. Instead, I chose to travel to places that are familiar and not as exciting, for the purpose of visiting friends and family.

My first trip was to Minnesota, to visit with friends from college. This photo is going to appear strange, but my friends decided to produce “flat” cardboard versions of every member of our group so that if we ever have a gathering some people can’t make, we can still kind of bring them with us.

There’s a “flat” version of me too….

This was not a glamorous destination. The main places we explored were Rochester, a town primarily known for the Mayo Clinic, which is certainly not a good place to visit right now, as well as a giant corn water tower.

Some 30 miles Southeast of Rochester, in the Root River Valley, I was surprised to discover that the town of Fountain, MN is the Sink Hole Capital of the U.S.A.

Seriously, it’s not in Florida as we all would have assumed.

But, they celebrate this odd distinction. The main attraction in town is a brewery named for the geological feature that caused the sinkhole here, where they bring in bands and food trucks to celebrate Sinkhole Saturdays.

My other trip was to the house where I would spend the second half of my childhood, ages 11-17, where my parents sill live.

It was for a family reunion where we barely even left the house. Most of what we did was playing games with the children, watch the olympics and do things like arts and crafts.

Both of these trips were a chance to laugh. They were a time to be funny, goofy, creative and social. They were times to interact with the world, the real world, what is physically in front of us rather than something on a screen.

They also both reminded me of past chapters of life. Visiting with college friends, I felt like the version of me I was when I was in college. Interacting with children reminded me of who I was when I was a child. I could not help but engage with that childlike spirit for life.

When I returned to a then smoky Colorado sky I could not help but ponder, and wonder.

Why is it that???

  • At the age of 10, when we interact with each other, our default mode is to play a game, think of something creative, imagine, run around and engage our imagination.
  • At the age of 20, when we interact with each other, we party, we still play games, just a different kind, we goof off, watch things and talk about things like who we find attractive and what event we want to go to next.
  • Sometime after the age of 30, we start to default to conversations about what is angering and dividing us, our latest source of frustration or something mundane.

What happens? Is there something about adulthood, or “adulting” that we are doing all wrong? Can we rethink all of this? Sometimes I feel like we need to.

I’m just fortunate that this summer has provided me with plenty of opportunities to once again engage with the world in a manner that feels far more human than most of what I was doing when we were all far more fearful of the pandemic (as well as a lot of what adult life had become in the 2010s).

It won’t be long before I am off to another foreign land I’ve never been to before. Exploring is something I value quite a bit. However, in the summer of 2021, given the phase of my life I am in as well as where we are culturally, I probably needed to laugh with my friends and family more than I needed to explore. Hidden in everyone’s actions, there is always a reason.

Ride the Rockies Day 4: Telluride to Ridgeway

It was after the challenging third day of the ride that my legs started to feel like bricks. On one hand, I felt somewhat relieved that the day 4 ride was only 40 miles with only one climb, up Dallas Divide. However, as I ate my breakfast, casually in Telluride (as the shorter ride meant I was in no hurry), my legs certainly felt like they would rather just sit.

It always feels strange to me to begin a day with a downhill. After the four mile spur out of Telluride, the highway turned downhill for nearly 20 miles.

A good portion of the ride traversed through areas with red rocks, something that always seems to appear and disappear somewhat haphazardly whenever traveling around western North America.

Turning up highway 62 meant, once again, pedaling uphill, exactly the opposite of what my body had been desiring to do.

As is typically the case on multi-day trips, after a few miles of pedaling, I felt way better than I thought I would. That heavy brick-like feeling in my legs kind of melted away as my body adjusted to the fact that it was once again being asked to pedal up a hill.

The ride to the top of Dallas Divide turned out to be more than worth it.

For some reason, it was on this day I also decided to become obsessed with the tradition of holding up my bicycle.

This also turned out to be one of the most scenic parts of the ride – a reward for the multi-day effort.

The instinct to give my body a rest when my legs felt like bricks could not have been more wrong! Luckily, I knew all along not to think about things from the narrow, or short-term, perspective of only considering the exhaustion I was feeling at the time. Sometimes what we think we want in the moment is not the path to get us to what we really want.

The instinct to pursue the momentary, fleeting desire seems to be heavily impacting some areas of our culture today. Many people at some point in their lives have had the unfortunate experiencing of feeling like part of an “out group”, whether it be not fitting in with the popular group in school or feeling like some part of their identity is rejected by mainstream societal standards. The answer to all of these situations is for each person to assert their individuality. Then, as a whole, we become more comfortable with what is different and more accepting of people who look, act, and orient their lives in a manner that is not what we are accustomed to seeing.

Like the instinct to stop riding after an exhausting day, feeling left out leads to the instinct to satisfy the immediate need to feel validation and belonging. This often leads people to look for a new group identity rather than assert their individual one. As would have been the case had I gave into my immediate instinct and skipped this ride, focusing on the immediate needs filled by establishing a new group identity does not lead to the most favorable outcome. It either leads to just switching who the “in” and “out” groups are (not getting to the root of the problem) or more mental energy spent lamenting about being in the “out” group.

For reasons I do not understand, this is the portion of the ride where things started to get emotional.

I arrived at the second, and final, aid station of the day, with pretty much the same mountain scenery in the background. A van was playing music, first Rocky Mountain High, then more recent songs like Party in the USA came on. These particular songs probably would not have made me emotional had it not been for the fact that I had not listened to too much music on the first few days of the ride.

The thoughts about the current state of the world and how to make the best choices for long-term satisfaction suddenly shifted to more spiritual thoughts. Phrases including “love in infinite” and “there is enough compassion for everyone” popped into my head and lingered. Descending 2,000 feet (600 m) from Dallas Divide to Ridgeway I felt prepared to embrace every other human being I encountered, regardless of their flaws.

It was the easiest day of the trip, but the consequence of a mostly downhill day is a return to the heat.

With the campgrounds in a hot dusty fairgrounds where some participants needed to go down to the river to get away from their overheated tents, I was more than happy to have opted to pay for the hotel package, even if it meant taking a shuttle to Ouray.

Ride the Rockies Day 2: Durango to Cortez

Day 2 would be a day of adjustments and surprises. The day started with a pretty significant hill climb.

Continuing the theme from day 1, much of this ride went through some very unpopulated areas. The only thing I remember about the towns of Breen and Klein were a fairly long descent and an aid station in a high school parking lot. This was followed by a gradual 17-mile climb on a dirt road.

I was somewhat confused as to why this ride incorporated some dirt road sections. Van supported rides tend to attract a lot of riders who like to ride fast. Apparently, cycling on dirt is a trend of some sorts. As someone who likes to determine for myself what to do, listen to and wear, trends have never interested me too much. However, I can see the appeal in some ways. On the transition from pavement to dirt, one cyclist announced that he was glad to finally be in a place where there would be little vehicular traffic and that he had become tired of riding on highways. I had felt the roads we were riding on were plenty quiet, but I have always lived in and around cities and know that experience is informing my perspective

Along this dirt road local ranchers came out to give us lemonade!

After talking briefly with the ranchers, I found myself wondering what life was like in a place like this. They are six miles from any paved road, ten miles from the nearest town, and thirty miles from Durango, the closest town of significant size. It must be so much different than anything I have ever known.

I feel bad because in the past I had cast judgement on life in rural areas as boring. Other metropolitan people can be harsher. While this is not likely the life I would prefer, we should all have the option to have the life we want. Being able to accept people having different preferences without feeling insecure about it is a sign of maturity.

Travel opens our minds to new perspectives. It makes us realize that the way we do things is not the only way. It gives us things to think about. Maybe these ranchers in the middle of nowhere have happier lives. Maybe they have better communities. Maybe, in a place like this, it is much easier to just enjoy activities like having a friendly conversation, reading a book or watching a movie without always worrying about what else is going on.

As the ride continued uphill on this dirt road, I found myself continuing to adjust to my surroundings. It grew hot and the next aid station had very little shade.

The people I was riding with represented a different type of crowd than the ones I typical find myself in. Mostly veterans of cycling trips of this type, many of them are accustomed to having better aid stations. I heard some grumbling.

Also, the crowd was significantly older than I had expected for a ride this intense. At this aid station, my first instinct was to joke that the aid station “throws as much shade as an episode of Mr. Rodgers.” I stopped as I suddenly realized that this joke would only appeal to a very narrow age range of people old enough to remember the children’s show that ended just after the turn of the century but young enough to appreciate the comparison between the literal and slang definition of the phrase “throwing shade”. The joke would not have landed.

After the dirt road segment, the route turned onto U.S. highway 160, an extremely busy road for a two mile intense climb to the top of Mancos Hill. This road was busy with both cyclists and cars!

Getting to the top was a little scary, as cyclists were commonly passing one another, requiring them to get closer to the vehicular traffic. Maybe the guy who was excited about the dirt road section had a point! He must have been less than thrilled on this part of the ride.

Somewhere on this climb, my body started hurting. Generally speaking, our lives in the early 21st century are quite sedentary. Most of our jobs involve sitting in front of a computer all day. In their spare time, many people chose to watch TV, read, or spend it in front of a different computer! Going from this to riding 70 miles a day on a bicycle is a transition for our bodies which is going to cause some pain. Whenever on a multi-day trip where the pain sets in I can’t help but lament how sedentary our lives are and how many people chose lives that are far more sedentary than mine.

We descended into Mancos, a town I had visited and stayed at years ago to visit Mesa Verde National Park.

I’d get a chance to visit the local bakery which had a message I could not help but get behind.

Mancos is the perfect kind of town for cycling trips to pass through. It’s big enough to have interesting places to stop but doesn’t slow the ride down too much.

While I was eating my sandwich, it got even hotter! We rode right by Mesa Verde National Park along highway 160.

The combination of prolonged physical exertion with hot, dry and windy conditions lead to salt slipping into my eyes. I was having some trouble seeing until luckily I was able to stop and get sprayed in the face with a hose.

By the time I arrived in Cortez it was 96°F (36°C).

The ride ended with burgers and music in a park where we all stayed in the shade.

The Great Divergence

When the first pandemic in over 100 years disrupted our lives, forcing many of us to stay home and stay apart from one another, I instantly became consumed with what life would be like when the pandemic comes to an end. Will this event cause us to re-think the way we are all living our lives? Or will we go back to our old ways once the danger of spreading a potentially deadly virus subsides? Will the changes associated with this once in a lifetime event be for the better or for the worse?

This summer, after a little over a year, we will finally get the opportunity to start seeing what this post-pandemic world will look like.

From observing how people behaved during the pandemic, and how people are acting as it comes to an end, there appears to be several points of divergence.

Back to what we had before or on to something new?

It would be hard to think of a more obvious area of post-pandemic divergence than this one. There is nothing I want more than to return to the activities many of us were denied for a little over a year. But, do we need to return to everything about the world in 2019? Some employers are already asking their employees to commute to the office five days a week once again. This, despite numerous studies showing people are actually more productive working from home.

The same can be said for many other aspects of how we live our lives. There is the instinct to return to “normal”. There is also the instinct to find a way to take the lessons learned from this experience and create something better. However, there also appears to be a current of fear, as many of us started living a different life during the pandemic. Now have to merge that version of ourselves and our “normal” lives.

A new power structure

Disruptive events stir the pot. They mix things up. There are winners and losers. An aspect of this appears to be luck. During the pandemic, people in “essential services” and in jobs that could be done remotely mostly did well while those in industries like travel and tourism got hurt pretty bad.

The post-pandemic world will come with a completely different set of changes that will stir the pot once again. Some people and groups will come out of it significantly more powerful and influential, while others will be significantly less so. A question for all of us is, are we ready to adjust the way we do things to fit into this new world?

A new found appreciation

The Best Views of New York’s Skyline

One of the first things I remember hearing about after the onset of the pandemic was the New York Times opinion piece where columnist Roger Cohen forgave the City of New York for everything that he had been annoyed about. It appeared as if the pandemic had given him a new found appreciation for the city, leading him to focus less on the petty annoyances covered in the article, from rats to traffic and bad odor, and more on what he loves about the city- it’s liveliness.

Can we say the same thing for the people and places that meant a lot to us in our lives? When the pandemic struck, did we contact the people we wish we could still see? Or did we yell at strangers for their views or behavior as we were all fearful?

While I wish to never return to wearing masks and social distancing, I hope to retain my appreciation for less active days, one-on-one experiences as opposed to large groups, and people who’s jobs are important but often under appreciated. There is the instinct to discard everything that happened in an effort to simply forget this horrible period of time. However, there is also the instinct to remember being without the people and places we love and continue to appreciate them.

Freedom or Avoiding Risk

I often hear people talk about the lack of a standard flu season this past winter, due to our mask wearing and social distancing. Some are even talking about adapting mask wearing every winter going forward.

The main question is, what risk avoidance methods are worth it. For the past 16 months, it feels as if Americans have abandoned our traditional concern for freedom and skepticism about mandates that curtail it. There is a divergence here between the desire to return to our orientation toward freedom, removing some of the extra layers of control adapted during the pandemic and fear of the virus or what is coming next after all the crazy events of 2020.

Do we know it all?

The pandemic was not the only event to rock the world in the last year. We live in a divisive time. There are the obvious divisions out there, between political parties, ideologies and priorities. However, if we dig deeper within these divisions, another one emerges. This perhaps even deeper division is between curiosity and believing we know it all already. I have observed this division in nearly every highly intellectual setting I have entered, from graduate school to TED talks.

Are we there to learn or advocate for a cause we’ve already adapted? With everything we recently experienced and the ongoing issues of loneliness, lack of fulfillment, high asset prices, etc. both instincts will still be there.

The battle within

As is the case with any historical event or set of historical events, some people will come out better for it and others will not. It is my belief that, based on these divergences, some people (those that worked on improving themselves, are curious and ready to adjust to a new reality) are in for a better decade than others.

However, that is also far too simplistic. The divergence in attitude described here is not just from person to person, but it is within each of us individually as well. Nobody is completely only on one side of each of the divergences described in this article. So, in the end, the way this decade will turn out is not about what people or groups of people adapt certain attitudes. It will probably be about which of these competing energies emerge more prevalently and where.